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