Photo by Salt Water New England

Monday, August 31, 2020

In the SWNE Mailbag

Some recent mail:

1) Hi Muffy, 
Is it just me or is this sweater ugly? Also, this description! 
“Our twist on a classic, with authentic cable designs from the Aran Islands. This updated boyfriend sweater is made from crispy cotton yarns that are substantial and reach further into the seasons than traditional wool.” 
CRISPY cotton?! Sounds very uncomfortable! Reaching further into the seasons? What?

Also, the whole “boyfriend” descriptor is so passé and cheesy. And are they passively suggesting that their other sweaters aren’t made from “substantial” yarns?!

2) Really love your site.  Just got a care package from Mercer & Sons.  
Photograph Sent By Reader

3) Dear Editor, 
Washable, filtered oxford cloth face masks. 
My company probably won’t start re-populating offices until 2021, but we will likely be required to wear a mask when we do.

4) Dear Editor, 
Where can one find clothes with the style of Brooks Brothers but made with comfortable & durable quality?  My husband & I are so tired of being disappointed with quality, even at very high price points.  We are looking for basics: khakis, OCBDs, cashmere sweaters, day dresses, navy dress jackets, sensible (non athletic) shoes. We would like to find soft, durable materials that are thick (so many clothes of the style we prefer seem to be tissue thin, almost see-through, & anything but durable these days). Any ideas where we might look? Many thanks for your time & attention.

5) Dear Editor, 
The New England value of thrift is a wonderful value that is good stewardship of not only our money but our planet.  Amidst the pandemic, with many of us having more time on our hands, the adage "time is money" can take on new meaning.  Things I might have paid someone else to do when I was working long hours in the office, I can now do myself, saving money.  I started thinking of the various things I do (other than wearing lovely natural fiber clothes until they are so threadbare that even I must let them go) that are thrifty.  So I started a list and hope other SWNE devotees will share and build on it.
  • instead of using paper towels and napkins use a stack of dishrags, dish towels, and, at table, cloth napkins, using napkin rings to keep track so that the napkins do not need to be washed and ironed every time
  • shaving with double edged blades ($10 for 100), shaving soap (a cake can last a year), and the giant $43 dollar bottles of 4711 for after shave (a bottle lasts about a year)
  • saving vegetable trimmings and bones to make stock, very easy and better than boxed or canned and basically free
  • baking bread that rivals fancy $5 loaves for a fraction of the cost
  • avoiding pre-made foods and sauces
  • lawn and yard care rather than using a service (sharpen blades myself, use electric mower, weed trimmer, and blower and no need to buy gas, oil, or air filters.  Use broom and/or rake instead of blower whenever possible)
  • running, walking, and planking instead of joining a club or buying equipment
  • ironing what needs to be ironed instead of using a professional laundry
  • libraries! 
  • making wine vinegar from leftover wine instead of buying fancy vinegar
  • using concentrates to mix my own spray cleaner and mixing starch in a spray bottle for ironing
  • composting 
  • growing herbs
  • using the clothes line instead of the dryer
  • and last for this list, finding liquor you like that is more affordable than many options .  Two prime examples here are Beefeater gin and Evan Williams bourbon in 1.75 size.  
These little things add up, allowing you to spurge when only the best will make you happy!  Glad to share details if any of these ideas prompt questions.


  1. Even though my husband and I are from South Carolina, we have been doing many of the thrifty suggestions made by #5 for decades!

    1. Same here. It's called common sense.

    2. Nice to have a reminder on common sense, though. Whenever anyone would leave a room with a light or radio on, my grandfather would mysteriously appear, turn it off, and say loudly enough for the miscreant to hear, wherever they had gone, "When not in use, turn off the juice." Too few people these days use common sense as liberally as they ought.

      We like the home made wine vinegar one. The two of us rarely want that last bit in the bottle. (Actually, we would happily drink it. We have learned, however, it is usually better not to.) So it either goes in the red crock or the white crock or gets saved for tomorrow night's cooking.

      To enquiry #4, I have found every item I have ever ordered from O'Connell's to be appropriately substantial, very well made, and more correctly prep than anything that has come out of Brooks Brothers since 1985. For shirts and sweaters, Muffy's predilection for Mercer and Bosie (that sounds like a law firm) seems well founded although, as noted above, the O'Connell's offerings are first rate, too.

      As regards the lead off sweater, I would not say it was ugly, but I would say it was not prep and suffered from yucky marketing. Since they discontinued the navy blue Norwegian sweater with the white repeating pattern, I am at a loss as to why L. L. Bean would cross my mind as a place to buy a sweater. Don't they know to "dance with the one what brung ya?"

  2. Never heard of leftover wine!!

  3. #3 Thank You! What a wonderful mask, looks comfortable and durable.
    Just ordered 5 of them.

  4. To comment 5.) on thrift - for the ladies - might I add that the pandemic has taught me that one can very easily and effectively color hair at home! As long as you're sticking close to your natural shade (and perhaps covering some gray), there are a ton of easy to use and very reasonably priced color in a box out there. Revlon makes a "clean and vegan" color that does a lovely job for a fraction of the time and cost of going to the salon.

  5. Agree with all the comments above. Also, set your thermostat to 75 in summer and 62 in winter. Combine shopping/outing trips to save gas. Avoid shopping at 7-11 type stores--ripoff! And finally, google all the thrift stores in your area. There are likely 4 or 5. Great deals to be had at a fraction of the cost. Prost!

  6. In response to number 4 regarding quality clothes:

    -the best oxford cloth button down shirts these days are made to measure. Mercer and Sons advertises on this site and makes outstanding shirts, and comparable in price to Brooks Brothers' disappointing 'original polo.'

    -good men's khakis are not easy to find. On the more formal side, Ralph Lauren isn't what it used to be but may have options; on the informal side, Uniqlo vintage regular fit chinos are worth a look.

    -Shoes: Limmer Boots are known for outstanding hiking boots and also make a full leather, leather-lined oxford. Also look at Rancourt and Company, Red Wing Heritage, and Alden's 947 walking shoe.

  7. Seventy five in summer is good but 62 in winter! Layering up is good however sitting indoors with parka on seems extreme. My opinion here in PA. PA

  8. Mercer shirts! Yes!

    Best Regards,


  9. Thanks for the tip. I checked out the cotton fisherman sweater from LL Bean and I didn’t especially care for it but that Ragg Cotton Cable Crew looks good and the choice of colors...WOW. It seems to have everything going for it that I like. I’ll try one, or maybe two and then....
    Interesting post. Reminds me a bit of reading Mother Earth News.

  10. # 4 Depends on the use, good values for khakis at Old Navy & Dickies, shirts run the gamut, J Press OCBD Flap Pocket is the closet to B2 Original, found that Mercer shirts are 2 ply too light for me.

    # 5 Lot of old school habits here, done most of these things.
    Having been in the lawn & garden care business of my residences for over 60 years, never used an electric mower. Used pusher reel, Briggs & Stratton Self Propelled Reel, Sears Manual Rotary, Toro Self Propelled Front Wheel Drive Rotary, & finally Snapper Mulcher Rotary with independent blade & wheel speed. The Snapper does a fine job of mulching leaves.

    Shaving, life is too short to use a cheap double edge razor & blades.
    I use a Feather SS Double Edge & Feather Platinum Blades...what a treat with Cremo Mint, Menthol, Tea Tree Oil. Change the blades often to give yourself a present of a close shave.

    After shave et al is a dangerous practice. It is a teenager or young person rite of passage. Keep it simple if you have to do it, light citrus based Caswell Massey Lime, Eau Savauge. For old school, Bay Rum, Osage Rub, Thayer Witch Hazel with Lemon. You what it to wear off quick & not overwhelm anyone.

    Ironing, depends on the job. Iron my shorts & SS OCBD/Popovers. They are hand washed in the sink with Persil & soaked overnight. Make my starch with Argo & boiling water. Full immersion, dry on clothes line, iron with a spray bottle of water. Helps to have a heavy iron. Use highest heat & no steam settings. Nothlng like sharp creases. Heavily starched clothes can be worn longer. Wrinkles provide street cred.

    Would agree that 1.75 liters are the way to roll. Anything less would suggest a depletion of the family till. My wife's Cajun French grandmother kept a 1.75 plastic liter of Old Crow underneath the kitchen sink. Consumed while cooking.

  11. #4 The Orvis Ultimate Khaki is my favorite pant as of late. They are not USA made but still a very substantial material. There are plenty of them new on eBay. Even better if you live near an Orvis outlet.
    Quoddy makes a beautiful and comfortable shoe. J. Press sells an assortment of quality clothes as well. I believe the rest has been thoroughly covered.
    JM Virginia

  12. Making/ baking what you eat is generally a substantial money saver. I've also been home brewing kombucha with great success. Sure beats shelling out $4-7 for a single serving bottle! Ditto for coffee, espresso, latte, cappuccino, and tea.

    1. Amen! I still recall a friend of our daughter's being astounded as I made cocoa from a spoon of cocoa, two spoons of sugar, a pinch of salt, a little milk to make paste, and the rest of the milk. She had expected microwaved water and an envelope of something!

      Very cool on the kombucha. I love fermenting. Kimchi is easy and delicious, too.

    2. I raise my mug to homemade hot cocoa, too! And shake my head that so many do not know these simple delights.

  13. "Reach deeper into the seasons.." I think equals the "substantial and authentic" need the retailer has to reach deeper into your "crisp" wallet.

  14. 1) Yes that sweater is horrid. Why "reinvent" a classic?
    2) That's a Gatsby-esque pile of beautiful Mercer shirts.
    4) J. Press continues to be of generally high quality but please don't forget the good folks at O'Connell's, who still sell all the beautifully and substantially made products that places like Brooks Brothers used to sell, and do it with a personal touch.
    5) You can also make a rug completely out of pocket fuzz. I mean, come on.

  15. Regarding thrift: When I was growing up, my mother and uncle (both living in Massachusetts) would compete to see who would be the last to turn on their furnace in the fall. It was usually sometime around Halloween when one of them would break--often to prevent their pipes from freezing! I remember one year when it was close to Thanksgiving before my mom (mercifully) turned on our heat.

    For my contribution to pandemic thrift, I found that I can trim my beard and cut my hair perfectly well at home, with the same set of Wahl clippers: #2 for my beard and #4 for my hair. It takes about 10 minutes total, and it's free.

    As for clothes, I second J. Press and O'Connell's (for men, at least). The quality and cut are still there, thank goodness! If they go the way of BB and LLB, I'm not sure what will happen. I may start making my own clothes or just go naked. (Now that's thrifty!) When it comes to shoes, certainly Alden is hard to beat if you can stomach the upfront cost. I have found the Allen Edmonds "made in the USA" line to be excellent at about half or two-thirds the price of Aldens.

    I'm not much of a drinker, but I honor cheap booze as much as any man. Bacardi white on ice was my grandmother's drink, and it remains a fantastic bargain. Whenever it's on sale, I buy the biggest bottle I can find (in case of emergency).

  16. More regarding thrift:
    -Not a healthful choice so perhaps cheap rather than thrift, but Bisquick bisquits have become a pandemic comfort food staple during the colder months. Cheap, easy, and ready in 10 minutes. Somewhat redeemed with a slathering of jam.
    -Filtered tap water rather than bottled.
    -Coffee brewed at home instead of SBux of the ubiquitous Dunks.
    -Local farms for chicken, meat, flour, and veggies - even cold storage through winter. It really is less expensive and higher quality food (except for the Bisquick - don't judge).
    -Baking bread (commercial bread costs a small fortune).
    -Cloth dish rags instead of paper towels.
    -Antennae for local TV/public TV instead of cable.
    -Boxed wine. It's really improved since my parents day and it's a lighter environmental footprint.
    -Ditched the gym. Working out in the great outdoors or on a small bike that I got off Amazon. Not a Peloton.
    -Salad dressing from scratch.
    -No AC, just well-placed fans. We are fortunate to live on the ocean and a window box fan, reversed, pulls in the salty air at night.
    -Library books, magazine, and even the New York Times free alerts courtesy of Boston Public Library.
    -Dining at home an not out with friends.

    1. Is your library open? Ours has been closed since March. We can access some of their books through the Overdrive ipad app. I really miss the library's magazines and newspapers though.

    2. Half of your list is the same as ours! We have an attic antenna also, it's not fabulous but PBS comes through fine and that's all I care about, haha! I do a lot of exercise, dog hikes every day and living room physical jerks but have never joined a gym. I use a washing line and that gets us through the winter too, just about, here in Virginia. We have an empty bucket in the shower and I do my dishes my hand, saving all the rinsing water, that's at least another couple of buckets, good for flushing the toilet and/or watering plants. Constantly schlepping those 24lbs of water around is good for the arms too! Our water usage is in the one-person category according to our water bill. I've cut my own crazy curly hair forever, some hairdressers don't 'get' it. My husband's too. We're lucky our house and garden is quite shady so we only use our a/c about two days per year. I'm English so we didn't grow up with a/c and I like to feel hot and live in shorts and flip flops for months. Ditto the library for books and DVDs, and veering into Luddite territory now, we only use a desktop PC and a landline phone still.

  17. 1. I wouldn't say the sweater is ugly ( silly perhaps?) but it's not what I would wear. Then again, there isn't anything I would wear at LL Bean these days. Their clothing styles are too focused on athleisure and are too juvenile and trendy for me, the colors are on the cheap spectrum, their shipping is the slowest in e commerce and their returns and refunds take too long ( I'm not a lender).

    5. ' Time is Money'.....I'm glad to see this post because years ago I began asking people to do an accounting of how much it was actually costing them to work.

    Jules, I don't know where in VA you could have withstood this summer's relentless heat without A/C. When I lived in Blacksburg in the early 80's, I managed with just one small window unit in our tiny house but I'm struggling to stay cool on the Chesapeake even with central air. This has been the longest hottest summer I've ever experienced in VA. Tomorrow a true cold front will provide relief and I can't wait!

    Especially during this pandemic, I find myself always referring to all the wonderful advice my grandmother gave me about value and saving money. She was a master homemaker, chef and entertainer. She knew how to budget and educated herself about finance and investing. She never purchased processed foods, never owned a microwave ( I don't either). Every meal was an elegant culinary experience made with real whole food by her. She never wasted a penny and she never paid for conveniences UNTIL.... TANG. Actually, she only purchased Tang to carry in her suitcase when she traveled. Oh and she would buy Underwood Deviled Ham and Deviled Chicken cans of 'meat' to make sandwiches for our traveling picnics on the side of the road. Even her Deviled sandwiches looked elegant and tasted wonderful in those days.

    I've been working from home for over 10 years, so not much has changed for me during the pandemic. But, I have saved a lot of money and time by working from home. I've always cooked, baked my own bread, canned from my gardens. I very rarely ever dine out unless it's a very special occasion. I hate gyms and never needed one because I prefer outdoor exercise activities like walking, gardening and cycling. I do most of my own household building and auto maintenance and repairs. With YouTube University, I can learn how to do most anything!

    I'm not interested in devices or social media, I use a real camera and actually hate working at the computer. I've found that I'm much more productive without a computer. I have a business landline and a mobile phone but my mobile is mostly turned off and kept in an RFID pouch unless I'm traveling. I only pay for what I use through Ting every month. I prefer solitude and authentic relationships and experiences to anything digital. Losing power during a hurricane is like vacationing on a secluded island. I love it!

    1. Oh my Lord...
      a kindred spirit!

    2. We're just down the hill in Roanoke. Blacksburg is a lot more pleasant in the summer, although much more chilly in the winter of course! There's a huge difference in humidity levels nearer the coast. Richmond is nice but seems broiling every day during the summer. We do okay with our ceiling fans but yes, it can be rather warm sometimes. Used to live in Wilmington, NC and that would have unbearable without constant a/c. I miss the beach once in a while but love these mountains!

    3. Anonymous, I think I just replied to you using the wrong username, Clover... instead of Jules!

    4. I live in Northern Virginia and yesterday was the nicest day we've had all summer, I think. We were also able to meet with my wife's aunt and uncle at their home in Alexandria along with their children. They actually live in a retirement house a few miles away and when they go back, they'll have to be in isolation for five days. We all did our best to maintain our distance from one another.

    5. Jules and Blue Train,
      Kindred spirit indeed Jules! We are evolutionary failures I suppose.
      I grew up in NOVA ( Arlington, Middleburg and Bluemont) and we never had A/C or we didn't use it very often. That's not to say that it didn't get hot but I was younger and more tolerant of heat and I don't think it was unbearable for too long. Then I moved to Williamsburg and thank goodness my house had central air. I still remember that hot July moving day driving down I-64 and feeling the weight of the humidity in the air. I didn't have A/C in my car in those days either. Everyone warned me and said that I would probably suffer an asthma attack until I acclimated. So, I've been here most of my life since then except for 2 years in Blacksburg. Jules, I used to work up at the biological station at Mountain Lake. If you've ever been there, then you know how different the climate is on that mountain than in the valley. I remember a day when it was 90 degrees in B'burg and I drove up to the lake and had to put on a goose down jacket! I've also been trapped up there by fog and had to wait for rain in order to drive down that scary mountain road.
      Richmond is gross in my opinion. My brother lives there and I don't know how tolerates it except that he's like many Americans who spend most of their daily life in a hermetically sealed office building on a hamster wheel. There's no grass in the city and it reminds me of the inside of a filthy furnace.

  18. My husband inserted some plastic tubing into a bucket so he could catch the condensation from the a/c unit which was replaced last year. On very humid days, he'll collect 15 or 16 gallons of water a day and uses it in the garden or on the potted plants. It's amazing how much water usage this saves each summer and it keeps water away from the house's foundation.

    My mother used to collect soap ends and make "new" soap with it. I'd be keeping all the little bits and pieces for several months, threw them in a pan with some water and "made" soap with it last week. Again, it was surprising how much soap came out of it and how good it smells even though I used different types of soap.

    These past few months have made me very grateful to have grown up fairly poor.