So proclaimed Frannie the day after I presented her with a set of pearls from Demoiselle.
I first learned about Demoiselle from Muffy Aldrich’s bog, The Daily Prep. She extolled their virtue, and they presented a wonderful opportunity to confer upon a young lady, soon to venture off to boarding school, her first set of pearls. Both stylish and affordable, Demoiselle’s necklaces are made in Massachusetts from Austrian crystal pearls.
Frannie’s necklace is the Classic Knotted Pearls in the standard 18 inch length, although Demoiselle also offers necklaces in 16.5 inch, 22 inch and 26 inch lengths.
Since 1922, Allen Edmonds has been in the business of producing men’s footwear. Where other makers of men’s shoes have diluted their lines, sending much of their production overseas, Allen Edmonds has largely resisted the impulse.
Now, here’s the rub: I’m not exactly the world’s most dedicated partisan for Allen Edmonds shoes. Some things they do well. Take the chukka, for example. My son owns a pair of Allen Edmonds chukkas, and I think they are a fine product.
But, in general, I find their shoes, even on the narrowest of the lasts they offer, less elegant than their English and Italian brethren. It may have something to do with 360 degree welt they use. But the result in a shoe that is less aesthetically pleasing than other Goodyear welted footwear.
Still, I am glad to live in a world with Allen Edmonds around. My black Park Avenues are my go-to shoe for situations that call for the most conservative attire. They’re a sturdy, well-made product. And, except for Alden, Allen Edmonds is the only major producer of men’s dress shoes left in America.
The other day, I stopped in the Allen Edmonds store in River Oaks. Many of the usual suspects were in attendance. But something stood out: The Rutledge, a shoe I had never seen before. It was far from typical in the Allen Edmonds universe. The waist was elegantly narrow, the toe was slightly squared off and the leather had a very appealing burnishing to it. Out of context, I might have pegged the Rutledge as a refugee from the Santoni Fatte a Mano line. But Allen Edmonds it was, and it’s earned a spot on my wish list.
Custom Hide is an American maker of leather briefcases, backpacks and duffles. They do all of their business online, and their products are reasonably priced for the quality they represent.
I ordered the Weekender in the whiskey colored hide, and, over the past several years, it’s been a regular presence in my travels. It’s accompanied me on romantic getaways with my wife. It’s seen a year’s worth of business travel. And it’s been with me to London, overstuffed for four days of post-backpacking vacation.
After a few years of fairly vigorous use, the zipper broke. I sent it back, and Custom Hide graciously stood by its lifetime guarantee.
More so than just about any other company, Brooks Brothers has defined the American style. While the company’s aesthetic is still largely American, much of what you’ll find in a Brooks Brothers store is now made overseas. Effectively, the company has abdicated its historical roots and is now a shell of its former self.
Happily, ties remain one of the company’s American-made holdouts. All crafted in the same Long Island City factory since 1999, they are both a good value and a decently made product. I have to wonder how much longer the company’s current owners will elect to keep tie production domestic. Given the company’s headlong rush into Third World manufacturing, I’d be surprised to see it endure for more than a few years longer.
Any discussion of classic clothing made in the USA would be incomplete without a hearty mention of Bills Khakis.
It’s what L.L. Bean used to be: an American manufacturer of definably American clothes, with a sensibility honed by tradition. Although Bill’s Khakis has only been around since 1990, it’s quickly developed a reputation as a go-to place for superlative khakis: American-made and tough as nails.
I own two pair of trousers from Bills. The first I’ve had for several years; they’re the baggier M1 model which hews closely to the original WWII military design that inspired founder Bill Thomas. The second and most recent pair are the slightly slimmer M2 version in a green twill.
Whether it’s Cary Grant hiding in plain sight in the dining car of the 20th Century Limited, Kurt Vonnegut icognito in the cocktail lounge of the Midland City Holiday Inn or the Man with no Eyes menacing in aviators in Cool Hand Luke, sunglasses are the quintessence of stylish cool.
At a time when Luxottica controls more than 80 percent of the world’s eyewear companies, it’s refreshing to know that a domestic company, Randolph Engineering, continues to produce some of the finest sunglasses around. As the company notes on its website:
We offer the world’s finest eyeware (sic), handcrafted in THE UNITED STATES of AMERICA using the finest components found worldwide and proudly noted as standard military issued.
The company was founded in 1972 by a tandem of Polish immigrants, Jan Waszkiewicz and Stanley Zlaeski. Originally, they produced the machinery to make eyewear. By 1977, the company was producing sunglasses for the U.S. military, and by the early 90s, it had expanded into the consumer marketplace.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of getting a pair for Father’s Day (thank you, children!). They’re the Concorde model with chrome frames and grey polarized lenses. They’re a remarkably well-made product–as befits a company with the word engineering in its name.
A century ago, the hat was an indispensable part of a man’s wardrobe. A gent simply didn’t leave the house without a topper of some sort on his noggin.
Sadly, the wearing of hats is a virtually lost art. From time-to-time, I see articles prognosticating a hat-wearing renaissance. Don’t believe them. Hats will never be the universal garment they once were. Their ubiquity belongs to a bygone era. They are, today, a niche product, worn principally by men who crave a certain panache or for those who cultivate a dandyish air.
A sartorial urban legend holds that John F. Kennedy went hatless at his inauguration, putting the figurative nail in the coffin of the American hat industry. He didn’t; by the time of the Kennedy presidency, hat wearing was already on a downward trend. The counterculture of the late 1960s hastened the decline.
I’m one of the tonsorially challenged, so the hat for me is more than a stylish accompaniment. It’s a practical garment: beaver fur for warmth in winter and straw for a bit of self-created shade in the summer.
For several years, I bought most of my hats from a now defunct hatter in Houston. In June 2009, on a family vacation to Chicago, I made a pilgrimage to one of the true Meccas of custom hat making: Optimo Hats.
Walking into the store on the far South side of Chicago was like being transported to another, more genteel age. After some initial pleasantries, my head was measured, and I began the process of picking out the material for a winter fedora. I opted for a taupe beaver fur with a rolled edge.
My head is of the neither fish nor fowl variety–too narrow for a standard fit yet too wide for a long oval–making me an ideal candidate for a custom hat. The fine folks at Optimo have built my hats to accommodate that shape. In addition, they can produce hats with a sizing precision unavailable in non-custom hats.
Two Panama hats have since followed (one is pictured below). More so than just about anything I wear, my Optimo Hats are likely to elicit complements from passers-by, a true testament to the craftsmanship of one of the great American makers of custom hats.
From time to time, Fran and I venture off into the region’s thrift stores. With some persistence, this can be an excellent way to pick up some classic pieces at a fraction of the original retail cost. Most of the time, we come up empty. But occasionally a bit of treasure crops up amid all the cast-off detritus.
Last Saturday was shaping up to be one of the many fruitless trips when I caught sight of a beautiful, Nordic-styled sweater.
At first glance, I thought it was a Dale of Norway sweater (which would have been something special in its own right). But a quick perusal of the tag showed it to be an L.L. Bean sweater–from a time when such things were still American made.
Although it will be held in abeyance until fall beckons, it should be an ideal sweater for Fran to take up with her to school in the East: warm, attractive and roomy enough for layering underneath.
For those of us with a penchant for custom clothing, living a community far removed from the centers of bespoke tailoring can be a disheartening prospect.
Fortunately, for the sartorially-inclined in Southeast Texas, there’s an oasis in the desert: Hamilton Shirts.
Hamilton has been around since 1883, two years longer in fact than Britain’s Turnbull & Asser.
Today, the firm is run by siblings David and Kelly Hamilton. Their shop is located west of the Houston Galleria in a fairly unassuming location on Richmond Avenue.
The showroom is appropriately clubby in appearance and atmosphere. Although you can relax and thumb through the books containing small swatches of fabric, the real action is right off the showroom floor, in the shelves lining the factory. Here, bolts of fabric await–herringbones and plaids, tattersalls and solids–and there’s something about looking at a wide expanse of fabric that adds to the verisimilitude of the bespoke process. I’m a sucker for checks, and Hamilton has them in abundance.
I have nine Hamilton custom shirts, purchased at various points over the past seven years. All are still in regular rotation, although my oldest button down is beginning to fray about the cuffs. No matter–it only adds to the shirt’s allure, giving it that well-lived-in feeling.
The shirts have much of what the clothing cognoscenti fetishize, including a split yoke and thick mother-of-pearl buttons. My lone complaint is the lack of pattern matching on the sleeve gauntlets, but it’s a fairly minor lament.
In addition to their custom business, Hamilton produces ready-to-wear shirts, all, to my knowledge, made in their Houston shop. They also offer a line of tailored clothing (suits, jackets and trousers) made in conjunction with an unnamed “American tailoring firm.”
The pocket square… It’s arguably the most superfluous of men’s clothing. After all, it’s but a meager dimension of silk, linen, cotton or wool whose only purpose is to decorate the pocket of a man’s jacket.
But what a purpose that is!
Cary Grant in North by Northwest notwithstanding, it’s difficult for a man to aspire to be well attired without learning the nuances of the pocket square.
For my money, one of the leading purveyors of pocket squares today is Kent Wang. I met Kent online several years ago when we were both regular inhabitants of styleforum.net. While I remained a clothing hobbyist, Kent entered the professional ranks, starting his online business with a range of pocket squares.
Today, Kent has branched out into many different aspects of men’s clothing, although I’m still partial to his squares, particularly the linens. They’re pretty reasonably priced as these things go, and several of them are made domestically.