This or that?
Buy designer digs or buy the less expensive option.
You decide. It’s your money that you earned, but let’s look at the options.
- Designer quality goods generally have, well, a higher quality. Nicer factories, more substantial garment construction techniques, higher quality fabrics and more luxurious blends are used, such as cashmere. Designer brands usually have specialty characteristics, such as seaming and fit, yanno, a little personality. You get the tag with the designer’s name on it. “Hey, this was constructed and dreamed up by the imaginary, or imaginaries, under this brand that saw this as something worth constructing and associating their name with as a part of their intimate collection that fits within the brand’s lifestyle and identity.” I mean, some of my favorite pieces are designer, because they fit so damn well and have a story behind it.
- Off-brand, or “house” brands, generally use fabrics of lesser quality along with less strict quality control procedures. For example, your sweater may fall apart because a seam wasn’t secured after one wear. You get something mass produced. It’s not as unique or poorly made (see: Forever 21.) What’s interesting is that if you look closely at a clothing line or when you walk into a store, you can tell if the store is pushing a product or a lifestyle. Is this store trying to sell me something? Or is this store trying to sell me a lifestyle, an identity, a sense of community— a story.
$350 is a bit much for sweatpants. I totally agree, but do I want these? Absolutely.
Are they necessary? No way. But here is where the bridge splits and you can decide…
Certain designers cut their pieces in particular fits. Huge Boss suiting runs slim, so does Ben Sherman, A.P.C., D&G, Prada, etc. If you need a suit and you’re built like a toothpick, you’ll probably have to fork out the extra dough to get a suit that fits you well… off the rack, if you don’t have time for a tailor. Same goes for chinos, sweatshirts and Lord, don’t get me started on dress shirts.
Hear me out, there is nothing inherently wrong with designer brands, off-brands or mass-produced pieces, although some would argue in relation to relativism, ethnocentricism
and ethics. Save it for a family meal.
Ultimately, you’re the consumer and you have the choice.
Jeff’s post a few weeks ago got me thinking about my own fall uniform. The ensemble that automatically pops into my mind when I get out of bed in the morning. This is what I came up with. It’s not necessarily limited to these exact pieces, but they do represent the basic formula. It goes something like this: plaid shirt, shawl-collar cardigan, and a lightweight jacket on top of denim and boots. The variations are endless. Nonetheless, this is perhaps my favorite.
If I could, I would be completely content with only wearing Gitman shirting, for the rest of my life. The fit and details are spot on (their mediums are ideal), and every season seems to improve upon the last. There’s a consistently wide array of fabrics and patterns – chambrays, oxfords, tartans. There’s something strangely familiar about a Gitman Vintage shirt, like you’re ninety-five percent sure you saw your dad wearing the same thing back in ’74, but you can’t be sure.
This service blazer by Apolis
has been my go-to top layer for fall. I was turned on to Apolis a few summers back when they teamed up with Katin to produce some chambray board shorts. From there, my interest in the brand and their philosophy has only increased. If you’ve got the time, take a moment to read up on their story
and check out their new fall arrivals, which happens to include some beautiful Italian-crafted suiting. Truly a brand worth supporting and investing in.
These boots were a gift from my dear friend Travis Craig. And get this, he gave these to me on his birthday. If he ever finds a pair of shoes or boots a size or so too big while thrifting, he grabs them anyway and then tells me hes got something I need to try on. Talk about generosity. It’s thoughtful people like him that I aspire to be like and hope to be lucky enough to surround myself with. Thanks again, Trav. You’re the man.
A NOTE ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
: When she’s not petting stray cats, tweeting in all caps, or rocking a quasi-middle part, Mallory Wiegers
is busy working on her undergraduate degree in graphic design at the University of Kansas. She’s a longtime friend and compadre. She’s also a huge asset to the blog. That header up there – her doing. We’re lucky enough to have her input and expertise at our disposal when it comes to all things design. She’s currently working on some more projects for the Midwestyle, and considering her 21st was just a few short days ago, I’m sure she’ll be reimbursed with pink champagne. Or kittens. Be sure to check her online portfolio
and give her a follow on the Twitter machine.
On Cameron: chambray service blazer by Apolis; green plaid button down by Gitman Vintage; grey shawl collar cardigan by J. Crew, slim-straight selvedge denim by Wings + Horns; watch by Timex for J. Crew; vintage tracker boots; vintage belt.
I love novelty sweaters.
And by novelty, I mean obnoxious.
This “Duck Hunt” sweater triggers memories. Memories of my brother and I sitting in front of our large, practically furniture-sized television in our basement, non-stop clicking the Nintendo gun for pegging ducks off the screen. We spent hours mastering this game, totally cheating when the other got suckered into to running upstairs to grab the pizza rolls that Mom so kindly prepared for us.
I snagged this sweater at Arizona Trading Company in Kansas City when I flew back to see my baby niece. (Yeah, this guy is an Uncle! Congrats, Brother and Sister-In-Law.) Per usual, I did the rounds in Kansas City in hopes of scoring glorious plunder. I’d call this sweater alone a win in itself. If you wanna shell out the big bucks, Mr. Porter and Need Supply have a few options for the animal at heart.
On Jeff: Thrifted “Duck Hunt” sweater ($6) by Montgomery Ward from Arizona Trading Company; thrifted denim shirt ($1) from Salvation Army; thrifted bomber jacket with faux shearling trim ($12) from Salvation Army; grey slim-fit “Davis” chinos ($70) by Club Monaco.
It’s midterm season. You hit the quad, half walking, half running, panicking because your bike got a pinch flat back on University Avenue and you had to lock it up and ditch it by Mumford Hall, but your class is over off 6th St.
You had five minutes then. Now you’re down to three.
You didn’t sleep last night; you didn’t have that luxury. Eating, that wasn’t exactly on the agenda either. You’re breathing though, running over a general timeline of early medieval history again in your head. Professor said exact dates weren’t necessary, so you subconsciously purged those. Diocletian. Constantine. The Council of Nicaea. You know this is all living in your short-term memory, trying to bleed back out.
You need to get this down on paper. Now.
You bust through the auditorium doors. Heads turn, people stare. Whatever. You’re past embarrassment. You sit, loudly. That TA, the one who always wears the sweat-stained Cardinals hat and a smug, condescending frown, he hands you the exam. Your eyes close. Open. You check the essay questions first. You always check the essay questions first. Pressure releases, you’ve got those on lock. Multiple choice takes care of itself. You write, and write, and write, shaking slightly from the triple espresso you put down a few hours ago. But it’s not long before it’s all over. You turn in the exam, with an unexpected confidence in your performance. You leave content. You’re walking back across the quad, tired, but more than elated that that midterm is over. Maybe just more excited that you have an opportunity to relax.
And it’s then that you stop and look around. You take it in. The leaves. The colors. You’d been ignoring them for the past few days—too busy. But your studying is over now. You hear the soft rustle of leaves being trampled underfoot. You inhale the crisp air. It feels good. And your once overwhelmed and over distracted mind can ignore it no longer.
Fall is here.
Fall, for me, is primarily about two things: layers and fabrics. Flannels, wools, thick-knits. Jackets over sweaters over shirts, with scarves on top. Hats too, sometimes. Put on boots, any boots. And don’t forget tweed. Fall is your time to experiment. It’s your chance to find who you are, sartorially. Throw on some sportcoats. Or don’t, it’s your call. But really, above all, have fun. Clothes can be fun. They should be fun.
Wear a watch. You should know what time it is without fishing your iPhone out of your pocket. Plus, watch straps are the new way to display your personality (sarcasm). But in all seriousness, start collecting. Or just buy this
Fall is also a great time to break in a fresh pair of raw denim. Or, if your selvedge collection is already three or so deep, get on that duck canvas
jam. You’ll be glad you did.
On Cameron: thrifted herringbone blazer by Hill and Archer, thrifted heather grey sweater by Ireland Group; Kurabo denim in the 77 fit by Baldwin Denim; thrifted blue oxford by Gant, beeswax desert boots by Clarks; military watch by Timex.
To say you’re an accomplished character is putting it lightly. That time you sumitted Kilimanjaro during a snow storm. The month you took a vow of silence. The day all the stoplights turned green.
You’ve been places, you’ve seen things, and you’ve got most situations in the bag. But the thought of hosting a dinner party? Crippling. Like trying to throw a punch under water. We’re not poking fun, here; there are Nobel Prize winners who would buckle at the thought of preparing a meal for friends and having to sit there and face them while they eat it.
Maybe it’s time to learn. Or at least, have a recipe in the arsenal that’s not chili.
We present: An improvised guide to hosting.
The guests will be as calm as you are. There’s no easier way to deflate a party by being nervous, which of course makes it even harder to be relaxed. You set the tone, and if you’re unflappable, so your guests will be. Speaking of which…
On drinking: With moderation and good timing, a drink or two can take the edge off. Sip while you cook, to give yourself a head start, but then cut it off. You want the right level of alcohol to relax, but not so much that you become incompetent (or, god forbid, incontinent). When guests arrive, everything will be jolly. Give them something immediately to put in their hands to soften your lead. Then, before you get sloppy and turn into a lousy conversationalist, pull back the reins. Put another way: Drink early, but not often.
Also, wear a tie.
Roast something. Inviting people to eat requires skill, timing, and artfulness. Roasting takes tremendous pressure off one of those things; with a thermometer and a few basic tips, the timing of the meal becomes far more forgiving.
On toasting: Let’s bring it back. Toasts are a delicate alchemy. They require a strange combination of humor, sincerity and unspoken permission from your audience. They’re hard. Which is why people respect a good one. You have to make them laugh, steer a wide berth around cliches, and remain earnest. The formula: begin with something polite, transition to something clever, and end with something true. Best bet is one you’ve spent enough time preparing that it seems effortless. But really, all that’s required is a simple and genuine thanks for showing up.
Embrace the performance. Dinner parties are funny things. People are watching themselves and watching each other, and that’s okay. People are watching themselves and watching each other, and that’s okay. The cast of a dinner party will always be new (if it’s just close friends over for a meal, it’s not a dinner party), so the dynamic is unfamiliar. A little mystery is a good thing.
Never mention your own cooking. Whether you’re fishing for compliments or lamely apologizing for the “dry meat” you’re lowering the tone. Take Julia Child’s advice: “You should never apologize at the table. People will think, ‘Yes, it’s really not so good.’” If the food is great, it speaks for itself. If it sucks, don’t mention it. They won’t remember.
Greetings and farewells. Much like giving a good compliment, hellos and goodbyes are best when simple and heartfelt. You’re excited they’re here, you’re so pleased they enjoyed themselves, and you hope to see them soon.
And if you’re the guest, bring a gift. Hosting a dinner party is a sacrifice of time, money and energy, so offer something that shows you appreciate the effort. Booze always fits the bill. Though if you’d like to take it to the next level, bring something that reminds you of the host. It shows you’ve paid attention. Bonus points for a handwritten note the next day.
And now, about that roast…
In Italy, porchetta is made by stuffing a whole pig with garlic, fennel, wild herbs, and heavy amounts of salt and pepper; it’s then rolled up and spit-roasted slowly over wood. Thankfully, it’s almost as delicious on a smaller scale. Serve the pork shoulder with creamy polenta, also something than can be made in advance. A standard for the repertoire. File under: You Can’t Go Wrong With Rustic Italian.
For the pork:
- 1 3-pound boneless pork shoulder roast
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon capers, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest (no white pith), from 3-4 lemons
- 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 12 fresh sage leaves, crushed and coarsely chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and chopped
- 2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 bulbs fennel
- 1/4 cup dry vermouth
For the polenta:
- 5 cups water
- 1 cup polenta or cornmeal
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
*Possibly one of the best cookbooks in the world to learn from. Highest recommendation.
Lay the pork out on a cutting board and examine the natural seams in the meat. Using your fingers and the tip of a knife as needed, excavate the seams to expose as much internal surface area of the pork as possible, carefully freeing the muscles along their natural separations. Season the pork inside and out with salt.
In a small bowl, mix together the capers, lemon zest, garlic, sage, rosemary, fennel seeds, and black pepper. Pack the herb mixture into the crevices of the pork, rubbing it into the meat and ensuring the seasoning reaches all the exposed surfaces. Using kitchen string (or if your roast came with a net, use it) to tie the roast back into its original shape. It should take 4-5 strings crosswise and one lengthwise to accomplish this (for detailed tying instructions, see this post on making lamb pancetta). An even shape will also cook evenly.
Cover, refrigerate, and allow the seasoning to penetrate the meat, at least 1 day and up to 3.
When it’s time to cook:
Heat an oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large (14-inch) ovenproof skillet or roasting pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the pork (it should sizzle) and transfer to the oven. Roast, uncovered, for an hour (the pork should begin to color; if it hasn’t, up the temperature to 400.)
While the pork roasts, bring the water to boil in a large saucepan, then pour in the polenta in a slow stream while whisking to prevent clumping. Once it’s all added, add the salt and reduce heat to low, stirring often as it thickens and the cornmeal becomes creamy, 25-30 minutes. If it appears too dry and the cornmeal is not yet soft, add more water and continue cooking; you can always cook it longer to evaporate any excess water. Once soft, turn off the heat until ready to serve. To finish, reheat and stir in butter and Parmesan.
Meanwhile, halve the fennel lengthwise and cut out the core. Put the halves cut-side down and slice thinly crosswise. Toss with enough olive oil and salt to coat it nicely.
Once the pork has been in an hour, use tongs to flip it over and tuck the sliced fennel into the roasting pan around the porchetta, tossing it well in the roasting juices. Return the roast to the oven and continue cooking for another 1 to 1 1/2 hours, to an internal temperature of 145º F.
Remove the pork to a cutting board and keep it loosely covered in foil while it rests for at least 10 minutes (the meat will reabsorb the juices, ensuring it’s as moist as possible). Put the roasting pan on the stovetop (with the fennel still in it), pour or spoon off any excess fat, and turn the heat to high. Add the vermouth to the pan, using the liquid to scrape up any caramelized bits left from the pork in the roasting pan. Cook, stirring often, until the fennel is soft and caramelized and the vermouth has mostly evaporated.
Slice the pork and serve with the polenta, along with some of the caramelized fennel and rich pan juices. Finish with some of the fennel fronds that (ideally) came attached to the fennel bulb. Serve.
Prep photos by Seth Putnam. Dinner photos by Ryan Plett.