Q&A: A look at Nonnie Threads

Meet Jonnie Rettele.

She’s the mastermind behind Nonnie Threads, a small but remarkable menswear label that’s designed fresh every season in a picturesque industrial space she shares with a few other entrepreneurial designers just south of Wicker Park. Behind each of Jonnie’s designs is a story. These pieces are born out of rich traditions of American clothing, and with every new line, she channels a recognizable icon. Last year, it was Tom Waits. This year, Steve McQueen. You get the idea.

There are lots of reasons we love Jonnie Rettele. She’s good at what she does. She tests her designs on her husband, Mustafa (score one for love). She’s following her bliss, and she’s passionate about clothing that’s made in the U.S.A. And she sees that the American clothing industry needs a kick in the pants. She’s challenging major players—shirting giants who have been around since the days when sailors were still kissing nurses in the streets. Yet, that doesn’t phase her, because she’s got a vision. And we like people with vision.

But here’s the thing: America and quality, can be tough choices sometimes. And as good Midwestern boys, we grew up wearing hand-me-downs and having our mothers yank our hands down thrift store aisles. We still remember when we thought retail-priced jeans from American Eagle were a treat. But we’re on a sartorial journey, which means that we’re constantly evaluating—being thrifty most of the time, splurging on superiority some of the time, and trying to be sensible all of the time.

That’s why we caught up with Jonnie at her studio—to test a couple of her pieces for ourselves and see if American-made quality is still worth the money.

Midwestyle: So let’s tackle the issue of quality clothing. A lot of guys are hesitant to support pricy American goods because they can get cheap alternatives elsewhere. What’s the difference?

Jonnie Rettele: I think you can tell. The fabrics are the first thing. It feels cheap, it feels thin, it feels starchy—and not in a clean way. Like it was just unloaded from a piece of plastic.
I was born in York, Neb. It’s a smaller town with not a lot of industry. If they were to ask what my clothes cost, I think they might scoff. Their favorite place to shop is Walmart, and I understand that because I know what living a small town is like. But factory jobs went away from that town, and it’s directly related: When you buy goods that come from other places, you’re supporting manufacturing leaving. I’m trying to support local economy coming back here.

Part of it is also the environmental cost. It may be cheaper to import those materials, but it has hidden negative impacts other places, like the carbon footprint.

I used to buy pants from Zara, and after about 10 washes, the coloring would fade. That’s something I try to do: Get my husband or people I know in the clothes so I can know how it’s washing and know how it’s wearing. I want to know exactly what this fabric is doing and be able to tell you.

And the details cost money: the seams, the stitching, the attention to detail. Those are difficult things to mass-produce. You’re paying for a special piece; you’re paying for a story.

MWS: What kind of story? You make a jacket that has a pretty interesting genesis, right?

JR: My father-in-law worked as a night security guard at Marshall Fields, and he started bringing all these coats over. They’re just beautiful: amazing lining, amazing craftsmanship. I didn’t realize that things aren’t made that way anymore.

He used to save his money and buy two pairs of one type of coat in two different sizes. So, he’s got this long leather coat with a shearling inside and a notched collar, and he bought it in a size 40 and a size 42. My husband’s wearing the 40 now, and his dad’s wearing the 42. He used to wear the 40 when he got it in the ’60s or ’70s.


MWS: Jeff and I were just talking about this the other day. Is timeless style something to shoot for?

JR: Clothing should last. A really inspiring element from my father-in-law is how he takes care of things. He gave us all these cashmere sweaters from Marshall Fields—probably 20 of them in different colors, crew-necks, V-necks, cardigans—and they were all individually bagged, perfectly folded.

I think that’s something that men don’t learn as much today—because everything is so expendable. You go to H&M or you go to the Gap, and “This is only a $20 shirt, so I don’t really care if it gets a hole in it, or if I wash it with a dark color and it’s a white; I’ll just buy a new one.” It’s okay to spend the money on something if you’re going to take care of it.

The story of Nonnie Threads just sort of happened, and it had a lot to do with being partnered with someone who was at point in his life that he wanted to start dressing like a man. And part of it was also being at the tail end of this long dry spell in menswear.

MWS: So what was it about menswear that pulled you in?

The energy from guys. Women are excited when they meet someone who’s doing womenswear, but not as much guys when they meet someone who’s doing menswear. It’s not as common. And I think there was such a dry period in menswear in the past five years.

Trends don’t move as fast as womenswear. There’s a challenge because men will only go so far. I think they’re getting more adventurous, which is good, and that can be a result of lots of menswear lines popping up and you have to do something different to stand out.

Then, all of a sudden, it’s booming. The whole heritage movement has sparked that, where people are paying attention to where things come from.

MWS: What about here in the Midwest? When you think of menswear here, what comes to mind?

JR: Casual. You think of the West Coast, you think of board shorts and surfer wear. East Coast, you think of more tailored fashion. But the Midwest is casual. Maybe it’s because a lot of us are from working-class farm families. I feel like sometimes the Midwest is really sheltered.

MWS: Last question. What’s on the radar for menswear?

JR: I’ve been wearing vests since I was like in third grade, so I was really excited when vests came back in style. One thing I’m questionable about is the whole “bold color” thing. I don’t think that will stick around as long as, say, the shawl collar. You’ll probably see that for a number of seasons. Something I want to experiment with is more cowl necks with T-shirts. It’s sort of peasant-y. Since there’s so much more energy with menswear right now, I feel like there’s a relevant need for having faster trends.

Here are a a couple of the pieces we picked up from Nonnie:
Seth, wearing the shawl-collar pullover by Nonnie Threads.

Jeff, wearing the slim-fit mushroom trousers by Nonnie Threads.

Over the next while, we’ll be keeping an eye on how they hold up. In the meantime, you can follow @NonnieMen on Twitter. And check out her online store that opened just a couple of weeks ago. If you see something that strikes your fancy, let her know we sent you.

Photos of the Nonnie Threads studio by Seth Putnam. Photos of Jeff and Seth by Anthony Barlich.

Mom - Enjoyed reading the interview with Jonnie…she makes the best clothes ;)

dani - Great Q&A! I’m still learning the ins & outs of menswear & men’s fashion, so this totally drew me in. Thank you! :)

<3 The Daily Dani

STREET midweSTYLE: Daniel in Leawood

Meet Daniel.

He’s the Brand Manager of Baldwin Denim in Kansas City, Missouri.

Daniel is one of the gentlemen who have been mentors, friends and upstanding fellows in my life. A stand-up guy who is passionate about leading people, companies and brands—and doing it well with integrity and honesty. He’s one of the guys who’s helped nourish my own passions and dreams, menswear and blogging aside.

And he’s a man of classic style with subtle details that add a nice touch to his look.

On Daniel: Trim cotton navy blazer by Shipley and Halmos; oxford-cloth button-down by Gitman Brothers; penny loafers by Sperry Topsiders; Navy and red European ribbed surcingle by Torino; repp tie from Dad’s closet; “The Henley,” California wash by Baldwin Denim.

Unknown - Ummm…huh. Strikes me that the rolled up pant/jeans is all the rage these days. Don’t care for the particular style of loafer, but I get where he’s going and would just substitute something else. As for the rest, it seems to work alright.

Matt - jacket sizing is way too short, loafer/mocs look pretty bad, jeans need to be hemmed badly and do not match the top at all

dani - I’m loving these individual street style features!

<3 The Daily Dani

aaryn b. - And you forgot to mention he’s dreamy.
Sigh.

midweSTYLE: St. Louis (Part Two)

The Midwestyle traveled to wretched great St. Louis for a grand wedding weekend. College friends getting married brought us back to the city for a weekend of thrifting, dancing and getting into trouble—oh, and that wedding we were in. Ain’t wedding season just…great…?

(See “Part One” for the rest of the story.)

Cam, Seth, Jeff.
We strolled along Busch Stadium and gave our two cents on what we think of the Cardinals. We walked down the street to another iconic St. Louis monument, The Arch. While Seth and I were doing groomsmen things, Cam visited the gold mine of designer clearance, Nordstrom Rack.

To see some close-ups of our wardrobe, check out our Tumblr for a few details.

haley - Holy moly, nice work, Jarred. That was perfect timing! And nice gymnastics, men.

STREET midweSTYLE: Brad on Chicago & LaSalle

Meet Brad.
He’s a Brooklyn transplant in Chicago who runs Well-Spent. He’s an intelligent guy who has a passion for discovering and bringing the focus on “honest, obtainable goods.”

After an evening with Ryan, Max and Brad at Haberdash for a meetup, a few of us hopped next door to Pops on Champagne. Pops was not on the agenda, rather Watershed, the underbell beneath Pops. A rosy-cheeked blonde greeted and ushered us to some available seats where the exposed stone walls met the black leather cushions. Drinks and stories ensued.
Stories of cities we’ve been to and mistakes we’ve made, this whole “Internet” thing, our shared academic focus backgrounds, girlfriends, booze. Life.

And all the things and objects that accompany us on the journey that make it a little more beautiful. Those objects, apparel and goods we often forget have stories—stories that are worth telling.

Brad seeks out those goods and wants you to know and care about them. He’s influenced some of the ways we spend our money and we’d like to get you in the know, too.

Honestly crafted can mean many things. It can mean manufactured in first world conditions. It can mean made using sustainable materials. Or, it can simply mean built to last a lifetime (or longer). The items featured here run the gamut. Some are organic, some are made in the US, some are so high-quality that they’ll never need replacing (there are even a few to which all three traits apply). – Well-Spent‘s “About” page.

We like Brad. He’s got a plan and is pursuing that plan passionately. As for you? You do the same. Get a plan and do it. And do it well.

He’s also a man of style that we dig. Also, how about that beautiful Stanley & Sons bag.

Denim on denim on leather on chambray on canvas? Yes.

On Brad: USA-made sunglasses by American Optical; USA-made denim jacket (eBay) by Levis; USA-made oxford button down by Gitman Vintage; USA-made leather bracelet by Corter for Japan; vintage watch by Tag Hauer; custom USA-made bag by Stanley & Sons; USA-made slim denim jeans by Left Field; suede “McAlister” desert boots by J.Crew.
Photos by Jeff Kieslich.

Speaking Nonsense. - I’m obsessed with my McAlister Boots from Jcrew. That’s a whole lot of blue, but it looks great!

midweSTYLE: Proportions at play

We’ve been mixing it up a bit. And loving it. You know; playing with proportions, colors and fabrics.
Give some of these stylings a shot:
  • Bright and LOUD. Try a subtle dark layer when your outfit is on the neutral or lighter side.
  • Bold prints. Tame it or tone it with a less busy fabric or wash.
  • Highs and lows. Roll your sleeve or throw cuff your chinos. A little detail never hurt.
  • Bring an extra layer. You’d be surprised how a jacket/cardigan can pull your appearance together, especially when you’re going from day to night.

On Cameron: Four-pocket “Trucker” denim jacket (eBay, $15) by Levi’s; charcoal cardigan (thrifted, $20) by American Apparel; madras short-sleeve shirt (thrifted, $2) by Royal Knight; slim-fit chinos (Urban Outfitters, $10) by Dockers; black plimsolls (thrifted, $4); leather snap bracelet ($20) by Corter for Japan.

dani - I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If I were a boy, I’d want to dress exactly like you gentlemen.

<3 The Daily Dani