Rod’s Togs – Dressing For The Season

At this time of year many of those who participate in menswear forums and blogs are overjoyed to be breaking out their cool / cold weather clothes. It seems that a majority look forward to the variety in colours, patterns, fabrics and layering that autumn and winter allow. Along with breaking out the scarves and overcoats they look forward to mothballing their linen, fresco and seersucker cotton in favour of tweeds, flannels, cords and moleskins.

I’m happy to live in a place where there isn’t a lot of variation in the seasons but I suppose I can confess to making certain adjustments when the mercury takes a bit of a dip. Today I was travelling to the Miami area for work and was about to grab my dark blue cotton blazer but in deference to the season – if not to the weather itself (a bracing 61 degrees rising to 75!) – I made a change.

This blazer is a wool-cotton mix, the colour was named ‘acorn’ with which the local pavements are currently scattered. It’s completely unstructured with only the sleeves lined so it works fine on a warm day but the colour seems fitting for the season.

Sunglasses – Moscot Neff in blonde

Blazer – J. Crew

Popover – Ralph Lauren Polo

Pocket Square –

Strides – Express

Socks – Lands End

Loafers – Crockett and Jones Harvard II

Rod’s Togs – Blue Breton Shirt

I’ve acquired a few Breton shirts over the years and written about them here, here and here.

As much as I like the look they don’t get worn very often. Last year I got one from The Breton Shirt Factory that turned out to be too small so I gave it to my wife. Making that purchase put me on their mailing list and when they later contacted me about this blue version with a red stripe they sucked me in to making another purchase.

Sunglasses – Tag-Heuer with custom lenses

Shirt – Breton Shirt Company

Strides – Levi’s 514 Sta-Pressts

Trainers – adidas Gazelle ‘mi adidas’ custom

Rod’s Togs – Orange Fred Perry Polo

As a kid growing up in England we never had trick-or-treating or fancy dress and I’d never seen a pumpkin but it seems that they are now everywhere around here at Halloween, making orange the unofficial colour of Autumn in America. I don’t do fancy dress so this was my outfit to take my little girl trick-or-treating:

Sunglasses – Ray Ban New Wayfarers

Polo – Fred Perry

Jeans – Levi’s LVC

Trainers – adidas Samba

Rod’s Togs – Lacoste Banlon-Style Shirt

Back in 1996 I went for the first time to the Essence Music Festival. This is a huge music event that, at least in those days, celebrated and showcased the rich vein of what’s known as ‘ol’ school’ music, hosted in the New Orleans Superdome. Rather than try to define such a nebulous term it might be easier to list the talent on show over that Fourth of July weekend – Barry White, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Kahn, Luther Vandross, Cameo, The Whispers, Frankie Beverly and Maze – and that was just the main stage. There are also ‘superlounges’ – small stand-up gigs staged in the outer hallways of the Superdome for either lesser-known, up-and-coming artists, or maybe just artists with an expected smaller draw than those on the main stage. I was lucky enough to catch Maceo Parker that year and had so much fun over the extended weekend I returned for the next eighteen years! The following year among many others (Maxwell, Ashford and Simpson, Erykah Badu, Maze) I saw Bobby Blue Bland and was less than impressed. How can a blues band have two drummers but no guitarist? Long, sustained, minor key solos don’t really work on a piano! Mr Bland came on stage looking like a grouchy old grandad whose nap had been interrupted, wearing an odd-looking seventies-era polo shirt with a broad elasticated waistband.
I’ve since found out they are known as ‘Banlon’ shirts and they are much beloved by certain people of a Mod persuasion, I would guess more for their nostalgic connotation than their stylistic contribution.


A bit of internet research reveals that ‘Ban-Lon’ was originally the name of the man-made fibre but the term has at some point transported to describe this kind of polo with the elasticated waist band.
Anyway last year during a work trip to New York I did my usual routine of walking up Madison Avenue, down Fifth Avenue then heading down to the village to look at more shops. At the Lacoste shop on Madison I saw this shirt in obvious colours so couldn’t resist getting it. This is not your usual Lacoste polo. Aside from the red and blue hoops on the chest and arms, the material from the stripes down is pique cotton but the upper chest and sleeves are a different textured waffle weave. I probably could have lived without the Banlon-style waist band but the rest of the shirt is far enough away from that worn by Bobby Blue Bland that it wasn’t a deal breaker for me.

Sunglasses – Tom Ford

Polo shirt – Lacoste

Jeans – Levi’s 501

Desert boots – Clark’s

… and in keeping with my commitment to try and post more lifestyle pics …

Happy Halloween everyone!

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Rod’s Venting On Vents

Regular readers may have noticed that I have an aversion to vents on my tailored jackets, which has become an occasional topic of discussion on menswear forums. 

A recent e-conversation provoked me into thinking when and why it was that I began wearing ventless jackets. I THINK this was a stylistic holdover from the suits I was wearing from the nineties onwards. I started my first ‘proper’ job in 1991 after grad school wearing a couple of jackets I’d acquired in vintage resale shops and had been wearing for a few years since the latter revival days, which happened to be ventless. At that time a wardrobe overhaul was much-needed but my beloved three-button jackets were just not available anywhere. 

There was a big box menswear shop in Houston named ‘Suitmart’ which sold overstocks and last year’s models at cut prices. Neither the quality nor the prices were high, but at least they were mostly 100 percent wool which was about the only criteria my largely clueless mind required back then. I had little choice but to succumb to the then-current trend of wide-shouldered double-breasted style jackets with pleated strides. 

Looking back – and taken in context of the times – this look was not too cringe-inducing. I’ve probably made more egregious sartorial errors over the years, but this was hardly my stylistic finest hour. One thing I did like about those jackets was that despite the oversized shoulders and severe taper from shoulder to hem, when worn buttoned the ventless backs hugged your bum and made for a nice smooth expanse of cloth when seen from behind, from the neck to the lower hem. This style of jacket was obviously influenced by the suits of the thirties and forties, often on display in classic movies of that period. One point of reference that sticks in my mind is the memory of Kirk Douglas in ‘Out of the Past’ (a great film noir remade in the eighties as ‘Against All Odds’, for which I have a soft spot not least because of the Cozumel locations!). Kirk was seen wearing some very sharp threads, but I particularly liked the elegance in the huge expanse of smooth, unbroken real estate on display when he turned his back! There was added menace in the broad-shouldered tailoring, especially when compared to the heavier but down-at-heel anti-hero Robert Mitchum in his rumpled trench coat. 

The next stop on my suit journey was when the gods of fashion eventually moved the prevailing cuts away from double-breasted suits back to a single-breasted three-button version. I noticed this in America in the late nineties and was happy to load up on these at the time, but at length realised they weren’t nearly so stylish as those three-button versions influenced by the sixties Mod look, and the tubular cut without waist suppression was not very flattering. I recall having this style of suit in black, navy, olive green, silver-grey microcheck, tan microcheck, and the cream sharkskin shown below. Again, for me the saving grace was a lack of vents which at least kept the view from the rear somewhat smooth and refined. 

By the time I rededicated myself to Mod style in the late aughts, use of the internet had exponentially increased the available resources for clothes shopping, and three-button suits and jackets with a desirable fitted shape were readily available both online and sometimes in the high streets and malls. Even J. Crew for a while offered their Ludlow suit jackets in a choice of two- or three-button versions. I was likely influenced by my previous ventless predilection to have all the vents closed on all my new acquisitions, and that’s the way it’s stayed for the most part ever since. 

For those who choose to sneer at my preference I would remind them of a few iconic examples of ventless suits, which just happen to be at the top of my list of best suits in popular culture. Perhaps the most famous suit in movie history as worn by Cary Grant in ‘North By Northwest’ was ventless, as were a couple from one of my favourite Bond movies (certainly my favourite from a style perspective, along with FIVE – count ‘em – of the best looking beauties of the entire canon!)

Often people cite the utility of side vents in accessing trouser pockets, but as a kid my Mam always told me it was bad manners to put your hands in your pockets so it’s something I try to avoid these days. 

Despite Bond as played by Connery having side vents in his debut dinner jacket in Dr. No, and Tom Ford’s baffling and unsightly centre-vent creation for Daniel Craig, the gold standard for dinner jackets continues to be sans vents. An example of how the elegance of ventless jackets can be disrupted is seen in ‘Casablanca’, in which we see Bogart, in conversation in his office above Rick’s nightclub, turn his back to the camera as he hikes up his iconic ecru dinner jacket to put his hands in his trouser pockets. The audience is then presented with the very inelegant view of his arse! (I couldn’t find a screen shot of this snd I’m not sad enough to go and play my DVD and do a screen grab of the film, but there seems to be plenty of evidence that Bogey didn’t follow my Mam’s advice regarding hands in pockets!)

My Dad was built similar to me – the same height but a bit more stocky and he gained weight in the last few years of his life. I think we also shared the anatomical quirk of having a bit of shape in the bum. I recall him telling me he hated jackets with side vents as they flapped around his behind. His remedy was to favour single-vent jackets which always seem to me a bit old-fashioned, notwithstanding the hook vents admired by Ivy Style advocates. I do agree with his dislike of the way double vented jackets with too much material in the lower rear cause the back panel to flap around like a pair of curtains on a windy day. I also dislike the look of gaping vents on jackets made with too much waist suppression. I will admit that on a few of my more recent suit and odd-jacket acquisitions I decided to either leave the vents open or have them only partially closed to make a short vent. In the saga of acquiring my bespoke wedding suit I ended up with two almost-identical silver sharkskins so I had one made with five inch side vents just to add a note of distinction between the two. 

In recent years I’ve also come by three Ted Baker sports jackets and one from DNA Groove, each of which is so beautifully tailored that I halted my alterations at the sleeve length (and adding a third button when needed!)

I’m hoping that my next commission is going to be a cobalt blue Prince of Wales checked jacket which will be made by Jason at Thick as Thieves. As I intend this to be a travelling jacket which may mean being worn while cramped into aeroplane and/or car seats, I’ll most likely be asking Jason for five inch vents to add a little more flex for wearing while seated. Watch this space for details on how that turns out. 

How Do You Store Your Shoes?

I’ve pondered for a long time how to store my shoes. There are shoe racks galore out there but often they don’t offer the flexibility needed for shoes of different heights, from low driving mocs to high Chelsea boots. The biggest problem for me is for a rack to be wide enough to fit shoes in pairs. I’ve used the ‘Elfa’ system from The Container Store to fit out a lot of my cupboards. It’s designed really well with loads of flexibility but the standard unit width is 24 inches which isn’t wide enough to fit three pairs of men’s shoes. Consequently I had shoes placed in racks backwards to make them fit, and the ‘overspill’ lined up under the couch in the spare bedroom and on shelves in the cupboard. 

Then I hit upon the idea of using this ‘garage shelving’ from The Home Depot. It’s 14 inches deep which easily greater than any of my footwear. As you can see, it’s wide enough to easily allow four pairs across the width of 35 inches, plus it allows the flexibility to choose your own height between shelves. 

I put wheels on the bottom for manoeuvrability as I haven’t decided exactly where it will stay. I’m hoping to have fitted cupboards installed all along one bedroom wall, to which I’m happy to give my wife complete access if in exchange she’ll relinquish her small walk-in which will be perfect for this rack. I’ll report further on the success of that negotiation in due time!

Here are the contents from the top down:

1 – Dr Martens Ashland black lizard rubber sole derbies / Meermin burgundy grain shearling lined Dainite sole jump boots/ Polo tan leather high top boots / George Cox X Robot black calf perforated vamp leather sole derbies

2 – Meermin black calf leather sole slippers / Del Toro black velvet with white skull leather sole slippers / Florsheim Royal Imperial black suede leather sole venetian loafers / Johnston and Murphy black patent leather sole derbies

3 – Allen-Edmonds Clifton burgundy calf punch-cap leather sole derbies / Allen-Edmonds McNeil burgundy shell longwing brogue leather sole derbies / Allen-Edmonds McNeil black calf longwing brogue leather sole derbies / Allen-Edmonds Cortland black calf captoe leather sole derbies

4 – Allen-Edmonds Player Navy suede brogue leather sole derbies / Ralph Lauren snuff suede punch-cap leather sole derbies / Allen-Edmonds chilli calf captoe leather sole derbies / Meermin snuff suede plain toe leather sole derbies

5 – Meermin polo suede leather sole penny loafers / Cheaney Howard chestnut grain calf Dainite sole penny loafers / Shipton and Heneage Howard burgundy grain calf Dainite sole penny loafers / Crockett and Jones tan grain calf rubber sole penny loafers

6 – HS Trask black grain buffalo venetian rubber island sole driving mocs / Clark’s navy suede venetian rubber nub sole driving mocs / Shipton and Heneage Milan navy suede leather sole penny loafers / Florsheim X Duckie Brown tangerine suede rubber sole derby bucks

7 – Fins For Him purple suede venetian rubber sole driving mocs / Roberto Durville red calf penny loafer rubber island sole driving mocs / Ralph Lauren Polo royal blue penny loafer rubber island sole driving mocs / Allen-Edmonds Ventura Highway dark blue nubuck penny loafer rubber nub sole driving mocs

8 –  adidas ‘mi adidas’ customised Samba blue leather red stripes white rubber sole / adidas Rom white leather blue stripes gum sole / adidas Gazelle blue suede green stripes gum sole / adidas Padiham blue suede pink stripes gum sole

9 – adidas Oyster X Samba blue nylon and leather white stripes gum sole / adidas Oyster X Samba red nylon and leather white stripes gum sole / adidas Samba World Cup (England) white leather red and blue stripes gum sole / adidas Samba black leather brick red stripes gum sole 

10 – adidas Stan Smith white leather navy trim white rubber sole / adidas Campus black suede reggae stripes black rubber sole / adidas EM Champ bright blue leather black stripes blue rubber sole / adidas Côte tan suede brown stripes gum sole

11 – adidas Topanga orange suede blue stripes white rubber sole / adidas Gazelle OG blue suede red stripes white rubber sole / adidas Gazelle OG red suede white stripes white rubber sole / adidas Gazelle OG yellow suede white stripes white rubber sole

12 – Clark’s desert boots honey amber suede crepe rubber sole / Clark’s desert boots black suede crepe rubber sole / Tricker’s chestnut calf leather sole jodhpur boots / Arthur Knight navy calf combination leather-rubber sole Chelsea boots 

13 – Meermin black calf wholecut rubber sole Chelsea boots / Carmina burgundy calf combination leather-rubber sole Chelsea boots / Meermin polo suede Dainite sole Chelsea Boots / Epaulet Carver merlot horsehide rubber sole Chelsea boots

Other utility or specialty footwear not pictured:

Seavees in navy linen

adidas Adilette flip flops

adidas beach shoes (3)

J Crew X Birkenstock blue plastic sandals

Dr Marten 10 holer black calf boots

adidas X Goodyear grey nubuck driving boots

adidas Forum basketball boots

adidas white leather tennis shoes

adidas TKD white leather high top boots

adidas Marathon running shoes (2)

adidas Stan Smith special (for cycling)

adidas MTB shoes


Rod’s Togs – Gold Panama Hat

This week I was sent back to Fort Lauderdale for work, so I chose to wear another of my Panama hats. I got an email today from JJ’s Hat Centre in New York announcing 50% off their summer styles. I got most of my Panamas from there at reduced prices. The style below is named ‘Bowery’ and I thought it fitted and suited me so well I got the same hat in blue (shown recently), gold (shown below), raspberry, sage green and coffee brown. I took a look on the site and they don’t seem to offer this style any more, nor do they seem to have other Panamas for sale in such a wide range of colours as they did this model, so I’m glad I got all the ones I liked already.

To travel I wore a casual outfit: Ralph Lauren Polo popover shirt, Ben Sherman chinos and Cheaney loafers.  The sunglasses are a recent acquisition from Moscot and I like how the gold flecks of the tortoise frames pick up the gold of the hat:

Lifestyle shots from the hotel balcony including a great sunset over the Fort Lauderdale beach. Sometimes I like my job!

Hat – ‘Bowery’ JJ’s Hat Centre
Sunglasses – ‘Fritz‘ by Moscot
Jacket – Suitsupply
Shirt – Tyrwhitt
Tie – No name brand, upgraded by Sam Hober
Pocket Square – No name brand from ebay
Strides – Banana Republic
Socks – Uniqlo
Shoes – Meermin Polo suede

 

 

Rod’s Togs – Blue Panama Hat

When asked about hats I often offer up the advice that for those wishing to try out a brimmed hat look, it’s hard to go wrong with a Panama. Wear one on holiday where you won’t have to run the gauntlet of your mates taking the piss down at your local pub, and if you’re uncertain about pulling off the look, you can convince yourself that it’s a functional way of dealing with the sunshine.
I‘ve long ago dismissed any feelings of self-conscious uncertainty when it comes to hats, and have acquired Panama hats in several colours besides the traditional beige. My only reticence in wearing hats is the that they don’t always get along with my spiky barnet!
Last week I was in Miami and Fort Lauderdale for work – if you can’t feel confident wearing a Panama hat in that environment then maybe this leaving the house thing is not for you!
The suit is one of my favourite summer suits in wool-linen-silk glen plaid check (‘Prince of Wales’ to we Brits, although this has no coloured overcheck). I’ve featured it on the blog a couple of times before but this is the first time paired with this striped Grenadine tie.
Most people know by now that genuine Panama hats are actually made in Ecuador and got their geographically inaccurate name due to their popularity with construction workers toiling on the Panama Canal over a hundred years ago. They come in a variety of grades based on the quality of straw used, from cheap, dry, brittle versions for around $50 to ‘Montecristi’ quality which can take weeks to make, cost in the thousands and be hand-woven of such fine fibres that the texture is like linen. Montecristis can be rolled up and stuffed into a pocket and will bounce back to their original shape.  All my Panama are somewhere between those two extremes.

Hat – ‘Bowery’ from JJ’s Hat Centre, New York
Sunglasses – Oliver Peoples Cabrillo
Suit – Suitsupply
Shirt – Tyrwhitt
Tie – Tyrwhitt
Pocket square – No name
Socks – Uniqlo
Shoes – Allen-Edmonds Player in navy suede

Bonus shots from the balcony of the Hilton at Fort Lauderdale. How nice to be out of the house, and what a great view!

 

Rod’s Togs – Casual Ivy

The Ivy League Style has had an influence on Mod style going back to the adulation given by Mods in the early sixties to nattily dressed American jazz, blues and soul musicians touring Britain.

Despite living in America for thirty years I don’t feel like I have a full grasp of the exact essence of Ivy but I do have a surface idea of what’s going on.

I’ve shown my attempt at emulating an Ivy-inspired business outfit here, and I did a casual version here. The second one features a Black Watch tartan shirt which was a collaboration between Kamakura and Graham Marsh.

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Graham Marsh was the co-writer of ‘The Ivy Look’ – a heavily illustrated book that works as a primer in helping an Ivy ignoramus like me get something of a handle on what it’s all about. He has also done further collaborations with Kamakura including this beauty:

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I spotted this shirt in the Kamakura shop in New York several months ago and I have no idea why I didn’t jump on it. Despite my dislike of the name, I’ve taken a liking to ‘popover’ shirts and find them to perfectly bridge the formality gap between a polo shirt and a more traditional shirt, especially when worn with a blazer. The collar of a polo shirt will often slip down below the collar of a jacket, which is not a good look, while I’m not a big fan of traditional dress shirts being worn open-necked. This is how I’ve come around to admiring both popover shirts and button-down collars as they both do a good job of mitigating the two problems.

Along with the style, the colour and pattern is right up my street. Bright blue is my favourite colour, and combined with the check pattern it would stand out nicely against a solid navy blazer and thus provide a bit more spice than an all-solid look. I own several navy blazers in different fabrics and weights which I often wear when travelling for work. I usually wear an informal outfit on the day of flying out and recycle the blazer with a more formal shirt and tie for the last day at the job site and then going from there to the airport and home.

I wore it with a pair of chinos I got recently. It may not be easy to tell from the pics but these are a very pale blue-green colour which is an interesting and subtle alternative to the more common off-white / stone colour, and they pick up the colour from the shirt’s pattern.

This shirt has all the Ivy details which purists love and which I could not care less about, such as a collar button on the neck, locker loop, open box pleat and pocket, all of which I’d prefer not to have. It’s made in a crisp lightweight broadcloth which is cool for the summer. I chose a medium size Tokyo which fits about right. I took advantage of a free postage period so I didn’t lose out financially by not having bought it in the shop months ago, but in future I might do better to follow my original instincts!


Sunglasses – Garrett Leight Harding
Shirt – Kamakura
Strides – J. Crew Factory
Loafers – Cheaney

 

Rod’s Togs – Out For Dinner In Linen

The coolest outfit I own, in terms of temperature not stylistic finesse, is usually some combination like this. A loose linen shirt, loose linen strides and driving mocs, with the best accessory of all!
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Sunglasses – TAG Heuer with custom blue lenses
Shirt – Uniqlo
Strides – J. Crew
Driving mocs – Ralph Lauren Polo

More On Trainers – Continued

These days it seems trendy for people in menswear-related social media to stand in defiance of the inevitable ultra-casual working-from-home kit, and post pics of themselves in ultra-formal businesswear … while working from home!

If that’s what it takes to get in the correct frame of mind for working from the comfort of home so be it, but I’ve been working from home several days a week for many years now and I don’t feel the need to ‘dress up’ for the commute across the landing to the home-office.

When not travelling for work, as has been the case for several weeks – my day usually starts with dropping the youngun off at daycare then getting down to business in front of the computer.  All my conference calls are voice only, no video, so I’m usually kitted out in something like this:

I brought up the subject of trainers a long time ago in this post, and this one, and my views haven’t changed much since then. I always believed that classic-styled trainers of the style like adidas Gazelles or Stan Smiths which date back to the mid-sixties may not have been easily available to early adherents to Mod style but if they were, then they would have been adopted with enthusiasm.

Some people don’t think that trainers are really canon to Mods. I accept that the earliest stylists most likely only considered themselves ‘dressed’ when they were dressed up in suit and tie and would have seen no place for trainers and other casual items, but as the style spread and became less elitist and more egalitarian, certain trainers would have been the perfect complement to Levi’s, especially if worn with polo shirts and monkey jackets – two other items adopted from the world of sportswear.

I often refer to Richard Barnes as perhaps the most notable – and contemporaneous – chronicler of the original Mods. He clearly states “T-shirts … were considered very new and ‘in’ worn with Levi’s and sneakers”.  Later he writes, “Running sneakers looked good with Levi’s and Fred Perrys or T-shirts”. That just about describes my regular weekend or working from home outfit as shown above! ‘Sneakers’ can cover a broad range of footwear – this pic from his book shows at least two lads in what we used to call ‘deck shoes’ – navy canvas plimsolls – but it’s certainly not a stretch to believe that more structured trainers could and would have been worn:

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To support my position further I often cite the story of Pete Meaden buying boxing boots for John Entwistle from the Lonsdale shop around the corner from Carnaby Street. There was a cycling shop still in existence on Beak Street when I first visited Carnaby Street in 1980 where 1960s Mods may have bought cycling shirts and vintage style cycling shoes which resembled some vintage trainers in the early sixties.

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I came across further evidence in the excellent book ‘Mods – A New Religion’ by Paul Anderson in which he includes the following photo of two Mods outside The Scene nightclub, one of whom is clearly wearing old style canvas basketball boots with rubber toecaps:

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Then recently my cyber-pal Yorky posted this pic (below left) over on Styleforum. The driver is clearly wearing adidas shoes in a vintage Gazelle-esque style. Any sneaker geeks looking in may feel free to educate me on exactly which model they are – perhaps adidas Chile which I believe were released to coincide with the World Cup in Chile in 1962. (I’m not sure if the pic was colourised. If that was the case we can’t be sure of the colour accuracy).

Anyway it becomes more clear that some original sixties Mods did wear trainers. The whole debate is all a bit silly really as we are all free to wear whatever we want and if nobody tried anything new or pushed the envelope then we’d be constrained to a narrow uniform and where’s the fun in that? For those who choose not to wear trainers that’s entirely their prerogative but for me, along with desert boots there is no better footwear to go with Levi’s and a polo shirt.

Sunglasses – Oliver Peoples Jaye
Polo – Fred Perry MiE
Jeans – Uniqlo
Trainers – adidas Padiham

Sunglasses Part Four: Randolph Engineering

I’ve written about sunglasses before: Ray Ban Wayfarers in Sunglasses Part One, Ray Ban Aviators in Sunglasses Part Two and Moscot in Sunglasses Part Three. Among my collection of shades I also have several pairs from Randolph Engineering.

Randolph seems to be in a public relations tussle with American Optical as they both lay claim to being the sunglasses supplied to US forces. It seems similar to the dual claims of Victorinox and Wenger, makers of Swiss Army knives. as they claimed to be the “original” and the “genuine” knife respectively … until Victorinox settled the whole thing by buying Wenger in 2005!

As contracts to supply US forces are not endless and can flip between manufacturers it seems that both companies have been official suppliers at one time, so they can both claim to be the real deal. American Optical currently goes with “original” while Randolph Engineering claims to be “authentic”. I believe in all fairness that AO got the original contract in 1958 to supply these now familiar square-framed glasses, while RE joined the fray in 1978.

I have experience of both brands. My own history is that having lost my original pair of Ray Ban Wayfarers in 1999 which I’d worn for ten years, I asked my then-girlfriend to buy me some American Optical aviators for my birthday in November that year. They were available for about $40 from the military surplus store, so I chose black coated frames and grey lenses.

I have to say I was disappointed. The hinges worked loose in a short time and the black frame coating started to chip away, revealing that teal-green colour of oxidation beneath. They also came in a poor quality soft poly-vinyl case with a Velcro fastening – not very robust or secure. I only kept these a matter of months. There is no photographic evidence of me wearing them and I don’t even remember their fate – either passed on, donated or dumped! I do remember as early as Spring 2000 being in Las Vegas on a work trip and scouting round the forum shops (unsuccessfully) in Caesar’s Palace looking for new shades.

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I think my next pair of shades was a pair of budget Ray Ban B&L I’s later in 2000 before a return to the old faithful Wayfarers, but I’ve always had a sneaking admiration for the form-follows-function utility of military-inspired gear (note my admiration for my Dad’s RAF issue aviators in Sunglasses – Part Two) so several years later I gave the Randolph Engineering version a try.

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I don’t remember how much I paid but it was more than $40! First I got the standard chrome frames with grey glass lenses but some time later RE came out with matt grey metal frames to which I took a liking, so I gave the chrome ones to a mate and got the matt greys. Notice in the picture above that these were acquired before Randolph jumped on the bandwagon of branding their emblem on the lenses. Anyway, they felt a lot more robust than the AO version, with stiffer hinges and even came with a mini tool kit with screwdrivers, extra screws and nose pads.

This picture below is from July 2010 on the day I proposed to my wife in Paris and both sunglasses and wife look just as good now ten years on. I’ve since acquired many other pairs of shades so they don’t get daily use! The metal frames do not feel heavy to wear and the silicone nose pads are soft and grippy.

With Barb at The Louvre, Paris, July, 2010.

The square style of aviators came in during the late 1950s, replacing the teardrop shape of classic aviators. At this time pilots were being issued with crash helmets to wear in flight, to protect them from injury should they have to eject. (Unfortunately that still didn’t help Goose!). The cable ear pieces of those old aviator glasses were no longer appropriate for use with a helmet, hence the straight ‘bayonet’ style arms allowing easy on and off while wearing a helmet and breathing gear.

My original intention on getting this style of sunglasses was to wear these with my crash helmet when I’m riding but I found that above fifty miles per hour the wind gets behind them causing my eyes to stream so they are only worn now when I’m walking.

I was impressed enough with Randolph to become a repeat buyer. Some time later I got their ‘Concorde’ model which is in the traditional teardrop shape with standard ear pieces. I again got these in matt grey frames with grey glass, and deliberately chose them in a small size to contrast with other larger Ray Ban aviators I own. Note that by the time I acquired these the lenses were branded.

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I also got a pair of Randolph Crew Chief which is a slightly larger, rounder teardrop shape with green glass lenses and chrome frames with spring hinges, making them really comfortable to wear.

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A quick look at respective websites reveals that prices have jumped up in the twenty plus years since I first looked into the square aviator style. AO are currently $149, while RE are $219. Randolph now seems to have a wider range of options in terms of size, frame material and lens type and colour.

Strangely neither AO nor RE were used in the iconic film ‘Top Gun’ even though they were military issue at the time. Ray Ban paid for their own product placement in that film which I’m sure was a good investment as the film is credited with boosting their sales. The nearest to the square frame style is the Ray Ban Caravan worn by Tom Skerrit as Viper. They are a similar square shape to the AO/RE style but as we see him clean these glasses when Maverick goes to visit him to discuss his options following the death of Goose, we see they have L-shaped ear pieces so are not regulation issue.

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Square military-issue aviators have been on display in pop culture, perhaps most infamously by Robert de Niro as Travis Bickle famously descends into rage and psychosis in ‘Taxi Driver’:

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Sales may have gotten a boost when we saw John Hamm wear them as Don Draper in ‘Mad Men’:

‘Spy Game’ is an underrated espionage thriller in which we see Robert Redford sporting similar shades:

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It seems that these shades are deployed by cinema and TV costumers either to hint at a character’s military background, or in the case of Robert Duvall as Colonel Kilgore in ‘Apocalypse Now’, for active duty military characters:
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I used to work with a doctor who had previously been a USAF Flight Surgeon, and he wore this style of frame daily with his clear prescription lenses fitted, which was a good look. I’m reaching that vintage at which my sight is inevitably starting to deteriorate so I’ve had prescription lenses fitted into two pairs of Randolph Elite frames to sharpen up my distance vision while driving. These have small rectangular-shaped lenses and spring hinges. I got photochromic lenses in gunmetal frames with a clip-on tinted frame, and grey flash tints in a black frame. I chose to get polycarbonate lenses rather than the glass as supplied by Randolph making them very lightweight and comfortable to wear.

Rod’s Togs – Rust Jacket With Blue Check

Do you ever get an idea for a piece of clothing, seeing it in your mind’s eye, and then get obsessive about acquiring it? It happens to me quite frequently, sometimes with more than one desire at a time overlapping each other causing multiple concurrent quests! Several years ago I had spotted a picture of a rusty brick-red winter weight jacket and found myself on a mission, trawling eBay in search of my holy-grail-of-the-month. I did eventually find what I wanted, but along the way I came across this rusty brick-red summer weight jacket which I’ve featured earlier.  It’s completely unlined linen and was BNWT for the princely sum of $25 so I snapped it up.

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I put together the accessories to make the outfit above which I was content with in terms of colours, textures, etc. but I found I wore it very seldom. After a bit of self-reflection I think it was because I didn’t really take to having such an unconstructed jacket in a business ensemble. So more recently I began a new mission of low intensity in trying to one day find a suitable replacement that would maintain the other items of the outfit but with a jacket of better quality and fit.
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Well, I finally found the one above in a menswear mail-order catalogue. I didn’t get anything like as good a deal as I did on the original linen version but I like the added interest of the blue overcheck. The picture in the catalogue had rubbish pattern matching of the chest pocket due to the front dart, so I was glad to see they had done a better job on mine.

My original thought was just to replace the new jacket in the outfit and get round to selling the old one on eBay. The new jacket is in a wool-linen-silk mix with just a ‘butterfly’ lining plus lined sleeves, but it has a bit more structure and body which is more appropriate for a business outfit. Then I got to thinking I had some blue linen strides that would pick up the same colour of the check pattern, and started to wonder how this outfit might look in a more casual rig:

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So for the moment I can’t decide whether or not to keep the original rust linen jacket. Nor can I decide if the checked version is better with a tie or in the more casual outfit – comments are welcome!

I’ll probably keep them both for now. Maybe the checked jacket will prove itself a versatile item that can be worn in a casual mode for air travel on a work trip, and recycled later in the trip for a job site visit with shirt and tie, which is exactly what I’ve been known to do with a navy blazer. Anyway since coronavirus has now been cancelled (!) I’ll be returning to the road in July so I may soon have more opportunities to try this plan.

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Sunglasses – Garrett Leight Harding
Rust unlined linen Jacket – Joseph Abboud
Sky blue Prince of Wales Shirt – Tyrwhitt
Tie – Tyrwhitt
Pocket Square – Nieman Last Call
Silver-grey linen strides – INC (Macys’s)
Socks – Uniqlo
Chestnut grain loafers – Cheaney

Sunglasses – Garrett Leight Harding
Rust wool-linen-silk jacket with blue check – Patrick James
Navy pique ‘ice weave’ shirt – Kamakura
Dark blue silk pocket square  – no name
Sly blue linen strides – Hilfiger
Socks – Uniqlo
Chestnut grain loafers – Cheaney