Dress shirt fabrics are pretty straightforward. Most are plain weaves, twills, and oxfords. Some are end-on-ends. In solid colors and stripes – and in whites and light blues – you can have a wardrobe of just these fabrics and essentially have the tailored-side of your shirt wardrobe covered.
If you want to dress down a sport coat or casual suit, however, it’s useful to have some things in slightly more unusual materials. Maybe some linens or brushed cottons, or some things with bolder patterns. There’s also denim, which isn’t a fabric you typically think of when it comes to dress shirts, but it can look great underneath the right jacket.
I fell in love with the idea last year, when I saw this Hodinkee episode with John Goldberger. He’s seen wearing a hard-finished, checked tweed; a pair of tan, five-pocket corduroy pants; and a light-blue, washed denim shirt. The shirt and corduroys are a great way to dress down the tweed jacket, but also complement its rustic sensibility.
Proper Cloth’s Custom Denim Shirts
I’ve been looking for a denim shirt ever since, so I was pretty excited to hear that Proper Cloth is putting together a custom denim shirt run. Ready-to-wear denim shirts are often too casual or don’t fit well, while custom ones look too much like office-wear. In order to get a denim shirt to look right, you have to put it through a special enzyme wash. That helps age the fabric in a way that gives it a more relaxed and casual appearance.
Most custom shirtmakers aren’t able to offer special washes because they don’t have the necessary quantities to justify them. Proper Cloth, however, is organizing a large, but limited, run in order to get access to such washing machines. Two hundred spots will be available for sale on March 12th, with early access on March 11th for people who pre-register.
The fabric they’ll be using a medium-heavy, two-ply, denim from Albiate (a high-end Italian mill that’s part of the Albini Group). The weight is light enough to be worn under a sport coat, but also heavy enough for casual wear. The denim starts off raw, but will then be put through one of two washes. One results in a darker color; the other lighter. Stylistic details, such as collar and cuff style, are of course fully customizable.
At $150 a pop, these aren’t cheap, but if this same fabric was used for a ready-to-wear shirt, the price would be about the same. Online made-to-measure orders sometimes take a few trial runs to hone-in on the fit, so if you’re iffy about self-measurements, you can also send them your best fitting shirt to copy. I’ve already ordered my spot for $150 and am planning to do just that.
Disclosure: Proper Cloth is a sponsor of Put This On. However, this post is not paid promotion. Our editorial policies can be read here.
If you want to dress down a tailored jacket, there are few better ways to do it than wearing a casual dress shirt. Things in slightly more textured or patterned materials will be less formal looking than your traditional, solid white and light blue broadcloths, and make you look less like you’ve just come from the office. In his books Dressing the Man and Clothes & the Man, Alan Flusser has some suggestions that I think are particularly good. A few of them are pictured above. All are unique enough to be casual, but also still unassailably in good taste.
Some other pointers for picking good, casual dress shirts:
Stripes work year-round, but checks can sometimes be seasonal.Gingham and madras, for example, work better in the warmer months, while tattersalls, graph checks, and tartans look better with the tweeds and corduroys we wear in the cooler seasons.
Although light blue is a staple for many men, don’t be afraid of colors such as burgundy and dark green. Just get them in patterns, instead of solid colors.
Forgo the tie, especially if your shirt is particularly casual (e.g. busy patterns or non-traditional fabrics).
Remember: the bolder the pattern, the more casual the shirt.
Consider less-formal materials. Brushed cotton flannels, chambray, and wool-cotton blends have a visual heft that goes well with tweed jackets. Linen and madras, on the other hand, are good with summer jacketings.
Small collars can give you a very modern look, but they’re more likely to collapse underneath your sport coat when you’re not wearing a tie. If you want your collar to stand up, you have two options. The first is to go with a button down collar, which will stand up once you fasten the collar points. The second is to get a semi-spread collar with a tall enough collar band, long enough points, and stiff enough interlining. Be careful to not get something too big or stiff, however. Things can quickly look cheesy. I think our advertiser Ledbury has a particularly nice collar for wearing casually with sport coats.
You’ll rarely go wrong with a solid white or light blue shirt, but if you’re trying to dress down a sport coat, consider more casual options. Again, any of the patterns in Alan Flusser’s guides above would be a great place to start, so long as you pay attention to the details.
Winter isn’t just a good time for layering – it’s also the best season for textures. In the spring and summer months, the most textured thing you can wear is maybe a slubby linen jacket or raw silk tie. Once the temperatures drop though, a whole world of prickly tweeds, fuzzy flannels, and brushed cottons opens up. Relying on textures can be a nice way to make a subtle statement if you’re not crazy about wearing brash colors and bold details.
Lately, I’ve been wearing the combination above for an easy go-to casual outfit:
Waxed Cotton Jackets: Keeps the rain off your back and looks better with wear. Just be sure to store these in garment bags, as the wax can transfer to other clothes in your closet. For options, see Barbour, Beretta, Hoggs of Fife, LL Bean, and our advertiser Private White VC.
Oxford-Cloth Button-Down: A more natural pairing with prickly Shetland sweaters and cabled Arans than your average, smoothly-woven poplin. Like Pete, I’m a fan of Brooks Brothers, J. Press, and Kamakura. Also excellent: Michael Spencer (same Brooks Brothers cut, but made with a nicer, unlined collar and produced in the USA); O’Connell’s (traditional cut, excellent collar), Mercer (amazing collar, but body fits full); Ledbury (for a slightly lowered second button); Proper Cloth (good for made-to-measure); and Land’s End (best in value, especially when on sale).
Suede Boots: Pebble-grained leathers would also work here, although I favor the softer look of suede. Just spray your suede boots with a waterproofer in the wintertime to protect them from the elements. For relatively affordable options, see Meermin, Loake, and Rancourt. For something a bit higher-end, there’s Heschung, Carmina, Alden, and Vass. You can also custom-order almost any design you want through Enzo Bonafe. They’re a small, Italian workshop for custom, handwelted shoes.
Textured Pants: With a texture-heavy ensemble like the above, you may want to opt for a heavier pair of pants – something with a bit more visual heft to hold its own against your sweater and jacket. Denim, moleskins, and corduroys will be a bit better than your standard pair of office chinos. See 3sixteen, Levis Vintage Clothing, Stevenson, and our advertiser Gustin for jeans; then Howard Yount, Epaulet, Dapper Classics, and Rota for anything dressier.
A modern take on the conservative classics of Wall Street from the guys over at Proper Cloth. This ready to wear collection looks fantastic, and it is a nice addition to the made to measure options regularly offered at Proper Cloth.
David asks: I really want to wear a seersucker suit this spring, but I’m not sure how to pull it off. Any suggestions for how to make it look good?
Seersucker suits are an American classic, but you rarely see them around anymore. That’s partly because fewer and fewer men wear tailored clothes outside of work, so navy and dark grey suits remain, while casual suits are less common. It’s also because seersucker was originally established in the pre-air-conditioning era, when having something lightweight, cool-wearing, and easy-to-wash was as much about practicality as it was about style.
These days, men are more likely to wear shorts and t-shirts when it’s hot, but you can still turn to seersucker for a sharper, more tailored look. Here are some suggestions, in descending order of preppy-ness:
Go Unabashedly Prep: Believe it or not, seersucker suits were originally considered a poor-man’s alternative to linen. Sometime after the First World War, college men started to wear them, which is how they eventually became part of the preppy canon. If you go to things like garden parties, consider following Trent Lott’s style advice: pair a seersucker suit with pastel ties, white bucks, and cucumber sandwiches.
Go Bashfully Prep: A seersucker suit will always look preppy, but you can take some of the edge off by swapping pastel ties out for something darker, and trading white bucks for something less bright. Try a navy tie with dirty bucks or tan calf bluchers. Or tone the suit down further with a long-sleeved polo and casual loafers.
Try Navy: If you can find one, a navy seersucker suit can be a nice alternative to the traditional blue and white. Here’s an exceptional double-breasted example on Savile Row tailor Michael Browne.
Break It Up: For an even more casual look, break the suit up into separates. You can wear a seersucker jacket with linen, cotton, or gabardine trousers in cream or tan (I like The Armoury’s Ring Jacket model for these purposes, since the jacket has patch pockets). Seersucker trousers can also be worn with a navy sport coat, as Voxsartoria has done here.
For the Truly Timid: If all the above still scares you, try a seersucker tie. O’Connell’s has some traditional four-in-hands, J. Press has some bow ties, and A Suitable Wardrobe has seersucker striped ties without the crinkles. The last should be wearable even for the shyest of men.
A few thoughts of how to combine different ties and pocket squares - while keeping the rotation relatively small - as well as short review of Berg&Berg spring and summer ´15 selection coming up tomorrow.
Here - as a preview a few shots from couple of weeks back.
Conservative commentator Ben Stein once lamented the death of neckties on a CBS Sunday Morning segment eight years ago. This was after the Wall Street Journal reported that only 6% of men wear neckties to work, and claimed that traditional neckwear was being run down by history. Stein’s retort: neckties show you have a bit of class, a sense of organization, and some dignity about yourself. “Plus, the necktie helps cover over a bit of one’s paunchy stomach,” he said.
Hard to argue with that, although sometimes it’s just easier to forgo neckwear. An open collar is the easiest way to dress down a tailored jacket, and on a really hot day, the extra breathability can be more comfortable as well. Our friend George, who recently opened an Italian menswear shop in Beijing, pulls off these sorts of looks well. Some takeaways:
Go for a Knit: Dress shirts sometimes feel a bit empty without neckwear, so consider knits instead. Polos work well for summer; turtlenecks for winter. If you go for a polo, choose something with long sleeves, so a bit of shirt cuff shows (Kent Wang’s are a great affordable buy, although if you have a bit more coin to spend, there’s also Proper Cloth and Ascot Chang).
Grab Casual Shirts: For wear with sport coats, grab a casual shirt. Something made from a chambray, dressy denim, or a brushed flannel should be too casual to wear with a necktie anyway. If you do choose a dressier cotton, try to pick something with a bolder check or stripe. The strong pattern will help take up that negative space on your chest.
Suits Without Ties?: Yes, it’s do-able. Just grab a dressier white shirt (Tom Ford does this look all the time). Probably not right for conservative business environments, but might be good for grabbing drinks afterwork with close friends.
Pick the Right Collar: Above all, make sure your collar can stand on its own without a tie. I find semi-spread collars with medium-soft interlinings are best. For an easy solution, get a button-down collar with a good roll. Those will always stand on their own.
Pay Attention to the Neckline:Seinfeld was right, shirts look better when they have a slightly lowered second button (it just makes for a better looking neckline). Ledbury puts this detail as standard on all their designs.
Pocket Square: Going tie-less almost always requires a pocket square. Just make sure to choose something that’s not too loud – and tamp it down so it’s not exploding three feet in the air. Without a necktie to balance it, a poorly chosen square can sometimes stand out too much.