RSS Feed

Interview with John Tinseth from the Trad


April 5, 2013 by Ville Raivio

‘I’m 55 and work as a commercial property-casualty insurance broker. This alone keeps most people away from me. I was an Army Brat and moved around a lot. I went to four high schools, most of them in the south, which accounts for my lousy education. After four years in the Army at Ft Bragg, NC, I went to Flagler College in St Augustine, FL. College was like a four year vacation compared to the Army and I consider it one of the best times of my life. I’m divorced without children. I’ve been in a relationship with a woman my readers know as the Golf Foxtrot for 10 years. I try to stay out of her style and she returns the favor.


My father, who just passed away last year, was an avid reader of my blog. As an Army officer who was a Green Beret in Vietnam, he thought men obsessing about clothing was “Tutti Frutti.” But he liked my writing. Whether it was a Khaki Tasting or a wine tasting. I’m the oldest with two sisters. One is a big fan. The other, not so much. My mother prefers to stay out of it. My paternal grandfather was an amazing clothes horse so I assume the gene skips a generation.

[I became first interested in style through] what the PX sold — The Post Exchange was the military version of a department store but with subsidized pricing and no tax. As a kid growing up, I wore Gant buttondowns, Pendleton sweaters and French Shriner monk straps. Later, when I joined the Army, I discovered the power of a little tailoring –uniform trousers pegged for about $5 a pair made a huge difference. My field jacket (M-65) had the lining ripped out when it belonged to my father — I had it tailored at the waist so there was a flare to the coat below the belt line. I froze my ass off in the winter but it sure did look good.


With sisters in 1966, kitted out by PX

In college, I spent half a month’s GI Bill on Ralph Lauren madras trousers. Polo button-downs were insanely expensive back then but as a short guy I was able to fit into a boy’s size 20. They were a third the cost of the men’s shirts. I was crazy for University Stripes. Pink, blue, grey, yellow, maroon… Duck Head khakis were also big in the ’80s. Cheap, long lasting, but I never wore them with a Polo button-down. Even then, I had a thing about mixing logos. Tennis wear was huge as well. Fred Perry and Boast. La Coq Sportif and Adidas Stan Smith shoes. Never Fila. Far too trendy.

There was a crazy old woman who had a men’s shop in my college town. Buried under new stuff was old stock from the early to mid ’60s. Amazing madras shirts, popover short sleeve button-downs…I found a pair of swim trunks in a Gauguin-like Polynesia print. She usually missed most of her lips with lipstick. She’d yell at me for digging up her old stuff and I remember looking at her bright red lipstick veering off her lip. That place would be gold mine today.


Certainly the army taught me much about fit but not so much about color or mixing pattern unless you count camouflage. I was still in the Army when I saw Animal House and was impressed with Otter and his Ivy wardrobe. I’d hang out at UNC-Chapel Hill with two objectives. To get laid and to duplicate Otter’s wardrobe. One out of two isn’t bad.

I worked at Brooks Brothers in the ’80s and hoovered all the Flusser and Boyer I could get, not to mention the aerial POV by the sales people I worked with. They taught me any idiot with money could dress well. The challenge was to create the Brooks Brothers look on a budget. There was a lotta of competition among the folks who worked there since nobody had any money. I learned a lot. Invest in good shoes since they last a lifetime and despite how fat you get over the years your shoes will still fit. Also, it’s hard to leave your shoes behind, like an umbrella, gloves or raincoat, which is why all that stuff should be bought with eventual loss in mind. Ties are always on sale and over the years I have managed to acquire almost 300. They also can’t be outgrown and while you shouldn’t be able to lose ’em, I managed to due primarily to a fascination in my 30s with strip clubs and strippers who appreciated silk.


Fashion, for me, was always the purview of assholes. People who try too hard. There’s a lot I’m guilty of but I’m pretty much over trying to impress. I prefer understated. Paul Stuart’s solid navy suit I bought 15 yrs ago has no bells or whistles. It’s a simple Samuelsohn made suit that has another 15 yrs in it. It will never go out of style because it was never in style. I love J. Press Tweed jackets and their black flat front flannels with deep 2″ cuffs. Ancient Madder or rep ties speak to a low key elegance. But I love loud resort wear. Go-To-Hell trousers like the pair Charlie Davidson of the Andover Shop made out of a discontinued Marimekko print. Charlie even ran the selvedge down the out seam. Obnoxious but that’s the point.

I’ve heard style versus fashion ad nauseam. Classics, as we speak, are back in fashion. If you read my blog, you’ll see my taste is pretty catholic. I like a Brioni sport coat with J. Press trousers and Lobb monks (not double) with a butcher stripe Turnbull & Asser shirt and a thrifted Charvet tie. It’s the mixing that’s fun. I mean why be monogamous with your clothes?

The Trad had given me access to many sartorial heroes. I count G. Bruce Boyer as a good friend. I love Charlie Davidson of the Andover Shop. Avery Lucas, one of the most erudite and sophisticated designers of the ’80s and ’90s, and now sadly forgotten by many in menswear. Jay Kos, utterly crazy, but in a good way. Robert Bryan, fashion editor of the old M Magazine…I’m editing a best of M with powerHouse Publishing, and Bryan took what seems so trivial about clothing and gave it guts, insight and gravitas.


Antonio Ciongoli of Rugby, Michael Bastian and now of Isaia’s new entry level line, Eidos Napoli. Julie Hertling, trouser maker extraordinaire. Peter Kaplan, editor of the new M Magazine. Aaron Levine of Club Monaco, Foster Huntington of Polo, I’ve learned from all of them. Writing about menswear can get tedious. It’s the people who make it interesting.

Under all, but the most enthusiastic of radar, are the men who will make something just for you. Chris Despos in Chicago is one of the best bespoke tailors out there no one ever talks about. Tom Davis at Brooks Brothers & David Mercer of Mercer & Sons for shirts and remarkable conversation. Mark Rykken of Paul Stuart is one of the best when it comes to advice and both his bespoke and MTM are relative steals.

I always intended The Trad to be more of a street style blog but with a diverse geography. Problem was, I didn’t have the nerve to ask strangers on the street for a photo. So, it became the sum of its subtitle, “Not as good as it was. Better than it will be.” I try not to be a pretentious asshole and focus on giving my readers the sources for  hard to find stuff. Restaurants, a cheap but fantastic scotch. A good shirt. A good value. A good story. So far it has only cost me my job and possibly my career. Insurance is a conservative business and more than one potential employer asked what I was doing with a blog. An old friend who interviewed me for a job said about the blog, “I don’t get it.” I told him, “You’re not supposed to.”


People in insurance live for golf. I hate golf. My passions are London, jumbo lump crab, dry gin martinis and writing.

Which reminds me, what looks good on one man doesn’t necessarily look good on another. Finding your personal style, like developing character, will take time. And it probably will change from time to time but your individuality is all you have. Like Charlie Davidson told me, “Who wants to look like a fucking Polo window?”‘

Pictures: © John Tinseth


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *