Of note to all bargain hunters: while not quite as satisfying as a good thrift find, you can get 70% off selected merchandise at J. Press in honor of their move to a new New York City flagship store. This is good if you live in the city, or within a reasonable drive, as items cannot be purchased online. Having left NYC last year, I regret that I can’t explore what’s available in the sale. The J. Press store was on the same block as my wife’s office. I passed by there just about every day on the way to Grand Central.
One of the most practical and usable accessories to have in the wardrobe is a grosgrain ribbon watch band. These three from J. Press are the ones that I use most often. Top to bottom: red and navy stripe, blue white and red stripe (reversible to a red,white and navy side) and a solid light blue band. The latter actually gets the most wear, as it will go with almost any clothing combination.
J. Press grosgrain watch bands retail for $18.00 to $29.00, but they currently have a 40% off sale. As much as I’d like to find these in a thrift store, it’s nearly impossible. So I wait for a good sale to buy the ones I want at a discount. Maybe it’s a lot of fuss over what will support a very cheap Timex with a visibly scratched face, but I’m just quirky that way.
For more about the place of grosgrain ribbon watch bands in preppy culture (and their recent resurgence in men’s fashion), check out Ivy Style.
I have a very old sweatshirt from the Yale Co-op that I bought as a grad student in New Haven in the early 90s. It is full of small holes here and there and is fraying badly on the collar and cuffs. It’s 100% cotton – very soft – and I wouldn’t part with it. I’ll wear this sweatshirt until it falls apart. Unfortunately, the Yale Co-op, which served generations of students, is no longer around. They had to file for bankruptcy in 1999 and went out of business the following year.
This shot was taken with a forward facing camera on my iMac, using Photo Booth, and then modified with the oil paint filter in Photoshop, experimenting with a few things there, I guess. Also visible is the collar of a frayed Brooks Brothers button down shirt (thrifted: $2.50). I have on a Timex watch with a red, white and blue striped grosgrain band from J. Press and a pair of P3 “tortoise shell” (acetate) glasses from Coastal.com. They have great deals on glasses. I got the frames with progressive lenses and had them shipped for a total of $149.00.
In his book Class: A Guide Through The American Status System, cultural critic Paul Fussell presents a concise analysis of ties and their class significance in America. I am posting the text of that passage in its entirety along with representative images of each type of tie he discusses.
The principle that clothing moves lower in status the more legible it becomes applies to neckties with a vengeance. The ties worn by the top classes eschew the more obvious forms of verbal and even too crudely symbolic statement, relying on stripes, amoeba-like foulard blobs, or even small dots to make the point that the wearer possesses too much class to care to specify right out in front what it’s based on. (This illustrates the privacy principle, or the principle of mind-your-own -little-disgusting-middle-class-business, a customary element of the aristocratic stance.)
Small white dots against a dark background, perhaps the most conservative tie possible, are favored by the uppers and upper-middles and, defensively, by those nervous about being thought low, coarse, drunken or cynical, like journalists and TV news readers and sportscasters, and by those whose fiduciary honor must be thought beyond question, like the trust officers working for the better metropolitan banks.
Moving down [in class ] from stripes, blobs, or dots, we come to necktie patterns with a more overt and precise semiotic function. Some, designed to announce that the upper-middle-class wearer is a sport, will display diagonal patters of little flying pheasants, or small yachts, signal flags and sextants. (“I hunt and own a yacht. Me rich and sporty!”)
Just below these are the “milieu” patterns, designed to celebrate the profession of the wearer and to congratulate him on having so fine a profession. These are worn by insecure members of the upper-middle class (like surgeons) or by members of the middle class aspiring to upper-middle class status (like accountants). Thus a tie covered with tiny caduceuses proclaims “Hot damn! I am a physician!” (Significantly, there is no milieu tie pattern for dentists). Little scales signify “I am a lawyer.” Musical notes: “I have something to do with music.” Dollar signs or money bags: a stockbroker, banker, perhaps a wildly successful plastic surgeon, or a lottery winner.
I’ve even seen one tie with a pattern of little jeeps, whose meaning I’ve found baffling, for surely if you were a driver in any of our wars you’d not be likely to announce it. Other self-congratulatory patterns like little whales or dolphins or seals suggest that you love nature and spend a lot of time protecting it and are thus a fine person.
Any of these milieu ties can be alternated with the “silk rep” model striped with the presumed colors of British (never, never German, French, Italian, Potuguese or White Russian) regiments, clubs or universities.
As we move further down the class hierarchy, actual words begin to appear on ties, and these are meant to be commented on by viewers. One such artifact is the Grandfather’s Tie in dark blue with grandchildren’s names hand-painted on it, diagonally, in white. Imagine the conversations that ensue when you wear it! Another reads “I’d rather be sailing,” “skiing,” etc., and these can also be effective underminers of privacy – “conversation starters,” and thus useful adjuncts to comfy middle-class status, in the tradition of expecting neighbors to drop in without warning.
Some ties down in this stratum affect great cleverness, reading “Thank God It’s Friday” or “Oh Hell, It’s Monday”; and a way to get a chuckle out of your audience and at the same time raise your class a bit is to have these sentiments abbreviated on your tie with yachting signal flags. At the bottom of the middle class, just before it turns to high prole, we encounter ties depicting large flowers in brilliant colors, or simply bright “artistic” splotches. The message is frequently “I’m a merry dog.” These wearers are the ones [John T.] Molloy is addressing when, discussing neckties, he warns “Avoid purple under all circumstances.”
Further down still, where questions of yacht ownership or merry doghood are too preposterous to be claimed even on a necktie we come upon the high- or mid-prole “bola” tie, a woven or leather thong with a slide (often of turquoise or silver), affected largely by retired persons residing in Sun Belt places like New Mexico.
Like any other sort of tie, this one makes a statement, saying, “Despite appearances, I’m really as good as you are, and my necktie, though perhaps unconventional, is really better than your traditional tie because it suggests the primitive and therefore unpretentious, pure and virtuous.” Says the bola, “The person wearing me is a child of nature, even though actually eighty years old.” Like many things bought by proles, these bola ties can be very expensive, especially when the slide is made of precious metal or displays “artwork.”
The point again is that the money, although important, is not always the most important criterion of class. Below the bola wearers, at the very bottom, stand low proles, the destitute, and the bottom-out-of-sight, who never wear a tie, or wear one – and one is all they own – so rarely that the day is memorable for that reason. Down here, the tie is an emblem of affectation and even effeminacy, and you can earn a reputation for being a la-di-da by appearing in one, as if you thought yourself better than other people. One prole wife says of her spouse, “I’m going to bury my husband in a T-shirt if the undertaker will allow it.”
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.
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.
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.
Walking up Madison Avenue yesterday evening, my wife and I passed J. Press, the bastion of traditional men’s clothing. The store was closed, which removed any temptation I might have had to go in and buy something. But we spent a few minutes looking at some of their spring offerings in the window displays. They’re making a big push for the “unconstructed” cotton jackets this season.
I do plan to make a return trip soon to pick up a grosgrain ribbon belt with a D-ring buckle (already have one of theirs in wine/navy). I’d also like to get a bow tie to go with a linen jacket I found on a recent thrift expedition. Note the khakis below with the standard 1 3/4″ cuffs.
Some accessories are just hard to find in a thrift store. One example is this navy and maroon grosgrain watch band which supports a cheapo – but very accurate – Timex watch. I bought the band at J. Press for $9.00. Grosgrain watch bands come in many colors and various stripes. They are quintessentially preppy, and some people change them frequently depending on ensemble. I think the navy/maroon band works well with the Brooks Brothers tattersall shirt (thrift store purchase: $5.00), green L.L. Bean wool sweater (thrift store purchase: $7.00) and navy Ralph Lauren duffle coat (outlet mall purchase: $279.00). With a little more patience, I probably could have found a duffle coat in my size in a thrift store, but the weather in NYC turned cold, and I paid the higher outlet mall price for mine. It’s very warm and has a hood. I’m all prepped out and layered up!
Put This On host Jesse Thorn visits the legendary traditional clothing store J. Press to talk about classic American style with menswear veteran Jay Walter. Then a talk with designer Thom Browne, whose signature is tweaking that tradition.
Thrifting starts to get interesting once you’ve assembled the backbone of your wardrobe. Then you can begin trying different combinations of jackets, ties, shirts and pants – all with comfort, functionality, season and overall style in mind. Certain pieces will be interchangeable and will work well with many other items.
I found a combination that I really like, and nearly all of it is from thrift store purchases: tweed sport coat is a 3-button model from Brooks Brothers ($19.00), wool/cashmere sweater from Brooks Brothers ($9.99), button down from Land’s End ($5.00) and the khakis (not shown) are J. Crew ($8.00). The only item that was not a thrift store purchase was the bow tie. It’s from J. Press, but I got it on sale for $37.00 (regular $55.00). Sometimes you need to get just the right item in a retail store, and virtually no amount of thrift store expeditions will produce it. That was the case with the pattern on the bow tie, which brings all the colors and patterns together in a sharp and very preppy combination. Total cost: $78.99 (or the price of ONE Brooks Brothers button down oxford cloth shirt at retail). Think about that!