31 July 2008

Vesper Boat Club 1985

I'm on the far right. As close to crew as I ever got. This was a English Speaking Union party on Boathouse Row in Philadelphia. Pretty sure it was the Vesper Boat Club but don't quote me. The ESU threw amazing parties in Philadelphia around the mid-80's. Don't know if they still do. Lots of black tie events for no other reason than to wear it. I remember ESU being open to everyone and the dues were cheap. Hell, they accepted me. It's one thing to be a Naval officer's son - - quite the other to be a Green Beret officer's son.

Tool from Main Line: So, tell me. What's your father's business?

Me: Killing people.

TFML: Oh, you're from South Philadelphia? Funny, you don't look Italian.

I might as well have been. Still, most people didn't seem to care. There were Jews and blacks and gays at these parties. Very diverse. I remember a beautiful Iranian woman who owned a gallery. Stunning. I almost stated Farsi lessons.

What was important was your attire. My Italian friend, who was a Mummer, would have problems at an ECU party. Sammy had that South Philly, closed vent suit with a tone on tone shirt and grey leather shoes thing going on. Sammy always wore a crucifix and explained to me he wasn't that religious...he just didn't want to be mistaken for being Jewish.

If you were not the part - -you had to at least look it. Forget the guy in the boater and pay attention to my tie. Notice the stripes run from the left shoulder down towards the right. On an American tie they run from the right shoulder to the left. A detail but a very important one.

I remember it was hot. No a/c in the middle of August. Misery. But the girls were always decked out . These girls look like they don't know what to do with their hands. You know why? They're not holding a drink and a cigarette. That was how I remember them at parties. With The Talking Heads booming over a stereo.

I was big on cigars then, what with The Black Cat on Spruce and Holt's on Chestnut, you'd be an idiot not to imbibe in the leaf. Cigars attracted these girls like a magnet. They always wanted a puff...or two between drags on their Kent. Funny. I never saw anyone smoke Kents before Philadelphia or after.

27 July 2008

Princeton 1924

The Princeton Bric a Brac. 1924. This yearbook is 3.15 pounds. The class of '24 was 56years old in 1958. Some fathers of those Bryn Mawr girls below? I found this in a Phoenixville, PA book store in 1985. I have '26 and '27 as well.

The Nassau Literary Magazine Board of '22-'23. I don't think any of these guys struggled over their food budget.
Seniors in the Spring of '26 in their Beer Drinking suits. White duck canvas coveralls and jacket only worn in the Spring of their senior year. Later, only the jackets remained with a class styled decoration on the back. Had I known, I would have studied much harder in high school.

The Freshman,"Flour Picture." Doused in flour by Sophomores just before the picture was taken. Up until 1915, the freshmen were required to wear black sweaters, black cords and black shoes. The very uniform of one of my best friends in college. I wonder if he knew.

I think it safe to assume designers from J Crew and Polo have access to this yearbook.

Only Juniors and Seniors were allowed to wear white flannel trousers.
Above- Adverts in the back. That's an amazing image for Jacob Reeds. How did Paul Stuart ever find it? I wonder if they paid for it?
Lets face facts. These guys, a good 90% of them, were rich. And this school dictated fashion and style over all the other Ivy Leagues. Pure sartorial history. I cherish these books and am so glad there was something I saw in them back in '85. That I would pull these out of a box, blow the dust off them and post these images in a 2008 blog is about as crazy as our interest in them today.
And they smell so good. I love smelling books.

23 July 2008

Bryn Mawr 1959

Above: The yearbook staff of The Revue. "Sixty cents a copy. Souls smell in Hades. Perhaps." Laying out copy at three in the morning with coffee and cigarettes and making up obscene captions for photographs. My kinda fun.

Above: Maybe she's needle pointing a belt.

Above: I don't know why but I love this picture.

Above: Bryn Mawr Noir

J Crew did a catalog in the late 80's. Bunch of 20-ish kids and some greying older folks at a beach house. A striking brunette girl who was fairly large framed. The other women were much smaller and blond. Four maybe five guys. Pick up truck. Wire Fox Terrier. The catalog ran with the same group of models for about two years. Looking at the pictures, I would make up stories about who was sleeping with you. Couldn't help it. The large brunette, I was pretty sure, slept with everybody. Wish I knew what happened to her.

Anyway, I like to buy yearbooks in used book stores for pretty much the same reason. I can put together a screenplay for one year depending on how well the yearbook was done. This is Bryn Mawr in 1959. You can pretty much be assured a couple of these girls went to work in the ad business in New York. And some wound up in the Village doing the Bohemian thing and partying with Lenny Bruce backstage.

I love looking at these pictures. A yearbook is a screenplay. A story of these people at a certain time. All of it coming together. Not bad for sixty cents. The graduating class are 70 - - 71 now. I'd give anything to meet them. I feel like I already know them.

21 July 2008

Trad TV HBO's Generation Kill

I am amazed they got away with this. Bless HBO. I have not seen anything about the military that hits it like Generation Kill...and from many different angles. With so much crap about the military on television today it really amazes me to see something done right for a change. This is the most authentic military film I've ever seen. And I don't think any one's gonna be able to touch it for a very long time.

Enlisted men have always been treated like mushrooms - - kept in the dark and fed lots of shit - - Generation Kill captures the life of the enlisted man with accuracy and humor. The first episode had a Sergeant Major chewing out a noncom over the length of his moustache while in the background a fellow Marine does the John Cleese - Faulty Tower goosestep. The beauty of that moment is so real and authentic...it made me proud I was enlisted.

We also see the incompetence of officers with a very different game plan from the troops. As Trad Dad told me, "You always know the mission comes first but that doesn't mean you waste men like they were office supplies." Not to mention the waste of civilian lives. A constant theme through each episode.

I was lucky enough to see all seven episodes. Yes, it's confusing. But I can't help but think the producers want you to see it from the embedded reporter's point of view. Chaos. If you really fall for this series the way I did rush out and buy the book, Generation Kill. It'll help you understand the strategy as well as why they bought all those Depends.

What can you say about HBO. While the networks force feed us pablum like The Unit and Army Wives - -it took some real balls for HBO to put this out there. I have no doubt they will loose a lot of money because this country is not ready for Generation Kill. As one Grunt in a voice over put it, "Back home all they care about is who's in People Magazine or can they get a triple latte at Starbucks. Nobody gives a shit about us. Nobody cares." Amen to that. Although, the price of gas seems to be waking up some of us.

For more on the series check out Wally's blog at http://wallacestrobycom.blogspot.com/2008/07/generation-kill.html

19 July 2008

Trad Needlepoint Belts

Following up on the Southern Trad post...I am a big fan of the needlepoint belt. I see it a lot in the south and have noticed it more and more in New York City. But there is a difference.

When I was in college, a small liberal arts college somewhere in the south, my southern girlfriend made a belt for me. It was pink and green needlepoint with my initials. She glued some sort of fabric as a backing and took it to a cobbler to add the bridle and buckle. I was so happy.

Flash forward some years and my new wife finds this belt stuck in the back of my closet. It's back there because I'm no longer a 30" waist but can't bear to part with it. I mean, it's hand made! By someone I knew. Very well I might add. "What's this?" The wife asks. I don't know why she asks because I can tell she already knows. So, out with it. "It's a belt that was made for me by my girlfriend when I was in college." She turns the belt over and squints at the glued backing. "Not a very good job is it?"

I'll spare the you the rest. You should know what happened to the belt. It was thrown away. I still have a thing for needlepoint belts. You can buy them easily enough and considering the work and hours that go into them - - $150 and up are a small price to pay. The picture on the top is a J. McLaughlin signal flag belt I own. I purchased it at their store in NYC on Madison between 92nd & 93rd. The middle picture is J Mac as well.

A word of advice. If you're in the neighborhood please stop by The Blue Tree on Madison just a block south between 91st and 92nd. Great stuff including the hard to find Santa Maria shaving cream and even better stuff is the owner, Phoebe Cates. You may even get to meet her...like I did. One of the most beautiful women ever. Well, in all honesty we didn't exactly meet. She gave me directions to McLaughlins but hoo-boy... Kevin Kline is one lucky mother fuuu...

McLaughlin sells their belts for $195 and that ain't cheap (unless you throw in a sighting of Phoebe to go along with it). But there's great quality here. The bridle and buckle are thick and solid. Check out the border of the top belt with the nautical line stitching. Great details. The bottom picture is a Smather's and Branson needlepoint. Both J Mac and S&B go to Vietnam for the needle pointing. But the J Mac excels over S&B's cheap and thin bridle. I'm not a fan of their buckle either. I think S&B runs around $165 if you're interested.

But the true Trad needlepoint is the one made for you with a pattern made for you. That's what I've been seeing in NYC. Bespoke needlepoint and is it beautiful in it's originality. The houses you've lived in. The boats you've owned. A time line of your life. Your marriages and divorces. I mean the ideas are endless. Profanity in signal flags is something I've been toying with.

18 July 2008

Southern Trads

Southern states have always had a unique take on Trad. Like they do pretty much everything else. Much more colorful than the Northeastern Trad and always with humor. Understand one thing about Southern Trad - - it varies not only from state to state but from town to town. Trad in Alexandria, VA is very different from Trad in Albany, GA which is where these two folks hail from. What Trad there is in Charlotte, NC differs greatly from the abundance of Trad in Chapel Hill, NC. Make sense?

It is confusing. It's also telling.

Take the fellow in that Stewart Tartan cotton sport coat. I think that's a Stewart tartan but who cares...what a great sport coat. Don't see those anymore. He's from Northern Virgina and went to Washington & Lee. Everything is subtle. A white oxford button down with a beautiful collar roll and a cream linen tie. Nothing loud but it communicates. Confidence. Tradition. Taste. Elegance. He' a charming guy as well.

Now for the young lady. Georgia born and bred. Louder than Virginia and much bolder with colors. She doesn't hunt but I bet her Daddy does. Whether she lives below or above the gnat line, her first exposure to any diversity was when she went to that all girls college outside of Philadelphia. Boys from Villanova made fun of how she turned "hot dog" into four syllables - "Haw-yat Daw-yag." The 'add a beads' date this but everything else could be easily purchased in any Atlanta 'burb today.

In addition to their Trad region, these two bring a great deal of themselves to their apparel. I know both of them love classic clothing but their own sense of style makes them who they are - -not their zip code.

14 July 2008

"I got the White-Boy-my-closet-is-as-small-as-a-Matchbox blues"

Sweet mother of God. Will you look at that? Double Breasted suit with perfect button holes in each lapel. Cat Gut braces. And NO pocket square. I love it. But I'll never have it. This is the Domenico Spano boutique located in Saks. Amongst a sea of boring apparel (Joseph Abboud anyone?) and some of the ugliest shoes I've seen in a very long time...there is, tucked away in the back, a little respite of taste and quality...and some amazing price points.

We are entering the land of bespoke. I'll refrain from the crude and not even discuss cost. I bought a tie here. Marked down twice. It's the most I've paid for a tie in nine years. I'm sure I'll spill salsa on it my first wearing...and cry. I am such a White Boy.

Back in the NYC of 1985, I visited my screenwriter friend with my crime novel friend. The screenwriter had just sold his first cash inhaling script and took us to a blues bar to see a legend. I can't remember the man's name but he was a vulgar and mean old bastard who normally wouldn't have peed on us if we were on fire...But the screenwriter knew the Legend and had booked him at a club he used to manage. And so we were made fun of more than anything. It was like Don Rickles insulting you from a stage in Las Vegas. You felt honored.

I'm pretty sure I was wearing Duck Head khakis, a Brooks Bros pink oxford button down, a blue blazer and Bean bluchers and a Ranger belt. I wore that a lot in NY when I was poor. We're drinking beer and having a good time. This legend guy is pretty good. Despite having suffered a stroke, he straps his arm to the neck of his guitar with his trouser belt and does some amazing slide stuff. We're all in awe. And then the Legend squints his eyes at me and nods, "This next one's for you." Everyone oohs and ahhs. Crime writer slaps me on the back and the Legend sings, "I got the White Boy my closet is as small as a Matchbox blues." I'm reminded of that night when I look at Mr Spanos beautiful clothes. Woe is me and my closet. If you have a lot of money, love clothes and want to know more about Mr Spano go to Film Noir Buff for some detals and much better photos here http://www.filmnoirbuff.com/

11 July 2008

Trad Kids

I admit to NOT being a fan of cute. I don't like kittens and puppies. I don't like cute cars. I don't like cute houses. I'm not a fan of cute clothing. But I do like funny. I know the girl on the far left. An old and dear friend as is her husband. They are what they like to call in the South, "Real Yankees." Donna is from MA and Brian is from CT. They both talk funny. But they have it all over this Army Brat when it comes to Trad.

Check out that Fair Isle sweater on Donna. Smashing. I'm sure those are pewter buttons as well. I was told this was taken in May somewhere in MA. It looks miserable and so does the grass but that's not the point. What I find so Trad about this picture (besides the clothes) are the Trad haircuts and the Trad posture. I haven't seen either amongst today's children. I also like the faded patina of the photograph. Most likely developed through a drug store that had wood floors, a lunch counter and Bugler rolling tobacco behind the cash register.

I've always been envious of people who lived in one place for more than a year. You have life long friends (Donna's still friends with the two girls), your mail doesn't get lost, you know your way around town and you pick up a style. I changed entire wardrobes with every move. Colorado Springs was Vasque rock climbing boots, jeans, and a John Denver-ish western snap button shirt. Hampton, VA was shorts, topsiders and a Hang Ten shirt. Back then I was all over the board...I guess I still am.

10 July 2008

A Trad Spy

The Black Fleece dressing room at Brooks Brothers. I wish I had a Minox. Below, the Pop-Over.

I never thought it would happen.

Brooks Brother's on Madison was having one of their BS sales. A BS sale is the lure of up to 40% off. You walk in and everything's 25% off. Maybe there's a three pack of Christmas boxers at 40% off but that's it.

I'm a big fan of the Pop-Over shirt. A button down oxford, Madras or Seersucker, they have a partial button placket down the front so you pull it on over your head. Your great grandfather wore this shirt until it was slowly replaced by what we have today.

In the 60s, the Pop-Over was everywhere. I had one in Madras when I was nine or ten. There was another spurt of popularity during the Preppy boom in the 80s and they're getting around again. Rugby has a couple in bleeding madras and while Cable Car Clothiers in San Fransico has always carried them, they are a Poly/Cotton blend and cost a fortune.

While looking around Brooks I ambled over to the Black Fleece / Thom Browne section. Always good for a laugh. Hundred dollar socks. $80 Madras ties. I'm laughing so hard I'm crying - - And through the tears I see it. I white oxford button down Pop-Over. And it's 25% off. Made in the USA. A nice heft and beautiful roll to the collar. A sales girl comes over and clues me into the sizes: 1,2,3 &4. I take a couple into the changing room.

I like 'em. With the price down a little bit they're a bargain compared to Cable Car's nasty blend. Unique. Perfect untucked over J Press Bermuda shorts. Very comfortable against the skin. You know, if the price of Black Fleece keeps coming down, I may turn into a fan.

Joesph Abboud Color Wheel

Same use of Primary colors but with a very different approach from the earlier Trad Color Wheel. The blazer is from J Press and is going on eight years. It's holding up well except for the loss of a button. Press has their own blazer buttons and I keep meaning to ask David Wilder for one (or two). Which reminds me, I read Joseph Abboud's book, "Threads" over the weekend. Never was a fan of his color wheel. Obviously. I like bright and Abboud has the whole, "adobe hut, putty, earth mother, 'do I sew with hemp or smoke it?' " thing going on.

To each his own...right?

The book is interesting and has lots of stories of Joe getting screwed by people in the retail business. Apparently he's still getting screwed and you can read about it simply by "googling" Joe's name. I don't care if you make clothes outta burlap - -you don't deserve some of the crap Joe has gone through. Having said that, Joe thinks brass blazer buttons are an anachronism. He insists the blue blazer have horn buttons - -preferably in a darker color. WTF is that all about? I love brass blazer buttons. How dare Joe say...wait a minute... Putty shirts and dirt ties. Oynx swivel cuff links. Closed vent suits. Nordstroms! Fashion consultant to Bill O'Reilly?!

Makes prefect sense to me.

I have no beef about blazers without brass buttons. I think Mother of Pearl buttons top out a summer blazer. While reading Joe's book I was aware of how forceful he was with his opinions regarding style. And most of it, I thought, was dead wrong, certainly for a Nordic, fair, blue eyed lad such as myself. But Joe was insistent through the book that all men should dress like him. Okay, he has a lot of clothes to sell. I understand that. Still, I thank God every day that there are men out there wearing duck billed Kenneth Cole shoes, tone on tone shirts, ties with abstract patterns that are dead ringers for the female reproductive system (I've seen them) and Joseph Abboud Blazers. They have their story to tell... and I have mine.

09 July 2008

Trad Wallpaper

I'm not sure what I like more. The wallpaper, the woman or the door. She's the Vicomtesse de Rosiere. The photo was taken by Slim Aarons in 1957. She's a beautiful blonde. And that's a damned nice door. But that wallpaper is hitting 12 on the, "I wish I could have it but not in a million years" meter.

05 July 2008

1958 Newport Jazz Festival

The Italian One Sheet above seems to sum up the film in a way only the Italians could do.
On the left, George Wein, founder of the Newport Festival, Bert Stern in the middle, and a Lincoln Center curator on the right.
Above, my coward's shot across the room of Mr Stern and below, the beautiful Anita O'Day. Her performance and style erases any thought of a 14 year heroin addiction.

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of "Jazz on a Summer's Day, the Lincoln Center showed a beautiful print last night at 4PM, 6PM and 8PM. I caught the 6PM because my hero was gonna discuss his film of the '58 Newport Jazz Festival and answer questions afterwards.

Bert Stern has been a hero of mine since I was 15. His still images for ad campaigns in the 50s and 60s are the stuff of legend. Allow me to apologise for the crappy and gutless photographs of Mr Stern. I have never felt comfortable about approaching celebrities or artists or politicians...this results in a lousy picture but avoids intrusion and embarrassing gushing on my part.

With the rage of the TV series, "Mad Men" it's something else to watch this documentary of Newport shot by Stern in 1958. The photography of the musicians was so ahead of its time and still is. But what I really love are the audience shots. Unique shots of beautiful women, dapper men, Dixie paper cups full of beer and cigarettes that fill your eyes while the music fills your ears. All with a sophistication that is long gone.

Louis Armstrong and his band kitted out in matching blazers with Mother of Pearl buttons. Anita O'Day in her marvelous hat and white gloves. Thelonious Monk and his bamboo sunglasses. In the audience there's the beautiful girl in the red sweater chewing gum. Ascots. Bermuda shorts. Straw hats. Capri pants. And young couples having some real fun. I felt like crying.

I was so taken with how 1958 was captured that I Netflixed two films from the era. "The Best of Everything" and "The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit." For those fans of "Mad Men" who are waiting for the new season...rent these films if you haven't already. For fans of Mr Stern...you must buy the DVD of "Jazz on a Summer's Day" and watch it over and over again for this is a Trad home run.

04 July 2008

A Generational Fourth

4 July 2008 @ 1644 hours GMT. By David Belmonte.

01 July 2008

My Tintin Sweater

My favorite sweater made from Icelandic wool. It cost a small fortune when I bought it at the Tintin store in London. Like many in the US of A, I didn't know anything about Tintin and his dog Miloux or Snowy (a white wire fox terrier). While working in London someone gave me the nickname, Tintin. I was lucky. Other nicknames? Sid Sparkle. Mutley. The Slant Eyed Rice Mongerer. Vodka Ronnie.

Vodka Ronnie or Vodka as he was known, was one of my favorite nicknames for one of my favorite people. A few years ago at a conference somewhere in the states...an old friend of Vodka Ronnie's from the UK (Mutley) was doing the "Grip & Grin" at a cocktail reception when he saw Vodka Ronnie across the room. Mutley had not seen Vodka in donkey years and, thanks to a drink or two, the usually shy and reserved Mutley shouted, "VODKA!" just as a waitress walked in front of him. She gave Mutley a nasty look as did the rest of the room who assumed Mutley was just another drunk Brit placing a drinks order.

Years ago Vodka and I had business in Phoenix. Checking into the Phoenix Biltmore Hotel, the desk clerk asked Vodka if he wanted a smoking room. A keen observation on her part since Vodka was standing there holding and smoking a Silk Cut. Vodka rolled his eyes and said, "Is the room smoking or is it still on fire?" The desk clerk froze as Vodka continued, "I mean, I don't mind a little smoke coming from the walls but if there's a lot of smoke..." Vodka stopped, realizing this wasn't going anywhere with his intended victim, and placed his credit card on the counter. She took the plastic and asked Vodka if he wanted a key for his minibar. "That," replied Vodka, "is the stupidest question I've ever been asked." He took a long drag off his Silk Cut and blew out a stream of smoke just over her head. "Of course, I want the key to the minibar."

The best part of being an Army Brat is not being from anywhere. Since I'm not from anywhere, I'm not connected to anything and consequently I'm open to a lot. Clothes, food, cars, people, countries... While Tintin and Snowy may be the US version of Johnny Quest and Bandit, he means more to me than just a comic character. He represents an openness to all things, places and people. The joy of travel and the desire to learn about what I don't know. By the way, Sting likes this sweater as well.

The Navy Blazer

I own eight blazers. But this one...this one is my favorite. About four years ago - - maybe five. I saw a blazer much like this one. Unique in that it had hacking pockets with a ticket pocket. Not so unique in that it was single breasted. But unique, especially for a Yank, that it was double vented as opposed to the much more common single or center vent. By the way, I saw it in the window of Hackett near Lime St. A store I continue to love.

Upon my return to the states, I mentioned this unique blazer to some folks on a forum. I was pounced upon from all directions. The Trads hated it. "Not Trad at all!" "Must have center vent!" "Hacking pockets are not Trad!" The non-Trads didn't yell but calmly explained, "The blazer's origins are naval. While side vents are acceptable - -hacking pockets-- which derive from equestrian riding jackets--do not belong on a blazer. "

I posed the question to Jeremy Hackett, the owner of Hackett and someone whom I've always considered a Trad. Never heard back from him. Busy guy, what with his new book and all. By the way, "Mr Classic Jeremy Hackett" is a great book. I found it used at the Strand so it was a no brainer. A year or two goes by and I'm back in London sniffing around the summer sales on Jermyn St when I see it in the Turnbull & Asser window. A Navy blazer with hacking pockets. Only 850 pounds. Son of a ... I like it but not that much.

Couple more years go by and I wander into Turnbull and Asser on 57th St. And there it is. The navy blazer with hacking pockets. There's only one. It's my size. I throw it on and I'm looking at myself in the mirror. The salesman nods in approval. "That's not bad. Not bad at all." I ask, "How much?" "Three hundred but I'll see if I can get it knocked down to two fifty." He leaves me at the mirror and smile at my reflection. "TinTin, you magnificent bastard."

They knocked it down to $250. Pretty much threw a garbage bag over it with a plastic hanger but for two-fiddy who cares. Now that I own a navy blazer with hacking pockets I must re-visit the question. I email Jeremy Hackett again on his web site http://www.hackett.com/index.cfm?page=1016. I write, " I have been told due to the naval tradition of navy blazers, hacking pockets are a big no-no. Yet it looks great. What to do?" I guess since the book's been out he's not that busy anymore and he writes back, " Traditionally that would be correct, but unless you are a naval man then quite frankly I don't think it matters and I agree with you I think it would look great and a little bit rakish. Best wishes, Jeremy." Cheers to you, Jerry. There you have it. And now I have it. After almost five years.