- Nov 3, 2020
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It's 1945. You're a Navy man out on leave wandering the backstreets of Ginza in Tokyo, and maybe you're a few Sapporos deep. As you peruse the stalls hawking festive kimonos and jazz records that nestle against the block-wide department stores—now requisitioned as military Post Exchanges—you find one that's selling something interesting. It's a jacket, a sort of satiny baseball jacket, but with some unique embroidery in the same motif as the obi and kimonos stocked by neighboring dealers. You think to yourself, "Wow, wait until the fellas back home get a load of this."
If you were one of the American servicemen who happened to nab one of these Souvenir Jackets or "Sukajan", there was a good chance the tag read the brand name "TAILOR TOYO"—though the company itself was named Kosho & Co.
Officially renamed Toyo Enterprise in 1965, the company went on to manufacture clothing for Japan's US military bases during the Vietnam War. After the conflict, they became a fully domestic manufacturer and launched the sub-brand Sugar Cane, focusing on denim and work clothes while drawing upon their close relationship to American culture and craftsmanship.
Toyo has gone on to become a leader in high-quality clothing manufacture and reproduction, acquiring image rights to a number of US-based workwear and fashion labels and continuing to reproduce garments from the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s to exacting parameters.
Their sub-brands and labels include:
Buzz Rickson's: Militaria and museum-grade replicas.
Cat's Paw: Vintage workwear and signature shoe heels.
Cheswick Sportswear: Collegiate sweats and sportswear from the 1940s - 1960s.
Headlight Overalls: Coveralls and railroading workwear.
Indian Motorcycle: Biker gear.
King Louie: Bowling shirts from the 1940 - 1970s. The Dude abides.
Lone Wolf: Vintage work boots.
Star of Hollywood: 1950s animal-printed shirts.
Style Eyes: Sportswear from the 1930s - 1950s.
Sugar Cane: 1940's workwear and denim.
Sun Surf: Aloha shirts and surfwear
Tailor Toyo: Souvenir jackets. Their first brand.
Whitesville: Iconic Americana, specifically t-shirts and varsity jackets.
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HELLO. I noticed there wasn't a Toyo-specific thread on the go, so I thought I'd start one. Mods, if this overlaps too much with any existing threads, happy to pack up and move there.
First of all, if you're interested in owning some fine Toyo products yourself, I recommend you check out your friendly local Self Edge boutique CC @kiya.
To get things started, I thought I'd share my impressions of some of the Toyo pieces I own. Would love to hear what other people have, like, and want. Personally, I am really coveting one of those King Louie bowling shirts for next summer . And a pair of Sugar Cane jeans—it's that or 3Sixteen SL100X I can't decide. However I have decided to share my own highly blackmailable photos and stories of this stuff for some godforsaken reason. Let's be honest, they should be paying me NOT to post these lmao.
Buzz Rickson William Gibson MA-1
This is it. The one that started it all. This is the purchase that set me on the path towards inevitable menswear-induced penury and insanity. It was all because of a stupid tweet. Someone was reading William Gibson's Pattern Recognition and posted a snippet describing The MA-1. I hadn't read Pattern Recognition. I didn't know what an MA-1 was. But then I started interfacing with the net. Big mistake.
It was the zippers that did it. The fact that Toyo had bought the defunct Crown Zipper company just so they could put those exact same zips on their jacket said everything.
I went down a deep hole of military reproduction clothing and Ametora that I still haven't clawed my way out of. Combine that with a bit of cyberpunk literature mystique (there was no black Buzz MA-1 until William Gibson wrote it, and so many people asked for they just gave in and started making it) and my neurons were primed. Does anyone else smell burning chrome?
I had always liked clothes. But, I hated spending money. A few Uniqlo collabs each season if I was feeling spendy (I wasn't usually feeling spendy). Then, I got laid off. I was unemployed for three months. I got in the habit of spending no money. Then, when I got a new job, I wanted to treat myself. I was walking on the Lower East Side one night between drinks and dinner, and realized I was only a block from Self Edge—a quality clothing Mecca I'd yet to kneel at. I had an hour to kill before my reservation. I was just browsing, right?
I knew in my gross guts that they had The MA-1. I asked to try on The MA-1. I'd never felt twill nylon like that. I can't emphasize how much black outerwear is not my thing, but seeing this fabric in person is something else. It's a liquidy, chocolatey, Hershey's Syrup sort of warm black that reads more like leather at first and last glance. I mean, considering the machines they had to keep in operation to make it, this nylon has the same amount of craft as leatherwork in my book. The puffy rounded silhouette, the sumptuous worsted wool cuffs and collar, the otakuesque attention to detail—and, my girlfriend liked it. AND they had one left in my size (or a very savvy salesperson). How could I NOT buy it, even if it cost more than every coat I owned combined?
The rest is history. Well, I mean it's not history, but after I got the jacket I realized I needed a good pair of selvedge jeans to go with it. And a loopwheeled henley. And maybe some interesting knits? And I have to get my hands on that Japanese flannel. Cool sneakers too, of course. And why don't I have any good t-shirts..........
I take a size 44 regular, which is my tts (5'10", 200lbs, 44in chest) They also do a long version which would have given me a more contemporary fit, but unless you have a very long torso I don't see the point in getting an obsessively reproduced bomber jacket (...the thick nylon causes the sewing machine's needle to flex and create the signature rumpled sleeves, which Buzz Rickson's has emulated by.....) and then mess with the silhouette. Just get the one from Rag and Bone that Obama has I don't know jeez.
Whitesville Quali-T T-Shirt in White
My brain is broken in such a way that I will spend an inordinate amount of money on a white t-shirt. I own a lot of high-spec white t-shirts, but Whitesvilles are my favorite, and they aren't even that expensive! Sorry Merz, you still have the best henleys at least
These tees are thick without feeling like a short sleeve sweatshirt (when are those coming back?), with an interesting texture, high neckline, and tubular knit construction. Seams are for suckers. I've had mine for over a year of heavy wear and they have both retained their shape and their pearly bright color. All I could ask for is that triangular insert that Merz B. Schwanen tees have in the armpit—c'mon that should be standard.
I sized up twice on these for gentleman's XXL, I like the fit but I could have sized down for a more form-fitting option as well. But why would I? 2020 is for Big Fits Only.
Sugar Cane Flannel
I love a flannel. I've been picky about flannels since high school, and that's one of my many brain problems that's only gotten worse. In terms of da fancy stuff, I have an Iron Heart western flannel (used, fit's not great, thought it would be thicker) and a 3Sixteen crosscut (new, fit's not great, saw one made from the same fabric in Beams for $50 less), but this one takes the cake. Very warm and hearty, but still layerable. Plus I really like the pattern—so many of da fancy flannels have superlative fabrics with ugly ass plaids and grody buffalo checks. Enough! The one drawback is that the inside is not brushed, so you don't get that warm fuzzy feeling against the skin. But I do still find the slightly rough interior comforting. Maybe I just have Stockholm syndrome?
It's a shame I never see Sugar Cane in the running during the seasonal Flannel Wars, why the heck not? I know y'all love their denim but Toyo are the masters of all woven cotton, c'mon people!
I take a gentleman's XL in this one, perfect slightly oversize boxy fit (I hate a tight flannel, don't you?)
Buzz Rickson's Grey Sweatshirt and BONUS A-4 Mechanic's Cap
God darn do I love a sweatshirt, and I am so glad I bought this one. I know Our Mutual Friend Derek has recommended this exact sweatshirt several times but I just want to brag and say that I had purchased this particular sweatshirt before reading anything he's ever written! Everything else I own is almost certainly his fault, however.
What can I say? You've heard that it's the perfect marled grey, the perfect slightly boxy cut (BIG FITS ONLY), divine tubular knit construction (Seams are for suckers), what more do you need?? I will add that it is 1) very soft and fuzzy inside and 2) has a nice stretch and bounce to the fabric, some sweatshirts can feel a little stiff in comparison (I sound insane), whereas the Buzz truly feels like a piece of activewear you could work out in. But I won't.
Sized up to an XL, no complaints! And when it's Japanese, is it really sizing up?
Oh! The hat! It's great for COVID hair, it's a very sturdy worsted not unlike the cuffs and collar of The MA-1 but denser, and the perfect shade of olive green I've been looking for in hat form. Is it worth $70+? I can't say for sure, but I ain't returning mine anytime soon.
Buzz Rickson Army Chinos
As a Boring Man, I love some khaki-ass flat front chinos. When I bought The MA-1, the salesperson at Self Edge recommended the Buzz Rickson chinos as Their Favorite Pants. At the time, I thought the price was a bit rich for what are essentially $29 Dockers that only come in 38 inch inseam, but I stored this information for later. Two years on, I have enough Menswear Brain Damage that I decided to take the leap on a pair. These are my most recent purchase, and I am a very happy customer.
Apparently these are based on the military chinos Steve McQueen wears in The Great Escape. What do you think, do I look like Steve McQueen? Exactly like him?? You can't even tell the difference??
Anyway, love the fit on these. Wide, comfy, and high rise while still looking surprisingly slim once you get those pipes movin'. Very thick fabric that is perfect for Autumn to Spring that hangs in a resolute and endearing manner (Masters of All Woven Cotton). If you're going to Go Big on chinos this year, I see no reason not to consider this superlative pair.
I took a 36, it fits like a 35, which is the size I take for any high-waisted pant. Fit is good, but if my COVID belly gets any bigger we may have an issue.
Last but not least, a little something for the ladies:
Sun Surf Aloha Shirt - Big Ol' Fishies Motif
Dang shoulda ironed this shirt before taking a photo OH WELL.
There's a pattern emerging here. I find a sort of clothing item I like. I research that item heavily. I try out a few cheaper or secondhand versions. I'm unsatisfied. I finally opt for the Big Toyo Option. I am finally happy.
Well that's not quite the case for Aloha shirts. My true favorite Aloha is a deadstock piece from the 70s I got at a vintage store with a very hypnotic crane motif that somehow fits me perfectly. Looks wildly badass with black jeans and side zips. Take my word for it. However, my close second for when I really and truly just wanna chill is this bad boy from our friends at Sun Surf.
I have a rule with Alohas—I only get them if they have fish or birds in the design. I don't know why. I just like fish and birds. There are a lot gross Aloha shirt prints but at least fish and birds aren't the first thing midcentury tourists have historically reached for.
I'm not gonna lie, I got a deal on this shirt. There is a brand new bring with a crane motif I like a bit more, but I will still cherish my fishy shirt that I acquired BNWT for a very reasonable sum. What sold me? The way the pattern overlaps perfectly when you button it up. How sweet it is. Quality wise, this is the sort of insanely good rayon one should expect from Toyo. It's slightly stippled so it wears even cooler than regular rayon. My AC broke in July so my apartment was a brisk 88 degrees every day, and I wore the heck out of this. Plus the dye work on this is a thing to behold, the colors must be seen to be believed. Plus coconut buttons!
I took my usual XL for Japanese garments, and this shirt is frankly gigantic. Normally I would regret not sizing down, but 2020 is for BIG FITS ONLY so I regret nothing.
Well that's the end of my extra grande intro post / psychotic break. I hope you enjoyed it, I do! If this gets like three comments in six months I'm gonna be HELLA sad so I hope you all TURN OUT for Toyo, I'm excited to see the goods. Stay safe, stay strong!
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Huge shout out to James Smith at Heddels, from whose article on the history of Toyo I cribbed a great amount of info for the introduction.
I also used this piece on the History of Ginza to add a little local color. What an adorable website.
big fits only
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