People at Penn: Clothes

It’s just clothing. I don’t just know this I believe it.

But I like clothes. Some folks like sports, dogs, hiking, science fiction, or card games. I like a lot of those things too. To me it’s in the same vein.

I was raised in away and in a place where clothing definitely mattered but it was in an oxymoronic sort of way. One could not care or place too high a value on attire, this was materialistic and vain, but what one wears was also key in knowing who one is. Perhaps it was a sartorial version of being selfless, or conformist, which is the same thing in some ways.

“People who don’t know you, will treat you according to how you look”, my Father told me. “There is no way I’m paying $20 for a pair of jeans”, was my Mother’s lesson. My peers taught me what was cool, not why, but what. My budget taught me I was not.

I’m older now, a full fledged grown-up. I’ve travelled a bit and learned a little. The peers of my youth are not around to ask me who I’m trying to fool when I wear a tie. Dad can’t make me tuck in my shirt.

A friend used to call me “Brooks Brothers” at church. I could tell by the tone he was complimenting me, but I had no idea what Brooks Brothers was. This was only four years ago.

One thing I like about where I live is I can wear what I want. No one tells me what is cool; I’m too old to care. Shopping is still a compromise between desires and dollars and I know even better that people will decide who I am by what they see, but for the most part, clothes are like sports, dogs, hiking, science fiction, or card games.

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Craig Arthur von Schroeder, the Interview: Commonwealth Proper

Craig Arthur von Schroeder of Commonwealth Proper

Commonwealth Proper

We talked about clothes, but not really about his clothes. Funny for a guy whose business and the reason for our meeting, is the fact that he makes clothes. I’m not going to tell you all about them, claim they are the highest quality, or state that they are the proper style. I won’t do that because I don’t know enough about clothes to be trusted. To learn more about what the shirts look like, the quality of the suits, all that stuff, go to his website. Better yet, go visit him. For that stuff, I’m not your guy.

1732 Spruce St. Philadelphia

But here I am; here we are. I’m going to recommend you take a look at his clothes because I believe he means it.

Four years ago or so I joined his email list. A silly thing to do in that he had no location, we had never met, and all he had was a web page advertising a custom made shirt. There were no prices listed, nor any products. But I joined. I joined because I like the look of that single page.

in the showroom.

Commonwealth Proper,” was the company, coming soon was the bulk of the text. I cannot recall how I found the page, but I paid attention once I saw it. That was then. Now he has a Rittenhouse Square location where he fits clients for custom suits. I get emails alerting me to craft liquor tastings on Thursday nights, not my thing, but the look of his spam keeps me on that list. Last week I found myself on his stoop ringing the bell. I was early, no one answered.

Just before “on time”, my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was him letting me know he was almost there. By almost he meant he was the guy on his cell crossing the street. He had just got in from LA at six that morning, just finished a fitting, and was squeezing me in before another. He is no longer the guy with a web page but no products or prices. We sat down in dark leather armchairs beneath mounted antlers, and I began by making sure he understood that I was nobody. He believed me and he didn’t care.

What is on your ceiling? White paint?

He grew up playing soccer at Princeton High School. He wasn’t someone then, but most of the kids he went to school with were the children of someone. He wasn’t a style icon, he just played soccer. He was a goalie. He was a later a goalie at Vanderbilt, then Lafayette… then in London and in Guatemala. He claims his checks weren’t the big ones, but he was living the life, playing soccer in places that cared about soccer. Then he wasn’t. He had to decide what was next. Law school. Rutgers Camden.

He explained that back in the day he had a company making polos. He would hop on a plane go to places like China sourcing stuff, getting things made. “I was basically just messing around, copying other people’s stuff,” he explained. He folded the company but kept making shirts. He was in law now and needed dress shirts more than polos, he adjusted to his own reality. “Fit is king,” he touts and he practiced on himself and willing friends. He was strict about his shirts being American made, not as a job creation program, but because he had learned he couldn’t control the quality when thousands of miles and at least one language stood between him and manufacturing. He cares about quality. That’s how he got into making suits.

“Here I had all these great, quality, shirts and then realized I was still buying my suits at H&M.”

Original prints from Craig's tattoo artist.

But he was a soccer player, lawyer, shirt guy, how do you make a suit? So he went up to Brooklyn and New York and hung out with guys who had been doing it forever, asked them everything they would tell him, really tried to learn something.

“Really, I’m completely living this thing and I’m loving it.”

"I mean, Philadelphia is where everything became big-time. The country and clothing."

He is living it. Him living it is why I’m writing this. From the stoop to the showroom, to the maps on his ceiling, he was excited. He talked about Philadelphia’s place in history, both the nation’s and the garment industry’s. He talked about the taxidermy on the wall and the reclaimed wood candle holders. His perfectly curated clothing and environment are what he wants. He smiles about all of it because he did it. No really, he did it. As in he ordered the maps and the brass eagle on eBay then mounted and pasted them up himself. He takes measurements, does invoicing, and licks envelopes. The former pro-athlete lawyer licks the envelopes, isn’t afraid to tell me so, and appears to be enjoying it.

Clothing, style, and business are tricky things. If you go online, or talk to the guy next to you, ask your girlfriend or wife, read a book or talk to your boss, they will all tell you something. You can get advice and rules from every direction; some worth listening too, some not. At the end of the day you should be happy with what you wear. That is what I liked about Craig, he is doing it because he likes it, and that is helping him do it right. Not right as in, this is what the rules say, I don’t know or care enough about all the rules to know if he is doing that part “right”, but doing it right in that he cares and loves his craft. To me that is what “getting it right” is. I just so happen to like his taste and style. I’ve got my finger in the wind enough to know that others will like his style as well.

Collar stays made of brass salvaged from old Philly's garment district.

One might think he gets his taste from that same method. Perhaps a little. But here he was, talking to me, I was taking notes, and he isn’t touting his pedigree or proclaiming his greatness. He’s telling me he learned style from his older brother, whom he says is, to this day, the coolest person he has ever met. I mention a bunch of bloggers who are big time, and he writes down their names. He talked about how shopping isn’t supposed to be a condescending sales pitch. He says a guy shouldn’t have to be told what to wear, but rather talked too and taught. He asks why a guy can’t enjoy a clothes buying experience. He asked the question as I sat in a high ceiling room with portraits of civil war generals over the door, and I imagined a guy could enjoy this.

Because I did and because he does.

Trunk Club, Cleaning Up My Act.

I have long-held that being well dressed isn’t just wearing nice clothes, but wearing appropriate clothes for any given situation.  Tuxedos are nice, but just don’t feel right while gardening.  It has been ten years since I was last a student and back then I operated under the misunderstanding that a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt was the right thing to wear to class.

While considering the upcoming school year I realized my closet was ready for a boardroom or a boxing ring, but not a college campus.  What to do?  I called Brian Spaly.

Santa Claus uses Fed Ex during his off-season.

 Brian and I have worked together before and as before, he had the solutions to my problem.  The solution showed up yesterday.

A Festivus miracle!

The way the Trunk Club works, is a shopping averse man talks with a style consultant, in my case Brian, where sizes, styles and situations are discussed.  Next the consultant does some leg work, the stuff I did not want to do, and ta-da, a box full of clothing shows up on Mr. customer’s doorstep.  I could not wait to see if I got the Red Rider bee-bee gun or a lump of coal.

The blue blazer was perfect

 I’m not sure how I made it this far in life without owning a blue blazer but I am an imposter no longer.  No flashy brass buttons, matte finish, good fit.  Home run. Next…

Stretchy and shiny… not so much.

The shirt was well made and if anything it was stylish, but it was not for me.  I am not a glossy person in dress, or in much else and we shall simply say that “slim fit” and love handles should not be paired.  This was an easy “no”, but part of the joy of the Trunk Club is giving a garment a shot.  I did.  The shot missed the mark.  Now shoes…

Probably not best to wear both together.

My shoes have recently, and often, been the subject of expert criticism.  Fair enough; I’m working on it.  I choose to ignore the brand of the above shoes and let them speak for themselves.  The digital menswear world will be happy to see there are no square toes here.  I do have some recollection of the Trad mocking Philadelphia businessmen wearing grey shoes, and till now I have never seen grey shoes, but I think I like them.  I promise not to wear them with a nice suit, most likely I will wear them with the Seven jeans shown in the picture.  Mr. Spaly did well here.  Not too over the top in price or style, but nor bland.  Well done (cue the arguments).  Next…

Life After Denim

I have read that a Black Watch blazer is required and even prefered.  The velvet collar is a nice touch.  It was a little tight but not so much that some responsible eating and trips to the gym would fix.  The jury is still out on this one but much like new music, one should listen a few times before making a decision.  I’ll give myself a minute to adjust and eat more salad.  Next, the best reason to let someone else shop for you…

Unexpected satisfaction

Not in a million years would I have ever chosen a blue and black hounds tooth jacket.  I would have walked right past it without a second thought.  I felt a bit of disappointment as I pulled it from the box and dutifully tried it on.  Once it was on I experienced what Frosty must have felt as the kids put the magic top hat on his head; the world changed. I love it.

After the box was emptied and the contents tested, the Trunk Club takes away the pressure.  Brian could feel free to throw me a few curve balls because his customers are under no obligation to keep what he sends. Enclosed with the clothes are a new shipping label, and the final touch of thoughtfulness… packing tape.

Notice the small print that says "prepaid". Shipping both directions is on the house.

Now, as I stroll the campus, attend classes, or even those once dreaded cocktail hours, I will stand out for all the right reasons.  Above all, at least for me, I will be appropriately attired for the occasion.  Now if I could somehow find a way for Brian to do my sit-ups for me.

The loot
fabrics

 

Shennanigans

Clothing Makes the Man

There is a man in my office who wears a tie.

The fact that this is notable speaks to the sartorial state of the office in general, clients do not walk in, the boss regularly wears tennis shoes, and our windows have a view of the golf course’s parking lot.

Then there is this guy.

He is about a decade older than the rest of us, but not yet old. He is tall, bearded, bespectacled, and round in the middle.  He is in no way eloquent, not exceptionally witty, and I don’t get the impression he is a big sports fan.  He is friendly but not extroverted, the type of guy that can tend to become furniture in a crowd.

He might be my favorite person in this place and I’m not exactly sure why.

I think it’s the tie, or maybe the suspenders.

Being the only guy in the office wearing a tie, while being at the bottom of the leader board, looks a bit desperate.  Being older than the rest and wearing suspenders seams out-of-date.

With all of this taken into consideration, again, he may be my favorite person here, and I think it is in fact his clothes.

He does it right.

He dresses in a way that makes you notice the inconspicuous, overlook the shortcomings, and simply appreciate him for… who knows?  You just do.