Preppy in New York City

Union Square and 17th Street, New York, NY

Union Square and 17th Street in New York City (1998)

My wife took this photo of me looking at books among the vendors at Union Square near 17th Street in New York City.  As best I can recall, this was taken around December of 1997.  We had been in the city nearly a year, having moved up from South Carolina, and I was working for MoMA.

Union Square was a seven minute subway ride on the L Train from the Bedford Avenue stop in our neighborhood:  Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  The World Trade Towers are visible to the right, just beyond the pedestrians.  Washington Square Park was a short walk south down University Place in the direction of the towers.

My sartorial style was largely out of synch with the burgeoning hipster population of Williamsburg, but drew respect from our old school Italian neighbors.  In this photo, I was wearing charcoal gray wool flannel pants, a button down shirt, a wool argyle sweater (non-thrifted Christmas gift) from Brooks Brothers, a wool herringbone pattern topcoat and a pair of black Bass Weejuns.  The glasses were tortoise rim.

I’m not sure whether to love or hate the fact that hipsters have appropriated (maybe hijacked is a better word) the preppy look in the last few years.  They are certainly dressing better.  I suppose that is a good thing.  So I won’t complain too much about their “preppy with a twist” aesthetic.  How ironic!  When walking down Bedford Avenue once in the late 90s in khakis, a ribbon belt and a pink button down, I felt as though I was doing a perp walk based on the scornful looks I received.  That preppy has been embraced by the same kind of people proves good taste never really goes out of style, even if for them it is a fad.  You can read more about hipsters on Free Williamsburg.  (Note:  after I made this post, I found this related article published in The New York Times:  “How I Became a Hipster.”

On the same day as the Union Square photo, my wife and I went uptown to see a Broadway show at the Neil Simon Theatre.  I can’t remember which show it was.  Maybe I can track that down by going through some old playbills.  A Christmas tree is visible on the balcony above the Russian Samovar restaurant next door to the theatre.

Outside Neil Simon Theatre - New York City (1998)

Outside Neil Simon Theatre Near Times Square – New York City (1998)

Summer Classics – eBay and Thrifting

Summer Classics

A Madras plaid tie makes a sharp addition to the summer wardrobe.  The one I’m wearing is from Ralph Lauren.  I bought it last spring for $6.99 at Unique Thrift Store in Riverdale, NY.  The retail price of the tie was about $67.99.  Patches, our border collie, decided to do a walk on in this photograph.

Breakdown on the rest of the clothes, a combination of eBay bidding and thrift store purchases:

eBay

  • Brooks Brothers blue blazer:  3-button, undarted, sack cut with natural shoulders for $76.00 vs. $598.00 retail.  This is the only blazer design I’ve ever worn, and it took several weeks of eBay monitoring to find one at the right price.  I would have preferred a J. Press blazer, but people don’t part with them that often.  This blazer is in perfect condition with no signs of wear.  The lining looks brand new.
  • Ralph Lauren buckle back khakis: 100% cotton, plain front with 1 and 3/4 inch cuffs for $19.99 vs. $125.00 retail.  Buckle back khakis were worn for a brief period in the 1950s, if I recall correctly.

Thift 

  • Brooks Brothers pinpoint button down:  100% cotton, traditional fit for $8.99 vs. $87.50 retail at The Nearly New Shop in Greenville, SC.
  • Bass Weejuns in Logan Burgandy for $5.99 vs. $109.00 retail.  Purchased at The Salvation Army in Greenville, SC.
  • Dockers surcingle belt:  navy, braided cotton for $4.99 at Unique Thrift Store in Riverdale, NY.  I am unsure of the retail price for the belt, but I’d guess about $24.99.

The pocket square was a gift from my grandfather (priceless).  

Brooks Brothers Blazer - Retail

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.

Thrifted Summer Clothes

Thrifted Summer Clothes

At The Nearly New Shop in Greenville, SC last week, I found a very comfortable Madras plaid short sleeve button down shirt from Gant.  I combined that with a pair of Merona all cotton plain front khaki shorts that I bought last spring at Unique Thrift Store in Riverdale, NY.  The Bass Weejuns were a recent find as well at the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Greenville.  The leather leather belt is about 10 years old, and I don’t remember where I got it.

Price Breakdown

Gant Madras Shirt            $8.00

Merona Khaki Shorts       $5.99

Bass Weejuns                  $5.99

___________________________

Total Cost                      $19.98

Thrifted Brooks Brothers Poplin Suit

Poplin SuitSince the move to South Carolina last summer, I’ve had a chance to scout thrift stores in my area and have found some really good ones.  But the Brooks Brothers olive poplin suit I’m wearing above is one that I bought while still in New York City.  It’s from Unique Thrift Store in Riverdale, a short walk from where we lived at the edge of Van Cortlandt Park and 242nd Street.  We were so far north in the city that the Westchester County line was only a half mile away.  Riverdale was a great place to go thrift shopping.

The Brooks Brothers suit was a nice find at $15.00 and in perfect condition, showing no signs of wear.  But I’m picky about suits.  This has a 2-button front, and I like 3/2 roll.  It also has darts, and I prefer suits without them.  However, I couldn’t pass up this find.  A poplin suit is wonderful for summer, and the fit was correct (44 regular).  The the sleeves were precisely the right length, allowing 1/4 inch of cuffs to show, and the only alteration necessary was to have the collar lowered in the back, taking out a slight ridge that showed when standing still.

As for the suit pants, they are exactly what I prefer:  plain front with cuffs and the slightest of breaks.  The bottom of the pants just touches the top of my loafers.  These cuffs are 1 and 1/4 inch, which I wear most often.  But some of my pants have the more traditional 1 and 3/4 inch cuffs.  The suit pants needed no alterations at all.  This is the sort of find that is the best when thrifting.  Having to have several alterations done for a single suit can quickly become expensive.

The closest comparable suit to this one on the Brooks Brothers website is the sage colored Madison Fit Poplin Suit for $498.00.  The cut is a good bit different.  This one appears to be tapered on the sides, while mine is roomy and more of a sack suit cut.

Sage Poplin

The other thrifted items I’m wearing are a pair of tassel Bass Weejuns with a beefroll from the Salvation Army ($5.99) in nearly new condition and a silk rep tie from Christian Pelini also from the Salvation Army (.50 cents).

My button down is a 100% cotton oxford cloth traditional fit model from Brooks Brothers.  It came from the flagship Madison Avenue store and was a birthday gift from my wife last spring.  However, she did use her 30% corporate discount card to buy it ($55.65).  My cordovan leather belt is from the men’s department at Sears ($19.99).  We’re penny pinchers to the end!

SAVINGS BREAKDOWN

  • Brooks Brothers suit ($498.00 retail vs. $15.00 Thrifted) = $483.00
  • Bass Weejuns w/Tassel ($109.00 retail vs. $5.99 Thrifted) = $103.01
  • Brooks Brothers OCBD ($79.50 retail vs. $55.65 discount) = $23.85

TOTAL SAVINGS = $609.86

Note:  Christian Pelini no longer appears to be a retail brand and is considered a vintage tie.  So I don’t have any information on the savings for that item.

Poplin Close Up

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

 

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.

Are You A Preppie?

Remember the poster Are You A Preppie?  It was printed in 1979 by University of Virginia undergrad Tom Shadyac, who went on to film school at UCLA and later directed Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Evan Almighty.  The poster was wildly popular when it came out.  I have to wonder whether it might have inspired Lisa Birnbach’s more in-depth anthropological treatment in The Official Preppy Handbook, which appeared one year later.

The layout of the Birnbach’s prep personae is very similar to Shadyac’s sartorial diagram.  Birnbach also recognized The University of Virginia as one of the preppiest campuses in America.

Prep Persona

Prep Persona (The College Years) From The Official Preppy Handbook

Elements of the preppy look never seem to change that much and have been appropriated by corporate culture as something of a uniform – khakis and button down shirts are now the norm instead of suits and ties.  Nathaniel Elliot Worthington’s “flood level pants” have been a hot trend in men’s fashion for the last few years.   The look was generated by prep school students who outgrew their khakis, but continued to wear them anyway.  By the time those students arrived at colleges, floods had become a form of preppy rebellion and can be seen all over the pages of T. Hayashida’s 1965 book Take Ivy, a cult classic for devotees of men’s fashion, including Ralph Lauren.  It was  recently republished by powerHouse Books in Brooklyn, causing a hipster run on thrift stores in search of preppy items to wear around Williamsburg.  Hipsters love irony; and what could be more ironic than a hipster wearing a Brooks Brothers button down while spray painting “Yuppie Go Home” on a luxury loft building wall?

In the shot below, Hayashida has captured a group of Dartmouth College students, who have stopped to watch an intramural softball game.  Everyone is wearing floods, and the student second from left has gaffing tape on one of his penny loafers.  Yes, preppies actually do this!

Flood Wearing Dartmouth College Students (Photo Credit:  Take Ivy)

I taped one of my loafers the same way when I was in college because I didn’t want to pay for repairs once a sole had detached from the leather upper.  It was a way of being frugal and playful at the same time.  Not long ago, I saw a new pair of very expensive Tommy Hilfiger loafers – one of which had a grosgrain band stiched across the top as a reference to the practice of taping.  Amazing!

Penny Loafers With Gaffing Tape Reference  (Photo Credit:  True Prep)

Quintessentially Preppy Shoes

Bass Weejuns are perhaps the most versatile and identifiably preppy shoes around.  They seem to go with just about anything – khakis, gray flannels, madras shorts or even a poplin suit.  The only paring I can’t see them with is formal wear.   I prefer the traditional cordovan color and don’t really care for black.   The uppers will last a long time and simply need to be resoled from time to time.  For those who don’t want to bother with the expense of shoe repair, duct tape will always do the trick.  It’s not unheard of for the same pair of Weejuns to be worn for 20 years or more. They’re a bargain even new ($80-$90), but I recently found a pair in a thrift store – nicely broken in and in great condition – for a mere $9.00.  Bass Weejuns have been around since the 1930s and were inspired by Native American Indian moccasins.  They are truly shoes for the ages.

New L.L. Bean Store

A new L.L. Bean store opened  recently in Yonkers, NY just off I-87 at Ridgehill Mall about 15 minutes from where I live.  Although this was a bit of a departure from my normal weekend round of thrift stores and consignment shops, I just had to go and check out the new Bean store.  I’ve never actually visited one.  This wasn’t an outlet mall version either — it was full retail with the regular merchandise prices.   The store was well-stocked and very spacious, and there were plenty of sales people ready to help at a moment’s notice — but they weren’t intrusive or pushy in any way to sell me.  That was refreshing.  Unfortunately, the battery on my phone/camera died while I was in the store, and I won’t be able to post interior shots until another visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I looked at the classic men’s handsewn blucher moccasin and came very close – on an impulse – to getting a new pair at $69.00.  For many years, I had a pair of these, but somewhere along the way I lost them, or gave them away — probably to a thrift store.  But I passed on these – actually, they didn’t have the saddle color in stock, only the cactus color.  The store is still trying out the clientele and guaging up what items will move.  I don’t think these shoes will be easy to find in a thrift store.  I’ve never seen a pair in that setting.  It’s one of those items that I will probably have to pay full retail for one day soon.  The gas I’d burn going to the L.L. Bean outlet store in New Jersey would more than swallow any savings.

Bottom line is – while I’d like not to pay retail – sometimes it’s both necessary and practical to do so to get just the right thing.  That sums up my shopping philosophy.  But I’m amazed at how many kinds of clothes in the L.L. Bean product line – shirts, sweaters, field coats and goose down vests – I’ve been able to find in thrift stores.  The money saved has been considerable — hundreds of dollars.

My one purchase today:  a pair of heavyweight 100% Merino Wool Ragg Socks for $8.50.