From the magazine: Well suited

From the magazine: Well suited

Alastair Dacey Adam Irish
Adam Irish (left) and Alastair Dacey at the Portsmouth Athenaeum. photo by Michael Winters

An artist and an antique dealer share friendship and fashion sense

Blazers play an important role in the friendship between Adam Irish and Alastair Dacey. But the way they met was not out of the ordinary.  “As I think 99.9 percent of Adam’s friendships begin, I was a prospective client,” Dacey says.

It was a smoking jacket that first lured the local painter into Old as Adam in downtown Portsmouth. The vintage clothing and antique store is owned by Irish, who happens to wear the same size as Dacey. According to Irish, it wasn’t long before Dacey started accusing him of keeping the best finds for himself.

“We have a longstanding dandy cold war of sorts in the menswear arms race,” Irish jokes. But really, he’s a good friend — the kind of friend who would give you one of his favorite possessions when you’ve lost everything.

This double-interview includes the story of how the gift of a coveted blazer brought them closer, and more about what Irish and Dacey love to wear and why.

Style Queue fall 2016 cover
Dacey (left) and Irish in the Reading Room at the Portsmouth Athenaeum. photo by Michael Winters

What is your occupation?

IRISH: I am an antiques and vintage clothing dealer. I own a store called Old as Adam on Ceres Street in downtown Portsmouth. I also deal privately and at shows. I’ve been doing it full-time for about six years. But really I have been dealing and collecting antiques since I was a kid.

DACEY: Fine art painter. Recent curating opportunities have whet my appetite for organizing on a larger scale.

How would you describe your personal style?

IRISH: Traditional with whimsy. I often think about how the past is like a foreign land and am fascinated with old things that now seem out of place. I like challenging the present with the past by wearing vintage clothing, but don’t always feel bold enough to do it. For instance, in college I wore crazy 1940s neckties every day. Although on a day-to-day basis I dress more conservatively now, wearing a tweed blazer and a necktie is fairly foreign to our time, with people wearing pajamas out in public these days.

DACEY: Inspired confusion. I haven’t a clue, honestly. I approach dressing like a painting — what colors, values, and textures go with and in what proportion. Except I don’t like taking much time or effort, so I suppose my style reads as artful dishevelment.

Which actor would play you in a movie about your life?

IRISH: Without a doubt, Peter Sellers. He’s in that wonderful movie, “Being There,” which has always been a favorite of mine. It’s about a simple-minded fellow named Chance who is employed as a gardener by a wealthy older man. One day the wealthy old man dies and Chance is left alone in the mansion. Soon, Chance wanders out of the house in the old man’s clothes (an immaculate 1920s suit, hat, and cane) and enters a world that is totally foreign to him.

DACEY: I’ll shamelessly flatter myself and say a resurrected, 30-something Peter O’Toole, but I doubt very much he’d take the part.

Alastair Dacey Adam Irish
Dacey (seated) and Irish in the Old Library Room on the third floor of the Portsmouth Athenaeum. photo by Michael Winters

What are staples in your wardrobe?

IRISH: For fall, a sweater vest or cardigan, a good pair of wide wale cords, and a bow tie. I live in tweeds half the year. I love wool. It breathes. It’s versatile. You don’t need an additional jacket when you go outside. And neckties — I’ve always loved ties.

DACEY: Depends on the season. Sometimes I can’t go anywhere without a sweater vest and bowtie. Blazers I have a special fondness for; they are my purse with a lapel. Without them I’d have all that damn stuff bulging out of my pant pockets. Too much.

Describe a particular article of clothing in your wardrobe that you love.

IRISH: I have a vintage 1960s tweed jacket that I got at Goodwill when I was in high school. It’s a bold orange-brown with subtle green windowpane. I wore it all through college practically every day and continue to wear it today. It looks brand new. Good tweed is just bulletproof. I love that thing.

DACEY: To set this story up, your readers need to know that Adam and I were roommates in a house in New Castle — the Tarbell House, as it was known. Last January, the house was involved in a fire. I lost
everything, really.

Adam and I had this ongoing negotiation. We both coveted a blazer the other owned. But being unwilling to sell or trade the coveted blazer to the other, we had reached a stalemate. As it happened, I lost all my clothing in the fire, but Adam was able to retrieve select items. Among them was the coveted blazer, which he presented to me soon after the fire. All covetousness aside, it was February and I had (an art exhibit), speaking engagements, openings, etcetera, so the gift of a thick wool herringbone blazer was particularly apt.

I noticed too there was a pocket square tucked into the breast pocket. Surely he left it in by mistake. To give me a blazer is generous; to give me a pocket square too is saintly. Weeks later, I found out the pocket square was intentional, which saved me the agony of deciding whether to let on, for fear including it had been an oversight!

Alastair Dacey Adam Irish
Dacey (seated) and Irish in the Old Library Room on the third floor of the Portsmouth Athenaeum. photo by Michael Winters

Who is your Style Icon?

IRISH: No one in particular comes to mind. I’ve always loved old movies from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. And antique photographs. So my sartorial inspiration is more likely inspired by forgotten 1880s portraits, or the cast of second-rate 1940s film noirs.

DACEY: Anybody who can pack for a cocktail party and a campfire in the same bag and be prepared for both. Did I mentioned flair? With flair.

What is something you love about your body?

IRISH: I like my ears. They are awkward and exactly like my grandfather’s.

DACEY: It appears lanky.

In what ways do you practice sustainable style?

IRISH: One of my favorite things about the clothes that I own is that they are almost all vintage, thrifted, or inherited. I have a number of things from each of my grandfathers.

I buy most of my clothes used. I either buy them or get them for free. Growing up in my town, we had a free shop at the town dump where people put things that are still usable. I got wonderful pieces of vintage men’s wear from the town dump. Once I found a great 1950s madras blazer. I’ve worn it to fancy garden parties, and sometimes people compliment me and ask where I got it. I get to tell them I got it at the town dump. There is such a pleasure in seeing their reaction.

I care very much about sustainability and I think about it quite a lot. Vintage is a great way to find things of excellent quality and style, but also a way to be sustainable as a consumer.

DACEY: I thrift and donate. I try to buy things of quality that I know will last. Buying local and buying from smaller businesses is a kind of sustainable style. Smaller businesses seem to be more responsible to the environment and their employees. Mindful taste helps — as in, acquiring items you will wear for much longer than a season. Did I pass?

A note on the photo shoot: The Portsmouth Athenaeum is a nonprofit membership library and museum located in Portsmouth’s Market Square. The room was designed for catching up on periodicals in 1805 and is believed to be the second-oldest reading room still in use in the United States. It’s being renovated in anticipation of the Athenaeum’s bicentennial in 2017. Learn more at portsmouthathenaeum.org.

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