Just Madras: Part Two

After returning from sailing camp, Frannie had a package from Just Madras waiting for her. Here’s her take on one of the items, an American made, nautical themed cosmetic bag:

This bag was quite a wondrous sight to behold after a week of intensive sailing. When I got home from camp, It was a pleasant surprise to see the makeup bag I ordered on the pass-through. The bag had even more space than I had expected, and the red embroidered anchor was a nice touch to the navy and white striped fabric.

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Inside, the bag was more spacious than it appeared. The gingham lining was a great addition to an already wonderful bag. Thank you again, Just Madras, for all of your preppy, American made goodness!

 

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L.L. Bean Boat and Tote

Our third post about L.L. Bean? Forgive us. We’re a sentimental lot. We remember Bean as a purveyor of products that, while not exclusively American, were mostly made on these shores and made to a high standard.

So the few American made legacy items that remain–boots and tote bags, for example–have a soft spot in our hearts. On my more optimistic days, I imagine those items will serve as a beachhead for a renaissance of American manufacturing in Freeport, Maine. When I’m feeling less optimistically inclined, I suppose that these are the last gasp of American production in a company that has all but abandoned its American roots. The latter is probably true. Once the genie of foreign production is out of the bottle, it’s nigh on impossible for companies to put it back.

Among the few L.L. Bean products still crafted in the USA, the canvas Boat and Tote bags have been a mainstay of home life for generations of Americans. Originally designed to haul ice–back in the day when your sole source of cooling was the ice blocks you bought from the ice man–their durability bespeaks that original purpose.

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Faribault Woolen Mill

Many of the firms we’ve featured are some of the most venerable in all of American manufacturing, some tracing their roots into the 19th century. Faribault Woolen Mill is no exception.

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As Faribault itself explains:

Founded on the banks of the Cannon River in Faribault, MN, the Faribault Woolen Mill is a living testament to American craftsmanship. Founded in 1865, the year Lincoln died and the Civil War ended, Faribault woolens are renowned for their comfort and quality. From providing woolen blankets for pioneers heading west to comforting our troops through two world wars, our woolens are woven into American history.

While Faribault is known primarily for its blankets, it also offers an impressive range of scarves. I recently had occasion to pick one up–in a gray micro herringbone. It won’t be deployed, for reasons of climate and comfort, until winter  insinuates itself in these parts. But I’m already looking forward to including it in my cold weather scarf rotation.

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High Cotton Redux

A few weeks ago, we featured one of High Cotton’s polo shirts.

And while much of High Cotton’s product line is geared toward the male of the species, a few items cater to the ladies.

To wit, the madras headband I recently purchased for Frannie. Like the polo, it’s made in the USA (in North Carolina to be precise).

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Melanzana

You step into Melanzana’s Leadville, Colorado storefront and the first thing you see are rows of fleece jackets and hoodies for sale. But, peering beyond the product shelves, you notice something out of the ordinary: workers at sewing machines making the company’s products. For it is here where all the company’s offerings are crafted.

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Manufacturing in Melanzana’s Leadville, Colorado store

In addition to being a clothing hobbyist, I’m also an outdoor enthusiast: hiker, backpacker and occasional mountaineer. So a good fleece–soft, warm, fast drying, able to insulate even when wet–is a vital part of my kit.

Yet fleece, in its various incarnations, has even infiltrated the world of classic clothing. No less an authority than True Prep, the sequel to the Original Preppy Handbook, noted the embrace of fleece in traditional circles.

Last week, my family and I were on vacation in Colorado, and early in the week, we made a day trip to Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the United States. Near the end of downtown, we came upon Melanzana. Noting that all the company’s products are made, as they have been for 20 years, in Leadville, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to purchase one of their tops.

Unadorned with pockets, velcro closures or other unnecessary ephemera, Melanzana’s products are the epitome of streamlined function. My Micro Grid Zip Top in a large weighs a scant 9.1 ounces, making it the perfect mid-layer for a cool-to-cold thru hike.

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It’s already been a worthy companion on three hikes: one on the trails outside of Salida, Colorado, one on the Colorado Trail and one on a climb of Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in the state.

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My Melanzana top and I on the summit of Mt. Elbert.

Just Madras

There’s no shortage of companies trafficking in classic American style. But some of the biggest names hawking that aesthetic–Ralph Lauren, J. Crew and Tommy Hilfiger–are largely dumping grounds for cheap, foreign-produced goods.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I believe that an American look deserves to be produced in America. This is true for several reasons: the preservation of American jobs, American manufacturing and American livelihoods being foremost among them.

But it’s also about context and authenticity: producing clothes in the milieu that gave birth to them.

Happily, companies like Just Madras have stepped into the breech.

Unabashedly preppy, Connecticut-based Just Madras offers a wide range of USA-made women’s and men’s clothing. It’s fresh-faced, clean scrubbed, a paean to perpetual summer, as evinced by the company’s motto, Where Summer Lives All Year Long. With heavy doses of madras and seersucker and a definably nautical sensibility, the company’s offerings would be at home in any prep’s closet.

I recently bought Frannie a pair of pink seersucker Bermuda shorts from Just Madras. They’re delightful, a beautiful shade of pink, and really the perfect summer knock-around short.

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Robert Talbott

Oscar Wilde once noted that “a well-tied tie is the first serious step in life.”

It’s an apt observation. For many of us, the wearing of a tie on a regular basis marks the transition into adulthood.

But a tie need not be an emblem of dour responsibility. For many men, a tie adds a bit of color and, among the best dressed, a touch of restrained whimsy.

Although Robert Talbott makes a range of men’s and women’s clothing, much of it in Monterrey, California, it’s probably best known for its ties. In fact, the company was among the first neckwear makers to reintroduce the seven-fold tie.

Robert Talbott’s offerings hew toward the vibrant end of the tie spectrum, with bright colors and distinctive (some would say over the top) patterns. True, they tend to be a bit more “out there” than some of the more restrained offerings from other makers, although several of  the company’s ties would do perfectly well in conservative business settings.

My lone Robert Talbott tie was a gift. It’s a fauvist  panoply of silk, a bit divergent from my usual neckwear. But it works well contrasted against a muted palette of light summer colors.

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A younger Frannie and I getting ready for a trip to Chicago

High Cotton

Every company needs a good origin story. High Cotton has a humdinger.

A 2004 study found that men’s ties, which are rarely drycleaned, harbor significant disease inducing bacteria. Fast forward to 2010. Judy Hill’s eldest son Cameron was attending medical school at UVA. He let her know about the study, and a spark lit the flame of inspiration.

She decided to sew Cameron a cotton bow tie to wear during his rotations. Her rationale was simple. As a bow tie, it was an excellent sartorial choice. As a cotton garment, it could easily be laundered to ward off pathogens.

From there, she decided to create a company focused on producing washable, cotton bow ties.

I work at a medical school, and a not insignificant number of physicians, particularly the older ones, sport bow ties. Even before medical science impugned the long tie for its germ retaining properties, country doctors recognized the inherent superiority of the bow tie. Formal enough still to command respect, the bow tie was far less likely to get in the way during an examination.

High Cotton has branched out in recent years. Suspenders, pocket squares, polos, cummerbunds, women’s headbands and t-shirts (all made in North Carolina) are now part of its expanded product line.

I recently ordered one of the company’s polo shirts, and it’s a thing of beauty. The cotton, harvested in High Cotton’s home state of North Carolina, is luxurious. While it’s a pique shirt, it’s much softer than other cotton pique polos I’ve owned. Plus, it’s not nearly as voluminous as the ones offered by other manufacturers. Where, for example, I have to wear a small Brooks Brothers polo, the medium High Cotton is an excellent trim fit.

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The Value of Thrift

The virtues of enterprise, diligence and thrift are the indispensable foundation of any complex and vigorous civilization. R.H. Tawney, The New Republic, May 12, 1926

Our family can trace its lineage to some of the earliest arrivals in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. So you might say the Puritan instinct–with its impulse toward thrift–is encoded in our DNA. In fact, my maternal grandmother, according to story my mother often retells, used to wash and reuse tinfoil.

Buying classic American pieces is an extension of that ethos.

Instead of viewing apparel as essentially disposable, a commitment to classic pieces insulates against the vicissitudes of fashion. It’s a emphasis on durable, well-made clothing: welted shoes whose soles can be replaced when they wear out, a tweed suit that will outlive its original owner, a sweater that will provide decades of warmth.

It also means a commitment to maintaining clothes to a high standard, whether its brushing suits before they’re hung up each night, knowing how to re-sew a button or storing shoes with cedar shoe trees inside.

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Sewing a button back on my blazer

 

And for the more adventurous among us, it can even mean searching the aisles of thrift stores for treasure among other people’s castoffs.

The other day, Frannie and I were in the local Salvation Army store, and we found a vintage Peters Whaler madras jacket. It appears to have been made sometime in the early to mid 1960s, although its look is timeless. It calls to mind family vacations in a wood-paneled station wagons or a New England beach on a cool summer evening.

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Vintage madras jacket

Jack Spade

While several of the companies we’ve featured are doctrinaire in their devotion to American manufacturing, some have only a portion of their wares imprinted with Made in the USA bonafides.

Jack Spade is one of the latter.

The masculine analogue to Kate Spade, Jack Spade came into existence in 1996 with a line of men’s bags. Over time, Jack Spade expanded into menswear–everything from suits to jeans–with a modernist/Ivy aesthetic. Today, a decently sized minority of the firm’s offerings are of American manufacture.

Frannie gave her brother one of the American made Jack Spade ties last Christmas. While it’s a bit too narrow for my annuated tastes, it does work very well with today’s narrower look, which Andrew favors.

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Still, I have a bone to pick with Jack Spade. Many of the company’s products are constructed in less-than-savory locales. Yet its prices suggest the kind of premium that American-made products command. With prices so dear, virtually all of the company’s items could easily be made in U.S. factories by workers making a living wage.