Talking tailored clothing, wagons and why Sid Mashburn can't keep this cult blazer in stock.
Last year I got a text from Sid Mashburn that said he was coming to LA. He asked if I was free for a coffee? Obviously, if Sid was asking I would make myself available. I’ve been a Sid fan for a long time, but didn’t know him all that well. When I go to Atlanta I always made a point to go to his store but always seemed to miss him or just talk briefly. I replied that that I would absolutely love the opportunity to spend some time with him.
We grabbed coffee from Farm Shop and sat at the picnic tables in the North courtyard of the Brentwood Country Mart. There were strong beams of sunlight cutting through the umbrellas in the food court. We sat and talked for 90 minutes about life and kids, about nice fabrics and things we were excited about. We could have probably spent the rest of the day there together just wandering our way through the common interests we share. It was an easy conversation with no immediate end goal, no action items or deliverables. Neither of us circled back afterwards, though we did keep in touch.
When you talk to Sid you start to realize he has an extra gear for two topics. Tailored clothing and customer service. He’s the type of person who keeps a notebook filled with good customer service experiences he’s had over the years. I could imagine him jotting them down neatly, methodically, and then recalling them in meetings at the big table in the design studio of his office. His nose for service and his notebook probably have further elevated his own customer experience. I don’t know this is true but I bet I’m not far off. He’s obsessive about service and it shows.
These days I think a brand will assume that if the product is good then the service doesn’t matter. At Sid Mashburn everything is good. Even the peanuts they sell are good. Sid was so excited about them when I saw him this April in Atlanta. He made me take two cans home.
You can just tell that Sid cares about the details, in everything. This is not and exaggeration – it’s just the way he operates. That’s probably why the customer service at Sid Mashburn is so wonderful. It’s part genuine friendliness paired with an obsession treating people well. Plus the product is really good. If Sid wasn’t so busy making beautiful clothes he would probably be out teaching Fortune 500 executives lessons in customer service. When I saw him in Atlanta he was asking me if I knew about the Dallas car dealer Sewell. Out of no where he told me that’s the best dealer in the world. He was so excited to dig into how they operate. I couldn’t help but to think that Sid is tireless with service — he finds such joy in it all. In a dystopian world where everything is nameless and faceless it’s nice to know there are some places where they still remember your name.
When I had coffee with Sid he was wearing this wonderful blue blazer. He was so excited to tell me about it. It’s called the Ghost Blazer and it keeps selling out as fast as they can stock them. On the surface it looks like a classic blue blazer, but it’s made to be highly unstructured from a high twist wool cloth. It looks like a classic flap pocket blazer but wears like a shirt jacket.
The sport coat is perhaps the most under-appreciated thing in menswear. We all know that there’s been a lot of rhetoric against tailored clothing over the past several years. In the rush to do away with dress codes and formalities we’ve failed to appreciate just how nice a good sport coat can be. I’m likely more casual than most, but there are still so many aspects of a blazer or sports jacket that I love. It’s flattering if you’re trim or if you need some help diverting attention from trouble spots in your physique. It’s versatile and has a lot of well placed pockets if you need them. You can wear it anywhere and look smart.
Wearing a blazer is like a suit of armor. I like the extra layer and I always feel just a bit better about my appearance when I have one on. A sport coat is never too dressy for a casual occasion and can also bridge the gap to a more formal situation. It’s the perfect utility piece which doesn’t get enough attention. We need more of them in our lives.
I wanted to talk to Sid about his take on tailoring, how the Ghost Blazer came to be and of course we talk station wagons and other stuff. Hope you enjoy our conversation.
ACL: When I saw you in Brentwood at the Country Mart a while back you were wearing a great navy blazer, the “Ghost Blazer” as you call it. What is it exactly?
Sid Mashburn: I'm not surprised I was wearing it when I saw you in LA, I've had a hard time going anywhere without it!
So the idea was this. We took our all-time favorite suiting fabric – this beautiful 2 ply high-twist wool from England that we use in our bread-and-butter No. 3 make, which is full canvas – and instead, we used it to make a totally unconstructed and simplified blazer. You can't believe how fantastic it is…. when you hold it up to the light you can see why we call it the ghost – you can see right through it!
How is the Ghost Blazer different from the traditional navy blazer which we all know?
This is just a simplified version of the traditional navy blazer. I wanted this to look & feel a bit easier. It is kind of a juxtaposition – to some, high twist wool can feel like a somewhat formal material (even though the truth is that it’s quite practical – not long ago it was on the back of sheep!) but this jacket being unlined, has an informality to it. We’re removed everything on the inside – so all it is, is the fabric and the buttons, that’s it. It meets the Michael Pollan rule of less than 5 ingredients. And so for the Ghost, we were going for a soft, natural shoulder, 8cm width lapel, and high arm hole like we do for our other blazers, but the Ghost is dart-less, has no ticket pocket, and the jacket pockets have flaps that you can tuck in… so the result is a casual but still elegant take on the navy blazer – just all pared down.
The buttons on the Ghost Blazer are unique. They almost look like some sort of old Roman coin. What are they?
An old Roman coin, that's probably not far from the truth! They were actually modeled on a wax stamp, and they're from this small, 90-year-old family-owned button maker we found in Italy. They are made of unlaquered brass and kind of have a melt-y, surrealist vibe to them – just weird in the best way possible.
I’ve heard this jacket has sold out a few times. Has the response surprised you?
Yes. I wore the prototype multiple times a week for quite a while before it came out. And for no other reason than I just loved it that much. I'd see a guy - customer, friend, employee, stranger - and tell him to try mine on... even if it wasn't his size. I just wanted guys to experience it! Of course I hoped that the customer's reaction would be similar... but you never know.
We released the first run in November of 2021. Not a lot of guys were wearing blazers on their zoom calls. So when we sold out in a matter of days, it was a double edged sword - we had a waiting list in the hundreds... so even the replens were gone as soon as we got them in. We're finally back in stock as of a week or so ago, and I can tell you it's going be something we carry for a long time.
I know you wear suits a lot for work, but how often do you wear a sportcoat in everyday life? Do you always wear one out to dinner and when you travel?
At our office and shops we are all in jacket and tie, 6 days a week. And I'd probably say I'm in a suit about half that time, and sport coats the other half. Depending on what is happening on any given night, I might lose the tie.
I didn't realize this but as evidenced by our Instagram, my vacation travel uniform is basically a seasonal jacket with a pocket square, jeans, a spread collar shirt dress shirt and tassel loafers.
Since I have you, I’ve noticed a few station wagons in photos on the Sid Mashburn IG. Are you strictly a wagon person? Would you ever drive an SUV?
I have been driving a wagon of some sort since 1996 when I bought a 85 Mercedes 300TDl. I’ve also driven Volvo wagons which I love too. I've been tempted to get another, newer wagon and a few weeks ago was on the hunt for an Audi A6 wagon, but sort of came to the conclusion that my 2008 Mercedes still has some miles left in the tank… at least for now. But I'm not opposed to an SUV... Ann started driving SUVs after we had our 4th kid – she had the best Land Cruiser in Wisconsin (a 1997) – and then an early 2000s Land Rover (first series LR3) which is still in the family but on its last leg. But there's something about a wagon that's a bit nostalgic, and a little unexpected. In Europe it’s almost like a pick-up truck! Plus my 2008 still has a lot of manual elements compared to newer cars these days (there's no back up camera), which is sort of a dying art, but I like it.
Last question. Do you think the suit is going to come back stronger after everyone (except Coggins) spent so much time at home on Zoom in sweatpants? What’s your general outlook on tailored clothing?
We never took our jacket and tie off during the pandemic, but know a lot of people did... and while we saw spikes in our more casual side of our assortment during that time, this year our tailored clothing business is up significantly, not just compared to the pandemic, but 2019. I think people forgot how good they feel when they dress up a bit, especially for occasions. There was a good bit of pent up demand so that has been great. Who knows what people will want. Suits and jackets are really in our DNA so we’ll always be talking them up.