It’s hard for me to imagine going without a pair of sneakers this time of year. Summer is about having the windows down and volume up, biking somewhere on a hot afternoon, and hanging your feet off a picnic bench while BBQ-ing with friends. Camp moccasins and penny loafers can be great for these sorts of things, but I also like having a pair of casual sneakers you can wear with jeans and camp collar shirts.
I’ve cycled through a bunch over the years, but find I keep returning to the same ones (although, the first pair below were recently acquired). If you’re looking to get a pair this summer, here are some of my favorites. Since they’re mostly designer shoes based off classic silhouettes, I’ve included links to the originals, which are much more affordable. As sneakers go, the build quality between the low and high end of the spectrum is smaller than it is in dress shoes – almost everything is in design. I like the uniqueness of these versions, but their designers found the originals to be inspiring for a reason.
A few of weeks ago, I met up with Kiya from Self Edge for coffee. If you’ve ever met him, you’d appreciate how simple he dresses for a guy who owns one of the best denim boutiques in the world. The first time we met, he wore a grey sweatshirt with some olive Stevenson fatigues. The second time he had on a striped ringer tee, raw denim jeans, and these Visvim Skagways. I liked the sneakers so much that I bought a pair later that week.
Visvim offers their Skagway every season in slightly different materials and patterns, and these bamboo prints are the best I’ve seen from their collections. They’re made with a Japanese hand-printing technique called katazurizome. The company describes it as a kind of resist dyeing method, although I’m not sure that’s correct. As I understand it, resist dyeing involves applying a dye-resist paste or tying up the material before coloring it, so you get a reverse print effect from where the dye didn’t take hold. See this old post about African indigo dyeing techniques.
Men in suits love nothing more than to talk about how no one wears suits anymore. And it’s true that with each passing year, fewer and fewer people wear traditional tailored clothing. One retailer tells me that he mostly considers his necktie inventory part of his store decor these days, like bars that display antique liquor ads or currencies from exotic nations now defunct. But the reasons given by fashion writers for the decline of the coat-and-tie are often shortsighted, missing some of the more fundamental reasons why men’s style has continually gotten more casual. Since my own theory crosses paths with the reasons why we celebrate the Fourth of July in the US, I thought I’d share it today.
Almost every story about the death of the suit starts in 1945, the end of the Second World War and roughly three decades before the suit would eventually wane. For Americans, the end of the war was a turning point in the 20th century, not only because it came nearly halfway through, but because the war revolutionized America’s role in global affairs. The US shaped the new post-war order with organizations such as the UN and NATO, which together with American diplomacy and military strength gave rise to the Pax Americana. America emerged from the Second World War as the only power virtually undamaged, its vast military and economic capabilities fully intact, and the only country with nuclear weapons. American power was at its height.
For American men who love tailored clothing, however, the apogee of the 20th century was a little earlier, in the 1920s or 1930s – the Golden Age of Hollywood, the well-dressed set, and the coming of age of classic American style. The post-war period, on the other hand, was fractious, confused, and noisy. Sportswear thrived. Ready-to-wear proliferated. Designers eventually replaced tailors. This revolution in menswear coincided and overlapped with the culture wars of the 1950s and ‘60s. Establishment types wore the suit; anti-establishment types took to white tees, leather jacket, and jeans. That shift towards what Bruce Boyer calls “rebel clothing” was the first meaningful move away from the coat-and-tie. The suit has been trying to wash itself clean of the stench of Establishment ever since, never with complete success.
There are dozens of other theories on why the suit has died, ones that are often less convincing and more cantankerous. Some say people are lazy and lack personal pride. Others say the availability of cheap clothing has crowded out the market for quality tailoring. The worst takes are the ones that link the decline of tailoring to Western civilization itself – as the suit has declined, so has morality and virtue. These are about as bad as people who base their conception of the 1950s off film noir.
Well, this is a surprise. The summer tweed I ran last year made it onto The Sartorialist, the first men’s style blog I ever followed. Pictured above is Kenji of Bryceland’s wearing the fabric in a handsome double-breasted. Bryceland’s, by the way, recently expanded into Hong Kong, which has made it possible for them to fulfill online orders. That means they now have a functioning webshop for those located outside of East Asia.
Many thanks to everyone who supported that cloth run, by the way. It was genuinely fun to organize. Below are photos I’ve found around the web of people wearing the cloth – Max from the Armoury, Pete in San Francisco, Sartoria Formosa’s bespoke tailor Dionisio, Mitchell at Menswear Musings, and Andy from San Jose.
No Man Walks Alone, a sponsor on this site, still has a few ready-to-wear sport coats made from the fabric. You can knock 10% off the listed price with the checkout code DWW10. It’s a wonderful cloth, I think, if you love the texture of tweed, but want something that’s light and breathable enough for summer. More details of the cloth can be found in this old post. I’m also planning to organize more custom cloth runs in the future, although I can’t imagine another one being featured at The Sartorialist.
For being such a basic garment, the t-shirt represents so much of our cultural history. It’s just four-panels with a ribbed neck, but within such a simple construction, you can see the shifts in post-war power, as well as the spread of American culture. Next to Levi’s 501s and Brooks Brothers button-downs, no piece of clothing is more quintessentially American or even popular in the world.
The t-shirt has its roots in Britain, however. It derives from an all-in-one undergarment called the union suit, which was traditionally made from flannel. At some point, the Brits found them to be too warm, so they cut them in half to come up with the two-piece long john set (something men still wear today). The top half of that set eventually morphed into the short-sleeved, finer cotton pullover we think of as a t-shirt.
T-shirts were never meant to be worn as outer garments, but they became so in much the same way that chambray shirts, jeans, and other working-class gear entered our day-to-day wardrobes. In the early-20th century, the US Navy picked up the tee to be part of their uniform. They chose white tees because they were cheaper to manufacture, as the yarns didn’t have to be dyed, and the pristine color helped to promote a sense of self-discipline and cleanliness amongst their sailors. Just before the US entered the Second World War, a Sears, Roebuck and Co. advertisement declared: “You needn’t be in the army to have your own personal t-shirt,” suggesting that the garment carried a certain sense of heroism and machismo.
It was those associations that lifted the tee out of people’s underwear drawers and put them in their closets. Style icons such as Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Elvis wore white tees in that way that originally started with teenage youths (see Bruce Davidson’s beautiful 1959 photo essay on Brooklyn gangs). T-shirts were also just as much part of the Army uniform during the Vietnam War as they were for protestors back home. And after Vietnam, the t-shirt remained relevant through street culture. Once someone figured out you could add graphics to the tee, the room for self-expression exploded way past what was even possible for tailoring.
By their nature, basics aren’t very exciting to talk about, but they also form the backbone of our wardrobe. I imagine that’s one of the biggest challenges for Luca Faloni, a relatively new Italian company specializing in fine dress shirts, knitwear, and leather goods. They started in 2013 on the idea of selling high-end Italian products directly to consumers, cutting out the middleman and offering more value (a common marketing angle these days, even if the idea of value is more complicated in reality). But there’s an important difference between them and other brands doing the same thing. Since their items are so basic and simple, on first blush they can seem indistinguishable from the thousands of other products online. Think of how the market for white t-shirts work – since t-shirts are mostly fungible, they compete on price.
Luca Faloni, the company’s founder and namesake, recognizes this. “We rely on word of mouth and repeat business,” he says. “Selling classic men’s shirts and knitwear on the internet comes with a lot of challenges, namely the customer can’t feel the materials. But we hope to offer such tremendous products, customers come back after their first purchase.” For Luca, this distinction on materials is paramount. He prides himself on using top-end Italian yarns, such as Cariaggi cashmere. In fact, the entire production process is done in Italy, from the yarn spinning to the cutting-and-sewing (although the fibers themselves are sourced elsewhere).
The collection here is simple and likely wouldn’t catch many eyes on Instagram. In today’s attention economy, wardrobe basics such as these can fly by our screens. At the same time, they also form the foundation of the “casual Italian” look that’s popular among men who are trying to find new ways of dressing down their tailored clothing, or wear slightly more refined versions of casualwear. Luca Faloni has slim-fit linen shirts, in both spread and band collars, then some brushed cotton equivalents for cooler days. These are single-needle sewn with mother-of-pearl buttons and crows foot stitching (typical for this price point). They also have some basic knitwear, including plain crewnecks and shallower v-necks, as well as linen shorts. The entire collection has that semi-resort vibe that’s common in Italian casualwear.
To understand male fashion today, you have to go back to The Great Masculine Renunciation. Somewhere around the time of Beau Brummell and The French Revolution, European elites traded their sumptuous garb for utilitarian clothes that underscored their commitment to work over aesthetics. Ornate fashion was for women, not “serious men” focused on living out a life of the mind. The difference between these two eras couldn’t be starker. Just compare how extravagantly King Louis XIV dressed to the sobriety of President Macron.
This split in history, which divides men’s dress like the BC and AD periods of the Gregorian calendar, explains our attitudes towards male jewelry. Jewelry has a strange place in the world of men’s accessories. Scarves, gloves, and wristwatches are acceptable because of their utility; pocket squares and neckties are OK for no other reason than tradition. But once you get beyond a modest wedding band, the idea of a man wearing something ornate, expensive, and metal seems tacky. They offend a certain sensibility we find difficult to pinpoint or even justify, but nonetheless stand by.
After the Second World War, jewelry has come in and out of fashion depending on how we feel about gender and class. In the 1970s, when it was socially acceptable for men to show a more feminine side, hippies and counter-culture types wore bracelets and necklaces; high-flying business elites wore flat links with pinstriped suits in the ‘80s; and surfers have been known to use Saint Christopher medallions as good luck charms. Throughout these periods, many men have worn jewelry well – even magnificently. Like others in the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes occasionally wore a silver onyx ring to show a bit of personality. Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Paul Newman sported chunky, silver ID bracelets with jeans and t-shirts. And Yves Saint Laurent, one of the chicest to ever wear a suit, accessorized with a precious metal bracelet.
There are a ton of great sales right now on everything from tailoring to casualwear. Over at Mr. Porter, prices were slashed earlier this week to 70% off. But as it usually goes with deep discounts, there’s also not that much left unless you wear a size XXS in tops and 15EE in shoes. On the upside, Mr. Porter often restocks their sale section with previous seasons’ items – and the restocks are always unannounced, so it’s worth checking back every once in a while. From what I’ve seen, restocks usually happen at night.
For better availability, here are five sales that I think are worth a look. No Man Walks Alone is great for tailoring; Skoaktiebolaget, LL Bean, and Standard & Strange for footwear; and Superdenim for weekend gear. Some highlights at each store:
No Man Walks Alone: Up to 25% Off Select Items
No Man Walks Alone, a sponsor on this site, has some of my favorite lines when it comes to ready-to-wear tailoring. And some of their inventory is on sale right now at 25% off.
Sartoria Formosa, for example, is especially good for suits and sport coats. The rage nowadays is for slim fit, uber-soft tailoring, but a lot of guys don’t look good in those coats for the same reason they don’t look good in t-shirts. They simply don’t have the figure for them. Sartoria Formosa, a Neapolitan bespoke tailoring house with a small ready-to-wear range, makes soft, but slightly structured coats. The chest is swelled; the shoulder line is a little extended. As a result, you get a v-shaped silhouette that I think is often more flattering. Mitchell Moss can be seen over at his blog wearing a Formosa sport coat made from the custom “summer’s tweed” I ran last year.
UK clothier End always has one of the best seasonal sales. Their prices are about 20% lower than what you’d pay for the same items in the US, thanks to automatic VAT discounts, which means their seasonal promotions are often better than what they seem on face value. Last night, they started their spring/ summer sale, where you can take 25% off with the checkout code VIPSALE, but that’s actually about 40% off comparable US prices once you account for VAT exclusions. If your order is worth less than $800, they’ll arrive duty-free. Shipping is also free on orders over $250.
The selection here is huge. End is one of the few online shops that rival Mr. Porter in terms of inventory, although they lean a bit more into streetwear and workwear. Some items that I think are particularly great:
Outerwear: If you’re one of the few people left on this planet that reads menswear blogs and doesn’t own a Barbour, this sale is a nice opportunity to get something at a much lower price than what you’d pay stateside. I mostly wear the Bedale these days, although the Beaufort is better if you plan on throwing this over a sport coat. See the Barbour Buying Guide I wrote at Put This On for sizing advice. I also love Nigel Cabourn’s Everest parkas, although they’re dearly (dearly) expensive. And while I think Ten C’s fall/ winter fabrics are better than what they use for spring/ summer, I like their military-inspired designs. Just note that the fabrics they use for warmer climes aren’t as stiff or heavy, which means the jackets don’t have that three-dimensional shaping you see in their more iconic offerings.
Most books on men’s tailoring aren’t very good. Many recycle the same Wikipedia entries, or they do little more than serve as PR mouthpieces for a company. Sometimes they have a few good photos, but they’re the sorts of things you look at once and never remember. Rare is a book like Lance Richardson’s House of Nutter, which is one of the best books on Savile Row I’ve read in years.
House of Nutter is about the life and times of Tommy Nutter, a Savile Row salesman who created one of the most important tailoring houses in the post-war era. During the ‘60s, most of Savile Row specialized in staid and conservative suits, often following old traditions. Nutter, who originally worked the front of house at Donaldson, Williamson & Ward, wanted something more daring – something bolder. And he was able to turn that dream into a reality through Edward Sexton, the technical genius behind the curtain. Together, they made a look that defined the 1970s. Their house style was full-bodied and long, with a leafy silhouette, strong shoulders, and lapels so enormous, they nearly grazed the sleeveheads. Edges were sometimes taped; patch pockets cut on a bias. Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Elton John – among many other celebs – wore their bombastic creations, and the tailoring continues to inspire designers today.
Richardson’s book is great because it captures all of the romance of the clothes, as well as the bespoke process, without falling for the naive illusions common among laypeople (or, frankly, most fashion writers). It doesn’t get misty-eyed about bespoke tailoring, but also doesn’t feel cynical or technically sterile. Most of all, Richardson’s book is about the very thing that give clothes life – culture. This is a book about rock ‘n roll, the gay London scene during the 1970s, and even AIDS epidemic (which ultimately took Tommy Nutter’s life). An excerpt from the preface:
Tommy Nutter was obsessed with his public image. He was also gay, coming of age in the oppressive censoriousness of the 1950s. Indeed, his life vividly personified forty years of critical gay history. From underground queer clubs of Soho to the unbridled freedom of New York bathhouses to the terrifying nightmare of AIDS – Tommy was there, both witness and participant. As a gay man myself, it occurred to me that Tommy’s focus on outward appearance might have been a way for him to take control and overcome the more challenging aspects of his lived experience. After all, one way gay men mitigate the perennial pressure to conform to social norms of masculinity is by striving for perfection (in body, in clothes, in career), overcompensating until that which sets us apart – our taste, say – becomes so impressive it assumes its own power.
English fashion designer Hardy Amies had a simple rule for getting dressed: if it looks right, it is right. The only rule for combining colors is to create a visually pleasing outfit, but doing so requires more than transplanting concepts from art theory books. Fashion isn’t like other art forms, to the degree it can be called an art form itself, and you can’t combine colors for an outfit in the way an artist would for a painting. There’s a social and emotional language to clothing. A neatly folded, white linen pocket square says business in a way that other squares don’t.
Most people know the basics when it comes to color combinations. Grey trousers and blue jeans go with almost anything; dress shirts are often best in solid white and light blue. It’s moving beyond the basics that becomes challenging. How do you wear lighter colored sport coats? Which colors besides grey and tan work for trousers? How do you wear brighter, more unusual colors without looking like an Easter egg?
I recently spoke to Greg Lellouche about these questions. Greg, for those unfamiliar, is the founder of No Man Walks Alone (a sponsor on this site, although this isn’t a sponsored post). I’ve always admired Greg’s eye when it comes to color combinations. Before launching his online store, he worked as an investment banker on Wall Street, where he had to wear a suit-and-tie every day. At the same time, he often wears more progressive labels such as Stephen Schneider and Junya Watanabe on weekends. That appreciation for both classic men’s dress and avant garde casualwear, I think, gives him a unique perspective. Greg wears things that are a little off the beaten path, but in ways that I think are easy for others to adopt.
For obvious reasons, this guide mostly sticks to classic men’s style, just because doing so makes it easier to write in generalities. Casualwear is murkier, although we touch on some of it. At the end, we give some suggestions on how to incorporate more interesting colors into a wardrobe. Consider this a guide on how to color outside of the lines.