Friday, July 2, 2010

Cambridge and the Trad Mother Church: Charlie Davidson’s Andover Shop

After absurdly hot days in South Carolina last week, my business meetings in Boston were an absolute treat if for no other reason than atmospheric moderation. I won't play the airport carpet trivia game with you as most are on to my predictably few departure ports these days and frankly, I've exhausted options for snapping any new tog pics 'cause you've seen them all. I won't need new clothes for a hundred years.
And yes, this is how I travel in the summer weather-avoiding the issue of packing my sportcoat. Shut up.
The Copley Plaza hosted my stay and as usual, I’m sitting in elegant digs alone, speculating about how nice it would be to share some of these posh accommodations with someone else. 
LFG's mother and I had a blast here one night...dinner in the Oak Bar while listening to great jazz. I reconnected with the Oak Bar-on two consecutive nights.
Proper dress? Thank goodness someone still requires it. Much to my dismay, the current definition of Oak Bar Proper Attire is laughable. Don't come in naked...otherwise, join us.
Unfortunately I was the best dressed guy in the joint.
I had a lunch meeting and then the balance of Monday was free for my Boston ganderings. I’d already settled on The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, having just finished reading the Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser as well as a swing by Bobby from Boston for another look. Seemed like a great way to spend a Monday afternoon. There was only one problem with my plan. Both are closed on Mondays. Damn.

My disappointment led me to one of my most enjoyable Trad adventures to date. Trumping quite frankly, my sartorial ganderings in London last January. Miffed about my blown plan, I jumped on the train and headed over to Cambridge. I’m in Boston a lot but just haven’t made my way over to Harvard Square in quite a few years.
College hamlets, villages, enclaves…NOT towns-but you know- the little centric neighborhoods that host them are always fun to slink around and observe. I love doing it on the ever changing Nassau street in Princeton…usually being disappointed with the discovery of yet another independent little business falling by the way…consistent with what I find every time I go to London. Cambridge isn’t like that for me because I’ve not been there often enough to know what was there before and what’s sadly replaced it. What I do engage my imagination in is wondering what the streets of Cambridge looked like fifty years ago when WASPy students, swathed in sometimes tattered—patinated Trad garb handed down from their Ivied forefathers occupied the place en mass.
The Harvard COOP offered a glimpse of the Cambridge WASP heyday-courtesy of Harvard illustrated history books.
Certainly, the students in the COOP weren’t’ personifying anything Trad.
 My cousin Tintin accurately and aptly stated many things Trad in his recent Styleite interview. Not the least of which was the corrective response to his interviewer’s question about The Trad entering the blog worlds of “Giuseppe and ADG”.  

“S: What has it been like entering into the world of menswear bloggers, with people like Giuseppe and ADG?
T: I think they entered into mine. All of those guys share one thing in common; they all have a point of view, they all have an opinion. But I think most importantly they all have this wonderful voice…Unfortunately, there’s a lot of guys now who don’t have a voice. There are a lot of guys who have come to this party late, and they basically Wikipedia everything.” And let me assert that he is one hundred percent correct. Tintin and a few other bloggers were my inspiration for sharing ADG drivel.
My first sartorial stop was the original Cambridge Mother Church…J. Press. Tintin said this about the J. Press guys in his Styleite interview… “You walk into J. Press now and it’s a bunch of mean old men who make fun of young guys when they come in.” Well the Cambridge antiquarian shopkeepers weren’t mean or crotchety but they were...well …old. 
Old to the point that I can’t really see a Harvard student enjoying an interactive experience with one of these guys. I suppose it doesn’t matter because based on what I see walking down the streets of Cambridge and everywhere for that matter, there aren’t too many devotees of Trad style, decorum and deportment.
I loved the patinated cluttered indifference so manifest in the Cambridge J. Press. The old location in NYC was consistent with the Cambridge shabbiness but the new store in Manhattan and the Washington D.C. store sterilizes the J. Press experience to that of a too crisp-too clean-too scrubbed-hand sanitized institutional freshness. Not so good.
I reveled in the memories that the Cambridge store evoked for me and my haberdashery lineage. I worked summers in a store that still had random things stashed in cubbies and drawers from it’s opening in 1927.  J. Press Cambridge still delivers on that amiable tattered smugness. I enjoyed my twenty minute-two button downs on sale-J. Press Cambridge experience.
But that was nothing compared to my final stop where I spent almost two hours. J. Press was a fully clothed sartorial lap dance serving soda pop only...compared to the Trad orgy of indifference manifest over at the Andover Shop. 
For those who don’t understand or appreciate the purity of WASP Trad clothing, the balance of this post will be lost on you. I thrive on lore and the proverbial back story of almost anything and this tacky little four hundred square feet slapdash assemblage of natural fibers is a Plato’s Retreat-esque fabric bolt brothel. Brothing since 1949.
And what a muddled brothel it is. The cluttered, fluorescent-light washed little shop still declares with aplomb the proverbial don’t give a damn if you buy anything aura of founder Charlie Davidson. The lore on Davidson and his demeanor regarding customers is rich. The jumbled contrivance of the store...layout would be way too generous a description—says to anyone walking in the door that this isn’t a place to browse. 
The stories abound regarding Davidson being as indifferent as a minimum wage men’s department clerk at Macys if he surmised—in a nanosecond—that you weren’t interested in or knowledgeable about clothes. He’d barely give you the time of day and was actually known to refuse selling things to customers if they requested made to measure goods that didn’t align with Charlie’s paradigm of style and correctness. Shitty picture I know-surprise-but the off the rack dress shirts at the Andover Shop rival Jermyn Street.
Interestingly, they had several shirts in my size.

Here’s what Alan Flusser had to say about Charlie in his first book, Making the Man“The Andover Shop shines because of Charlie, who has great taste in selecting fabrics and has as much knowledge about making a suit as the masters of Savile Row. But like many top chefs, Charlie needs to be inspired to do his best. If a customer shows real interest, Charlie will respond in kind. He may pull out his special English buttons or linings or some select fabrics hidden away. Otherwise, he is liable to seem no more knowledgeable or involved than the guy down the block.”
But what really rivets me about Charlie and the Andover Shop is the Richard Merkin-George Frazier-Charlie Davidson-Jazz connection. I discovered the acerbic and witty pen of Boston Globe columnist George Frazier through my devotion to the words of Richard Merkin. 
Merkin and Frazier were close friends. Learning about Frazier’s life and writing led me to the quintessential treatise on men’s clothing written by Frazier for Esquire in 1960…The Art of Wearing Clothes. If you don’t have an original copy of the September 1960 Esquire—your sartorial library is incomplete.
Frazier loved jazz. Frazier loved clothes. So did Charlie Davidson and he and George Frazier were wingmen extraordinaire to each other for years. Here’s what Charles Fountain posits about Frazier, Davidson and clothes in Another Man’s Poison, his Frazier biography……“It is not fair to say that Davidson taught George Frazier everything he knew about clothes. Though George had always been a fairly natty dresser, he never tried to pass himself off as an expert in the field until he got to know Davidson and started picking his brain. Davidson would take Frazier with him on buying trips to New York. Davidson was a big help in the preparation of George’s “The Art of Wearing Clothes,” a 10,000-word piece on men’s fashion that ran in Esquire in September 1960. Because of its thoroughness and its status as an Esquire cover story, this piece established George as America’s preeminent writer on men’s fashion.

He used to spend his Saturday mornings in Charlie Davidson’s Andover Shop, thumbing through sample swatches of fabric, talking to Charlie about this and that. When word of this habit got around, the Andover Shop became the busiest place in Harvard Square. George would sit in the lone chair in the back left-hand corner of the tiny shop on Holyoke Street, and along the left hand side of the shop the people would line up for their turn like the wedding guests waiting for a moment of the Godfather’s time. George thrived on it.”
Consider this little Holyoke Street hovel and now imagine jazz great Miles Davis seeking out jazz lover and haberdasher Charlie Davidson for trad togs. Christian Chensvold from Ivy Style shares this…

In 1955, Davis signed his first major-label deal, with Columbia Records, and just as the silhouette of his suits changed from broad to natural shoulders, so did Miles begin setting styles rather than following them. “In the mid-’50s, Miles to the Ivy League Look in fashion,” writes jazz historian John Szwed, “having his clothes made at the epicenter of preppy fashion, the Andover Shop in Cambridge’s Harvard Square, where tailor Charlie Davidson dressed him in jackets of English tweed or madras with narrow lapels and natural shoulder, woolen or chino trousers, broadcloth shirts with button-down collars, thin knit or rep ties, and Bass Weejun loafers. It was a look that redefined cool and shook those who thought they were in the know.”
Picture the shop and an exchange between Miles Davis and Charlie Davidson… “Charlie Davidson of the Andover Shop in Cambridge, who tailored Miles’ and the band’s Ivy League clothes in the ’50s and ’60s, is a storehouse of casual Milesiana, like this from Charlie: “One day I asked him: ‘Miles, do you really like Frank Sinatra?’ ‘Do I like him?’ he said. “If he had one tit I’d marry him!’”
So do you think it’s any wonder that I could spend a couple of hours in this fabric bolted nook of such rich lineage? Even absent Charlie himself, the other slouch dressed eccentrics were more than happy to talk fabric and fables. My first step inside the old Savile Row location of Anderson and Sheppard—sartorial destination of Beerbohm and Astaire pales like a mother f_ _ _er in comparison to my Andover Shop stopover Monday past. The orange windowpane fabric will haunt me forever for according to the Andover guys…what’s left of said bolt was there when Frazier held court in that lone chair—on the left.

Onward.
ADG


41 comments:

OldSchool said...

You have outdone yourself, sir.

JMW said...

I'm with you on the heat in the Carolinas...we just got back from vacation and it was oh-so-hot. I swear, you could shop me under the table! How I would love to head up to Boston for such a spree. :)

heavy tweed jacket said...

Amazing post. This is what a trad shop is all about. I hope the young fellow enjoys that suit.

SouthernProletariat said...

Boston is one of my favorite cities. Unfortunately there is a pastry shop in the italian quarter that I am much too familar with...I would recommend it, but the name escapes me. But if you go on a summer, weekend night, the line is out the door and down the block- can't miss it.

And you have a mention in Styleite, eh? Was not aware I was commenting on such a well known blogger. Congrats.

Toad said...

I am speechless. Very well done.

Memphis88 said...

I've got a buddy up in Boston for an internship with the Red Sox. Oh, how I envy him. If I had the money I'd go up and visit him. Not so much to hang out with him as to be able to go to these magnificent places that you wrote about and that I long to visit.

Suburban Princess said...

Soooooo why didn't you say that to the kid?

Anonymous said...

Dude! That red-striped shirt in the Andover shop looks killer. You buy it? Button cuffs or French?

ADG said...

Anon...I bought the green oversized check and yes-the red stripe. Hated to leave the other two there but I'm broke. Barrel cuffs.

Suburban...just wouldn't have been right.

Memphis88....get there soon. And send me those Gucci loafers that you aren't wearing.

Toad...I'll be speechless when that escape map adorns your navy linen.

SouthernProle...yes, I've been there with G-Man and his kids.

HeavyTweed...indeed.

JMW...I do a lot of looking and talking. Not that much cha-chinging.

OldSchool....thanks.

scale worm said...

Beautifully crafted write-up sir, Very nice! I passed the Miles history on to a fellow Davis fan. Wow, Miles dug Frank, but then again, who didn't?

longwing said...

Excellent write up. I'd love to stop in on the Andover Shop someday. Even for a middle brow catalog customer the Andover Shop delivers the goods. Just this week I received a tweed swatch from Barbara at the Andover store. Saving my pennies. It will get made down the way at Southwick but I've travelled this road once before with great results.

James said...

Very fascinating, you have really given a lesson here. thank you.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, excellent. Thanks for this. Please keep them coming.

I'm typing this from Reston now and pondering about how YOU need to open a Flusser like shop here in this giant office park. These tech clones and business lackeys sure could use your sartorial advice. It appears as if the mannequins in the chain stores have come alive and stepped out and about around the town. Is this some sort of nightmare that I'm trapped in? I sure could use a drink now.

~H.

Laguna Beach Trad said...

Very nice, ADG ol' chum. I want to do a similar review of San Francisco.

I have to add, though, that I simply do not understand the connection between Trad and jazz. I cannot stand the sound of jazz, or the jazz culture. I abhor anything related to jazz or jazz-related. I even detest the word 'jazz'!

As American is not my first language, perhaps I am missing something in translation...?

Anonymous said...

(You are much too romantic.)

1) Forty years ago, I had a five-year stretch where 90 percent of my clothes came from The Andover Shop. They were nice, but they weren't all that. The stock of shirts was very poor, mostly Troy Guild of the O'Connells type -- nothing like what you saw the other day. And the after-purchase tailoring of the MTM suits and jackets was nothing to write home about. After a bit, I had the finishing done elsewhere.

2) When The Andover Shop opened up an outpost in Back Bay, many long-time customers went there instead just to avoid dealing with Charlie Davidson. (That patented suck-up, piss-down routine wore a little thin, particularly after he got sick.)

3) J Press was just as empty 40 years ago as it seems to be now. Perhaps they're only there to launder money for Whitey Bulger. (Joke ...)

4) tintin's stomping on kids who "wiki" their take on "trad." But you two are kids, too, babies. You weren't there in the Fifties or the Sixties, and you didn't wear this stuff. It was just clothes -- really, I promise. Making a fetish of a largely defunct fashion is borderline "object sex." Of course, if that works for you, well, fine.

5) A & S, until recently, made better clothes than ever passed through The Andover Shop. Charvet still makes better shirts. Alex Kabazz will make you the trad shirt of your dreams, but you'd have to skip a mortgage payment to make it happen. And George Frazier over-egged every pudding he met. (When he died, among the people who actually knew him, only Ellen Goodman seemed genuinely distraught.)

Andrew said...

Outstanding and evocative post. Thank you very much.

Scott said...

Made my own J Press pilgrimage to Cambridge just a couple of weeks ago, complete with family in tow. The oldersters there treated us with benign neglect. We bought a few ties, knot cufflinks, and a belt, I think, and soaked in the wonderfully shabby atmosphere. A good field trip for the boys. Since I wasn't alone and shopping in earnest, I avoided the Andover Shop. Frankly, I guess I was a little intimidated by its curmudgeonly reputation. Kinda' wish I had manned up now.

Scott

LPC said...

But really the question always in my mind is this. To what extent does the value system, one I hold to this day, require the aesthetic? And to what extent does the aesthetic support the values?

My father graduated from Harvard in something like 1951. He dresses Trad, I suppose, but is the least dandiest human I know. That said, while he wouldn't disdain a dandy, nor a even a slob as long as it wasn't someone's funeral, he would disdain a guy who never showed up on time, didn't know how to take care of family, and insisted on having temper tantrums.

Does that even matter? Does that kind of guy matter? Excuse me. I spent the day with my sister's kids, and one still has babyflesh, so I am a bit sentimental. But I do wonder.

ADG said...

Lisa...thanks for your comment. The gravity of your statemets as well as those of the Anonymous fella who deems me too romantic warrant another post. I will get to it sometime in the next day or so because I do have things to say in response. I hope you feel good about the sentimentality fostered by communing with baby-flesh. I think I get what you meant.

Scott...Beningn neglect indeed.

Andrew...thanks.

AnonTooRomantic...powerful comments. Thanks. See my comments above to Lisa-LPC.

LagunaTradMon...San Fran would make great fodder for a story or two...Barnaby Conrad, El Matador, Herb Caen, Wilkes Bashford, Jerry Magnin. As for Jazz...it's a required taste.

Hilton...I wouldn't open a retail store on a bet!

James...thanks-as always.

Longwing...yep-I think they are good people.

scale worm...thanks.

southernproletariat said...

As perhaps the only "outsider" aka non-ivy-league on these blogs, I would have to say, yes, LPC, it does matter. I frequent the trad dress blogs, both men and women, because how to dress well is a dying art.

Unfortunately the value system that went behind the "trad" lifestyle is dying just as quickly if not more so. As I commented before, I love Boston, but what I didn't comment on was the two biggest A-hole preps I encountered of my life at Cambridge (while I was taking a professional course at MIT). Were they dressed Trad? To the hilt. Were *they* trad? Not in my book.

I know that I come from a blue collar background. I know that first impressions, such as dress, bearing and manners are often the only chance one gets, hence my intense study if you will of clothing. But when someone begins to mistake the clothing for the man, he has made a grave mistake indeed.

And ADG...if that child had not had a suit on his body by the time he was 18...someone should have spoken to his parents, not him. That is shameful.

Preppy 101 said...

This post made me a little weepy and I'm not sure why. Maybe because I remember the days when everyone did know how "to do". Maybe because I yearn for those days. Or maybe it's because I've had a couple of glasses of wine ;-)

I don't always know all the people you reference, but it only takes me another paragraph to understand.

I so look forward to your posts. I have learned so much from you. I also depend on your advice on all male sartorial matters since - well you understand. xoxo

jrandyv said...

Spent several hours a few years ago at the shop in Andover Mass which is bigger I think but much the same feel. They even ran me up a college scarf while I was there. It didn't look quite as full of stuff; although neither stacks up for pure volume and quality as the day I spent in O'Connell's about two years ago.

OldSchool said...

Re: Laguna Beach Trad's comment.

Hear, hear!

"Jazz" is as bad as "slim fit" and (perish the thought) "extra slim fit" in a Trad context.

Anonymous English Female said...

ADG - great post and pictures. I look forward to reading your response to some very interesting comments and questions. I also look forward to hearing when you're going to go back and order a three-piece suit in that orange windowpane and which bow-tie you'll select to wear with it.

K.S. Anthony said...

I spent an evening getting absolutely hammered w/ 3 20-something year old Yale undergraduate men--one an Andover graduate--discussing the sad state of affairs in men's clothing at Old Blue. All of them were "trad" dressers. The Andover grad insisted on the superiority of the Andover Shop over J. Press, but that article of contention was unimportant.

My point is that all of those clothes mentioned are much better after they are soaked in beer and champagne-based cocktails consumed out of a trophy cup.

Richard said...

This is the best post I have ever seen in the blog world.

A.E.F. said...

PS- question for LBT re: jazz - I really like a little, tolerate some and can't stand the rest but exactly how Trad is David Bowie?

ilovelimegreen said...

I never liked Boston, dating back to my first trip there when I was 16. Then when I was in college (in New England), I was dragged there more often for parties, Head of the Charles, etc., than I care to admit. But ADG, the Boston - and more specifically, Cambridge, that you portray, makes me wonder why I could never find anything to like during so many visits.

And why didn't you buy the green striped shirt - don't you have tons of checked shirts?

Giuseppe said...

I tried to get a job at Press once...I might as well have had ten heads. Too bad, they could use some young blood in these places.

Right after, I went over to Andover and spoke with Charlie. He didn't have anything for me either, but decided to chit chat about clothes and music the Red Sox and everything else. he told me to feel free to stop by just to shoot the breeze whenever I'm in Harvard Square. I got all star struck, like I had just gained access to the most secret club on earth.

To this day, when in Harvard Square without the kids in tow, I kill at least 1/2 hour with those guys. I've seen them treat paying customers like animals, and show me the greatest courtesy even though it's entirely clear I have no intention of buying anything.

I love it.

Death Bredon said...

Great post.

As a died in the wool Southron, I hate to admit that Boston, with its wonderful GTH Traditude is something even a Southern man just can't live without! (I gave up on J. Press a decade ago, despite its Southern outpost in DC.)

ADG said...

BredonDeathMan...thanks and I hear you re J.Press. I've only given them a transient reprieve via the occasional button down and maybe a bow tie.

G-Man....brilliant comments...thanks! You "get" what I get...lore and story-wise. I think.

LimeGreenGal...because back then you were looking at the world through a different lens. I HAD to buy the green check. I HAD NOT enough money to buy the other one you mention.

Richard...thanks. Your comment is generous beyond good judgement.

K.S. ... I feel the same way about white bucks. They aren't really broken in 'till you get some pee on them. Preferably your own pee-pee drops.

AEF...Thanks. Those boys are upside down in their revulsion re jazz.

Old School....what about BlueGrass?

jrandyv...I hope to see O'Connell's one day.

Preppy101...I too long for those days when people were decent to one another.

SouthernProle....very good points. Decorum and deportment should be social class and economic station in life....independent.

Easy and Elegant Life said...

I think you may have just outlined part of my (our... as soon as I get Mrs. E. on board for that bit; does the trolley approach?) itinerary for the Boston trip later this month. Thanks! Particularly looking forward to Bobby and your impressions of the Copley make me wish we could've booked there (the rest of the reunion goers are at the Park Plaza and so....)

Patsy said...

Please come back for the Gardener, I guarandamntee you'll love it. Also, if you find yourself back in Cambridge (but not on Mondays) Harvard has a whole lotta cool museums.

When I was 18 (granted, it was a billion years ago) I didn't know anyone my age who had a suit. None of my stepson's friends had suits at 18 either. I'm so ashamed.

ADG said...

Chris-duc-du-Elegante ...The Park Plaza is great too. Ho Chi Min used to work there...seriously. The train over to Cambridge is an easy no-brainer.

Patsy...yes, of course. I'll be back for the Gardner.

Patsy said...

Ho Chi Min worked at the Parker House, home of the famous rolls.

From the Park Plaza, you can walk right down Charles Street to the Red Line, or take the Green Line to the Red Line.

SouthernProletariat said...

Ms. Patsy,
Perhaps its more of a Southern custom, then, but if a southern boy has not had an occasion to wear a suit (funeral, wedding, graduation, etc) by the time he is 18- then I would be very surprised. Forgive me for being rude. SP

Ian from Downunder said...

Hello ADG, Many thanks for your J Press & Andover shop comments. I visited Boston last December for 4 reasons - to have my first white Xmas, to buy some pipe tobacco at Pirettis, walk around Harvard and to visit Press & Andover. The service at Andover on Xmas eve was very good. Perhaps it was due to the time of year. God it was cold!!
All the best, Ian from Downunder

Young Fogey said...

Holy cow! You were the best-dressed guy anywhere?!? What was everyone else wearing, polyester leisure suits or something?

Young Fogey said...

Well, upon reflection, considering that for too many guys, "dressed well" means clean triple-pleat Dockers and a T-shirt sans holes, I can all-too-easily believe that you were the best dressed guy there (and you do look good in the blurry photo).

Giuseppe is fighting a losing battle in Boston, it seems....

Easy and Elegant Life said...

Alright, it's taken me forever, but I finally figured out the comment....

"Paging Dr. Gonzo Flusser..... Paging Dr. Gonzo Flusser.... you have a call in the bar..."

I could only hope.

Anonymous said...

About that"trad" style, Charlie once said to me, "When we're gone, no one will know what we meant."

RSF

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