The days and nights are flying by. Plaza Uomo held an event at the Palazzo Budini Gattai, a 16th century that was built and is still owned by the eponymous family. The next day a few of us got a chance to sneak away from the madness. Andreas Klow (@flannelsandtweed) and Aleks Jovanovich (@aleksjj) and I rented scooters for a jaunt in the Tuscan countryside, and later that evening enjoyed good company with Matt Hranek from W.M. Brown Project and Douglas Cordeaux from Fox Brothers hosted a party where everyone ended up parting ways with a smile on their face.
Check out the StyleForum Instagram feed for stories. These photos are from the evening of day one to the evening of day two. Thanks to Andreas and Aleks for sharing their pics when this third-rate pretend-photographer was slacking off.
Looking around Pitti, I wanted to photograph the people that were more visually interesting to me. Sometimes, those were characters who bordered on the absurd. But in general, my goal was to photograph those who I felt would be more interesting to users of Styleforum, people who tended to have a more conservative or classic aesthetic.
Back in the day, Esquire magazine stalwartly carried the torch of classic black tie. One of my favorite writers of that era, John Berendt, grew up in Syracuse, New York, not far from one of the first appearances of the tuxedo. Almost immediately after graduating from Harvard, he became an associate editor of Esquire from 1961 to 1969 and continued to contribute from 1982 to 1994, when his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was published. Many of his columns begrudgingly acknowledge trends while scornfully piss on what he calls “atrocities.” A particularly funny one is when he took umbrage with some of the spirited choices his contemporaries passed off as acceptable black tie. After observing that the first two public exhibitions of Henry Poole’s dinner jacket in America caused quite a stir, he wrote:
“I mention these two episodes…to make the point that, historically, there has never been much tolerance for individual touches when it comes to formal attire. And properly so–if not for the sake of tradition, than because for some reason the classic model is almost always debased rather than improved by innovation….But in a perverse sort of way we can be grateful to them because of what they reveal about the wearer’s level of taste.”
Classics: The Tuxedo, from Esquire, January 1983
For about 100 years, the classic black tie model has remained more or less the same, and is fairly straightforward: the suit itself can be black or midnight blue wool. As for the jacket, the most formal is single breasted peak lapel, and happens to be the most flattering one. Your shirt, which is always white, should be the quintessential marcella bib with two or three studs. A wing collar would have been the first choice a century ago, but nowadays a soft turndown collar has become the norm. Pleated shirts are fine, but I find they go better with peak lapels in a double breasted jacket or shawl collars in either configuration. A notch collar is acceptable, but has the tendency to look more waiter than waited on. Your bow tie, which should never be pre-tied and always in front of your shirt collar, can be in either black silk satin or grosgrain. Ideally the same material should be repeated in the lapel facings, buttons, and a single stripe down the trouser’s outside seam. Your waist should be covered by a double breasted jacket, a formal black waistcoat, or a cummerbund that matches your tie. Shoes are black oxfords or opera pumps in patent leather, although either in properly shined calf leather is a fine alternative. Hosiery is black silk.
Once you have a tuxedo in any of the above, you can start to go crazy – a little – for less ceremonious affairs. An easy way to do this is by simply swapping the top. An off-white jacket is a fine choice for daytime or if you happen to find yourself on a boat. On informal occasions, such as a party in someone’s home, a velvet smoking jacket in deep jewel tones is a louche option, or plaid if you’re feeling particularly festive. In these cases, lapels should never be notched, and facings can be in black silk or in the same color and material as the jacket, depending on how shiny you wish to be. If you feel especially casual, you can swap your courtly footwear for slippers in silk or velvet in black.
There are other options, of course, but listed above are already a dozen or so that will take you everywhere from the opera to the stag party. With the proviso that you have them all already and are exceptionally popular with a calendar bursting with fancy engagements, just don’t. Unless you’re Andy57.
Andy Poupart is a self-professed romantic that loves black tie more than anyone I know. His job, like most of us, doesn’t pit him against secret agents or nefarious megalomaniacs, but if it did, he’d be ready for the part. His black tie closet includes:
Straight-ahead, classic, by-the-book, black, peak lapel, grosgrain facings, single-breasted dinner jacket, with matching trousers, cummerbund, and U-front waistcoat
Midnight blue, shawl lapel, midnight blue satin silk facings, single breasted jacket, with matching trousers, cummerbund, and U-front waistcoat
Deep bottle green velvet, black grosgrain facings and cuffs, shawl lapel, single breasted jacket
Thai silk, red, self-faced, peak lapel, single breasted jacket
To accompany these, he has socks in black and midnight blue silk, two shirts each in white and ivory, all with soft turndown collars and marcella fronts, several sets of studs and links, a butterfly and diamond point bowtie in black grosgrain, another in black mogodor, a fourth in midnight blue satin silk, and black patent leather oxfords. If that sounds like overkill, be assured Andy has worn every piece in his armory many times over, and has his eyes set on a few more. “I keep thinking about a burgundy double-breasted jacket in a fantastic wool/silk velvet,” he grins.
Although all of his outfits are excellent, Andy reckons his favorite is the ivory dinner jacket. “I designed it after Humphrey Bogart’s in Casablanca. When I wear it, I’m a 1940s gun-runner, one step ahead of the bad guys, with places to go and things to do that you can’t be any part of, but we’ll always have Paris. Oh, and a martini in one hand.”
“I know that all sounds silly, but I don’t care,” he states. “It’s how I can express the side my personality that I want to portray. I think that when we get dressed, in any sort of clothes, we are telling a story about ourselves, how we wish to appear to the world. When I wear black tie, I feel I’m presenting the best me.”
I have to catch up to Andy – I’ve got a few black tie rigs myself, but alas, no velvet yet.
You can wait until the invitation requests it, or you can do like Andy and where it wherever you want. To be honest, even a black trash bag is better than not trying at all, but as long as you’re trying, you might as well do it right. To that end, try your best to follow John Berendt’s sage words:
“My advice is to stick with the classic unless you happen to have a tailor with the prescience of a Henry Poole. And the odds are you do not.”
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.
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.
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!
The first pair of “raw” denim jeans I saw that were not my father’s Levi’s Orange tabs ($29.95 at Zellers back in 1980) were Helmut Lang’s “Narrow” and “Straight” cuts, which I stumbled across the Beverly Hills Barneys in 1998. The hems of both seemed improbably tight and unfashionable to me at that time, when 16-18” hems were the norm, and the $300+ price was prohibitive to a graduate student without a trust fund.
A few years later, the North American premium denim movement, which started in LA, where the bulk of denim manufacturing is located, began in earnest. My personal favorites were Scott Morrison’s first brand, Paper Denim & Cloth, which was revolutionary for its time; and Levi’s Premium, among the first of Levi’s many attempts to gain a fresh foothold in the new fashion landscape. In the early 2000s Scandinavian brands, led by Nudie, gained a following in North America, helped by representation from the super agency WANT. During my honeymoon in Spain, finding Nudies in Madrid was a major goal, and I dragged my new wife on a several-hour walk just to find the small boutiques I was interested in – I know that more of you sympathize with this than would care to. ACNE (also represented by WANT) were the next to gain popularity in the US. My Norwegian friends told me that in Scandinavia, Nudie were for the douche-bro crowd, and ACNE was the jean of choice for the less objectionable, but my loyalty to Nudie – at this point ingrained – didn’t waver.
These were all gateway drugs to the Japanese denim that had been popular in Japan a decade earlier. In usual form the States were a decade behind, but our interests were stoked by retailers like Self Edge and Blue in Green, who were as much a product of the times as they were the flag bearers. Like everyone else swept up in the trend, I agonized over shrinking, stretching, and the much-sought-after wear marks, which Babelfish awesomely translated from the Japanese as “vertical falling.” Those were heady days for the raw denim crowd. Ultimately, I came to the realization – as did all of my denim-nerd peers – that forcing yourself to wait six months before washing a pair of jeans is madness. I always thought that the sizing-down-so-that-the-jeans-stretch-out stance was a terrible idea, so I didn’t have to learn that lesson at the cost of the months – even years – of testicular pain, that so many others paid.
Today, my denim collection resembles an archaeological dig site that spans the past 15 years and has its beginning with the premium denim trend of the very early 00s. And while I am sure that my preferences will continue to evolve, I’m at the point at which comfort, or at the very least, not-extreme-discomfort, will always be a consideration. This means that the recommendations below have some breathing room through the seat front and thighs, and hit comfortably at the hipbone. Since tapered is still the standard, both are slimmer from the knee down. Generally, I like the feeling of heft in my jeans – no paper-light stretchy jeggings for me – but super heavy jeans are never all that comfortable, so jeans between 13.5 and 17 ounces, light enough to be nimble, heavy enough to have some real power, hit that sweet spot.
“Slim tapered” jeans from Big John’s “Rare” line have the minimalist trappings of designer jeans – a plain, midnight blue, deerskin indigo back patch, a placketless fly, and no gratuitous branding; and they are cut not unlike the Helmut Lang jeans that I used to think were too narrow at the hem, with a mid-rise and a tapered leg. But they are made from inky “Ransei” denim (meaning “king of denims”), which is the highest quality denim made by Japan’s “first” Americana-inspired denim brand and is designed to fade in an extremely attractive manner. I hesitate to describe them as versatile, since that’s only a few steps away from suggesting that they will go from “the boardroom to the bar,” but I will say that all of the very different people to whom I’ve recommended them have liked them.
BIG JOHN Slim tapered jeans, 14 oz raw denim – via No Man Walks Alone
The other pair I frequently wear are even more of an amalgam of the trends of the last fifteen years than the Big Johns: a collaborative project (collaborations went from novel to ubiquitous between 2003 and 2006) from American retailer Blue Owl and Japanese manufacturer Momotaro; the very precisely-named (and discontinued) BOM005 (the closest analog is now the BOM008). The “modern,” mid-rise, tapered cut is borrowed from its sister brand, Japan Blue, and the heavy denim appeals to both denimheads and fashion customers alike, with weft threads (the colored threads in a jean) that are nearly black when first worn, and fade to a dark indigo with wear. They also have a black leather patch – plain or tonal patches seem to be popular with the minimalist set these days – and instead of the typical contrast stitching, the thread is tonal save for the single line of pink running along the inseam.
These two pairs take me through most days. Not a decade ago, I would have recommended a much lower rise, tighter jean, possibly in the heavier denim. Those cuts and weights still exist, and there is always a race towards the heaviest possible denim, but as a retailer once said about super heavy (18-ounce and greater) denim, “that’s for kids.” I do have a pair of 23-ounce jeans that I wear when I get nostalgic for the age of sick fades, though. Jeans, after all, are about the memories.