When it comes to style, America’s best contributions have undoubtedly all been in casualwear. Even Brooks Brothers’ soft shouldered tweeds were just more relaxed versions of their English counterparts, and the oxford-cloth button-down a sportier interpretation of starched shirts. From Levi’s 501s to Nike sneakers, every important clothing contribution to come out of the United States has been about giving men options that fit with our democratic ethos.
Which means, if you want to build a casual wardrobe, it would be hard to do better than by going through the annals of American design. As much as we love English and Italian style, nobody has done casualwear better those on this side of the Atlantic.
Just check out Youngsam in Seoul, who owns and operates The ResQ, a small South Korean boutique that celebrates a distinct American look. He himself mixes and matches the sort of things that have made American style famous. There’s the military surplus gear GIs continued to wear after the Second World War, when they returned home from their stations abroad. There are also campus classics, such as retro running sneakers, duffle coats, and collegiate sweatshirts, which helped define the more dressed downs styles of the Ivy era (what has been called “rugged Ivy”).
To be sure, these looks aren’t strictly classic – they have a hint of fashionability that makes them feel young and compelling. That said, they rely on American roots that have been popular for decades. If some of the ensembles here feel familiar, that’s because Ralph Lauren created a multi-billion dollar business by mixing Ivy style with military gear and tailoring. And while casualwear is always at the whims of fashion, this sort of sporty look has been stylish for a good forty years. Not a bad track record.
Some things that make Youngsam’s style particularly great:
- Get Better Versions of Basics. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but it helps to have better versions of things where you can. Particularly with outerwear, which makes the biggest visual impact. Japanese companies such as Engineered Garments, Battenwear, and Kaptain Sunshine are particularly good at remixing old American classics (although some Japanese clothes are cut with very narrow shoulders, so beware). If you need to scrimp, cut back on things such as button-ups, chinos, and t-shirts. One of the nice things about workwear is that there are a ton of affordable options. Dive into your military surplus depots and check brands such as Stan Ray.
- Play with Proportions. Youngsam’s clothes fit well, with flattering proportions and seams ending where they should (e.g. shoulder seams hitting the end of the shoulder bone). That said, he often looks great because he’s willing to play with his silhouette. Those fuller fitting chinos and fatigues, for example, keep things from looking too precious. I also like the chunkier shoes. See how he uses Paraboot’s Avignons with cargo shorts and a white button-up.
- Mix and Match. Coherent combinations can be nice, but clashing can have its own charm in casualwear. Youngsam pairs military gear with collegiate sweaters and running shoes, which keeps things off kilter. That said, there’s a smart understanding of color here, such as how he uses a burgundy sweatshirt with a white button-down, olive fatigues, and black derbies – referencing Ivy and military combinations in the same outfit.
- Have a Point of Difference. It’s very easy to go overboard with accessories, but many outfits can use something we’ve called a “point of difference.” You just need to accessorize thoughtfully. Youngsam uses handsome workwear bags, short-brimmed baseball caps, and distinctive eyewear frames. Accessories offer a terrific opportunity to incorporate unique vintage items (we sell some – just saying). See this post for ideas.
- Get Inspired. While it helps to know something about the rules when you wear suits and sport coats, casualwear is all about dressing by feeling. The best way to build a casual wardrobe is by finding visual inspiration where you can – films, music scenes, historical archives, and fashion lookbooks are easy starting places. The good news is that the US has pumped out a ton of this cultural output, so you just need to find a niche that speaks to you. Youngsam’s style looks like a 1960s American college student raided a military surplus depot – so, pretty much great.