Thrifted 3-Button Sport Coat – Needs Tailoring

Natural Shoulder, 3-Button Sport Coat by Southwick

Natural Shoulder, 3-Button Sport Coat by Southwick

Last week, I made some great finds while thrifting.  I came across two natural shoulder (Ivy style) 3-button sack sport coats at The Nearly New Shop, which is run by the Junior League of Greenville, SC.  The top button of this sport coat, which is rolled on the lapel (a 3/2 roll) was made by Southwick for Rush Wilson, Ltd., a traditional mens’ clothier in town, with whom I opened a charge account when I was 15 years old.  The other sport coat (images coming soon) was made by Norman Hilton also for Rush Wilson, Ltd.  Both items were in perfect condition with no obvious signs of wear.

The Junior Leagues's Nearly New Shop, Greenville, SC

The Junior Leagues’s Nearly New Shop, Greenville, SC

As you can tell from the image below, the sleeves on this sport coat are a bit short.  Too much shirt cuff is showing.  I need to take it to a tailor and have the sleeves lengthened by 3/4 of an inch.  I like to show only about 1/4 of shirt cuffs.

Southwick 3-Button Sport Coat for Rush Wilson, Ltd.

Southwick 3-Button Sport Coat for Rush Wilson, Ltd.

Most of the items I’m wearing in the shot were thifted.  In addition to the sport coat ($10.00/Nearly New Shop), the other thrifted items are a 100% cotton J. Press button down shirt from The Salvation Army in Greenville ($1.00 on sale), and a foulard pattern silk tie (Oakton, Ltd.) also from The Salvation Army (.50 cents).

I also have on a pair of cuffed, plain front, wool charcoal gray pants from Jos. A. Bank, which I bought on sale a few years ago and a pair of tassel Bass Weejun loafers.  I picked those up at The Salvation Army for $5.99.

Total Cost of the thrifted items:  $16.99.  Purchased new all items would cost over $600.00.  

When I do shop retail, a store like Rush Wilson, Ltd. is where I go.  Rush III and his sales associates offer classic mens’ clothing and personalized service with Southern hospitality.  Families have shopped at this store for several generations.

Interior of Rush Wilson, Ltd. in Greenville SC

Interior of Rush Wilson, Ltd. in Greenville SC

Interior of Rush Wilson, Ltd. in Greenville, SC

Interior of Rush Wilson, Ltd. in Greenville, SC

Properly Attired Professor

Properly Attired Professor

I teach at a private liberal arts college in the South, which is one of the most traditional parts of the country in terms of clothes.  When I was an undergraduate myself, khaki pants and a button down shirt were considered casual in the same way that most people now regard blue jeans and a t-shirt as casual.  I’ve never strayed far from the classic look.  Even in my New York City days (in hipster Williamsburg), a blue blazer or a tweed sport coat was always to be found in my closet.

Today, I wore a tweed 3-button sport coat with a windowpane pattern (bought at a Brooks Brothers sidewalk sale for $99.00 in Westport, CT).  The pinpoint button down is also from Brooks (bought for $4.99 at Unique Thrift Store in Riverdale, NY).  However, I picked up the J. Press bow tie – all silk with a foulard pattern – at their Madison Avenue store in Manhattan.  It was on sale for 30% off.  I think I paid $29.00 for it.  For and in-depth discussion of ties in American Culture, please read this excerpt from Paul Fussell.

Preppy in the 90s

Me_1998

1999 – A professional headshot of me taken by a photographer in Tribecca when my wife and I were living in New York City.  I took my glasses off for this shot because the lenses, as I recall, didn’t have an anti-reflective coating, and because the photographer was going for more of an intense lawyerly look.  I have on a Ralph Lauren navy blue wool suit with gray chalk stripes that I bought for $50.00 at a thrift store in Asheville, NC.  It was memorable because, though a great suit, it was one of the most expensive thrift purchases I’ve ever made, but I still wear it occasionally.  I’m not sure where I got the button down shirt and foulard tie.  Both were likely thrifted.

Wedding_1999

1999 – My beautiful wife and I on our wedding day outside her aunt and uncle’s house.  They hosted the reception.  I have on a charcoal gray suit with suspenders, a paisley tie with navy background and a white button down shirt.

1999_Episcopal

1999 – Outside the small Episcopal chapel where our wedding ceremony was held in Greenville, SC.  I think my wife looks lovely here!  Opting for simplicity, we kept the invitation list to 50 and had no groom’s men or bride’s maids, just a priest, a crucifer and musicians.  We designed and printed our wedding announcement and program for the ceremony and asked that there be no gifts (though this was largely ignored).  We tried!

The coup in the do-it-yourself approach was my wife’s wedding dress.  While we were in New York, she selected her own material from a shop in the Garment District and took it to a boutique in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  She asked them to design a party dress, which cut the cost down considerably.  The cap toe dress shoes I’m wearing with the charcoal gray suit were polished, but cracked, and had a small hole on one of the soles – likely visible to our guests when we knelt at the altar.

We’ve been happily married for 13 years.  As we look back on the wedding, we’re glad that we kept it a simple ceremony.  The organist was wonderful.  There were solos from a friend who was a professional opera singer.  A string quartet of classically trained musicians, my wife’s friends since childhood, played for us.  It couldn’t have been a more prefect day.

Us_1998

1998 – My wife-to-be and I on the balcony of a friend’s apartment in New York City.  You can’t tell here, but we were on the 44th floor high above 9th Avenue near Times Square.  We had been invited to a Christmas party.  I have on a wool houndstooth sport coat, a sage turtleneck and a pair of khaki pants.  My wife is wearing a vintage (60s) green and black houndstooth jacket whose design was very Sherlock Holmes.  That was a thrift find at Anne Merchant’s Time Warp shop (now out of buisness) in Greenville, SC.  I still have that jacket, too.

Middleburg_19931993 – With friends in Upperville, VA after the fall Piedmont Hunt Point-To-Point races.  I’m wearing a light windbreaker, a classic Norwegian Fisherman’s Sweater from L.L. Bean, a pair of rumpled khakis – rumpled being their usual state – and Bean Boots.  Among my friends is a sampling of Barbour, Burberry and Brooks Brothers.

Meeting Whit Stillman

With Director Whit Stillman (Left)

Going through my digital photo archive, I found a shot of me with director Whit Stillman (left) last May at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York City.  Whit was there for a screening of his most recent film, “Damsels in Distress,” and a Q&A session with two of the actors in that film, Ryan Metcalf and Carrie MacLemore.  This was one of the last films I saw in the city before moving to South Carolina.

After the Q&A, Whit stopped to chat with me for a while.  He is one of my favorite directors, and has been known to indie filmgoers since the 90s as a chronicler of the “urban haute bourgeoisie.”  Though his films lack a precise time or place, they do seem to capture the decline of mainline families, whose values and relationships seem hopelessly old fashioned, and an evolving and complicated set of social standards.  His previous films Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco have been referred to as somewhat of a preppy trilogy.  Metropolitan (1990) remains my favorite of his films.

The Last Days of Disco (1998) features an impressive Madras plaid sport coat worn by Chris Eigeman, who plays Des.  Eigeman strenuously objected to being asked to wear the Madras jacket, but Whit won the debate.

Thrifty at the Races – Middleburg, VA

My wife and I recently made a trip down to Middleburg, VA for the spring point-to-point races at Glenwood Park.  She took this photo just after the final race of the day.  Most of what I’m wearing was thrifted.  Here’s the breakdown:

Thrifted Items

  • 3-Button linen/wool sport coat by Huntington:  $6.99 @ Salvation Army, Greenville, SC.
  • Brooks Brothers 100% cotton button down:  $9.99 @ Unique Thrift Store, Bronx, NY.
  • Silk/Linen tie by Robert Jacobson for Rush Wilson Limited:  $1.00 @ Salvation Army, Greenville, SC.
  • Ralph Lauren 100% cotton plain front khakis with 1 and 3/4 inch cuffs:  $8.00 @ The Nearly New Shop (Junior League), Greenville, SC.
  • Total:  $25.98

Middleburg_Races

 

There’s Preppy – Then There’s Ridiculous

Preppies like to have their belts and pants embroidered with various motifs. There are spouting whales and signal flags, lobsters and tennis racquets, ducks and sailboats. These are the classics.  But have you ever imagined whales, for example, embroidered on a seersucker jacket?  Well, J. Crew has, and I can tell you the result is neither preppy nor aesthetically pleasing, but something verging on the ridiculous and clownish.  I came across these images on an eBay site.  So I am not sure if J. Crew is offering anything like this for the summer of 2012.

Worn correctly, seersucker is an elegant statement – showing good taste and an understanding of seasonal traditions.  It shows a practical side as well.  Seersucker keeps you cool in the summer.  But this?    This is just fundamentally wrong!  A seersucker jacket does not need gee gaws adorning it.  Unfortunately, this is what happens when preppy goes mainstream, and a retailer like J. Crew fails to grasp the correct way to apply a much loved motif.

Overall, this is a colossal design failure.  Although the jacket is a 3-button model with half lining and patch pockets, a very good start, there is no 3/2 roll to the lapels.  J. Crew committed a further mistake by making the material darted in the front, rounding out the fiasco with the blue embroidered whales.

Now, what would a great seersucker jacket done correctly look like?  Let’s try an example from J. Press – clean, simple and timeless.

The Classic Style of William Eggleston

William Eggleston (Portrait by Maude Schuyler Clay)

This is a portrait of William Eggleston – one of my favorite photographers.  It was shot by his cousin Maude Schuyler Clay.  Raised in Mississippi and now living in Memphis, Eggleston is one of the most celebrated modern artists, and his work hangs in major museums all over the world.  But his clothing style is very traditional and a rejection of all that is trendy and hip.  He opts instead to dress like a gentleman.  In this portrait, he is wearing a tweed jacket with a faint camel windowpane pattern and 3/2 roll over a gray wool crew neck sweater (probably a Shetland knit) and a blue candy stripe oxford cloth button down.  Eggleston is the epitome of a natty dresser!  I believe he is holding a Leica M4 camera – the same model used by Henri Cartier Bresson.  A pair of smart tortoise shell glasses complete his timeless look.

Note:  Camera experts tell me Eggleston’s Leica appears to be an M3, a slightly earlier model.

Huntington 3-Button Wool & Silk Sport Coat

Total Cost of Sport Coat, Tie and Shirt: $16.99.

This combination features a Huntington plaid sport coat of wool and silk in a spring/summer weight.  The sport coat has several traditional features:  3-button front (3/2 roll) with 2 buttons on each sleeve,  natural shoulders and a single hooked vent in back with 1/4 inch welted edges, an Ivy style afficionado’s dream.  This was a great find at the Salvation Army in Greenville, SC ($6.99).  At the same store, I found a silk and linen jacquard tie ($2.00) made by Jacobs Roberts for Rush Wilson Limited, a local clothier.  The 100% cotton button down is Polo by Ralph Lauren, which I found on another outing ($9.00), and the pocket square was a gift from my grandfather.

All of these items are in excellent condition with no visible signs of wear.  I won’t buy a sport coat unless it is my exact size – 44 regular.  I realize that taking any good find to a tailor for minor adjustments is almost a given – not so in this case!  Not only was the item a perfect fit in the shoulders and chest, but the sleeves were also the perfect length, allowing just 1/4 inch of shirt cuffs to show.  Apparently, I have a doppelganger in Greenville.  To top it all off, I found a traditional Haspel sport coat of go-to-hell yellow linen with a faint turquoise window pane pattern.  It had a Rush Wilson Limited store label and was a 3-button model with 2 button sleeves and  natural shoulders.  This item was half-lined on the interior and will be perfect for a late spring steeplechase race.  The fit of this sport coat was absolutely perfect,  and I’ll post images of it in the next week.  The same person must have donated both sport coats.  Lucky finds!

Burberrys’ Tweed Sport Coat & Land’s End Turtleneck

On a Saturday afternoon thrift expedition last summer, my wife and I stopped at The Salvation Army in Danbury, CT.  Their store occupies two floors of a building (several thousand square feet) in the downtown area.  It is a gigantic warehouse full of amazing clothes, and if you ever go there, you should be prepared to spend several hours if you want to find the really good stuff.  It takes time to weed out all of the clothes that just don’t cut it (that’s code for clothes that contain acrylic, polyester or poly/cotton blends).

I had several good finds on this trip, but the best deal was a 2-botton tweed Burberrys’ sport coat for $9.99.  It’s actually a Burberry knock off.  The lapels are 3.5 inches at the widest point.  I also found a slate blue 100% cotton Land’s End turtleneck for $4.99, which I paired with the Burberry, khaki pants and penny loafers this afternoon.  The pattern on the sport coat has several colors running through it:  slate, navy and maroon.  The turtleneck really picks up the slate blue stripe of the sport coat.

I had to have two alterations done:  the sleeves had to be shortened so that I could show 1/4 inch of cuffs when wearing a button down, and a slight ridge appeared below the collar, which my tailor took out (a  task he calls “lowering the collar”).

Another find that day was a 3-button Corbin sport coat for $9.99, which I’ll post about some other time.  It was english style, double vented in the back and with two pockets on the right side – a smaller one on top.  I also bought an Oleg Cassini 2-button sport coat with a small houndstooth pattern of maroon and navy over a dark brown background.  The magic price for that one:  also $9.99.  Rounding out the haul were two Land’s End button downs (pink and white) at $4.99 each and an assortment of wool sweaters none of which cost more than $5.00.  The Oleg Cassini looks amazing with the pink button down, by the way.

As a general rule, I prefer a 3-button, natural shoulder, sack cut sport coat over any other kind, but I will occasionally buy a 2-button model if I really like the pattern.  Some exceptions are necessary, I suppose.  All in all, this was a good day of thrifting, costing less than $50.00. If I’d bought everything new, I conservatively estimate that I’d have paid at least $500-$700.

Brooks Brothers 100% Camel Hair Sport Coat

This is one of several Brooks Brothers 3-button, sack cut sport coats I purchased recently at a local thrift store.  It’s 100% camel hair – perfect for fall and winter – and I picked it up for $15.00.  The top button is rolled on the lapel and is not visible, while the top button hole (also rolled on the lapel) is visible.  This is commonly called a 3/2 roll, and it is the quintessential look of the Ivy League.  I just checked the Brooks Brothers website and found a solid 100% camel hair 3-button sport coat listed for $548.00.  I think I did well!

Two minor alterations were needed:  the sleeves were slightly short and needed lengthening.  I like to show between 1/4 and 1/2 inch of cuffs.  There was also a ridge just below the collar, which needed to be taken out.  I got it back from the tailor yesterday, and I can’t wait for cooler weather so that I can wear it.

3-Button Front. The Top button is rolled on the lapel.