Menswear brands are constantly adding new labels now, lines and licenses targeting ever more exclusive or democratic markets with fresh derivatives of their logo. I’d heard of Polo Ralph Lauren, Polo Sport, Chaps, Purple Label, Black Label, Lauren, Rugby, and on—but not until I started selling and buying vintage did I see a label for Polo University Club (like the one above). Without so much as Googling it, I can say I only started seeing the label on mostly traditional sport coats and suits with 80s accent colors, cut and silver union tag–of solid but no special quality–and also only in smaller sizes so far. The ‘University’ moniker combined with the prevalent sizing and middleweight style and quality made me think these sport coats were marketed as starter staple jackets for college guys in the early 1980s. How long did the line last and what was its relationship to the parent brand? Did it include any items beyond suits and sport coats?
Threads of men’s online style forums (styleforum.net, Ask Andy About Clothes, The Fedora Lounge) confirm the easy observations above and tell how Polo University Club was licensed in the early 80s to the same company making Chaps at the time, the Greif Cos., and was constructed of the same or slightly better fused quality–still significantly better than Chaps or entry level suiting is now. The Ralph Lauren Corporation supervised the styling and worked with the manufacturer to capture the Polo expression in an inexpensive suit that would not compete with the designer line. This moderate, youthful cut features a soft shoulder, low button stance and suppressed waist. The multitude of Etsy and eBay listings indicate no extension of the line beyond the familiar suits and sport coats. Plenty of ridiculously affordable listings—along with the timelessly moderate styling and solid quality–also make Polo University Club a good vintage buy. From the mid-80s into the 90s, the “Club” was dropped from the name, and eventually so was the style and quality, so you might avoid “Polo University” labels and stick with “Polo University Club.” I find some of the accent colors dated in a not great way, so look out for a scheme that’s tolerable for you.
As snow at last changes to rain, mighty winter wool gives way to the streamlined trench coat. The top two come from Burberry’s London collection for Spring 2014. The chartreuse trench below is from last week’s NYFW collection by Rag & Bone for Fall 2014, but I find plenty of spring inspiration in it. When you want to spread your wardrobe dollar around more than investing in a designer piece like these allows, the trench coat is a solid vintage option. Its classic design hasn’t changed all that much, so decades-old examples can be just as in style today. Going vintage can mean finding many fetching variations in colors, fabrics and features that give yours a sartorial edge. Since overcoats often command a hefty investment, the savings can be equally significant. As tastes in clothing, and especially work wear, have evolved, the trench coat is not the staple of every man’s wardrobe it once was, though it is a piece those men held onto and took care of. All which means there are many readily available on the vintage market today. The middle two pairs of trench coats are listed in the shop now, and plenty others like them have passed through in the past year or so. Below the photos of paired trenches are details of past shop listings like the gray wool trench, Burberry plaid lining, and familiar double breasted front. The classic trench design is taken from military uniforms and consists of a belted, 8×4 or 10×5 double breasted front, Ulster collar, raglan sleeves with shoulder straps and belted cuffs, storm flap, khaki cotton blend shell and removable insulated lining. As even the few photos above indicate, the trench has evolved to be worn with or without any combination of these features and in as many colors and fabrics as the army of men who still favor them.
Snapshot of a burgeoning vintage collection. This caramel hue of cowhide leather keeps catching my collecting eye lately. I realized I already have more or less a complete luggage set (not that it’ll put a stop to it): attaché, garment bag, Dopp kit, overnight bag, and two suitcase sizes. Perhaps with this post, I can at least admit they won’t be going into the shop anytime soon.
The above mini-gallery was inspired by the vintage coonskin cap I just found on thrifting duty—plus the attraction of fur anything in January. Added to my find’s plush folksy wildness was the warmth of recognizing the menswear icon that the coonskin cap is, however humble. I couldn’t call it nostalgia since I never had one growing up, but the fur hat with the striped tail was nonetheless instantly familiar from television and film. Taking it for granted made me want an example for the shop and to know more about its significance too.
Raccoon hats were originated by Native Americans and adopted by frontiersman during their 17th and 18th century Westward expansion. When Fess Parker (pictured second from top) wore a coonskin cap in his 1950s Disneyland portrayal of Davy Crockett, he sparked one of the largest fads in fashion history among American and English boys. That fad had largely run its course by the time Parker again donned his coonskin cap to star in the Daniel Boone TV show that ran from the mid-60s to 70s (although Daniel Boone never really wore one himself).
In recent years, there was reportedly a resurgence of coonskin caps among Brooklynites and others in metropolitan areas prone to sartorial irony, as well as raccoon sightings on fashion runways, but their popularity didn’t seem strong enough to constitute a full fashion trend–certainly nothing like the 5000 coonskin caps sold a day during their 50s boom! Perhaps that number explains why vintage ones are still readily available online. Of course, if that’s too much/not enough irony for you, there are also plenty of online tutorials like this one, which will show you how to make your very own.
A pair of vintage-inspired winter looks with menswear staples from classic, mostly American brands:
Top—Shetland cable knit cardigan sweater vest with leather buttons from vintage Chaps Ralph Lauren; Brooks Brothers plaid camel hair blazer and OCBD; Dolce & Gabbana black silk knit necktie; Gap dark wash boot cut denim (or your vastly superior selvege pair); brown Chelsea boot; vintage Pendleton chin strap wool tweed flat cap.
Bottom—Vintage faux shearling, suede trucker coat from Grande Bay; striped knit beanie hat; vintage Pendleton plaid wool flannel with suede elbow patches; slim-straight cut, 5-pocket twill trousers; vintage L.L. Bean lined work boots with matching belt.
Profiling Brooks Brothers’ new Michigan Flatiron Shop (October 2013) got me thinking about all the good vintage Brooks pieces that have already sold or are currently listed in the shop. The above and below sampling may not be the museu- quality Brooks Brothers stuff of presidential wardrobes or Hollywood costume departments, but the pieces still showcase a style that was once-upon-a-time not so ‘classic,’ and much can be learned from them. Anyone can learn from its Wiki page that although Brooks Brothers is renowned for traditional menswear, the company is responsible for many innovations within the clothing industry. Even these everyday vintage pieces attest to those advances…
Though less obvious in photos, Brooks Brothers also introduced wash-and-wear shirts in 1953, an innovation that quickly made its way to the above mid-century wash-and-wear summer jackets. In fact, the entire concept of ready-to-wear taken for granted today was pioneered by the company in 1859, not to mention the less revolutionary though more endearing pink dress shirts, Shetland sweaters and argyle socks of the early 20th century.
So much vintage tweed goes through the shop this time of year that there’s hardly a chance to enjoy it all, the wondrous variety of dyes and weaves, patterns and textures. Prized for its warmth, water resistance, visual interest, and durability of use and style, a man’s tweed jacket—or his coat, suit, cap, tie–can become a lifetime member of his wardrobe, sheltering him in style season after season. The same practical and aesthetic qualities are what make tweed a favorite for vintage shoppers. All of the above photo details come directly from the past and soon-to-be-past shop, pieces we’ve loved and lost. Some favorite features are included like hacking pockets, suede patches, built-in belts, felted collars that button, as well as herringbone, houndstooth, stripes, plaids, and that Harris Tweed label that’s always a welcome find. If you’d like a less sentimental look at tweed—more on the noble history of the fabric and its patterns—I won’t do you any better than the recent treatment by the gentleman at Gentleman’s Gazette.
…Some of my faves from new, New York-based Sleepy Jones’s online collection of men’s loungewear, check out the full collection for yourself here (as well as plenty for women). No, not Company Man’s usual vintage fare–but the art of dressing for bed (or dressing for not-quite-bed or dressing for dressing) certainly seems pretty vintage these days. Launched this year by Andy Spade, Anthony Sperduti and Chad Buri, collaborators at Kate Spade and otherwise, Sleepy Jones is looking to change all that and to redefine sleepwear in the process. The site is fresh and inviting like new white sheets but shows folks decidedly out of bed while wearing their Sleepy Jones. Boxers, pajama tops and bottoms, T-shirts, and socks are all available; there are no robes at the moment on the men’s side but who knows when that might change. The Sleepy Jones ethos says that dressing for ideal comfort shouldn’t be limited to bedtime, and that neither should PJs when they just might provide the perfect uniform for the everyday creative life. The likes of Picasso and Plimpton got away with running around in public in their unmentionables, and why shouldn’t you? Well, I’ll let you know as soon as mine arrive!