Basics 101: The Blue Blazer

Prince Harry and NAcho Figueras Navy Blazer Basics 101: The Blue Blazer

The traditional blue blazer is perhaps more than any other garment the backbone of any serious wardrobe. As versatile pieces go, it stands head and shoulders above almost any other item of tailored clothing, and with good reason.

The blue blazer is universally useful and when it comes to meeting your needs in a sartorial pinch, it is chameleon-like. From casual cocktails to formal boardroom, a well-made, well-fitting blazer will get the job done.

Now, when they hear “blue blazer” most men tend to think “yacht captain.” The jacket sparking this dreaded stereotype would be the classic blue blazer featured in any number of Ralph Lauren ads or episode of Gilligan’s Island (see: Howell III, Thurston). Of course, this version is the most traditional in style and execution, and as such is a generally viewed as a dressy garment.

A more accurate historical context of the blue blazer lies in its adoption by the crew of HMS Blazer as a means to smarten up their formal dress. Since then, the ethos of the blue blazer has always held fast to its nautical roots, even as it was adopted by rowing clubs which gave birth to myriad variations of color, pattern, trim, piping, and badges. Even still, to casual observer, the core elements of a the classic blue blazer are obvious.

Rowing Blazers Facebook Image Basics 101: The Blue BlazerMost recently, that offshoot cousin of a garment, the rowing blazer, has been celebrated in an extravagant new coffee table book, “Rowing Blazers.” Written by  champion rower, Jack Carlson, with outstanding photography by our friend F.E. Castleberry, it is a celebration of the jacket itself, and the culture and stylistic influence it has spawned in both the worlds of fashion and sport. Although it occupies such place of influence in today’s menswear, the blue blazers comes in a range of fabrics and styles that can work with almost anyone’s style – from lightweight linens to beefy flannels.

As the king of odd jackets, a blue blazer can fill the gap when you need to dress somewhere between a suit and a sweater, regardless of the season. It is in that vein that we here at OTC generally think of the blue blazer as an informal piece of clothing. While any sport coat or odd jacket is by cultural definition formal when compared to a hoodie, for example, when viewed through the lens of tailored clothing or even office casual, a blue blazer’s versatility means that it can dress up jeans and a worn-out oxford or tee shirt just as easily as it can dress down khakis and a repp tie.

Styles vary as much as material. Some blazers have horn or resin buttons and they can come with single, double, or no vents. Single breasted jackets typically sport notched lapels while double-breasted versions should have only those of the peaked variety.

With its nipped waist and dramatic massing of buttons, a double breasted blazer naturally imparts formality. On the other hand, a single breasted sack jacket with no darting and patch pockets can project a more casual “drinks at the club,” New England look.

Classic Navy Blazer Look Basics 101: The Blue Blazer

When it comes to shoulders, the variations are typically grounded in cultural patterns. American blazers often have a soft natural shoulder, while English tailors tend to prefer them padded and more structured. This is particularly true with double breasted jackets; the shoulders of which can increase (padded) or diminish (natural) its sense of formality and command. Historically, American makers such as Brooks Brothers are arbiters of the natural shoulder.

When shopping for a blue blazer, approach it as a major investment. This should be a jacket that can carry you for years to come and something that you are happy to reach for in the morning. A well-constructed blazer made from good fabric will be as comfortable as your favorite sweatshirt and its classic styling will conquer the vagaries of many fashion cycles. That said, you do not necessarily have to break the bank when it comes to finding one that’s right for you – unless you want to.

Mass market brands like J. Crew have spent years perfecting their version of the blue blazer and in the process have converted it into a $425 hipster cool must-have wardrobe asset. At the other end of the pricing and delivery time spectrum, bespoke clothier Jon Green can make you a perfectly fitted, hand-cut blue blazer for a few thousand dollars. You will never want to take it off, ever.

In the end, the blue blazer works because of its inherent versatility and balance between formal and comfortable. It’s one of those rare garments that both stands the test of time and evolves to meet the needs of each generation.

Below are some additional examples of how you can take the blue blazer from street, to office, to drinks, to country club:

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Ralph Lauren Preppy1 Basics 101: The Blue Blazer

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Modern Take on Blue Blazer Basics 101: The Blue Blazer

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Belt One Out With ntandy

ntandy Belt Orange Belt One Out With ntandy

Too often belts are a serious business that must meet the daily requirements of understatement, sobriety, or at least a degree of conformity. The good thing is that when you sit back and take a look, there are many occasions when you can loosen up your wardrobe choices, put away the earth tones, and have some sartorial fun.

ntandy makes great belts for those times. Especially in the warmth of summer, these colorful and simply designed belts add some unmistakable personality while still holding up your pants. The great thing about them, at least from an OTC perspective, is that they happily straddle the line between outright fun and preppy functionality.

While they clearly reference a purposeful and utilitarian past, they also are just plain cool belts that speak to founder Napper Tandy’s laid back California lifestyle. It’s like Ivy League guy meets surfer dude, and they totally get along.

ntnady Logo Belt One Out With ntandyThe belts come in five colors and are all made from old-school nylon board short material wrapped around 1000 pound test nylon climbing webbing. The simple contrast stitching adds just the right amount of vintage charm.

As Napper describes his belts, “I like to think they’re aesthetically part Birdwell Beach Britches, part 70′s Patagonia with a little nip off the flask of the old prep school ribbon belt”

Worn traditionally, the belt’s loose end hides ntandy’s cool minimalist label. However, Napper’s got you covered; click here to learn the “triple fold” and let your inner preppy beach bum shine.

Seriously, we test out all sorts of stuff here at OTC and without question, this simple, fun, functional, and plain old cool belt is a hands-down favorite.

ntandy Belts Belt One Out With ntandy

2014 07 19 16.32.32 Belt One Out With ntandy

 

Paul Stuart Opening in DC, Spring 2015

PS dc store rendering Paul Stuart Opening in DC, Spring 2015
Paul Stuart, the venerable Manhattan-based luxury apparel retailer, announced that it will be opening a new store in Washington, D.C.

Scheduled for early Spring 2015, the new store is set to occupy a prominent location in the heart of the District at the new CityCenterDC project, a 2.5 million square foot neighborhood development enlivened with a vibrant mix of condominiums, apartments, offices, public spaces, hotels, restaurants and shops. The new store will join the Madison Avenue flagship and two outposts in Chicago as the fourth destination for the company within the U.S. market.

CapitolNightjackmcguire Paul Stuart Opening in DC, Spring 2015The fact that such a storied menswear brand is setting up shop in DC – and a good sized shop at that – speaks to the ongoing emergence of the nation’s capital as a strong menswear and luxury goods market that appreciates quality, craftsmanship, and history.

The nearly 10,000 square foot store is being designed by Charles Sparks + Company, which created both Paul Stuart locations in Chicago. The firm boasts a client list that includes Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, the MOMA Design Store and The Art Institute of Chicago.

The new space will be executed in a clean, contemporary vernacular with an abundance of open space, glass, bronze, marble and zebrano wood.

Paul Stuart has long considered Washington, D.C. a logical location for expansion. According to President and CEO, Michael Ostrove, “D.C. makes perfect sense for us; it is a city that values style, refinement, and sophistication over the constantly shifting vagaries of fashion. We believe that our unique and definitive approach to Anglo-American menswear—and the fact that we value quality and substance in every aspect of our business—will be particularly well received in the District.”

new york style paul stuart custom 1 Paul Stuart Opening in DC, Spring 2015The primary focus of Paul Stuart’s product mix in the new store will encompass the company’s long-standing affinity for classic British-inspired fabrics and silhouettes—but viewed through a decidedly Paul Stuart prism.

Located just east of the White House (on the 10-acre footprint of Washington, D.C.’s former convention center), and close to the region’s best cultural destinations, two of the city’s busiest Metro stations and the new Convention Center, the location stands to become the undisputed centerpiece of Downtown D.C.

In addition to Paul Stuart, the center will be home to a virtual ‘who’s who’ of leading luxury brands.

For additional information please visit paulstuart.com/dc.

 

psdc header1a Paul Stuart Opening in DC, Spring 2015

 

 

First Take on Summer Style

OTC Spring 2014 2 First Take on Summer Style

What often works best for men’s warm weather fashion is simplicity and classic style.  Basics can make almost any guy look and feel that much more polished, put together, and comfortable. Think of it as updated Ivy League or modern preppy without all the gimmicky noise.

Summer style – even though it’s technically Spring, it sure has felt like July recently – does not have to mean old shorts, a tee shirt, and worn out sneakers.  While all those things all have their place, looking nice when it is hot is actually pretty simple.

Here we have an easy, go-to look that is both straight-forward and sharp, in a casual and comfortable way.  While polished, this outfit is neither too dressy nor overly casual.  Instead, it strikes a nice balance between formal and informal.  It’s the kind of look that works very well when meeting friends for drinks, heading out to a nice brunch or dinner, or just Friday at the office.

To add some easy polish to this look, just toss on a blue blazer or lightweight sweater and swap out the driving loafers for cordovan slip-ins.

The components of this functionally classic ensemble are basics that every guy’s wardrobe should contain.

The checked button down shirt is from Richmond, VA, maker, Ledbury.  It is actually a super lightweight linen/cotton blend that is fantastic in warm weather.  The shirt shown here is a short run from 2013 and may not currently be available.  We are big fans of Ledbury and their decidedly American take on British shirtmaking.  The construction is excellent and their fabric selections are always impressive.  Regardless of where you get yours, a few blue, purple, and red checked button downs are invaluable to your wardrobe.

OTC Spring 2014 3 300x225 First Take on Summer StyleSeveral pair of well-fitting and properly hemmed khakis should also be a core staple of any guy’s closet.  These slim fit Daltons from Jack Donnelly are a great option.  This small brand has created an updated version of the classic tailored khaki.  That does not mean “dress pant,” although they do iron up quite nicely.  They are light, comfortable, nicely finished, and can handle almost any scenario short of needing a suit.  These pants have the construction and detail of dressier trousers, but the fit and feel of classic wear-whenever khakis.  And, they are sourced and handmade in America.

A great pair of driving loafers can serve you well all day long.  While Tod’s iconic Gomminos may have created the driving moccasin/loafer category, we also love these Austen Heller Kingston loafers.  OTC has written about this brand before and their new collection only reinforces our appreciation of their comfortable, fun, and easy to wear footwear.  Opt for classic brown if you want to keep it low key, or try out some of the more adventurous color combinations.

Warm weather dressing is also the time to have some fun with your accessories.  Belts from Tucker Blair are a great way to impart some personality and Ivy League needlepoint into you look.  Other than that, strive to pare down and use more color as the day only get warmer from here.

Ledbury Purple Parker BD First Take on Summer Style

Tucker Blair Nantucket Needlepoint Belt First Take on Summer Style

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Austen Heller Kingstons First Take on Summer Style

 

The Full Circle of Preppy

Actor Theo James on Nantucket GQ 684x1024 The Full Circle of Preppy

As with much of life, the modern aesthetic we refer to as “preppy” bears only a thin resemblance to the historical roots upon which it rests.  Often, the substance of a philosophy or belief is obscured over time as the surface decoration which was initially its outgrowth comes to define the entire idea.  The same can be said of preppy fashion.

It’s not too dramatic to state that the preppy fashion meme of today is but a shallow construct masquerading as some sort of cultural touch point.  The problem of course, is that preppy fashion has almost nothing to do with the culture it references, certainly not when it comes to actual, you know, culture.  However, as we move into the Spring of 2014, it would appear that designers are finally beginning to see the limits of the hyper-preppy overkill that has saturated the menswear space for several years.

The eye-burning excess of colors, patterns, crests, layers, skulls-emblazoned-on-everything, big plaid with little plaid with repp stripes, and velvet slippers to the office, finally seems to have exhausted even the most ardent of trend spotters.

So now, at long last, we can move onto the next phase in the ongoing preppy style circle of life.  As evidenced above in this relatively realistic GQ-styled take on preppy, a shift toward real life appears to be in motion.  Actor Theo James’ outfit, shot appropriately on Nantucket island, is thoroughly believable and wearable. Thank goodness.

The Influence of Real Life

Actual preppy style (that is, the preppy style of dress) evolved from life in New England preparatory schools, which by and large expressed conservative protestant values and social stratification.  Collectively, these influences created an environment which produced the uniform we know now as the preppy look.

Today, when someone is called (or calls themselves) “preppy,” it usually means that he dresses in a neo-traditional fashion, typically predicated on conveying a classically sporty lifestyle (crew, rugby, sailing, 1950s football, etc.).  Often, but not always, it is simply costume; no sense of history or understanding of the preppy culture.  That’s too bad, because actually, it’s a pretty interesting history.

Take Ivy Picture The Full Circle of PreppyMore so than other styles, preppy – East Coast, Ivy League, WASPy, call it what you will – has a real history behind it that clearly informs the fashion.

Perhaps that is why the style and implied lifestyle behind it, endures generation after generation.  While you can look polished and successful in a nice suit and carrying an expensive bag, you can convey many more social, cultural and status cues looking as though you just hopped off your Hinkley yacht after spending a week at the Cape house.

While for the most part it started at New England prep schools and ivy walled colleges, the roots of preppy style can also be traced to a focus on social achievement, uniformity of style, propriety, proper decorum and class distinction. Conformity of dress at school resulted in the basic uniform of coat, tie, button down shirt, grey flannels or chinos and loafers or lace ups. Codes, traditions and sports also helped to nurture a bond and familiarity among budding preps and instilled in them a feeling of belonging.

A culture of thrift and purpose also pervaded the Ivy League world.  Clothing was worn until it frayed, upon which it was patched and sewn.  Garments were handed down and cherished, signs of age and wear denoted a certain authenticity and personality that only time conveys.  Preppy style looks so good because it looks so worn and beat-up, lived in, and loved over time.  This focus on These

This environment helped create a culture of exclusivity that had real influence.  To say you prepped at Phillips Exeter (a feeder school for Harvard) or Hotchkiss (a feeder school for Yale) could win you access to the right social circle or get you into really great parties.  And once in the working world, to say you were a Yale man could mean getting the right job, joining the right club or vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard.

From Exclusive to Popular Culture

As preps sought to instill that sense of tradition and lifestyle in their own children, they looked, of course, to their own preppy past. To the oak paneled lecture halls of Exeter, the squash courts of Deerfield and the rowdy but stylish nights at Choate Rosemary Hall. So, their offspring were trucked off to the old alma mater and the cycle began again.

Kennedy Short Khakis The Full Circle of PreppyWithout question, it was an exclusive, self-impressed, and privileged world that gave birth to preppy style and the culture that underpinned it.  But, as with so many other attempts to create a homogenous bubble of exclusivity, the prep school aesthetic eventually moved beyond its original sphere of influence.

People want what they do not have or what seems more attractive than what they do. So, when the Preppy Handbook hit the shelves in 1980, its editor Lisa Birchach (herself a Brown grad) overnight became the arbiter of all things pink and green. People didn’t care that it was intended to be both a send-up of the “true” prep culture as well as a tongue and cheek education for those looking to emulate the life. They saw a way of living that was far more exciting, cultured, sporty and stylish than their own – and they wanted it.

For the first time, preppy culture had been distilled into a portable and easy to understand resource.  It was, and remains, the de facto guidebook to being preppy.  And, while she issued a follow-up, “True Prep” in 2010, the original remains unquestionably dominant in influence.

The privileged and windswept lifestyle that had taken generations of Blue Bloods to develop and refine was now a commodity to be bought and imitated. In that moment, the life of prep was effectively democratized. That is because once the Preppy Handbook came out, kids across the world latched onto the single most attractive and achievable aspect of the actual preppy’s life: its look – the rumpled and ironic blending of dress and casual clothes.

Ralph Lauren Preppy The Full Circle of PreppyIn the intervening years, preppy style has been interpreted, parsed, watered down and ginned up to such a degree that for many it has been commoditized beyond recognition.

In response, sites like Christian Chensvold’s Ivy Style launched as a sort of counterbalance, reminding people that this preppy fashion thing actually had a rich and important story behind it.  Yes, anyone can dress preppy, but “being” preppy is actually something altogether different.

When we first broached this subject years ago, one OTC reader pointed out that what some only know of as iconic Ralph Lauren branding, the mixing of dress and functional clothing, did not actually start out as a fashion movement.  His comment was in itself an expression of true preppy-ness:

“You don’t wear foul weather gear over your blazer because you’re a blue-blooded American demonstrating your accessibility without appearing tacky; you do it because you’re a wise-mouthed elitist who smugly tells your Latin professor, technically speaking, you haven’t broken any rules so there’s nothing he can do about it. And of course it’s sailing gear, because your father does own a yacht…”

The original audience for this rebellious “foul weather gear over the blazer” look was other preppies and their families. Yet, as this type of hybrid style came into its own, it seeped out into regular society. Eventually spreading to Madison Avenue, it was popularized by style influencers like the aforementioned Ralph Lauren.  Over time, the prep boom of the 1980s waned due to its extreme and vibrant interpretation of the preppy culture – the same issue facing the trend today.  At its apogee there was an almost cartoonish quality to the movement.  Sound familiar?

Finding Preppy’s Roots

What we see moving into the American preppy space now is an interest in a more reality-based look; muted colors and less overt branding and styling, singular pops of color rather than a cacophony that overwhelms.  Less “look at me, I’m preppy!” and more “oh, this old thing was my dad’s when he was in school.”

Hopefully, all this will translate into a more careworn, comfortable and vintage preppy personality; approachable and less precious than in the last few years.  Many of the style’s adherents are now looking for a little substance behind the flash, the story behind the fashion, and a more accurate read on the overall Ivy League look.

How wonderful would it be for the renewed focus on menswear quality, detail, provenance, and longevity to extend to the history and culture behind that most American of fashions?  Let’s make understanding the roots of American preppy as stylish as dressing in American preppy.