“When I was in high school it was strictly about Ralph Lauren. It was like a ‘dope-boy’ aesthetic; that was how you would tell who was who. If you had the Polo chino jacket, everyone would know that you spent like $195 on it. Or if you had the snow beach sweater, everyone knew you spent $350 on it. So it was a status thing.”

Pusha T on Polo. In this interview, he also says his favorite tshirts come from Uniqlo. (He gets ‘em for cheap.)

-Pete

Maybe overreacting to the controversy about the brand’s made-in-China 2012 Olympic uniforms, Ralph Lauren and co. went all YOU-ESS-AY YOU-ESS-AY YOU-ESS-AY on this year’s models. This shawl collar sweater will be worn for the opening ceremonies (it’s made, indeed, in USA) and is available to non-athletes for $595. WAIT A MINUTE, I ONLY COUNT 45 STARS. I bet one of the stars left out was the one for my home state. 
-Pete

Maybe overreacting to the controversy about the brand’s made-in-China 2012 Olympic uniforms, Ralph Lauren and co. went all YOU-ESS-AY YOU-ESS-AY YOU-ESS-AY on this year’s models. This shawl collar sweater will be worn for the opening ceremonies (it’s made, indeed, in USA) and is available to non-athletes for $595. WAIT A MINUTE, I ONLY COUNT 45 STARS. I bet one of the stars left out was the one for my home state.

-Pete

1970s Style with the Rugby Shirt

Rigidly reserving things only for their original intended purpose is for the short of sight and narrow of mind. The telephone was originally an instrument of business; what early adopter could foresee that in 2013 a phone would be something you carry in your pocket and use primarily to photograph yourself? Likewise, the rugby shirt, a garment designed for the pitch, over time found new homes on college campuses, in the mountains of California, and eventually in the dresser drawers of thousands of men who wouldn’t know a scrum from shinola.

Origins

The basic, classic rugby is a heavyweight, knit cotton jersey shirt, often with ribbed cuffs, and a placket and collar of white cotton twill, usually fastened with rubber buttons—less likely to tear off during rough play. (This is a sport that considers binding your ears to your head with electrical tape a form of protection.) That contrast collar and placket are largely what differentiate the rugby shirt from any general long-sleeved polo shirt—but reasonable people disagree. Rugby players often prefer a slimmer fit; modern rugby shirts are constructed of synthetic fabric and cut very slim to frustrate potential tacklers looking to grab hold. They’re very similar to current professional soccer jerseys. In its early days in the 19th century, rugby was played at British public (i.e., very much private) schools, and shirts were often striped with “hoops” in the school’s colors to identify teams, hence the bold stripes on many casual rugby shirts.

Although it’s hard to point to a specific moment when the rugby shirt made the leap to casual, nonsport wear, it was probably in the middle of the 20th century, when the game itself experienced a surge in popularity on stateside campuses. Eventually the rugby became a standard item in 1980s L.L. Bean and Land’s End catalogs. In the 2000s, Ralph Lauren named an entire label Rugby (RIP). Overlogoed versions, polluted with embroidery and superfluous stitching, have been common since the second coming of Abercrombie and Fitch.

Chouinard’s Rugby

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard is credited with bringing the rugby shirt to the mountains, where in the 1960s a climbing boom was just beginning to spur the growth of a new industry of gear. Rugby shirts were comfortable and elastic enough for freedom of movement when climbing, and the collar kept heavy climbing ropes, slung across the body, from chafing necks. Plus, the bright, broad stripes looked fantastic. Chouinard began carrying the shirts under his original gear label, Great Pacific Iron Works, as “the most practical shirts we have found for rock climbing.” (The black-and-white image above comes from one of GPIW’s beautiful 1970s catalogs, in which rugby shirts were $12 to $16, or about $50 to $70 today.)

I prefer a plain or striped rugby in the style of Chouinard’s, with the traditional twill collar and ribbed cuffs. For me they’re off-duty wear—I would hesitate to wear one with a sportcoat or real trousers. Heavy corduroys, canvas pants, or denim match the heft of the jersey fabric and are seasonally appropriate in the chilly months when rugby shirts are most often worn.

Sources

Fortunately, well-made rugby shirts are affordable, although fitted versions are less common. Columbia Knit supplied a number of 1980s labels with USA-made rugby shirts, and still makes a nice rugby for as little as $30 (even less if you order a shirt of mixed up remainder fabric). Columbia Knit’s shirts are generously sized and drop shouldered—the shoulder seam will not fall at the edge of your shoulder, but high on your upper arm. Barbarian has a good reputation (I have not handled their shirts, which are made in Canada), and their versions run about $50. Land’s End still sells rugby shirts, but they’re imported, and classified by one reviewer as “roomy and stylish.”  Kent Wang's modified rugby is $85. Ralph Lauren’s custom fit is probably the most reasonably priced, reliably slim fitting option at $100. Of course, it has a Polo pony embroidered on the chest. Gant, which has a line called Rugger, sells a fitted version with a minimal logo.

Rugby shirts are of course fall/winter items and most stores are now just getting fall/winter clothing on the shelves, so expect to see more options soon. In recent years, Archival Clothing, Jack Spade, Brooks Brothers Black Fleece, and Brunello Cucinelli, among others, have offered attractive versions. If you see any particularly great ones on the market, let us know.

-Pete

Learn to Speak the Language:

Why the ‘Lo Heads are Masters of Sartorial Discourse

Would I wear a sweater with a picture of a teddy bear wearing Polo business clothes? Or a Polo Golf tie with an illustration of a golfer on it? Or a black leather Polo suit? No way. A jacket that says “SNOW BEACH” on it? Absolutely not.

So why did we feature ‘Lo Heads in our first episode? Wearing clothes that I wouldn’t wear myself, in ways I wouldn’t wear them?

Dressing is a fundamentally discursive act. The most sophisticated dressers are engaged in a three-way conversation - between the creator of their clothing, themselves, and the people they interact with while dressed. This happens in the context of a broad set of only semi-shared cultural values. The designer intends one meaning, the wearer recombines it, recontextualizes it, and gives it new meaning, and then that meaning is interpreted by the people the wearer interacts with in ways that the wearer could never have conceived.

I think that these guys, deeply immersed in this ‘Lo Heads culture, are incredibly fluent at this discourse. They’re living it. Any of us, no matter what our personal sense of aesthetics, or our personal goals for can learn from their example.

So let’s break it down a little.

The first level: there’s an interesting statement made, of course, when a black or Puerto Rican guy from the hood wears clothes that are self-consciously associated with activities (yachting, skiing, golf) that have powerful ties to whiteness and richness. The guy from the hood is subverting those values. His act is a thumb in the eye to the rich (and white) that says that not only can those symbols of privilege be appropriated by the downtrodden, the downtrodden can rock that shit better.

Dallas describes the Polo-obsessed culture as a function of “Aspirational Apparel.” I think that’s part of it. When you’re “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” as one guy put it, you want to represent something for yourself that’s more than that. But here’s the limitation of that description: this is not a literal act. These are not poor people striving to be as much like rich people as possible. This is a symbolic act.

We asked person after person, “would you get on a yacht?” “Have you ever been skiing?” “Do you like golf?” and to a man, the answer was a laughing “HELL no.”

In other words: these folks don’t aspire to be the rich. They aspire to success, sure, like any of us, but they aren’t supplicating themselves before upper-class white culture, asking to be let in. They don’t aspire to join the club. They aspire to take the symbols of privilege and give them new meaning. To rock them better.

In fact, if the clothes are worn in new ways - think of Dallas’ tie-outside-sweater look - all the better. Like hip-hop slang, the goal is to create an insider’s argot, a way of recombining these symbols of privilege into something with one meaning for people who “get it” and one meaning for people who don’t. Alienating the outsiders is part of creating an insider culture.

There’s also something fascinating to me about the specific preferences that Polo collectors demonstrate. I was wearing a corduroy Polo blazer the night we recorded at Lo Goose on the Deuce (“all eras, all styles welcome,” it said on the invite). Needless to say, there weren’t a lot of other guys there rocking corduroy blazers - despite the fact that corduroy has a rich sporting heritage.

Polo collectors like stuff with graphic and textual representations of the abstract class ideas they’re pursuing. Abstractions of abstractions. Ties with pictures of golfers. Jackets with pictures of skiiers. The Polo Bear.

The Polo Bear is the perfect collectible for Lo Heads. He’s a brand icon who appears mostly on annually-released sweaters. A teddy bear who wears Polo clothes. That makes the Polo Bear sweater a representation of a representation of class, through an icon (a teddy bear) that’s completely non-human, for maximum abstraction.

The reason the Polo fans love Ralph Lauren is that while he has always admired the aesthetics of English schools and Great-Gatsby Americana, he himself was a poor, Jewish New York kid. His name and brand were made up from whole cloth. His creations are fundamentally (and shamelessly) inauthentic. Their value is in how perfectly they celebrate an idea of Americanness that is both tied to race and class and somehow self-consciously cut off from it. The premise of his work is that he’s going to grab the symbols and aesthetics and rock them better.

I don’t want to get too semiotic on you, but our clothes have very limited inherent values. Warm/not-warm and keeps the sun off are pretty much it. Maybe some portion of our aesthetic values are in-born, that’s an argument for a different day. Everything else about getting dressed is symbolic. You’re participating in a conversation. Learn to speak the language.

A couple of snapshots by Zach Linder from our shoot tonight with Dallas Penn at Lo Goose on the Deuce, a meetup for Lo Heads, Lo Lifes and other Polo Ralph Lauren enthusiasts.

cbenjamin:

Senor Lifshitz with the sock monkey shawl collar.

Something meets something is almost always awful, especially in the world of fashion.
This, though, I’m having trouble resisting.

cbenjamin:

Senor Lifshitz with the sock monkey shawl collar.

Something meets something is almost always awful, especially in the world of fashion.

This, though, I’m having trouble resisting.

(via moderndistinction, zebragoesmeow)
If you’re a big guy, like me, this is a time to think about wider lapels like those Polo has introduced this year.  More than fashion, this is about proportionality.  Put very skinny lapels on a big man and they start to look like a goofy costume.  Here, the high notch on wider lapels emphasize the shape of the suit.

(via moderndistinction, zebragoesmeow)

If you’re a big guy, like me, this is a time to think about wider lapels like those Polo has introduced this year.  More than fashion, this is about proportionality.  Put very skinny lapels on a big man and they start to look like a goofy costume.  Here, the high notch on wider lapels emphasize the shape of the suit.

Q and Answer: Outlet Malls
Michael writes:  I was wondering if you could post some tips  on outlet shopping. Do you think they are worth shopping at? I know that  a lot of companies that have outlet stores have specific lines, that  they only sell at their outlets, of lower end merchandise that they can  sell for less. Any tips for what to avoid or what is worth looking at?  Or should they just be avoided all together? Thanks! 
Sounds like you’re on the right track, Michael.
Most factory outlets aren’t really factory outlets anymore.  Most sell at least some merchandise that was never in a traditional retail store (and was never intended for one).  Some don’t sell any “real” merchandise at all.
Here’s what I’ve got experience with (and do email if you have inside info on stuff we don’t have out here in Southern California):
Ralph Lauren has both “Polo” and “Ralph Lauren” outlets.  The Ralph Lauren outlets are pricier, but carry only actual Polo overstocks and Purple Label stuff.  Some, we’ve heard, have recently switched to women’s wear only.  Discounts at these outlets are good but not great.  The Polo outlets are primarily “planned overstock” made for the outlet stores.  The quality is not amazing, though probably not much worse than other Polo items in their categories.  The tailored clothes are mostly Lauren, which is a low-quality line.  There are usually one to three racks, however, which have Polo, RRL and even Purple Label.  Learn to spot these racks, and you can do very, very well.  (Mike notes that the Polo outlets are a great source of cheap bedding.)
Brooks Brothers outlets are similar.  Three quarters or more of their stock is from the “346” line, which is made specifically for the outlets.  There are often bargains hidden amongst the 346, however.  Some stores have shoes, including the high-end Peal & Co. line.  Some have Black Fleece, the fashion-forward line designed by Thom Browne, and some have Golden Fleece, the fuddy-duddy but very high quality line.  Check the labels.
Allen Edmonds outlets mostly have discontinued shoes and seconds.  The prices aren’t a huge reduction from retail, with the exception of seconds.
Gap, Banana Republic and J. Crew sell exclusively clothes made for the outlets.  Not even worth a visit.
Department store outlets are typically a mix.  Neiman Marcus Last Call has the most very-high-end merchandise, and sometimes it can come at a very deep discount.  Their normal prices, though, are reduced but not a crazy bargain.  Saks Off 5th has a lot more baloney (read: tattoo t-shirts) to sift through, but again, there can sometimes be wheat amongst the chaff.  They run frequent specials and sales, and sometimes you can score.  The Barney’s Outlets have a lot of store-brand stuff, but sometimes there is something great amongst the sportswear.
Ferragamo outlets sometimes have decent selection, but markdowns aren’t huge.
Levi’s outlets infrequently stock LVC (Levi’s Vintage Clothing) and other higher-end merchandise.
Sean tells us that Johnston & Murphy outlets have almost all genuine overstocks in their “clearance” section.  He even says he found a decent salesmen who helped him navigate the grades of J&M, which range from decent to lousy.
Harry & David’s outlets have Boylan Root Beer, which has a nice, slightly fruity flavor, and is one of my favorite soft drinks.  Not really clothes related, but you get thirsty.

Q and Answer: Outlet Malls

Michael writes:  I was wondering if you could post some tips on outlet shopping. Do you think they are worth shopping at? I know that a lot of companies that have outlet stores have specific lines, that they only sell at their outlets, of lower end merchandise that they can sell for less. Any tips for what to avoid or what is worth looking at? Or should they just be avoided all together? Thanks!

Sounds like you’re on the right track, Michael.

Most factory outlets aren’t really factory outlets anymore.  Most sell at least some merchandise that was never in a traditional retail store (and was never intended for one).  Some don’t sell any “real” merchandise at all.

Here’s what I’ve got experience with (and do email if you have inside info on stuff we don’t have out here in Southern California):

  • Ralph Lauren has both “Polo” and “Ralph Lauren” outlets.  The Ralph Lauren outlets are pricier, but carry only actual Polo overstocks and Purple Label stuff.  Some, we’ve heard, have recently switched to women’s wear only.  Discounts at these outlets are good but not great.  The Polo outlets are primarily “planned overstock” made for the outlet stores.  The quality is not amazing, though probably not much worse than other Polo items in their categories.  The tailored clothes are mostly Lauren, which is a low-quality line.  There are usually one to three racks, however, which have Polo, RRL and even Purple Label.  Learn to spot these racks, and you can do very, very well.  (Mike notes that the Polo outlets are a great source of cheap bedding.)
  • Brooks Brothers outlets are similar.  Three quarters or more of their stock is from the “346” line, which is made specifically for the outlets.  There are often bargains hidden amongst the 346, however.  Some stores have shoes, including the high-end Peal & Co. line.  Some have Black Fleece, the fashion-forward line designed by Thom Browne, and some have Golden Fleece, the fuddy-duddy but very high quality line.  Check the labels.
  • Allen Edmonds outlets mostly have discontinued shoes and seconds.  The prices aren’t a huge reduction from retail, with the exception of seconds.
  • Gap, Banana Republic and J. Crew sell exclusively clothes made for the outlets.  Not even worth a visit.
  • Department store outlets are typically a mix.  Neiman Marcus Last Call has the most very-high-end merchandise, and sometimes it can come at a very deep discount.  Their normal prices, though, are reduced but not a crazy bargain.  Saks Off 5th has a lot more baloney (read: tattoo t-shirts) to sift through, but again, there can sometimes be wheat amongst the chaff.  They run frequent specials and sales, and sometimes you can score.  The Barney’s Outlets have a lot of store-brand stuff, but sometimes there is something great amongst the sportswear.
  • Ferragamo outlets sometimes have decent selection, but markdowns aren’t huge.
  • Levi’s outlets infrequently stock LVC (Levi’s Vintage Clothing) and other higher-end merchandise.
  • Sean tells us that Johnston & Murphy outlets have almost all genuine overstocks in their “clearance” section.  He even says he found a decent salesmen who helped him navigate the grades of J&M, which range from decent to lousy.
  • Harry & David’s outlets have Boylan Root Beer, which has a nice, slightly fruity flavor, and is one of my favorite soft drinks.  Not really clothes related, but you get thirsty.