My grandfather grew up in New Jersey, the son of Ukrainian Jews who’d emigrated to escape prosecution and worse and found a new life running a grocery store in the city. Until he died and my grandmother moved to a smaller house, my family and our collected relations would converge upon my father’s rambling ancestral home with a sort of semi-irregularity dictated by holidays and the globe-hopping travel schedules of my always-moving grandparents.
My grandfather, a man of whom I have fond but few distinct memories, had a study that I found fascinating, decorated with objects he’d collected from innumerable journeys abroad, smelling of – retrospectively, at least – a combination of cologne, pipe smoke, and mothballs. It’s that smell – as indistinct and hazy as it may be now, sixteen years after his death – that I most associate with him. It followed him when he came to visit our family, followed him when we joined my grandparents for a family reunion in the South of France one year, and was as much a part of him as anything else he was.
Strangely, I also remember his shirts. One shirt, in particular: white, with plain black stripes, a buttoned collar, and a mighty roll. In my mind’s eye he’s either wearing that shirt or he’s lounging in a chair in a pair of faded navy blue shorts in the Provençal sun; not quite Picasso but not that far removed in the mind of a ten year-old.
Perhaps that’s why I find the shirts that Yellow Hook makes so compelling. They put me back in a mindset where I’m just a child, face buried in my grandfather’s shirt, wondering when I’ll be big enough to wear one like it. The smell is a part of it – out of the box, Yellow Hook shirts smell like a tailor’s shop in New York or New Jersey, like my grandfather’s study; but the cut is a part of it too. At almost thirty years old, I’ve finally gotten big enough to wear shirts like these. They’re roomy across the back with a very handsome taper through the waist, and a collar that looks like the collar on my grandfather’s old shirts. They fit well. They fit like a shirt should fit.
As you may have gathered from what I’ve written about Pitti and about other brands, it can be hard for me to separate people from product. That’s as true for Yellow Hook as it is for many of my favorite brands. Rob Rossicone, one half of the husband and wife team who run Yellow Hook, is a man I’ve only met twice, but one whose heart I can firmly say is in the right place. Of particular pride is his Italian ancestry, which he’s keen to share through the pieces he makes with Yellow Hook, but in conversation with him he comes across as equally invested in America’s multicultural heritage. He and his wife are both public school teachers, and in my eyes bring a similar earnestness to what is really their chosen labor of love.
Rob sent me two shirts to look at: one of his Napoli spread collar shirts in summer-weight pinpoint oxford, and a red chambray button-down collar. Fit, as Yellow Hook is keen to point out, is subjective, but the shirts are both slim (no darts), comfortable, and far from tight but very flattering. Rob cites various makers as benchmarks: Borelli, Finamore, Turnbull & Asser, Charvet RTW – but the fit is not as skinny as most of the Neapolitan RTW shirts I have tried, and are much more ‘American’ in style: the pinpoint oxford spread features side pleats, the chambray a single box pleat and locker loop, and the style is both comfortable and comforting. That was the goal from the beginning: provide an American-made product to compete with imported luxury.
And it’s all made in America, too: the shirts are all single-needle stitched in the New York metro area, as are the ties – Yellow Hook’s first product, originally sewn by Courtney Rossicone herself. Full details of individual shirts can be read on the Yellow Hook website, but single-needle stitching is standard, and Yellow Hook produces limited seasonal runs in selected fabrics, which means that stock is always limited and rotating.
It’s hard to claim that anything in 2017 is honest, but Yellow Hook shirts feel honest in a way that so much clothing – even nice clothing, even clothing I love – doesn’t. Part of that is because Yellow Hook is itself a celebration of American multiculturalism; the shirts showcasing the founder’s Italian ancestry as seen through the the melting pot that is the New York area. These aren’t shirts that are pretending to be something else. They’re American in the best way; inspired by global heritage and traditions and made for everyone.
How they Look
Yellow Hook has become most known for their collar roll, which is the exact kind of collar roll you could have found on my grandfather’s shirts: soft, buxom; a size and shape that’s as psychologically comforting as it is physically, and is large without being overwhelming. Similarly, the cuffs are minimally and tightly lined, making them both comfortable and easy to roll (messily, like me). I also like the the signature yellow contrast gusset, which lends a workwear bent to the product – even if it’s not a detail that will often see the light of day.
The fabric choices for these two shirts are also well-considered for the summer months. Pinpoint oxford makes excellent warm-weather shirting, but I’m particularly taken with the hand on the red chambray button-down, which is lightweight and breathable with a texture that has really grown on me the more I’ve worn it. I’m showing it here with the sleeves rolled up, but it also looks right at home under a jacket.
I’d like to note that the red chambray shirt is shown on the Yellow Hook website with yellow contrast stitching; the stitching on mine is tone-on-tone. Additionally, the neck on my pinpoint oxford was enlarged slightly at my request, and these are both details that could be requested via Yellow Hook’s not-really-advertised MTO program for a $50 surcharge and a lead time of 6-8 weeks. For the time being, I’m not sure how focused Yellow Hook is on their MTO program, nor do I know the extent of what’s on offer, but if you need a special size that’s a very modest price increase given the product you get in return.
To return to the issue of fit: subjectivity aside, these aren’t the only Yellow Hook shirts I’ve seen, and I do think that the fit really nails that “sharp, but comfortable” line. I mentioned the American-ness of the style, and these are shirts that work with a tie and a jacket or at a barbecue with the sleeves rolled up.
If you’re looking for shirts that give good value – and who isn’t – it’s hard to argue with Yellow Hook’s offerings. New, the summer pinpoint spread collar runs $200 (although it’s currently on sale for $135, and Yellow Hook’s retail prices have now dropped to $135-$155), and the chambray button down retails for $135. Given the single-needle stitching, limited production runs, and entirely human-driven construction, I feel that’s a great price, although it also means that the number of options available at any one time is limited. However, when you add in the intangible qualities I’ve tried to describe above, which will certainly vary in relevance from person to person, I think that you’re left with a product that is, again, honest both in how it what it advertises and in how it wears. That’s hard to come by, and in my mind makes Yellow Hook a very attractive purchase.
I don’t get excited by brands that tout “American Made” as their only selling point, and I don’t come from a school of thought in which the only measure of a garment is the fineness and perfection of the cloth and stitching. In the case of Yellow Hook, being American Made isn’t so much a feature as a backbone – and it supports a product that’s American not by exclusion of outside traditions, but by the inclusion of histories both foreign and domestic. That these are nice shirts is not in question, but as is so often the case, it’s the abstract qualities that, to me, make clothes worth wearing.
Update 7/7/2017: the article has been edited to reflect Yellow Hook’s updated pricing.
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Photos by Ian Lipton
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