Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How to be a Well Dressed Man About Town

OK, hipsters, listen. You're doing it all wrong. I understand that modern "hipster" fashion is a jumble of various subcultural styles worn either ironically or without knowledge of the origin of said styles. Hipster fashion rapes punk, skinhead, mod, hardcore, and uh, maybe like lumberjack fashions to gather it's instantly recognizable and somewhat gross visual impact. Most of you don't know why you're wearing these things, you're just trying to look hip and pick up the dumbest possible members of the opposite sex. The idea that clothes might mean something or represent a subculture isn't a widespread notion anymore, is it?

To understand Youth Subculture and what these things mean, younguns can refer to my earlier blog, "Youth Cult Apocalypse". That will explain the various subcultures and their divergent properties to you, if you need to know. For us oldsters though, especially those of us who are sort of clothes-junkies, these modern days are a quagmire of dilemma-goo. Should we wear the clothes we've always loved, and have grown up wearing, at the risk of being misidentified as a hipster? Or should we start shopping at Wal Mart just to shake off the notion?

Hey. Calm down. Let me gently stroke your knee in a completely platonic and non creepy gesture of comfort, and whisper some options in your ear.

Here's how to be a Well Dressed Man about Town, or a WDMAT, as I like to say, without ever setting foot in an Urban Outfitters or looking too much like a V-Neck and Skinny Jean wearing hipster. The beards are coming off and the plugs are out!


For the cold weather, this baby cannot be beaten for style, functionality and subcultural relevance. The Parka came to subcultural prominence in the early 60s in the UK, as worn by the glorious first and second wave Mods. The original Mod Parka was a left over WW2 US Army coat, which were easy to come by in second hand shops in the 60s, mainly because American servicemen in England during the second world war seemed to have left them behind in droves. The coat was at first a cheap way to protect the Mods' expensive tailored suits while they rode their scooters through the blustery London streets. Over time it became a fetish item, a totem of what Mod represented. This can be summed up in the catchphrase, "clean living in difficult circumstances".

While original WW2 Parkas and replicas thereof can be found online and in secondhand shops (and pricey boutiques) to this day, they are usually prohibitively expensive and aren't as warm and wonderful as they look. Alpha has solved this problem for us Mod wannabes by updating the Parka, infusing it with newer US Army technology and marrying the Parka to an old Skinhead staple, the USAF Flight jacket. The Alpha NB3 is made of the sturdy nylon based material you'd find in in their fine Alpha flight jackets,cut into a shape that resembles, but is a little shorter than, the original WW2 coats. It's a great way to look cool, represent an updated version of Mod and Skinhead styles, and stay warm. They do run rather large, so if you want a tight fit, get a size or two below your regular. I'm a petite little curmudgeon, so I had to resort to buying a Large children's parka to get the fit I was looking for. I tried several adult sizes, and they were all just too bulky and awkward.


The Harrington Jacket, made by Barracuta, and later Ben Sherman, Fred Perry, and a host of others, was a staple of skinhead, suedehead and mod worlds, and was even worn in the 1960s by such all around cultural heroes as Steve McQueen and Elvis Presley. It's a medium to light weight men's jacket with a distinctive two button collar, a semi detached back flap and and an inner lining of tartan. I have a more modern slimfit Ben Sherman version, but my newest acquisition is by a great newer UK company called Warrior. They make a mind boggling variety of Mod and Skinhead style clothing, at low prices that a working class "bloke" can actually afford. The Warrior Harrington is cut a little boxy and can run large, but a couple of washings will bring this great jacket down in size a bit. My favorite bit is the tartan lining. It has a Lurex stripe in it, exactly like those iconic old Barracuta Harringtons of the 1960s. Let the hipsters ironically sport hideous '80s Members Only jackets(originally worn exclusively by Phil Collins fans),the true WDMAT will stick to the sharp skinhead look of the Harrington. Yeah?


Ben Sherman was originally a working class clothing company that made great shirts at fair prices in the UK. Mods and Skins picked up on their sharp designs. Over the years though, the label has come under the fire of criticism for losing touch with its Brit working class roots. Their products have become quite pricey,they are now made in China, and at times the designs have tried too hard to keep up with the times. Often the company has committed cultural blasphemy by changing traditional designs to reflect fleeting modern trends. While this is the case, Ben Sherman still offers their traditional, iconic designs, like the shirt pictured here. This is a staple of any WDMAT's wardrobe. The shirt has a high, buttowndown collar, a triangle cut out on each sleeve, and the traditional button right above said triangle. Under no circumstances should you ever unbutton the collar of a Ben Sherman. Other companies, such as the aforementioned Warrior, Fred Perry, Brutus, etc make a version of this shirt and all of those are quite stylish, but it's the Ben Sherman which remains the icon. Whether you approve of their prices, marketing and policies or not.


Polo shirts are comfortable, stylish and affordable. The Fred Perry polo is the classic Mod/Skinhead icon, and the Ben Sherman "Romford" is great, as are the Warrior and England Belongs versions, among others. My new favorite, however is the Penguin Classic Polo. This is a 1960s design, more or less unchanged. The Rat Pack wore these, JFK reportedly had one, and Mods and Skins have revered them as a lower cost Fred Perry alternative for years as well. If you get a chance, stop into the Penguin store in NYCs Soho district, it's a much friendlier and laid back store than, say, the snotty Fred Perry store nearby.

Now onto the lower portion of your stinking carcasses...


Skinny jeans are all the rage these days, and I like them alright. The key to not looking like a spindly legged hipster is buying a pair of Levis Skinny 511s two larger than what you'd normally wear. You get the slim look without the hideous shrinkwrapped panty hose feel. While those will certainly do in a pinch, the original skinny jean from the 1960s is still available and still awesome. The Levis 501 Shrink to Fit. They really do shrink to fit, kids. If you want them very, very, very tight, buy your normal waist size. But be warned, these jeans are not the flimsy, soft denim of current Levis designs. They are thick and stiff, and they will hurt you quite badly if used incorrectly. Not for those with sensitive waists and crotches, if you're pickin' up what I'm layin' down over here. The secret to success with these classic American jeans (worn by Rockabillies, Cowboys, Mods, skinheads, Punks and everyone else in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s) is to buy a pair exactly two sizes larger than your normal waist and inseam measurements. This is a good rule of thumb with all slim fit Levis (with the exception of 514s, which are baggier and larger than they seem), but absolutely essential with the Shrink To Fits. They do exactly what the name would suggest. Remeber the classic scene in Quadrophenia, with Jimmy traipsing around his parents living room in wet jeans, explaining that they'd dry tighter this way? Of course you do. Of course you do. For rockabillies, a thick turn-up at the cuff is the way to go. For Mods or Skins, a small one inch turn up, sewn in or ironed, is the ticket. I'm a little bit on both sides of the fence so I have various jeans cuffed in various ways. Don't be afraid to put your own spin on it. Never be a slave to a uniform.


Doc Martens have long been an essential part of the wardrobe of any punk, goth, skin, mod, grunge person, whatever. They remain durable, fashionable and timeless.
This particular boot is a new slant on the iconic 1460 that old school skinheads would never have guessed at. Take the Doc combat boot that skins love, and cross breed it with the classic Chelsea boot worn by mods, rockers, Beatles, and everybody else in the 60s, and you have the Harper. Basically it's a much more comfortable combat boot, with an elastic square at the ankle, taken from the Chelsea design. I have a pair of these in cherry red, and they are amazingly comfortable and look great. Like the Alpha NB3 parka, these are a smart update of a traditional style.


A Mod classic. Worn by the Small Faces, The Jam, The Kinks and others, this is the ultimate dress or casual shoe. A simple leather upper on a crepe sole, this is another example of Mods adopting a military style to their own smart fashion. I am sad to say I've never owned a pair of these, but it's in the cards for sure. They are becoming quite popular these days, perhaps overly so, but that's just because they are stylish and durable.

Well, there you have it. There's your complete kit. Now you, too can be a Well Dressed Man About Town. Yes, even you.