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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!
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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.
My menswear journey is much more recent than most people. I caught on to the #menswear pretty late and soon realized my tiny wardrobe was not going to leave me satisfied.
There’s nothing wrong with being a minimalist (in fact, I am jealous of those who are able to keep essentials only), but I knew that it wasn’t for me. Instead of buying fast fashion for the easy way out, I decided to build my wardrobe by buying through eBay and thrift stores. A lot of menswear guys don’t like the idea of buying old or second hand, but I still think it’s one of the best ways to fill out a wardrobe. Whether you’re a newbie who wants to dip his toes into high rise or a seasoned guy looking for something new, the thrift store always delivers.
IT’S EASIER TO FIND GOOD QUALITY ITEMS AT A THRIFT STORE THAN AT THE MALL
Firstly, there’s the aspect of vintage. I briefly talked about it on in my brief guide on thrifting, but the fact remains that a large part of clothing made in the 1960s and earlier were made with much more quality than most stuff made today. Jackets (unless they were completely unstructured) contained canvassing and fabrics were almost always made of natural fibers like wool and cotton. Obviously, there are some designs that are more “dated” than others, but I’m certain that many posters on Styleforum will be able to judge a classic garment from one that looks too vintage. Stuff like ivy style sack-jackets from the 1960s-1970s are extremely versatile in classic menswear no matter the style and can be found pretty easily in thrift stores or eBay. Trousers are probably the best bet, as most stuff pre-1990 will have a high rise and/or pleats. Just make sure your finds don’t contain synthetics!
While it can be possible to thrift contemporary pieces from big name brands, it’s also important to remember that there were also small tailors that made some great garments. For example, not all of my sack jackets are old Brooks Brothers; it appears that local California haberdasheries caught on to the ivy trend and made their own suits and sportcoats. This even extends on to the early iterations of modern designers, as I’ve seen old J. Crew, Banana Republic, and GAP pieces that had pretty classic designs, made of decent fabrics. This doesn’t’ just apply to suiting and jackets; long collar OCBDs and even classic foulard ties can be found at Goodwill, all lacking that desired brand name. In any case, I always think it’s worth it to actually try on any garment that has a great design rather than just hunt for a label.
THRIFTING AS A WAY TO EXPERIMENT WITH YOUR STYLE
One other aspect of thrifting that I’ve really enjoyed is that it lets you experiment with different styles in an affordable way. I distinctly remember coming across pleated trousers from Ambrosi and B&Tailor online and wishing that I could try my hand at incorporating them into my wardrobe. At the time, all I had was skinny, flat front J. Crew pants, and I wasn’t about to spend hundreds on something I wasn’t sure about. Instead, I looked through my local thrift stores and used my honed skills to find quality pleated trousers for a cheap price. I brought them to my trusted tailor, where he was able to slim them down enough to make for a classic look. My latest experiment took the form of pleated brown cords. I’ve never worn cords before, but now that I’ve had the opportunity to try, it opens myself up to experiment further.
This use of thrifting for experimentation even applies to jackets! As Simon Crompton said, wider lapels and a 3-roll-2 stance have been “a trend” for classic menswear. While it may be easy to get these details on something from a brand like Ring Jacket or customizing them on MTM, it’s still a little aspirational for younger guys. Thankfully, most classic menswear trends aren’t anything new, and you can find these details on garments found in thrift stores or online. Like with the trousers, the money you save on the purchase price can be used to alter the garment to fit you!
Thrifting also allows you to find statement pieces for a great price. Obviously, while everyone should have a navy blazer and grey flannels (which are pretty easy to find), I think it’s important to have a few garments that are interesting and one-of-a-kind to spice up your attire. Most old garments have fabrics and patterns that you simply can’t find anymore, especially not at the mall. It’s much easier to try out a colorful checked tweed from Goodwill rather than go straight to bespoke for something you may not wear often.
THRIFTING IS A SUSTAINABLE AND ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY CHOICE
Lastly, I think it’s important to keep the cycle going. As I move forward in my journey and career, I’ve been able to afford quality items in a “slow fashion” rather than having an exclusively thrifted wardrobe. Instead of throwing away my old clothes, I end up giving them to my friends and acquaintances who were also getting into classic menswear. The only difference is that these thrifted pieces have now been cleaned and altered from their found state so that they can be added confidently into someone’s closet. I’ve already given some of my old thrifted suits to my friends as I graduate onto different pieces, and they accept them knowing that they will one day pass them on as well.
I know that classic menswear is “slow” when compared to other sects of fashion, but we aren’t immune to the impact on the environment. Countless suits, shirts, and trousers, flood thrift stores and eBay, waiting for their new owners to save them from the landfills. You should pass on things that are damaged or really dated (1980s fashion suits, yuck) but it’s always worth looking at your local thrift store, whether you want to build your wardrobe economically or experiment with something new. Although Classic Menswear has that odd stigma against buying things that are old or pre-worn, I hope more people will start considering thrifting an acceptable avenue to take in their menswear journey.
I love vintage style, but there are a lot of things that set me apart from other enthusiasts. While many enjoy period hobbies, I definitely don’t swing dance and I don’t watch a lot of old movies. It comes as a shock to some, as the latter is how most people I know came to be involved with vintage menswear. Sure, I may have seen a few of the big name classics, but it’s not something I consider monumental in my personal style journey; that doesn’t mean I haven’t been influenced by them, nor that I’m unfamiliar with them. Screenshots of films, promo shots, and candids of Golden Era actors used to fill my Tumblr. So with that, it’s no surprise that Jimmy Stewart was someone I saw often.
As you may know, Jimmy Stewart was a movie star during the “Golden Age” of Hollywood. Initially, he had attended Princeton studying architecture, but he soon found himself acting in small performers troupes. Eventually, he moved to Los Angeles, encouraged by Henry Fonda, and began his career in Hollywood, starring in almost 30 films until he enlisted in the Air Force during WWII. Stewart currently holds the distinction of holding the highest rank of any other actor who served in the U.S. Military.
For me, the appeal of Jimmy Stewart stems from how natural he makes everything look. I was never a fan of the prim and proper Cary Grant photos (who is loved for his 1950s-1960s style) or the “badass” look of Humphrey Bogart; I always felt more drawn to the candid and lifestyle shots of Stewart. Admittedly, Rear Window and It’s a Wonderful Life are the only Jimmy Stewart films I’ve seen, but I am familiar with his work (and style) through the countless images I see.
One thing in particular that I appreciate is that he had a very classic style. With flannel suits, striped shirts, and the occasional foulard tie, his style is a preview of some of the stuff you can see today. While the suits are cut in the classic Golden Era style (broad shoulders and wide leg pants), it’s not done in a costumey way. The fit is always on point, with a tapered waist and trousers that seldom break, which is a hard contrast to what most people think of when it comes to vintage style. He was sharp for the times without subscribing too much to the trends that we covered before.
During the 1930s and 40s, many actors would wear their own clothes in films. Because of this, men like Stewart were perpetually well dressed, both on and off the camera. One of my favorite outfits of his appears in a photo where Jimmy is sitting on a white fence, in which he wears a wide peak lapel houndstooth tweed jacket with navy trousers and white bucks. It really goes against the common style rules that we abide by today, like combining tweed and summer shoes. He does employ the “sprezza-tie,” with blatant disregard for its length and whether or not the back blade is showing. The entire outfit seems to be slightly ivy in its execution, as other pictures show that he was, in fact, wearing a striped cloth belt.
Another outfit that comes right in time for spring-summer, is Jimmy wearing a gaucho style polo shirt with the same peak lapel jacket. Not only is this cool because it showed that he reused a lot of the same pieces, but it also shows a little bit of the unique, trendy items of the 1930s. Gaucho shirts are largely similar to polo shirts but they featured a deep loop button placket and spearpoint collars; the hems were usually all ribbed. They grew in popularity among Golden Era actors during the late 1930s, and were seen on many stars, including Jimmy Stewart.
This image speaks wonders about Stewart’s style, though it might be a costumer’s idea. In a huge contrast to the well put together Cary Grant, Jimmy wears an unfastened chalkstripe DB suit, with a striped shirt and striped tie. Talk about sprezzatura, right? I remember seeing this years ago being inspired to experiment with triple pattern mixing–even if it’s all stripes. It’s hard to see people do that today, let alone make it look so natural, which made vintage style appeal to me even more today.
Obviously, there are more great looks from Jimmy Stewart than the three I’ve examined here. It’s all very indicative of classic 1930s-1940s style without getting into the bold or flashy styles of Fred Astaire or George Raft (both of which are inspirations nonetheless). I’ve included a small album of my favorite looks from Jimmy Stewart for you to look at. I think that he was pretty consistent with his look, which you can definitely see in his later years. He may not have the spearpoint collars, but he still rocked the collar bar and the runaway collar until his death in 1997. Honestly, I think a lot of his attire can be used as inspiration today, whether you’re going for a true vintage look or something more contemporary. I certainly look to him quite a bit.
After my last article detailing the differences of suit silhouettes from past eras, I thought that it would be helpful to offer some advice on how to mix pieces from different eras and incorporate vintage menswear silhouettes into your wardrobe. It’s something that I’ve done for the past few years as a lot of my wardrobe was thrifted, found on eBay, or purchased from a vintage store. Be sure to look at my guide to thrifting as well!
The first thing that I take a look at are the shoulders, which in turn usually points toward the structure of a jacket. Each era of menswear has a different treatment of a shoulder, which corresponds directly to the overall silhouette. Broad, padded shoulders usually requires a wider, fuller pant leg while natural, narrow shoulders can work with a slim trouser. Interestingly enough, this reflects the 30’s and the 60’s respectively as well as contemporary tailoring styles around the world. You wouldn’t wear a structured British jacket with a slim chinos, would you? Probably not. It just so happens that soft jacketing is how tailoring has moved in recent time, so anything soft or unstructured (from the 1960s especially) would definitely work well today.
The next thing I look at is length and buttoning point. Like shoulders, each era had their own treatment too. Typically jackets with a “classic buttoning point” (with the last button on the pocket line) lead to a classic and versatile proportions. Jackets that have a low buttoning point usually have a longer body and will look much more dated. Suits and jackets from the 1930’s and 1960’s are the best and creating this aesthetic and can be worn with most contemporary pieces, while other “bold eras” like the 1940s-50s and the 1970-90s are much too out of place. Obviously 1920’s and earlier jackets were designed to be slightly edwardian and have an exceedingly antiquated look to apply today.
Fabric also plays an important part. It’s important to remember that looming technology has changed significantly since the 1920’s, which is why older vintage clothing has a certain weight and texture to it when compared to contemporary fabrics. To make them work today, I find that it’s best to combine vintage garments with similarly weighted and textured garments like flannels, tweeds, and brushed cottons. Try to avoid novelty fabrics like sharkskin, since they’re hard to pair. Personally, I find that most vintage garments looks quite odd when worn with super fine worsteds. Patterns will definitely play a part, as old fabrics will usually have some heavy striping or checks, so it’s best not to over do it. Grey flannel trousers will usually be your best friend when wearing a vintage jackets, though creams, navy blues, and browns can help too.
Lastly, the main way to pull off vintage garments is to style them classically. Usually the jacket (or suit) is the star of the outfit, so it’s best to keep everything else toned down. Resist the urge to “complete” the vintage look with bowties or skinny 60’s ties. Wearing normal striped shirts with repps and foulards is what I always recommend to people, since it’s inoffensive and classic enough to not look like a costume. Obviously you can mess around with details like collar lengths (like rolled OCBDs or long point collars) or accessories (like a collar bar/pin) but I find it best to keep things simple, especially if you don’t normally wear vintage garments.
As I’ve written before, buying vintage is not only a way to save money on a quality garment but it’s also a great method to add some statement pieces into your wardrobe. Most people avoid vintage since they assume it’s too costumey and aren’t sure how to style it. I’d like to think that this article helps put a different spin on vintage pieces and while they are a little quirky when compared to contemporary garments, they still have a great place in a classic menswear wardrobe.
I cherish my weekends. During the work week, my fiancée is gone early and returns late, and outside of our daily dog walks and once-weekly picnics (if you’re not picnicking once weekly with your significant other, reconsider your life), Saturday and – sometimes – Sunday are the only days we have to relax with a cup of coffee, our dogs, and a breakfast that isn’t a granola bar.
Every weekend, once I’ve had my coffee (decaf now, sadly) and am ready to start cooking, I invariably reach for the same garments: a comfy pair of shorts (or pants, if the morning is chilly), my Birkenstocks (say what you will), and a Big Shirt. And by Big Shirt I don’t mean an oversized gym tee. I mean a loose, oversized button-up shirt that I wear with the sleeves rolled halfway up my forearm. You may remember these from glorious 90’s moments such as this one:
Conversely, for a few years while I was in college, slim-fit shirts were the Holy Grail of menswear. At the same time that brands such as Band of Outsiders and Gitman Vintage were just getting popular on Styleforum, all my friends and I were constantly lamenting the unsightly ‘pooching’ effect you’d get around your middle when you tucked a ‘dress shirt’ from Express, or J Crew, or wherever into your ‘dress pants.’ Many things have changed since then, among them my own style, the relative tightness of your average shirt, and the knowledge of how the latter should fit.
The thing is, I’ve always been a t-shirt guy. I’m wearing one even now, although there’s a blazer over it, and a body-hugging button-up shirt just isn’t and never will be as comfortable. But a t-shirt just isn’t always appropriate, and when you want something with a collar, your recourse is the Big Shirt.
I have been, in many ways, groomed since birth to favor the Big Shirt. My mother is a painter, and many of my childhood memories involve seeing her in her own Big Shirt – either stolen from my father or purchased for herself – covered in paint, charcoal and wood chips. Similarly, my father chronically finds all clothing intensely uncomfortable, except for his selection of ancient and heavily-worn oxford cloth button downs. He wears them all the time, with everything – including under a sweater when skiing. As neither of them have ever been particularly interested in fashion or clothing, I never saw anything else. It should come as no surprise that the comfort I take in wearing a Big Shirt is both physical and mental.
My first Big Shirts were hand-me-downs from my father, and I still have them: pastel pink and pastel yellow oxfords from Polo by Ralph Lauren; even years after he gave them to me the shoulders are too big and the sleeves too long. They are, however, loose enough to be comfortable in the summertime, and offer just barely enough in the way of decorum so that if a friend comes over for brunch on the patio I don’t feel the need to change. I’ve also snuck them into the occasional casual outfit, usually secreted beneath a casual blazer or a heavy cardigan and paired with an equally casual pair of jeans or trousers.
I have a few other shirts I consider Big Shirts: one is a hand-me-down from my mother, one is a relatively new chambray workshirt from RRL, and the last is, similarly, a workshirt from Yellow Hook. The latter two are just about fitted in the shoulders, but cut loose enough through the waist to trick the wearer into forgetting they’re wearing a shirt. I’ve even tried to incorporate Big-Shirtness into the other aspects of my wardrobe, and one of my favorite shirts that isn’t for casual outfits is a Haider Ackermann women’s blouse in gold silk that is truly Big.
Speaking of, part of my love for the Big Shirt is due to its androgynous appeal – women and men alike look great in Big Shirts. Old Ralph Lauren ads are a truly great source of inspiration for oversized silhouettes, and the women’s suits of the 80’s are still fantastic. 80’s Armani and Versace advertisements are equally great, and all three brands showcase the elegance of billowy clothing – and of the Big Shirt in particuarly. I still love the look of billowing fabric and a cinched waist, and although trim-cut shirts are certainly still – and likely will be for the foreseeable future – very popular, there’s nothing better for a relaxed outfit than a Big Shirt.
You can, of course, head to your local Ralph Lauren outlet and buy an oxford a few sizes too big if this is an itch you’re interested in scratching, but 1) that lacks magic and 2) going to malls and outlets is a terrible experience. Instead, I’d recommend shopping Ebay or Etsy for old shirts. The key is really to find a shirt with a giant armhole and a pleated sleeve, because as much as we like to say that high armholes improve mobility – and they do – you’re much more mobile in a shirt that fits like a sack.
There are more than a few brands playing with bigness these days – popular names on Styleforum being Christophe Lemaire and Kapital – but if you’re sitting on the more classic side of the style spectrum, I’d suggest trying the vintage route first. Start with a plain white or blue oxford. Get yourself a narrow, over-long belt, then tuck your shirt into a pair of soft, pleated trousers; or wear it with comfy, worn denim; or be like me and wear it over a pair of beat-up hiking shorts. You just might find that what your wardrobe needs is a little bit of Big Shirtness.
SprezzaTrash is a relatively recent newcomer to Styleforum. Even so, he’s proven to have a style and sensibility that fits right in with Styleforum’s emphasis on (or obsessiveness with) details. In his particular case, inspiration comes from a wide variety of sources – here, he talks about what drew him to vintage clothing, and the enduring charm of styles long-past .
I didn’t get into “fashion” until about 5 years ago. Even then, I dressed as the poster child for #menswear, wearing floral shirts and skinny suits and ties. However, whether it was from reading Tintin as a child, or from watching the inaccurately-costumed Great Gatsby movie of 2013, I felt as though vintage style was my true calling – and, through a chance Facebook meeting, I began to make contacts and friends in the vintage community.
Eventually, I began actually purchasing garments that looked like what I had only seen in images and illustrations. It was so different than what I saw on Tumblr or Instagram. The basic details of my new purchases were all there: the wide lapels, the high rise, the “correct” double breasted configuration.
I was only a student (still am), so I purchased as many full suits and tie lots from all eras as I possibly could. I still have a modest true vintage (my term for 1920-1940s) collection, but I made do with what I had to create as many outfits as possible. As I went to more vintage events and talked with more people, I learned a lot about what made true, Golden Era style. None of it involced the clip-on suspenders, wacky bowties, or tweed jackets that everyone touted as “vintage” (or dapper) style. I began to see the real, specific details: the drape cut, the horizontal peaks, spearpoint collars and collar bars, the wide lapels with blunted edges and low notch, “exploding pocket squares;” I saw that tie prints differed from each era, and that many men used advanced pattern mixing within one outfit. Eventually I decided that I didn’t want to buy vintage for the sake of buying vintage. This meant no more low buttoning 1950’s suits and no crazy swing ties from the late 1940’s. No, I wanted to dress in the 30’s.
By the time I started posting regularly on social media, I was torn between my two sides: my desire to remain modern and my love of vintage clothing. The main thing holding me back was how rare and pricey vintage clothing was. Even though I obtained most pieces “on the cheap”, I couldn’t bring myself to wear these nearly-100 year old garments everyday. It also didn’t look right; I liked the aesthetic but I was still conscious of wearing an “old” look in the modern day. It wasn’t until I discovered the guys from The Armoury, Drake’s, and Bryceland’s that I learned that it was definitely possible to dress with 1930’s vibes while wearing modern clothing! They had the wide lapels, the foulards and print ties that I loved, and the striped shirts.
Obviously, I don’t have enough money to go with bespoke or high end RTW, so I made some concessions. I started to thrift and find 60s-90s clothing that still had the wide lapels, half-lined jackets, and high rise that I was looking for. Soon, I began to retire my super slim, low rise fast fashion pieces, and started to thrift exclusively; my keen eye for detail has helped me come across some great pieces at extremely low prices. Thanks to developing a close relationship with two different tailors, I was able make my finds wearable and similar to modern tailors’ work. I mix eras all the time, but I think my style still comes across as “old school” due to simple styling; particularly in the ties I choose to wear, as certain tie prints and designs are incredibly specific to various eras.
I’ve now become comfortable and confident in my style. Even if I’m not always wearing true vintage, I’m able to have the vibes and aesthetic that I like. If you compare me to my two original sources of inspiration, I’m much too modern (in terms of fit) to be vintage and too vintage to be modern (in terms of style). As a friend has told me, I dress “like a man from 1938 came to the modern day and spent his life thrifting.” That said, sometimes I do a modern interpretation of a 30’s outfit or I do a vintage version of what I see on the Armoury. It really proves that nothing is new under the sun. I’ve even recently “discovered” ivy style, and it’s dominated my non-suited looks for the past 6 months.
Many people have misconceptions of what vintage style is and often get it wrong; no one back then dressed in zoot suits or like what you see in Goodfellas. I think that’s what drove me to start a blog – I definitely want to prove that people can dress with vintage vibes in the modern era – you just have to study carefully and have a good eye for detail. There are plenty of nuances that come from each distinct decade, and pulling what you like from each one with careful accuracy is important if you want to develop a vintage style and pull it off well.
You can follow Ethan’s vintage adventures both on his blog, and on Instagram at @ethanmwong.
Guest post by Grant Harris of Image Granted.
Streets of Georgetown
1254 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20007
When Joseph Abboud sold his namesake label to become chief designer for HMX Group, the largest manufacturer of tailored menswear in the country, he worked with HMX CEO Doug Williams to open Streets concept stores in select cities. The Streets concept capitalizes on major cities’ top-drawer shopping neighborhoods or streets—in DC’s case, Georgetown. The boutique is stocked with some of the elder statesmen of American suiting, including Hickey Freeman and Hart Schaffner Marx, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. Streets offers off-the-rack suiting as well as a truly tailored experience with made-to-measure services offering several hundred fabric choices. Bobby Jones, Coppley, Palm Beach, Austin Reed, and Filson round out suiting, casual, and sportswear offerings.
2216 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20009
A recent addition to the DC shopping scene, Federal may sound like it caters to the politicians and lobbyists of Washington, but it’s far from what you might think. Located on 14th St. corridor, it’s part of a restructured and converted skate shop. Its street-oriented history is reflected in on-trend offerings from a range of heritage-based Americana and workwear lines like Tellason, Pendleton, Red Wing, Danner, Dickies, Filson, Converse, Clarks, Herschel Supply, and others. D.C. has a rep for being short on this sort of gear and Federal is changing that.
Dr. K’s Vintage
1534 U St. NW
Washington, DC 20009
Dr. K’s is a vintage shop on the U street corridor that stocks the best edited stock of vintage men’s apparel in the city—leather jackets, militaria, cowboy boots, varsity jackets, and original cinchback denim from Levi’s. A native of Thailand, Dr. K has brought some of his personal collection to the shop, and can be seen showing off his latest finds from Brimfield or the Rose Bowl or more clandestine sources. Dr. K is often open late, but keeps strange hours so it’s best to call ahead.
1701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20006
Sette means “seven” in Italian. Given how much attention is given to Neapolitan menswear, it’s a breath of fresh air to have the presence of Sette in D.C. A collaboration between a former Robert Talbott designer and a White House staffer, Sette offers a lineup of made-in-Italy woven or printed silk ties for power players inside the beltway and beyond. Sette seven folds come in a versatile 3-inch width and are constructed with the exacting standards of old world Italian tie makers. Silks are sourced from the hills of Como, then folded, slip stitched and packaged. Each tie is a unique creation and is part of a limited run of no more than 21. Each is individually numbered, and owners can register them online with Sette. Sette ties don’t come cheap, but the customer service, presentation, and product are arguably worth it.
Other worthwhile stops:
1781 Florida Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20009
Sharing an address with Stüssy, Commonwealth is D.C.’s outpost of the Virginia Beach streetwear king. Source for limited edition footwear, high-end hype like Maiden Noir, and wildcards like Gitman Vintage and Creep by Hiroshi Awai.
Hugh and Crye
3212 O St. NW #5 (between Potomac and Wisconsin)
Washington, DC 20007
DC-based brands fits shirts differently–by body type rather than measurements. Trim, darted cuts and strong colors and patterns dominate. Their bright Georgetown space is shop, laboratory, stockroom, and office all in one.
More recommendations to come in part II.