Mr. Wilder grew up in Greenwich, Conn., “surrounded by Madras jackets and what we would call ‘go to hell’ pants, which are heavily patterned,” he said on his lunch break, over a quiche and a bottle of Canada Dry ginger ale at a sandwich shop across the street from the store. “The type of stuff you’d wear to the Belle Haven yacht club.”
He was wearing tasseled Alden loafers; English-made J. Press over-the-calf socks; American-made J. Press khakis with a one-and-three-quarter-inch cuff (the trad standard); a Lewin striped shirt purchased on Jermyn Street in London (a bit racy for a trad ensemble, he said); a flat-knit solid navy blue necktie; and a natural-shouldered navy blazer by David Cenci. (His J. Press jackets were at the cleaners that day.)
AT YALE, Mr. Wilder studied 18th-century American and European history, and spent several of his summers working part time at the J. Press store in New York. “It was like working in your eccentric uncle’s genteel closet,” he said fondly. “Imagine your best-dressed uncle throwing open his closet for you to frolic around in. Like an insiders’ club for people who love the Ivy League look.”
After that, Mr. Wilder helped run a high-end personal stationery business, Therese Saint Clair, that his parents founded when he was 9 years old, and that he eventually sold in 2001.
About five and a half years ago, after a stint working as a concierge at the Delamar Greenwich Harbor Hotel, Mr. Wilder sent his résumé to the New York J. Press store on a whim. He was hired shortly thereafter, he said, and has been shilling trad style five days a week ever since.
What is the difference between trad and preppy, The Observer wondered?
“Preppy is a little broader than trad,” he said. “It’s more eccentric, more colorful.” (All those duck prints!)
Trad’s entire purpose is to defy and transcend the whims of fashion, but inevitably some elements will be seen on the runways this week—likely during Thom Browne’s show on Sunday, Sept. 13, at his Hudson Street store (Mr. Browne got a massive plug when Vogue editor Anna Wintour recommended him to David Letterman on her Aug. 24 Late Show appearance).
Since 2007, Mr. Browne—otherwise best known for encouraging men to expose their hairy ankles—has been designing a trad-oriented specialty collection for Brooks Brothers called Black Fleece. This year’s spring/summer line was heavy on the madras, seersucker and paisley, with a predominantly navy blue, white and gray color palette. (A photo that surfaced on The Sartorialist blog in April 2006 of a silver-haired gentleman wearing a slim, short-cut navy blue blazer, a light blue Oxford shirt and dark gray slacks with an ankle-length pant hem ran with the caption: “O.K., Trads, you’re really closer to the Thom Browne aesthetic than you may want to admit.”) Like Mr. Browne, Michael Bastian, who is showing at Exit Art on Sept. 14, is a breakout men’s wear designer known to dabble in trad pieces.
“Pick up a Browne or Bastian shirt,” said Mr. Tinseth, “and you can feel the heft of it and know it was made with care.”
But a true traddy might opt for the more economical and authentic route of getting his dress shirts custom-made, perhaps by a tailor like Alexander Kabbaz, shirt maker to Tom Wolfe, Mr. Tinseth said. Likewise, a traddy would buy a J. Press suit over one made by a trendy designer.
“This stuff lasts forever, which I don’t think fashion people like because they need to sell new stuff,” said Mr. Tinseth, citing a pair of cordovan shell Alden wingtips he bought in 1986 and still wears today.
Mr. Wilder, of course, concurred.
“Traddies want something authentic,” he said, taking a sip of ginger ale. “Not something that’s a riff on something authentic.”