Perfect Spring Style: the Popover Shirt

As further proof that fashion – and men’s fashion in particular – operates entirely in cycles, I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many popover-style shirts at so many different retailers as I have this spring. Although it never disappeared, the popover hasn’t exactly been a mainstay of menswear since the 60’s, when Gant made up the style in oxford cloth and it became an instant favorite of the Ivy set. Certainly, there have always been men who’ve worn them, especially in Italy (as opposed to elsewhere in Europe) – Gianni Agnelli was, after all, well known for favoring them – but especially in America, they’ve been a purely casual item to be found mostly at Ivy retailers (Brooks Brothers, Gant, occasionally J. Press), and mostly made up in Ivy colors and fabrics.

The thing is, the popover wasn’t a new style when Gant “introduced” it to the East Coast (besides, Agnelli appears to have been wearing them – with a spread collar as opposed to a button-down collar – by that point). It’s full-length buttoning that’s relatively new, and which only appeared in the mid-1800’s. If you’ve ever browsed antique shirts, you’ve probably noticed that most of them – whether they’re the sought-after French workshirts or the “formal” English pieces – only sport half-plackets. It was only after the introduction of the full placket that popovers slowly disappeared across most of Europe and America.

Part of the recent dearth of popovers, at least in terms of contemporary fashion, must surely be due to our decade-long obsession with Tight Things. Since popovers must be pulled on over the head, they require a bit of extra room in the body to accommodate waving arms and wide shoulders, and I can only imagine that said extra room was anathema to most brands attempting to ride the slim fit wave. In addition, the view of popovers as a purely casual item didn’t do much for their popularity, but as tailored clothing continues to become less and less important to the daily lives of most men, it appears that popovers are – at least in some places – back on the menu, so let’s talk about how to wear them.

First, it’s easy to find casual popovers cut to a length that’s meant to be worn untucked. If you want to channel Ivy style, add a pair of chino shorts, a woven belt, and some penny loafers, and you’re set for summer on the Vineyard.

popover shirt styleforum

Spring and summer are, in my opinion, the perfect seasons for popover-wearing. The slightly relaxed cut, especially when done in a linen or linen blend, is great for warm weather, especially as a vacation shirt. That’s because it’s nice-looking enough that you can wear it out to dinner, but not so nice that you feel bad bundling it up with a beach towel. And you don’t have to be channeling the preppy thing, if you don’t want to. Roll up the sleeves, put on a pair of Vans, and you’ll look just great. Or do as men such as Gianni Agnelli and Yasuto Kamoshita do (Kamoshita also often wears polo shirts under his jackets), and wear yours under an odd jacket or with a suit. The point is that no matter the style you’re after, a popover is a great shirt to have in your wardrobe.

If you’re looking for casual options, affiliate Need Supply is a good place to start, as are brands like Gitman Vintage. If you’re open to wearing a band-collar shirt, those aren’t hard to find at all. Tailoring-friendly options are a bit less easy to come across, although Kamakura offers their own take on the Ivy classic, as does Brooks Brothers. Eidos has been known to offer both band-collar popovers and long-sleeve henleys in the past, and Ralph Lauren’s stock rotates regularly. Amusingly, Gant’s own popovers come and go as well, so you may have to do a bit of searching. If you know exactly what you’re after, Proper Cloth also offers popover plackets as an option.

popover shirt styleforum

It just so happens that affiliate No Man Walks Alone stocks this great linen popover from G. Inglese, which would look pretty darn good with one of those Solaro suits we keep talking about. Wear it with a tie or without, with laced shoes or loafers. However you decide to wear it, wear it in good health, and enjoy the good weather.

Peter’s Picks for Shoulder Season Style

Spring in San Francisco is onerous.  It’s as if winter is on its deathbed with a wet cough that keeps drenching you with incessant gloom as it slowly releases its grip on daylight.  It’s pathetic.  Long after the novelty off sweater weather wears off, you just feel like pulling the plug and ending the misery.

My first spring in New York was unforgettable.  For months, the trees surrounding me in Putnam County had been shivering naked during the long winter like so many desiccated toothpicks, reaching up to a sun that would give them no warmth.  The trails circling Mountain Brook were surrounded by dirty snow that blended into the granite horizon and ashen sky, painting a dormant landscape filtered in desolation, until finally the earth awoke.  I remember buds shooting from the branches while it was still cold in March, offering hope of renewed life.  I was so excited I walked around in jeans and a t-shirt; 36 degrees seemed almost warm.  The snow began to melt, and within weeks, the whole valley of the east branch of the Croton River exploded in an intense, waxy green, sparkling in the breeze with hues of malachite in the sun and viridian in the shade.  I’ll never forget that sight; it could have made anyone a believer.

It’s no wonder, then, that our clothes reflect spring’s renewal of life and color.  The changing of seasons brings longer days and blossoming flora, prompting us to put away our heaviest winter coats in somber hues and exchange them for something lighter and cheery.  For men, this traditionally means oxford cloth button-downs in soft pastel hues of robin’s egg blue, pale pink, and dusty yellow.   Since it won’t get really hot for several months, now is what some call “Shoulder Season,” when moderate temperatures can accommodate items from both summer and winter wardrobes, without necessitating full-on shearling or head-to-toe linen.  Lamentably, many places have pathetically a short Shoulder Season.  This is a shame, since spring and autumn have arguably the most pleasant temperatures of the year – the Golden Mean Climate – perfect for for a variety of menswear.  Here are some of my favorites for spring:

A faux tweed sport coat.  I’m considering sending this fabric to my tailor in Sicily.  A lightweight wrinkle-resistant wool from the long-gone Hardy Minnis Riviera line, the dusty kelly green expresses just the right amount of “spring” without being garish.  A jacket in this color goes great with light grey trousers, tan chinos or faded jeans, so I expect I’ll be wearing this a lot come March.  One of my favorite online stores, No Man Walks Alone (also a Styleforum affiliate), headed by longtime forum member Greg Lellouche, has a jacket in a solid olive green and a houndstooth patterned blue and brown in fabrics that are perfect for spring and would transition well into summer.  If you’re not a plaid person, try a suit or jacket in a fresh sage green cotton instead of traditional tan.

A suede safari jacket.  Last year I scored one from Polo Ralph Lauren at Goodwill for less than $30.  It quickly became one of my favorites, and I found it went surprisingly well with a variety of outfits: beat-up denim and white sneakers, fresco trousers and tan chukkas, and hunter green khakis and boots.  The four utilitarian pockets carry just about anything, and the jacket can be worn open for ventilation, casually belted for a quick jaunt to the market, or buttoned-and-belted for when the wind starts to pick up.  Fair warning: people will want to touch you.

A mid-weight sweater.  Twenty years ago, a sweet girl from Hyde Park named Liz gave me a periwinkle blue cotton cable-knit crewneck sweater from LL Bean, and I ended up wearing it all spring.  In fact, they still offer the same one, available online.  Perfect for those in-between times when you don’t have to worry about shedding layers of clothes.  Sweaters such as this one feel wonderful against your skin, and when the temperature changes you can either roll up your sleeves or throw on a Baracuta.  Later on, I picked up a shawl-collar sweater in a cotton-cashmere blend that serves more or less the same purpose, worn either with a simple white t-shirt or taking the place of a more formal jacket.