Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Intro to Overcoats

This is a topic I've been meaning to discuss for some time now.  It's fitting that I post this piece on the day the Midwest is receiving not just a winter storm but a blizzard.

Perfect timing.

Overcoats.  What does that word do to you?  What pops into your mind when you first hear it?  Do you picture an overcoat as being heavy, bulky, stiff and itchy or soft, warm, sleek and comfortable?

The category that is represented by the word 'overcoat' is vast and full of many different styles of coats.  So whether you pictured the big, bulky overcoat or the stylish, sleek coat your idea was probably correct, if limited.

click images to enlarge

Comparison: the overcoat of the 1940s and a 'modern' one of the late 1950s.

The overcoat is an old garment with one simple goal in mind: keep the wearer warm.  Now, that doesn't mean it can't be jazzed up a bit to look stylish, just that the main goal is warmth and that style is secondary.  If it succeeds at the latter but fails at the former, well, it makes a poor coat of any kind.  The overcoat has its roots in the military with the Greatcoat, hence its utilitarian purpose.  But the overcoat would not have survived so long had it not grown to be stylish.  From the dull military garment made of rough, thick wool with brass buttons to the stylish and gentlemanly garment of the 1930s, the overcoat has gone through many different rebirths.  

Yesteryear the overcoat was a staple of the wardrobe.  It provided, obviously, warmth on a cold day and most often looked quite snappy.  There were many different and unique styles of overcoats back then, especially during the Golden Era.  The late 1920s to the early 1940s was the apogee of overcoat design.  The materials, construction, styles, price, and availability of overcoats were all outstanding.  Even department stores like J.C. Penney's and Younkers carried interesting and well constructed overcoats back then.  The overcoat was a necessity, and a stylish one at that.  Every man had one, whether he was a wealthy businessman or politician right down to the homeless man on the street.

No more.

The overcoat of today is not only rare to see in its natural habitat (being worn), it's also boring, rather poorly made, and usually very high priced for what you get.  Maybe that's why so few men wear them.  When was the last time you saw a modern overcoat with a belted back?  A loud yet attractive plaid fabric pattern?  Pleating and an impeccable fit?  Not today unless you spend $600+ for a made-to-measure or bespoke overcoat.  But not many of us can afford something like that.

Yawn.  Wake me when it at least grows some peaked lapels.

In the next few posts of this series we'll take an in-depth look at different styles and examples of vintage overcoats and see just what the overcoat was really meant to be: not only warm but also classically stylish.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thrift Store Runway: Winner

The website Thrift Store Runway holds a monthly contest where contestants submit thrifted outfits in an attempt to win one of the prizes.   Entries must be made of thrifted items and cost less than $50.  Last month I entered several kits and one of them won!

TSR gives five prizes each month.  If they receive less than 50 submissions each prize will be $100; if more than 50 submissions each prize will be $500.

In the month of November they received over 150 submissions so each of the five prizes were $500.  So, I got $500 as well as a donation from TSR to the thrift-based charity of my choice.  Very cool.

I encourage you to enter the December contest with your best thrifted outfits and see if you don't win!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Hard Life, Part 1

Railroad workers, circa 1920s-1930s.

Their faces show a life filled with hard work, danger, and struggle yet some managed to crack a smile for the camera. A couple of the older ones look boldly toward the camera while others let the long years of work show on their faces.  A few guys wore their Sunday best for their photos but most just wore what they had on after a hard day's work.

This may be the only photographic evidence of these men's existence.

click photos to enlarge

Scott Eshlamann

Jon Miller

Smokey Atkins

Albert Isaac

To be continued...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Around Town

Cassie and I took some photos while we ran some errands around town the other day.  It was cool outside but still nice and we enjoyed getting out of the house.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Firearms: the Browning Hi-Power (via the FEG)

This blog is full of classics.  Why not a classic firearm?

The Browning Hi-Power is a classic handgun.

click images to enlarge

It was the first "wonder-9" handgun, holding an (at the time) incredible 13 rounds of 9mm.  Introduced in 1935, it was first designed by the gun-prophet John Moses Browning (who designed dozens of other important firearms and cartridges) before his death in 1926.  Browning's French assistant Dieudonné Saive then took over and changed certain aspects of the handgun before releasing it to the French military, who had placed the initial order for the Hi-Power in 1914 and then rejected the finished handgun in 1935.

Their loss.

A prototype Hi-Power with detachable stock

The Belgian military adopted the Hi-Power as its sidearm and the love affair took off from there.  As a military sidearm it was adopted, copied, ripped off, or stolen by dozens of countries across the world over the last 77 years.  It was, at the time, the AK-47 of the pistol world: everyone made and used them.  During World War Two both the Allies and the Axis in Europe used the Hi-Power: the Nazis took over the Belgian factories and put them into production for their forces while the Allies were given plans for the Hi-Power and began producing the handgun in Canada.

Britian, Argentina, Columbia, Canada, Germany, China, Belgium, Greece, Israel, the United States (FBI), Poland, Luxembourg, Iraq, and dozens more countries have put the Hi-Power to use.

One country that produced the Hi-Power was Hungary.  Known as the FEG (Fegyver És Gépgyár) Hi-Power, it was produced starting in the 1970s and was known to be a quality, near exact copy of the Browning Hi-Power.  There were several different variants of the FEG with different finishes and uses, but they were mainly produced for export.

I was able to come upon one of these FEG handguns less than a year ago and have been quite pleased with it.  The model I found was the PJK-9HP, also known as the FP9, and has a ventilated rib running along the top of the slide as well as a slightly different front slide, looking more like the front slide of a Colt 1911 than that of a typical Browning Hi-Power (as depicted in the first photo).  In all other regards the FP9 is identical to the standard Browning Hi-Power.

My FEG Hi-Power, the FP9.

My FEG is a piece of work, a marvel to look at, a masterpiece of gun art.  At least to my eye.  

The deep satiny blued finish of the metal is contrasted by the utilitarian and rugged wood grips.  While normal Browning Hi-Powers are something to look at, the ventilated rib, like those normally found on sporting shotguns, adds another touch of mystique and class to an already attractive handgun.  The lines are smooth and straight-forward; nothing too complex to muck up the flow of the eye as it sweeps back along the slide.  Like many things, simplicity is beautiful.

Now, a firearm can be extremely beautiful but that matters not if it does not shoot well.  So how does the Hi-Power/FEG shoot?  In so many words: as beautifully as it looks.  The action is very smooth and feels great when fired.  The grip fits well in my large hands but might be a tad large or uncomfortable in smaller hands.  And the stock Hi-Power barrel is definitely accurate enough for most intended uses, but just in case it isn't match barrels are available in both 9mm and .40 caliber.  But out of the box any decent condition Hi-Power is an accurate handgun.  

The sights are typical of most vintage handguns: simplistic and rough but more than adequate for the intended use.  Remember, the Hi-Power was originally designed as a military sidearm, not a precision weapon.  

Like the sights, the miniscule stock thumb safety is quite minimalistic.  It is unfortunately barely adequate and is one of the few low points of the Hi-Power, especially for a left handed person like myself.  This is one thing I would change in the basic Hi-Power design.

Another would be the magazine disconnect.  The typical Hi-Power cannot fire without a magazine being fully inserted into the mag well.  It was designed with safety in mind but I would consider it a liability, especially with its intended use being that of a combat sidearm.  The magazine disconnect also makes the trigger pull quite a bit stiffer than it really needs to be.  This issue can be resolved by (1.) removing the magazine disconnect or (2.) polishing the areas on the magazines where the disconnect makes contact.

Another issue that sometimes comes up with Hi-Powers, especially the older versions, is that they may or may not feed hollow-point ammunition, depending upon the shape of the feed ramp and how well polished it is.  Thus far my FEG has had no problems feeding hollow-points.

Hi-Power disassembly is so simple a baboon could achieve it.  First, before disassembling any firearm, drop the magazine and visually and physically make sure there is no round in the chamber.  

Having done so, pull the Hi-Power slide back and lock it back with the safety.  The safety notch fits into a cutout on the bottom edge of the slide.  Next, push the slide lock pin out of the frame and carefully release the safety, slowly lowering the slide forward until it is completely off the frame.  Set the frame aside.

Next, take the slide and hold it so the bottom of the slide is exposed.  Compress the recoil spring from the barrel lug and pull the spring out of the slide, setting it aside.  Finally, remove the barrel from the slide.  And there you have it, the Hi-Power is disassembled.

Disassembled with an aftermarket 17 round magazine.

To reassemble the Hi-Power merely reverse the steps used in the disassembly.  

Like the Colt 1911, it is meant to be carried in a holster cocked and locked meaning with a round in the chamber, the hammer cocked back, and the safety on.  This is a perfectly safe way to carry the Hi-Power.  I carry mine only for special occasions: it is my best and most beautiful handgun, an engagement gift from my then fiance.  Like the dinner jacket, your special cuff links, or your finest shoes, my Hi-Power only comes out with my best.  It is a sort of "BBQ gun", as Texans call it.  It makes the occasion special and the occasion makes it more special.  I was proud to wear it at my wedding.

The Hi-Power has a proud heritage that continues today.  Even if you can't find a vintage Hi-Power fear not, Browning still makes them, though prices are over $1,000.  Prince Harry was recently seen wearing a well-worn and beat-up Hi-Power in a war zone in the Middle East, a tribute to its longevity and ruggedness.

The Hi-Power has influenced handgun design, from multiple Smith & Wesson types to the CZ-75 and -85 families.  It has soldiered on not only as the military sidearm that it was designed to be but also as a civilian sporting and self-defense handgun as well.  And while it may not be the best choice anymore as a combat handgun, it is still a classic that will not let the shooter down.  You cannot go wrong with a well-made and taken care of Hi-Power, whether it's a Browning or an FEG.

As with everything else, look to the classics.  Classics have been proven through time and experience.  There's a reason the Hi-Power is a classic: it was made to be.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Project: Old-Fashioned Tailoring Meets Modern 'Combat' Jacket

Years ago for paintball I bought a "Tru-Spec" jacket in a civilian variant of woodland MARPAT. Well, for some reason I bought it in a large size (42R-45R) even though I'm a medium (39R). Because of this I never used the jacket and threw it in the closet. 

Well, I'm getting into airsoft and decided to check out the jacket again. Yup, still too large; actually it looked like a balloon on me. So rather than put it away and never use it I decided to try a fun little sewing project. Check it out below.

Here's the jacket front just to give you an idea (pardon the pics, they don't show colors very accurately).

click images to enlarge

While I didn't get any "before" pics of the back, my jacket had just a plain back like any other shirt or jacket you might own. It looked like this:

Well, on each back seam I took in about 1 1/4", making the jacket fit me a lot better. I pinned and then sewed the pleats just under the armpit where I then opened it up, did some interesting pressing, pinning and sewing, and gave the jacket a bi-swing back with a gusset at each shoulder as well as open gussets on the jacket skirt. 

Here's the straight-on view of the back: 

What is a bi-swing back? Below is a WW2 service jacket with bi-swing gussets and belted back. These are old-fashioned features rarely seen on suits or coats today but were pretty commonplace back in the 1930s-1940s.

The bi-swing gussets were hidden 'boxes' of extra material and were there to allow the wearer to move further and more comfortably, especially considering the M39 service jacket shown was meant to be used in combat. 

I added these gussets to my jacket. Here is the left gusset during the pinning stage while at rest:

And here is the gusset in use and extended:

 I took some more inspiration from the WW2 service jacket I posted up above.

It has a piece of elastic connecting the two inner pieces of the shoulder gussets together, keeping them organized, flat, and pulled in while at rest: 

I added a piece of elastic between the two internal 'blades' of my jacket's gussets, producing the same result as the WW2 jacket.  Without elastic the fairly flimsy fabric of the MARPAT jacket renders the gussets pretty much useless: there isn't enough 'weight' in the fabric to push the gussets back in.  Hence the need for it in this garment.

Now, with just a plain seam below the shoulder gussets the bottom of the jacket back would have been a tad tighter than I like and I wanted better mobility so I opened it up from just below the shoulder gussets all the way to the bottom of the jacket skirt. What previously would have been just a seam is now pleated just like the shoulder gusset. At rest it just lays flat while in use it can expand, giving me extra mobility and room to move.

Here's an illustration of a similar gusset in use on the black overcoat: 

My jacket's right side gusset at rest: 

And expanded:

Here are a couple more shots of the finished product, well fitted yet with enough features to give me extra mobility.

There are a few minor things I'd do differently if I had another chance and a couple areas of pulling/wrinkling that could be fixed but I'm quite happy with how it turned out.  It will serve me well for the intended purpose and I look forward to using it in the future.  

It's always fun combining old and new techniques and technologies to produce something new and better.  That's true innovation.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Penney's Change

Hopefully you've heard by now that J.C. Penney's, now under new management, has dropped its "American Living" brand.  Manufactured by Ralph Lauren, American Living was meant to be an affordable choice for chic folks.  Reasons for its cancellation include poor sales and questionable quality.

I own several American Lving pieces and have had no issues with quality.  Actually, its 'Newsboy' jacket is a perfect copy of a 1930s reversible belted back jacket and is very nice quality.  Check out the photos below.

click images to enlarge

Soft, thick flannel in a classic color and pattern.

Cotton twill on the reverse side.

But even with demise the chic and classic though flawed American Living brand and the restructuring of its leadership, J.C. Penney's is still full of classic and even vintage-inspired clothing.

Before the rebranding I was a bit dissatisfied with the suit selection.  Narrow lapels, notched lapels, neutered peaked lapels, dark colors, boring fabric patterns, and uninspiring fits dominated the racks.  However, now after the rebranding I see more satisfying changes.  Yes, while the above list of complaints still does exist it is not as widespread.  Becoming more apparent are bolder classic patterns (plaids, windowpanes, houndstooth, etc), cuts, and features.

I was at a smaller Penney's recently and found multiple plaid, windowpane, and other bold patterned sports coats. Most had a 1960s aesthetic going on though a couple looked more from the 1930s.

I really like the suit/sports coat shown here. The silhouette is maybe the best thing about this jacket: pretty good looking dimensions and it fit me well. Labelled as "slim fit", it has a more vintage (shorter) length than most modern jackets, nicely shaped medium width peaked lapels, a ticket pocket, and dual vents. Nicely balanced 1930s aesthetic to my eye. Made by Stafford. 

Sorry for the poor quality cellphone photos.

Not easily seen in the above photo is the Prince of Wales check AKA plaid.  Really traditional colors and pattern sizing going on.  Here's the online link for this jacket.

Unfortunately the matching trousers are still stuck on trendy: low rise, flat front, extreme taper, and no cuffs.  Hopefully the trousers will soon swing back towards the traditional like the jackets have.

I rather liked this blue windowpane sports coat. Again, made by Stafford and also labelled "slim fit".

Both jackets are surprisingly made of medium weight material: the plaid sports coat is worsted wool and the windowpane sports coat is tweed-like.

Penney's has a lot more to offer for the budget-minded man looking for classic clothing and suits.  Ties, knit wear, and dress shirts looked quite nice and quality-made.  The shoe department also showed some positive changes, in my mind.

If you haven't in a while, stop by Penney's and see what you can find.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

WIW: Hollywood Wants its Jacket Back

The Hollywood jacket: the epitome of the 1940s/1950s 'in crowd'.  Movie stars and hipsters alike wore them.  They were the casual wear item for a generation of cool kids.

Heck, Elvis wore a very cool two-tone mint green and black belted Hollywood jacket (along with co-star Judy Tyler) in "Jailhouse Rock".

click image to enlarge

Like young Elvis, I was a "cool kid" today.

Recently I ran into a near-perfect condition belted Hollywood jacket in my size.  Unlike Elvis' jacket, mine is made of very fine suede leather with matching leather buttons.

Today it was paired with Ralph Lauren 'Chaps' trousers and a blue herringbone shirt to give the kit an extra pop of color.

It has the typical  style of lapel found on Hollywood jackets, just with subtle stylistic differences.  The front actually reminds me of pre-WW2 casual German jackets with the slanted yokes, slanted breast pocket flaps, and gusseted breast patch pockets (the Germans did some very interesting and eccentric sartorial things in the 1930s and even after the war).

The back is just as nice as the front, with its gathered back beneath the yoke:

Here's the tag showing it was made in Mexico.

I'm lucky to have such a great Hollywood jacket in my collection, especially in this great condition.  It looks to be unworn and with the original belt- somewhat unusual to find since belts were often separated from their jackets over the decades.

At roughly 60 years old this is a fine showcase example of the iconic Hollywood jacket.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New Items at the Houndstooth Haberdashery

New items are being added constantly at the Houndstooth Haberdashery, including larger-sized vintage items for the bigger guys out there.

Bigger guys know it can be difficult to find larger sized vintage so this is a great oppertunity

The Haberdashery strives to offer nice men's vintage items at affordable prices.  I understand that vintage is not the main focus of most men's checkbooks, hence the fair prices.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Back to the Basics: Proportionality

This may be the most important piece of the puzzle when it comes to the appearance of a suit.  A suit can fit the wearer perfectly but if it does not have pleasing proportions then it fails at its main goal: to make the wearer presentable and attractive to the eye.

Throughout history humankind has been trying different styles and pieces of clothing in an attempt to create the most balanced, pleasing look.

click images to enlarge

If you ask me, humanity reached the pinnacle of proportionality during the 1930s and into the 1940s.  There's a reason it's called the 'Golden Era' of men's style.

The human mind is programmed to identify and be attracted to harmonized shapes.  One such complex yet ultimate simply proportional shape is the human body.  If one is to study its proportions, the shape of the human body, like many other things found in nature, follows elemental natural laws.  The Golden Ratio, also known as the "Divine Proportion", has informed artists for centuries as to the ideal attractive proportions to create in their work.  Derived from Fibonacci numbers, the Golden Ratio can be found throughout different parts of the human body.

Through the ages the human body has changed very little.  Sure, in recent years men tend to be slightly taller and a larger number of men are heavier weight, but the basics are still the same.  Check out Vitruvian Man from 1487 below:

The Vitruvian Man was meant to depict ideal male proportions and it is just as useful a tool today as it was so many centuries ago.  Notice the vertical half-way point is roughly at the crotch.  Above that mark are the hips, torso, and the head.  Below that mark are the legs and feet.

Using the Golden Ratio we find that the proportionally attractive separation point of the human body is roughly the navel/waist area.  This is an important factor and should be remembered for later.

Other parts of the human body, including the arms and face, are based upon the Golden Ratio.

So, why is the navel/waist area such an important item when it comes to dressing?  Because our goal in dressing well should be to present ourselves in an as aesthetically pleasing manner as possible and what better way to do that than to put the Golden Ratio to work?

For example, look at the two photos below.
The photo on the left is of a typical 1930s 3-piece suit while the one on the right is of a typical modern 3-piece suit.  The 1930s suit on the left is very well proportioned and attractive to the eye while the modern suit on the right is not.

Let's look at why.
Below is the same photo of the two men with vest, jacket and trouser length and position emphasized.  Blue indicates the vest, red the jacket, and yellow the trousers.
Notice how the 1930s suit on the left is based around the navel/waist area: the trousers sit at or about the waist while the vest skirt comes down to just below the waist.  The modern suit on the right, however, is based around the crotch area: the trousers hang right on the hips and the vest skirt comes down to just below the hips.  In other words, the 1930s suit on the left is based upon the Golden Ratio, giving the wearer the appearance of long legs and an athletic build, while the modern suit on the right is based around the physical halfway point, giving the wearer the appearance of a longer torso and shorter legs: a top-heavy silhouette that is not very flattering on any man.

Also note that the 1930s jacket has stronger shoulders and is slightly shorter in the skirt (a typical vintage drape jacket) than the modern jacket, which is slightly longer and has weaker shoulders.  The modern longer jacket length does not help the top-heavy silhouette of the modern suit.

Compare these suits to the Vitruvian Man and the differences become apparent.

In order to have a more attractive appearance when wearing a suit, base your proportions around the Golden Ratio point: the navel/waist.  Choose high-waisted trousers that sit at the natural waist, a short vest that comes down to meet the trouser waistband and doesn't let any shirt show between the two, and a suit jacket that's slightly shorter than usual.  Meeting these requirements today when most suits are made to be 'hip', fashionable, and/or ironic is a difficult task but not impossible.

It is important for a man to know how to wear a suit and wear it well.  A man knows what looks right and how a garment should fit, as he's either been taught how or has come to realize it for himself. He knows and follows the code of timeless style, not fashion.  A boy can throw on his father's overly large suit and think himself handsome. That same boy can also slip into one of his own old and much too small suits and perceive himself as being fashionable. The latter of the two seems to be the current fashion trend.  

Hopefully soon men will again understand how important proportionality is to appearance and go back to the Golden Ratio Point that was so common during the Golden Era.  I'll never understand why we moved away from it.


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