Because of my passion for clothing, every one of my vacations tends to turn into a menswear trip at some point or another. This is most likely due to the fact that there are only a few classic menswear spots in Los Angeles, leading me to feel a bit starved with a healthy dose of FOMO from many of my friends and colleagues. It’s always a fun game, tip toeing between family time, seeing cultural sites, and getting to go to some of the amazing stores you’ve only seen pictures of. After practicing during previous trips to London and Paris (and smaller stuff like NYC or SF), I was prepared to tackle my 10 day trip to Japan. And boy, it became one of the best experiences of my life.Continue reading
I went against rule number one when considering tailoring modifications–altering your jacket shoulders. For a (recovering) vintage collector like me, the risk was completely worthwhile in order to try to salvage some of my most prized pieces.
Thrifting is a fun hobby to have. Sure, I understand the allure of buying something from a store or getting it made, but you never know what you’re going to find when you walk into your local Goodwill, Savers, charity shop, or vintage store. It may seem daunting or even a hassle if you’re not used to it, but if you look at it instead as a fun, low-risk gamble and not just an opportunity for cheap clothes, I think you can have a good time. And what better time to check them out than this holiday season!
First off, let me say that I’m a terrible gift giver. It’s not laziness or apathy, but it probably has to do with how specific I am; I just want the person to either love the gift or have some genuine enjoyment out of it. As a result, I used to either give gift cards, cash, or exactly what the person wants. But lately, thanks to a plethora of fun white elephant exchanges with friends and family, I’ve tried to adopt a new view on gift giving. Something quirky or even funny. It’s much better than simply giving them something that they would buy for themselves anyway. So the next time you’re out thrifting for menswear, try looking for out for these cool pieces, perfect for your close friends or that next joke white elephant swap at the office.
There’s always a plethora of oxfords and other dress shirts that can be great stocking stuffers for friends who don’t necessarily dress too well; you could even throw in complimentary tailoring if you feel the need to be extra charitable. Tweed jackets, corduroys, and shoes are also a good buy if you get lucky. And if all else fails, a good repp or foulard tie can usually be found on the way out. I can’t tell you how many times my friends always ask me to find things when I’m out thrifting!
One last thing to look out for (if you have streetwear-oriented friends), are cool 1980s-1990s T shirts. You probably know the ones I’m talking about: stuff from old company parties, band (both rock and brass) festivals, or just ones with “totally radical” graphic design. Perfect for lightwash 501s (which are also good to find while thrifting), tucked into chinos, or as a fun PJ shirt.
Glasses and Decanters
I’m not a big drinker, but I like the opportunity to make it look like I am. Instead of buying fancy glassware or
While a majority of books found at thrift stores are cookbooks and outdated advice books (which can be hilarious in itself), you can definitely find some grails.
Coffee table books are common to find and can be given to friends who have interests in those topics. I’ve come across a few menswear books (like Dressing the Man, by Alan Flusser) but painting, photography, and architecture compendiums are the usual faire. Again, older ones tend to be more interesting, if you can find them that is.
Unique Toys, Bric-a-brac, and Accoutrements
I used to think that bric-a-brac was something reserved specifically for grandparents, but I’ve come to love it! It’s something completely unique that you really can’t find anywhere else that makes for a fun story or at least a funny reaction. One of the most common ones are 80s-90s toys that my friends and I can reminisce on about your youth. I tend to prefer menswear related ones, like a cool wooden statue of a dandy gent that brings to mind the old esquire mascot.
Depending on your thrift/vintage store or antique mall, you could also find things like vintage cufflinks/tie bars, cameras, and even watches. Other than that, nice models of airplanes, bookends, or figurines can be equally as nice. It’s just always worth a look!
Lastly, we have the music. More and more people are getting record players and collecting vintage LPs. While you may not find that crazy-rare jazz record at a Goodwill, you can find some hidden gems; I personally have found the old 1960’s score to Mary Poppins and the first Pink Panther film! Usually, random jazz recordings, orchestra compilations, or obscure 1970’s groups are what populate the racks. I’m not a huge physical music collecting guy, but it’s fun to find something with great album artwork and to listen to music that you can’t really find online. Just be sure to inspect the record for any scratches before you buy them!
As soon as sweater season rolls around, you can be sure to see menswear guys post pictures of Steve McQueen in Bullitt and caption it with “mood.” It’s a no-brainer, the turtleneck look is absolutely killer and has gone on to influence countless gents around the world. Not only is it stylish, but it’s pretty practical and is perhaps one of the easiest things a guy can wear due to its minimalistic, yet sharp look. The best part is that no shirt or tie is necessary (unless you really want to wear them, despite them not being seen).
Now, most people know the progression of the turtleneck thanks for the copied content across different blogs. Some of the more romantic bloggers say that knights wore one of the first variations, an undershirt to protect themselves against their chainmail and armor. It then was adopted as a sweater, no doubt to keep the wearer warm and to prevent the need for a scarf, which featured an extended neck. Then, they briefly touch on Noel Coward before ultimately landing at the 1960s and later, calling it the uniform of the anti-establishment, citing beatniks, the Beatles, Steve McQueen, and Steve Jobs. This alone should be enough to point you in the direction of this loved sweater. If not, that’s why I’m here.
More personalities than people imagine wore the turtleneck back in the Golden Era. You could find it across everyone from film actors to the naval officers to even university students. In general, the chunkier turtleneck (whether plain weave or in the cable knit) was the main one worn, no doubt due to it’s more utilitarian nature. The finer weaves were reserved for loungewear at home rather than to be worn out. Early pictures and advertisements will have the turtleneck done in bold block stripes or with embroidered years or motifs, something that seems to have been lost today. Still, many guys back then wore them on their own or with full tailoring.
Inspiration can be found across all eras. While everyone likes to bring up Clark Gable and Noel Coward for Golden Era moods, one of my favorite has to be a 1910s illustration of a student wearing a cream roll neck with a stingy billed cap, grey flannels, and opera pumps. Pretty rakish, but I’m sure that it provides plenty of inspiration for your own outfits. I also have found photographs of the Prince of Wales wearing one with jodhpurs and the beret combo from an old archive of 1930’s European family pictures.
The 1960s-1970s definitely reflected the shift away from mainly utilitarian use and more as a true replacement for the shirt and tie combo. The chunky cable knit ones were still in play, but it’s the thinner, finely woven ones that took the spotlight. These newer turtlenecks were more form-fitting, echoing the trends in the mod and disco phases. Now they were available in much more than dark navy, black, or cream: you could now see them in saturated colors and earth tones. Though they were a classic item, they were definitely a trend during this era.
In some cases, the growth of their popularity was indeed a rejection of corporate culture (think artists and musicians) as other people have noted. In others, it’s more of a futuristic fashion trend that negates the need to think too much about shirts and ties. For example, a solid turtleneck will contrast or help mute a tailored outfit making for a sharp, minimalistic look. Even if you were against neckwear from the beginning, you could achieve a more formal vibe with a turtleneck than if you simply wore an OCBD and a crew neck sweater; this is all thanks to the high, closed neck that subtly harkens back to the tunics worn by royalty back in the day. Michael Caine even doubled down on this “high neck closure” by wearing it with a double-breasted suit.
Looking back now, we have a plethora of different examples to follow if you want to rock the turtleneck. Obviously the most common is that minimal 1960’s look with a nice, slim finely woven variation. It’s not a bad look, as it looks fantastic with most tailoring and serves as the starting out point for many. Navy blue is probably the best choice to get since it will work across a variety of outfits, but you could always experiment with something in light browns or burgundies/yellows to evoke the earthy palette of the 1970s. It especially helps when you feel like the patterns in your suit or sportcoat are too loud and need a bit of grounding. If you want to go for that look, I suggest looking at merino wool, since it’s supposed to be ultra fine in its texture. Luckily, you can find these at most stores like Uniqlo and J. Crew at a great value. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting with the different colors they offer (pairing it with simple grey trousers is great), but keep in mind that they won’t be as versatile as the navy or black ones.
Despite the fact that I live in California and merino are the only pieces I can wear without vigorously sweating, I definitely have a soft spot for looks that incorporate chunky turtlenecks. These make more sense if you’re wearing selvedge denim, heavy peacoats, double-riders, and scratchy tweed. It feels a bit more nautical and workwear-focused, that’s for sure, but I’ve always been a fan of a more rugged take on tailoring. Cream is probably the way to go, but soft greys and intricate weaves or even fair isle patterns can also work. North Sea Clothing is a place to consider if you want a solid wool one that echoes the traditional maritime ones, complete with a wide ribbing on the neck, cuffs, and hem. Lambswool variations can be found at Drake’s (whose latest lookbook has plenty of turtleneck ideas) while the cashmere ones can be found anywhere from Uniqlo, Todd Snyder (at $300), and at Berluti ($1000+). I personally wish they made heavy guage in cotton for warmer climates, but a guy can dream!
Overall, I really recommend that you guys try the turtleneck out if you haven’t already. The utilitarian benefits are clearly there, but I like the added bonus of being able to look sharp without having to wear a tie or even a shirt. While I like that this “throwback” piece of clothing has stuck around, I just hope that the horrid v-neck sweater/turtleneck hybrid doesn’t make a return appearance. That simply belongs in the mid-1960s and should stay there forever.
As it dips into the low 70s here in Los Angeles, I’m proud to say that sweater weather is finally arriving! I’m ready to pull out my fair isle sweater vests and cotton-wool crew necks out of the bottom drawer of my dresser and start wearing them with tailoring. But as I do that, I’m reminded of the fact that while high rise has come back in recent years, the length of the sweater has not changed. The hem should really be shorter!
While long sweaters did exist in the 1920s (probably since they were intended as the final, outer layer), there actually was a time when sweaters were hemmed to hit at the natural waist, instead of close to the hips as is done now. This was mainly done in the 1930s-1940s, as you can see in the included images. Also unlike today, the sweaters were cut with higher armholes and a trimmer body in order to make a very fitted silhouette. This silhouette was further emphasized with the wide ribbing, which ensured that the sweater would “cinch” at waist well.
It’s just a personal observation, but I think that sweaters were made this way not just to wear under a sportcoat, but to play into the masculine ideal of the time: broad shoulders, small waist, and long, wide legs. Overall, it’s also probably done to echo the tailored look of a waistcoat (which also tends to be on the long side today). This has since disappeared the closer we got to the modern times. As rises got lower, sweater hems got longer to compensate; sweaters also lost that fitted look.
Now I like to wear sweaters, but it’s definitely a problem with high rise trousers since manufacturers haven’t quite caught up. I run across this problem whether I’m buying good basics at Uniqlo/J. Crew or when even when looking at contemporary, higher quality ones on eBay. To make up for the length I either just tuck the excess fabric into itself or do some awkward blousing which almost always results in a slight muffin top effect. The effect is made obvious as I’m not particularly tall or lanky, which means even a standard small can be a bit long and puffy on me. Though it may be my fault for preferring an extremely high rise, I’m sure that some of you can understand this frustration with your own wardrobe.
It’s especially tough when rocking sweater vests (both the pull over and waistcoat style), since the long length can’t be hidden with any sort of tucking. And having a good fit is probably one of the only ways to make sure you pull off the sweater vest. Some guys try to cheat the system and shrink them in the wash, but then it could potentially be an expensive mistake. You can always hide the blousing with a sportcoat, but it’s not quite that cold in LA to layer too much; plus I like the more “casual” look of simply wearing a sweater with denim or chinos. And as much as 1990s Ralph Lauren is a vibe, I’m not sure many guys are willing to tuck their sweaters into their trousers, especially if they are wearing a button-up and tie underneath.
Luckily, some makers have taken notice. One that comes to mind instantly is Simon James Cathcart, a niche vintage reproduction brand. They have released a virtually identical sweater to ones from the 1930s, complete with a high V, waist-correct length, and wide ribbing for a fitted figure. It’s pretty perfect, though it probably leans a bit too vintage for most and there aren’t many options available yet.
Thomas Farthing, another UK brand, also has a waistcoat style sweater. I also seem to remember that the Drake’s x Armoury sweater vests are cut higher to for this reason. I own an original one from Drake’s and they fit the bill just as well; I also leave the last few buttons unfastened so that the true length isn’t as apparent. I’m sure there are others who have taken notice and with the rise of online custom, it won’t be long before guys are able to order a decent length for high waisted trousers.
For now, I’ll try my luck with vintage since it’s an affordable way to get the details without compromising too much. Picking a true vintage one from the 1960s or 1970s (hopefully in natural fabrics) can be common in select thrift stores and still comes with a decent length for high rise trousers. Occasionally I’ll come across ones from the 1930s-1940s online, which are the real gems. I’ll just take the small moth holes as signs of character.
If vintage isn’t for you, trying on modern brands in a size smaller than you’re used to could also achieve the look; not only will it be shorter in length, but the trimmer fit could be more desirable, especially in a merino wool (I wouldn’t recommend that for a thick shetland number). Of course, there are a bunch of DIY tricks I’ve heard from other guys like shrinking or even hemming it at the tailor but that’s also a dangerous road to tread. Or we can just be hopeful that the market will lean in our favor, just as they did for high rise trousers.
Even though I find myself drawn further and further into the world of contemporary classic menswear, I don’t think I’ll ever leave vintage behind. It’s less about cosplay or wanting to live vicariously in a different age, but it’s more about getting certain details that I wouldn’t be able to find or afford otherwise.
If you’re familiar with my blog or social media, you’ll know that I attempt to bring vintage pieces into a modern context, making them wearable-yet-eccentric pieces. I decided to write about a couple of my most interesting pieces in today’s article and a bit about where I got them.
If you’re new to thrifting and vintage shopping, check out this Guide to Thrift Shopping
Outerwear is probably the easiest one to incorporate since it usually functions as a finishing layer for an outfit. If you go on eBay or get lucky at your local goodwill/vintage store, chances are you’ll find something interesting. One of my most favorite pieces of outerwear is a 1940’s, single-breasted overcoat, made from a brown wool with an extremely faint green windowpane. Made by Curlee Clothiers (a sought after yesteryear brand by collectors), it is half-lined and has a long length, two details seldom seen on modern overcoats. It’s served me during this past California winter and definitely did its job when I visited NYC last December. It really was a lucky purchase at one of the LA vintage stores I frequent; they had just put it out when I walked in!
Another random find was my 1950’s brown leather double rider at the Dapper Day Expo, a community event that celebrates classic style at venues like Disneyland and LACMA. Unlike other 50’s jackets, the one I found was cropped short, lacked any epaulets or “punk” elements, and was generally similar to the ones found in the 1930’s. Despite it looking rather 1930’s to my eyes, the dealer said that due to the nitty gritty details (buttons/zipper/labels) itthe jacket was actually made in the 1950s, making it was way more affordable than a 1930’s buco. In the fall, it has been my go-to casual jacket, perfect to wear with turtlenecks, denim, and flannels.
Wearable vintage tailoring (like jackets and trousers) is a bit harder to find, especially if you’re used to getting things custom, but there are still times when you come across something cool. From Paper Moon, I was able to obtain a pair of 1950’s chocolate brown nubby rayon trousers. Thanks to their full cut and interesting fabric, they make a great summer trouser that is just a bit different than a regular linen or cotton pair. For trousers, I couldn’t pass up a lightweight flannel cinch back, made for college students in the 1950’s when cinch-back chinos were a short fad. You can thank eBay for that one!
One stand out piece that I almost always gets a fun comment is my 1930’s belt back jacket. It’s made in USA, out of a soft, broken-in white linen that has soft construction, making it widely different than a majority of the tailoring in the same era. Despite the bi-swing back and the fact that it’s ventless, it comes across as very contemporary on account of its subtle waist suppression, natural shoulder, and relatively normal sized lapel. It’s become one of my favorite pieces to wear in the summer. It was actually a lucky bid on eBay as similar jackets go for high amounts while it only cost me $200 years ago, purchased with my first paid internship income. I’ll always wonder if it simply passed under other collectors’ radars.
Apart from that linen jacket, I also have a few 1940’s Palm Beach garments: a jacket purchased from Reese’s Vintage Pieces (a guy with the biggest non-warehouse stock, selling out of his Pomona home) and a full suit sold by a theater wardrobe on eBay. This material is inherently special due to the fact that the patented PB fabric (a mix of wool, cotton, and mohair) is no longer in production after the brand was sold and the factory closed; for future reference, anything Palm Beach post-1950s isn’t the original fabric. It’s not really an open weave, but it drapes well and wears pretty cool, offering up a heartier alternative to normal cotton jackets. Like my linen jacket, my PB jackets softly tailored (perhaps even more so) and fit really well with a more contemporary wardrobe. The small detailing like swelled edges, lapel width/shape, and button stance offer the vintage charm that you can’t really find anywhere other than a willing custom tailor. My odd jacket gets plenty of wear, while the full suit (and it’s full cut) only get worn during more appropriate events.
In addition to these summer jackets, I think the obvious “unique” pieces are my collection of tweed sack jackets obtained from eBay, Etsy, and NYC’s own Sean Crowley. Not many affordable makers make interesting checks and plaids in soft shoulders and 3-roll-2 stance, so vintage is always my go-to for fun cold weather jackets. Two are from Brooks: a 1960’s grey/blue plaid and a 1970’s light brown/red plaid. The grey might get more wear than the brown due to the silhouette differences, but my favorite has to be my green check one. There’s no way I’d be able to find something similar without going bespoke. I just can’t wait for it to be cold again!
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the smaller stuff like my sweaters and ties. I have two 1930’s sweaters (that have seen better days) that I think are completely different than the knitwear you find today. Not only do they have a shorter length, which is necessary for high waisted trousers, but there is something about the specific colors and design that mark it something that only vintage could create. There are also a few fun Cuban collar/sport shirts that have gotten plenty of wear during this past hot summer season.
As for my ties, I generally cycle between 1960’s reps and 1930’s brocades, but my favorite one has to be this fantastic blue abstract print/foulard. It was actually apart of a lot of ties I purchased from a local vintage guy; I didn’t even expect to love it as much as I did! Like most ties of the era, it has a short length (again, great for high rise trousers) and a more shapely blade, ending in an untipped edge resulting in a lightweight, unique tie that is unlike any other out there. I often have to stop myself from wearing it too often, not just to prevent repeat outfits, but to ensure that it lasts as long as possible. One of the reasons I love it is how similar it looks to the tie’s you’d expect from Drake’s.
In reality–like many things in life–my favorite vintage pieces are usually the most recent ones that I’ve acquired. It’s always nice to have something that’s a little bit different than the staples that most people tend to recommend, coming with a unique buying experience that feels rewarding after careful hunting. Whether you get a vintage leather jacket, overcoat, or even just a tie, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Do you have any fun vintage pieces yourselves? Let us know by commenting below!
Have you scored any good deal recently? Let us know on the Official Thrift / Discount Store bragging Thread!
Fedoras will always get a bad rap, despite being a fully functional and stylish accessory. It’s probably due to the infamous status of “vintage hat”, gracing the heads of Golden Era illustrations, period films, and your latest Gatsby party (it should be noted that the story takes place in the early 1920s, and the fedora hat reached the peak in popularity in the mid-to-late 20s). The stigma is hard to shake, and I’ll even admit that a fedora hat is one of the few things I can’t really bring myself to wear often, despite being a vintage enthusiast. But that’s changed in recent history.
In my free time, I’ve hung out and shot with Cody Wellema, a hatmaker the California suburb of Pasadena. He is completely self-taught and has gone from fulfilling orders in his apartment to opening up a storefront in a building that has existed since the 1920s. Our friendship led him to develop more of an appreciation for classic menswear, while he has shown me a different side to fedoras. When looking at the old pictures of Jimmy Stewart or even candid pictures of regular Golden Era people, he noted that these people wore their clothes (and hats) naturally. They weren’t trying to put on a certain look, as some guys do today. Wearing a fedora at the time was the same as wearing a bucket hat or a beanie today; you sport it with a suit on a hot day or with a chambray shirt when working. Back in the day, there wasn’t a concern about being dapper.
A couple of guys follow this same mantra. The guys at Bryceland’s are one great example. As I’ve noted before, they have a vintage-meets-modern sartorial/workwear style where the fedora comes in perfectly. Both their personal hats and RTW stock are made by Wellema, which you can see them wear across their social media. They really wear them with everything, from tailoring to rayon shirts to 1950’s pin-up print tees. It might be a bit too bold for some, but it’s definitely miles ahead of any gangster cosplay. Seeing them do it well, in addition to my many conversations and pictures with Cody, really inspired me to get some made for myself. I currently own two Wellemas, a dressy grey and my own take on the brown fedora; they have seen more wear in recent history.
Yet Bryceland’s isn’t the only ones who wear it. You can see a bunch of people do it during the F/W Pitti. Drake’s featured a floppy brimmed one a few seasons ago. Like pleats, established gentlemen continue to wear it while the like-minded younger generation is seeing the appeal. At no point does it look like a costume or something affected. With the tucked tie before it, it simply takes confidence in your look. But even before that, it takes careful consideration to find the one that suits you.
Like with shoulder styles, lapel width, and jacket length, you need to pay attention to your proportions.
Fedoras vary widely in terms of crown height/shape and brim width, with some combined details bringing specific eras to mind. You don’t always have to play to your facial structure, but at least be conscious of the look you’re projecting. Once the shape of your hat has been determined, you should also decide on the ribbon width: wider ribbons with a bow are more formal whereas thin ones are more “western” and casual. The same can be said for brim treatment; a snap front and upturned back are more traditional and having it up all around is more dressed down.
Color is personal preference, but you really can’t go wrong with a grey or brown, with the latter as my personal favorite despite the ever-present imagined Indiana Jones archetype. Contrasting your hat with your outfit is definitely needed, as to not appear matchy-matchy. A grey fedora works well with a brown suit or navy suit, while brown works especially well with grey or green. For me, I think that grey becomes a bit too formal; brown tends to work better with denim as well as a flannel suit. I’ve also seen the tan/silverbelly one grow increasingly popular since it subverts a lot of people’s expectations over the fedora. You’ll see that in the album I’ll include below.
Lastly, it just stands to say that fedoras are more of a fall/winter item. Due to the “structure”, it creates for your head, it really works best with a fuller cut suit. I don’t mean that you have to wear a 1940’s draped suit, but keep in mind that a close hugging jacket and skinny pants won’t cut it. The idea is to be relaxed in your clothing. Adding coats, sweaters, and scarves also help add to this proportion building, as to not make your head/hat appear too wide.
Here are a couple of places that I think have some great fedoras other than getting a vintage one from eBay or vintage store.
Cody Wellema makes each hat by hand, making him one of the few bespoke hatmakers in the US. He doesn’t have a house style, which means that you can ask him to do anything you want, whether it’s something period authentic or original. He is a wealth of knowledge and a perfect gentleman, who is dedicated to making the hat you want thanks to his enormous collection of hat blocks and vintage ribbons. It is a bespoke service, so it works best if you go in person to get measured (with late 1800s equipment) and consult on the details. He’s done things as crazy as burn distressing to indigo dyed felt! The lead time is a 6-8 weeks since they are done by hand, but it’s completely worth it to have a hat that’s entirely custom and made with the highest quality.
The Armoury fedora is similar to the Stoffa one, in that the crown is unblocked, allowing it to be styled to its owner’s preference. The brim is 3”, which is a bit too much for my taste (I prefer a sub 2.5” at most), but that just means it looks especially rakish and is sure to protect you from the elements. The ribbon is thin, which makes it easy to wear casually.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Borsalino and Stetson, who are perhaps the biggest brand name hatmakers in the world. I will admit that I have no real experience with these apart from true vintage models (which even then were some of the highest quality on the market), but I’m sure that there are many out there who are pleased with their modern hats. The Borsalino Traveller and the Stratoliner are probably my picks of the bunch, though the colors available aren’t the most versatile. I’d also suggest leaving the feather at home.
The Stoffa hats are like a combination of a fedora and the original panama hats: they can actually be rolled up! The brand is all about making things more accessible and natural, so these soft felt fedoras lack a ribbon in order to help them float the line between casual and formal. The felt is extremely pliable, so you can style the brim and crown anyway you like. It’s a great one for guys unsure of wearing the traditional fedora, but still want to don one.
I think it’s safe to say that pleated trousers, like the Skynet sentinel-turned-Resistance protector, are back. Actually, they’re still shunned by the greater “menswear” (found on Youtube of all places), but for guys in the know, they’ve never really left. Despite what people say, pleats are functional, stylish, and can certainly have a place in your wardrobe. I’ve begun wearing them, not as simply a “throwback” but because I genuinely like the fuller cut and the aesthetic difference they provide.
Now, pleats are a fairly modern invention in the world of classic menswear. Though old renaissance and revolutionary trousers were puffy and employed micro pleats, the “modern” suit as we knew it was originally very slim. You can see this reflected in the late 1800s through the early 1920s; trousers were “stovepiped” (meaning slim), had a slight crop/shivering break, and no pleats. Vintage suit ads of the 1910s and early 1920s would show an overall slim silhouette that would almost put shame to the H&M of 2009. In my experience, the main time we saw pleats would be on plus fours/knickers; if they were present, they came in the form of micropleats, hardly the ones we employ today.
Things changed during the late 1920s and 1930s, as menswear began to embrace a broader, masculine silhouette: jacket shoulders became slightly extended and padded (not as much as the later decades) and this draped cut was not flattering over slim trousers, which then became wider, with some models incorporating pleats. English tailors preferred forward pleats, while across the pond they opted for reverse ones. Not only was this just a natural evolution of suit silhouette, but it was necessary as swing dancing and other “casual’ activities grew in popularity. Simply said, people needed room to move!
The popularity of pleats and pant width grew in shrank in size–but were always present–until almost disappearing completely during the 1990s after reaching their peak of popularity. Wide, triple pleated pants (worn at the hips for some reason) marked the almost-death of this take on trousers, as fashion bloggers (and vloggers now) only continue to shun pleated trousers, not only saying that they’re old school but actually make you look uglier and less flattering. Those statements, oft spouted in every free guide they peddle, couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, pleats have never really gone away, being worn by both seasoned gentlemen and younger men in the classic menswear world. It’s easy to see the draw of this tailored detail: everyone knows that it provides more room in the thighs, but to me, it also acts as a visual additive.
Pleats on trousers accent the sharp crease, making them much more interesting than simple flat fronts. I think that the recent popularity surge of Gurkhas only added to this phenomenon due to their deep forward pleats, wide waistband, and use of overlapping belts. They’re a bit different than regular pleated trousers and work great with tailoring and with casual looks. Personally, I like side-tabs with my pleated trousers to maintain a clean, minimal look.
The secret to pulling pleated trousers off lies in good tailoring. Firstly, you need a high rise. Pleats on hip-hanging pants simply don’t work, as they make you look very bottom heavy and contribute poorly to your proportions. Next, you’ll have to realize that pleats don’t always result in baggy pants. If you’re going MTM or bespoke, you can always ask for the trousers to be slim, just with the addition of pleats. Even if you want RTW, most places have been following the trend, offering pleated trousers that are nowhere near as roomy as an 80s power suit. Ensure that the trousers have a slight-to-no-break, and you’ll preserve the straight line the crease and pleats create.
Further Reading: a Guide to How Trousers Should Fit
Today you can find pleated trousers in a bunch of different treatments. Grey pleated flannels/worsteds are probably the classic choice, but I think it’s worth exploring with pleated chinos and linens for maximum comfort; a dyed seersucker wouldn’t be totally out of place in the hot summer sun, with or without a matching jacket. You don’t even have to always wear them with a tie! You can always request pleats from your preferred tailor or MTM service (Luxire is a good way to customize your own) but there are a few places that I’d recommend. I’ve included a pleat inspiration album so you can hopefully see the appeal that pleats have.
A lot of my pleated trousers are old RL ones that I’ve purchased on eBay. Some are Polo and others are purple label, but they really get the job done with a high rise, full cut, and generous pleating. The only changes I make are usually a gentle taper through the thigh and a hem if necessary. I can’t speak too much about their current offerings, but there are some decent offerings on their website that have been updated for a more contemporary fit.
Rubinacci has been extremely popular for RTW gurkha style trousers. They don’t make them in traditional dress fabrics, but their different shades of cotton should be enough to fill out your wardrobe. They’re a bit on the casual side, but that’s nothing a good textured sportcoat and blucher won’t fix!
Stoffa has been known to make great MTM field jackets and aviator zips, but their trousers are rather noteworthy. While there is a degree of customization on fit, the brand has a house style that opts for a slim-straight leg that can be offset with sharp (yet a bit shallow) pleats; you can always choose to go with one if you haven’t graduated to double-pleats just you. Like Rubinacci, they offer cottons to experiment with, though Stoffa also has linen and flannel swatches for you to choose from if you want to get dressy.
Suit Supply is typically one of the places to go when you’re first starting out in menswear, as they offer some of the classic details you can’t really find at the mall. Think wide lapels, soft shoulders, side tabs, and patch pockets to name a few. While they have typically done extremely slim, flat front trousers, they’ve experimented with pleats a few times. Their Jort line is probably the best model, with a high rise, full button fly, side tabs, and double reverse pleats. If you find pleats on their regular models, I suggest sizing up so that the leg opening is a bit roomier.
If you really like the gurkhas but want to go straight into the more casual side of pleated trousers, the Scott Frasier gaucho trouser is something to consider. With a high waist, wide opening, and a single lead construction, they are a very clean/minimal trouser, if not eccentric; they’re begging to be worn while relaxing around the beach. If that isn’t your speed, he also has a “traditional” trouser that comes with dropped belt loops.
As a retailer of fine clothing, it makes sense that they stock a variety of trousers, some of which are pleated. All of these are cut with a high rise and a slim-straight silhouette, as to prevent you from looking too too “old school” with your grey pleated trousers. The Ring Jacket AMP-02 features a single pleat and are a great entry before moving onto their Rota selection. I’m much more intrigued by their pleated Pomella RTW, which has a self-belt, calling back to the gurkha closure. They’ve also introduced Osaku Trousers which are double pleated and use Daks (button) side adjusters.
That’s why I’m drawn to contemporary guys that have a bit of vintage flair, like Bryceland’s. But while they can skew more workwear, the guys at Seoul’s B&Tailor find ways to keep vintage style (across different eras) alive in an elegant and modern way.
B&Tailor and Chad Park were the subjects of one of my first blog posts that covered contemporary style. Stumbling across their account was a big moment for me, as it showed me that there was still a place for high rise trousers, pleats, and wide lapels. Started in 1980 by Jung Yul Park, the brand has already made quite a name for itself, taking fittings all over the world and even creating a casual RTW line called Chadprom, no doubt named after his son Chad. To most of my friends, they are a great source of inspiration and a bit of an aspirational goal for clothing.
It probably helps that Park’s sons Chad and Chang have worked hard to brand the company, with Chad being the face of B&Tailor, expertly shot by Chang for their Tumblr and Instagram profiles. With natural light, somber expression, and fantastic clothing, the pictures rack up engagement on all social media, presenting an almost streetwear-esque way of making clothing look cool. As the brand has grown, they’ve also included more pictures of their other staff, consistently making their associates style icons in their own right. But let’s look at how their style specifically appeals to me.
Like with Brycelands, the vintage appeal comes down to two things: the design of their tailoring and the way they choose their accessories. First, let’s explore the jackets. The jackets are cut with an extended shoulder, featuring a broad chest and nipped waist, echoing the draped figures in the 1930s and 1940s. Of course, this isn’t something new as the English have been doing that for a long time; the real charm is in their lapel treatments.
Their standard notch is quite wide (looks like it approaches over 4 inches), with a notch placed quite low compared to most brands. B&Tailor goes a step further by making the notch’s “mouth” go pretty wide (almost a full 90 degrees) yet without making it go too far into the body of the lapel. The resulting “droopy notch” not only makes the chest appear fuller but it appears to be lifted directly from the detailing on a 30s-40s suit. For their peak lapels, they maintain the width but again place the peak low. While models definitely vary, Chad and the rest of the B&Tailor crew tend to favor a peak that juts out far from the collar, recalling both vintage designs and the treatment favored by Polo Ralph Lauren in its early days. Whether it’s a notch or peak lapel, the lines are accentuated with a slightly lower lowered buttoning stance for a classic look (which is pretty 1940s to me).
The high rise is standard for B&Tailor (a trait that extends to even their Chadprom denim), which is always a sign of classic style. In fact, the rise seems higher than most, appearing to sit a little above the navel. Pleats are also a welcome sight among their tailoring, which when combined with a fuller leg, makes for an “old school” look. Most of the complaints about vintage style usually concern how baggy trousers can look, but luckily B&Tailor ensures that they are expertly tailored, done with a shivering break to prevent pooling at the ankle and a hearty cuff.
While we can talk about the cuts and designs of their suits, the real style comes in how they wear it and how they spruce it up with accessories. If you go on any of their social media platforms, you’ll see that they always prefer long collars, whether it’s pinned, a button-down, or a spread; in general, a longer collar makes for an “older look,” evoking the spearpoint collars. They match their shirts with a variety of great sevenfold ties, in foulards, abstract prints, and colorful stripes. Like I said before, wearing these with a striped shirt brings to mind the styles of the 1930s-1940s where there was a lot of similar styling. The look can be a bit bold for some (especially compared to the minimal approach from Brycelands), but they carry the look with confidence.
They also have a few novelty pieces that I feel are directly lifted from casual 1940s-1950’s styles. One example, in particular, is their Hollywood waist trousers, complete with “dropped loops”. This design, which is essentially a continuous waistband with loops placed fractions of an inch below the top, was a trend in the mid-1940s until the 1950s, worn by young men with extremely thin belts. It strikes me as particularly interesting move since most gentlemen today prefer suspenders or side tabs for keeping their trousers up.
Keeping with this casual vintage design, they’ve also done a few runs of cuban collar shirts, which have been increasingly popular during the past year. While they are technically known as cuban collars to most, I’ve always called them “loop collars” since vintage pieces have the top button fastened via a loop rather than a normal buttonhole cut into the fabric. They wear them their tailoring, which makes for a cool, sartorial-casual look that skews more vintage-inspired due to their fuller cut.
They also have a few idiosyncrasies that make their style unique; at some points, they experimented with multi-stripe vintage fabric, which was the norm back in the Golden Era (flat, plain suits weren’t common). They’ve also created cropped sweaters and jackets that are just begging to be worn with high rise trousers. Their love of turtlenecks even brings to mind some 1960s-1970s inspired looks. A big one is their latest preference for designing DBs that can be rolled to a 6×1 configuration. While these were a trend in the 1930s-1940s, it’s most commonly seen from Armani in 1980s-90s, emphasized further by their bold (power?) tie combos. B&Tailor keeps this vibe going by wearing their high waisted, light wash denim with their tailoring. Who would have thought that the 1980s-90s have a place in classic menswear?
I could keep writing about the observations that I’ve seen from B&Tailor, but the best thing to do is to look at the pictures and see it for yourself. There’s something about this brand that seems old school and yet not anachronistic at all, as they take their cues from different eras and mix them together to create such a unique look not just with the sartorial designs, but with the styling. Even Chad Park’s glasses skip around with different styles. In any case, I think they’re a good source of inspiration, not only for regular wear but for a great indication of making vintage-inspired style look wearable (and elegant) in the modern day.