‘Faulkner’s Southern Style’: My Latest at No Man Walks Alone

Faulkner wasn't hesitant to blow his own horn.

Faulkner wasn’t hesitant to blow his own horn.

The greatest American writer? The case can certainly be made for Yoknapatawpha’s own William Faulkner. Whether you like the Nobel Prize winner’s complex writing style or not you should certainly enjoy his Southern clothing style:

Although always teetering on the brink of financial ruin, Faulkner projected the image of the Southern squire. This was especially true of Faulkner during his years as University of Virginia writer-in-residence late in life. In the more aristocratic Piedmont South, Faulkner let the Anglophilia that first appeared during his Canadian RAF days have free rein.

Check out the full article at No Man Walks Alone.

‘In Search of Madras’: New at No Man Walks Alone

Madras shirts

Some years back I found myself in Old Madras looking for its eponymous cloth. Tracking it down was harder than you might think. I write about that search and the wonderful homespun Indian cloth madras, a summer necessity, at No Man Walks Alone.

I stood in Nalli in Chennai asking a group of employees if they had any “madras cloth.” Nalli is perhaps the largest retailer of textiles in India, and since the cloth I asked for is named for the very city I was in—Chennai is the modern name for old Madras—surely I had come to the right place.

Read the whole article at No Man Walks Alone.

Scarves: The Warm Elegance of Double-Sided Scarves

Scarf stack

Outside of the all silk, and mostly decorative, opera scarf, the double-sided scarf is perhaps the most elegant. But don’t all scarves have two sides, you ask? Yes, certainly, but double-sided scarves typically are made by sewing a layer of silk (or, in the past, rayon) onto usually a solid scarf of wool or cashmere, thus the sides are not only different in design but are also made of different material.

The silk side of such double-sided scarves traditionally have been printed foulards, sometimes ancient madder, with paisleys, pines, and dots. I recently picked up a vintage Cisco scarf from the legendary Washington, D.C. clothier Julius Garfinckel & Co., which has striped repp silk rather than the typical foulard.

Cisco scarf

Double-sided scarves are meant particularly for wearing with dressier overcoats the lapels on which typically leave an open V-shape at the chest. Scarves are perfect for plugging this hole, providing useful warmth with splash of color in what typically are long, solid gray, navy, or tan coats.

Unlike the standard wool or cashmere scarf, the double-sided scarf’s silk side offers a more elegant, dressier look while providing the wool/cashmere warmth against the body. And although silk can be cool to the touch, it actually gives a practical double layer of warmth on a double-sided scarf. Silk, while often thin, is quite insulating.

Brooks Brothers scarf

Drake's scarf

Double-sided scarves are not easily found these days. British scarf and tie maker Drake’s usually offers a selection. And although the price is not for the faint of heart, the quality from Drake’s is always unquestioned. As is often the case, turning to the secondary market will save one quite a bit of money. England’s Tootal and Sammy are names frequently associated with vintage double-sided scarf, although both use alternatives for the silk side, usually rayon or Tricel. Vintage scarves from traditional men’s clothiers like Brooks Brothers will turn up from time to time as well.

For those times when you pull out the dressier overcoat, a double-sided scarf is an elegant, and rarely seen, option to have in your wardrobe.

scarf group

Scarves: Feel Like a Schoolboy Again

J Press schoolboy

I like scarves. They’re utilitarian, of course. Wrap one around your neck to keep off the cold and wind. But they’re also a way to sneak some color and pattern into even a casual ensemble. I think I’ve been hooked since Tom Baker wore his in old Doctor Who episodes when I was a kid.

Scarves come in variety of types, but one of the most traditional and classic is the schoolboy scarf. Schoolboy scarves are so called because of their association with colleges and prep schools. They are made of vertical stripes of contrasting woven wool, typically incorporating an institution’s signature colors, sometimes with an added school crest.

The primary maker of the traditional schoolboy scarf is Cambridge, England based Luke Eyres. The company says the scarves were born during wartime privation, proper wool yarn being unavailable for proper knit scarves. They developed the sewn vertical stripe design using woven wool fabric, and offered it to Cambridge’s colleges in lieu of the knit versions. When World War II was over, the colleges opted to keep the new schoolboy scarves.

Schoolboy labels

Soon other colleges began adopting them, including colleges and universities across the pond in the United States, particularly Ivy League institutions. The legendary J. Press, the shop so closely associated with Ivy League prep, became the go-to shop for American schoolboy scarves. It’s still a signature item for them.

Not everyone’s alma mater has an official schoolboy scarf, but I give you permission to cheat and choose one that uses your school’s colors. I found that a small private school in Connecticut used the colors of my own University of Kentucky in its schoolboy scarf, and grabbed one during a seasonal sale from J. Press several years ago. It’s a favorite during the winter months.

There few places to buy a quality schoolboy scarf. In the U.S., O’Connell’s Clothing is a reliable option, and seems to source from Luke Eyres. (Also take a look at Smart TurnoutRyder & Amies, and The Tie & Scarf Company.) Other classic designs such Argyle & Sutherland are also available in schoolboy scarf design, so these days the options are limitless. Luke Eyres will even make one up to your custom order. 

With the cold weather of winter ahead of us, schoolboy scarves are a great way to show loyalty to the alma mater while adding a bit of traditional style as well.

Schoolboy stack

The Sport of Kings: My Latest at No Man Walks Alone

Polo - vintage

The word “polo” is inextricably linked to menswear, but there’s more to the connection than a ubiquitous clothing brand with an easily recognizable logo. The game of polo, one of the world’s oldest and most venerable sports, has given us classic and iconic additions to menswear. My post exploring three of polo’s most important contributions is now up at No Man Walks Alone:

The button-down shirt collar, that most quintessentially American classic style detail, was actually borrowed from English polo players, whom John E. Brooks saw using buttons to keep their collars from flying up during play. In 1896 he introduced this new button down collar in his family’s New York shop, Brooks Brothers, and called it the polo collar. Style icons from Fred Astaire to Andy Warhol to Gianni Agnelli were famously devoted to the polo collar.

You can read it all at ‘The Sport of Kings: Polo’s Contribution to Menswear.’

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.

‘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.