Friday, July 27, 2012

The Fighting Yank Rises

(Part Two of the series, "The Fighting Yank Trilogy.") 
Chapter 77
This is the conclusion of a story that began on July 29th of last year: the story of a famous little statue in an unlikely little town, and the tragic tale of that statue's destruction. If you haven't read it, go ahead, click the link, and do so now. Don't worry; I'll be here when you get back.

At the end of that article, I promised a follow-up when the miscreant (or miscreants) were apprehended, to validate my hypothesis that the criminals were dressed like well as to give them the ridiculing they most richly deserve. My theory: men who dress like adults behave like adults, and don't behave like criminals: because criminals have a childish mindset and dress like children. Conversely, teaching a child to dress like a grownup from an early age might help stem the proclivity to criminal behavior.

Well, it gives me no end of joy to report that the bastards have been bagged.

Heroes: Chief Franklin and Lt. Marett (on the right)
On February 9 of this year, Belmont Police Chief Franklin concluded a 7 month investigation headed up by Lt. Basil Marett, resulting in charges being taken out on three malefactors in connection to the July 24, 2011 caper.

Lt. Marett, after a "significant number" of hours working on tips from local officials and others, interviewed the delinquents and obtained confessions: they parked in the middle school's lot, climbed the base of the statue, toppled it, stole the head, and tossed it into Dutchman's Creek. (Named for Dutchman James Kuykendall, who was given a land grant along the creek in 1754. The creek meanders through what is now called the town of Mount Holly, a mere six miles from the Fighting Yank's location.)

The Gaston PD's special scuba dive team scraped the Dutchman's Creek bed on Feb. 8, and found the smashed head in five feet of murky water under the Main Street bridge. They recovered four large pieces; as Marett put it, "like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of parts missing.”

All three of the reprehensible scalawags were chucked in the Gaston County pokey under a $1,000 bond, with charges of felony larceny, conspiracy to commit felony larceny, defacing a public statue and misdemeanor conspiracy to commit felony larceny.

Conservation Solutions Inc. out of Washington, D.C., was able to piece the head together and re-attach it, at a cost of about $30,000. Inexplicably, the Fighting Yank's Tommy gun was not replaced, so I hesitate to call this a proper "restoration." It merely looks as it has been since its vandalization in the 1960s, not when it was cast in 1943. Why it was not properly restored is a mystery to me. Perhaps because it is on a schoolyard, and "zero tolerance" extends to bronze statuary?

If you ask me, I think the criminal charges are weak. Far too weak. Punnery aside, this was no "defacement of a public statue." Defacement is a bottle of spray paint and a brassiere. This statue was torn down and smashed. There's no coming back from that. There were five made. Five. You can't just go down to Statues-R-Us and get another one. If the Mona Lisa was ripped apart, you don't just paint another one, or tape the old one back together, and say "no harm no foul." This was wanton destruction of a national treasure.  Now it is a repaired and patched national treasure. It is not "fixed." It can never be fixed. The damage is done, forever. These cretinous imbeciles have left their mark on the fabric of the piece itself.

But nonetheless, the Fighting Yank stands proudly again, as he has stood for fifty years, cradling an (invisible) M1928A1 in one hand, lobbing a grenade in the other, steely eyes set against an unseen foe. But this time he has a security camera focused on him, and he's been more tightly tied into his monolithic base. Night-time lighting may be forthcoming as well, in a classic case of locking the barn door after the cows have escaped.

So, let's meet our three nefarious reprobates, and expose them to the burning spotlight of our mockery and ire.
First, we have the 18 year old Idiot Henry Diegert, seen here in his mug shot. He was born in Belmont, and lives in Mt. Holly. Surprisingly, he managed to graduate from East Gaston High School. His parents must be so proud. Let's take a look at Diegert's sartorial choices, and analyze his decisions. We can do this thanks to the wonder of Facebook, where anyone can see photos taken and approved by him, and placed in the public domain. In other words, these are the images he chooses to present to the world as representative of himself.

Sigh. Grit your teeth if you must, and we'll get through this. Keep repeating to yourself, "This is a picture of an adult." Eighteen years old. I won't drag his, er, friend into the issue, although she deserves all the ridicule she gets for choosing to hang out with such a worthless human. Besides, a simple Facebook search of his friends will quickly reveal her complete identity, so I don't have to. His glasses match both his shirt and cap -- the pinnacle of fashion, I'm sure. The sideways cap-skew is a daring fashion decision, as is the accessorizing of earring and necklace. He is without a doubt well-prepared for higher education.

The self-portrait is the window to the soul. His baseball cap is not only backwards, but placed right on the back of his head like a yarmulke, and cunningly matched to his tee-shirt. His colorful necklace adds the splash of color. The choice of OSB plywood as a backdrop is doubtless a statement of deconstructivism and the fragility of societal norms.
Ah, the poseur in all his finery. The cigarette cartons pasted to his bedroom door are the trophies of badassery. His Hollister sweatshirt shows him as a man of means, and the gang handsign shows him a man of business. His cap is turned frontways this time; he must be going to a job interview. His untucked tee-shirt cunningly conceals his two handguns. See, I bet you didn't even notice them.
Next, the mugshot of Justin Russell, 19 year old Idiot, another Mt. Holly resident who attended East Gaston High, but somehow didn't have the fortitude to see it all the way through. Shocking, I know. Let us see what wonders the Facebook lays bare for us...

Hmm. Black tee shirt. Love of biceps, fear of scissors. And pensively chewing on his bottom lip. Yeah, no one could see this coming. If he had stayed in school, he would have been voted "most likely to bash in a statue for no reason whatsoever."

It's difficult to judge one's fashion choices when one doesn't wear clothes at all. But it's very, very easy to judge one's personality.
Our Third Stooge mugshot is Steven Morgan. An 18 year old dropout idiot originally from Canby, Oregon, before he infested Stanley, NC, several miles northerly from Mt. Holly. His expression says it all.
Morgan is a little harder to track online. He may have thought far enough ahead to wipe his Facebook account after his arrest...but it's probably more likely he just can't figure out how to use his computer.

Fortunately, he's popular enough to be included in others' photos. Here he is cozying up with his buddy the Idiot Russell, as he dangles a Yeungling Lager for the camera. They both apparently share a dislike of clothing. Forget dressing like grownups; they're like infants who won't keep their clothes on at all. Oh, and look, Russell can't be bothered to cut his hair, but has braces. Hey, Dad, how ya like where your money has gone?

My theory is thus vindicated, in spades. Quod Erat Demonstrandum. Now let's look at punishments.

The Idiot Diegert still faces charges of felony larceny, conspiracy to commit felony larceny, defacing a public statue and misdemeanor conspiracy to commit felony larceny. He has a court-appointed lawyer and has a court date scheduled for July 30. If there's any real justice, he would spend several years making big rocks into small rocks. But we all know that won't happen.

The Idiots Russell and Morgan, on the other hand, are getting off nearly scot-free with a plea deal:

Both have to pay $5,000 in restitution, which you will note is a mere third of the cost to repair their destructive spree. Mommy and Daddy better pony up, because you know these morons don't have any money of their own. They're on "supervised probation" for 15 months. Because, you know, that'll teach 'em. They agree to work 1,000 hours or earn their GED diplomas. Brilliant! Require them to do the absolute bare minimum through which every human in America can somehow manage to somnambulate. That's tough justice, that is. And each must complete 100 hours of community service in one year. That's an even better idea: force them to do good deeds as a punishment.

Oh, yeah, and testify against their co-defendants. So if Moe and Curly send Larry up the river and meet the terms, their charges will be dismissed, and they will be free to continue their lives of thuggery unencumbered by any correctional process.

If anyone is shocked or offended at the inclusion of the pictures of these "children," I say nuts. All three men are over eighteen years of age. They may look like bad-mannered twelve-year-olds, but legally they are adults. They can vote. They can enter into contracts. And they can choose to post their images in a publicly accessible manner. They are all criminals and felons who have committed a despicable act, dismissed charges or no, and they need to --they must be-- held up to a global audience of tomato-wielders. They have made their decisions, now they must live with them. Likewise for the persons who associate with them. "Lie down with dogs," and all that.

It's been a year in the making, but our tale of the Belmont Yank now has some closure. Take from it a cautionary fable. Apply it to your own sons, and if needs be, to yourself, before it's too late.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Sock It To Me

Chapter 76
This week, we're going to dial it back a little, and go back to the basics of an Average Guy sartorial education. It's summer, it's hot, you're on vacation, and the last thing you want to do on vacation is overly tax your brains. So we'll keep it simple -- a topic so simple, it's often overlooked among the suits and hats and shoes, which get all the attention.

Let's consider socks. That's right: socks, the part of your attire that is quite literally the furthest from your mind. Socks are important, but too often overlooked in the heady rush to find the perfect jacket, the most awesome tie, or the ideal hat. The sock serves a mundane, utilitarian function: in winter, thick wooly ones keep your ankles warm; in summer, light cottony ones keep your shoes from getting sweaty and smelly. The sock is a small part of your attire from the point of view of fashion, but it is an important one nonetheless.

If you think of your socks as something that is never seen, then you are wearing your trousers too long. If your trousers are the proper length in the leg, whether straight or cuffed, the front should just break over the instep of your shoe, and cut back at a slight angle toward the rear, long enough to cover your socks completely, and the top ¼ to ½ inch of your shoes. When standing, no sock should be seen -- but when walking briskly, a flash of sock should be visible. When sitting normally in a chair, a couple inches of sock should be shown -- and when sitting cross-legged, several inches of sock is very visible.

What should your socks look like? Patience: we'll get there...

Let's deal with the issue of length first. When wearing trousers, your socks should be long enough that you never show a hint of leg, at any time. Test this by kneeling down, or by pulling your knee up to your chest. If there's as much as a glimpse of your hairy old calves, your socks are too short, and you need to purchase a longer size: calf-length or over-the-calf. When you wear shorts (e.g., on vacation) you need socks that are ankle-length. Calf-length socks with shorts are verboten. Don't cheat by scrunching long socks down, or rolling them: one looks sloppy, the other effeminate. True ankle-length only, that covers the ankle bones: for low-rise socks are an abomination. No socks are worn while swimming, approaching the sea to swim, or walking from the sea after having swum. Period.

If you like hand-knitted socks, garters are still made. 

Next, we move on to construction. Most socks are made with elastic sewn into the top these days, rendering sock garters unnecessary and wrinkled, droopy socks a thing of the past. If you have muscled calves that push your socks down, wear an over-the-calf model. There's no reason for droopy socks in today's world. Stay away from tube-style socks: your feet aren't shaped like tubes, nor should your socks be. Good socks will have reinforced toe caps, be made with a heel, and fit within a narrow range of shoe sizes -- not a one-size-fits-all.

Now, let's discuss materials. Stout wool is good insulation from the cold, cotton for heat and sportswear (although thin merino wool wicks perspiration better than cotton ever could,) any number of manufactured rayon/dacron/etc. blends are available, as well as more exotic materials like cashmere. There is but one place for thin black silk, and that is formalwear. A modern trend that bears consideration, and my personal preference, are socks made of bamboo viscose fiber; they have antimicrobial properties, as well as being remarkably soft and comfortable, they wick well, and are reasonably hard-wearing. Ultimately, you should be less concerned with exactly of what your socks are made, and more concerned with how much they cost, how long they last, how well they work, and how good they look.

That leads us to value. While it may seem to be a good deal to reach for the cheapest bag-o-socks at the big box store at five dollars a dozen, you will get a better bang for your buck by purchasing single pairs of higher quality. Pick and choose your selected colors and patterns, rotate through your socks, and discard them out of rotation at the first sign of thinning at the heel, and you will get more wears per dollar than "discount" socks can give you. This doesn't mean more expensive means longer lasting; by that logic, some Italian socks would last forever!

The price-value curve is a sharply-flattening asymptotic one in sockdom: a very small investment over the bargain-basement offerings can yield a sock of much higher quality, but you won't see much more improvement than that, even at a much higher price.

Now, the best quality and value sock on the planet will be of no use if it looks like moldy burlap, so now we'll turn our attention to appearances.

First, white socks of any description should not be worn with trousers -- ever. Wear them for sportswear, or at the gym. They have no other place in an adult's wardrobe.

As to color, pay no attention to the fashion bloggers who argue amongst themselves as to whether socks should match the trousers, match the shoes, match the tie, et cetera. Be more concerned with tone matching. Don't wear bright-colored socks for business use. Your work suiting will be in charcoals and greys and perhaps browns, maybe with pinstripes or overchecks, on largely smooth and plain fabrics -- in old-fashioned terms, "town wear." Match your socks to the sombre tone, with charcoals and greys and blacks. Don't go more extravagant than pindots or birdseyes, and keep the socks in a smooth or lightly ribbed texture. At work, your socks should be thoroughly in the background, and your tie should do the work of personalization alone.

After work, or with "country wear," is where you can let your personality show a bit more. Think of the relationship of sock to trousers as parallel to that of pocket square and jacket; a bit of color that enhances the overall impact of an outfit without overwhelming it. In the cooler months, where your suiting tends toward heavier or more textured wools and corduroys, your socks should become proportionately thicker and more heavily ribbed or textured as well. Your palette can run to the colors of fall, the rusts, russets, greens, greys, and burgundys; but muted and darkened in hue, and always tone-matched to your outfit. Patterns of herringbone, checks, stripes, houndstooth, tartan, and the ubiquitous Argyle can add some variety and interest to your lower extremities in the winter months.

As winter gives way to spring, and the world brightens around you, the muted tones can give way to brighter hues. As the dark suits of January gradually melt into the sport coats and tan trousers of April, your socks should brighten as well. Lighter tans and browns with stripes, checks, or figures work well with khakis and loafers, and your Argyle and houndstooth selections can become more vibrant as the weather clears and the trees awaken.

The heat of summer, with its commensurate explosion of color and style and general air of vacationality, is the time to go more experimental, like socks that exactly match your shirt or pocket square. Pastel socks in complementary colors: canary yellow against light blue trousers? Why not! Horizontal stripes, or bright multi checks? Sure! Anything goes; summer is the time to go a little crazy, as long as the outfit is in proper balance. For instance, a Bermuda suit with an aloha shirt needs a light solid-color ankle sock to ground it somewhat. Remember that all resort shorts need ankle socks, and unless you are playing shuffleboard or tennis, they should not be white, should tone-match the outfit, and most likely be plain.

The perfectly-engineered sock hanger.
Just a final few words about care: don't store your socks by pairing them together and turning them inside out in a bundle. Everyone does it, I know...but stop. It wears the elastic out prematurely, pulls them out of shape, and hides any wear (and the patterns and colors!) from view. If your socks come on wee little hangers, save them. Smooth your socks flat out of the dryer, re-hang them, and either lay them in a drawer or hang them up. You can choose a pair much easier, and inspect the heel wear at the same time. It may seem a bit fussy at first, but trust me: you'll thank me after the first two weeks.

Oh, one last thing: you will notice, in your sock shopping, that men's socks in the mid-price range are disturbingly mundane. Most are plain and dark; fine for work. Some are tan and grey and figured, and there are a few subtle checks and several Argyles. Once you find those, you will find yourself against a wall fairly rapidly. You will look in vain for the bright colors and vibrant patterns you know exist, but apparently not in your price range. Here's a secret: peek in the women's-wear section of the store. Socks are unisex, despite their packaging: if it fits, it fits. Sometimes the careful application of The Other Side's socks can give just the right effect to a bright summer ensemble. (Shh...I won't tell if you won't.)

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Liner Notes

Chapter 75
As the weeks of summer wend ever onward, the average guy who aspires to dress like a functioning member of society may come to an impasse; for there are some days that wearing a jacket --any jacket-- seems like an impossible task. A jacket, as I hope I have impressed upon you by this time, is an indispensable part of dressing not just well, but merely adequately.

In previous installments, I have alluded to the Bermuda suit and the unlined jacket for dealing with the heat on vacation, the classic Aloha shirt for casual days at home, as well as the jacket-and-scarf combo for tropical seaside resort wear. But what about those interminable weeks where you are simply going about your business at home and about town? How do you deal with the rising mercury then? Do you give up on proper clothing, put suits on hiatus, and break out the suntan oil and flip flops for the trip to the market or the walk to class?

I hope not, for there is a solution. Not all summer jackets have to be those cotton or seersucker candy-colored featherweight jobs. That's fine for the beach, but it may raise some eyebrows at the office. It's entirely possible to wear a perfectly normal-looking jacket that is no thicker or heavier than a shirt. It's all about what happens under the surface.

A great deal of the comfort of a jacket has to do with the lining. A silk or satin lined jacket serves two purposes: it slips smoothly over your shirt and waistcoat without snagging, and it serves as insulation. Most jackets are fully lined: that is, every bit of the interior surface is covered. Very nice in the winter...but it can be a bit stuffy in July.

The jacket I introduced you to last week is half-lined: silk on the front, sleeves, and shoulders, but the back is a single layer of shell fabric. Sometimes the raw edges of the back seam are covered with a thin roll of silk to prevent fraying. Quite nice when, for instance, you have to sit in a chair for extended periods. Having just that one breathable layer on your back makes a world of difference.

Taking that a step further is the quarter-lined jacket. In this case, the front and back are bare of silk, and the only lining is in the sleeves, and small triangular panels over the shoulders. In fact, when most people refer to an "unlined" coat, they actually mean quarter-lined. They are usually quite loose and unstructured: since there is no front lining, there is also no chest padding nor canvassing.

We can go even further, to skeleton-lined jackets. These have no lining at all except for the sleeves, and all the raw edges are covered with rolled silk strips. Since these don't have shoulder padding or chest padding, they have to be rather carefully fitted so as to not look overly sloppy. Some of the summery resort jackets you find are constructed this way.

Ultimately, jackets can be completely unlined: nothing in the sleeves, nothing on the edges, and but one layer of fabric all 'round. All the raw edges are rolled and basted in place. These jackets have to be fitted nearly like shirts.

One might think that the less lining a jacket has, the less expensive it would be; after all, there's less stuff to sew in, so it would be less work, right? Not at all! Lining covers a multitude of sins, raw edges, and sloppy needling. The more you can see of the interior, the more finished it has to be. Seam turn-unders have to be perfectly even, all the edges have to be carefully dealt with, and the pocket bags are hanging out on the inside and not hidden by silk, so they have to be very carefully made and finished as well. The overall cut is more sensitive to errors: instead of hanging off of the constructed shapes of the pad and canvas on your shoulders, the jacket simply hangs off of YOU.

The solution is simple. Either shell out three times as much for an off-the-peg summer jacket, or hire a tailor to make one for you. But what is the Average Guy to do? We can't afford to throw down good cash for  luxuries like unlined summer jackets...right?

I think you know where I'm going with this. That's right: we're going to make our own! This is a fun, quick-and-easy project at its most basic, or you can go into as much finishing work as you want's one of those things that you can do no matter how much needling experience you have. If you've been following along with The Island of Misfit Clothes, it'll be a piece of cake!

A few caveats, first. This, like all the tailoring projects we handle here, is a compromise of factors. We'll start from a fully-lined jacket, and strip it down as far as we can, hot-rod style. The ugly interior will be exposed, and we'll clean up as best we can, but the result will be decidedly "function over form." Without a lining, the jacket will not drop into place as you are used to; it will be have to be more carefully placed and smoothed to remove snags and wrinkles. The upshot is you will be rewarded with a "stealth" jacket that looks and works like any other, but is as light as a shirt...and it will cost you nothing but your time.

This is the jacket I'll use. It's a salt-and-pepper tweed that is a light and loose weave. I've had it a couple of years now; it's an old alteration that started out as a size 44. It fits well enough, but I have other tweeds I like more for the cooler weather, and other linens I like more for warmer weather. So it's sort of an orphan, always passed over. Gutting it and using it as a "summer unliner" will give it a lot more use!

The point is, don't do this with a new jacket. Start from a secondhand model at best, and preferably use a donor jacket that you're saving from the dustbin. Unlined jackets wear quickly, so this should be reserved for those jackets you're giving a last lease on life.

First, get a good sharp X-acto knife (or a seam ripper) and settle into a comfortable chair. Start by freeing the lining from the rear vent, then the bottom edge, all the way around.

When the bottom hem is loose, start working your way up the front edges. You will see many new and interesting things, as shown here. Cut as far up as you can. In most cases the chest pocket overlaps the lining and into the lapel fabric. No fear; just cut up to that point on both sides for now.

Then turn your attention to the sleeves. Remove the cuff buttons, and cut the lining loose all around the cuff. There may be a stitch or two that holds the sleeve lining up inside the sleeve around the elbow: carefully nip them if needed. Since the sleeve lining is still held in place at the armscye, turn your attention back to the inside of the jacket.

Start from the back of the collar, and carefully release the lining, working around the lapels and down to the top side of the chest pocket. Now you can get to the armscyes and release the sleeve lining, and pull them out. You can see the shoulder padding and chest canvas now, as well as all the raw edges along the seams. The top of the chest pocket bag is tacked in place; nip those off, and the entire lining should now be held in place by the ends of the two chest pockets. If there are any other tack stitches in odd places, now is the place to nip those as well.

About an inch from the mouth of the pocket, cut the lining free. Don't cut the pocket bag! Just the lining, and don't cut it too close, either.

Now is the time to take some attention to prettying up those pocket bags.There's nothing we can do about the fabric or the color, but at least we can hide the raw edges and make things square. Fortunately, it's not hard; just roll the edges under and sew them in place with a hidden running pick-stitch, and press the edges flat. Pay particular attention to the mouth of the chest pocket, and don't inadvertently sew the pocket shut! (Yes, I've done it myself. More than once.)

This is what the pocket bag looks like when it's neatened up.

With the pockets taken care of, unfold the lapel and turn your attention to the canvas. This jacket was pretty lightly canvassed in the first place: the fronts and lapels were interfaced along their length, and the chest pad is a pretty small package of felt and horsehair. If this was a hand-padded and canvassed jacket, it would be a shame to rip it out...fortunately, this is all machine-made stuff, and easy to nip free of the fronts with a few sweeps of the knife. Pay attention to how the canvas is sewn to the armscye. It might be smarter (and less trouble) to cut the canvas out along the seam if it is sewn to the armscye and sleeve together. Same with the shoulder pads.

With the jacket now well and truly unlined, you're nearly done. Tack the end of the pocket bag in place, to keep the pocket from sagging. Don't forget to replace the cuff buttons, and your jacket can be worn as-is, right now, and you can finish it off to whatever degree you want at your leisure. Primarily, you need to decide what to do with the raw edges. Your choices are 1) do nothing, 2) bind the edges and hold them in place with a blind zigzag stitch, 3) roll and tack the edges and hold them down as you did with the pocket bags, with a running blind pick stitch, or 4) use silk bias tape to bind the edges with a true skeleton lining.

Since I had altered this jacket to fit previously, this didn't generate enough slop in the fit to make further alterations necessary. As you can see, with the internal structure gone, it assumes a much more casual and drapey cut. You may be tempted to take in the shoulders and side seams at this point to get a nice tight shoulder line and silhouette -- but remember the whole point of the exercise is to make as light and breezy a jacket as possible for the Unbearable Days! With linen trousers and a light summer shirt, this is as comfortable a jacket to wear now as anyone could ask for.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Let's Get Shanked

(Part 15 of the series "The Island of Misfit Clothes.")
Chapter 74
You didn't think I'd forgotten about our jacket project, did you? It's been a few weeks since we've worked on it, but we're nearly completed now that the lining's been sewn back in. Fits like a glove, doesn't it? All those weeks spent ripping seams, repositioning, and sewing, re-sewing, and sewing again have really paid off...this worthless tent of a suit hangs on you now like a thousand-dollar bespoke item.

Well, nearly so. The shortcuts we've used to systematically and gradually minimize the faults in fit, would make a bespoke tailor blanch in horror -- but the end result is very, very good indeed, especially for a novice needleman like yourself. Well done.

This week we'll look at how to place the buttons, but with a twist -- I'm not going to use the jacket you've been staring at lo these many months to demonstrate. For a change of pace, we'll use a new jacket I just acquired, and I'll tell the story behind it.

We are in the heat of the summer season. It's now time to shift your wardrobe into summer mode, and that means taking your polo, golf, and aloha shirts out of storage and placing them back in rotation. If you followed along last Autumn, when I demonstrated how to store your summer shirts away, you should now have a stack of crisp, folded, tissue-wrapped shirts that await your attention, as the returning of old friends after a long absence: the clean scent and starched folds of your summerwear emerge from their paper-wrapped hibernation, new, unwrinkled, and fresh, and yet also familiar.

In keeping with my own advice given in last week's installment, I decided it was time to "roll over" my summer jackets as well. Yes, it is time for some jackets to go, in favor of others. Out with my light wool Yves Saint-Laurent. Serviceable and about a quarter-century old, but very conservative and very French. I've worn it for years, but it has gotten increasingly less use over time, as my personal style has shifted away from the "mid-century grey" cut.

Its replacement found me by surprise. Shopping with my wife for something else entirely, and strolling through the suit section of a local second-hand shop, I took a double-take at one that caught my eye. I was unprepared, and as I did not have my measurements or tape with me, dismissed it and walked on. My wife, who knows "that look" well, intervened. Forget the measurements, she said, and just try it on. Oh, very well.

I fell in love immediately. Well cut, good proportions, and right in line with all the tenets of Classic Style. It fit nearly perfectly -- no alterations would be necessary; this one is wearable as-is.

Another bonus for this ready-made summer suit: it is made of very light stuff, and is half-lined: that is, the lining only extends across the chest and over the shoulders.

Other than a small strip at the rear vent, the back isn't lined at all. You may not think this would make a large amount of difference, but it does -- it will be easy-wearing on all but the hottest days. The label shows it to be an Anderson-Little, which was doubtless made when the name was owned by Woolworth's, probably in the late 1970s.

This jacket has some very attractive features, like "pagoda shoulders" that terminate in a heavily rolled sleevehead. Notice the outer edge of the lapels point directly to the top of the shoulder. The resulting generous lapels stand well within the limits of Classic Style, in stark contrast to the current fad of wee little skimpy lapels.

Advanced Geometry nightmares?
"Pagoda shoulders" refer to the line from neck to arm: it is a slight concave curve, like the roof of a Japanese pagoda. The resulting saddle-shaped form is called a hyperbolic paraboloid, and takes a fair amount of effort to execute well.

Another nice touch is the strongly shaped collar line. The elegant curves allow it to sit perfectly flat against the curve of the shoulder.

The chest canvassing is very firm and shaped, perfectly smooth, and sits into the waist nicely. It is a very English cut, despite being a thoroughly American jacket.

 The length is shown to be in line with Classic Style as well: long enough to curl one's fingers over the hem with a straight arm. The sleeve is just long enough to touch the base of the wrist. That's slightly long if worn with long sleeves...but just perfect when paired with a short-sleeved shirt, which is in fact my plan.

As perfect as all this seems, it isn't completely perfect, or else I wouldn't be talking about it, now would I? As you know, I need to adjust its button stance to account for my slightly low shoulder. As I've shown this before in a previous installment, you may ask, why go through the process again? Two reasons. One: the first time, I demonstrated the process on a tailor's form. This time, I'll show how to do it directly on yourself. And second, the first example used covered buttons, and our jacket project (and this jacket as well) uses regular four-hole buttons.

Whether your shoulders are symmetrical or not, this will guarantee your jacket will fit as perfectly as possible around your neck, whether you are just moving the buttons slightly, as here, or starting from scratch, as we are with our project jacket.

First, put the jacket on, over a collared shirt. (Make sure the collar fits, of course, and buttoned up. We're getting a baseline dimension, after all.) Reach up, grab the collar from both ends, center it on the back of your neck, and pull it forward firmly. Don't think about your shoulders -- hold them naturally.

Keeping the tension on the collar, slide your hands down the lapels, and bring the fronts together. (Notice that the buttons don't line up with the buttonholes? Typical.) Make sure you are still holding your shoulders naturally.

Slide a straight pin into the button-side by going in right through the eye of the buttonhole. Push the pin all the way through, so the head of the pin marks exactly where the button needs to be. Do this for all the buttonholes.

Relax your arms and your shoulders, shrug a couple of times, and let your arms hang naturally. (Note that the fronts aren't falling away -- a sign of proper jacket balance.) The pins and buttonholes should be exactly opposite each other. It's then a simple matter to sew the buttons in the right place.
Did I say "simple matter?" Why yes, but it's not as easy as sewing a shirt button: you can't just go in one hole and out the other a couple of times and be done with it. You don't want the stitches to show on the fabric behind the button, for one thing; and the other is that little mushroom-stalk of thread under the button, called a shank. The button needs to sit a little "proud" to poke through the buttonhole. How do you do it? Well, first, cut the existing button off, and remove the threads.

Load your needle with buttonhole or upholstery thread. Start your needle on the back side about an inch away from the straight pin, run sideways inside the fabric...

...and come out on the topside exactly where the head of the pin is. Remove the pin, pull the line almost all the way through...

...and secure it by tying it off to a single thread on the front side. Clip the thread on the back side, pull the fabric a little, and the end of the line will disappear into the inside of the jacket. That's a neat enough trick in itself, but there's more!

The secret to sewing a shank button is... [insert drum roll] ...a wooden match. No fancy gizmos or appliances required.
Slide the button down the line, with the match behind it. The idea we're pursuing is to sew the button down around the match. The first two stitches will straddle the match and hold everything in place. This is done as you would expect: straight down through the fabric, and straight up again through an adjacent hole in your button. The difference is, only catch a single thread on the back side of the fabric, and those two wee stitches will be practically invisible.
This is what it looks like from the side. Unlike shirt buttons, don't run the line in a criss-cross through the holes, but work the box: up through top right, down through bottom right, up through bottom left, down through top left.

Work the box three or four times around, but unlike the first two stitches, when you go down through the button...

...tilt the button up and don't go through the fabric. Pull the line through, then take a small sideways bite through the fabric. Go deep enough to grab the canvas, then up through the button again.

The button will be firmly sewn down around the matchstick, but without any stitches showing on the backside.

Slide the matchstick out...

...and wrap the thread tightly around the base of the button about a dozen times, until you've made a stout little trunk.

Stab the needle right through the trunk, twice, to secure the line.

Run the needle sideways from the base of the button, come out on the backside about an inch away...

...and clip the end of the line.

Hide it inside as before, and your button will have no loose ends showing; a very professional finish.

The result is a collar that sits tight to the neck and smooth down the front...

...and when worn open, the buttons are perfectly even.

This little number is ready to take its place in my spring-and-summer wardrobe, where it'll last for years. Oh, did I mention the cost? Forget bespoke, forget off-the-rack, forget big box warehouses. This jacket has hardly been worn, if in fact its been worn at all. It shows no wear, and the original yellow chalk marks under the buttons were still there. Six dollars. Six. You can do it too. And you should.


Setting the buttons also brings us to the end of our jacket project, and with it, we bid a fond farewell to the Island of Misfit Clothes series. Before we go, let's take a look at the actual project suit, after the same button stance alteration that we just went through today.

Here we are! It went well, all things considered: you never would be able to tell that this jacket was a shapeless barrel shaped bag when we started out. This should be proof positive that not only can you make such an outsized suit fit you, it can fit your idiosyncratic posture as well; and you can do it yourself with a minimum of fuss, with basic tools and a just little bit of initiative.

The details that remain can be performed with relative ease using the knowledge you've acquired so far. The sleeves are a tad short and must be let out. After your work with sleeve linings, hem lengths, pressing, and such, it will be a piece of cake for you! (Hint: release the lining at the wrist, remove the buttons, fold down the turn-under to length, press, and re-assemble.) Likewise with the excess girth in the waistcoat -- the side seams can be taken in the exact same way as we did with the jacket. The trousers we've already covered, in the first weeks of The Island. As it turns out, I won't have to take these trousers in, as I seem to have gained about four inches in my waist over the past year: all that was needed was to let the cuff out to gain an extra inch in the leg. And that's a good lesson: when you take an article of clothing in, leave the extra turn-in in place, just in case you gain weight and have to let it back out!

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