The Trad — the pseudonym of a southern-raised Manhattan insurance broker — has been blogging since 2006, but with the recent explosion of the menswear blogosphere, he has become the de facto spokeman for the traditional American style referred to as “Ivy,” “prep,” or simply “trad.” Not to be outdone by the likes of the New Yorker, the New York Times, and Esquire, Styleite sat down to interview him about the motivations behind his blogging, his view of style journalism, and the future of menswear retailing. This is the first part of that interview; the second part is here.
STYLEITE: So, what was the origin story of The Trad?
THE TRAD: Secondary to writing, photography has always been a huge love of mine. I remember looking at what Schuman was doing, and thinking, this is such a great idea. And at the time I was going between New York and Jacksonville…the idea was that I wanted to take pictures of people in Northeast Florida. And there’s an old joke about, “What do you call a guy in a suit in Northeast Florida?” (pause) “The defendant.” Nobody wears a tie. And I did not have the cojones to ask people on the street for their picture…but that’s how the writing started. I wanted it to be a Schumann kind of thing.
S: How did you get to the point you’re at now, where The Trad is as much a blog about classic Americana, and fine spirits, and New York City, as it is about menswear?
T: I get bored easily…I think everything I write about, they’re all soulful things. They’re lasting — and in some cases, I think they’re things that won’t be around much longer. Caswell-Massey being moved out of the building they’ve been in since 1926? I’m not going to say that that broke my heart, but there’s a real sadness about it…I realize that there’s more history in that hotel than there are in a lot of national monuments, and here they are being booted out for a bank. And how many more TDIs do we need in this town? So that’s really it…I think when you get older, well — when I was young, I kept waiting for people to tell me about places like this. And I didn’t trust my own taste. I didn’t know what a good wine was. That took 20 years.
S: So, obviously, being called “idiosyncratic” by the New Yorker is a pretty big deal. Where did your distinct writing style come from? You’ve dropped hints that you were a copywriter…
T: No, no, never. I basically always used writing to bullshit my way through schools…I came to this city as a park ranger working at the Statue of Liberty, and I tried like hell to get a job at an ad agency. Doyle Dane Bernbach took me on a tour of their office, and the first thing the guy did was take me on a tour and introduce me, and tell me where everyone went to school. “Yale, and Princeton, and Columbia, and, oh, where’d you go to school, John?” “Um…Flagler College, in St. Augustine…” But I wanted to work in advertising so badly. I was reading Ad Age when I was in the Army. 99% of it, I had no idea what they were talking about. The names of these agencies, these accounts, it was hard to understand…but I had a pretty gentile, goyim, laid-back, “if its gonna happen its gonna happen” attitude. And I wasn’t going to bother people…
People tell me they like my blog, and I don’t know how to respond. I’ve never done this before…For a long time I didn’t even have a site meter. And a friend of mine said, “You’ve got to do this.” Having said all that? The New Yorker? That did it for me! I was like, you bullshitted your way through college, why can’t you bullshit your way through men’s fashion magazines?
S: Do you think that body of work that is “The Trad” could have come out of you in any place besides New York?
T: New York really makes it easy…What I’m trying to do is tie in the story of my youth into clothing. It’s been done many times, I mean, I not the first one to do it with clothing. But it gives to focus to say, here’s a blazer — I’ve got 9 million stories about blazers. I’m not saying I’m a brilliant guy, I just think like that. A lot of men don’t think like that. So, no, I think I could have written about it anywhere. New York is just me being greedy. I never want to leave…New York is like London. There’s history everywhere. You can’t walk down a street without thinking, who else has been down this street? Amazing people, amazing things happening here.
And if you have a mind for that, and you’re impressed by things like, that the marble is discolored on the floor of the Caswell-Massey store, because that’s where Bogart met Bacall for the first time, because she didn’t want to meet him at a bar? Because she was scared of him? If that gives you goosebumps, you’re like me. If that does nothing for you? Well, Fort Wayne, Indiana is a great place to live.
S: So, relating to that: how did we get into a position where so much of the menswear heritage of the past 75 years has been lost, more or less?
T: Mike Gallagher told me why — he owned a magazine shop on 12th St., down by Union Square. It was a really well-known place for fashion designers to go — Gallagher’s Magazine Store. He has every issue of Vogue and Harper’s going back years and years and years. He had this small men’s section which carried M Magazine. That’s the whole reason I was there. But he wanted $20 an issue! I would sit there and add up the cost of these magazines, and there was something in my mind that would not let me spend $20 on a magazine…
One time he said, “Have you ever noticed how there’s just tons and tons of women’s magazines? You know how little there are of men’s magazines? You know why? Because men never kept this shit!” Men read it and threw it away. They chucked it. Women kept their Vogues and their Harper’s. This stuff you’re buying? There’s a reason it’s expensive. It’s just because of this fear of being effeminate — how do you say, “Hey! Come look at my collection of GQ going back 30 years!” Part of the great thing about the blog is that, once I scan something, I can finally throw it away.