The Five Days of Summer Series, Part V: Summer Style on the Cheap

Before Jesse let me start writing here, I was a dedicated PTO reader for more than a year. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Jesse’s posts was how grounded they were. While other blogs were off writing about $500 shoes and $2,000 suits, Jesse was recommending things that were actually affordable for most people. 

Since I’ve begun blogging, I’ve found myself slipping into the same trap - mostly writing about really expensive things. Now, I strongly believe the philosophy that you should buy less, buy better. I get much more out of my really expensive purchases than my discount ones. However, it’s not like menswear is just a choice between Target and Cucinelli; there’s a lot of stuff in between. So for the final installment to this series, I wanted to cover some options for those who might be really strapped for cash. 

PantsUniqlo’s vintage fit chinos fit pretty slim around the seat and thighs, but they’re a bit more straight legged from the knee down. If you’re OK with that, call up Uniqlo’s New York store and you can order a pair for around $30. 

Shirts: Lands End Canvas has a line of decent shirts marketed under their “Heritage Collection.” You can get some for as low as $13. If you buy over $50 worth of items, they’ll knock off $10 and give you free shipping once you punch in the coupon code PARENTS (pin: 3135). That makes each shirt about $10. 

There are also the telnyashka shirts I wrote about earlier this week. I really like the carded cotton on St. James, but if you’re strapped for cash, a reasonable verisimilitude can be had for under $20. 

Shoes: I think most of the plimsolls I wrote about this week are affordable. For example, if you Google around you’ll find Supergas for around $45. You can also find Converse All Star Cups for pretty cheap here and here. Lastly, RopeySoles has some nice handmade espadrilles for $30. I especially like the denim and linen ones. 

Watch: Timex Easy Reader is an obvious choice, but you might also want to consider Maiden Noir’s. Throw a Nato strap on either of these and you’re good to go. You can get straps either through Central Watch or eBay. Once all is said and done, you’ll have a great looking watch this summer for less than $70.

Belt: Beltoutlet.com has woven belts for $13 for and web belts for $8. You can also get elastic surcingles from Wood’s of Shropshire for $11. My favorites are the wovens, but any of these can be paired well with some cotton chinos. 

Pocket squares: One of my first editorial posts ever was about custom pocket squares. Go find some fabric you like and send it to Son so he can sew some handrolled edges on it. The whole thing should cost you around $25. 

Socks: I hear going sockless is free. You’re not poor; you’re just stylish. 

That concludes the Five Days of Summer. If you want to review the past installments, just click here for the full series. Now you don’t have an excuse to look bad this summer. 

The Five Days of Summer Series, Part IV: Swim Shorts

While Jesse grew up in the Bay Area and later moved to Southern California, I grew up in Southern California and then moved up to the Bay. In fact, my teenage years were spent around Laguna Beach, a beach town sandwiched between Los Angeles and San Diego. Summer there mostly meant wearing swim shorts of some kind, so before I ever became critical of suits, I was noticing how swim shorts fit.

Most men, unfortunately, wear embarrassingly bad swim shorts - brightly patterned, baggy shorts with elasticated waistbands (a feature that makes swimming trunks look like boxers). The only people who can get away with these are 15 year-old kids. If you put in a bit more effort, you can buy much better ones.

My favorites are by Orlebar Brown. They’re made in the UK and Portugal, with fabrics from France and zips from Italy. They come in a variety of lengths, but I really like the Bulldog, which comes to about mid-thigh. They fit trim, feature a zippered back pocket, and come in really nice block colors or tasteful geometric designs (not the garish floral patterns you see from some other companies).

The best thing is that they’re built much like suit trousers. They have darts in the back, engraved side tabs, and a sturdy waistband with double fusing. These are the antithesis to the elasticated swim shorts. If you’ve ever worn a pair of trousers with side tabs, you know how much better of a fit you can get with them. Additionally, all of OB’s metal components have been left in both salt and chlorinated water for seven days in order to test for corrosion, and they’re nickel free for those with allergies.

The only downside to them is that they’re a bit more expensive - hitting around $240. Since you only really need one pair, I think splurging on Orlebar Brown is worth it, but if you really can’t save up the coin, consider O’Connell’s, which also feature side tabs. Some of these say there is an elasticized waistband at the back, but some don’t. Before buying, I would check with them first. Also, you should note that O’Connell’s trunks are often made from cotton or a cotton-blend. As such, they won’t be as quick drying as those made from polyamide. This can be really annoying if you plan on wearing your trunks all day. 

Finally, two other companies I really like are Olasul and Saturdays NYC. Both feature shorts with drawstrings, but Olasul has models with a double snap button enclosure, which I think are even better. They both also feature snap-button rear pockets with grommets for draining purposes. Their designs have a slight retro surf culture feel to them, but they’re still very contemporary looking. I would recommend them if you’re a bit younger in age. 

The Five Days of Summer Series, Part III: Polo Shirts

Aside from maybe chinos, there are few things more quintessential to summer style than polos. It was invented in 1933 by legendary tennis player Rene Lacoste when he found the regulation dress code - stiff, long sleeved shirts with ties and white flannel pants - too cumbersome and uncomfortable. Thus, inspired by the wool-knit jerseys worn by polo players, Lacoste came up with short-sleeved, soft-collared, pique cotton pullover that we’re all familiar with. Though its origins may be sportswear, it’s now a staple of casual summer style, and currently enjoying a bit of a revival as young men begin to ditch their scrappy faux-vintage t-shirts in favor of sharper looks. 

As with everything, the key to pulling off a polo is getting the right fit. Look for ones that are slightly trimmer in the body, with sleeves that hit around the middle of your bicep. You can have the lengths be long or short, but if they hang below your hips, you’ll have to tuck them in. There are a good number of companies that provide these features, so let’s review some. 

By far, the most unique offering I’ve come across is from Polosophy, an Italian label that makes bespoke polos. The company has taken advantage of the two biggest trends in menswear - the long-term move towards casualwear, and the recent resurgence in custom clothing. The result is a casual polo with all the rich elegant details you would find in a custom button-up shirt. Here, the client chooses the color of the polo, type of collar and cuffs, and then decides whether he wants a monogram. Everything is cut from a custom paper pattern made from your measurements. The polos come with mother-of-pearl buttons, sewn on with chicken foot stitching (a hand-tailoring detail I’ve written about here), and linen detailing on the placket. There is also a structured and reinforced collarband, making the polo’s collar behave much more like one you would find on a woven shirt. The price is expensive, as you can imagine. Short sleeves start around $250; long sleeves start around $300. If you’re in Europe, there is a five-shirt minimum, and they’ll send a tailor to you to get your measurements. If you catch them on one of their tours, however, you can meet them at a hotel and only need to meet a three-shirt minimum. 

Of course, few people can afford bespoke polos, so let’s talk about some off-the-rack options. The first is by one of my favorite companies, John Smedley. These polos are made from Sea Island cotton, which is a “long staple” fiber. This means that each fiber measures around 2 inches long, which allows them to be woven with fewer bonds. As a result, the final fabric has an incredibly smooth, silky, luxurious hand, as well as incredible strength (as there are fewer “weak points” where the fibers are bonded together). The cotton also has a natural brilliant whiteness when it’s raw. This allows it to be dyed in richer, clear colors, as well as forgo harsh bleaching, thus allowing the colors to stay colorfast. In terms of quality, John Smedley polos are some of the best you can get. They come in traditional and slim fits, and feature one of Smedley’s three polo collar designs. Check them out at their website. 

For other great, high-quality polos, consider Moncler. Their company website doesn’t seem to feature them, but I really like the ones that Bergdorf Goodman is carrying. Sunspel is also really nice. They come in different fabrics, such as pique cotton (the traditional fabric you find on polos) and jersey cotton (a more “t-shirt” material). They also have polos in their Riveria fabric, which is similar to the traditional pique cotton, but in a more open weave (an advantage for hot days that I’ve written about). Additionally, there is Gant, which also come in pique or jersey cotton. The main line is a bit more traditionally cut, while the Rugger line is trimmer. Unfortunately, their webstore won’t ship to the US, but if you see something you like, call one of their stores in New York or Connecticut and they’ll ship it out to you. 

If the options above are too expensive for you, try Uniqlo. Be warned, however, that they’re made of a mix of cotton and polyester. Polyester doesn’t breathe, so you’ll be sweating more in these. I’m really not a fan of the fabric, so they come with a very reserved “recommendation.” You can order one of Uniqlo’s polos by calling their New York store. 

Another very affordable option is Benjamin Bixby’s. Since the company folded, some of their clothes have been popping up at various venues. These fit very slim, so you should size up. You can find them on eBay if you do a search.

Finally, we come to Kent Wang. I was curious about Kent’s polos a few weeks ago, so I inquired about it. He was nice enough to send me one as a gift, and I received it last week. This is easily my favorite of the bunch. The real upside here is the reinforced spread collar. This means there is a collarband with two layers of self-fabric, making it the collar behave much more like one on a woven shirt (a detail that we saw earlier on the Polosophy design). In other words, the collar stands up more, instead of laying close to the collarbone. The spread collar design also gives the polo a lot more panache. I’ve taken a photo of Kent Wang’s spread collar and posted it next to a Bixby collar, which is much more traditional. You can really see the difference in collar shapes there. If you decided to get Kent’s polo, I recommend sizing up; these fit very slim. 

For more readings about polos, check out these great features by Dapper Demeanor and Men of Habit

The Five Days of Summer Series, Part II: Plimsolls

Let’s be honest - nothing beats the comfort of sneakers. That comfort comes in handy when you’re taking long strolls during those warm summer days. Thus, for the second installment of this summer series, let’s talk about plimsolls. 

"Plimsoll" is a British term for shoes with a canvas upper and rubber sole. The first was invented in the 1830s by Liverpool Rubber Company and designed for beachwear. As such, its original name was "sand shoe." It wasn’t until the 1870s actually that the name plimsoll took hold. The new name derived from the horizontal colored stripe that ran along the upper part of the sole, which resembled the Plimsoll line on a ship’s hull. Like the line on ships, the stripe on the shoe was a kind of waterline (though it was clearly for just aesthetic purposes). 

These days, the plimsoll isn’t necessarily just for beachwear. People wear them everywhere, and they make for great summer shoes. So let’s review a few. 

To me, there are three classics - Superga, Spring Court, and Converse. Superga is an Italian label, and if you’ve been reading me for a while, you already know about my predilection for Italian menswear. It’s not just that they’re Italian that makes them my favorite, however. I think they’re the simplest of the plimsolls, and thus are much easier to wear. 

Spring Court is another classic; they’re made in France and the most comfortable of the plimsolls I’ve worn. I would recommend them if you’re comfortable with the bumps and bumpers on the sole.

Finally, of the classics, there is also Converse, which make the iconic American plimsoll that we’re all familiar with. The two most popular models are the Chuck Taylor All Stars, which come in both low and high tops, and Jack Purcell. Chuck Taylors are great because they’ll still look good when they’re beat to hell. Jack Purcells are basically plimsolls with a smile, which we know makes everything look better. Also, in an interesting team-up, Converse recently collaborated with Mackintosh to make a Jack Purcell model out of Mackintosh’s famed rubberized cotton. It’s more of a novelty shoe for menswear geeks, but I really like it. 

There are also great models outside of the classics. Feiyue are the monk shoes of plimsolls - meaning they were first worn by Shaolin monks and other martial artists. They were originally a Chinese company but have been since bought by a French sneakerhead who has made the shoe popular among footwear fanatics. They come in both low and high tops, and are most distinguishable by the red and blue stripes on the side. There are also Tretorns, which are Swedish plimsolls, and a new collaboration piece between Billy Reid and K Swiss. The Billy Reid x K Swiss may not be a classic, but I think it’s a pretty damn nice looking shoe that would look great with any casual summer wardrobe. 

Finally, there are CVOs - canvas vulcanized oxfords. For these, you can get Vans Authentics and Converse. Sperry Topsider also released a slightly vintage looking model for their 75th anniversary. 

If you get a pair of plimsolls, I recommend white, as nothing looks better in the summer. Some may worry that white canvas shoes are hard to keep clean. Personally, I think they look best with a little dirt on them. However, if you do want to keep them a bit brighter, try spraying a 50/50 mix of water and lemon juice, gently scrubbing for a bit, and letting them sit for a full day. For more serious stains, mix a tablespoon of baking soda and touch of water, and then rub the sticky paste onto the stain. Don’t worry too much about them though. They’re casual shoes and meant to be treated as such. 

(thanks to Edwin and LAS for help with this article)

The Five Days of Summer Series, Part I: Bretons

The trees in my neighborhood have been leafing and flowering for some time now, but this weekend, as the weather was particularly sunny, things started to feel more summery. As such, I thought I’d create a five-day series dedicated to things you can get for the coming summer season. 

The first part to this series is about Breton shirts and sweaters. These seem to be popular every year around this time, and their continued relevance is probably due their being an iconic, international classic. In the last year or two, they’ve become particularly hip - a trip through Brooklyn has come to look like a visit to a French sailor’s convention.

Saint James invented Bretons in 1850 for men working out on the sea. They were originally just for the people of Brittany - a peninsula region in the northwest of France. In the 1920s, however, Coco Chanel became enamored with the Breton’s striped sailor look and made it into a more general “French style.” By the 1940s, it became the uniform of French beatniks, and then by the 1960s, it was popular among American rock stars. It has remained an iconic cultural staple ever since. 

There are a ton of companies right now making their own version of the Breton (eg Brooks Brothers and Lands End Canvas). It would be laborious and needless to list every option, so I’ll cover only three kinds: the classic, the Picasso, and the poor man’s. 

Classics: For the classic, there is the originator - Saint James. Binic II is their most popular sweater; it has stripes starting around the breastbone and a button placket on the left shoulder. Their Matelot is a slight variation on the Binic II, with full-body stripes and a looped around collar. For shirts, they have two main models, the Meridien II and Minquiers 10. They’re basically the same shirt, except the Meridien II has a boatneck while Minquiers 10 has a round one. As well, Meridien II is made from carded cotton, which is a heavier, slightly “rougher” cotton, while Minquiers is made from combed cotton (the kind we’re mostly familiar with). I think carded cotton is strongly preferable, if only for its unique texture, but some men are a bit timid about wearing boatnecks. 

Should you order a Saint James, you can get one from Brittany Boutique for about half of what you’d find them for in most stores. 

For other classic manufacturers, check Royal Mer for sweaters, and Armor Lux, Le Minor, and Guy Cotton for shirts. You can’t go wrong with the companies that have been making these forever. 

Picasso: As famous as Bretons are to French sailors and beatniks, the image of Picasso in his Breton is just as enduring. Capitalizing on that association, J. Peterman recreated the one we’ve seen on Picasso. The curled boatneck is a bit more daring than the regular boatneck, but on the right guy, it can carry a lot of panache. 

Poor man’s: Lastly, we have the budget Breton. For this, do a search on eBay for telnyashka. Here you’ll find Russian Navy undershirts, many of which are deadstocks from the Soviet era. The Russians borrowed the design from the French Navy, who of course got theirs from the sailors in Brittany. You can typically score one of those for under $20. 

Finally, a word about styling. Bretons work well as layering pieces and can easily be worn with almost any pair of chinos. For a bit more creativity, try wearing them with other quintessential summer pieces. For example, you can wear a Breton shirt with a khaki cotton suit, braided leather belt, and navy espadrilles, and you’ll basically have your summer style on smash.