Editor’s Note: Eric Twardzik is one of the most skilled men’s fashion writers working today, so when we had a chance to publish his behind-the-scenes take on The Andover Shop, we leaped at it. We were right.
On the day that I was asked to work at The Andover Shop, I was not looking particularly employed. It was perhaps 2 p.m. on an October afternoon, and with nothing on my calendar for the day, I was sniffing various shaving soaps at the business’s Harvard Square location.
“Eric, what are you doing with yourself these days?” asked Larry Mahoney, the shop’s longtime manager, in his signaturedrawl as I weighed the olfactory benefits of sandalwood versus Key lime. “How would you like to work here?”
Considering the circumstances, it was hardly a question I could refuse. My own nebulous employment as a freelance writer had recently grown more nebulous, and a part of me had always imagined working at the shop. I’d been introduced to it by my friend Al Castiel, who had himself worked there during his college years, and I’d listen to his tales of salon-like Saturday shifts and eccentric clientele with a slight pang of jealousy. And perhaps some part of me wanted to prove myself to all the retail jobs I’d applied to and been denied as a cash-strapped, clothes-obsessed college student.
Then there was the matter that I loved the place. Once Al had convinced me to have a jacket made there in 2019, it had entirely changed my perspective on clothing. No longer was I distractedly jumping from online sale to online sale only to end up with something that was never what I wanted in the first place. Here was a shop where you could point to a scrap of fabric in a book or wrestle down an old tweed bolt from the wall and dictate precisely what you wanted—patch flap pockets, 3/2 roll, orange felt undercollar—and see your own vision arrive as a fully-formed garment in a matter of months. No matter how many pieces I’d commissioned since, it always felt a little magic.
So, with the desire to help an understaffed institution close tomy heart—and the enticing prospect of an employee discount—I signed on to work a few days a week through at least the holidays.
Before starting, I’d coached myself to curb my expectations: I knew it wouldn’t just be standing around talking about different possibilities for pocket styling, as it had been during my time as a client (though there was plenty of time for that). And rather than placing orders with Larry, I’d be taking orders from Larry, who could be a bit sardonic (I recall perhaps our first exchange, when I’d asked if the tuxedo stud set I planned to purchase for my wedding could be returned, in case they “didn’t work out.”“Yes, but I don’t see how they couldn’t,” he replied dryly).
And so began my time as a “shop boy” at 30, running upstairs to steam out chalk marks or liberate pockets with a seam ripper, running downstairs to pull client files from overstuffed cabinets, or taping up online orders for dispatch to Dallas, Milwaukee, San Francisco, and once, Tokyo.
And as mundane as those tasks may have proven (or in some cases, difficult: while looking doubtfully at another one of my wrapping jobs, Larry expressed his amazement that I’d never heard of a hospital corner) each held some promise of discovery.
Before taking a freshly delivered jacket or suit upstairs to be steamed, there was the excitement of seeing its fabric, its styling choices, whether the client had gone for an angled ticket pocket or a three-button cuff or some other detail you’d wished you’d incorporated on your last commission. Weeding my way through the shop’s semi-organized filing system downstairs for a lost Winthrop III or Cabot Jr. I’d come across a name that would freeze me in place—Ralph Ellison, Miles Davis—and flip it open to see what these long-dead legends had placed as a “rush order” in 1963.
Even the task of sealing a cardboard box bore some particular fascination, thanks to a machine I assumed was older than myself that attached wet glue to strips of paper emblazoned with the Andover Shop’s stuck-in-time logo. In short, every task, no matter how menial, was infused with a certain sense of Andover Shop-ness that proved satisfying in an increasingly cookie cutter world.
As a consequence of my time at the shop, I even added a new skill to my resume—though it may be of limited interest to other employers. Within every made-to-measure jacket or trouser is an Andover Shop-branded linen tag, which states the name of the client, the date of the garment’s commission, and a code relevant to its model type and make. All this information was stamped on the ticket using a Smith-Corona Silent Secretarial, an anarchic quirk I found charming until I found myself at its keys with little instruction. Many linen tickets were lost (and hurriedly hidden from Larry) due to a slip on the type guide or a failure to hit the shift lock key, but I eventually got the hang of using a typewriter just a few decades after its obsolescence.
The month of December brought the shop’s yuletide decorations out from storage, and saw an unceasing flood of wives, sons,and daughters buying gifts for pa (helpfully, Larry had a near complete memory of what each man had received from the shop the previous season—and the season before that). It also saw the arrival of a coworker, Jake, who’d spent the last decade-plus as a retail professional. Between the post-holiday lull, an uptick in freelance work, and the hiring of a new full-timer that really knew his stuff, I decided that my adventure in retail was coming to a close and gave my two weeks at the end of February.
And so, my days as the Andover Shop drew to a close—or so I thought. While revisiting the shop in April to pick up a checked tweed jacket I’d commissioned during my tenure, Jake gingerly asked if I’d consider covering for an upcoming weekend when the store would be short-staffed.
As Jake delivered this request, buttressed by assurances that I shouldn’t feel pressured and that he’d certainly understand if I couldn’t, Larry fixed a stern gaze at me from across the store.
Once again, I couldn’t refuse.