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The Complete Wardrobe

Getting Down to Basics for a High-Quality Wardrobe
G. Bruce Boyer
From the Print Edition:
James Woods, May/Jun 97

(continued from page 2)

Khakis and jeans have been the great levelers of the American wardrobe, the most democratizing items of clothing ever worn. Everyone, from film star and computer tycoon to dockworker, has a pair of jeans, and knows that Levi's 501s have never been bettered. But what about khakis?

For GIs returning from the Second World War, khakis were the all-purpose trouser; worn with a tweed jacket or a Shetland crewneck and button-down, they became an essential part of the civilian campus uniform. In the turbulent 1960s and '70s khakis were often replaced with jeans, but they held their own and, in the past 20 years, have reemerged as a staple of the wardrobe. These days every designer has his own spin on the genre--so tarted up in some cases that it would make an old Army-Navy store devotee shiver--and no outfitter of sensible clothes would be without a supply.

Genuine old-style khakis are made by Bill Thomas in Reading, Pennsylvania. Bills Khakis, as they are called with genuine simplicity, are the real thing: substantial, eight-and-a-half-ounce 100 percent twill cloth; full cut in the legs, seat and rise, from original Second World War patterns; deep 14-inch drill-cloth pockets; eight stout belt loops. Nothing fancy, just pure quality. Bill does a pleated model with a heavy brass zipper, but the pants that hiked across battlefields and athletic fields are the plain-fronted, button-fly model. These are the most comfortable and durable khakis you can buy. ($85; Bills Khakis, 800-43-KHAKI; Web site:

The Slip on Shoe

The classic slip-on, popular in the United States for well over a half century, is the penny loafer (so called because teenagers in the 1950s put a penny in each slot of the instep strap as a minor fashion statement). The classic model is moccasin style, a comfortable construction in which the top vamp section is sewed to the sides in a U shape. Although a variety of leathers are used, shell cordovan has always been considered the ne plus ultra: soft, supple and extremely durable; over time the patina of genuine shell cordovan only improves its unmatched luster. This leisure handmade moccasin has been made to perfection by the Alden Shoe Co. of Middleboro, Massachusetts--in the original dark oxblood and black--since the early 1950s. This is the original model, and the acknowledged master of the form: flawless in every detail, hand-sewn on the last, true Goodyear welting, vegetable-tanned shell cordovan of rich character. ($400; Alden Shoe Co., 508/947-3926)

The Coat

It was the costume historian James Laver who conceived the theory that all modern men's clothing derives from either war or sport. It's certainly true of outerwear, as the parka, the trench coat, the polo coat, field coat and golf jacket remind us. These are coats that work, and have an added dash of style as well.

What has always been admired in a good, all-around outdoor coat is the combination of functionality and handsomeness. Leave it to the Italians to combine the latest technology with the higher calling of aesthetics to produce the perfect coat. The firm of Loro Piana has created a new generation of fabrics with its Storm System range. Produced from extremely fine, high-quality natural fibers--covert cloths, cashmeres, gabardines--fused to Gore Technologies' windproof and water-resistant barrier, the new line of outer coats repels rain like a duck.

Although Loro Piana designs several different sports-related coats, the most elegant and useful is its thigh-length "Horsey" style: double fastening, with superior zipper and horn buttons, drawstring waist, a dozen exterior and interior lined pockets (including a very convenient cellular phone pocket secreted away inside), a zip-out padded vest that's handsome enough to be worn by itself, storm cuffs, throat latch and tattersall lining. Designed to accommodate the precision of movement dictated by sporting activities, yet relaxed and smart enough for city wear, it is an extremely serviceable garment. ($1,320; Loro Piana, 212/371-2819)

The Sweater

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