City Journal Autumn 2014

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Autumn 2014
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Nicole Gelinas

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Request for "Overdressed" posted with the Secaucus library in our BCCLS system.

Thank you.
"So unless you want to dump your stuff illegally on the street or invite Internet strangers to your house, you’ve got to pay to have it taken away—and you’ll often pay more than new stuff costs."

Curiously, when Albany NY stopped charging extra for the removal of dead appliances, dead appliances stopped appearing in vacant lots. When dumping is incentivized by onerous fees, then you'll get more dumping. Econ 101 + human nature.

BTW, not all Chinese products are of poor quality. Some of the higher priced machine tools are quite good. Some of the cheaper tools are good, but one has to examine them before buying. ex. Big Lots is selling a benchtop drill press for about $60 that is an outstanding value for the money.

So very delightful to read of others who are thinking the same thing about the decline of quality in clothing, styling and value! This looks like a thoughtful book, not only about fashion, but the changes in our country that do not bode well. I learned to sew from an Austrian artist, but, neither of my daughters were interested in learning, and dress like indigents. It seems, as our culture has largely turned to cheap, trashy entertainment, that goods and currency have followed, as well.
It's encouraging to see the comments of those who are like-minded!
Boy is this a timely book! I recall my first VCR - a heavy (HEAVY) large piece of electronics made in Japan bought in 1983 for $360 that lasted for six or seven years. I only got rid of it because it was too big, or so I thought. Now if the DVD player (at one third the cost of my original VCR) I just bought lasts two years it will be a miracle.

Same thing with toys - we were lucky if the cheap toys my kids were given on holidays and birthdays lasted more than a few weeks - some broke in hours. You can forget about wooden pieces too - everything is cheap plastic. No more hand me down toys from one child to the next!

Clothing, everything cheap with cheap being cheap. One thing the article does not address is whether what happens is that we actually pay more overall - I'd be shocked if that wasn't true. It used to be that designers had to change fashions every season to keep selling (I still don't understand how it is that sunglasses that are out of fashion look so ridiculous - this is conditioning that is being done by masters) now the crappy material falls apart after a dozen or so washes.

Go into vintage clothing stores - the material is out of this world.

Maybe computers got us used to this new disposable world?

I can't wait to read this book!
Crusty Shackleford July 30, 2012 at 12:18 PM
People have lost the ability to shop intelligently. When they want a "luxury" good or service, they pay as much as possible, and when they want an "everyday" good they pay as little as possible. There is no longer any sense of the actual value of the item, i.e. how long it will serve your needs compared to the price paid. Even the Pentagon has consciously switched from "best value" to "lowest cost technically adequate". Maybe I'm overreacting but to me it's another sign of the lights going out in this country.

I paid about $30 for a good polo-style shirt in 1985. Today with inflation that shirt would cost $64, which still gets you a good shirt, but you have to go to the high-end section of a department store to get it. The regular shirts are still $30, but they're garbage now. But people seem to want the garbage.
A bigger problem than the waste of commodity fabric is how much of our prime real estate has gone into the marketing of it. The current recession has pointed out, through the plethora of empty storefronts, that we never really needed so many choices of places to buy virtually identical merchandise. Mini-forests and farmlands were ploughed under to build another shopping center to compete with the one at the next interchange.

I wonder if there's anything like rails-to-trails that can turn unneeded malls into public-use space.
Back in the ancient days when I wore suits to work my first suit was a Brooks Brothers ready-made that they tailored, and I wore their button-down Egyptian cotton button-down collared shirts. All very Mad Med. Later, I admired Saville Row suits, but couldn't afford one bespoke from London, so I went with a Hong Kong tailor whose representative made the rounds of U.S. big cities. The were very well made of British-quality woolens, mohair and camel. All custom-fitted and featuring silk linings. One touch I liked - it seemed to say "quality" so much - was that the sleeve cuff buttons actually buttoned. They weren't all that cheap either. I paid $1,500 bucks for a suit in the 1980's, when I could have bought a very nice house in the San Fernando Valley for under $100,000.
Unfortunately, we aren't teaching our children the art of dressing well and taking care of their clothing - having any self-respect for how they look. Both my mother and I sew extensively - yet my daughter has no inclination to learn, or to even sew her own buttons. Wears things with holes and hems pulled out because she just doesn't care. Agreed, our professional leaders aren't doing much better - I haven't seen a pair of correctly hemmed men's pants in years! And few women's. They're all hanging down to the ground. And our boys!....with the athletes wearing super baggy pants, the underwear showing, and pants down near their knees - it's very sad. My son doesn't dress like that.
Good comments by the men. I was surprised to see eBay (my great favorite) so well used by PACoug, as the male eBayers I know just use that incredible resource for electronic and hardware gadgets.

I am a female eBayer who buys just about everything from eBay sellers. I have given myself a $35 limit and never exceed that for a skirt, blouse, or dress, including shipping. Today, for example, I bought a lovely silk blouse for $14, including shipping. The sellers give you exact measurements of the garments, something you never see mentioned in mail order catalogs, for example. If something arrives (perhaps one item out of a hundred) that doesn't suit I just give it to the Salvation Army, hoping someone somewhere will appreciate it.

For women's shoes I strongly recommend the San Antonio Shoe Company (usually called SAS). I visit the factory when I was in Texas and saw how carefully they were made. They fit perfectly and are the most comfortable shoes that I've ever worn. I recommend them highly. (And, you often find them in your size on eBay, too!)
Thank you Nicole--I just ordered Elizabeth Cline's book. I have some siblings that just love to shop at Kohls. I personally cannot stand to handle the garments on the racks at that store. The fabrics are thin and flimsy, the stitching is off and often unraveling at the store. The buttons do not align, and if you can get all the buttons on one of those garments to stay on through one wearing you're lucky.

A local tailor makes all my dress shirts. It's expensive, but I have my choice of hundreds of high-quality natural fiber shirting fabrics. I can choose between 20 collar styles, eight or nine cuffs styles, five or six placket styles, colors and cuffs of a different color than the shirting, and many other details.

With proper care, each shirt lasts me for years, and looks sharp, sharp, sharp. There are some factory made dress shirts that are inexpensive, but more expensive than what you see at Kohl's. My wife favors things from Talbots, and the wrinkle resistant shirts from Eddie Bauer. These are high-quality items, even though they tend to be made overseas. I don't mind free-trade but I don't buy low-quality.

Which means pretty much everything made in China is out.

Even Talbots, Eddie Bauer, and other names associated with good quality have declined in recent years.

Shoes are a big gripe of mine. When we lost Florsheim and Johnston and Murphy, Bostonian and a number of other formerly American brands, the tanning business left America as well. Florsheim continues to manufacture many of their famous patterns in India. They even use hides sourced from the United States from the same cows they used to use here. But the East Asian tanning methods are so inferior that the resulting shoes suffer from severe quality deficiencies compared to their American predecessors.

So I live on eBay, buying classic American shoes hopefully with new-looking uppers. My cobbler then restores them to like new. I recently had a beautiful pair of scotch grain Florsheim Imperial brogues done. The uppers were fantastic, almost new, but the soles were stiff as a board from having sat in the closet for 25 to 30 years. When they came out of my cobbler's shop, they looked like brand-new shoes and they perform like new as well. Difference: with proper care, maintenance, and rotation, these should last me the rest of my life. I'm counting on it, because good shoes are increasingly hard to find. The 1985 cost of a pair of Florsheim Kemnoors made in Chicago was nearly $500. Today a pair in this condition is priceless. I try to buy only shoes from the top line of each manufacturer, and buy as many classic shoes as I can in near-new condition. my Kenmoors, fully restored, set me back a total of $64.95. 20 bucks for the old shoes, and $44.95 for the restoration. What kind of men's dress shoes can you buy today for $65? Nothing but pure junk. The classics in my closet are all still in production these many years later in exactly the same styles, but interfere your materials have them looking ratty before one year has gone by.

I carefully rotate about 14 pairs of classic Florsheim, Johnston and Murphy, and ET Wright shoes to keep from wearing any one pair more than once per month. I have colleagues who blow $300 a pair for Allen Edmonds shoes, so their shoe wardrobe is less extensive and lower quality. But at least it's American-made. I know other guys who only buy British or Italian shoes. I have a couple pairs of Santoni Fatte A Mano, and they're wonderful. But I was only able to get them because I found them on eBay at heavy discount, in near-new condition. I just can't see paying upwards of a thousand dollars for a pair of shoes.

The same quality emergency is happening all around us with nearly every thing we use each day. In our home, we follow the advice of Saddleback Leather founder Dave Munson: "Buy the best, cry once." Learn this lesson now and you'll save a lot of awful clutter in your life that just winds up in a landfill. And if you are lucky enough to have the services of a top cobbler you can buy the best for cheap! I still can't believe I've amassed a lifetime supply of absolute top shelf American dress shoes, in near-as-makes-no-difference-to-new condition after restoration, for the cost of 3 pairs of Allen Edmonds and a fully stocked shoe shine box. In an age where quality is vanishing, I feel wealthy every time I tie my $65 shoes. It takes commitment and a little luck and it's getting harder and harder to do, because each classic pair snatched up is one less in the pool. If you haven't got your classic American shoe wardrobe squared away, I suggest you start now before all the good stuff belongs to guys like me.
Gilbert W. Chapman July 27, 2012 at 9:22 PM
Mr. Jones' excellent comment only scratches the surface when it comes to male attire.

Not since Reagan has any president worn suits that have been properly fitted.

Clinton's suit sleeves were too long, without any shirt cuff showing, Bush's suits always had a gap at the collar, and we don't even want to talk about appearance level of our current president.

But . . . There's always hope . . . Romney often wears button down dress shirts.
Agree 100%.

I remember mocking my fathers much re-heeled brogues when I was a kid.
The 2 pairs of Churches wingtips I bought(at then enormous expense several hundred pounds each, - even though it was at the Store in Northampton where they are made) thirty years ago have now been re-done a couple of times and look better than new.