Cotton Rules: Madras is King

Now that we’re past Memorial Day, the color barrage begins.  It’s full on madras go-to-hell season, and the colors run bold.   A few months ago, I thrifted a great pair of flat front 100% cotton madras plaid Bermuda shorts from Lands’ End.  The color pattern is  red, navy, yellow and white.  I also thrifted a braided cotton belt with leather tabs (unknown maker) of very good quality.  Yesterday, I got a shirt that finishes off the quintessential look of summer – a short sleeved navy Lacoste that I bought on eBay.  These items can be worn with Sperry Topsiders (leather or canvas), Weejuns or Bean Blucher Moccasins.

Cost Breakdown

Lands’ End Madras Shorts:  $15.00

Braided Cotton Belt (Leather Tabs):  $4.99

Lacoste Shirt:  $16.00

Total of all items:  $35.99 (less than 1/2 the cost of a new Lacoste at retail).

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

 

Thrifted Nautical Flag Belt – $3.99

My latest thrift purchase was a nautical flag belt – embroidered on leather with a webbed cotton backing and a brass buckle.  The belt was made by Zep-Pro, a company I had no heard of before.  The low price ($3.99) and overall good condition made this an excellent find.  It always pays to check the belt section.  I often find motif belts in excellent condition by Leather Man Limited that are typically priced under $5.00 vs. $45.00 or more at retail.

 Zep-Pro is based in Pembroke Park, Florida and makes a range of belts and accessories, including ribbon on webbed cotton, collegiate belts and keychains as well as motif pet collars and leads.  By the preponderance of deep sea and fresh water fish motifs, it’s safe to say they cater to the angler.

I can’t access the Zep-Pro price list, which requires access to a secure server by request only.  Odd.  I’d estimate the price falls in the range of $45.00 to $60.00.  I think this belt will go nicely with my Nantucket Reds.

Thrifting Plus Smart Retail Shopping

Thrifted items can be paired well with items purchased at retail, but it is always best to do your retail shopping with an eye for sales.  This combination features a pair of soft all cotton Bermuda shorts from Covington (thrift:  $4.99) with a grosgrain ribbon belt from J. Press (end of summer retail sale last year:  $29.00), a piqued all cotton polo shirt from Old Navy with a 2-button placket, capped sleeves and ribbed edging (thrift:  $8.00) and a pair of leather Sperry Topsiders (retail sale at Marshall’s:  $39.99).

The wine/navy ribbon belt is really sharp against the light blue shorts, and it looks great with khakis – perhaps the most traditional pairing for this belt.  I am not anti-retail.  I am anti-markup.  When a retailer puts something on sale, it’s closer to the actual value of the item.  That was true of the ribbon belt, which I got for $10.00 off the regular price.  While the store still made a profit, I got a better deal than I would have a week before.

J. Press Grosgrain Ribbon Belt - Wine/Navy

What I like about traditional retailers is that they don’t force you to wear advertising – preferring to keep their labels hidden.  You don’t need to announce to the world where you bought an article of clothing.  The quality of the piece should speak for itself.  J. Press discretely stitches their labels on the inside of their ribbon belts.

Combining thrifted items with smart retail purchases creates huge savings.  It would be a challenge for anyone to tell the difference between old and new at first glance.  If you put colors and materials together wisely, you can achieve a decidedly understated and seemingly effortless preppy look.

Sperry Topsiders - Bought at Marshall's

OK, I know you can see a Sperry name on these shoes. I’m busted for an inconsistency.  Would I prefer that the name not be there?  Certainly.  But this pair was on sale at $40.00 off regular retail at Marshall’s.  I couldn’t pass up the sale.  Actually, Marshall’s has become one of my favorite places to buy shoes.  You can find the classics at ridiculously low prices – at 50% to 60% off retail, sometimes more.  In the past year, I’ve bought Clark’s Desert Boots, black leather cap toe dress shoes and dirty bucks with crepe red soles from Cole Haan and the Sperry Topsiders above.

Thrifted Ribbon Belt, Polo Shirt and Khaki Shorts

For a total of $17.97, I recently thrifted a navy/cyan grosgrain ribbon belt ($4.99), an all cotton J. Crew polo shirt of matching cyan with 2-button placket, cap sleeves and ribbed edging ($7.99) and a pair of plain front Bermuda length 100% cotton khaki shorts from Merona ($5.99).

The ribbon belt has no label, but it looks very similar to one made by Vineyard Vines.  The cyan color in the detail shots of the belt looks different from the color of the shirt, but to the eye, it’s an exact match.  Unfortunately, the lighting changed slightly between shots.

All of these items are in excellent condition.  The belt seems well-made and durable, and the quality of the J. Crew polo and Merona khakis is surprisingly good.  You need not have particular brand names or “status symbol clothes” (i.e. with a crocodile or oversized polo player and horse stitched to your shirt) to look preppy.  If you are discerning, you can get away with no name items of classic design and natural fibers, and you will be practicing two key prep traits – thrift and discretion!   Preppy is not about being flashy, unless you count the occasional go-to-hell item.  But that’s really another discussion.

A word about shorts:  I always buy plain front.  In my opinion, pleats are fundamentally wrong (this applies to long pants as well).  I avoid cargo shorts.  Although many people like them, I think they have a very unflattering silhouette.  They seem to be most often combined with legible t-shirts, fanny packs and flip flops.  Enough said.  I regard their popularity as a sure sign of cultural decline.

Detail of navy/cyan grosgrain ribbon belt.

Multi-Prep Finds Today

At my favorite thrift store again tonight (Unique in Riverdale, NY), I found several items that I thought worth showing.  L to R:  Nautical belt from Leather Man Limited in Essex, CT ($6.99), navy surcingle belt from Dockers  ($4.99)…not a preppy brand per se, but passable, dirty bucks with brick red soles from Bass ($12.99), crew neck heavy wool sweater from L.L. Bean (19.99), no name white 100% cotton scarf ($3.99) and a pair of no name 100% cotton, plain front khakis embroidered with whales ($12.99)…though I thought the whale motif just a bit too large.  Total cost of all items:  $66.94. My guess is that these items would retail for around $300. So what items did I buy?  I got the L.L. Bean sweater.  It was a large and a perfect fit, made in the USA of 85% wool and 15% nylon for strength.  It will be great for winter.  I also got the navy surcingle belt.  Again, a perfect fit.  The nautical belt from Leather Man was such a great find, but not the right size.  It was the third belt from that maker I’ve come across in the last month.  The Bass shoes were unfortunately 1/2 size too small.  The embroidered khakis were not my size either.  I passed on the sarf.  The shots for this trip were taken inside the thrift store under fluorescent lights (please excuse).

The workmanship on the Leather Man belts always seems of the highest quality, and I wouldn’t mind making a trip to their factory/store.  It’s about 90 minutes from where I live.

I’ve been looking for a while now for a pair of dirty bucks, but I can never seem to find them in the right size.  I wear an 11 and these were 10 1/2.  They were in especially good condition, which is rare for thrift store shoes.  One guy in the store tonight had found two pairs of perfectly fitting canvas Sperry Topsiders.  Most of the time I buy my shoes at factory outlet malls (Sperry, L.L. Bean, Bass and Cole Haan all have stores at a nearby outlet).  I’ve also found leather Topsiders, Clark’s Desert Boots and Cole Haan leather, cap toe dress shoes for 50% off at Marshall’s.

Follow Up Note:  All of the items that I did not buy on this trip were GONE the next day.

Nautical Flag Belt and Ribbon Belt

I found a really great nautical flag belt for just $4.99 at  Unique Thift Store in Riverdale, NY.  The belt was hand made by Leather Man Ltd. of  Essex, CT.  The materials, stitching and overall workmanship are first rate.  Similar motif belts at  J. Press retail for $45.00.  It’s probably worth noting that I also found a square ring ribbon belt on the same trip for $4.99 (below).  Compare that price with the $39.00 J.Press asks for its ribbon belts.  There was no label on it, but I liked the colors.  I could wear it next summer with khaki shorts and a navy or white Lacoste.  I also scored several great shetland wool sweaters and cardigans, which I’ll post about soon.

Belts can get really expensive – especially ones done in needlepoint.  Although this next belt wasn’t a thift store find, I paid close to a thrift store price.  It’s a blue Vineyard Vines needlepoint belt with fish hook and lime wedge motifs that I picked up at a sidewalk sale last August in Westport, CT.  The cost:  $19.00 (compare that with the retail average of $150.00).  Not Bad.  Just up the street at Brooks Brothers, I picked up a 3-button  tweed sport coat (windowpane pattern) for $98.00.  The regular price was $300.00.  Keep an eye out for sidewalk sales.  You can do really well there.