Thursday, February 23, 2017

A word to the museums -- SAVE OUR HATS!

Wendy Ann Rosen

She’s a well-known Hollywood makeup artist, but to me, she’s a god-send to hatting’s history. She’s even served Cary Grant a drink once… and she pointed out he was wearing velvet slippers at the time. She’s been wearing hats since she was a child, and never stopped. Over time she began collecting them to the point where she began cataloging the art and boxes of which there are one of each left in some cases. She inundated me with a waterfall of knowledge on all the old boutique brands and designers that once were in the height of demand yet are now forgotten in time due to them being part of an industry that became a shadow of it’s goliath self. And it’s not just the hats… it’s the promotional materials, the catalogs, the displays, the posters, the branded brushes and the giant window ornamentation that would draw the eye of a shop's passerby.

She’s on a mission right now to preserve this collection and when it comes to getting the word out, it’s time voices got louder. She looks to catalog all of what she has and build a database that hopefully can showcase all of the brands and styles and what once was common knowledge to some, but now lost knowledge to all. The stories she has… the tales of the old department stores and shops that would just carry accessories. I will go back to hear more and write down more. But this message is just to say, she’s out there. She’s been a magnet for hatting history, milliner history, designer label history. And I hope to see it all carefully preserved and exhibited for the world to see. As she pointed out… the last time she saw a hat on display in a museum… it was just the hat on a stick… no reference to who made it, or images of the inside…. To us, it’s important!


Thursday, February 2, 2017

J. Crew Ludlow Shoes

Not about Alden, Allen Edmonds… Johnston and Murphy
Image may contain: shoesThere are a few grand companies still left in the US that classic American shoe.
I do wish they would make more ankle boots as I tend to go off roading in my leather souled footwear and there is a big hole in the market when it comes to a good old balmoral boot; It seems everyone jumps right into making the bluchers when it’s just not the same thing -- a tale for another post.
J. Crew a few years back separated its menswear from its womenswear and when this happened they took the menswear into a very collegial high end old money aesthetic. 60s style fitted corduroy trousers with small embroidered pheasants or dogs, narrow ties with coat of arms looking shields leather dopp kits for the man on the road needing to keep his shaving gear in a properly classic case. With all of this came the shoes as well. Proper shoes… wingtips that were double souled leather with pebble grains and slippery heels. The kind of shoes you wear on an elevator while heading to sit at your desk that has that extra white shirt in the drawer for when you spill your bourbon on yourself before the meeting.
For the shoes, they went to the most prolific of the American made brands, and that was Alden of New England. One of the last surviving American factory made dress shoe brands, they showed up at the new J.Crew and made a splash to the point where J. Crew began doing special makes of ankle boots and special colors… Now to the reason why I’m writing.
The Alden shoes retail for nearly $600 when you add the tax. A bit out of most men’s budgets… and for a shoe for a traditional mall store… often something that stands out as a bit out of place. So J. Crew decided to do something within it’their men’s shoes that’s a bit more approachable to the mass market that covets the stoic studying genius look. They made reproductions of the Alden shoes… very close when it comes to design, fit and materials, and sold them for half the price of the Alden shoes.
Image may contain: shoes and bootsHandcrafted in China.
So I bought three pairs.
The ankle boots in russet brown, and a black pair and a russet brown pair of the low quarter captoe style.
Off the bat they look and feel just like Alden shoes. The leather used are said to all be imported to China for the hand making of the shoes and the uppers are very very fine calf skin with very tight pores. Very much like the Alden leathers that take a beautiful shine. The soles are dense and tough like Rendenbach would produce. Hard and so far they appear to be wearing down very slowly without deforming.
Image may contain: shoesThe footbed is taking a while to break in. Usually with high end leather soled shoes… Like Alden and Allen Edmonds, there is the leather sole, a bed of cork above that sole you walk on, and a leather footbed on which you stand. The cork sandwiched between after a few wearings helps the footbed take the shape of your foot so you get a custom shape to walk on. These are taking their time so I’m not sure if these have that cork layer or not, they may just take a while to break in because they use a tougher upper layer of leather. The shoes are fully lines in calfskin so your foot slides in easily while wearing socks, and the back of the heel has the rough side out so it grips to your heel and your foot doesn’t slide out while walking.
The ankle boots have a last (foot shape) with a larger toe box. I like this for the look and for the fact that I have a wide forefoot. The low quarter shoes have a narrower toe box but not too narrow… they look like shoes made in the 1940s and I love them for that reason.
They have a well placed heel cushion under a thin piece of leather and a combination leather and rubber heel. Being a swing dancer I tend to prefer rubber heels lately because I kinda like being able to put on the brakes while spinning.
I’m still breaking them all in, but first impressions are that these are like new Aldens. As I’ve written before, I have very fickle feet when it comes to what I wear. The stiffness tends to be a pain and if that goes away I’ll love them a lot more. I know Alden and Allen Edmonds break in faster. They feel very balanced for walking and dancing but I do wish they made them in a wide or E sizing.
If you want something that is absolutely the finest reproduction of a classic vintage American business shoe, these fit the bill. I’ll dance in them for a while and write a follow-up.
Image may contain: one or more people

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Worn to death, then worn to death.

When I was last in Manhattan I had a little stop to see Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. A great western swing band that Ill need a proper dance floor on which to dance the next time I see them.

In the midst of that excursion, I ran into the copywriter for Brooks Brothers and we got into discussing shirts and how I was happy to see the return of the unfused version of the button down collar for their Great Gatsby collection. I wasnt pleased to see that collection leave so quickly.

Anywho, All of this led me to remembering that about a decade ago, BB had released a line of shirts that were specifically called their Vintage Dress Shirt Collection. After seeing them in their catalog, I remember running to my local outlet in Camarillo California. Knowing that these shirts weren't quite what the masses were into, I found there what I expected and bought every one that was in my size and continued back now and again to see them trickle out onto their discount rack. Oh yeah... they had very long tails.

One was a beautiful blue and yellow multi stripe with a three inch collar, longer than their current collar and it just had a more retro flare that worked best with a collar bar.

Another one had a pink and blue striped body with off white collar and French cuff. Just again, something that was specifically nuanced to be a little more from the past than the tedious standards BB was putting on their shelves at the time before all the flare came back into business menswear.

The third shirt in the line maybe my favorite fabric yet not my favorite collar was a blue green muted stripe.

Thats just wanted to say Ive loved these shirts and Im on my last set of them lest I start replacing the collar and cuffs when these start to fray.

Oh yes, go see the Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. Im hoping they make a stop in LA before I head back to New York. They are a riot!

Monday, August 22, 2016

From Fashion to Fad (and back again): A Skim-med History of the Straw Boater Hat

By Matt Deckard
I've never been too keen on the boater. Yes, it's made of straw and cool for summer and came out long before the soft roll up panama, but it's like wearing an inedible cracker on your head.  Although now often viewed as a hat that is functionally terrible and aesthetically comical, the boater became the standard summer hat for millions of men around the world in the early 1900s.  It became a staple item in the respectable businessman’s hat wardrobe; in essence, it was, for a time, the summer version of the bowler.

Originally, in the mid 1800s, the boater (Also known as a “Sennet” or “Straw”) used to be a seafaring hat that was issued to and worn by British Royal Navy sailors during the summer months. These early boaters were softer than the version we see on the heads of Harold Lloyd and Fred Astaire in the 1920s and 30s because they were made to yield somewhat to the forces of wind and water encountered by a seaman on a long voyage. In its early days keeping the brim flat wasn’t much of a concern, so you'd see sailor after sailor sporting straw hats with warped brims.  Many Italian gondoliers still sport versions similar to the original ones worn by British sailors.

As time went by, the boater went from being an item of military issue, to a fashionable and somewhat formal summer accessory. This is reflected in Manners for Men (1897), in which Mrs. C. E. Humphry informed her dapper readers that “For a morning walk in the Park in summer the straw hat, or low hat and tweed suit, are as correct as the black coat and silk hat.” Around the same time, English schools and colleges made the boater into a uniform requirement.

Clearly, the boater had successfully made the leap from respectable British military issue headgear to the smart but cumbersome lacquered and pressed straw halos you ended up seeing on American luminaries like David Wark Griffith and Calvin Coolidge, and on businessmen around the Western world.

Unsurprisingly, these hats never had the staying power of more comfortable summer hats. Their impractical and comical nature was played up by young students ‘skimming’ them under buses to pass the time (if they were lucky the passing bus would eat the hat); in the 1920s, boaters were turned into a faddish novelty, as college kids began pairing them with raccoon coats and pennants at pep rallies.  The farcical side (and thus the end of the more formal application) of this headwear was echoed in the appropriation of the boater by Vaudevillians and carnival barkers. Soon enough, you'd see foam versions worn with red, white, and blue ribbons issued to crowds at political rallies. The seriousness of the hat had clearly left.

If it had had more functionality than fashionability, perhaps the boater would have had as long a run as the Panama hats that you can still find at your local department store today.  Unlike its winter felt counterparts, the bowler, which originated as a hard gamekeeper’s hat that can be molded to a cranium to perfection with steam, or the soft fedora that's an offshoot of the comfortable slouch hat worn in the field of battle, the boater requires that your head be the shape of the hat or you’re in for an ill fit. It is stiff and has no give. If you try to alter the shape to fit your head, you tend to warp the brim.

And yet, now I like it. I like it because nobody else is wearing it.  It stands out on the street corner. Although shunned by well heeled men decades ago and thus best worn with a slightly irreverent air, I find it adds an unexpected jauntiness to a well-tailored suit.  In 2016, it can give your look a panache that will certainly make you stand out amongst a sea of businessmen on a crowded summer street.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


I came to Texas with a mission, to redefine the something I love, to figure out how to pass that passion to everyone.

From the outset, inspired by the past and encouraged by my friends, I was able to bring back brand defining styles using the original machinery with the original hat making techniques, many dating back to the 1920s and before.

With my own archives, I applied elements that I loved, to redefine iconic styles to suit the fashion of the modern day. I installed in the line, pieces that could fight the trend of fast fashion, to be that item you could put on your head knowing it added rather than took away.

I reintroduced a line of women’s hats and watched as more and more styles populated the lineup, and I was proud that the factory could visibly see a change happening when the floor that was covered in racks of cowboy hats day in day out, turned into a sea of red as Marvel’s Agent Carter hit the airwaves, atop her head was a Stetson.

For the 150th anniversary of the company, I designed a roundtable of the finest quality pieces that could be produced, knowing that these were the same steps that over a century of Stetson master hatters used to make the pronounced, yet subtly elegant look of America’s hat.

I willed into being and negotiated the return of the Iconic Manhattan Neon Stetson sign that was, and now again is, above JJ Hatcenter on Fifth Avenue.

Exotic locations, extraordinary situations, one day I was discussing the toquila palm crop with the Ecuadorian consulate while driving to work, the next, I was in Manhattan being tracked down by an Italian man wanting to sweep me up in his SUV, just so I could explain the fall lineup. Videoconferences with Germany at 2am, all-nighters to clean up my Japanese business etiquette because the clients are arriving early… 

I’ve made new friends here, I’ve had great adventures, and Big Tex Under the shade of his Cowboy hat has looked down at me and smiled. I went to the rodeos, to the barn dances and I got to know the kings and queens of the outlaw country scene.

I came to Texas with a mission, to redefine the something I love, to figure out how to pass that passion to everyone.

I feel that’s what I’ve done.

Of all the endeavors I’ve set my sights on, this one, being the Creative Director of Stetson’s dress hats was one of the most fulfilling. Now, I need to move to my next adventure, and that begins by steeping myself in my hometown of Los Angeles. Reconnecting with my closest, and taking in that warmth of what is my city.

Yours in hatting,

Joseph C. Brandstetter