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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Between interviews on A Continuous Lean and L Magazine, articles in the New York Times and NPR, as well as countless other write ups, Whit Stillman has been unavoidable over the past month. And with his first movie in thirteen years opening up just a few weeks ago it’s easy to see why. Much has been written on Whit Stillman over the years, he’s been called ” the wasp woody Allen,” his characters have been called “urban haute bourgeois,” and all the while he’s been celebrated for his presentation of young preppy culture.  Despite all this recent buzz around him Stillman has just four remarkable yet spread out films under his belt, making far too easy to simply overlook his Influence as a director. I personally knew little of Stillman prior to this week, but what I’ve discovered has been a man that is a paragon of contemporary prep, both through his personal background and  style as well as in the stories he presents within his films.

Stillman was born in Washington, D.C. in 1952, shortly thereafter his family moved to upstate New York as his father began an (unsuccessful) campaign for the New York State Senate.  Throughout this period Stillman reveled in the atmosphere of upstate New York, taking in the natural setting, and generally growing up in a seemingly perfect 1950’s family.  This all changed in the 60’s, first as Stillman’s father was appointed a member of JFK’s cabinet, relocating the family back to D.C., and then a few years later when Stillman’s parents divorced.  With his life radically altered, Stillman found solace in books, acting, and dancing.  In 1973, Stillman graduated from Harvard with two thousand dollars to his name and began working at Doubleday Publishing.  In the 80’s Stillman worked as sales agent, selling well known Spanish films to the U.S. market, he even acted in a few of the films.  But, it was not until 1990 that Stillman made his first movie: Metropolitan.

In regards to his personal style, consistency has always been a major theme for Stillman.  Since college he has never worn blue jeans, he still likes Bass Weejuns, and through his attire he exemplifies prep from a period in which how you dressed was paramount.  This attitude is what lead him to create Metropolitan in the first place.  In his ACL interview, Stillman tells a story of how he wrote a letter to the New York Times in response to a quote about Fred Astaire that said, “People don’t wear clothes like this anymore.”  Stillman disagreed entirely and intentionally dressed the characters in Metropolitan in opposition to this.  Each character appears well groomed, formal, and thoughtful, yet they all have a touch of personality in the way they dress, expressing that people not only still dress like this today, but they know how to do it on their own terms.  This symbolizes Stillman’s preppy style in Metropolitan – people not only dressing well, but also dressing for themselves.

Metropolitan explores debutante parties (social events Stillman attended during his time at Harvard) as a way of reflecting on preppy culture and style.  At these affairs the characters are dressed in black ties,  tuxedos, and long tailed overcoats.  During the day Shetland sweaters, botton down collars, and repp ties prevail.  The characters attire was not just about looking a certain way, it was about being a certain person.  Just like Stillman’s own style, his characters illustrated that the way in which you dress speaks volumes about the type of person that you are.

“So many things which were better in the past have been abandoned by so called convenience.”

Growing up at the start of every spring I’d pick up a new pair of skate shoes, and like clockwork by the end of the following summer they would be entirely trashed.  Those torn up shoes carried me through the warm weather and while they looked like total hell, it was always tough to get rid of them.  Skating those shoes to shreds was a crucial part of my summer and despite being beat up they always held a season’s worth of memories.  With my skating days behind me, my threadbare skate shoes have  largely been replaced by a pair of white sneakers.  For this season I picked up a pair of white Tretorn Nylites and while I don’t abuse my shoes like I used to, a dirtied-up pair of sneakers just feels right during this time of year.

Since tennis shoes first moved off the court in the 20th century, the basic white sneaker has always been an important part of any spring wardrobe.  The simplicity of a white shoe – the way it can be worn with pretty much anything, carrying you through a season, collecting scars along the way – just seems to go hand in hand with spring.  Sure, they won’t last you longer than a season, but they’re easy to kick on and off, and there’s something liberating about a pair of shoes that inherently look better when they’re a bit beat up.

Other options include Jack Purcell, Superga, Keds, Billy Reid x K Swiss, and Vans

The Duke of Windsor Sporting Brown Bucks

Modern menswear has a lot to thank the Duke of Windsor for.  Aside from popularizing Fair Isle, the Windsor knot, and generally teaching us a few things about personal style, the Duke also brought us one of the quintessential spring shoes – the buck.  In the early 20’s during a visit to the states, the Duke, (still the Prince of Wales at this time) showed up to a polo match on Long Island wearing a pair of brown bucks.  Already looking to the Prince of Wales for stylistic cues, the American public became enamored by the shoes and by the next summer they had already became a casual favorite.

Singer Pat Boone Signing His Signature White Bucks in 1959

Bucks were first produced in 1870’s, using Brazilian and Chinese deerskin, which is where the shoe’s got their name.  Buckskin had the right weight and texture for a casual warm weather shoe, but it was the shoes small details – the rubber sole and eye-catching colors, particularly white, that really set the buck apart.  Just like the Duke of Windsor, the Americans were drawn to the buck as a summer shoe that broke from the formality of an oxford, yet still remained understated.  Bucks became the go to spring shoe popping up at tennis courts, city streets, and suburban lawns across the country.  As an easy to match, striking shoe the buck has remained a cornerstone of any warm weather wardrobe for decades.  Here are a few options for the months ahead:

To Boot Clancy Suede Bucks

Sanders Archie Snuff Suede Buck

Alden Unlined Suede Oxford in Tan

Sid Mashburn White Bucks

Leffot Tasmin Waverly Derby

Church Fulbeck Buck

Bass Brockton Buck

Johnston & Murphy Brennan Plain Toe

Florsheim Kearny Buck


James Dean Wearing Weejuns

The penny loafer is quite literally a remnant of a bygone era – a time when pay phones were a vital part of daily life and a penny could be a lifesaver.  Although, when Bass first debuted the shoe in 1936 the name that they gave to it had nothing to do with currency.  As a reference to Norwegian farmers who were the first people seen wearing loafers in a 1930 Esquire article, Bass called the shoe, “The Weejun.” Companies had already been making flat front loafers for several years, but John Bass wanted to add something unique to his shoes.  Bass decided to put a small strap across the top of the shoe, but it was the signature lip shaped cutout in the center of strap that made the Weejuns a classic.

Vintage Weejuns Ad

Initially it was just a nice little detail to differentiate a Weejun from all other loafers, but after a few years the opening became a practical pocket.  In the 40’s and 50’s a phone call cost about a penny, and so Weejun wearers began slipping pennies into the front of their loafers as a backup in case they ever needed to make an emergency call.  Eventually, the pennies just stuck, and even after phone rates had been raised people were still putting pennies in the cutout of their Weejuns.  In the 60’s the sockless look became popular as preps began pairing their penny loafers with everything from shorts to sack suits.  This high/low versatility has helped the penny loafer endure for decades as a simple spring staple.

Grenson James Penny Loafer

Sid Mashburn Scotch Grain Penny Loafer

Bass Logan Weejun

Alden Full Strap Penny Mocc Calfskin

Alfred Sargent Ewell

Crockett & Jones Boston

Rancourt Pinch Penny Loafers - Color 8 Chromexcel

Well, Spring has arrived, which means that it’s time to shed those winter layers.  But, along with Spring comes the unavoidable rainy season that always seems to throw off that carefree warm weather attitude.  So when the inevitable storms come don’t lose your head, just remember to keep it light and you’ll be covered.

London Undercover City Gent Lifesaver Umbrella – Burberry London Briton Twill Trench Coat – Etro Prince of Wales Seersucker Blazer and Trousers – Charvet Slim-Fit Cotton Shirt – Drake’s Flower Print Silk Tie – Alden Handsewn Shell Cordovan Loafers

Swaine Adeney Brigg Golfing Umbrella – Mackintosh Watten MacOvadia & Sons Unstructured Double Breasted Jacket – Finamore x Frans Boone Open Pique Shirt – Epaulet Slim Walt Steel Irish Trousers – Mark McNairy Grain Leather Double Monkstraps

Barneys New York Umbrella – Todd Snyder Spring Mac – Gitman Vintage Seersucker Button Down – Gant Canoe Wash Jeans – Tretorn Nylites – Parrott Canvas Tool Tote

As anyone that has gotten caught in a downpour knows all too well that there’s nothing worse for a pair of shoes than a rainstorm.  Trudging through rainy city streets can turn your leather lace ups into beaters in an instant.  For as long as handmade shoes have been around there’s always been a need to protect shoes from the rain, which is where galoshes come in.  Invented over a century ago to guard shoes against the elements galoshes were originally crudely produced from either cloth or wood.  Along with the invention of rubber in the early 20th century came a significantly more practical modern galosh.

For Europeans galoshes have always been a central part of their rainy day wardrobe  yet they never really caught on in the states.  This was something that Johan Ringdal, a native Norwegian observed when he came to America in 1999.  Ringdal grew up sporting his grandfather’s hand-me-down galoshes through every storm, yet when he came stateside he couldn’t find his beloved overshoes anywhere.  After several years of suffering through the rainy seasons, Ringdal decided that if he couldn’t find galoshes, he might as well make some himself.  Ringdal dubbed his creation, Swims, an overshoe that balanced the traditional galosh design with current technologies.  Utilizing tear resistant rubber and a flexible upper, Swims provide a hardwearing and comfortable shield for your shoes.  Best of all Swims allow you to forget the weather and wear whatever shoes you want cause you know you’ll be covered.

While Charles Macintosh was no fashion designer, his single innovation changed the clothes we wear forever.  In 1823, while experimenting with rubber, Macintosh, a Scottish chemist, stumbled upon the world’s first completely waterproof material.  Created by joining two fabrics together with liquid rubber, the material was entirely sealed, preventing any precipitation from seeping through.  Calling the material “rubberized cloth,” Macintosh founded his eponymous company and began producing waterproofed versions of traditional British riding coats.  These jacket’s were unlike anything else on the market, simultaneously offering two things that were previously unimaginable together – dryness and comfort.  Throughout the rainy United Kingdom, Macintosh’s jackets practically sold themselves, and pretty soon the company had to change up in order to meet demand.

Charles Macintosh, the extra K in Mackintosh was originally a typo, and then was added to the company name in the early 2000's

In 1830, Charles Macintosh and Co. merged with Thomas Hancock, a Manchester based inventor who was also studying rubberized materials.  Using their combined expertise, the two men perfected the all weather jacket and Mackintosh became the official supplier of the British Army, railways, and police department.   Mackintosh continued to produce their rubberized jackets throughout the 19th and 20th century but by that point the original patent’s had expired and nearly every company on the planet had their version of the “mac coat.”

Factory Worker at Mackintosh, taping seams together

Production waned over several decades and by the 1990’s Mackintosh had been bought and sold numerous times and was on the brink of bankruptcy.  As a final effort to save the company they began rebranding themselves as high-end heritage brand, collaborating with luxury brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton.  By combining Charles’ original methods with contemporary designs, Mackintosh used 19th century innovation to create the ultimate modern raincoat.

Mackintosh Dunkfeld in Military and Jaffa

Mackintosh Dunoon in Yellow and Putty

Mackintosh Rain Coat in Storm

Epaulet x Mackintosh Dowanhill Raincoat in Graphite

Epaulet x Mackintosh Dowanhill Raincoat in Navy

Mackintosh Fetlar Jacket in Navy

Mackintosh Clisham Jacket in Forest

Mackintosh Hooded Dunoon Jacket in Cinnamon

After serving two consecutive terms as President, Theodore Roosevelt left the White House and headed as far away from Washington as possible.  In 1909 he arrived in Africa for a safari and a much need change of pace.  After eight years in the political jungle of DC, Roosevelt entered into the wilderness of the sahara.  Along the way, as they traveled through central Africa along the Nile, Teddy and his crew visited with African leaders, observed the landscape, and collected wildlife for the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History.  Striding through the terrain, hunting for animals, Roosevelt appeared strong and commanding just he did during his days as the leader of the Rough Riders, right down to his military inspired outfits.  The party adopted the appropriate wardrobe for their trip, epitomizing the popular safari aesthetic of the early 20th century. Teddy himself was the quintessential Westerner in the Sahara, donning a pith hat, bush shirt, and high rise trousers to go along with his iconic oval glasses.  For Roosevelt and his crew, the excursion was a chance to step away from the political sphere to experience something new, and with that came their specific safari style that’s a far cry from the typical Presidential garb.

In the late 1970’s writer Mel Ziegler found himself facing a common problem for many men: he couldn’t find the right jacket.  Dissatisfied by the options in his local stores, Ziegler finally found a suitable jacket while on assignment in Sydney, Australia, where he purchased three British military jackets.  Back in the states Patricia, Mel’s wife, used her artistic background to transform the three jackets into one jacket that was exactly what Mel was looking for.  The couple’s friends quickly took note of Mel’s “new” jacket, and began to ask where they could find something similar.

Mel and Patricia Ziegler

Based on this demand the Ziegler’s decided to turn their restyled jacket into a business and in 1978 Banana Republic Travel and Safari Clothing Company was born.  The couple scoured the world, traveling to South America, Africa, and Spain in search of surplus.  Selling a blend of salvaged and repurposed pieces, Banana Republic carved out their own unique safari-inspired niche.  When the couple ran out of surplus they began designing their own collections using their original found and restyled pieces as inspiration.  The clothes were all strong and functional, the palette consisted of neutrals and drab colors, and the details were pulled directly from military and travel pieces, giving Banana Republic an unmistakeable look.

Yet, the brand’s memorable aesthetic did not come from the clothes alone, every aspect of the brand followed the safari attitude of the clothes.  Each store was carefully designed to reflect a specific setting, everything from a desert hut, to a hunting lodge, to an officer’s quarters.  Stores often had fully equipped Jeeps in the center, with jungle foliage, vintage furniture, animals, and even a smoke machine scattered throughout.  The company’s catalogs were hand drawn (often by Patricia herself) and came complete with fictional backstories written by well-known travel writers, bringing the safari image full circle.

In 1983 The Gap bought Banana Republic and unfortunately the brand was never the same.  Over the next few years Banana Republic used The Gap’s financial backing to open stores all across the country.  Despite early success, the demand for safari style was waning and sales could not keep pace with expansion.  In response to this The Gap began altering the brand in an attempt to boost revenue.  Mel and Patricia left Banana Republic in 1988, citing creative differences, and with their exit Gap continued to steer the brand in a more widely marketable direction.  This transformation continued over the next couple decades, which bring us to the present day Banana Republic, a company without any relation to the beloved brand that the Ziegler’s founded in 1978.  The unique aesthetic that set Banana Republic apart, the thoughtful details in not only their clothes but their catalogs and store as well, the very soul of the brand is entirely absent from the modern Banana Republic.  While the designs that made the brand so revered in the late 70’s and early 80’s are no where to be found in today’s stores, they can still occasionally be found on eBay, Etsy, and vintage stores nationwide.

All Images via The Abandoned Republic 

At the turn of the twentieth century, as the world’s fascination with Africa was rising, safari tours became incredibly popular among wealthy westerners.  Naturally, these western elites had to have an entirely different wardrobe to prepare themselves for their journey, yet these clothes also had to maintain the formal look that they were used to. So, while the British and American adventure tourists flocked to Sub-Saharan Africa to embark on excursions through the desert, a distinct safari style began to take shape.

British Wildlife Conservationist and Actor Bill Travers Wearing Safari Jackets

The most recognizable garment that came out of this era was the appropriately named, Safari jacket, a four pocket  sportcoat.  Aesthetically similarly to English countryside hunting jackets, the Safari Jacket had a familiar shape but the details and construction were intended for unfamiliar territory.   The overall goal of most safari tours was to observe the wildlife, so the four bellow pockets were designed to kept the traveller’s equipment, particularly cameras, close at hand to help document the trip.  Safari jackets were commonly produced in either cotton drill or poplin, two lightweight fabrics that offered protection from the intense desert heat.  Design details such as epaulets and belts harkened back to the military culture of colonial Africa.

Ernest Hemingway Wearing a Safari Jacket

Around the 1950’s the Safari jacket began to cross into the mainstream menswear world as the adventurer lifestyle became a common theme within pop culture.  Throughout the latter twenty-first century, figures such as Ernest Hemingway and James Bond adopted the Safari jacket, bringing it into daily life as a casual spring jacket.  Designers continue to riff on the original design today, modifying the many features of the jacket, but always maintaining the rugged edge that made Safari jackets so unique.

Ralph Lauren Black Label Jump Cotton Blend Jacket

Maison Kitsune Washed Cotton-Twill Safari Jacket

Slowear Montedoro Cotton and Linen Safari Jacket

Ian Velardi Denim Safari Jacket

Beretta Safari Jacket

Filson Bush Jacket

Balmain Safari Jacket

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