Frugal Trad: The $15 Indian Madras Shirt

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A couple of nights ago I attended a cozy media event sponsored by Allen Edmonds. Not much news to report, though there may be some coming: I made two suggestions on shoes they should produce.

Afterwards I realized I was just a few blocks away from my favorite source for Levi’s: JC Penney in Herald Square, just down from the famous Macy’s featured in the classic movie “Miracle On 34th Street.”

I wanted to check out the white Levi’s in the 541 cut I wrote about earlier this year. I ended up buying a pair, and wore them last night (with navy polo, green and navy striped belt from J. Press, and bit loafers) for drinks with Al Castiel (of recent Belgian Shoes infamy) and Jack Carlson, author of “Rowing Blazers,” who was wearing a sample from his own forthcoming clothing line. More on that when he’s ready to announce it.

On the way through JCP, something peculiar caught my eye: a rear collar button. That’s right, a group of short-sleeved shirts from the store’s in-house trad collection St. John’s Bay featured buttondown collars with a third button, and were made in India in patterns that are vaguely madras-y. In the New York store they were priced at $20, but online the shirts appear to be $15.

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Now these shirts proably aren’t made from real madras fabric and certainly don’t feature bleeding vegetable dyes. But they are made in India and feature the heyday detail of third button, so you broke college guys and frugal trads might want to check them out. I recommend that you do so in person, however, as the website is a bit confusing. The Indian-made shirts have different names, including the “Americana poplin shirt.” The website also has a listing for a madras shirt that I didn’t see in the store. So again you may want to visit your local store where someone can answer any questions.

Finally, as I made my way to the cash register I saw that the shirts were piled everywhere on multiple display racks. In fact, the whole place was overflowing with cheap, heavily discounted rags that nobody really needs. It was one of those examples of capitalist excess that turns your stomach a bit. Piles and piles of what is largely unnecessary junk, and a big corporation trying to squeeze a few pennies of profit from it all.

When the cashier started to ring me up, she asked if I had a Penney’s card and, if not, would I like to open one and receive an extra 45% off. What a business model. — CC

29 Comments on "Frugal Trad: The $15 Indian Madras Shirt"

  1. @Christian Is the collar lined or does it have a nice roll? Also, is the fit classic or slim?

  2. It’s fifteen bucks.

  3. Charlottesville | August 10, 2016 at 12:25 pm |

    A great buy for the college or prep-school trad, but I agree with your puzzlement over the deep discount excess. Earlier this morning, I received an e-mail from the good folks at J. Press alerting me to a sale on Tattersall shirts. The pictures looked great, and the fabric looked like the classics I remember: http://www.jpressonline.com/tattersall-button-button-down shirt-blue-navy/ . Even the pocket flap is there. However, when I looked at the size chart, I saw why the $110 shirts are on sale for $33: the Small has a 15 1/2 inch collar and 34 1/2 inch sleeve. Sounds like a bigger than standard collar for a Small, but it should fit me well enough. However, it is a “Blue Label ” shirt, and the description says that they fit tight, and one should order up a size. The Medium (my usual for alpha sizing) has a 16 3/8″ neck and 35″ sleeves. The Large has a 17 1/8″ neck and sleeves just short of a yard long. Who are these things being made for? Apparently fat-necked men with the waist size of a ferret and the arms of a gorilla. I note that a lot of the Blue label stuff, much of which looks good in the pictures, seems to be on sale at steep markdowns; the regular fit Tattersall shirts are still at full price. I can only think it is the sizing. Just like at Brooks, where the Tom Browne suits were consistently half price or less, and every size was still available because most men can’t fit into this stuff. Having to dump ridiculously sized items at less than the cost of their manufacture does not sound like a profitable business plan. Hopefully our much-loved friends at J. Press will figure this out. (I had posted this comment on the cologne thread, but when I read this post it seems more fitting here; sorry for the duplication.)

  4. Eek. No thank you.

  5. @Christian not sure if you were addressing me with your comment. Are you saying that the collar is lined because it is so cheap?

  6. University Stripe | August 10, 2016 at 1:09 pm |

    I was gifted a JCPenney St Johns Bay Legacy Crewneck Sweater for Christmas last year. Honestly, I was surprised at the quality and fit–not to mention the price. No, it’s not wool, but it is cotton and is a nice substitute for a shetland sweater in the warmer Autumn months.

    I went online and purchased 3 more in classic colors on discount last week for a whopping $10 each, shipped to the store. I can’t complain.

  7. @Charlottesville

    I own the shirt you refer to – it doesn’t have 34.5 inch sleeves. Not sure why they would advertise that. I am 5’11” 150 lbs – the shirt fits loose around the chest and arms. I would say it fits somewhere between BB’s slim and regular fit. I love the larger collar – it produces a wonderful roll. I, too was very skeptical at first, but for a younger guy into trad clothing, it checks all the boxes.

    One note – it is made with “organic” cotton. From what I can tell, it just means there is an unusual texture – rougher than most OCBDs – to the shirt. I don’t mind, but I prefer JP’s usual cloth.

  8. Mitchell S. | August 10, 2016 at 2:25 pm |

    @CC: A Penney’s card is a real status symbol in certain circles (I’m not kidding). In “The Millionaire Next Door,” two economists describe how the most popular credit card that millionaires use is the JCP card (followed by the Sears card).

    There was an interesting article in “The New Yorker” about how Manhattan co-op boards scrutinize every detail of an applicant’s personal life. One story was about a woman who applied to an ultra-exclusive co-op building and was asked during the interview “You are wearing nice clothes. Where did you buy them?” She replied “They’re from Hermes and Neiman Marcus”. According to the article, she had a friend who lived in the building and was told that the co-op board likes residents who wear conservative clothes from JCP, or as a splurge, Brooks Brothers. Her credit report showed that she lacked a JCP card and her application was rejected.

    I’m not sure if the story is true, but my sister-in-law used to live in a co-op building on the Upper East Side (she shops at Costco) and it seems plausible to me.

  9. The St. Johns Bay brand at JCP seems to have been on the same trajectory as Lands’ End. In the 1980’s they both had a smattering of surprisingly upscale, high quality items which were limited. However, it seems they ceased to strive for any sort of excellence after the early 1990’s. For example, I have a SJB 100% wool green shaggy-dog-style sweater I bought circa 1984 that I still wear today. I have never seen anything like it at JCP since. I also recall a favorite pair of khakis that were SJB that I thought rivaled anything else I could find at the time. Of course, in that decade it was hard to find many khakis that did not contain polyester, and these were 100% cotton which was very “upscale” and unusual in the early 1980’s. At first, the SJB brand was a neo-preppy style and then morphed for a time toward the Indiana Jones “Adventurer” style when that was popular. Now, I don’t know what they are trying to do with it.

  10. Charlottesville | August 10, 2016 at 2:46 pm |

    Thanks, JDD. It is always good to hear from someone who has personal experience with a product before buying online. At $33 I might as well give it a try.

  11. I quite literally “LOL’d” at CC’s response to the question on collar and fit.

    A bit less jolly, in addition to cringing at the capitalist decision-making which would lead to heaps of $15 madras shirts being strewn about, is the specter of the working conditions of the Indians who likely produced them.

  12. On a note referencing your earlier mention of an Allen Edmonds event, any chance (or suggestion you made to them) of them producing a cordovan edition of the Acheson tassel loafer? I tried a pair on in-store, and they fit beautifully and look great.

  13. We’re more or less on the same page. I sang the praises of the RL Marlowe/Darlton tassel loafer (made by C&J), and its especially lovely dark brown color with a hint of chestnut. I suggested making the Acheson in a color like that. Later I followed up in writing and suggested maybe doing a limited edition for Ivy Style readers to test the waters. Will let you know if it goes anywhere.

  14. @Paul you might be “LOL”-ing but I’m still waiting for a proper response.

  15. Also – the shirt in the lower picture is a cheaper replica of a current RL offering that is touted as “authentic bleeding madras.” Also made in India, for those wondering.

  16. Quite a business model indeed. Macy’s has annouced it will close 100 stores.

  17. I’m sensing the arrival of some Jack Carlson X Fred Castleberry costume creations!! I can hardly wait.

  18. I think Jack would say that one FEC collab is enough.

  19. Well, good – because if there’s anything that hurts Jack’s ‘brand’ (and his ability to sell stuff), it’s his close association with Fred.

  20. Stalker alert!!!!!!!! Fred is a complete goofball. But you have got to let it go, AEV.

  21. Mitchell S. | August 11, 2016 at 4:50 pm |

    It’s a sad day for men’s retail. Macy’s to close 100 stores and Tailored Brands (Men’s Wearhouse/Jos. A Bank) to close 250.

    Also in today’s news: WSJ is reporting that Casual Friday for men is now a Monday thru Friday affair: http://www.wsj.com/articles/wardrobe-advice-for-men-as-office-fashion-returns-to-casual-1470860354?tesla=y.

  22. @Mitchell S. These are sad times for menswear indeed. Most men no longer know how to dress well and the majority of clothing is cheap and of poor quality. We’re becoming more casual to the point where being clothed at all will be seen as “formal”.

  23. Mountain Cat Prep | August 11, 2016 at 11:46 pm |

    I’ve been working seasonally at my local JCPenney for three summers as of right now, and just today I had a male customer come up to me and ask me what business casual is. I’ve had customers in the past comment on how they do not know how to match ties and shirts, and customers who want the cheapest white dress shirt possible because they only need the one for a family photo and they don’t own any. I’ve valued my opportunity to be many people’s first experience with men’s suiting or just generally dressing up.

    I do agree with Christian though that JCP being judged solely by their bottom line and not quality of the clothing and service is a huge hindrance to the retail experience and in turn, experiencing clothing. I could go into detail but I feel like my wall of text is already a big large, so I’ll save that for another day.

  24. No thanks, as it looks like something from Old Navy.

  25. Charlottesville | August 12, 2016 at 10:47 am |

    Mountain Cat Prep — Thanks for your comment. Because of your nom de net, and since you are working at JCP for the summer, I assume you may be a student. It is always encouraging to see younger men who care about dressing well, and know the difference between quality and the shoddy norm. I did much the same thing at a local JCP and also at an independent men’s’ store many years ago, back before the popular preppy trend brought on at least in part by the Handbook. Even then, quality at Penney was very mixed, with polyester suits for $40 or so, and synthetic everything. However, there were wool-blend options and cotton corduroys and shirts for those with a few more dollars in their pockets. Certainly not Trad, but at least there was the option of an upgrade. For those who knew better, the Main Street Trad shops were still in flower, and of course Brooks, Press, Cable Car Clothier, et al. were in Washington, San Francisco, NY and other bigger cities and they sent their catalogs out across the land. If one had an interest, the salesmen in these stores were ready sources of information and guidance, as well as providing the goods themselves. It takes real work for a young man to learn to dress well these days. Thanks for keeping the flame alive.

  26. Mark Jensen | August 13, 2016 at 11:20 pm |

    Mitchell,

    I’m calling bullshit on the JCP card. The Millionaire Next Door was primarily about contractors and the following NY Post article recounts the opposite situation in co-op boards: http://pagesix.com/2001/11/15/co-op-board-horror-stories/

  27. Steedappeal | August 23, 2016 at 11:44 am |

    Penny’s is the only place I have shopped this year. Their Stafford plain point shirts have a terrific, adjustable closure tab for comfort. I also picked up some appealing Izod (logo in blind on sleeve) polos that have a three button placket that remin me if my Greewich neighbor circa 1967. Not to mention reliable socks and v neck undershirts. And, yes, I am a card carrying member of this penny-wise establishment!

  28. Jack’s on Fred Egan Castleberry’s Instagram page today – good buddies; inspiring us for fall!

  29. Recycled photo, though.

    Nice initials.

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