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).

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.

Brooks Brothers Madras Shirt Bought on eBay

I’ve been gearing up for summer lately.  Some recent buys include a pair of patchwork madras shorts, a ribbon belt and a pair of Nantucket Reds.  Today a Brooks Brothers long-sleeved, patchwork plaid madras shirt arrived via US Postal Service.

This shirt was a recent eBay purchase.  Price:  $24.94 + $3.65 shipping = $28.59.  Compare that with the current Brooks Brothers retail price of $89.50 (not including shipping, although I could have gone to their Madison Avenue store).  That’s a savings of $60.91.  In addition, the brethren are only offering a short-sleeved madras shirt, and I specifically wanted long sleeves.

Nothing says summer more than the light, breathable fabric of an India madras shirt.  It is a key item for the prep wardrobe.  I like this pattern much better than the current Brooks Brothers offering.  For more about how madras clothes are made, head over to Ivy Style for Christian Chensvold’s interview with Cape Madras cofounder Brian Sisselman.

  

eBay Purchase: Nantucket Reds ($35.00)

Original Nantucket Reds from Murray's Toggery Shop

Original Nantucket Reds from Murray’s Toggery Shop

I won an eBay auction today for a pair of original Nantucket Reds, a summer prep staple from Murray’s Toggery Shop.   These pants of go-to-hell color are 100% cotton with a flat front and cuffs (1.25 inches).  They appear to be in excellent condition, gently worn, with no stains or tears, and are well on their way to achieving the perfect faded tone.  Price:  $35.00 + $6.00 USPS shipping – for a total of $41.00.  Murray’s asks $72.50 for a new pair.  I spoke with a sales person at the store this week to find out their shipping charges.  If the pants are ordered directly from the store, a $10.00 shipping fee applies, but they don’t provide tracking.  If they are ordered online, they ship via UPS with tracking for somewhere around $15.00 (total cost = $87.50).  So my eBay score gets the the original item at less than half the cost of buying them at retail + shipping.  I love it!  Was this a good bit more than I would pay in a thrift store? Absolutely, but you don’t find Nantucket Reds in a thrift store every day.

Nantucket Reds Won on eBay Auction

Patchwork Plaid Madras “Go To Hell” Shorts

Warmer weather is coming.  Soon we’ll be into spring and then on to Memorial Day, which is the gateway to the summer prep wardrobe – linen, poplin, seersucker and, of course, madras.  As with traditional retailers, thrift stores begin to shift focus to the coming season(s).  Today, while shopping at Unique Thrift Store in Riverdale, NY, I found not one, but two pairs of excellent madras plaid shorts.  One pair was the much sought after patchwork variety, a true summer prep staple, known as “go to hell shorts.”  Those bold enough to wear them simply could care less what anyone else thinks.

Patchwork Plaid Madras Shorts

Patchwork Plaid Madras Shorts

These flat front, Bermuda length shorts were made by Gap (not my favorite retailer by any means and hardly preppy on many things).  However, they got it right with these shorts made of 100% cotton India madras.  The stitching is first rate, and I’m willing to bet that side by side you couldn’t tell the difference between this pair and ones  from much more expensive outlets such as J. Press, Brooks Brothers or O’Connell’s.  The asking price for mine:  $14.00.  Brooks asks about $90 to $100 for theirs.

Detail of Patchwork Plaid Madras Shorts

Detail of Patchwork Plaid Madras Shorts

With a navy blue Lacoste or Polo shirt (or even a white button down), paired with a surcingle belt, these madras shorts will look great in summer.  It’s unusual to find madras of any kind in a thrift store.  So when you see it, snap it up.  It won’t be around long.   It’s even more rare to come across multiple madras items on one expedition, but I was lucky this time.  This second pair I found was flat front in Bermuda length with a basic plaid pattern — not patchwork — from Land’s End.  The price was $14.00 as well.  For another $9.00, I picked up a white 100% cotton oxford cloth button down from Ralph Lauren.  It was in perfect condition!

100% Cotton India Madras Shorts from Land’s End

Lacoste – Croc Hunting Consignment Shop Style

My latest consignment shop find is Quirky Consignments & Collectables in Tarrytown, NY.  They have a great selection of preppy clothes at very reasonable prices (yes, higher than thrift stores, but significantly better than retail).  You’ll find a short review of the shop on my Consignment Shops page.  I found a pink, 2-button, short-sleeved Lacoste for $20.00.  The original asking price was $25.00, but being a cheapskate, I bargained.  The shirt was well worth the price.  It’s practically brand new and shows absolutely no signs of wear.  I’ve been hunting crocs for a while and finally bagged one!  Consider that the regular retail price for this shirt is currently $89.50.  That’s a $69.50 savings!

Lacoste (2-Button, Short-Sleeved and 100% Cotton)

Detail of Lacoste Shirt

Note:  I generally don’t button the Lacoste, but if I do it’s only the first button and never the second.  I tend not to pop my collar on this shirt these days…unless I’m in Connecticut, where such a statement would not only be understood, but also welcomed!

Lacoste - Cap Sleeves With Ribbed Edging

Lacoste Crocodile - Quintessentially Preppy

In the same shop, I also found a J. Crew 100% cotton, long-sleeved, plain collar tattersall shirt with pink and blue stripes for $15.00.  The salesperson wouldn’t budge on that price, and I admit that it was very reasonable.  The shirt was in perfect condition.

J. Crew 100% Cotton Tattersall Shirt

J. Crew Tattersall Shirt - Detail

Of course, the most preppy thing to do with the Lacoste and tattersall shirt is to layer them.  The pink Lacoste is going to look very sharp with this shirt.  Unfortunately, it’s been so hot in New York City in October, that layering anything has been out of the question.  😦  I’d wear this combination with cuffed khakis, the preppy equivalent of blue jeans, and Weejuns without socks.

Preppy Layering - Popping The Lacoste Collar Is Optional

Preppy Layering - Detail

Crocs are very well-behaved creatures, when they’re not looking for something to eat.  But I’d just as soon keep my distance from the real thing, unless, of course, it’s on a shirt.