Right Back Where I Started From

Those of you familiar with the Great American Songbook will recognize the headline as a lyric from the tune “California Here I Come,” memorably recorded by Al Jolson and Judy Garland, among others. I am indeed right back where I started, in the most Twilight Zone way imaginable. But first, let’s recap.

Thank you for bearing with me over the past couple of weeks, during which I spent four days and three nights on an Amtrak train from Newport, RI, to Emeryville, CA, near Berkeley. It was certainly an experience. The sleeper car brought to mind Lord Byron and a poem about a crowded seaship: “Jesus, how you squeeze us.” But the view from the observation car was quite spectacular. The main impression the Midwest left on me was one of marvel at the building out of America, the westward expansion one town at a time for 3,000 miles. The sheer epic expanse of it, and the speed at which it was done and the riches and power it created, for good or ill, was fascinating fodder for anyone keen on contemplating the great experiment of America. The Rocky Mountains were indeed spectacular, and the Sierra-Nevada even more so, probably because it was finally starting to look like home.

Ah yes, the return home. The four days on Amtrak were followed by two nights in a hotel, then crashing with a friend of a friend, otherwise known as a stranger. Many acquaintances stepped up to try and find me a suitably quiet cottage or granny unit of some kind anywhere between Petaluma and Healdsburg, to no avail. There was hardly anything online, and what there was cost as much as New York. Sonoma County had already become highly expensive, and the pandemic has only exacerbated it as residents of San Francisco realize they can work from anywhere and flee the city and its problems.

But I’m supposed to have learned patience and trusting the path of awakening in the four years I’ve put into metaphysical studies, as I’ve been sharing on Trad-Man. So as the old bugbear of despondency began to bare its fangs, I felt an inner magnetic pull to a certain spot in my hometown of Santa Rosa. It was the spot where I ran Ivy Style for six months at the very beginning, before setting off for New York. Then, in 2009, wiped out by the recession but inspired by this new project, I stayed in a large and run-down apartment complex inhabited by those your aunt would refer to as Not Our Kind Dear. But while I was away the place had been bought by a property management firm and spruced-up quite nicely, the result of which was that the apartments were now more than double the price. But the manager said she had one unit available, and as I followed her across the compound, with each step I could only say, “Ah, but of course…” If you’ve followed my Level Up writings the past few years, and noted the Twilight Zone reference above, you can probably see where this is going. There were no vacancies anywhere in the county, save for the very same apartment where I’d lived 12 years ago. “You have a spirit about you,” the manager said. “And I believe in fate.”

So here I am: same place, different man. Below is a shot of me from the summer of 2009 on an afternoon down in San Francisco, a naive young pup imagining life on the East Coast with excitement and trepidation. It’s been my honor to have been an unlikely player in the history of the Ivy League Look. Someday decades from now, when future historians are telling the story of the style, they’ll say that in the early part of the century a guy from California launched Ivy Style just as the recession was sending him deep into crisis, and his running of the site during years of internal struggle and spiritual awakening are an integral part of the story of the history of the look. At least that’s how I’d like to be remembered.

Until then, there are still many stories to tell. We’ll get caught up on the news, and then hear from Professor Caplan and our young contributors. I’m easy to find, so reach out anytime. We’re all working from “home” now anyway. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

25 Comments on "Right Back Where I Started From"

  1. I’ve only been reading this site more or less since the pandemic started. I’m amazed about the wealth of information and the sense of community it has. You’ve done a great job and I hope you continue contributing to it.

    Your journey home sounds fantastic. I’ve been to various places in both coasts and I’ve always wanted to travel across them. Perhaps the train is the way to go.

    Greetings from Sweden and good luck with your future endeavours Christian!

  2. C,

    Glad you are back and reasonably well settled. Please, keep the antidotal stories coming. I’m looking forward to living vicariously through your next chapter.

    Cheers, BC

  3. You could try to recreate that shot of you leaning against that lamppost. How’s that tree doing twelve years later?

  4. Behind Enemy Lines | January 25, 2021 at 7:20 pm |

    Great stuff, Christian. What a journey. It was certainly quite the decade . . . quite a long decade . . . and on present trends we’ll soon be wishing it was back. I expect you’ll be busy with Trad Man.

  5. “young contributors” ? How about ancient posters? I doubt that I
    qualify as a”contributor?” but I certainly am old. For me the Ivy
    Heyday was part of my youth. So welcome back to the Bay Area!
    Santa Rosa ia beautiful place… and accessible to Mendocino.
    On the other hand, you are now in an Ivy Style desert, Cable Car
    Clothiers notwithstanding.

  6. John Carlos | January 25, 2021 at 9:56 pm |

    Roger Sack- I qualify as a little long in the tooth at 71. Is Cable Car still around. I made a visit there and made some purchases in the late 1970’s.

  7. Roger Sack- the Ivy heyday was part of my teenage years. I’m trying not to let go of it.

  8. George T. Snoothound | January 25, 2021 at 10:32 pm |

    Christian

    I wish you all the best in your new (and old) home…. I am a new reader of your blog, but like some others in these comments am of an older generation.. One which grew up wearing the right clothes in the right way….. Nearly 76 now but can still dress well and have fun ! Ha ha! I am looking forward to reading more from you in this new year.

    Sincerely,
    George

  9. We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.

    T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

  10. I’ve been pondering those lines every day.

  11. Man in the White Pinpoint | January 26, 2021 at 4:17 am |

    Wishing you all the best, Christian.
    One can’t help wondering why you chose to leave New England for California. Perhaps you’ll share the details with us.

  12. @John Carlos,
    Yes, Cable Car Clothiers is still there, and as worth a visit as ever.
    The “About Us” and “Our History” sections on their site are a rare treat.
    Links to both can be found at the bottom of their homepage.
    https://cablecarclothiers.com

  13. Dutch Uncle | January 26, 2021 at 4:48 am |

    Linkman.
    Thanks for bringing back memories.
    Here’s something I found on their “Our History” page:

    https://cablecarclothiers.com/history/?v=ebe021079e5a#jp-carousel-11675

  14. On my last flight from SFO to BOS, all I could think about was Tony Bennett singing “I left my heart in San Francisco”.

    https://youtu.be/r6DUwMnDxEs

  15. Whoa — is this a “temporary permanent” set up, CC? I must have missed a post where you said you were leaving Newport. Either way, I’ll continue to be the faithful reader that I’ve become over the past decade.

  16. Welcome back to your new old home. As a Bay Area native, I wonder what it would be like to return the West Coast. So many memories, some of which are true.

  17. Glad to hear you’re getting settled, Chens; and looking forward to new content on the site (and with the young contributors and the oldsters, don’t forget us middle-aged 70s babies for potential submissions either).

    In the meantime, I came across the below article in this past weekend’s WSJ style section and wondered if anyone else from our little troupe saw & enjoyed it like I did:

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/meet-the-men-wearing-suits-to-work-from-home-11611249573

  18. Richard E. Press | January 26, 2021 at 11:38 am |

    Thank you Christian for allowing me to share your friendship and patient mentoring back East.

  19. Charlottesville | January 26, 2021 at 12:10 pm |

    Christian – I am glad to hear that you have arrived safely, and look forward to hearing about your new adventures. I like Cameron’s idea of an updated photo of you by the same tree and street sign, if they are still there.

    Paul – I saw that WSJ article and immediately thought of this site and our fellow fogeys of all ages. Tweed 3/2 sack coat, gray flannels, U-stripe OCBD and repp tie with Argyle socks and penny loafers for me at home today, and I don’t even have a Zoom meeting scheduled.

  20. Your writing is very special, Christian.

  21. Christian,

    I hope you find happiness and success in your new/old digs. I would also be interested to see a current photo of you in front of the tree and sign.

    Now, unrelated to anything, I just saw a pop up news story regarding the debut of a new Thom Browne children’s line. I had to look. Harper’s called it essentially a bite sized version of what Browne serves up for men and women. Actually, I think it IS the same clothes with more appropriately sized models. Suit coats, presumably for eight year olds are $950. A white OCBD cost $240…makes pedestrian BB new/old oxfords look like a bargain. BB should have had Thom Browne design some clothes for the…oh yeah.

    Sorry, bad day and I have a headache.

    Will

  22. Thom Browne’s children’s line:

    https://www.thombrowne.com/us/sets/children

  23. Charlottesville | January 27, 2021 at 9:08 am |

    Thanks Will and Linkman for the Thom Browne bulletin. His togs for tots look nice enough, and certainly fit the intended customer better than his men’s line, but does anyone actually buy that stuff for his kids at those prices? I really think one could have them made to order by a tailor for less.

  24. Henry Contestwinner | January 28, 2021 at 7:18 pm |

    Welcome back home, CC. I’m glad they kept your old apartment for you.

    Any child that wants to look like the models on the Thom Browne website needs help. Any parent who buys those clothes at full freight is seriously out of touch with reality—or more than willing to waste money to show off.

  25. “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

    – Seneca

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