Polo Alternatives

The man who first took Rene Lacoste’s brilliantly simple sport shirt and replaced the original logo with his business’s name and phone number should spend eternity pursued and bitten by embroidered crocodiles. Because that first corporate swag shirt was the nail in the coffin of the pique polo as a respectable summer shirt. Arnold Palmer looks like he’s about to cry over it.

Fortunately, the pique polo is not the only worthwhile summer shirt.

Guayaberas and Guayaber-ish

The guayabera—button front, woven fabric, usually short sleeved, with decorative pleats and four pockets—is a staple in tropical climates and with American anthropology professors (anecdotally). Traditional guayaberas are relatively loose, as is most clothing worn where it’s always hot. Check out Jesse’s experience with Miami guayabera makers Ramon Puig. If a real-deal ‘bera is too much for you, there are a decent number of similarly styled shirts available that omit traditional details for a subtler take. My favorite is probably the Engineered Garments Chauncey shirt. Like with any short sleeved, woven summer shirt, a trimmer fit will look cleaner and less Guy Fieri, but will also be less functional in the heat.

Aloha Shirts

Hawaiian/Aloha shirts have been pigeonholed in the past but island patterns add some welcome brightness to the hot weather uniform of simple cotton pants and shirts. Aloha shirts have a long history in Hawaii, but entered the American consciousness largely in the 1950s, as tourists from the continental U.S. brought them home. Bold prints and colors are the standard; subtler takes will use only two colors, and some use reverse printed fabric, a Reyn Spooner standard that’s less loud. The vintage market for Aloha shirts is very competitive; old versions in rayon or silk blends fetch crazy prices. Personally, I prefer newer versions in cotton or cotton-linen blends—the multicolor print above is an overdyed shirt from surf brand Lightning Bolt.

Popovers

Popovers are essentially just normal button front shirts with a placket that doesn’t reach the bottom of the shirt, which is the way all dress shirts used to be made (some makers will still do this for you). The popover as summer shirt is often short sleeved and made in oxford cloth, so a summer version of the unimpeachable OCBD. Does a popover really “wear” that much cooler than a simple button front shirt? No. But it’s traditional warm season wear and looks more “dressed” under a sportcoat than a polo. We’ve highlighted a number of solid popovers before; Jack Spade has a short sleeved poplin version right now and I know Winn Perry is expecting some Individualized-made popovers soon. One thing to remember: most pullover clothing is knit and has some give; a very trim, woven fabric popover will be a pain to get on and off.

Better Polos

Another option is just avoiding the polo shirt as practiced by Lacoste and Ralph Lauren—so, fewer logos, different collar styles, and different fabrics. The cult of James Bond is a little silly in my opinion, but Daniel Craig’s Bond has brought due attention to Sunspel’s Riviera pocket polo, which has a mesh, self-fabric collar and close fit, even if you aren’t packing Craig-caliber guns. UK knit specialists John Smedley make a number of polo style shirts in knit sea island cotton, with slightly longer sleeves and bigger collars than most slim, modern takes. Banlon-style polos, with a waistband rather than tails, are arguably neater than a standard polo, but they’re a rare beast these days. I haven’t tried one, but I’m intrigued by Land’s End’s similar banded hem polo.

-Pete

Tailored, But Casual

I think most men want to look well-tailored, but not overly dressed-up. One solution is to wear casual, unstructured sport coats over equally casual button-up shirts. Perhaps shirts with crisscrossing plaids, such as madras, or ones made from “rougher” weaves, such as oxfords or chambrays. The bigger and bolder the pattern, or rougher the weave, the more casual the shirt is considered. 

In some parts of the States, however, even that would look too dressy. Which is why I assume some men wear sport coats over t-shirts. The problem with this, besides the fact that you’ll look like you’re stepping off an MTV set, is that the chasm between the formality of the sport coat and casualness of a t-shirt is too big. There’s also no collar to frame your face or long sleeves to give the requisite show of some shirt cuff. 

The best alternative, then, is the long-sleeved polo shirt. The long sleeves will ensure that no skinny wrists will ever be exposed, and the collar will give you the same effect as a dress shirt. The only difference is that nobody will mistake you for having just come from the office. 

My favorite version on the market is by Kent Wang. His long sleeve polos are slim enough that they appear to be more than sportswear, and the reinforced collarband means that the collar will stand up on its own and not disappear underneath the jacket’s lapels. He has them made from different fabric weights. I prefer the heavier, denser weaves, but the others are just as wearable. For hot days, they may be even preferred since they’ll breathe more easily. Other good sources include Drake’sSunspel, and Brooks Brothers. Brooks doesn’t seem to have anything good this season, but last year they had a decent cream-colored model that went on sale. 

You can wear this combination with casual wool trousers, perhaps those made from open-weave tropical wools, or cotton chinos. Footwear options should be equally casual. Derbies and slip-ons should be preferred over oxfords. When these are all put together you’ll achieve that perfect balance that many men look for today - tailored, but casual. 

(Photos above taken from Drake’s Diary)

It’s On Sale: John Smedley 

John Smedley is having their end-of-the-season sale. Sweaters are 50% off and begin at $90. They’re a bit expensive, to be sure, but the company makes really wonderful knits. The raw wool is all sourced in New Zealand and then dyed by Zegna. The rest of the work is done in-house by John Smedley in Derbyshire, England. This includes spinning out the yarn, creating the panels, and knitting the final product. The wool is said to be processed through their local spring water, which supposedly gives the fabrics a superior handle. I’m not sure I completely buy that theory, but their garments do feel very nice and last a long time. I bought my first John Smedley sweater over ten years ago and it still looks great today. 

We Got It For Free: Kent Wang’s Rugby (Redux)

The photo above is of Jacqueline Kennedy and Gianni Agnelli walking together in Ravello, Italy during the summer of 1962. The US First Lady choose to vacation there after it was recommended to her by Gore Vidal, and once she arrived, she met the famous Italian industrialist, Agnelli. The two spent a lot of time together sailing and going around the Amalfi Coast. So much so, in fact, that many speculated whether they had a romantic relationship. 

Enough of the historical rumors, however. I thought I’d pull the photo to highlight what Agnelli is wearing - slip on shoes, trousers with no belt (though there are belt loops), and a popover shirt with a spread collar and mitered cuffs. It’s a great, casual ensemble. The popover is sort of in-between an oxford and a polo in terms of casualness, and the collar and cuff styles give it a “tailored” appeal. 

The shirt reminded me of Kent Wang’s new batch of rugbys. He sent me one in navy a few months back, but the cuffs were too tight. Well, he’s since had the design adjusted and the new ones are absolutely perfect. They’re slim and flattering, and just the right length to be tucked into the trousers or left out. Like his polos, Kent’s rugbys are made with reinforced collar bands, which make the collars themselves sit up straight like those on well-made dress shirts. The combination of the shirt collar and long-sleeve button cuffs make them smart enough to wear underneath a jacket or just as a stand-alone shirt. The cuffs are also comfortable this time and can be rolled up easily if you want a cooler, more casual feel. 

In my first post about Kent’s rugby, I talked about how I wanted a smarter, more “tailored” looking rugby than the ones you typically find on the market. With these new adjustments, I think Kent’s rugbys fit that bill exceptionally well. I plan to wear mine on weekends just as Agnelli is wearing his popover above. It probably won’t charm any First Ladies, however. 

Kent Wang just got in some new colors for his popular spread-collar polo. I raved about them last month and still think they’re one of the best items I’ve seen this summer. 

Since there aren’t any fit pics with Kent’s polos, I thought I’d share some photos of Three Dots’ spread collar polos, which I found at Guji. Kent’s polos have reinforced collarbands, so they stand up better than Three Dots, which splay a little too open for my taste. Still, I think they give some good inspiration for spread collar polos. 

You can pick yours up at Kent’s website for $65, which is considerably cheaper, incidentally, than the $200 ones Guji is selling.