"In 1951, when I was fourteen, I landed a job in an Oklahoma City laundromat. The pay was respectable—fifty cents and hour, up from forty-five. In a swampy, bunkerlike back room with a large concrete center drain, I had to mix bleach and water together in brown glass bottles for the customers to use. It was sweaty and dank, but I got to listen to a faraway radio, faint but distinct, playing music by the likes of Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams, and Faron Young.
One day, I saw a news item about the murder of a nurse in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A photograph of one of the teenage killers showed him in handcuffs, being escorted by police. He was wearing what looked to me like white Levi’s. White Levi’s! What style! I was overcome by an immediate urge to get a pair for myself, but after looking around I was told that no such product existed—at least, not in Oklahoma.
Then it came to me: I would make my own. I brought a pair of bluejeans from home, doused them in undiluted Clorox bleach, and placed them in a washing machine. I let them sit for half an hour, the mystery and suspense building. When I finally opened the door, I found, to my astonishment, a pair of pure-white, radiantly glowing Levi’s. A triumph.
Or so I thought. Reaching in to grab them, I felt my hand sweep through a puffy lump of dead white fibres, softer than cotton candy. The rivets and the buttons were the only parts that survived.
At the time, I was banking on white Levi’s coming into fashion. I had to wait twenty years to buy a pair off the rack.”
What’s not to like about O&S? Season after season brothers Ariel and Shimon keep on delivering tailored twists on classics, making the most of luxurious fabrics, texture combinations and color palette.
For years I’ve put off buying one of J. Press’s “Shaggy Dog” shetland sweaters—the fuzzed, Scotland-made wool crewneck that’s a winter standard at Press, that most glacial of men’s stores. I first handled one in the D.C. Press store in 2006 (I think; that’s when I discovered we had a J. Press here), and even bought one as a gift, but always figured I’d pick one up for myself when I had a little extra cash or when sale season hit.
In the meantime I’ve recommended the sweaters as an unassailable classic—made well and in the traditional country of manufacture, resistant to both chilly fall breezes and trends, even a good value at $165. Well, $165 in 2010. $165 in 2009, too. In 2013? $230. You can pay another $15 for the York Street version, although it’s not immediately clear what that buys you.
Clothing prices are significantly outpacing inflation, with men’s clothing leading the way. Anecdotally, I’ve heard this attributed to raw material price increases (e.g., cotton and wool) and the scarcity and increasing expense of quality manufacturing. The takeaway here isn’t necessarily “buy more now”; it’s risky if not foolish to treat clothing as you would treat a financial investment, although thoughtful consideration of how much value you get out of your clothing can help determine what’s affordable for you. The truth, though, is that what’s not affordable for you now is not rushing to become affordable for you in the near future.