The Popover Shirt
Summer is a great time for slightly more casual takes on tailored clothing, and there’s no easier way to dress down a tailored jacket than by using a slightly more casual shirt. So instead of the finely woven cotton dress shirts you might use for the office, consider something in a linen or linen blend. Bolder patterns can also make a shirt look more casual, although you want to be wary of anything that looks too busy. I find blue and white Bengal stripes to be the most useful.
I’ve also come to really like popovers, which is a pullover style with a half placket front. Before sport shirts were made with coat fronts – where the opening went from the collar down to the hem, like a coat – they were made with half-plackets such as this button-down. Nowadays, popovers can be seen a sort of “in-between.” They’re more relaxed than a traditional shirt, but dressier than a polo, which makes them great for those days you want to look sharp, but casual.
The problem with popovers is that they can be sometimes hard to fit. Unlike long-sleeved polos or rugbys – which are styled similarly – these are constructed from a woven, rather than knitted, material. Which means they’re less stretchy. So, in order to easily slide in and out of these things, you want your shirt to be cut a little bigger, but not so big that it looks baggy when worn. 
I ended up going through my shirtmaker Ascot Chang in order to get the right fit, but you could also try many of the ready-to-wear options and be more exacting with your alterations tailor. Try Sid Mashburn, Gitman Brothers, J. Crew, G. Inglese, Individualized Shirts, Fun Time Shirt Company, and Ralph Lauren to start. For something custom, check out Mercer & Sons, Luxire, and our advertiser Proper Cloth. The first will do made-to-order, where you can customize your shirt from a wide range of pre-selected options, while the last two can do made-to-measure, where you’ll get a shirt made according to the body measurements you submit online.  

The Popover Shirt

Summer is a great time for slightly more casual takes on tailored clothing, and there’s no easier way to dress down a tailored jacket than by using a slightly more casual shirt. So instead of the finely woven cotton dress shirts you might use for the office, consider something in a linen or linen blend. Bolder patterns can also make a shirt look more casual, although you want to be wary of anything that looks too busy. I find blue and white Bengal stripes to be the most useful.

I’ve also come to really like popovers, which is a pullover style with a half placket front. Before sport shirts were made with coat fronts – where the opening went from the collar down to the hem, like a coat – they were made with half-plackets such as this button-down. Nowadays, popovers can be seen a sort of “in-between.” They’re more relaxed than a traditional shirt, but dressier than a polo, which makes them great for those days you want to look sharp, but casual.

The problem with popovers is that they can be sometimes hard to fit. Unlike long-sleeved polos or rugbys – which are styled similarly – these are constructed from a woven, rather than knitted, material. Which means they’re less stretchy. So, in order to easily slide in and out of these things, you want your shirt to be cut a little bigger, but not so big that it looks baggy when worn. 

I ended up going through my shirtmaker Ascot Chang in order to get the right fit, but you could also try many of the ready-to-wear options and be more exacting with your alterations tailor. Try Sid Mashburn, Gitman Brothers, J. Crew, G. Inglese, Individualized Shirts, Fun Time Shirt Company, and Ralph Lauren to start. For something custom, check out Mercer & Sons, Luxire, and our advertiser Proper Cloth. The first will do made-to-order, where you can customize your shirt from a wide range of pre-selected options, while the last two can do made-to-measure, where you’ll get a shirt made according to the body measurements you submit online.  

Expanding a Shirt Wardrobe in the Summertime

Luciano Barbera once said that while you can have too many clothes, you can never have too many shirts. “Shirts are quick to wash and easy to store. Plus, they look great. A man should own as many shirts as he wishes –- the more the better.”

I don’t know if I would go that far, but having more shirts does allow you to play around a bit with a tailored wardrobe. Solid and striped shirts in your basic colors (white and light blue) are great mainstays, but having a few causal options can let you get some versatility out of what you already own. For summer, I like the following:

  • Madras: A lightweight, plain weave cotton that’s known for it’s bright and bold plaids. By tradition, these used to be dyed with vegetable dyes that would bleed in the wash, which in turn would give the shirts a distinctive, blurred look. Today, madras is almost always colorfast (meaning they don’t bleed or fade), which is perhaps lamentable, but I find they still go excellently under cotton or linen sport coats, or even worn on their own with a pair of chinos and some plimsolls. You can find them at O’Connell’s, J. Press, Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, and J. Crew.
  • Linen: I love the look of wrinkled linen, as it adds a casual, carefree touch to clothes that make them look more lived in. Plus, the plant fiber is just so lightweight and breathable, making it ideal on hot days. With the breeze blowing through, you’d hardly known you were wearing a shirt at all. You can find them at Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, and Ledbury. Our advertiser Proper Cloth also can make you something custom from their cotton/ linen blends – which will have the breathability of linen, but won’t wrinkle as much.
  • A dressy chambray: This one is admittedly hard to find. A long time ago, some guys at StyleForum became enamored with a distinctive chambray from the French weaver Simonnot Godard. It had the right mix of white and blue threads to make it a chambray, but was dressy enough to wear with tailored clothing (so not like the workwear chambrays you see everywhere else). At some point, it was found that the cloth has a small percentage of polyester in it, so traditionalists quickly abandoned their stock. I personally still love the fabric, and count it as one of my favorite shirtings. It’s unique without being loud, and something you can wear to the office or outside of it. Today, the closest you can find to those original Simonnot Godard chambrays is this shirt from Ledbury (which is 100% cotton). Otherwise, you can try searching around for various end-on-ends, which is a kind of weave that sometimes yields a vaguely similar look.
  • A washed chambray: More the workwear variety, and perhaps something that’s better in the fall with tweed jackets. In the summer though, I’ve found light blue chambrays to go excellently with casual clothes (leather jackets, chinos, and such). Just find something that’s light enough in color to look like a regular light blue shirt, but has a bit of ruggedness to it so that it’s casual. I like the ones from Chimala and RRL, although the prices are admittedly very dear. For something much more affordable, check out this shirt from Everlane

The US Government Guide to Shirts

Apparently, if the internet were around in the mid-20th century, the US Government would have had a great menswear blog. Not too long ago, our friend CrimsonSox found a US government guide to quality suits, originally published in 1949. Today, he found a government guide to quality shirts, originally published by the US Department of Agriculture in 1939.

Like with the guide to suits, there’s some advice in here that’s still useful and some that’s a bit outdated (although, still fun to read). It’s still true, for example, that dress shirts are generally considered better made if they have mother-of-pearl buttons and fabrics woven in high thread counts. The section on detachable collars, on the other hand, is pretty much useless since shirts almost only come with attached ones these days. Back when this guide was published, men still had a choice between the two, and the advantage of detachable collars was two fold. First, you could just wash the part that most easily got soiled, rather than washing the whole shirt. Second, you wouldn’t have to throw your entire shirt away once the collar got frayed. Those advantages, of course, are pretty much moot as shirts have become cheaper and laundering easier.

My favorite piece of anachronistic advice might be the bit about how men should look for full cut shirts. The guide does make an exception, however. As it notes, “some brands of shirts are made especially for slender men, and should not be confused with cheap, skimped garments.” Thank you, US government, for acknowledging my existence.

Lastly, as with the guide to suits, there’s a nice section in here on fabrics. If you’ve ever wondered what’s the difference between broadcloth, oxford, chambray, etc., this is a good place to start. Just note that madras today mostly refers to the very colorful plaids that come out of India, not the plain stuff shown here.

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

Real People: Dressing Down a Suit

Open any men’s fashion magazine nowadays and you can read about the 101 ways to dress down a suit. The problem is, the suit is more often than not a sober looking garment, so when you try to “dress it down,” it can be like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa. A safer way to dress down a suit is to simply get a more casual suit. Instead of one made from a smooth, worsted wool, try something in cotton, linen, corduroy, or even tweed. That way, your suit is inherently more casual, and you won’t have to awkwardly try to pull back its formality with some unusual accessory.

That does require buying a separate suit for casual occasions, however, which can get expensive (especially once you factor in seasonal fabrics). If you want to try to dress down a standard business suit, try pairing one with a softly colored pastel shirt, perhaps something in pink, lavender, or sea green. Any of those will be more casual than your standard solid whites or light blues, and can help both soften the edge of a suit while also enlivening its look. If need be, you can dress it down further with some casual footwear, such as tassel loafers or something made from suede. Our friend Niyi in New York City shows how well can look above.

You can get pastel colored shirts at any number of places these days. Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers are good starts, so long as you stay away from the ones with embroidered logos. Our advertiser Ledbury has a lime green one in their “short run shirts” section until the end of today. If you want something custom made, I can recommend Ascot Chang. They have offices in New York City and Los Angeles, although they also tour throughout the United States to meet clients (I meet them in San Francisco twice a year). They do great work, but being bespoke, they are a bit pricey. For something more affordable, but custom, there’s Cottonwork and our advertiser Proper Cloth. For something affordable, but ready to wear, there’s TM Lewin and Thin Red Line.

“HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW WHAT SIZE SHIRT YOU ARE? PEOPLE COME TO THE STORE LIKE ” SHOULD I GET M OR L?” YOU IDIOT WHY WOULD I KNOW YOU’RE GROWN” Tyler the Creator
Thick Flannel Shirts
Over the weekend, Jesse listed this Spring’s Seven “Must Have Or You’ll Die” Essentials. Do you know why? Because he lives in Los Angeles, and in Southern California, the four seasons are: spring, summer, summer with slightly chillier nights (but not by much), and spring with slightly chillier nights (but again, not by much). Dear readers: know that I - as your correspondent in the Bay Area - understand that we’re still solidly in winter. Here in the Bay, it’s still cold enough to need chunky sweaters, heavy coats, and the occasional pair of gloves. 
It’s also useful to have a few thick flannel shirts around. I’ve been wearing mine every once in a while with jeans and a leather jacket, and prefer ones made from heavy, coarse fabrics. My favorite sources so far include:
John Lofgren: A highly underrated and underappreciated workwear label. Really nice, thick fabrics made into shirts with slightly short, vintage-y cuts. Available at John Lofgren’s site directly, but also Self Edge and Bench & Loom (although the last two don’t have woven shirts right now).
Flat Head: A Japanese workwear label that draws a lot of inspiration from American motorcycle and hot rod subcultures. They have two lines of shirts – the mainline, which is slim and shorter fitting, and Glory Park, which is just a touch bigger. Of all my flannels, these are easily my favorite, but they’re expensive. If you don’t mind the price, they’re available at Self Edge and Rivet & Hide.
Five Brother: A genuine workwear label that recently started making slim fitting shirts for the fashion crowd. These are made from vividly colored fabrics with coarse weaves and a dry hand. Of all the companies on this list, Five Brother probably offers the best price to value ratio. You can find them now at Bench & Loom, but in the past, Context and Hickoree’s has also carried them (they will again this fall).
Nigel Cabourn: Always a favorite, but his prices are stratospherically high. If it matters, his flannel shirts are sometimes reversible, although the other side of the one I bought is perhaps too “fuzzy” to realistically use. Still, he has some nice subtle detailing that the other brands don’t offer (unique pocket designs, smoke mother-of-pearl buttons, and extra, extra thick fabrics). Available at Nigel Cabourn’s own website or any of his stockists. If you’re not able to afford those retail prices, you’ll have to trawl Yoox and eBay like me.
RRL: Ralph Lauren’s ranch inspired sub-label. The fabrics on RRL shirts really run the gamut, but in general, they’re typically a bit flimsier than the aforementioned brands (at least when it comes to fall/ winter shirts). On the upside, they can often be found on deep discount (I bought mine for about $75). These are available at Ralph Lauren’s website, and certain niche stockists such as Unionmade and Frans Boone.
The best part about wearing thick flannel shirts? With designers such as Daiki Suzuki and Heidi Slimane incorporating them into last year’s looks, you can simultaneously feel very “aritansal heritage workwear” and “high fashion au courant.” Plus, Rick Owens wears them! The dream of the 90s is alive in menswear. At least until spring comes for the rest of us. 

Thick Flannel Shirts

Over the weekend, Jesse listed this Spring’s Seven “Must Have Or You’ll Die” Essentials. Do you know why? Because he lives in Los Angeles, and in Southern California, the four seasons are: spring, summer, summer with slightly chillier nights (but not by much), and spring with slightly chillier nights (but again, not by much). Dear readers: know that I - as your correspondent in the Bay Area - understand that we’re still solidly in winter. Here in the Bay, it’s still cold enough to need chunky sweaters, heavy coats, and the occasional pair of gloves. 

It’s also useful to have a few thick flannel shirts around. I’ve been wearing mine every once in a while with jeans and a leather jacket, and prefer ones made from heavy, coarse fabrics. My favorite sources so far include:

  • John Lofgren: A highly underrated and underappreciated workwear label. Really nice, thick fabrics made into shirts with slightly short, vintage-y cuts. Available at John Lofgren’s site directly, but also Self Edge and Bench & Loom (although the last two don’t have woven shirts right now).
  • Flat Head: A Japanese workwear label that draws a lot of inspiration from American motorcycle and hot rod subcultures. They have two lines of shirts – the mainline, which is slim and shorter fitting, and Glory Park, which is just a touch bigger. Of all my flannels, these are easily my favorite, but they’re expensive. If you don’t mind the price, they’re available at Self Edge and Rivet & Hide.
  • Five Brother: A genuine workwear label that recently started making slim fitting shirts for the fashion crowd. These are made from vividly colored fabrics with coarse weaves and a dry hand. Of all the companies on this list, Five Brother probably offers the best price to value ratio. You can find them now at Bench & Loom, but in the past, Context and Hickoree’s has also carried them (they will again this fall).
  • Nigel Cabourn: Always a favorite, but his prices are stratospherically high. If it matters, his flannel shirts are sometimes reversible, although the other side of the one I bought is perhaps too “fuzzy” to realistically use. Still, he has some nice subtle detailing that the other brands don’t offer (unique pocket designs, smoke mother-of-pearl buttons, and extra, extra thick fabrics). Available at Nigel Cabourn’s own website or any of his stockists. If you’re not able to afford those retail prices, you’ll have to trawl Yoox and eBay like me.
  • RRL: Ralph Lauren’s ranch inspired sub-label. The fabrics on RRL shirts really run the gamut, but in general, they’re typically a bit flimsier than the aforementioned brands (at least when it comes to fall/ winter shirts). On the upside, they can often be found on deep discount (I bought mine for about $75). These are available at Ralph Lauren’s website, and certain niche stockists such as Unionmade and Frans Boone.

The best part about wearing thick flannel shirts? With designers such as Daiki Suzuki and Heidi Slimane incorporating them into last year’s looks, you can simultaneously feel very “aritansal heritage workwear” and “high fashion au courant.” Plus, Rick Owens wears them! The dream of the 90s is alive in menswear. At least until spring comes for the rest of us. 

Collars Just For Tie-Wearing
As I’ve expanded my wardrobe over the years, I’ve come to find that I sometimes favor things that are a bit more specialized, rather than versatile. About a year and a half ago, I had my shirt maker cut me a new collar style with longer points. It’s still a semi-spread design, like I usually take, but with extended points, the fuller collar gives a nicer counterbalance to my face and necktie. The extended points also ensure that my collar tips always stay neatly tucked underneath my sport coat, thus giving a nice uninterrupted line moving from my tie’s knot to my jacket’s lapels.
The only problem is that the collar a bit unwieldy when worn without a tie, which is why I think most today are made in one of two styles. The first are short collars, which is what you’ll find on many casual shirts sold in malls and fashion-y boutiques. Just step into a J. Crew or Barney’s to see what I mean. These are too short to be worn with a tie (unless you’re going for a more fashion-forward look), but to be fair, they’re not really meant to be worn with one anyway.
Then there’s the fuller collar style you’ll find at places such as Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren (at least on their more traditional lines, and on shirts that are sized by collar and sleeve length). These are designed to be worn in professional settings, so the points are long enough to support a necktie without lifting up too far off your body.
Still, even the fullest of these collars rarely approach the kind of style you see on Simone Righi above. I assume this is because short collars – like slim fitting clothes – have been trendy for over ten years, and trends are important, even in “classic” clothing. I assume it’s also because most men want to be able to wear their professional shirts without a tie, so they can make double use of it in casual environments. With a truly full collar, you risk looking like a 1970s disco dancer if you wear it open.
Medium length points are great for casual and formal settings, so if you don’t wear a tie often, or don’t want an excessively large wardrobe, they’re a great style to stick to. If you do wear ties often, however, or don’t mind spending a bit extra on clothes, try a fuller collar. They can admittedly look a bit too aggressive on first sight, but once you throw on a tailored jacket and put on some neckwear, you’ll notice they can give much more appealing proportions. Just see Simone Righi above as an example. 
(Photo via The Sartorialist)

Collars Just For Tie-Wearing

As I’ve expanded my wardrobe over the years, I’ve come to find that I sometimes favor things that are a bit more specialized, rather than versatile. About a year and a half ago, I had my shirt maker cut me a new collar style with longer points. It’s still a semi-spread design, like I usually take, but with extended points, the fuller collar gives a nicer counterbalance to my face and necktie. The extended points also ensure that my collar tips always stay neatly tucked underneath my sport coat, thus giving a nice uninterrupted line moving from my tie’s knot to my jacket’s lapels.

The only problem is that the collar a bit unwieldy when worn without a tie, which is why I think most today are made in one of two styles. The first are short collars, which is what you’ll find on many casual shirts sold in malls and fashion-y boutiques. Just step into a J. Crew or Barney’s to see what I mean. These are too short to be worn with a tie (unless you’re going for a more fashion-forward look), but to be fair, they’re not really meant to be worn with one anyway.

Then there’s the fuller collar style you’ll find at places such as Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren (at least on their more traditional lines, and on shirts that are sized by collar and sleeve length). These are designed to be worn in professional settings, so the points are long enough to support a necktie without lifting up too far off your body.

Still, even the fullest of these collars rarely approach the kind of style you see on Simone Righi above. I assume this is because short collars – like slim fitting clothes – have been trendy for over ten years, and trends are important, even in “classic” clothing. I assume it’s also because most men want to be able to wear their professional shirts without a tie, so they can make double use of it in casual environments. With a truly full collar, you risk looking like a 1970s disco dancer if you wear it open.

Medium length points are great for casual and formal settings, so if you don’t wear a tie often, or don’t want an excessively large wardrobe, they’re a great style to stick to. If you do wear ties often, however, or don’t mind spending a bit extra on clothes, try a fuller collar. They can admittedly look a bit too aggressive on first sight, but once you throw on a tailored jacket and put on some neckwear, you’ll notice they can give much more appealing proportions. Just see Simone Righi above as an example. 

(Photo via The Sartorialist)

It’s on Sale: Barba shirts at Farfetch

Barba makes Italian-style shirts—dressy fabrics, plain “French” placket, darted body, straight or spread collar—that are usually priced between $200 and $300. They’re great shirts with shapely collars that work well with neckties or without (they’re rarely button down collars, though, so best to keep them tucked inside a jacket or sweater). Fortunately, they are often available at a discount. Right now, Farfetch, which aggregates stock of dozens of stores, mostly European, has a lot of Barba shirts marked down, and an additional 20% off code valid through Friday at 8:59am GMT (3:59 EST, 12:59 PST): x20jan14. Farfetch also includes duties in its shipping, at about $20, so you won’t get an additional bill, which sometimes happens with European stores shipping to the United States. That puts most of these shirts under $150 shipped. Other good sources for Barba: Yoox and Shopthefinest.

-Pete

It’s On Sale: Thin Red Line Shirts
Thin Red Line is a British shirt company who make traditionally-styled dress shirts. A couple of times a year, they drop their prices to £19, which is about $30. Subtract VAT and they end up at $26 each. Along with T.M. Lewin’s occasional sales at that price, they’re one of the best dress shirt values under fifty bucks, even if you’re in the States and have to pay international shipping. The brand’s slim fit isn’t fashion slim, so if you’re very skinny, it might not suit, but if you’re of modest build, it’s a solid cut. Shirts are here, use the code “SANTA13” for the discount.

It’s On Sale: Thin Red Line Shirts

Thin Red Line is a British shirt company who make traditionally-styled dress shirts. A couple of times a year, they drop their prices to £19, which is about $30. Subtract VAT and they end up at $26 each. Along with T.M. Lewin’s occasional sales at that price, they’re one of the best dress shirt values under fifty bucks, even if you’re in the States and have to pay international shipping. The brand’s slim fit isn’t fashion slim, so if you’re very skinny, it might not suit, but if you’re of modest build, it’s a solid cut. Shirts are here, use the code “SANTA13” for the discount.