As fall and winter close in fast and the usual seasonal fabrics—corduroy, tweed, flannel—are lovingly bandied about fashion circles, I wanted to make sure that camel hair was not overlooked this year. Camel hair is prized for its natural warmth, texture and golden tan color, all of which make it well suited to cooler weather wear and seem to heighten the luxury of any article it comprises. Most associate camel hair with long overcoats or blazers (like the second and forth photos above), both prep classics. The camel hair coat originated in England as a long wrap coat with a belt worn between polo matches and known as a Polo Coat. The Polo Coat’s popularity in the United States rose with the advent of the sport throughout the 1920s until becoming a staple of the Ivy League look by the late 1920s and into the 1930s.
Camel hair garments now come in many other colors, patterns and forms that showcase the material’s natural richness. Blue, brown and gray-dyed camel hair (like the J.G. Hook sport coat pictured second to last) and houndstooth or Glen plaid patterns (like the Brooks Brothers example pictured third) are also commonly seen, though perhaps not as immediately recognizable on the rack as the familiar tan. Although we don’t have any current examples from the shop, camel hair sweaters, scarves, and especially socks are loved for their lightweight warmth and moisture wicking qualities. Camel hair sport coats can be worn all the way through early spring and can easily be dressed up or down, looking as good over jeans and plaid flannels as with neckties and buttondowns. Camel hair menswear makes a solid vintage option too as previous generations cast off their old camel hair coats and new generations of men fail to pick them up with the same gusto as they inherit their fathers’ tweeds. For now, there’s still plenty to go around on Etsy and eBay or in your local shop. Look for 100% camel hair, trusted brand names, natural (not padded) shoulders, and details like leather knot buttons, patch pockets and elbow patches. Like sheep sheared for wool, the camels are not sacrificed for their coats, an important consideration vintage or not—especially when you consider that friendly face in the very first pic!
With an American pedigree reaching back to the California Gold Rush, it doesn’t get much more vintage than Levi’s, and you certainly don’t have to be a vintage seller to know the name. What began as the ultimate workwear has evolved into a national association and worldwide obsession with denim and beyond. Denim is also its own world within the vintage business with experts scouring Levi’s tabs for big ‘E’s or little ‘e’s to determine blue jean gold. The Levi’s Vintage Clothing line aims to celebrate (and capitalize on) the brand’s beloved history by recreating classic pieces to original specifications using Levi’s own archives. Until recently, the line had its own informative website but was only available through select retailers. Now Levi’s has launched a stand-alone site that offers the line directly to the public and provides the historical background for many of the pieces. Organized into a 100-year timeline from 1878 to 1978, the new site places the shopping experience squarely in a historical context that invites exploration–whether or not you’re in the market for a $385 jean jacket. That’s right, the price point for these expert reproductions is anything but ‘vintage.’ While not truly vintage pieces, these are certainly the next best thing (to some, maybe better than the real thing). Above are some of my favorite pieces from the collection, but you’ll have to visit here for yourself to learn the details behind them.
This field jacket feature is for anyone like me who never really got over his Barbour jacket envy from all the recent years’ Barbour buzz, but who also could never bring himself to part with the hundreds of simoleons that the real thing costs (secondhand or not). Above is a small sampling of past, present and future field jackets (and field parkas) in the shop. They are “vintage” if you’re already counting as vintage the 1990s, the last time the classic field jacket was having enough of moment in the mainstream spotlight to be carried widely by the likes of J.Crew, GAP and Banana Republic. They share that collared, hip-length silhouette, some variation of cotton canvas fabric, and pockets-pockets-pockets, but offer plenty of charming variation too: collars can be canvas, corduroy or leather; colors range from undercover earth tones to bright primaries and plaids; interiors come unlined or insulated in flannel. And lightweight unlined parkas (like those pictured last) with their wet weather hoods and inner/outer contrast coloring make a nice alternative to the collared silhouette. Whether you take advantage of the recently “vintage” mainstream brands or the durability and field-weathered charm of its older vintages, the classic field jacket can make a pretty easy and affordable online buy on Etsy or eBay, that is, if you can get over your Barbour envy first.
A pair of vintage-inspired summer looks with menswear staples from classic, mostly American brands:
Top—1950s Thread & Thimble single-button sack jacket in olive green hopsack; 1980s Calvin Klein shirt; Gap (“Lived-In Slim” fit) twill khakis in bright blue; Birkenstock sandals; vintage Italian silk “Symphony Square” by Handcraft, Inc.; Ray-Ban Clubmaster in gold & tortoise.
Bottom—Vintage Brooks Brothers stripe linen shirt; Bally woven leather loafers; vintage straw hat; cutoff J.Crew white twill trousers; vintage yacht flag pattern belt; Polo Ralph Lauren cotton crew neck sweater.
A little photo essay on the local tobacconist in our college town, Maison Edwards of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Although it’s not exactly vintage menswear (there is a nice selection of men’s shaving accoutrement to go with the smoking paraphernalia), inside it feels a lot like what I’d want in a brick-and-mortar men’s shop. Wood everywhere, huge old French posters, studded leather chairs, yellowed walls (ok, maybe not those yellowed walls). Jazz crooning from the speakers that face out from the loft office mixes with the smoke off good cigars and easy conversation with strangers. Not every guy who comes in gives a second thought to his clothes, but I like to imagine the smoke shop gets more than its share of natty dressers. With mainstay local men’s shops largely a thing of the past, sneaking off to Maison Edwards for a smoke in nostalgic style can feel like the next best thing.
Summer months in the shop remind me that some of the best vintage is outdoorsman vintage! Much of the mystique of men’s vintage clothing (and women’s) can come from the former ideals of masculinity (or femininity) that various pieces evoke—as if to put on a porkpie hat, bomber jacket or slim sixties suit is to try on the manly personas of those who originally wore them. Nowhere does that seem clearer than in the man-vs-nature charm of vintage camping, fishing and hunting clothes. Leather, wool flannel and cotton canvas fabrics. Buffalo check and camouflage patterns. Boots for wading backwoods streams; thick, scratchy hunting pants to beat the early morning chill; hats and vests for holding shotgun shells and attaching lures. Sure, now we have performance fabrics and high-tech gear that are far superior in every way, except perhaps aesthetics. There is an obvious sportiness, durability and purpose to vintage outdoor clothing like those pieces in the above shop gallery, not unlike the men who once wore them.
Sure, some of 70s women’s fashion is as regrettable as men’s, but there is also lots to love (from Bohemian halters to Halston jumpsuits), whereas it can be hard to even find 70s men’s fashion untainted by spreading collars and poor synthetic fabrics. Discussing with a fellow vintage lover what might be redeemable about men’s 70s fashion brought up racing jackets such as Steve McQueen wore in “Le Mans” and those from other late 60s and 70s films like “The Italian Job,” “Vanishing Point,” “Dirty Mary Crazy Larry,” “Little Fauss & Big Halsey,” “The Last American Hero,” and “Two Lane Blacktop.”
The Style Auto pieces pictured above attempt to capture that classic look. Most date to the early to mid-80s (some as early as the late 70s), but these were as close to the originals as I had on hand in the shop. The good news for anyone interested in the look is that Style Auto jackets are readily available on the vintage market and affordable (perhaps to a fault).
While the jackets themselves are abundant, there isn’t much written online about Style Auto, which isn’t surprising since it’s a recent, relatively cheap product with often ephemeral event-specific or promotional intent. However, plenty can be learned from the many current Etsy and eBay listings. As typical for 80s apparel of its ilk, most all pieces I researched were produced in Hong Kong (despite the “Style Auto California” branding on the label) with the earliest example made in Canada and the latest made in China. In addition to nylon jackets, the only other types of Style Auto garment found initially were acrylic sweaters and poly-cotton sweatshirts and zipper vests (pictured fourth). What else did Style Auto make?
The graphics on these pieces feature endless automotive racing makes and models in printed, patch and embroidered form, including some cars no longer in production. And not only auto brands were represented but many companies related to the racing and automotive industry including: driving schools like Bondurat; industrial manufacturers like IngersollRand; team sponsors like Budweiser and Winston; and races and raceways themselves. Often the only difference between jackets is that the graphic has been changed, as depicted in the photo second from bottom. This variety and mutability of the Style Auto pieces creates further opportunities for vintage clothing and auto enthusiast alike, whether building a collection or altering the patches to suits one’s tastes.
I scored one of these 60s woodcuts by Harry Greaver on a vintage clothes shopping mission and went in search of more online. I found examples of his other work in print and watercolor as well as the work of his artist wife Hanne Greaver, but the above earlier woodcuts of his remain my favorites. As usual, I want them all. Both Harry and Hanne trained professionally in art schools, and the couple has been exhibiting out of their Cannon Beach gallery on the Oregon coast near Portland since 1978. Before that, Harry taught in the Department of Art at the University of Maine, Orono, from 1955 to 1966 and was Director of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts in Michigan from 1966 to 1978. That may explain why I discovered his 1968 woodcut (now hanging at home below) in my nearby Michigan town–and might even mean its subject (and that of those above) is a Great Lakes-inspired local scene.
A pair of vintage-inspired spring looks with menswear staples from classic, mostly American brands:
Top—Double breasted multicolor stripe linen blazer by Daniel Hechter; vintage hand printed bow tie in orange & purple; white poplin shirt and linen pocket square; Allen Edmonds “Fairfax” wingtips in honey brown; vintage Par-Temp trench in green/brown micro-houndstooth pattern.
Bottom—”Pit Loom” Madras plaid trouser by Corbin; L.L.Bean blue & white stripe Oxford button-down shirt; linen & leather spectator shoes by Stanley Blacker Couture; Cole Haan braided belt; linen flat cap by Country Gentleman; vintage 3-2 roll poplin sack jacket in navy blue; vintage Paris print silk pocket square.