Oct 15, 2015

Review: Ledbury Shirts

Since I've started this blog, I've made quite a few recommendations on brands which offer, in my opinion, superior products. I've written of the virtues of Brooks Brothers oxford shirts, the uniqueness of the Turnbull & Asser cuff, and the comfort of warm Viyella in the dead of winter.

A brand I haven't mentioned much here, is Ledbury, a Virginia based shirtmaker who claim to "live by the belief that a few well-made items are better than many that are not. "  This ethos resonates well with the trad(itionalist) way of thinking about clothes, so it's no surprise that I wanted to see if this holds true when put to the test.

I have known about Ledbudy for a couple years now, but being the small company they are, I had yet to come into contact with one of their shirts firsthand. Ledbury shirts are sold in their Richmond storefront, but primarily, through their website. A few weeks ago I was contacted by Will at Ledbury, who offered me the opportunity to review a shirt from their Fall collection.

One of the challenges of a mainly online clothing business is that so many of the qualities of an object like a fine shirt are lost when not seen in person- so I'll try to be as descriptive as possible along with the accompanying photos. 

The Unboxing

Ledbury shipped the shirt in a compact cardboard box using USPS First-Class mail. Ground shipping for any order is free, with expedited shipping starting at $20.

Each shirt contains a small "thank you" card with washing and care instructions printed on it. They also detail their return policy which is rather forgiving in the clothing world: returning a shirt within 60-days for any reason gives you a full-refund. This ensures you won't be stuck with something that doesn't fit...but also gives you the opportunity to really try something out in person without the fear of being stuck with it should you realize that pattern wasn't as pair-able as you imagined while perusing the website.

First impressions: 
I selected to review the Tillman Plaid button-down, a shirt made from cotton twill that they advertise as being of Fall/Winter weight. One of the most impressive aspects of the shirt out of the box was the deep colors, and substantial fabric. So many shirts I pick up these days feel thin and lifeless, but the Ledbury retained the hearty qualities one would hope for out of a proper Fall shirt.

Looking a bit closer, it's worth mentioning that all Ledbury shirts are made with attention placed on the details. The buttons used on this shirt (and all of their stock from what I have seen) are mother-of-pearl, and of a good size as well. While the collar on this shirt isn't quite a voluptuous as some offerings, it still is long enough to provide a good roll and escapes the look of the diminutive shrunken collar that plagues much of J.Crew and Brooks' Red Fleece offerings.

Ledbury shirts are sold by neck size, with the option for a customized sleeve in 0.5" increments. This level of personalization isn't seldom with any of the "off the rack" shirtmakers I've encountered, and is another testament to Ledbury wanting to get you into a shirt that fits you, not just the models on their website.

In this top-down view we can see the taper of the waist. Ledbury sells their shirts in two different fits, "classic" and "slim". They also go into a lot of detail providing sizing charts for each fit and size, giving you sleeve, shoulder, chest, waist, length, and neck measurements for all of their shirts.  
This size 15.5 shirt for example, has 18" shoulders, with a 45" chest, and a 38.5" waist, representing a "drop" (difference in circumference at chest and waist) of 6.5" which is good for someone with an athletic or muscular upper body, but a narrow waist. Many of the slim fit shirts I've found from other brands force you to compromise in one of these areas - if it fits in the shoulders and chest, it will be to baggy in the waist, or alternatively, be too tight across the shoulders if it looks slim across the waist. 
I'll speak more on the fit later on during the first wearing.

The cuffs feature a pleasing curved angle with a single button closure, positioned perfectly so that the cuff actually closes over the wrist, rather than being too wide and falling over the hand. A gauntlet button is present of the sleeve plackets as well. The cuffs are thick, substantial enough to remain in shape throughout the day.

Field Testing:
I saved my first wearing of the shirt for the quintessential fall day- when the air was light, crisp, and there was a slight breeze rustling up the leaves on the banks of the Charles River. On days like these, yes, you can always be safe with the standard uniform of an oxford cloth shirt and chinos, but part of what makes fall a great season for style, is the ability to throw a whole new palette of color into the mix, emphasizing rich earth-tones and natural hues, as the days of pastel blues and yellows have faded away just as green leaves turn to burnt orange and yellow. Too douchey and poetic? My bad, but what I'm trying to get at is, this autumn, embrace the colors of nature and you can't go wrong.

The jacket is paired here with a natural friend, the Barbour Beaufort, another relatively recent acquisition which will probably get it's own post here sometime soon.

 With the Head of the Charles only a few days away, crews (such as Harvard, pictured below) are eager to get in their last few kilometers of practice before judgement day. 

The shirt felt right at home among the outdoor setting of the riverside path. 

It can be a challenge to find clothes which work well in the context of looking "polished" while still looking rugged enough to fit in when doing outdoor activities, but I think this particular shirt accomplishes the task quite well. While blending some less formal colors and patterns with solid craftsmanship and materials, this shirt really does look just as much at home outdoors as it does in an office environment.

It might not be immediately clear from the photos, but I was really pleased to find this shirt fits better than the majority of the shirts in my closet, and I've been trying to track down my exact sizes for a couple years now! 

It even plays well with the striped NATO watch straps I am so fond of.

Some CRI rowers passing by the Newell boathouse

The shirt took me from the warmer peak temperatures of day, to the windy and shaded upper-seats of Alumni Stadium where we caught a football game in the afternoon. 

Later thoughts: 

The shirt has passed a second important test, the first washing. So many times a shirt will look and feel beautiful when it's brand new, only to lose some of that quality after it's been run through a  unforgiving washer and dryer. I'm happy to say this shirt has held up perfectly, however it did require a quick touch-up with my steam iron. Since these shirts don't have a non-iron coating, they will need some care in that department after a laundering, but this should be seen as a virtue rather than a problem.

Ledbury shirts do come at a premium, however I feel the level of customer service and attention to detail do indeed make up for some of the relatively high cost. You are also paying for the shirt to be made in Europe, from Italian and other high-end mills, as opposed to the sweatshops of Eastern Asia where over 90% of clothing purchased in America is sourced. So in addition to getting a quality product, you are also getting on that is ethically produced, which if you've followed my blog for any period of time, is a really important detail to me!

This shirt specifically was made in Poland. The company provides a video from the workshop which gives you a sense of the scale of the operation and level of craftsmanship.

This map from their website details the production location of their fabrics and items

Let's do a quick cost comparison of similar brands offering shirts which offer the following features

-Italian sourced fabrics
-USA or EUR made
-Mother-of-pearl buttons
-Numeric Sizing

  • Canali: $250
  • Gitman Brothers: $180
  • Z-Zegna: $245
  • Eton: $245
  • Brooks Brothers: $200
  • Burberry: $300
  • Harvie & Hudson (UK): $106 USD + $30 shipping
  • Ledbury: $135-$185 

So, while fairly expensive in regards to what most pay for shirts, compared to the other shirtmakers in the same league, they are actually positioned towards the lower end of the price spectrum. You also are paying for good customer service, as it always seems possible to reach a associate directly via their website to discuss fit/sizing/styling with a real person. Imagine that?

Like many retailers, they do also run end-of-season sales, so if you are looking to pick up some Ledbury products at a more affordable price-point, it might also be worth waiting till end-of-season before stocking up. It's also worth mentioning that in addition to shirts, they have started to offer a more complete line of clothing that includes chinos, sweaters, belts, and tailored jackets, all sourced from American or Italian workshops. They also have a custom-tailored shirt program offered both in-store and online.

After getting some exposure to their catalog and market position, I'd best describe Ledbury as an attainable heritage-oriented luxury brand. You are indeed paying a premium, but it isn't for the brand name, it's for the workmanship, materials, and service. 

So, check them out for yourself. They offer a try-on program which lets you order 3 shirts and only keep the ones you want, with no shipping charges either way. 

Aug 17, 2015

Roseway Sail

Last Thursday I had the wonderful opportunity to sail aboard Roseway, a classic wooden gaff-rigged 137' foot schooner that sails out of Boston Harbor as part of the World Ocean School. While she makes voyages from Boston to St. Croix in the USVI, serving as a mobile classroom teaching sailing and ocean skills to under-served youths in the Boston community, she also makes weekly sails in the summer for those who want to take in the Boston skyline at sunset. 

As an added bonus, this summer the World Ocean School partnered with several local craft breweries to offer beer-tasting sails, which combine two of my favorite things. This past week the featured guest was Backlash Brewery, a small craft operation who brew their beer locally in Massachusetts.

Roseway was built in 1925, and well maintained throughout the years, and was registered as a National Historic Landmark in 1997. One interesting fact from her history is that during WWII while Boston Harbor was under defensive blockade, Roseway was designated as a US Coast Guard patrol boat and fitted with a .50 Cal gun. This weaponry has since been removed of course, but I found it pretty amazing to be sailing aboard a part of US history. 

I highly recommend the 2-hour sails offered aboard Roseway, and you can purchase tickets here.
Prices range from $35 for a standard weekend cruise, $50 for a beer or wine tasting, or $75+ for special events such as the upcoming Labor Day fireworks. 

The following photos were shot on an iPhone 6 using an app called "Shoot" which provides advanced features not found in the standard camera app, such as manual exposure times, color balancing, and fine-tuned "manual" focusing.

Looking up the mast
Departing Rowes Wharf

The original wheel, made in Gloucester, MA

A J/30 named "Good News" at sail.

The sail took us directly underneath the final approach for runway 4L at Logan International Airport, so there were many flights coming in low overhead. This only added to the excitement of the cruise.

Accompanied by my lovely date for the evening,
  • Vineyard Vines Tucker shirt in pink university-striped oxford cloth
  • Nautical Flag belt by Leatherman Ltd.
  • Rugby RL chinos
  • Sperry Topsider boat shoes
  • Ray-Ban RB2132 Wayfarer sunglasses 
  • Vineyard Vines Sand Dollar dress

Old and new
The schooner Liberty Clipper, another Boston sailing cruise, underway.

The sun descending behind a packed party boat

Through the porthole. 

Flying the Ensign 

Summer in the City

After a month of living in the Boston metro area in the lovely city of Cambridge, I am happy to say I couldn't be happier with both the culture and amenities city life has to offer. As an added bonus, I now have ample access to some great thrift stores. I thought I would share some of my recent finds and acquisitions, as well as some photos of what I've been up to this past month.

 I will preface this by saying that I have been putting a lot more items into my online store lately, as some finds that are out of my size-range are just too good to leave behind! My typical week so far includes visiting at least 4 different thrift stores at least once a week, so with that variety I have had some good luck lately in regards to what I've found. I will also share some non-thrift retail purchases that I think fall into the category of this website as I normally only buy at retail stores if I can get a great deal.

First up we have an item that's been on my list for a long time, the Allen Edmonds Park Avenue shoe. I'm a firm believer that every man should own at least one pair of high-quality dress shoes, and these fit the bill perfectly. For those of you who are new to the brand, Allen Edmonds manufacturers all of their dress shoes in the United States, in Port Washington Wisconsin. 

The Park Avenue is a cap-toe oxford style shoe, and is one of their more desirable styles. 

The Park Avenue retails for $385, however I was able to get this pair for the relatively low price of $185, using the Allen Edmonds Shoe Bank - which is basically an online outlet store that hooks you up with the Allen Edmonds shoes you want at really great prices. 

I expect these shoes to be in my wardrobe for many years to come, considering they are fully re-craftable on Goodyear welted soles. 

What better to go with shoes than socks? By picking items like socks up on clearance, you can save a bunch of money.
I paid less than $5 for each of these pairs, with the J. Crew socks clocking in at a whooping $1.35 or something after a hefty discount on their sale merchandise. Since these aren't exactly summery socks they will remain in the drawer until Fall.
A couple Brooks Brothers acquisitions from one of their outlet stores:
Clark fit chinos in Forest green at 60% off brought these down to $40 from $98.50
and even more impressively, I picked up a great pair of Irish Linen chinos in Milano fit for only $23 after an 80% discount.

A combination I wore out to the Beehive Jazz Club:
  • Giorgio Armani long-sleeve shirt ($4)
  • Vintage 3/2 roll summer-weight blazer from The House of Walsh, a now long gone clothier to Amherst College ($5)
  • Vintage Brooks Brothers foulard tie made from linen ($3)
  • Brooks Brothers cotton pocket square (gift)
    Total cost? Less than two pints of their wonderful Honey Wheat beer. 

    I was quite surprised to come across this: a vintage J.Press shawl lapel tuxedo jacket in absolutely perfect condition. It also fit me like a glove! I searched everywhere for the matching trousers, but sadly they were nowhere 

    If you see this label...you must buy it. That's the rule.

    So here we see the pinnacle of suiting offered by our beloved Brooks Brothers, the Golden Fleece Suit, their top of the line off-the-rack offering. These suits retail for $2,000 and up, and offer hand-made tailoring and the highest quality fabrics. 

    So you can imagine my surprise when I came across this label inside an unsuspecting jacket at a Goodwill store in South Boston.  

    Perhaps one of my better finds to date, this Golden Fleece suit was in damn near perfect condition! It was a size or two larger than what I wear, and rather than try extensive tailoring I decided to sell it, giving someone a very good deal on a very good suit. I had to take a while to appreciate the tailoring and drape of this suit however, as you will rarely encounter something (aside from the ultra-high end labels such as Brioni or Ralph Lauren Purple Label)
    The suit itself is cut from luxurious English Cavendish wool, and of course, made in the USA by expert craftsmen.

    Retail: $2,100 USD
    Paid: $12
    Sold for: $85 (A steal!)

    J. Crew has some ridiculous clearance from time to time, so I took advantage of it and picked up some goodies.
    Everything but the socks were 70% off the already marked down prices...with an additional 15% student discount!
    Cotton Linen Tie: $4.25
    Wool Socks: Maybe $4 a pair?
    Wool Pocket Square:  $3.19
    Notebook: $2.50
    A bunch of iPhone backup chargers:  $3.16

    Jaspe Cotton Gingham tie - 

    The Beetles.

    The Seaport World Trade Center

    A couple Vineyard Vines belts

    Brooks Brothers Extra Slim Shirt 
    Paid $5
    Sold for $25

    A beautiful tie made for the Princeton University Store, in the classic Tiger repp stripe. Since I'm not a Princeton grad, maybe I'll try to hook up someone who is with this one!
    I found a brand new pair of Murray's Nantucket Red chinos (THE original Nantucket red) for only $4. I wish they were my size because an authentic pair of Murray's has been on my wishlist for a looong time. I sold these for $65 (Retail $95). A true pair of Murray's is Guaranteed to Fade which means they only grow even more perfect with age, taking on that ever sought after light pink color after countless hours of sun and saltwater. 

    Barbour is most recognized for their waxed cotton jackets (more about those in an upcoming post) but they also make some great tattersall shirts. This one has a corduroy lined collar to complement the country-friendly color palate of burn orange, greens, blues, greys, and beige.
    Purchased for $4
    Sold for $24

    I can't adequately describe the feeling that came over me when I found this one among the racks. I've written before about the merits of a Thom Browne (Or Thom Browne designed, in the case of Brooks Brothers Black Fleece) shirt.
    The designer's signature oxford shirts feature a grossgrain ribbon in red, white, and blue, along the inside front placket.
    These shirts retail new for a ridiculous sum of $350, but I absolutely love the design.

    Beefy oxford cloth, mother of pearl buttons, a beautiful collar roll, and Made in the USA construction make this one of the coolest shirts out there in my humble opinion. 

    This one is a size 0 which translates to extra-small, but I knew I had to buy it anyways.

    Why? Because the demand for TB items is HUGE. I listed this particular shirt for sale with a price of $180 to see if anyone would bite, and within 24 hours it had sold. 

    Now I just have to wait for the day that I can find one in my own size without going broke in the process. 
    A really nice Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece Sea Island Cotton dress shirt. Sea Island cotton is one of the worlds most luxurious cotton fabrics and is made in very small quantities. As such, this shirt is the top-of-the-line offering at Brooks Brothers, setting your wallet back $325 a pop if you were to buy one new. Notice the tasteful thickness of the fabric, the mother of pearl buttons, and the elegant cut of the spread collar- all signs of craftsmanship you won't be finding on a run-of-the-mill dress shirt. 
    Another first for me, an Oxxford clothes 7-fold tie. Oxxford is one of the premier suit makers in the United States, commanding prices upwards of $5,000 per suit, and almost all of their orders are custom-made for the client. Truly a brand for the power-elite, Oxxford has dressed both presidents and Rockefellers, and countless top "out-of-sight" class men for nearly 100 years. I've written about the 7-fold style tie before, but the basic concept is that a thick piece of silk is doubled over, with little to no interfacing material required inside (as compared to most ties, which are a thin layer of silk over a inner lining). As a result, they always cost a lot more, and usually are only produced by high-end makers. Of course, this process is done entirely by skilled hands, with no robots (or Chinese child laborers) sewing the stitching.

    New:  ~$210+
    Paid:  $3
    Remember my post on The Graduate? I spotted a fiery red Alfa Romeo and couldn't resist snapping a photo.

    Standard issue Argyle & Sutherland regimental bow tie.

    I found this belt, by Vineyard Vines, and was puzzled for quite some time as to what the cryptic key symbol meant. I assumed it was created for some corporate entity, but dug up nothing after searching online. A poster on Reddit informed me that the logo actually belongs to "JB's Keys", which is a small charity which focuses on awareness, treatment, and finding a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a particularly devastating form of MD which primarily effects children.

    If any of my readers are affiliated with this charity, I'll be happy to send this belt your way free of charge.

    Vineyard Vines D-ring belt, a prep classic. 

    Finding new with tags items at thrift store prices is always nice. I sold this non-iron classic Brooks Brothers shirt in yellow and blue stripes to a (presumably) well-dressed guy in Hong Kong, of all places.

    Paid $5
    Sold for $30

    Another highly respected maker, Eton is a Swedish brand known for high quality shirts and excellent craftsmanship. This example, much like the Golden Fleece shirt above, features luxurious mother of pearl buttons and a thick twill fabric that drapes excellently. This shirt is from their red-ribbon collection and cut in the "contemporary fit" which is slightly slimmer through the body.

    Eton shirts like this one sell for $245 new, but I found this one for only $5.
    Later sold for $20, to someone who got a really good deal on a great shirt.

    Billiards, anyone?
    The State Street Brooks Brothers location in Boston's financial district features a full-size pool table. If only the felt was woven in a repp stripe...

    I almost never find quality shoes in good condition, with the emphasis on almost. I spotted these Allen Edmonds Walden loafers in the bottom of a bin and immediately knew they weren't your average beat up, dog-slobbered Bostonians. While not my size, after a good polish they were ready for eBay. While they aren't Alden, they are certainly a good quality Penny loafer, and I know this first-hand owning two pairs myself! 
    Retail: $275
    Paid: $6
    Sold for: $65

    An intriguing Marshall's find, this is a Brooks Brothers Black Fleece belt, made from wool flannel on a genuine leather backing. The art-deco styled buckle combines with the traditional menswear fabric to create a piece that has designer Thom Browne written all over it. I wish it was my size, but sadly it wasn't. Marked down to $10 on clearance however, it was too nice to leave behind and decided to bequeath it to an eBay buyer who snagged it for only $20.

    This might also be a good time to mention that it was recently announced that Fall 2015 will mark the last season for the Brooks Brothers Black Fleece line, and an end to the partnership with Browne who has been behind the collection since it's inception in 2007.

    Just a classic, pink dress shirt from Brooks Brothers.
    $4 vs $95 new
    Sold for $18