At Ease Clothing Store Reunion

The Ultimate College Job Remembered

Most college jobs are a fleeting afterthought.  A campus job, ticket taker at a theater, or whatever retail gig that happens to be available.

Luckily, a select group of friends and I had a magical experience in Westwood Village. ’80’s fashion evokes memories of New Wave Village Mews plaids, Flock of Seagulls Hairdos, or Dynasty shoulder pads.  But, it was also the time that Preppy got really big.  At Ease on the corner of Westwood Blvd. and Weyburn was ground zero for West Coast preppy.  With outlets in Orange County and Pasadena, At Ease owner Al Douglass had established his signature take on prep, with a California meets Tokyo twist.  While Pasadena played to the locals and their progeny, who had grown up on Atkinson’s signature red seersucker, Newport was all about SC frat rats in Dacron and cotton Reyn Spooner reverse print popover Hawaiian shirts, Biltwell khakis and Top Sider smoked elk lace ups.  But, it was the proximity to UCLA that made working at At Ease so special.  Selling trad gear to fellow students, studio exec’s, and anybody else we could hit up for the post graduation job, was pretty perfect—being able to clock in, work two hours, clock out, go to class, and clock back in, made it pretty amazing.

The merchandise was prescriptive.  I couldn’t imagine walking into a men’s store today with a pant wall that was 25’x10’ stocked in prefinished chinos in trad colors from khaki to banana yellow.  Price $29.50.  Belts were striped surcingle by Trafalgar and tailored clothing ranged form Southwick to Norman Hilton.  We had the finest sock selection in the world, backed up by Alden shell cordovan plain toe bluchers, saddles and the Alden LHS (Loafer Hand Sewn.) A recent chat with the current Alden rep put sales of the loafers at nearly 600 pair/year out of the Westwood store alone.

The At Ease sale was an annual extravaganza.  With hundreds of intrepid preps spending the night in line in beach chairs.  Think Best Buy on Black Friday, but with well dressed clothes horses looking for a decent markdown on Shetland sweaters and button downs.

Working at At Ease was all about family.  I’m still in touch with many of my co-workers, who became my dearest friends.  Joe Vasco, who rules Gary’s and Co. in Newport Beach today, and LA’s finest tailor, Paul Kaloustian, who operates Wilshire Tailors, is still known for his sublime hand sewn buttonholes and shoulder work on suits from Kiton and Thom Browne to J. Press sack suits.

All of this nostalgia came back incredibly strong in November as Joe Vasco organized the first At Ease reunion in honor of Al and Nancy Douglass.  At Ease first opened in Newport Beach in 1968, and was ultimately sold in 1984.  And while hundreds of employees worked there, it had a magical imprint on most of us. Nearly 100 former At Ease employees turned up for the reunion—all this for a store that has been closed for 26 years.  Joe had a lot of At Ease merchandise with the original tags in place, and he worked with former merchandisers to create time capsule displays of what we now realize was timeless clothing.

Detaching myself from “stuff” has been an attained goal in 2010.  But, I have hung on to several pieces from my At Ease days.  From shoe trees to a pair of the Alden loafers, I’ll never let them go.  Thanks Joe for bringing us all back together last month.

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