Real People: Tweed, Oxford, and Wool Challis

We’re still about a month away from fall, but I’m already thinking about heavy flannels and thick coats. Derek from Nashville  provides some nice inspiration. Here he’s wearing a houndstooth checked tweed sport coat from Martin Greenfield, an oxford cloth button down shirt from Kamakura, and a solid, olive green wool challis tie from Sam Hober. The combination of textures keeps things visually warm and interesting, while the pattern on the jacket adds a little variation to an otherwise solid-colored ensemble. You can’t tell from the photo, but the shirt is actually light blue, not white, which makes for a nice complement to the rustic browns, oranges, and greens that Derek is wearing. I imagine on his feet are brown suede shoes. 

These photos had me shopping around for more wool challis ties last night. Sam Hober, EG CappelliExquisite Trimmings, O’Connell’s, J. Press, Brooks Brothers, and Henry Carter are all worth looking into. The first four have the largest selection of patterns, while the last two are having sales. 

Real People: The Endurance of Prep

Prep style is a little like ska music (bear with me). Although it’s never really gone, every decade or so it creeps into the culture, and everybody’s into it, then, once it recedes back into the world of niche enthusiasts, we’re all a little embarrassed by how much we dug it. “That pink sweater/trombone? Yeah, it’s in the back of the closet.”

Prep influence has been ebbing in menswear for the last few years, largely in favor of more European references, but like good ska (if you’re willing to admit there is such a thing—I recommend Hepcat), good prep endures. Eric, who posts at Acute Style, does a fantastic job with clothing rooted in the prep tradition without descending into RL Rugby caricature (RIP) or fetishization. Blue blazers (3 roll 2), madras, repp ties, and seersucker; tassel loafers and classic Allen Edmonds oxfords (bit loafers, too; perhaps surprisingly, bit loafers made it into the original Preppy Handbook). Trousers are almost universally cotton, flat front, and cuffed. Eric wears his clothes a little trimmer than might be classically preppy, but the proportions are not overly cropped or boyish. I tend to roll my eyes a little at paeans to “timeless style,” but in my eyes, this is it. It’s enough to encourage me to break out some madras ties and a Skatalites record.

Maybe the best part is that Eric endeavors to build his wardrobe on a reasonable budget, reflecting some old school Yankee thrift. Vintage pieces, Uniqlo, L.L. Bean, and Lands End outnumber the pricier J. Press and Brooks Brothers pieces, for the most part, with accessories from upstarts like The Knottery and Cordial Churchman.

-Pete

Real People: The Peak-Lapel, Single-Breasted Suit

Having peak lapels on a single-breasted jacket can be tricky. Without the longer lapel line of a double-breasted coat, a peak lapel can look unusually truncated – more like the stubby wings of a rotisserie chicken rather than the sweeping fins of a shark. 

Jeff in Louisville, however, shows how to do it well. The key is to get a jacket with a traditional buttoning point, where the center of a three-button coat, or top button on a two-button coat, sits at your waist. This gives the lapel its optimum length without making the bottom of your jacket look unnaturally short. A slightly wider lapel than what’s popular these days will also allow those peaks to express themselves. Jeff’s suit executes all this perfectly. 

Incidentally, almost everything Jeff is wearing above was thrifted:

  • Ralph Lauren Purple Label suit, thrifted for $50
  • Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece shirt, thrifted for $10
  • Robert Talbott Best of Class tie, thrifted for $5
  • No-name square, which was given to him as a gift
  • Johnston & Murphy Aritocraft shoes, thrifted for $12 

The thing about thrifting is that you often have to embrace the vintage look. It kind of comes with the territory. Jeff, however, somehow manages to always find pieces that fit perfectly (I assume after some alterations), and are styled in a classic and timeless way. Not only would you never know that his clothes were bought secondhand, but much of what he wears looks better than what’s sold as new in-stores today. You can check out more inspirational stuff from him at his blog The Thrifty Gent.

Real People: Madras and Brown Grenadine
It can be quite difficult to wear madras, the bold Indian cotton, without looking like a clown. I love The Thrift Gent’s approach. A plain white Brooks Brothers button-down shirt and a simple blue pocket square are mainstays, here, but the real masterstroke is the brown grenadine tie.
As you can see, there’s a bit of earthiness in the color palette of this old Polo jacket, with the reds being a little rusty and the greens a little mossy. The tie grabs those and settles down the look. A brown tie isn’t what you’d necessarily think to grab in the height of summer, but it works really well to ground the whole outfit, and tie it to a pair of plain brown bluchers.

Real People: Madras and Brown Grenadine

It can be quite difficult to wear madras, the bold Indian cotton, without looking like a clown. I love The Thrift Gent’s approach. A plain white Brooks Brothers button-down shirt and a simple blue pocket square are mainstays, here, but the real masterstroke is the brown grenadine tie.

As you can see, there’s a bit of earthiness in the color palette of this old Polo jacket, with the reds being a little rusty and the greens a little mossy. The tie grabs those and settles down the look. A brown tie isn’t what you’d necessarily think to grab in the height of summer, but it works really well to ground the whole outfit, and tie it to a pair of plain brown bluchers.

Real People: The Much Neglected Derby

The poor derby doesn’t get nearly as much attention as its slicker cousin the oxford. The difference between a derby and an oxford, as many readers know, is in the lacing system. Derbys have eyelet tabs that sit on top of the shoe, like flaps, while oxfords have theirs completely sewn in. 

The cleaner, slicker style of oxfords means that they’re a bit more formal, but dressiness isn’t always a good thing. Derbys are a much better choice if you’re in casual clothing, such as jeans and a light jacket, or a sport coat with wool trousers. Oxfords, on the other hand, often only look right with suits. 

Take Ben in Los Angeles, for example. In the above, he’s wearing the plainest of all derbys - the plain toe blucher (aka the PTB). No broguing, cap toes, or any other detailing to set them apart. But with the kind of casual clothing Ben wears on weekends, they look just right underneath those cotton trousers. 

You can, of course, play around a bit with the other details of a PTB to suit whatever style you wear. The shell cordovan of Ben’s Aldens perfectly complement his workwear clothes, while the same style in black calf would go better with the kind of minimalist tailoring Pete featured here. And if PTBs are too plain for you, try a pair with brouging or a split toe. The point really is to just dial back your shoes so that they’re in concert with whatever you’re wearing. Unless you’re in a suit, oxfords are more often than not going to look too formal. If you’re not so dressed up, consider something like a derby. 

Real People: Giving Up the Jacket on Hot Days
Participate on online clothing forums for long enough, and you’ll notice, around this time every year, people will start to chat about what kind of sport coats can they wear for summer. Some say it’s important to get something unlined. Some say it’s about the weight of the fabric. Others say it’s important to get something made with a very loose weave, so your skin can breathe.
The sad reality is: there’s no jacket – no matter how it’s constructed – that’s going to be as comfortable as not wearing a jacket at all. Suit jackets and sport coats have “stuffing” in them, which means even if you’re only wearing a jacket made from a thin, lightweight, loosely woven material, it’s still probably going to have some layers of canvassing and horsehair inside. That will naturally trap a bit of air and make you feel a bit warmer that you’d otherwise feel. 
You don’t need to wear a tailored jacket to look put together, however. Yesterday, it hit the high 80s where I live, and I wore something like what our friend Theo in London is wearing above. Only, where he’s wearing striped seersucker pants and a light blue shirt, I had on a striped linen shirt and tan linen pants. When something is this simple, I think it’s useful to have a bit of pattern somewhere. And while Theo has on a Panama hat, braided belt, and watch in this picture, I accessorized yesterday with only a watch and a suede belt. Suede being more casual than calf, I find it’s a nice nice complement for a look like this. 
Of course, you will almost always look better with a tailored jacket than without (at least if you’re shooting for a classic look). But you don’t necessarily need one to look good. 

Real People: Giving Up the Jacket on Hot Days

Participate on online clothing forums for long enough, and you’ll notice, around this time every year, people will start to chat about what kind of sport coats can they wear for summer. Some say it’s important to get something unlined. Some say it’s about the weight of the fabric. Others say it’s important to get something made with a very loose weave, so your skin can breathe.

The sad reality is: there’s no jacket – no matter how it’s constructed – that’s going to be as comfortable as not wearing a jacket at all. Suit jackets and sport coats have “stuffing” in them, which means even if you’re only wearing a jacket made from a thin, lightweight, loosely woven material, it’s still probably going to have some layers of canvassing and horsehair inside. That will naturally trap a bit of air and make you feel a bit warmer that you’d otherwise feel. 

You don’t need to wear a tailored jacket to look put together, however. Yesterday, it hit the high 80s where I live, and I wore something like what our friend Theo in London is wearing above. Only, where he’s wearing striped seersucker pants and a light blue shirt, I had on a striped linen shirt and tan linen pants. When something is this simple, I think it’s useful to have a bit of pattern somewhere. And while Theo has on a Panama hat, braided belt, and watch in this picture, I accessorized yesterday with only a watch and a suede belt. Suede being more casual than calf, I find it’s a nice nice complement for a look like this. 

Of course, you will almost always look better with a tailored jacket than without (at least if you’re shooting for a classic look). But you don’t necessarily need one to look good. 

Real People: Sport Coats with Jeans (Revisted)

StyleForum member Butler recently challenged other members to wear a sport coat with a pair of jeans and a tie. The thread for the challenge was titled “Train Wreck,” because, frankly, sport coats with jeans usually look like one.

Despite their popularity, this kind of combination is very difficult to pull off. Most of the time, it comes off as a sort of “sartorial mullet” - all dressy up top; casual down low. When it does work, it’s usually with a rough tweed of some kind (typically solid colored, speckled, or with a herringbone pattern) and almost always without a tie. Even still, when done well, this can look a bit affected.

One entry I did like, however, was by our friend Niyi in New York City. His approach is one that I think is a bit safer. Instead of thinking of jeans as a way of “dressing down a tailored jacket,” it’s often better to think of it completely outside the realm of traditional clothing. That is, don’t wear jackets or accessories that are meant for a classic coat and tie look. No matter how casual they are, they often look bad with jeans. 

Rather, choose jackets that are truly, truly, truly casual.

When bloggers talk about casual jackets, they usually only mention something about a “soft shoulder,” but what makes a jacket casual is more than the shoulder line. There’s the fabric, the “stuffing” in the chest, and silhouette of the jacket itself. Look at Niyi’s jackets, for example. They don’t fit in a traditional way. The fronts are very open (so an unusual amount of shirt shows), the length is shorter, and the overall fit is a bit rumpled. These are not the kind of things you’d wear to an office.  

In this way, the jacket looks as aged and casual as the jeans, and the dreaded “sartorial mullet” is avoided.

Of course, as with most true-blue casual clothing, it’s hard, if not impossible, to derive “rules” about what works and what doesn’t. My friend David, for example, wears traditionally cut tweeds with jeans, and I think he looks great. I’ve also long admired Hooman Majd’s sense of style. In general, however, the kind of jackets you’d wear with classic grey flannel trousers are usually not the kind that would work with jeans. And vice versa. 

If you want to dress down a traditionally cut jacket, try wearing a pair of chinos. That’s usually much safer. 

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.”