Menswear again: down, not up

In my slightly obsessive following of menswear trends (and their marketing mojo),  I found this businessy tidbit:


Not being a huge fan of the hoodie, this caught my eye.  I mean, seriously:  Why a hoodie?  I like a bit of wool in my outer layers, because it keeps me warmer.  A hoodie?  I was raised in an era where sweat clothes were too casual to leave the house in (ok, so I took a pass on the whole velour tracksuit thing when I was growing up.) (No, maybe I just wasn’t the right demographic for it.  My friends were wearing thrift-store jean jackets and army shirts.)  But ok, so, a hoodie.  Useful at the beach, or around the drafty house, or for those spring days when you’re running errands.

I know I’m out of sync with the world around me.  Because I see younger (as in “under 35″) guys wearing hoodies under jackets, with jeans and they look hot and kinda semi-casual.  Can it be that the hoodie is stepping up in the world?  Is it the anti-fashion to the jacket-and-tie’s new hyper-fashionability?  Or is fashion just moving on and the hoodie is slowly replacing the jacket?  Is this an example of the world getting more and more knit-centric?  Will wovens retire to the background in this century?

I began reading this article about the profitability of this particular hoodie.  Every reviewer stresses first that it is actually made from a heavy weight of pure-cotton fleece.  Woo hoo!  At last someone is finally complaining about the progressively lighter (i.e. wimpier) fabric weights that we’ve been slipped year after year.  The standard T-shirt weights now shipped are see-through compared to what was standard when I worked in the industry just 20 years ago.  And if you look at a concert T from the 70’s, the finishing on it is a whole ‘nother category.

And this hoodie is apparently “shockingly well made” (quoted from the American Giant website testimonials).  When was the last time you saw a garment that shocked you by how nicely finished the details were?  For less than $100?  I’m not saying that $89 is inexpensive for a hoodie, but if it were made like old army-issue, hmm, maybe?

So I can understand why the writer at Slate raved a bit.  Yeah, I’m in favor of a better quality standard item.  I want that item to be jeans or a denim jacket or a good black wool skirt, but ok.  Hoodie it is.

Bayard Winthrop, who began the company, says that the reason he’s able to keep the cost of his items down is that his company spends no money on marketing or distribution.

How will this play out over time?  Is it a sustainable business model?

seaglasshoodieThey make said perfect hoodie for women, too, although we don’t know what sort of perfecting they did to make it better suited for our rather different shapes.  Women are offered two versions: the heavyweight one the lads get, and in nearly the same grim (i.e. “basic”) color range.  Or a lighter “mid-weight” version that comes in basic colors and two fashion colors.  “Seaglass” is the one shown above.

The other super-cool thing is that these items are manufactured in the United States.  And the company is profitable.  Not just profitable, but the men’s basic hoodie is back-ordered for months.  And people keep ordering them.

So here is another question:  Many companies have made their mark on the retail world by selling American-sportswear-styled basic garments.  I give you the Gap, Ralph Lauren, Levis, Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, Diesel, American Apparel, among others.  Each works at a different price point and from a different business model. Will this new business model remain successful?  Or will the company need to create an advertising program in order to sustain interest in their products?

If these garments are so basic and last forever, what will they come up with next to keep enticing new customers into the fold?  How many hoodies does the average person need?  How will they be able to maintain this business model with respect to distribution channels, if they begin selling abroad, where American-styled sportswear is hot?

What do you think?



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World’s Fair Site: can you get there from here?

New_York_World's_Fair_August_1964(Thank you, Wikipedia, for this image of the Queen’s World’s Fair site from August, 1964!)

We interrupt the longer blog post we’re frantically working on to bring you this urgent debate concerning one of New York City’s most interesting historic sites.  I know you Manhattanites have trouble crossing water, but waaaayy out in Flushing Meadows stands a relic of our glorious past:

021814worldsfair(Thank you to wallyg for this image from

This structure, the “Tent of Tomorrow”, was designed by architect Philip Johnson.


The world’s fair site in Flushing Meadows was part of Robert Moses’ larger project to refurbish the area from it’s past as a dumping ground for industrial ash (which was referred to in the Great Gatsby.)  The project was funded privately, and lost participants when it remained unsanctioned by the Bureau of International Exhibitions.  Nonetheless, the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens, hosted 51 million visitors.

You can find out more of the background on the site here:

What do you think?  What happens when prophetic-seeming Tomorrow-lands become rusty Yesterday-lands?  Should these buildings be saved or torn down?  What should Flushing Meadows Park be used for?  How much of our history do we need to preserve?




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Well Suited

A few days ago on my FB feed, my gentleman acquaintances were discussing this article.  Do you agree or disagree with its many pronouncements?  Heaven knows that today would be a great day for a tweed suit with a vest.   As would many of the days this past month.

The more-formal approach: Double button, notched lapel. And saddlestitching!


Not that it’s surprising that this image of a formally-, but also dashingly-dressed man happens to be Matt Bomer, in his role as Neil Caffrey (a con man gone with the Law) on the TV show “White Collar”.


Huffington Post’s version of the Do’s & Don’ts begins with the 15 things our reporter keeps seeing but would prefer not to.

Huffington Post feels this guy is wearing too much blingy "style over substance" here...
Huffington Post feels this guy is wearing too much blingy “style over substance” here…


Which is ironic, since this kind of bling is a cultural subversion of the conservative stereotypes of suit-wearers (who are frequently white and conservative) in the trash.  Bet that writer is over 40 and white!

And then this huge, hopefully comprehensive guide…

suits_elegance_2_4_evssIt makes perfect sense that a menswear magazine like Details should include this kind of how to.  It’s the most helpful of the lot, I think, including as it does the arrows with individual descriptions:

Rule #2
Some think button-down collars are for casual wear only, but they can work great with dressier looks as well.

Rule #3
Polka dots are a great way to bring energy to a suit. Make sure they’re big enough to be recognizable, but not so large that they’re goofy.

Rule #4
A tried-and-true pattern like herringbone or glen plaid in a muted shade makes an impression without crossing into the realm of garishness.

And even the sales pitch, so that you, the newly-educated young-man-on-the-rise can dress this well.  Some year:
Above: Suit ($3,595) by Isaia. Shirt ($550) by Kiton. Tie ($150) by Alfred Dunhill. Belt ($295) by Ermenegildo Zegna. Shoes ($660) by Church’s.

It’s especially nice that this article was actually written with the consultation of six bespoke tailors.

And I found at least 6 or 7 other articles, of which these are but a few…

What’s going on here?  Do men even still *wear* suits these days, other than ironically??  If so, why do they need so much advice on how to wear them?  Or is it that bloggers have the space to write and book contractors are giving money to menswear projects?  Are people reading these blogs and buying these books?   Here are a few recent publications we have at FIT library that seem fascinated with this “new” old form of elegance:

I am Dandy : the Return of the Elegant Gentleman

4th fl.  Art Reference GT6720 .A33 2013

dandy cover


While I love the diversity and colorful aspects of these men, I wonder how many of them function in America’s mainstream?  Or live west of the Delaware?  Or east of the San Andreas fault?  Or am I missing some important trend in American menswear (not being one, afterall).



Artist, Rebel, Dandy: Men of Fashion

Art Reference GT6720 .I78 2013


This book highlights many of the same gentlemen seen in the above book, but also includes carefully photographed pieces of clothing that have been worn by exquisite gentlemen of the past.  This is one of a pair of spats.





Vintage menswear : a collection from the Vintage Showroom

4th fl.  Art Reference GT1710 .G85 2012

This one is so gorgeously photographed that I wanted to become suddenly a WWII vet, so I could have aged leather bomber jackets.

Fuck Yeah Menswear : bespoke knowledge for the crispy gentleman

5th fl.  Main Stacks TT617 .F83 2012

This last appears to be a book form of some highlights from this quite outspoken blog (warning, it isn’t a polite place, even though it’s elegant):

Where is all of this interest in menswear coming from?  What is it a reaction to?  Have men gotten tired of the slouch of Abercrombie, or does that inform this?  Is it that men have embraced the DIY movement by finally doing their own shopping?  Or embracing the vintage looks parallel to those of their hipster girlfriends?  Or is this new dandyism a reflection of the joy of formalwear and the flowering of gay culture that has sprouted from the recent legalization of gay marriage in so many states?  I’m curious as to your takes on this.  And, as you’ve seen, gorgeous tailoring is a topic I return to over and over again.







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New Year, New Beginnings!

Since several folks I know got married this past week, it seems apt to begin the new year with hopeful thoughts of love.

This florist is making a beautiful, yet unconventional, winter bouquet:

And this young woman is an FIT student in the Interior Design program.  She used to be a student aide in the PERS department.   Congratulations to Leah Levitt & Milton Arellano!

And happy anniversary to all the rest of you who’ve gotten married the week of New Years in years past!

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Love, Loss, & Auld Lang Syne

At FIT, we spend a lot of time pondering the business and the art of dress.  But there are so many more stories that clothes can tell.  If every dress or pair of pants or skirt could talk, imagine the stories they’d tell.  From the depths of December, we offer you some remembrances of summers past, illustrated in clothes and accessories.

This past few years have been tough for the old women in my family.  Three women, my grandmother, my great aunt and my ex-mother-in-law, all in their late 90s, finally passed on.  So I’ve spent parts of this last couple years sorting through their clothes and pictures and other belongings.  And finding out a lot more about these women at their youngest, prettiest and most fashionable.  What do these things express about these women?  Hope?  A sense of their own desirability?  Social status?  Pleasure?  Love?  Financial independence?  The kinds of activities they enjoyed?

My Great Aunt Emilie (second from the left in the pic above) was first generation American, born to a father and mother (fourth and fifth from the left in the pic above) who’d moved from Poland in about 1909.  Never married, she lived in the same home in Philadelphia for 56 years.  When we cleaned it out (a very sad task), we found many many shoes, golf clothes (she was an avid golfer well into her 80s), Christmas cards from 30 years, slips, gloves and beautiful, splendid hats!  And many many boxes of good jewelry, including dinner rings, dressy pins, and strings of pearls.  To me these tell a story of a stubborn woman who lived an unconventional life (she never married) who took good care of herself (she golfed weekly, owned her own home, and left comfortable allowances to charities in her will), but allowed herself many pleasures due to her financial independence.

These hats were all still carefully wrapped in tissue, and kept in their Bergdorf Goodman boxes:


I was surprised how much our assumptions about the necessities of dress have changed.  When was the last time you wore a hat to any occasion? She had all kinds:  these two spring floral confections were popular in the early 60s.




This lovely black beaded number was custom made by a Philadelphia milliner, and closely resembles one from a late-50s Dior photograph.




This plasticized-straw boater has a tall enough crown that it looks later 60s.  With a patent-leather band, it is perfect for summer outings at the golf club, where Emilie was the center of a lively circle of friends.


Have you ever worn a slip?  Or gloves?  Aunt Emilie had many of all of these, never thrown away.  The white gloves are very proper, but each has an embroidered or cutwork detail.  The two outside pairs are knit, but the center glove is fine kid leather.  And howabout the sauciness of the yellow pair?

I especially love that she had this hot pink lacy slip.  I doubt anyone else ever saw it, but that’s the point, isn’t it.  My very proper maiden great aunt wore these pretty things to please herself.

In a letter we found, toasting her at her retirement dinner, both her determination, her signature items of jewelry,  and her fondness for travel were each mentioned gleefully.


Last June I spent time going through the wardrobe of my former mother-in-law, Rena Mae.  Daughter of an Arkansas circuit minister, she married a dashing Army pilot who was stationed in her town during World War II.  Richard brought her back to his hometown of New York, and they lived comfortably in a large home in Melba, Queens.  They had two children.  Rena Mae was a school teacher for many years, but she also had the luxury of funds offered by a husband with some financial skills.  Amongst the many ladylike daywear pieces were a few delicate  evening and cocktail dresses from days gone by.  She also had dresses from nearly every decade in summery ginghams and eyelets.

And these:








Rena Mae also had a few skirts similar to this Vogue Pattern from 1975 (we have the Pattern Catalogs at the PERS desk).  She may even have made one from this pattern or one like it.  Every woman I knew in the 1970s sewed, and my mother made most of their own clothes and a lot of mine and my brother’s.  I know my mom made a skirt like this.  I wore it when I was in high school.

Looking through these clothes brought back memories of summer vacations when I was a kid.





My grandmother Georgia was also a southern lady.  She grew up in the old south, on a large cotton farm in Wisner, Lousiana.   She remembered traveling by horse-and-buggies.  Once she graduated from the University of New Mexico, she and a friend moved to Chicago on a lark.  There she taught public school and eventually married my grandfather, Dan, a handsome, witty Irish-American who worked for the water department.  Together they raised two families: they had two sons, Danny and Neil.  She also inherited Dan’s part-time family from his first marriage, my father and my aunt, handling the brood with grace and patience at a time when divorce was still scandalous.   They traveled cross country several times a year in order to keep in touch with family members in California, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, and Montana.  She embroidered and quilted, giving each grandchild a quilt she’d made.  As email became popular, she became an avid user in order to stay close to her far-flung family.  She was 99.

Clothing seems to be firmly attached to the idea of memories, especially for women.  The library has a number of books that use clothing as a framework for memoirs.

A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson’s album of styles and fabrics, edited by Naomi Tarrant.  5th Floor Main & 4th Floor Art Reference, GT736 .L25.

Fabric of society : a century of people and their clothes, 1770-1870 : essays inspired by the collections at Platt Hall, the Gallery of English Costume, Manchester, by Jane Tozer and Sarah Levitt.  5th Floor Main & 4th Floor Art Reference, GT736 .T69

Shocked: My Mother, Schiapiarelli, and Me, by Patricia Volk.  5th Floor Main  TT505 .S3 V65

Beaton: The Art of the Scrapbook, by Cecil Beaton, introduced by James Danziger.  4th Floor Art Reference, TR 140 .B4 A255

Love, Loss and What I Wore, by Ilene Beckerman.   GT617.N4 B43 1995

Pretty in Plaid: A Life, a Witch and a Wardrobe, by Jen Lancaster.  5th Floor Main PS3612 .A54748


In loving memory of

Emily M. Osinski 1913-2011,

Rena Mae Krevor 1917-2011, &

Georgia Knotts McMahon 1913-2013

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