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.

Real People: Intent vs. Practice

Nearly every piece of clothing we own was designed as part of someone’s vision, whether that vision was personal or creative or focus-grouped for impact on the mass market; prep pastiche, minimalist performance, louche Italian cafewear, what have you. Those visions are are articulated through runway shows, catalog photography, in-store merchandising, astroturf marketing; whatever. It’s tempting to buy into these visions entirely, and acquire a lot of one line (or vintage era, or subcultural dress code) in order to be coherent. These unified worldviews can also be intimidating, sometimes intentionally so, implying that a certain level of commitment is required to wear, for example, a designer leather jacket.

I think that’s unrealistic and ridiculous.

Brian in DC provides a good example of building a coherent wardrobe from seemingly disparate sources. He wears some relatively accessible basics (like Uniqlo and Steven Alan), with more unusual, special items, like his Rick Owens leather jacket or a wool Veronique Branquinho coat (Branquinho’s label hasn’t made menswear in a few years). He doesn’t shy away from heritage-influenced brands either, like Nigel Cabourn or Folk. Runway shows don’t usually say “comfortably understated” to me, but Brian’s photos do. It helps that Brian seems to know what he likes: quiet colors, refined fabrics, mixed textures, and fitted but not tight silhouettes. The outfits pictured above are a template for modern casual wear, and Brian’s approach of finding what works for him from perhaps unexpected sources is a model for filling and refreshing your closet.

-Pete

Real People: Layering Knitwear
Layering is usually done simple enough: on top of an undershirt goes a long-sleeved woven shirt, then a sweater, then a jacket, and finally – if the weather is freezing – you can add a heavy coat. In the cool temperatures of early spring and late fall, however, you can make a more interesting look by just laying knitwear itself. The principle is the same: the layer closest to your skin should be lightweight, and then on top of that you can add something heavier.
Our own Pete from DC shows how this can be done well. The black sweater is a fisherman’s rollneck by SNS Herning, and the knitted jacket is by Engineered Garments. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the rollneck is actually knitted with a bobble stitch, which creates a slightly textured surface. A bit like my post on boring outerwear, the use of texturally interesting fabrics here keeps things pleasing without the need to turn to patterns or odd design details. 
The jeans, if you’re wondering, are three-year old APCs, which are valued by many because they fade to that handsome sky blue you see above. The shoes were designed by Supreme in collaboration with Padmore & Barnes – the second of which was the original maker of Clarks’ Wallabees. Padmore & Barnes recently re-launched with a line of Irish made shoes. I admit I wanted to buy some of the boots just so I could say they “had to be, the best thing since my socks in Clarks Wallabees.”

Real People: Layering Knitwear

Layering is usually done simple enough: on top of an undershirt goes a long-sleeved woven shirt, then a sweater, then a jacket, and finally – if the weather is freezing – you can add a heavy coat. In the cool temperatures of early spring and late fall, however, you can make a more interesting look by just laying knitwear itself. The principle is the same: the layer closest to your skin should be lightweight, and then on top of that you can add something heavier.

Our own Pete from DC shows how this can be done well. The black sweater is a fisherman’s rollneck by SNS Herning, and the knitted jacket is by Engineered Garments. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the rollneck is actually knitted with a bobble stitch, which creates a slightly textured surface. A bit like my post on boring outerwear, the use of texturally interesting fabrics here keeps things pleasing without the need to turn to patterns or odd design details. 

The jeans, if you’re wondering, are three-year old APCs, which are valued by many because they fade to that handsome sky blue you see above. The shoes were designed by Supreme in collaboration with Padmore & Barnes – the second of which was the original maker of Clarks’ Wallabees. Padmore & Barnes recently re-launched with a line of Irish made shoes. I admit I wanted to buy some of the boots just so I could say they “had to be, the best thing since my socks in Clarks Wallabees.”

Real People: Finding Your “Voice”

Ethan Newton of The Armoury recently wrote a nice piece about finding one’s “voice” when it comes style, and it reminded me of Niyi in New York. Niyi is a bold dresser, often wearing things I’d never wear, and using them in a ways I’d never consider, but he’s also often pulling off looks that I admire. 

Above are two good examples. In the first photo, he’s wearing a tie I also happen to own. It’s a striped burgundy raw silk from Drake’s, which they sold a couple of years ago. When I wear mine, I pair it with a simple, light-blue, striped shirt and a conservative solid-tan sport coat. Niyi, on the other hand, is wearing his here with a dotted lime green shirt (!) and a more attention grabbing seersucker suit. 

In the second photo, he’s in a more somber, solid navy suit, but has enlivened the look with his choice in a tie and pocket square. The tie is actually from his own accessories line. It’s a navy cotton that’s been treated to a process called adire, a kind of hand-dyeing treatment developed by the Yoruba people of Nigeria. Niyi himself is of Yoruba descent, and his men’s accessories line heavily reflects his heritage. You can check it out at his website and (soon) Sid Mashburn

I’ve always believed that you don’t have to share other people’s choices in clothing in order to appreciate their style. Niyi’s bold sense of dress reflects his personality as much as my conservative sensibilities reflect mine. It’s this diversity of dress, and pursuit to find one’s own “voice” as Ethan puts it, that makes dressing personal, social, and fun. 

Real People: Another Take on Workwear

I can admit it. I suffer from American workwear fatigue. There’ll always be a place in my closet for work boots, raw denim, and plaid flannel shirts, but the concept of resurrecting honest, blue-collar clothing (and selling it to “knowledge workers” like me, who build/repair/produce nothing tangible) has been wrung dry the past few years, to the point that I’ve started to forget what I liked about it in the first place.

Syeknom, an Englishman living near Brussels (and a knowledge worker, as well) demonstrates a European take on design, heritage, and workwear that doesn’t have mud caked in its Vibram-soled boots.  Syeknom owns a sharp suit wardrobe and moderates reddit’s Male Fashion Advice forum, but recently has been wearing more tonal outfits, fuller-cut trousers, and substantial, dress-inappropriate shoes. The textures, patterns, and shapes he favors are those used by designers like England’s Margaret Howell and SEH Kelly, among others. That means a lot of gray tones, matte fabrics and leathers, and longer casual outerwear. Howell, who’s been designing clothes with a dash of blue collar influence since the 1970s, has said that drawing influence form the past and workwear can help us relate to new designs, but that reproduction is too literal. Syeknom said he doesn’t choose these clothes out of a sense of national pride, but rather just because they feel right to him—unfussy, organic, and relaxed. He’s also mixed in baggier, even less traditional stuff like Yohji Yamamoto’s designs and the Margiela-n influence of his current home, Belgium.

Pinning down what works and what doesn’t in the context of looser, quirkier clothes can be more difficult than following the more defined (although variable) rules of modern tailoring or the illustrations from vintage L.L. Bean catalogs, where there’s more of an objective standard of rightness, but it can be liberating to relax and allow for a certain degree of imperfection. It’s also liberating to wear some looser pants.

-Pete

Real People: Sport Coats with Jeans

My friend David in New York City is one of the best dressed guys I know. He’s a fine and rare wine expert, running a company called Grand Cru Wine Consulting with his business partner Robert Bohr. They’re a concierge service of sorts - advising wine aficionados and buying bottles for them at wine auctions. The Wall Street Journal wrote about their company not too long ago, and David was photographed in a fantastic navy double breasted suit (which was made for him by our shared tailor, Steed).

Above, he’s seen wearing a green tweed he recently received from Steed. I’ve said on a number of occasions that I think sport coats with jeans are very hard to pull off. When it’s done well, it’s usually with tweeds.

It’s difficult to tell from the photo, but the cloth is woven with a unique combination of both herringbone and barleycorn patterns, giving it a very interesting and classic look. There’s also a blue and chestnut overcheck, which you can faintly make out in the photos. David chose some really tasteful and original details, such as the one button front and single button sleeves. Most sport coats have three or four buttons at the sleeves, while a single button is more of an old-school casual/ sporting detail, particularly found in Southern Italy. The soft shoulder construction and slightly full chest and upper back are signatures in a Steed jacket, and I think it fits David’s style excellently. 

Tweeds and jeans go well together because of their equally casual nature and rustic background. With anything too smooth or slick - either in texture or sensibility - you run the risk of looking strangely dressy up top and too casual down bottom. The most obvious faux pas is to wear a suit jacket with jeans, but even as you go down the scale in formality, the combination can look very odd. A tweed sport coat with a pair of jeans, with an equally casual, blue button-down collar shirt (sans tie) and a pair of boots though? Excellent.

Incidentally, if anyone is interested in getting something from Steed, they’re touring the US in February and March. They do both bespoke and made-to-measure, and you can see their travel itinerary here

Real People: Wearing Short Jackets
If there’s one thing that peeves traditionalists, it’s the trend for short jackets, which has been going strong for over a decade now. The rule of thumb is that a jacket should cover your butt, although this somewhat varies by region. Traditionally cut jackets in Southern Italy will be a little shorter; ones from England will be a bit longer. Personally, I think a better rule to follow is to have your jacket’s hem hit about halfway between your jacket’s collar and the floor, but truthfully speaking, the “cover your butt” guideline - give or take - isn’t a bad one to follow.
If you want a traditional look anyway. If you don’t, then there are short jackets, or what traditionalists like to mock as “bum freezers.” Although I’m not crazy about trends in the “suit and tie” look, I also don’t mind more fashionable cuts in casualwear or streetwear. Take Ben from Richmond, for example. He’s seen above wearing a sport coat from Barena, an Italian brand known for their soft, relaxed style. Their jackets are often made from knitted fabrics instead of wovens. The difference? Knitted textiles are what you find on sweaters (hence “knitwear”) and wovens are what you typically see on shirts and pants. Knitted textiles tend to be stretchier. When used for a sport coat, you get something that wears like a cardigan, especially when it doesn’t have a canvas or chest piece inside (which Barena often goes without). 
With a jacket like this, I think a fashion-forward cut can look great. Even here, where Ben is mixing it with more “traditional” items: the button-down collar shirt is from Kamakura, the quick release belt from Equus, the pants from Oliver Spencer, and the workboots from Viberg. 
Short jackets are also easier to wear with jeans or - as Pete suggested - fatigues. Jeans with sport coats are much harder to pull off than most people give credit for, and it’s very easy to look discombobulated with a dressy half up top and an oddly casual look down bottom. However, with a more fashionably cut jacket - like the ones made by Barena, Engineered Garments, and Oliver Spencer - it’s easier to look a bit more cohesive. Plus, if you’re ever going to turn your collar up on a sport coat, it should be something from one of these brands, where it looks more natural, rather than something you’d pick up from J. Press or Brooks Brothers. 
Is it a classic look? No. Is it something you can wear to traditional offices or weddings? Probably not. But it’s casualwear, and given the right context, this stuff can look pretty great. As evidenced by Ben above, or even our very own Pete, who can be seen here in a pair of jeans and an Engineered Garments jacket. 

Real People: Wearing Short Jackets

If there’s one thing that peeves traditionalists, it’s the trend for short jackets, which has been going strong for over a decade now. The rule of thumb is that a jacket should cover your butt, although this somewhat varies by region. Traditionally cut jackets in Southern Italy will be a little shorter; ones from England will be a bit longer. Personally, I think a better rule to follow is to have your jacket’s hem hit about halfway between your jacket’s collar and the floor, but truthfully speaking, the “cover your butt” guideline - give or take - isn’t a bad one to follow.

If you want a traditional look anyway. If you don’t, then there are short jackets, or what traditionalists like to mock as “bum freezers.” Although I’m not crazy about trends in the “suit and tie” look, I also don’t mind more fashionable cuts in casualwear or streetwear. Take Ben from Richmond, for example. He’s seen above wearing a sport coat from Barena, an Italian brand known for their soft, relaxed style. Their jackets are often made from knitted fabrics instead of wovens. The difference? Knitted textiles are what you find on sweaters (hence “knitwear”) and wovens are what you typically see on shirts and pants. Knitted textiles tend to be stretchier. When used for a sport coat, you get something that wears like a cardigan, especially when it doesn’t have a canvas or chest piece inside (which Barena often goes without). 

With a jacket like this, I think a fashion-forward cut can look great. Even here, where Ben is mixing it with more “traditional” items: the button-down collar shirt is from Kamakura, the quick release belt from Equus, the pants from Oliver Spencer, and the workboots from Viberg

Short jackets are also easier to wear with jeans or - as Pete suggested - fatigues. Jeans with sport coats are much harder to pull off than most people give credit for, and it’s very easy to look discombobulated with a dressy half up top and an oddly casual look down bottom. However, with a more fashionably cut jacket - like the ones made by Barena, Engineered Garments, and Oliver Spencer - it’s easier to look a bit more cohesive. Plus, if you’re ever going to turn your collar up on a sport coat, it should be something from one of these brands, where it looks more natural, rather than something you’d pick up from J. Press or Brooks Brothers

Is it a classic look? No. Is it something you can wear to traditional offices or weddings? Probably not. But it’s casualwear, and given the right context, this stuff can look pretty great. As evidenced by Ben above, or even our very own Pete, who can be seen here in a pair of jeans and an Engineered Garments jacket. 

Real People: Wearing One Label

If I had to stick to one clothing brand my entire life, it would undoubtedly be Ralph Lauren. From its mainstream Blue Label to its contemporary Black Label to its old timey RRL, you can get almost anything you want from just one brand. Plus, the company just designs such great clothes.

Julien from the Netherlands wears Polo Ralph Lauren and RRL almost exclusively. For winter, he layers things such as chunky, patterned sweaters underneath work jackets and leather jackets. Workwear chinos and cargo pants get broken out often, but so does the occasional pair of corduroys. On his feet are rugged workboots, which look like they’ve been taken care of, but also have the scuffing and patina necessary to make them look not too new.

Of course, it helps that he has a great looking beard and a dog the size of a small bear, and that he lives in what appears to be paradise (that’s Rotterdam, by the way). This past year, I’ve been buying an unusual amount of RRL for a guy who has a blog called Die, Workwear!, but given that I’m a skinny, hairless grad student living with a whiny cat in the yuppie part of Oakland, I doubt I look half as good.

In any case, Julien is an oil painter and a maker of watchstraps. If you’re interested in checking out his work, you can visit his website.

Real People: Mixing Patterns

Figuring out how to combine patterns can be confusing if you’re just starting to pay attention to how you dress. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen convoluted tutorials on how to wear just a simple shirt and tie. Some kind of check goes with some kind of stripe, but if you have paisley, you must wear some other thing …

Our friend Peter in San Francisco shows how to wear patterns simply and easily under one simple rule: vary the scale. Here, three or four patterns are mixed successfully by just making sure each varies in density. The only exception is the second photo, where the micro-gingham on the checked shirt is in a similar scale as the herringbone on the coat. This can sometimes work when the patterns are small enough so they look solid from afar, but even here you can see the combination needs a double striped tie with a large open ground to keep things from looking dizzying. 

Real People: Unassailable Combinations

People pity the poor peahen, forever in the shadow of her showier suitors, but I prefer to think she lives a life of restrained good taste in plumage of gray and brown, with a dash of blue-green (and a fun hat!). Likewise, a palette of blues, grays, and browns is a sophisticated one for humans, and intentional “peacocking” is associated with the seamy (at best) pick-up artist scene.

RT in Copenhagen would still turn all the peahens’ heads in the blue-gray-brown palette in the three photos above, where all the pieces are different but consistent in fit and tone. On the left, RT wears a tshirt under a cashmere blend cardigan with a cashmere scarf at the neck and casual gray cords. In a word: cozy. In the center, a rollneck complements trousers hemmed at a cleaner, slightly more formal length, and at right, a folk-ier style cardigan (in this case, Inverallan) is worn with a collared shirt and flat-front midgray flannels. Each combination is simple but sophisticated, with no need for pieces of flair. They’re also excellent examples of un-boring business casual (although you’d probably have to add a collared shirt on the left).