Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Mod Fashion Dilemma: Vintage vs New

It’s no secret, Mods are obsessed about clothes. Do you know of any other subculture that considers a closet, prime real estate? Recently, on an on-line, Mod oriented men’s forum about clothes, there was a heated debate about how high a tie pin should be worn. Who else does that? My wife continues to be baffled when she joins my mates and I for a pint and surprises us in a deep conversation about male fashion. Why talk about the cute barmaid when we can discuss the proper width of a jacket’s lapel, right?
So here’s another style related subject we can ponder. Should the Modern Man exclusively be wearing new clothes or strive for a polished, yet trendy look, utilizing vintage clothes?  Maybe a bit of both? I’m all for the third option.
With a bit of savoir-faire, it’s possible to incorporate a piece or two of vintage clothing in an ensemble without ending up looking like you’re about to attend a 60s themed costume party. Even worse, you don't want to look like (dare I say the word that shall not be spoken?)  a hipster! Accessories are the perfect way to ease into the look. A nice vintage scarf, a pair of antique cufflinks or a classic watch are items that usually never go out of style. Slim ties are not easy to come by these days. One found in a thrift shop can turn an ordinary suit into a women magnet!
When comes time to choose vintage threads, I’m very selective. They have to look immaculate and the fit must be nearly perfect. If they don’t hang right, then I don’t hesitate to have them tailored. Deadstock (the equivalent of NOS for the vintage scooter fanatic) is a term you should be familiar with. It's the unworn, brand new, piece of vintage clothes that usually still has the original tag attached to it.

Deadstock items from the sixties are scarse but they are still available. You should expect to pay a premium for them. If the price is the equivalent to what you would pay for something Chinese made and new in a store today, I say grab it while you can.

I remember sometime back in the 90s, there was a little jewish tailor shop in Montreal named Goodman that had been opened since probably the 50s. The owner had a stock of never before worn suits from the 60s in his basement. As soon as this place was discovered, the word spread like wildfire and every Mod and Rude Boy in town raided the place. I managed to put my hands on a few and I have this jacket that I still wear today.

Navy 3-button jacket with tasteful check pattern and subtle peak lapel
The elegance of a king - P. Goodman inc. - "Everything for the stylish man"

I recall buying this brand new pair of socks there that I still wear to this day. That goes to show that quality back then was second to none. This is a compelling argument for buying vintage.

Word of caution, sizes have changed since the 60s. What you would consider a Large today was probably an Extra-Large back in the day. If you buy on-line, make sure that you have access to all the measurements. When buying on eBay, you might end up with a few surprises from time to time. Take this 1960s green gabardine 3-button suit that I bought from a French seller. The suit looked great, still had the original tags and at $40, I was ready to take a gamble on it.

When I received it, the jacket was exactly what I was hoping for but the trousers were another story. They were the furthest thing from being hip huggers. I felt like I was wearing the pants under my armpits! The button style front was freakishly long. So the pants were a write-off but the jacket looks perfect with a pair of black trousers or tan ones.

Not noticeable in this photo, the jacket has a nice green Tonik type
sheen to it.
As for this 60s vintage suit, the jacket was the piece that needed some attention this time.  I had the lengths of the sleeve shortened and I'm still debating about having the lapels slimed or having a fourth button added. But the color was what attracted me to this one. This stunning greenish blue suit was made in England by  Partners. The trousers needed no alterations and  I like wearing them without the jacket on occasion.


Vintage shirts and knits are also worth seeking out. This is one of my more recent buys and I can't get over how much I love this retro beauty. You must admit, the hidden buttons are a feature worth a mention. Plenty more vintage treasures like this one can be found at the Watch The Cloth Moth Facebook page.

Sometimes, the contemporary and updated version trumps the vintage one. As a case in point, lets compare these two similar Fred Perry V-neck cable knit sweaters. The 60's one, albeit being well preserved, is a bit short for my taste but the classic look is still relevant.

As for this limited edition Comme des Garçons / Fred Perry collaboration, it exudes Mod style.

A couple of years back, I bought this prime exemple of 60s or 70s Fred Perry design on-line. It was still in its cellophane package with the original tags attached. I was happy to own something seemingly rare and exclusive. Usually, if I'm going to wear Fred Perry, I like to wear something different from the same polo shirt I've seen since I was a teenager.

Imagine my surprise when I learnt that Fred Perry dusted off the old archives and decided to reissue the same knitted polo. Apparently, some designs age better then others.

Final tip: If you decide to travel the vintage route, especially if you buy on-line, you might want to take a few precautions against the Mod's worst enemy, the dreaded moth! Once you received your item, slip it in a sealed plastic bag and pop it in the freezer for a few days. This should take care of those pesty eggs. If you need it right away because you're attending an all-nighter and you want to impress a cute girl, then toss it in the dryer on high for a full cycle.

Now tell me fellow stylists, on which side does your fashion scales tip? New, vintage or a bit of both?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Top Ten Northern Soul and RnB Parka Avenue Finds of 2012

With the New Year now in full swing, it's time to recap the best Soul and RnB 45s I managed to put my hands on last year. You can check out last year's list here. Some of these had been on my wish list for a while and with enough patience, dedication and luck, they found their way in my record collection. Others were welcomed discoveries. It's my favorite type of find. You sift the Internet for more information about the title and you can't believe that the record is virtually undiscovered or underrated. I love that feeling!

Some of these were dirt cheap while others I had to pay a full night's work as a DJ to acquire. No matter what the story is behind them, it was all worth it in the end because I can turn to them at any time and know that they will get a dance floor going.

I searched high and low for these little gems: eBay, fellow collectors, road trips, flea markets, record shops. No stones were left unturned. I think this is the perfect opportunity to promote the Parka Avenue Podcast. Listen to this list on Mixcloud. So now, instead of clicking on each individual YouTube video in this blog post, you can listen to it as a complete mix. It's also the perfect companion to pass the time while you wax your favorite pair of Weejuns, iron you nicest button-down shirt or shine the miroirs of your Lambretta SX.

1) Slick Chick - Vernon Harrel - Lescay

I'm really getting more and more into this mid-tempo New Breed stuff. I believe that just the politically incorrect title is worth the high price this record is fetching.

2) Blowing Up My Mind - The Exciters - RCA Victor

I have to thank my friend Derek See at Derek's Daily 45 for this one. I already had a few Exciters 45s but this one is by far the best one. You'll see, it'll blow up your mind!

3)  'Cause Your Mine - The Vibrations - Epic

A Northern Soul classic that has stood the test of time. This 1968 track was a hit at The Blackpool Mecca. Here's an interesting fact about The Vibrations. Did you know that in 1961, they also recorded the hit Peanut Butter, another favorite of mine, under the name The Marathons?

4) Since I Found My Baby - The Metros - RCA Victor

Speaking of Northern Soul anthems, this one also falls in the classic category. I often have very up-tempo, fast paced DJ sets so this one is a welcomed breather. I bought this gem at People's Records during a road trip to Detroit.

5) The Way I Feel About You - Bonnie & Lee - Fairmount

I'm not a huge fan of duets but I just love everything about this song. Especially the way it makes me feel. Ironic, isn't it? It puts a smile on my face every time. It's the musical equivalent of chocolate.

6) I Need Somebody - Little Milton - Checker

What would be a Mod's Top Ten without some RnB action? I found this little number in Chicago. Actually my friend Sir Eric Colin from famed MODchicago did and as soon as he played it for me, I offered him more then 3 times what he payed for it. It's worth 12$, don't you think?

7) We're Gonna Party - The Portraits - Tri Disc

This is the perfect exemple of a track that is definitely underplayed. It's also cheap as hell! Can you think of a better title to get the dance floor going? The thing about this song is that even if it's virtually unknown, people will chant to it. Have a listen and tell me I'm wrong.

8) All Right - The Grandisons - RCA Victor

This 1963 party starter has been covered by The Searchers. I was first introduced to this track by the Canadian band The Guess Who. Their 1966 version is pretty good but this one takes the cake.

9) Clap Your Hands - The Ambertones - Newman

I have to thank the knowledgeable DJ Ty Jesso for turning me on to this one. Why would I put a Garage band from LA in a Soul Top Ten? Once you have listened to the song you'll understand why. This 1966 party hymn has no deep and meaningful lyrics, no complex arrangements, no sophisticated melody. But for a DJ, this is a powerful weapon! I think that the title says it all.

10) Ain't That Terrible - Roy Redmond - Loma

I think I kept the best for last. This is the type of song that people will come up to me and ask me what it is. It has all my favorite elements: a driving beat, a powerful voice and a couple of drum breaks. The Capitols' version doesn't even come close to this 1967 killer.

Have you ever noticed this? You can cross Soul 45s off your wish list on a regular basis but the list never seems to get any shorter. How is that possible? Humm... This is what I call the DJ paradox.

Now I can't wait to see what next year will bring!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Enter The World of Shag

Tikis might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a Mod Mod world.  But add some jazz, spies, Super Villains, slim ties, a space age décor, mid-century modern furniture, vixens wearing sleek dresses sipping cocktails in lounges and you are not to far from the mark. What do the tiki lounge scene and the 21st century Mod scene have in common? It’s all about being cool.

This is exactly what transpires in every piece of art that Josh Agle aka Shag creates. Picture mythological type creatures that mingle over martinis with ultra suave, suit wearing, dark shades at night sporting debonair gents in a Jestons like universe. Have me a Vespa GS parked in the background and you have my definition of nirvana.

I have been dreaming for a long time of having my very own Shag serigraph. Not necessarily accessible to a teacher’s salary, I had to settle for a few of Shag’s books depicting part of his collection. Last Christmas, my wife gave me bunch of them, including this one.

The author, a Shag fan turned business partner, writes in detail about Shag’s creative path and his choice of using serigraphy as his medium. It might be a painstakingly long and costly process but the results are stunning and are miles ahead the more widespread giclé prints.

Serigraphy involves laying each color individually over a silkscreen. The more colors you use, the more complicated and time consuming the process is. The arduous task is well worth it because the results are stunning. The colors are more vibrant and at the same time, the scene has more depth. I never thought I could tell the difference but I’ve been converted.

A few of months ago, local retro shop Kitchy-Koo, managed to put their hands on a Shag limited edition original. It was on commission from a collector from Ottawa and the price was too good to let slip through. Plus, my five year anniversary with my girlfriend was soon coming up.

I’ve started collecting art when I graduated university. I put a down payment on my first painting then and my parents eventually paid the balance as a graduation present. My goal has been since to replace every college dorm laminated poster with an original piece of art. I think I’m well on the way of attaining that goal because I’m starting to run out of wall space. I tend to gravitate towards very colorful pieces of Pop Art, so it’s no wonder why Shag caught my eye.

The 2004 piece entitled Acquisition Strategy now rests on our office wall. Number 185 of 300, this work of art has it all: Mad Men type characters, a mid-century decor with a huge Tiki mask on the wall and striking colors. The fact that it came in a fake bamboo frame is a welcomed bonus.

You can tell that Shag is scooterist friendly when he did the poster for the 2002 Amerivespa rally.
Will this be the start of a new collection? Only time will tell. In the meantime, drop the needle on some Jimmy Smith, pull out your shaker, a martini glass and poor yourself a stiff one. To get you started, here's a cocktail recipe from Shag's book Shag Party.

Blue Shark
1 1/2 ounces tequila
1 1/2 ounces vodka
1 1/2 ounces blue Curaçao
Old Fashioned glass; shake with ice, strain over ice.
* The Parka Avenue version:
shake with ice,
pour into a large martini glass (it looks swankier)
and add a maraschino cherry.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Mod suit makes the man

I was listening to DJ Warren Peace on the highly entertaining We Are The Mods radio show discussing fashion with my favorite blogger Carlos Perez from Mod Male. Warren and Carlos made a good point when they agreed that, as Mods, we should set ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to choosing our clothes. I agree.
Being a Mod is not just about throwing on the same old washed up Ben Sherman you have been wearing since high school or buying the generic Merc 3-button suit, five of your mates have. It’s much more than that. Dedication, attention to detail, the endless pursuit of the perfect fit, the relentless search of the item nobody else has and the constant forging and defining of your personal sense of style. THAT is what sets you apart.
I hope that this blog has served this purpose. May it be through inspiration, tips or recommendations, I hope I lived up to that motto. I’m not beyond reproach, far from it. But you can’t fault me for testing the waters and pushing the boundaries. Some critics have said that a Mod from the 60s wouldn’t have worn what I’m wearing. Do I need to remind you that I’m not living in the 60s nor would I care to? My wardrobe is the result of my vision of what a 21st century Mod would wear with my inspiration squarely based on 60s fashion and Mod imagery.
This doesn’t mean I never buy vintage clothes. I do and I choose wisely. The last thing I want to be is an Austin Powers clone. But I would rather have my clothes tailor made. I have written a few posts about custom made shirts and bespoke suits. It’s getting harder to come up with new and different ways to interpret the Mod suit. This time around, I pushed the envelope a bit. My inspiration was less early Mod, Jazz musician on a Blue Note album cover, conservative Ivy League look. Instead I took the late sixties, dandy, Ready Steady Go!, swinging London, John Stephen, Carnaby Street route. Is it an accurate depiction of that era? Probably not. But who cares?
First was the choice of fabric. I picked this less conventional wool and cashmere blue check pattern with accents. Bold enough to be different but subtle enough not to stick out like a sore thumb.

I went with a 3-button short jacket with two 8 1/2 inch side vents.

Instead of the predictable slanted pockets with flaps and matching ticket pocket, I decided to go with the less common patch pocket and buttoned flaps. The point on the flap was another way to kick it up a notch. I went with contrasting burgundy covered buttons with the intention to potentially exchanging them for some vintage dark leather buttons.

The peak lapels are reminiscent of the late 60s, early 70s. More daring then the standard notch lapel, this example, with its oversized arrow points, take a good dose of confidence to pull off or in my case, some blissful naiveté.

The short sleeve permits you to showcase a nice pair of vintage cufflinks. Bored of my usual 5 button cuff, 2 was the magic number this time. I made sure to distance them to give it a unique look. The working cuff has become a standard on my suits and is sign of a higher quality garment when compared to your run-of-the-mill mass produced suits.

The trousers were inspired by a post I did earlier this year entitled When Mod hit the mainstream: The Carnaby Street style. In the post, I uploaded a scan from a 1967 Canadian mail-order catalog. I brought the scan to my tailor and asked him if he could recreate the look. He didn't get it and I took it as a good sign. Here are the highlights.

Front “military” pockets, fastened by 2 buttons each, have taken the place of the classic frogmouth pocket. Like many pants of that style, there are no pockets in the back. I went with wide belt loops that will accommodate a large belt with an oversized belt buckle. 

The pant leg is tapered with a 7” opening.  A small notch with a decorative button was added at the bottom. Worn with a pair of Loake chelsea boots, you can't go wrong.

Again, I believe that it’s the attention to detail that will make all the difference. No matter if this is your style or not,  the point I’ve always tried to make is that it’s possible to have something that reflects your personality without breaking your piggy bank. For this, you need five things: a vision, some imagination, balls, some pocket change and a tailor you trust.
This one was another made-to-measure Prince Henry Tailors creation. Check them out, they might be coming to your city soon.