Sunday, November 29, 2009

Second Hand Man

In these trying economic times, people are trying to stretch the value of their dollar as far as they can. Eating out less and cooking at home more; renting instead of buying; walking instead of driving. Many men, who love clothing like I do, and don't earn 6 figure incomes...guilty again...are doing whatever it is they can to keep their hobbies alive as the nation tries to recover from the economic crisis. Hell, I've even forsaken ice-hockey, a three hundred dollar per season commitment, for roller hockey. Seventy bucks gets me ice time every week for 15 weeks at least, even if the ice is the asphalt on the corner of 54th Street and Ft Hamilton Parkway.

What many people, for reasons unbeknownst to me, still have a hard time accepting, is buying clothing second hand. Pre-owned. USED. Sure, if I use the "u" word it sounds a hell of a lot less appealing, but thats why companies like Lexus, BMW, and Mercedez-Benz paid their advertising teams millions to figure out a way to capitalize on an market they haven't tapped until the early 2000's. Those marketing whiz kids figured out, that if you make buying something second hand sound more appealing, people will do it. And do it in droves. The used car salesman became the nice man selling pre-owned luxury to Americans who couldn't afford new luxury. His hair became a little less slick, his mustache turned into a clean shave, and he exchanged that plaid sport jacket with the ugly lapels, for a nice slim silhouetted navy suit with a red tie and crisp white square. But how did he do that OVERNIGHT? He's still only a used car salesman for goodness sakes, and he's still working on crappy commission rates! He did it by scouring for the very same deals his customers were looking for, but not at some car dealership, but at thrift stores and online fashion forums.

I know what you're thinking, "why would I want someone else's crap that they don't want?" Have you ever bought a used car? Have you ever borrowed your older brother, or father's jacket? Chances are you have, and chances are it didn't bother you then, and shouldn't bother you now. Some of my favorite item's of clothing I purchased second hand, either from eBay, one of the many online marketplaces like StyleForum's B&S (Buying and Selling for those abbreviatedly challenged) Forum, AskAndyAboutClothes' Trad Thrift Exchange, or my local Salvation Army.

Now chances are that you won't find that diamond in the rough, a fully Canvassed Oxxford solid navy suit in a 40R new with tags, for $3.99, but you may certainly find it for 80% off the retail price of nearly $2,000 on one of the internet forums mentioned above. Thats the great thing about the internet. Its basically enabled EVERY thrift store, from every corner of the world, to sell their goods in one giant online thrift marketplace. I was able to purchase, two years ago, a brown bird's eye fabric Oxxford suit with double vents and flat front pants, used on eBay (Linda's Stuff) for $250 shipped to my door. The suit arrived at my door in pristine condition...maybe it was worn once, but it had obviously been cleaned, pressed and was ready to go. Naturally, when buying second hand clothing, you take precautions, and I did, and as soon as I got it, had it cleaned again, just to make sure. I got two good years out of this suit and it became a favorite of mine, until one day a few months ago, I decided that I needed to slim down my wardrobe, and put more money toward household expenses. I did a quick eBay search to see how much Oxxford suits were selling for, posted it on the B&S on StyleForum, and sold it within a day for $400. I even made a bloody profit! Why? Beacause someone else, like me, valued an Oxxford suit, and took advantage of a seller selling it at a price that wouldn't even be close to fathomable had it been new.

Here's another steal I found on eBay...a beautiful Turnbull & Asser Tweed Suit. This suit orginally must have cost the owner thousands of dollars. Its clearly very old, as the lapels are very wide, an indicator that the suit was originally made in the 1960's or 1970's but its shape flattered my body, even if the tie didn't (d'oh!). My cost? $200 on eBay. Now, after a year of working out at Dolphin Fitness up the block from me, I no longer fit into it, and I'm trying to sell it to another gentleman who loves him some English Tweed. Any 38S out there interested? I have it priced at $275. Still a value as fine clothing, that is well made, like this, will last forever with the proper care.

Now Ranger, you can't possibly want someone else's shoes? Sorry, I do, especially if the price is right, and the condition is good. In fact, I just bought a pair of Alden shell cordovan (for those of you who haven't experienced this type of leather on your feet, please do so immediately!) cap toe boots in No 8 Shell, a burgundy color. These boots new, retail for well over $600. My price for them, $230, shipped to my door, with polish and three Alden shoe trees! They have become my favorite pair of shoes, and fit me like a glove. With buying shoes second hand, it usually takes a wear or two to get them to mold to your feet, as they tend to stay in the shape of the foot of the original owner for a bit. Had these shoes been excessively worn, I may not have jumped, but based on the pictures and the owner's description of wearing them at most 6 times, I bit...and it tasted GREAT!

Gross you say? Well think about what could happen in a shoe, and then think about what could happen on the cloth seats of that 2005 Camry you're mom just got for $6,000. Now it doesn't seem so disgusting anymore does it? Sure, we tend to get "skeeved" because clothing is as intimate a possession as anything else we own. Its attached to us, a part of us; a part of who we are. But in order to be able to buy someone else's clothing that will work for us, we have to get past that. The clothing is not a part of us, no more than your mom's used Camry is a part of her, or a "pre-owned" Lexus is a part of its owner.

So, bottom line is that its all about the bottom line. Wise purchases enable to me to spend more on things that I can't get discounted. Things like the custom shirts from Ercoles that I love so much, or the custom jackets that fit me like a glove. Things like those custom trousers I'm wearing in the boot pictures, that have a few extra dollars in their pack pockets thanks to some wise purchases of "pre-owned" luxury items.

I'll leave you with a few other vintage purchases, some that I've passed on to others as I've grown at the gym, and others that still sit in my closet reminding me that all that glitters isn't always new, wasn't always mine, and never will be me.

Tweed jacket, wool tie, DB overcoat, cashmere sport jacket, longwing shoes, and tweed sport jacket:

And no, I don't buy used underwear...thats where even I draw the line. Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Gentlemanly Service - Ercole's Creative Fashion

In this day in age, when the apex of customer service is a live voice from India reading from a script, and the norm is a computer responding to keyed telephone entries, real service has disappeared, or so I thought.

Today I made my way to see my local tailor, Frank, at Ercoles in Brooklyn. I had a few things to do, order two pairs of trousers, check out some grey fabric for a sport jacket, and discuss some future plans to get his business online. I called at 11:30 AM and got Frank's father, Ercole, who told me that his son Frank would be in soon. I said OK, and made my way around the neighborhood to run some errands and pick up some groceries (fresh chicken cutlets, imported prosciutto, and home made mozzarella-one smoked and one well as some Italian cookies) and then headed over.

I got there, and said hello to Ercole and told him I'd wait for his son Frank, no problem. Talking with Ercole is a wonderful experience, as his English is doused with a beautiful operatic Italian accent. The minutes passed and still no Frank. In the meantime, a local developer with about $15,000 worth of sportcoats showed up, and was waiting, as was a local judge, and another young man who obviously had a lot of work for Frank and his crew. Now Ercole was getting steamed, and yelled at Frank on the phone for running late. Some choice Italian phrases (words even I understood) were thrown around and finally when Frank turned up at 1:00, Ercole was ready for lunch. He grabbed his cap, a black flat cap, and threw on a beautiful plaid sport jacket over his blue check shirt and deep blue trousers. I told Ercole to have a good lunch, and I said I'd wait for Frank to take care of the other customers, as I needed time to talk to him regarding the website I'm working on for him. Ercole invited me to join him. I took it as a polite gesture, and declined, until he insisted with a genuine and warm wave .

We made our way across the street to a little Italian place and shared a dish of antipasto, some sparkling water and some fresh Italian bread. We both got the fresh baccala (codfish) in a puttanesca sauce, one of the specials. The cod just arrived from Boston a few hours earlier. The fish was so fresh it didn't even need to be chewed. Ercole even gave some of his entree to an older patron who said she hadn't had baccala in ages, since her mother made it when she was a youth. We shared a nice glass of white wine, and an even nicer conversation. He told me about the town he came from, what it was like, .5 km from the sea in Calabria. he told me of his parents, how his father was hurt in the Second World War, and about being a father. I told him of how my great grandfather came here from Southern Italy and distanced himself from his heritage to fit into American society, and how I always regretted never being able to speak Italian, as he had to the beautiful waitress and the chef/owner, Butchie.

When it came time for the check, I asked him how much I owed, as I assumed we'd be splitting. He told me to give him $5 for the tip, and that was all that was needed. I insisted, knowing the meal was well above $50 without tip, but again, he turned my money away. I thanked him profusely. We then walked a few doors down for a cup of espresso, again, he picked up the tab. We then walked back to the shop and Frank was just finishing up with he last of the gentlemen that I left inside as we went to eat an hour earlier.

This is real customer service. This is what I imagine my great grandfather experienced when he went to get his clothing made in the mountain village of San Fele, Basilicata, 130 years ago, by their local craftsman. This is what's missing from today's mass produced, make a quick buck, men's clothing industry. I knew, before today, that I would be a customer at Ercoles for as long as I live, and Ercole knew that as well, and it didn't matter. This is the mark of a true gentleman, and to me that means more to me than any amount of money a sale can keep in my pocket. This is what keeps a customer loyal. It also doesn't hurt that I get a top quality product made for me, by a skilled artisan. But this artisan is also gentleman, and to me there is no value that can be placed on that.

I hope one day, when my son Hudson is old enough, to take him to Ercoles, and have clothing made for him. And when I do, I'll be sure to tell him of what happened to me today, and how being a man is more than just what our mass media tells us it is, and being a gentleman is all about how you treat people. I hope that one day he can pass it on to his son, as Ercole has passed it on to Frank, and on to me.