For many years I wore a jacket I picked up in Flip in about 1985. It was the perfect early 60s sack sports coat, in mint condition, raised seams, patch and flap pockets, narrow lapels, hooked vent, two button cuffs, 3/2 roll. Everything. It was a wonderfully dark green herringbone woven from charcoal and green heathers. Eventually, though it fell foul of two things. Being left behind when I moved to Rio in the early 90s and then those evil moth critters whilst in storage. For a long time afterwards, I kept the jacket just in case. ‘Just in case’ meant if I ever went to Hong Kong or Japan or somewhere where they were familiar with vintage American tailoring (never England!) and get a copy made using this jacket as a template.
Of course, I had many great vintage jackets from the golden age of Flip, but many of them were too big, too small, too threadbare, in short, not perfect by any means. In recent years, I’ve been on a quest to find a replacement for that jacket. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? These days with the thousands of vintage items listed online and the ease of Paypal. But, the one thing I didn’t ever count on was sellers who are too stupid to be able to use a tape measure. On my iPhone I carry around a note of the perfect dimensions of trousers, jeans, harrington jackets and sports coats, just in case I see that magic item. A tape measure is an absolute device. I remember once getting someone to quote me for soundproofing a recording studio. The guy who took the measurements kept saying ‘it’s about [x] inches’ as if his tape reel for measuring was just a guide not a rule. Many’s the time I’ve thought ‘yes, this is the one, this time I’ve found the jacket’ only to have the item arrive looking nothing like the photos, lapels too wide where seller’s have buttoned up a 3/2 roll for the pics, or absolutely stinking (one vintage Brooks Brothers seersucker wash’n’wear from a Florida based seller was so rancid I nearly threw up on opening the parcel – went straight into the bin…), or more usually bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the dimensions quoted on the listing. I feel like the feedback should be ‘You’re using a tape measuring device for Chrissakes, how can you be so WRONG!?”. Because what makes it more annoying is that these are always the sellers who state in forthright non-friendly language on their listings, ‘forget what the damn tag says, these are the measurements you go by, or else’.
Now, that’s fine, I’d rather follow measurements to get that exact fit than trust the vagaries of vintage tag sizing. But, when those basic dimensions are wrong, boy can they make something great into something that just looks plain weird when you try it on. Last week I took delivery of a mint condition Brooks Brothers Olive Poplin Wash’n’Wear suit from the mid 1960s. I’ve been looking for one of these for a long time, so to find one with perfect measurements, both jacket and trousers, was a long time coming. However, when the suit arrived (weighing nothing despite sellers’ post-BIN quote for truly eye-watering shipping from USA) it was clear just looking at it that it was at least a size bigger than the 38 quoted. I searched for the label inside the pocket, but it had been torn out. A trip back to the original listing, and there was the label shown intact. I blew up the image and using photoshop magnified the contrast until I was able to read the tag – 41L35. The seller had torn out the tag AFTER selling it. Plus the thing reeked. I understand sellers being reluctant to shell out for dry cleaning when selling cheaper end gear, but this is a washable suit. Sending a stinking garment, that could easily be washed, halfway around the world is pretty rank. A dunk in the old Vanish powder showed that it had not been washed for years as that wet dirt smell, familiar to anyone who buys vintage, seeped out into the hot water. Now, clean as the proverbial whistle (and flute), someone will get a beautiful Brooks Poplin suit when I come to resell it, and you can be sure my measurements will be spot on.
However, lady luck of the sacks finally shone on me last week when a jacket that I’d paid a good price for in vain hope (although still only 1/4 price of a J Keydge) arrived. This time, not only was the condition beautiful, but it fits perfectly – as if made to measure. Looking like it’s straight off the pages of Hollywood & The Ivy Look, too.
The only detail that’s missing for me are patch and flap pockets, but I can live without that for a jacket that is a real timewarp piece in a wonderfully scratchy heathered Harris Tweed. The buttons can’t easily be seen in the vendor’s photos here, but they are like many a vintage button, almost organic looking, and of course uniquely irreplaceable.
Finally, that holiest of grails, a vintage sack sports coat that fits the bill. Many of you will know how rare that is, right?
Peter Kinnaird says
Given the lack of patch and flap pockets you should probably send this jacket westwards (to me)! Just joking, great find. It looks really great.
Superb coat! Yes Harris Tweed is at its best unstructured. You can pick up tweeds , quite cheaply, if you go to the Outer Hebrides, but where to get it tailored, that’s the problem!
The Weejun says
Thanks guys, really pleased to have finally found one that fits. The internet is great but wouldn’t it be nice if it was one giant FLIP store you could browse and try on in person?!
Liam Mac says
Hi Mr Weejun. Just thought I’d let you know from the wording on that label the jackets from around about 1970, I believe. The Harris Tweed Authority constantly changed the wording on these labels throughout the decades so that is a good way of getting a handle on vintage.
The Weejun says
Liam, it’s possible that the jacket is as late as 1970 – most of the population would not have moved towards wide lapel fashions by that time. It’s possible to get a date for the cloth if not the American made jackets, from the Harris Tweed authority, but like every other Scottish business involving wool, they have a website that currently doesn’t do anything. I would expect the jacket to date from earlier than 1970, but when they get themselves back online I’ll find out.
Meanwhile, I found this interesting post on Ask Andy from a member called ‘ROI’
“Just out of college, I worked as a buyer for a chain of clothing stores. (I’ve been out of the business for a couple decades now, though I maintain an avocational interest in retailing and clothing.) It was the time when anything from Great Britain was cheap because of the relative weakness of the pound. One of our strategies was to import Harris Tweed directly, then, distribute it to American manufacturers to make into various garments. One of the pleasures of the business was spending a day with Harris’ agent in New York flipping through books of every tweed ever conceived and selecting obscure specimens to order woven.
As long as we were going to the effort and expense of importing Harris, it was important to us from a marketing standpoint to make sure every Harris garment carried the the registered cross and orb label. But, as in any manufacturing arrangement, there were logistical bumps. Our import agent walked the tweed through customs and transhipped it to the makers without our seeing it, so there was always a concern about whether the finished tweed resembled the sometimes ancient flats we’d chosen in New York and whether the correct patterns were being sent to the correct makers. Most of the assurances had to come through the makers.
Once a cap maker in New York phoned to tell me the Harris Tweed had been delivered and matched the reference swatches we’d supplied him. Everything was on schedule. I asked whether the Harris labels has arrived with the cloth. He dismissed my concern, “The labels are always late, but we’ve got plenty on hand. All your hats will have Harris labels, don’t worry.”