Taking Back New Balance

The news has been grim.

To add insult to injury, the election has emboldened white nationalists to co-opt one of America’s last remaining sneaker manufacturers, declaring them the “official shoe of white people.”

A little background: A few days after the election, New Balance’s Matthew LeBretton told The Wall Street Journal that “The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us, and frankly, with President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction.”

Most of us can agree that it was impolitic at best for him to wade into partisan waters. A corporation that depends upon selling its wares to the general public would be wise to avoid partisan entanglements, particularly so soon after a bitter and divisive election.

But his pronouncement teaches us (as if we needed reminding) that words have consequences. And so it should come as absolutely no surprise that, in an election where the Republican nominee engaged in overt calls to racism (with policy proposals to match) that his pronouncement would, for many, place him and his company on the wrong side of the fence.

In the wake of his public relations miscue,  white nationalists have attempted to ruin one of America’s last remaining producers of athletic shoes, staining it by association with their vile and unconscionable beliefs.

To those goons, I have a simple message: You can’t have it.

I refuse to let New Balance fall into the hands of those who betray American values–those who teach a philosophy of hate, exclusion and violence.

But I also refuse to follow my fellow liberal brethren and consign my New Balance shoes to trashcan, toilet or flame.

Instead, I take New Balance back. I take it back in the name of tolerance, respect and diversity.

I take it back in the name of the New Balance workers–both those from established American families and those who are transplants to these shores.

I take it back in the name of all that is good and decent in this world, conjuring a passion for the moment when we are, in Lincoln’s immortal words, touched once again by the better angels of our nature.

So I’ve taken a page from the book of Pete Seeger, as fundamentally decent a human being as there ever was. Let his words remind us that there are ideals to which we all must strive.

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Mercer & Sons

Lovers of classic style are a particular folk.

The very nature of classic clothing suggests that some things should be immune to the vicissitudes of fashion. So those of us who venerate the classics don’t undertake change lightly; we lean hard on tradition.

Consider the button down collar shirt.

Finding a shirt with just the perfect roll–the ideal compromise between collar length and button position–is a challenging proposition.  Many bemoan the existing Brooks Brothers shirts; according to popular lore, the company tampered with perfection, and the modern version is a walking shadow of what it once was.

Nearly 35 years ago, David Mercer was among those who were aghast at changes in the iconic polo shirt (the button down shirt in Brooks Brothers’ nomenclature), particularly to the collar. But he turned his lamentation into action.

So, in 1982, Mercer & Sons began, resolving to produce a shirt with all the classic details: an unlined 3 and 7/16″ collar, offset cuffs, a six button placket. It offers shirts in all the classic fabrics, including oxford cloth.

Mercer’s customer service is legendary, and my experience is illustrative.

Yea though I count myself among the lovers of traditional modes of dress, I favor a slightly trimmer shirt. But everything I saw online suggested that Mercer shirts were voluminous about the torso, so much so that they’d be comically large on me. The measurements provided by the company reinforced that.

So I contacted David Mercer, and he offered a simple, but elegant solution. He would make a shirt for me with a 16″ collar and a 33″ sleeve, but with a body that normally accompanies a 14.5″ collar, which, based upon the measurements he provided, would produce a shirt only marginally wider than my custom shirts from Hamilton.

I ordered a shirt in a blue oxford cloth university (candy) stripe with a button down collar. About six weeks later, the shirt was on my doorstep.

The results?

Generally, quite solid. The collar is everything I hoped it would be, with a roll that is nothing less than sublime. I do wish the shirt had gauntlet buttons, and the buttonholes are a little ragged. But otherwise the construction appears first rate.

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As for sizing, the shirt is only slightly larger than my custom Hamiltons, and the shoulders are almost perfect, with the sleeve seam hitting at just the right point. I can easily see adding a few more of these to my shirt rotation, particularly because Hamilton is a little thin in the oxford cloth department.

While Mercer has moved several times since its inception (they currently reside in Bozeman, Mont.), its commitment to American manufacturing has never wavered.

New Union Clothing Redux

A few months ago, I posted on an emergent clothing enterprise,  New Union Clothing. Its initial offerings, as you may recall, are focused exclusively on shirts. They’ve had a couple of popups already at Houston’s Manready Mercantile, and they also sell their wares on the web.

You may remember that I was the company’s first customer. For my initial purchase, I chose a bengal stripe long sleeve shirt with a button down collar, a wonderful and classic choice.

Ever since I made that first purchase, however, a low devilish voice of temptation has rumbled in my ear. It was a difficult proposition to choose among New Union’s offerings, and an indigo cotton popover with a cutaway collar beckoned.

So I recently made amends and brought the indigo popover into my sartorial orbit.

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I’m not going to equivocate here. This may be my favorite shirt; if not, it’s easily in the top three or four. As with my previous New Union shirt, its design is exceptionally well thought out–a classic piece whose interesting details make it feel completely sui generis.

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One word of warning. Indigo dyes are notoriously unstable. I’m old enough where I remember when madras fabrics had to be soaked in a solution of vinegar; indigo dyes are no different. Even with that treatment, the shirt bleeds when washed, so my advice is to launder it by hand with gentle soap in cold water.

Vineyard Vines

Vineyard Vines and I have a very complicated relationship.

Strike that. We actually have a very simple relationship.

I hate Vineyard Vines. See? Nice and simple.

Only such things are never quite so simple.

To be sure, my animus is predicated on some clear and justifiable premises. Despite the barrels of digital ink the brand dedicates to burnishing its American bonafides, precious little of what it produces is made in the United States. Its website and social media accounts are replete with photos of models, wearing items of Third World provenance, shown either waving the American flag or in deceptively close proximity to same.

But the company’s transgressions run even deeper. On the phone, its customer service representatives falsely assert that all its  products are made in the United States. When called out on that, they change their tune but refuse to divulge the country of origin on the grounds of “trade secrets.” It’s a preposterous claim, considering federal law requires conspicuous labeling of the country of origin on all clothing sold in the United States.

And, when it comes down to it, I think the company is a pale simulacrum of the preppy aesthetic.  Consider its ties. They’re a blatant ripoff  Salvatore Ferragamo ties. Which themselves are a blatant ripoff of Hermès ties.

But last week, I encountered something that tempered my rancor.

I was in a local discount store, and among the Chinese made effluvium was a belt from Vineyard Vines, made in the United States. Quite the surprise.

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So I made the purchase–my wardrobe’s first Vineyard Vines addition. The belt is classic, made of a beautiful moss green suede leather with a construction standard that appears impeccable.

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If only Vineyard Vines made more items in the United States and more items like this, it would earn a spot on the list of the companies we’re proud to do business with.

Thrift Store Find: Leather Man Ltd.

A few months ago, while in Denton, Texas to pick my son up for our Colorado trip, I ventured into a local thrift store.

As I sifted through varying collections of people’s castoffs, a little piece of American made treasure (in my size) presented itself: a nautical themed motif belt from Essex, Conn.-based Leather Man Ltd. I already have two of the company’s belts, both purchased new, both of which I’m quite fond. So this was a wonderful surprise, one which I eagerly purchased.

I’ve already worn it a few times, most recently with my new Velva Sheen Breton shirt and a pair of Jack Donnelly khakis.

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Velva-Sheen Manufacturing Co.

We’ve waxed rhapsodic about the Breton shirt before. Once the favored shirt of French fisherman (owing to its contrasting navy and white stripes, which made it easier to identify a man overboard ), the Breton shirt has insinuated itself into the pantheon of classic clothing.

This is not an unexpected thing. Many items of working class provenance (penny loafers, Shetland sweaters, Norwegian, Icelandic and Irish fisherman’s sweaters) are favored by the moneyed classes and aspirants to same.

Yesterday, I made the trek into Houston to visit my friends at Manready Mercantile. Among the new offerings on the store’s shelves was a Breton shirt from the Velva-Sheen Manufacturing Co. It became the newest addition to my wardrobe.

Wait, dear readers, don’t I already own a Breton shirt? Indeed, I do. And the purchase of an additional version would seem to violate the parsimony I inherited from my Puritan ancestors. But while the ColumbiaKnit version was a fine shirt, it had two drawbacks. First the fabric was a bit too heavy for the warm, humid weather that predominates in Southeast Texas. And second, the previous shirt’s neckline diverged from the shirt’s classic iteration.

The Velva-Sheen version rectified both of those deficiencies.

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Velva-Sheen’s roots stretch back to 1932. For generations, it was a thriving sportswear company, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, with a particular emphasis in licensed and custom apparel printing. By the 1990s, however, the company’s fortunes were in decline, and it became one of the unfortunate casualties of the outsourcing epidemic.

But the brand has acquired a new lease on life, recently purchased by the Topwin Corporation, which manufactures men’s and boy’s clothing in Torrance, Calif.

The Calendar Says Autumn; the Weather Says Summer

For most of us in the United States, the changeover in the calendar from summer to autumn coincides with the appearance of cooler weather. Not so for those of us in the subtropics, where summer weather patterns generally persist for another month.

Consider the weather yesterday. The high was 89 degrees, with enough humidity to push the heat index over 100. With early autumn temperatures like that, it’s no surprise that our summer wardrobes aren’t mothballed until around Columbus Day.

So yesterday, I was sporting a button down from Hamilton Shirts (with the sleeves rolled up just so), a pair of critter trousers from Bills Khakis, a ribbon belt from F.H. Wadsworth and penny loafers (worn sockless) from Rancourt. I topped the outfit off with my new sunglasses from Saint Rita Parlor.

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On the Galveston Seawall

PF Flyers

The year 1993 was a memorable one for me. It was the year of my son’s birth.

Changing diapers and dealing with all manner of sleep deprivation hamper one’s ability to savor the cultural zeitgeist. As a result, I didn’t get out to the movies much that year.

And so a little slice of early 1960s nostalgia, The Sandlot, passed me by.

Fast forward 23 years. That colicky newborn is now on the cusp of graduation from college. Needing a new pair of tennis shoes, he turned to PF Flyers, one of just a few sneaker brands that continue to be made in the United States.

The model he ordered is “The Sandlot,” apparently in homage to a pair worn by one of the characters in the movie. (He got the reference; I did not.) They’re all black (except for the circular logo).

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During the 1930s, BF Goodrich produced a variety of shoes with vulcanized rubber soles. The company’s patented posture foundation insole begat the name “PF,” and soon several Goodrich shoes were being sold under that moniker. According to the PF Flyers website:

The PF brand grew throughout the ’50s and ’60s,becoming one of the most popular brands in America “for work, relaxation and play.” Women could buy outfits designed to match their PFs, basketball’s first superstar, Bob Cousy, wore PF, and PF was standard issue in the US Army.

Eventually, Goodrich left the shoe business, so the PF brand bounced among owners for a while; at one point Converse owned it, although federal regulators determined that merger ran afoul of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Eventually, in 2001, the brand was picked up and resurrected by New Balance.

Most PF Flyers, like most New Balance shoes, are not American made. And those that are (assembled in New Balance’s Massachusetts plant) command a fairly significant premium. For example, the American made version of the Sandlot is $150, while the seemingly identical model produced overseas is $60.

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My son’s initial impressions are thus: “The shoes fit well and are already fairly comfortable without having to break them in too much. They feel like Converse that can take a beating.”

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He also offers this impression: “I feel like I could outrun a giant dog known ominously as ‘The Beast’.” This, I gather, is also a reference to The Sandlot; not surprisingly, it flew over my head.

One note about sizing. Because these are made by New Balance, which traditionally runs a bit small, I encouraged Andrew to order a half size larger than he normally would. The fit is spot on.

Saint Rita Parlor Sunglasses

The philosopher George Santayana once opined that “family is one of nature’s masterpieces.”

This is something Saint Rita Parlor founder Neil Bardon knows and knows well. Rita, the eponymous saint in the company’s name, was his grandmother, and her influence is a thread woven throughout Saint Rita Parlor’s figurative fabric.

With her visage stamped across the company’s product line, she is both mentor and muse.

Saint Rita Parlor has been described, variously, as “L.A.’s hottest eyewear brand” and “timeless, cool.” Its offerings–American made and relentlessly classic–are nonetheless targeted to a contemporary demographic.

Bardon describes describes his design aesthetic thusly: “Ivy league meets the wild west with an emphasis on European tailoring and attention to design detail.” Quite an amalgam of diverse influences, but one that has resulted in a very nice product.

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I first caught site of these sunglasses on the Manready Mercantile website. While I thought about pulling the trigger then, sunglasses are a curious beast, and what looks good on the computer screen can look awkward spread across the dimensions of the wrong face shape. Plus I can’t resist the opportunity to visit the fine folks at Manready.

The model I ended up purchasing is the 1072–an amber tortoise frame with a hunter green lens. The glasses call to mind Persol at its best, and they turned out to be both an ideal size and shape for my face.

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From the Archives: Brooks Brothers Tie

A few weeks ago, I was sifting through a box of old ties, mostly vintage neckwear from the 30s, 40s and 50s. One, however, was of a contemporary manufacture–a lilac Brooks Brothers neat. Why, I wondered, had I stuffed it away in a box of collectibles.

I can’t remember buying it, and I know I didn’t receive it as a gift. I must have purchased it on discount. As best I can remember, I had never worn it.

This is surprising for two reasons. First, I take issue with people who buy items of clothing that are either never or only occasionally worn. But it’s also a nice tie, and there’s really no good reason for me to have consigned it to the coffin of unwanted cravats.

Regardless, I resurrected it. And, yes good readers, I have already added it to my active rotation of ties. Here it is in full deployment.

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