Collective Wisdom: Building A Wardrobe From Heritage Retailers

This latest installment in our occasional “call for collective wisdom” series boasts a nice pun on “collective,” given that the author’s family fled Communism. If you have advice for the young man, please leave it in the comments section.

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When you’re growing up as a first-generation American in a neighborhood in Queens, NY, the trad/Ivy life is very far from your understanding. Things that some understand innately require study and a fake-it-till-you-understand-it mentality. I remember the first time I discovered Ivy, after perusing photos of JFK while I was in college. There was a level of refined comfort that was different from the sneakers, t-shirt and jeans that denoted what comfortable clothing entailed in my neighborhood. Wrinkled oxford buttondowns were a stark contrast to the pristinely ironed white shirts of my neighbors. The suits worn while sipping a cocktail on the veranda looked more comfortable then sweatpants on the couch eating potato chips. Naturally I dipped into the lifestyle with a vigor I hadn’t experienced since I was 12 and decided I wanted to kiss a girl. With parents who escaped Communism, the freedom to enjoy clothing instead of having everything ironed into tight lines spoke to me on a cultural level. However, when you’re so far away from the world you wish to one day join, it’s difficult to understand the nuances. It takes reading and talking to people to understand that a frayed buttondown collar is more valuable than a brand new shirt.

After getting a blazer at J. Press, I started wondering what the signature pieces to have in such a collection would entail. I already have a list of items I need to fill out my collection when my finances are more fluid. A Shaggy Dog from J.Press (I have one from The Andover Shop and one from O’Connell’s) and Nantucket Reds from Murrays. While I love my Mercer and Kamakura white oxfords, there’s a special place for the made-in-USA buttondown oxford from Brooks. I imagined a pair of go-to-hell pants from The Andover Shop, or their patchwork tweed creations, would be a nice iconic item to have from them. This push towards building a collection was also spurred by the closing of The Nobby Shop. I was thankfully able to secure one of their Ski Nantucket mock-necks and a surcingle belt with The Nobby Shop Tag to keep the story alive. However, places such as O’Connell’s, H Stockton, Cable Car Clothiers and Ben Silver also have heritage, and I wonder what their iconic pieces would be?

I know this is very anti-trad in thought. But I am a kid from Queens, after all, and it’s better than collecting sneakers. — MB

17 Comments on "Collective Wisdom: Building A Wardrobe From Heritage Retailers"

  1. Robert Staehling | May 28, 2019 at 12:08 pm |

    I’m in the same boat, wanting to (re)build my wardrobe with stuff from heritage companies. Being a student I do have to compromise on some things though.

  2. Marc Chevalier | May 28, 2019 at 12:16 pm |

    Just about everything on that list sells very cheaply in eBay. Seek there, and ye shall find.

  3. +1 for H. Stockton.

    I now own an Oxford from Drakes, and must say the shirt is second-to-none. The collar roll is fantastic and the cut works very well for someone slim as me.

  4. Chas Humphries | May 28, 2019 at 1:12 pm |

    You’re on the right track with white oxfords. Certainly more refined than blue.

  5. elder prep | May 28, 2019 at 2:08 pm |

    Welcome MB, your in the right place to receive the best advice on building your trad/preppy wardrobe. Keep in mind, as Marc above has advised, many of the items suggested are of he finest quality and are expensive, so seek recognized brand names e.g. BB, J.Press, O’connells, L.L. Bean and Lands End. You can also rest assured, that buying and wewaring traditional American clothing is an excellent way to save money as, with proper care, your clothes will never go out of fashion and will last for many years.

  6. Evan Everhart | May 28, 2019 at 3:09 pm |

    Hello MB,

    So very pleased that you’ve decided to join the proverbial club! It sounds like yr off to a great start as to yr selection of Traditional/Natural-Soft-Shoulder/Ivy League garments for yr wardrobe! I wish you the best of luck on yr continued journey of acquisition and discovery and enjoyment of these iconic emblems of American culture!

    I also much echo Marc Chevalier’s statement, and include one modifier; often times, things, particularly knitwear and older or custom/MTM garments will be mislabeled regarding their size, so know what the measurements of the garments which fit you best are, and you will find locating and identifying the things which you are seeking to be far more systematic and reliable a process with far fewer erroneous purchases of garments which don’t quite fit.

    I would also recommend aside from the basic items which it seems that you have basically covered, that you also acquire intermittently garments which are seasonal, for instance, ilk/linen tweed, Madras or cotton poplin or tropical weight wool garments for Spring and Summer, or Harris Tweed, or Shetland, or Cheviot wool jackets or suits for Autumn and Winter, or linen socks for Summer, and Woolen ones for Winter. You get the idea. I might also suggest end on end or pinpoint Oxford or poplin shirts for Summer.

    Anyhow, best of luck, MB! I hope that we’ll be hearing more from you in the future, and also be very grateful that you live so close to the retail fountainheads of this style. I am stuck on the Left Coast and it is hard hunting at times for anything traditional over here.

    -Sincerely Yrs,

    E.A.E.

  7. I don’t have much advice to add, except to go slow. Years down the road your wallet will thank you. Add pieces only after a great amount of scrutiny, and always ask “How much use will I get out of this? How will this fit into my existing wardrobe and lifestyle?” GTH pants and patchwork coats are fun, but you will likely enjoy them very sporadically. A staple will be worn much more and acquire that “aged” status much quicker.

  8. Charlottesville | May 28, 2019 at 3:31 pm |

    MB – Congratulations on choosing some true classics. I would recommend a pair of Alden cordovan loafers as an additional icon of traditional Ivy style, but they are quite pricey. I echo Marc Chevalier’s advice re eBay for those with pinched purses. I have found some hard-to-find items there, both new and like new, for a small fraction of their retail cost. Good hunting!

  9. Find a good tailor. Clothing purchased online will need to be altered, cuffed, etc. Your waistline might also expand or contract over the years. Get shoes that will last your lifetime and never go out of style: Alden cordovan loafers.

  10. john carlos | May 28, 2019 at 7:39 pm |

    MB- welcome to the trad world. I’m turning 70 years young soon. Been wearing trad clothing for over 50 years. For what it’s worth, I suggest quality plain front khakis, OCBD’s in solid’s, university stripe’s. I favor India Madras and tartans for sport shirts. I agree with the others that quality shoes are key. Alden cordovan loafers are the best in my opinion. I’ve had some for probably 30 or more years. They are pricey these days, but I’ve had the cobbler resole mine so many times I’ve lost track. Good luck.

  11. Dutch Uncle | May 29, 2019 at 4:25 am |

    MB,
    I was a kid from the Bronx who went to a state university in the Mid-West. Fortunately, it was 1959, when colleges were surrounded by shops that carried nothing but what we then called “Ivy League” clothing and one could go in blindfolded and come our well-dressed. Having said that, you too are fortunate in that shops like J. Press, The Andover Shop and O’Connell’s are still around 60 years after I was first introduced to trad style and all of the basics are still available.

  12. Dutch Uncle | May 29, 2019 at 4:26 am |

    come our = come out

    Sorry.

  13. Welcome aboard!

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich

  14. Here’s my additional two-cents: you mention that you’re ‘a kid from Queens’, but are you still in the New York metro? I ask because, as you start out & are budgeting, certain items you pick up may not give you value-for-money, geographically speaking.

    For example: I live south of the Mason-Dixon line, and I have some beautiful Harris Tweeds and O’Connell shetlands (some of which were acquired long ago on eBay, Poshmark, the local thrift shop), but I can really only wear them maybe 90-120 days out of the year. Poplins (suits, pants, shorts), madras, pinpoints and broadcloth, on the other hand, get worn 9-10 mos. out of the year.

    In addition to the great advice offered above, think carefully about climate too as you start out.

  15. Hardbopper | May 29, 2019 at 11:17 am |

    As a matter of practicality, I recommend beginning with staples, such as your blue blazer, and not concentrating on the GTH stuff. For example, a grey herringbone Harris tweed, a small selection of neckties appropriate for the season, trousers in dark grey, and light/mid grey will get you well down the road. A black 3/2 suit from McConnell’s for funerals, and a grey 3/2 suit from McConnell’s for happier occasions. 1 pair black shoes and 1 pair brown and you will be in business.

  16. You mentioned H Stockton. A good store. They used to carry khakis under a “Buckhead” label. I think they don’t do this anymore. Too bad.

    Buckhead is a well-heeled neighborhood in Atlanta. Their Buckhead khakis was a pun of sorts on the Duck Head brand. I wish I still had my pair, but I lost them at some point in the last 25 years.

  17. reppupstateny | May 29, 2019 at 10:29 pm |

    living in the Northeast or Midwest, a great value heritage brand item to own is the LL Bean duck boots; great in snow or rain, city or country

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