Stocking Up

Recently I learned of someone who purchased four identical shirts from Mercer & Sons. His belief, in ordering the beautiful stack of shirts in the James Bond tattersall pattern, which arrived crisply-wrapped and topped with the customary personal note from David and Serena Mercer, was that when one finds something you really like, it makes sense to stock up, since it might not be available forever. A year colored by the unpleasantness of a pandemic saw desperate searches for things like paper products, hand sanitizer, and alcohol wipes, and now we’re seeing gas lines, though these shortages occurred for different reasons. But with the above thesis in mind, I ask Ivy Style readers, what in fact should we keep in ample supply?

The tendency of the last decade or so for manufacturers is to scrimp on cloth in garments such as dress trousers and khakis, creating shorter rises and tighter hips. This has made this Ivy Style devotee an adopter of stocking up. I have become almost averse to wearing my several pair of Brooks Brothers gabardine slacks simply because Brooks, even pre-bankruptcy, no longer make them in traditional fit. Current offerings of khakis from former stalwart suppliers LL Bean and Lands’ End also prove the point. My one pair of vintage 1990s khakis with a 14-inch rise becomes more valuable with each washing, even as it also becomes more tattered.

I have been on a search for backup supply of both shirts and khakis for the last couple of years. My closet now holds some 20 pairs of full-fit khakis, as well as over 40 OCBDs. And in addition to thrift finds, suppliers such as O’Connell’s, Jack Donnelly, and Bill’s Khakis continue to provide ample supply of chinos.

As for dress shirts, the late woes of Brooks Brothers also bring caution. These include closing the Garland factory, thus making the quest for OCBDs one of immediacy, to say nothing of the formerly famed and formerly American retailer phasing out its traditional fit in almost every garment category. In Brooks’ current supply, the fit historically without a name of its own, namely the standard fit, was branded “traditional” a decade ago, then renamed “relaxed” a couple of years ago, and now is called “extra relaxed.”

Among other items in my supply for the future are a stack of still-in-the-bag Brooks Brothers buttondowns, most obtained on eBay from a seller who has access to the former Garland factory’s outlet store inventory, as well as extras of various other OCBD brands stored in a chest in the home office. Thick weave for everyday, pinpoint for dressier occasions, and frayed for weekend wear. With excellent manufacturers of shirtings remaining, including the aforementioned Mercer, and a couple others, the near-perfect shirt is still attainable. The recent announcement that Michael-Spencer has ceased operations (after a year on hiatus due to Covid and the subsequent and very sad passing of founder Spencer Bennett), certainly makes me regret not stocking up on his wonderful shirts.

Recently I was delighted to find three university stripe OCBDs from LL Bean, a noteworthy but somewhat less than Ivy provider due to their fused collars. Two, however, turned out to be of the non-iron variety and were immediately returned. The other, a rare burgundy stripe must-iron, is pressed for business wear and waiting in the closet. Two other brands not meeting the strict standard of Ivy due to their logos and roll-less collars, are Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, but their shirts of at least a decade ago still remain of interest due to their very thick cotton and wider-than-most roominess. For a Saturday shirt, they are hard to beat.

“Just how many shirts and khakis does one need?” the wife inquires, less critical than mystified by the packages that show up at our doorstep periodically. When the quest will end one hardly can imagine, though I just turned 60 and am starting to have thoughts of the hypnotized Mel Gibson character in the movie “Conspiracy Theory,” who is compelled to purchase every copy of “Catcher in the Rye” that crosses his path. Perhaps I have not yet reached the safe inventory of buttondowns and khakis. — JDV

22 Comments on "Stocking Up"

  1. Not really part of the trad ‘canon’, but I’ve learned the hard way to buy at least two pairs of the same running shoes at a time: even when a manufacturer continues to produce and sell the same model shoe, they sometimes will change the ‘last’ upon which they’re made; the result is that the same make-and-model, produced in adjacent years, can fit completely differently. And if you’ve got rickety old feet & knees, that’s a big deal!

  2. James Bandy | June 15, 2021 at 3:39 pm |

    Add Orvis Ultimate khakis to your arsenal of Bill’s, Jack Donnelly, and O’Connell’s chinos. Orvis makes its chino from 9.5-ounce 100% cotton twill in a classic (read: comfortable fit).

  3. Michael Powell | June 15, 2021 at 4:51 pm |

    Just yesterday, I bought two (more) BB OCBDs; the pink I’ve been looking for, and another blue – because it was available for less than the pink.

  4. Charlottesville | June 15, 2021 at 5:24 pm |

    Excellent question, JDV. I too have stocked up on OCBDs and Khakis. I buy Bill’s M2 khakis whenever I can find them in my size, and keep an eye out on eBay for pre-decline Brooks Brothers OCBDs, but they are getting harder to find. I just bought another one in white this week.

    Now, if I can find a replacement supplier for BB oxford cloth boxers and PJs, and a substitute for the OTC socks that Polo made a dozen or more years ago, I will be happy. It’s funny, but the items that used to be called “basics” and could be bought by the dozen at the annual BB sales, are now among the toughest items to replace.

  5. Howard e lewis | June 15, 2021 at 5:30 pm |

    Please! No shirts on wire hangers!

  6. JDV, You’re like Jay Gatsby when he throws his shirts up in the air and you can see all the colors of the rainbow reflected in his piles of shirts.

    Stocking up is an excellent suggestion for right now because good deals are getting harder to find.

    Five years from now I predict one will have to be very wealthy to dress decently. The closure of the Southwick factory in Massachusetts and the closure of Garland in N.C. mark the death knell of ivy style and decorum in traditional menswear.

  7. When you’re going on 70 years old it’s a tough decision on how much to stockpile, unless of if your son has the same taste and size as you. (Mine dosesn’t)

  8. Yep. Currently building a stock of Mercer shirts and a few other vital items. Just in case since I cannot see myself going the track pants and Velcro shoes route. Ever. Not even in old age.

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich

  9. Gary S. Glazer | June 15, 2021 at 6:37 pm |

    I am often asked the question of “how many “of an item I need. My response typically is that it is not about need. I am not sure what it is about but need is definitely not part of the equation. Nevertheless, we must always be mindful of the needs of those less fortunate and I never lose sight of that-the key is finding a comfortable balance between wanton spending and maintaining a tidy appearance.

  10. Guilty. For almost everything other than suits/sport coats/dress pants, I tend to buy in threes (three’s if you’re on Facebook, or even if your on Facebook). This has led to extras being stored in boxes in the garage, but it has also let me not worry about exactly when I get things laundered. And when I retire next year, I’m fairly sure that my clothing expenses will be essentially zero in retirement.

  11. Is this the “gentle stockpiling” that Muffy Aldrich encouraged, once upon a time?

    I happily buy whatever catches my fancy, but can’t imagine stockpiling for fear an equivalent won’t be available – I’ll just have them made, much as I do now.

  12. whiskeydent | June 15, 2021 at 9:18 pm |

    I’m not concerned about shirt supplies. I’m focused on my bacon, toilet paper and scotch reserves.

  13. No! Wire! Hangers! What’s wire hangers doing in this closet….

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  14. One thing I find strange about the I.S. Facebook page is how often the $80 Bass Weejun buyer seeking advice for better alternatives is told by half the group to go buy $800 Alden Shells. It’s not that I don’t think they’re top drawer having several pairs myself, it’s just that I find it somewhat out of touch to blanket suggest a ten-fold spend increase for a marquee luxury item that is clearly out of reach for the vast majority of people. That being said, given the depth of this post, and hyper-specificity of the details, not to mention the ever-dwindling quality of OTR clothing and decline of classic menswear in general, it really does sound like you are enough of an enthusiast to justify going custom for just about everything; not just the shirts.

  15. Old Bostonian | June 15, 2021 at 11:48 pm |

    What’s the objection to wire hangers?
    They are basic shirt hangers.
    Would those who object have me use mahogany hangers instead? Hardly in keeping with my New England upbringing.

  16. Basic Trad | June 15, 2021 at 11:53 pm |

    My own experience has been that if I don’t buy something today, it will be out-of-stock or out-of-production tomorrow, particularly when it comes to OCBDs (even the non-iron kind)and khakis.

  17. @Basic Trad
    It’s called “Herblock’s Law”, after the late editorial cartoonist: If I really like it, they’ll quit making it.

  18. Basic Trad | June 16, 2021 at 7:36 am |

    Thanks, NCJack.
    I’m old enough to remember Herblock.
    I don’t think any other editorial cartoonist has equalled him.
    Out of habit, I Googled “Herblock’s Law” and found:
    ‘If it’s good, they’ll stop making it’,
    but I think your version is just as good.
    Both laws are equally true today.

  19. A few next-day comments from the author.

    James, yes, I have two pair of Orvis Ultimate but they frankly are too short in the rise. Love the military snap they have, though. Worth it just for that. Found an old stock with tags Old Navy pair on ebay this week. On-seam pockets, full fit. Great find.

    Wire hangers, just not interested in exchanging when they get back from the laundry, although, ironing my one mostly now due to a Mercer which came back frayed.

    Mitchell, cool video. Oddly, I once wrote for this site (The Blue and the White) that a man’s serious dress shirt rotation should be overwhelmingly solid blue and white, but I was referring to wearing with a suit and tie. I buy whatever color I can find well now, but for business dress, I still prefer solid blue and solid white, with an occasional uni stripe, having spent much of my career in Washignton, DC, and the halls there. I work in a casual office, so wearing color in one’s shirt and socks gives one a bit of distinctiveness in an office void of ties.

    Heinz, just cannot afford to stock Mercer. Same answer to Benjamin. I have two seventh graders who need new clothing far more than their dad. Thus, it is thrift and ebay for me.

    What really put me on this trek was when Brooks began to eradicate their Traditional Fit in every garment. I wrote for the facebook page Ivy Style that I just visited a store, only b/c my wife wanted to buy something, and was drawn to a table of “Clearance Traditional Fit” gaberdine slacks, only to learn that Brooks now calls their Madison fit “traditional.” Why the need to reinvent history? it befuddles me. Funny, the facebook readers are somewhat less astute than those on this blog and a couple of well-intended young men explained to me that Brooks is simply redefining their styles.

    Benjamin, love your Weejun/Alden contrast. Have thought that many times myself. As for custom, see above comment about two middle schoolers.

    Whisky, kuddos on the bacon. I think pigs are here to stay, much longer than any type Ivy garment. A teetotaler myself, so the scotch is not applicable.

    As for comments on retirement, a colleague who is mid sixties and quite comfortable financially, recently told me that he thinks he has enough dress shirts to last him and never need to buy more. That is sad.

    Thanks all. Appreciate your comments. May the good Lord bless you.

  20. @Old Bostonian
    If Joan Crawford ever found any wire hangers at your house, you’d think twice before using them again.

  21. NaturalShoulder | June 19, 2021 at 9:56 pm |

    I don’t know if there is a succession plan beyond David Mercer or not, but I do have a good supply of Mercer shirts. I like Bill’s M1 and M2 but getting harder to find on eBay. I have been more than pleased with the O’Connell’s khakis with the longer rise but not too worried about them ceasing production.

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