Most menswear editorials revolve around photos of well-dressed men, but some of my favorite sources for style inspiration have nothing to do with clothes at all. Documentary photography, portrait photography, classic films, old music scenes, and even early-century trade journals can be brimming with style ideas, even if they’re not necessarily instructive for how you should dress today.
In fact, this is how many menswear designers come up with their collections. The team at Ralph Lauren, for example, use a technique known as “rigging,” where they’ll style an empty room based on the feeling they get off a small, curated selection of photos. That space – with all of its decor and vintage clothing – is then used as a jumping off point for how they’d like to design a new season’s worth of clothes.
Todd Snyder, a former Ralph Lauren designer who now runs his own label, once explained it in Valet: “I walked into one of those rooms my first week and was blown away. It sets the whole stage for the collection you’re about to design.” Eidos creative director Antonio Ciongoli, who also used to design for the company, added that it’s good, straightforward way to get from an abstract idea to a final product. “It is hard not to work that way once you’ve experienced how inspiring a concept rig room can be.”
We obviously can’t style a whole room every time we want to get dressed, but I encourage you to take style inspiration from unexpected sources. For early fall, I’ve been taking a lot from old camping and outdoor photos (OK, the Free & Easy cover is cheating). Rugged outdoor clothing feels perfect for early autumn, even if you’re just wearing a watered down version in the city.
Some thoughts on an early-fall, outdoor-inspired look:
- I really like wearing quilted liners on their own (Rag & Bone recently styled their womenswear like this as well). This doesn’t work with every liner, but if you can find one with the right details, it can add a little diversity to your wardrobe, while also giving you another layer of protection once winter hits. Other good, rugged outerwear options for fall: 60/ 40 parkas and anoraks. If you need to make one a little more waterproof, just apply some DWR spray.
- Fatigues and chinos! Especially baggy ones. I really like this pair of Stan Rays I picked up at Urban Outfitters last month. They’re unfortunately sold out (and supposedly an exclusive cut), but Stan Ray also makes other fatigues under their Earl’s Apparel label. (I unfortunately don’t have any experience with those, but they’re said to be slightly fuller cut). J. Crew also has wide-legged chinos this season, although I’m not crazy about the contrast-colored belt loops. The company has some nice ideas on how you can wear fuller-cut pants this season though.
- Retro running shoes feel good this time of year, although once the weather gets cooler, I’m looking forward to breaking out the hiking boots. See Danner, Fracap, Diemme, and Alico for solid options (Pete, Jesse, and I especially like Danner’s Mountain Lights). If you’re feeling a little more spendy, you can check out Viberg, Paraboot, and Giacometti (the last of which sometimes produces for Ralph Lauren’s Purple Label).
- LL Bean Boots are still some of the best rainboots around. If you don’t want to lose out this winter, when they’re sure to have another crazy backlog, you probably want to order now. I like the 8″ Thinsulate model and go a full size down. To give them a “sunwashed” effect, store them outside on the back porch. I did for a year and it lightened the leather considerably, giving my boots a more vintage feel.
- I’ve been really digging my Indigofera flannel. Nice and soft, and just the right weight (not as heavy as my Flat Head flannels, but a bit more substantial than Uniqlo). The line is available stateside at Standard & Strange. For more flannel options, see here.
- I also really like my Kelty backpack, although I’ve been thinking about picking up one of these Epperson Mountaineering bags. They’re styled after American-made climbing packs from the ‘70s and ‘80s, built from a durable Cordura nylon, and feature a distinct, carabiner closure. I think they’d look great with a down vest and some five-pocket cords.
- Speaking of which, I also want some five-pocket cords. Maybe Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, or Levis? (Pete tells me he recently spotted some good ones at Costco. “They’re true dad style, not cool dad style, but I still like them.”)
- Wigwams are nice if you need some new boots socks this fall and don’t want to drop crazy money. Otherwise, I like plain ol’ Hanes (who’s paying $36 for artisanal white tube socks!?!?)
- Sometimes I want a polar fleece from Patagonia, although I’m not sure how “granola” I want to go with this. The vintage versions have a deeper pile, which I think is nice, but you can also check out Battenwear for something less funky. If you’re ready to go “full teddy bear,” check out A Kind of Guise and Aime Leon Dore.
- Some stores you might like if you’re into this kind of stuff: Oi Polloi, Superdenim, Patagonia, Snow Peak, Nitty Gritty, LL Bean Signature, Indigo & Cotton, Steven Alan, Pilgrim Surf & Supply, Unionmade, End, Garbstore, The Bureau Belfast, Blue Button Shop, and Alpha Shadows. The last six or so are particularly good if you want to get hikerdelic with things (and you should).
For some great, related reading, check out this GQ feature on the Stonemasters, a stylish rock climbing crew that made the sport cool in the ‘70s. (Excerpt: “You’d have the white painter pants, and then you’d go to a thrift store and get an outrageous shirt of some sort. You had the headband. Anything psychedelic. Anything paisley.”)