Wool Challis & Ancient Madder Ties at No Man Walks Alone

wool challis

My new post ‘Fall’s Ties: Wool Challis & Ancient Madder’ is up at No Man Walks Alone. The two tie types are perfect for the seasons’ cooler weather and muted tones:

There are two classic neckties that do just that for fall and winter: ancient madder and wool challis. Each has a softer hand than most year-‘round ties with a dusty, muted appearance, easily blending with the autumn palette. Both are beautifully at home with a cold weather kit of tweeds, cords, and tattersall shirts, but they are still refined enough to dress up with flannel suits.

They hearken back to 19th C England, and the designs were blocked by hand until only a few years ago:

The designs traditionally used on both fabrics are paisleys and neats, from geometrics to pines. Wool challis will not infrequently feature equestrian and hunting themed designs as well. Many of these designs were produced by David Evans & Co. which stood as an iconic name in English silk and hand blocking for a century and a half, until the factory’s closing in 2002.

Keep your eyes open at thrift stores for classic examples, although wool challis seems to be particularly yummy to moths. Pictured is a tie dating from at least the 1960s, maybe much earlier, with a classic pedigree. Alas, it was not in good enough shape to take home.

Head on over to No Man Walks Alone to read all about it, then go buy some ties.

Legendary Tailor & Holocaust Survivor Martin Greenfield’s Vow of Revenge

Greenfield Book CoverAnyone familiar with quality American tailoring knows the name Martin Greenfield. Now 84- years old, the Holocaust survivor has released a new memoir, Measure of a Man. In it he writes of his odyssey from the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp to becoming a Presidential tailor.

The New York Post ran an excerpt in which Greenfield writes of his revenge on a beautiful woman who was responsible for him receiving a severe beating:

“No! Please!” she quavered. “The baby, please!”

I aimed the machine gun at her chest. The baby wailed. My finger hovered above the trigger.

“Shoot her!” one of the boys said. “Shoot her!” The woman’s outstretched hand trembled in the air. My heart pounded against my chest like a hammer.

His joy ride with some fellow liberated prisoners:

What a sight we must have been: three teenage Jews in striped prisoner uniforms, armed with machine guns, driving a black Mercedes in Weimar, Germany, on our way back to the Buchenwald concentration camp. We smiled, laughed, and talked tough like the men we weren’t.

And the foreign policy advice he sent to President Eisenhower:

During the Suez Canal crisis, Greenfield was frustrated and thought the US needed a stronger response. So he wrote an anonymous note and left it in the pocket of a jacket he was making for Eisenhower.

Read the entire excerpt. The book sounds fascinating.

Portrait of the Artist: In Memory of My Friend Jane Gentry Vance

I will miss Jane Vance. I knew through mutual friends that Jane was sick, but one often underestimates such things from a distance, focusing on one’s own problems until it’s too late. I had checked for her at her house a couple of times when driving through Versailles, but hadn’t found her.

Jane Gentry VanceI knew Jane for over twenty five years, extending back to my earliest days as a student at the University of Kentucky. My cousin Jennifer and friend Dave developed earlier relationships with Jane. Jennifer idolized her. Dave worked with her on the Honors Program literary magazine JAR.

She was from old Kentucky stock that extended back to Daniel Boone’s Fort Boonesborough. She was raised not far from there in southern Fayette County on ancestral land in Athens (pronounced with a long “a”). Jane had left Kentucky for Hollins, then for the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. She was a student of the great Southern scholar Louis D. Rubin, Jr. But the pull of Kentucky is strong. She came back to teach English at the University of Kentucky.

Jane worked with my good friend Dr. Raymond F. Betts in UK’s then excellent Honors Program, which they built into a Great Books survey of Western Civilization. For many of us, the Honors Program was the defining experiencing at UK. It is one of life’s injustices that Jane Vance did not become director of the Honors Program when Dr. Betts left as Director.

I finally had Jane in class as a sophomore in Honors 202, a Great Books focus on the modern period. She loved, and taught, T.S. Eliot to us. Before I learned Eliot through the lens of my boss Russell Kirk, Jane introduced me to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Waste Land.” She was a thoughtful, and reasonable, expositor of texts, teaching us well how to think and write about these giants on whose shoulders we stood.

Jane remained one of my favorite teachers. I remember being invited to her home for a Christmas party, my first time on Morgan Street in Versailles. When I wrote my final column as Editorial Page Editor at UK’s student newspaper The Kentucky Kernel, I listed Jane along with Raymond Betts and Jim Force as my favorite teachers. I admit I gave some priority to Dr. Betts and Dr. Force (I had both in multiple classes). Jane joked to me that she felt like Shakespeare’s wife being left the second best bed.

Among my teachers, though, was Jane Vance who would remain my good friend for decades to come.

I moved back to Kentucky after graduate school in South Carolina, newly married and looking for a place to live. Jane told me about an apartment, a flat, in a historic home a few houses down from her on Morgan Street in Versailles. It was owned by Lexington art gallery owner Heike Pickett, who was (understandably) somewhat skeptical of us (particularly of my wife’s cat). I’m pretty sure she let us in because of Jane.

I am thankful to Jane for opening the door to Morgan Street, which will forever be the most perfect place we lived. The old 19th Century house had slanting floors, no air conditioning, and cantankerous elderly upstairs tenants. We had no money. But Morgan Street was lovely and historic. You felt special living there.

And, of course, we had Jane herself just down the street. We would sometimes housesit for her, watching after plants and cats, playing with word magnets on her refrigerator. (Fun Jane fact, the exterior of her house was used in the movie Elizabethtown, which actually was filmed in Versailles, not in Elizabethtown.)

It was during this time that I apprenticed under Gray Zeitz at Larkspur Press in Monterey, Kentucky. Gray is one of America’s foremost letterpress printers, a key figure in Kentucky’s literary scene for four decades. I wanted to print some of my own projects, which I began doing under the imprint of Adela Press, named after the small community where I grew up in Clay County.

The most straightforward project to start with was a broadside poem. A broadside is a larger piece of paper printed on one side and, these days, often framed as a piece of art. But who of note would be willing to let me, an unproven and inexperienced printer, potentially make a disaster of a valued poem?

Well, my poet neighbor Jane, of course.

I nervously approached Jane about the idea, and, of course she graciously jumped on board the project. She had just written a poem about pigs as part of a poetry group of which she was a member. It was called “Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig.”White Pig illustration

White Pig broadsideAmong our Versailles neighbors was gifted artist Laura Lee Cundiff. She kindly agreed to illustrate the poem. The broadside came together as a Versailles confluence of poet, artist, and printer. I handset the poem and printed it in an edition of only seventy five copies (in hindsight, I obviously should have printed a hundred of them), signed by both Jane and Laura Lee. A few people even bought them. I’m just happy to have it hanging on my own wall.

Amazingly for me, “Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig” later became the title poem of Jane’s second collection of poetry for LSU Press. The artwork I commissioned from Laura Lee for the broadside was used on the cover. Such is my minor contribution to Southern belles lettres. I can’t help but confess how pleased I was that our little project made such a ripple.

White Pig bookJane later became Kentucky’s Poet Laureate, a well deserved honor. There was no confirmation that “Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig” put her over the top when the honor was bestowed.

I saw Jane infrequently in the decade I was away from Kentucky. A couple of years ago, driving home for a visit, we drove up Morgan Street as I do every single time I drive through Versailles. Jane was home, so we stopped, uninvited and unexpected, but always welcome. We sent our girls to play in the backyard, and sat on the porch talking to Jane, catching up on this and that. It was a visit I think about again and again, the last time I visited with Jane on Morgan Street.

I did see Jane one more time, at the funeral for my cousin Jennifer who had idolized Jane so, who had reached out to Jane for counsel when times were hard. It was an example of how kind and considerate Jane was. We hugged and spoke briefly.

St Johns window Versailles

Window at St. John’s Church

All of these things ran through my mind at Jane’s funeral. It was a beautiful service in Versailles’ beautiful St. John’s Episcopal Church, and it all well reflected beautiful Jane herself. I saw Heike and Irwin Pickett and Laura Lee Cundiff from those old Morgan Street days. (When I told Irwin I had just moved back to Kentucky he replied, “Kentuckians always come back.”) My friends lawyer Dave Abner and writer David King were there, fellow students of Jane’s at UK. The three of us went for coffee and talked about Jane, the UK Honors Program, and the old days. And I met local chef Ouita Michel, who I learned was Jane’s student, too. She told me Jane was her constant supporter and one of her best customers. If you needed Jane’s support, she would give it.

How wonderful, indeed, was Jane’s life. What a powerful impact she had on so many people. And I am thankful that I was able, in some way, to be part of that life. I will miss Jane Vance.

When I awoke one day, my bloom
was past. Those who loved me first were dead,
and promises had blown away like chaff
or clouds, which dazzle now only in the moment
of their height and roll.
The years have given back the thing itself.
from “My Life Story,” by Jane Gentry Vance

Watch this fantastic interview with Jane by my old friend, and fellow Eastern Kentuckian, Gurney Norman.

‘Corduroy: The King of Wales’ at No Man Walks Alone

It’s corduroy trouser time, and the waley fabric is the subject for my latest for the good folks at No Man Walks Alone, Corduroy: The King of Wales.

Corduroy’s reputation rallied at the turn of the century, and was adopted by the horsey set as a hard-wearing country cloth. It won the approval of both Apparel Arts and the Duke of Windsor, which is one Cary Grant away from an interbellum menswear hat trick. By the Second World War, corduroy was a fashion staple of agrarians and academics both.

Read it all at No Man Walks Alone.

Rota cords at No Man Walks Alone.

Rota cords at No Man Walks Alone.

Billy Reid & Alabama Chanin Take Cotton From Seed to Store

NPR’s Morning Edition did a nice segment on an organic cotton experiment by North Alabama’s Billy Reid and Natalie Chanin (of Alabama Chanin). Not only did they grow organic cotton like it would have been two generations ago, they also took the cotton from field to store within the same community. Listen to the story here.

And while you’re at it, watch this lovely video by Jennifer Davick on Natalie Chanin’s cotton.

Organic Cotton: Grown to Sewn from Jennifer Davick on Vimeo.

Anthony Bourdain’s Pocket Square

I admit, I’m an Anthony Bourdain fan. Despite our differing worldviews, Bourdain seems to be an honest, and certainly adventurous, fellow. His brand of no holds barred food tourism, which is really using food as a wedge to understand other cultures, is addictive. His job is envy inducing.

Bourdain pocket square

I was intrigued by a recent Bourdain blog post about the season debut of his CNN show Parts Unknown (honestly, the only thing anybody watches on CNN). He visited Shanghai, and as a result there was an attempt to emulate a cinematographic technique by a favorite Chinese movie director. This would be done through the simple placement of a pocket square:

You might notice that in the premier episode, set in Shanghai, that I am, from time to time, wearing a colored pocket square or foulard. This is not, as a matter of course, normal for me. But there is a method to my madness. These tiny notes of color are our first venture into actual production design—a calculated effort to give the episode a specific “look”.

I have long been besotted with the works of Chinese director Wong Kar Wai—and his frequent cinematographer, Christopher Doyle. His films, “In the Mood for Love” and “Chungking Express” in particular, are gorgeous meditations on longing and desire and missed connections. They are spectacularly shot—and a while back, I noticed how tiny elements of color in the foregrounds of the frames are often connected to similar colors in the background—giving scenes a lush, unified atmosphere that feels natural and un-designed. So we tried—as best and as cheaply as possible—to do that.

If you watch the scene, the pocket square does its job very well as an aesthetic device. As a pocket square qua pocket square, it’s not folded well, it protrudes too far, and as it appears to be a silk solid, not one I would recommend anyone wear. I don’t think Bourdain cares in the least about any of that. It does well what he wanted it to do.

And it led to what likely will be my only brush with Bourdain when he responded to my tweet about it:

Sometimes the issue isn’t necessarily what is the “right way” to wear something in the abstract, but rather what are you trying to accomplish? The whole really is more important than the sum of the parts. Anthony Bourdain teaches us the lesson well.

A Decade Later: The New York Times & Menswear’s Big Moment

newspaper boy

Ten years ago I became a New York Times quoted authority on men’s clothing. Well, sort of.

Internet years, like dog years, add up more quickly than a single rotation around the sun. A decade ago there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Tumblr or Instagram. There were no hashtags then, thus no #menswear, only menswear. A decade ago there were no real smartphones. A decade ago in Internet years is ripe for a Ken Burns documentary with moving discussions of Geocities.

What men’s clothing did have a decade ago were discussion forums. Two dominated the scene, Ask Andy About Clothes, and the then upstart Styleforum. I discovered Ask Andy in Fall 2003, and I joined Style Forum shortly after that. Both sites had a small group of regulars, many of them were the same regulars at both places. Some were knowledgable, some were like me.

A year later, in September 2004, everything changed when The New York Times noticed this new wave of online interest in traditional men’s clothing. NYT fashion writer Gina Bellafante was dispatched to write a feature exploring this strange world of obsessive discussions of Russian reindeer leather and buttonhole stitching. She spoke with Ask Andy’s Andy Gilchrist and Styleforum’s Jeremy Jackson, aka “j”. And Bellafante ended up talking to me, one of the regulars. I talked about a shirt that forum man of mystery “RJman” alerted me to.

“The circles I’m in are not particularly clothes-conscious circles,” said Alan Cornett, a 34-year old minister and father of two from Wilsonville, Ala., who recently purchased a Hilditch & Key dress shirt at a good price with the knowledge he acquired on AskAndy. “I’ve learned a good deal about thrift shopping there,” Mr. Cornett said. “And it’s helped me to recognize that I wore my shirt-sleeves too short. It cost me nothing to make the change.”

Headlined, “For the Splendidly Dressed Man, Websites to Match,” the article inspired new people to flock to the forums. It was a turning point. The small club-like feel was gone, for good and for ill.

The modern #menswear world of blogs, Tumblr, Twitter, and artisanal clothing makers had its roots in the forums. Both Ask Andy and Styleforum are still plugging along, and are the same and very different. The old regulars largely have drifted off. I see some of them on Twitter, I’m friends with a few on Facebook. Andy is usually on a cruise ship off the French Riviera. Popular blogs like A Suitable Wardrobe and Put This On had their beginnings in the forums.

[cue mournful violins] The New York Times found menswear in it halcyon days. Time has matured it, but also splintered it. Popularity on the Internet has the inevitable effect of pushing things toward their lowest common denominator. The Internet, and menswear, was different ten years ago. The New York Times article changed it all.

Sartorial Archaelogy: A Robert Talbott Foulard Patch Tie

Some thrifters are simply interested in skimming off the cream of overlooked haute couture offerings, others are interested in digging up a little sartorial history, too. Neckties are way to do this, probably the easiest way. People tended to buy a lot of them, and often they were somewhat lightly worn.

After a decade of thrifting I’ve seen all sorts of oddities, some so odd they never should have been at all. But recently I came across something I had not seen before, a patch silk foulard tie from independent men’s shop stalwart Robert Talbott and its its higher end Best of Class line.

Talbott Patch Foulard

Patch fabrics take cuttings, originally as a way to make economical use of scraps, from usually related fabrics and sew them together. This conveys a bit of a devil-may-care attitude, thus are part of what has traditionally been called a GTH, or “go-to-hell” look. That is to say, the one who wears such a thing really could not care less what you think about it, or him. It originated as a class statement. Men who are able to convey such a notion are those who don’t fear the repercussions of a superior who may not like it.

As with most clothing from this genre, J. Crew and others got a hold of it, commodified it, and now you can get such pieces ready made for the outlet mall. Patch madras, which I confess to liking, is the most commonly seen patch clothing, usually seen in ties, trousers and shorts, and flat caps. Patch tweeds and tartans are the winter versions.

Patch silk foulard, however, is a rare breed that hearkens back to “authentic” patch meant for the dandy gentleman brave enough to wear it. Foulard itself is that most conservative of ties, typically small repeating patterns or more reserved paisleys and pines. Here the foulard patterns live together in colorway harmony. It is a subtle patch that at least says “gth” in lower case. A quick Internet search only turned up one similar example, also made by Robert Talbott.

Processed with VSCOcam with a4 presetI find ties of interest, too, as artifacts of often long gone men’s shops. D.J. Showalter Gentleman’s Clothiers, once in Lexington’s Fayette Mall and the downtown Civic Center, seems to have fought the good fight until the mid-1980s. They sold this tie for $37.50, which is a lot more than many people pay for ties today. Showalter also went by the name “Fox and Hound” as a play to the horsey set. In June 1984 they marked down everything in a bid to stay open. This tie may even date from that sale.

Times, and fashions, inevitably change. Stores come and go. But both sometimes leave clues behind that things were once somewhat different.

My New Project: Eat Kentucky

Eat Kentucky logoFrom pretty early in the life of Pinstripe Pulpit I have posted restaurant reviews from time to time. Since moving back to Kentucky it’s something I’ve become even more interested in. I decided the best option was to create an entirely new website that would allow me to explore food in my native state: Eat Kentucky was born.

Pinstripe Pulpit is still open for business, and I hope the new site will help me refine the focus here. Thanks to all of you for reading here, and I hope some of you will also find Eat Kentucky of interest.