Sebastian Ward: It’s The Shirt

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There are a lot of shirt brands out there these days. And for the most part, that’s a good thing. Depending on your needs and budget, you can get bespoke, made-to-measure, or off the rack. Dress shirts now come in all manner of pattern, color, style, and fit. Indeed, you can pretty much customize and tweak just about every feature to make it just right for just you.

Not all shirts are made equal, however, and there are times when we just want a great shirt that doesn’t require too much thought.

Features like excellent construction, a good fit, and a design that blends classic shirting qualities with a fresh outlooks are hallmarks of a great “go-to” shirt. It’s the shirt that you want to wear, fits right, and somehow makes you feel especially put together. Often, the best ones are from a brand that does just shirts, is obsessed with shirts, and understands how a great shirt is the foundation of a great wardrobe.

We found that shirt, and its made by Sebastian Ward. Need some context? Think Gianni Agnelli meets Jay Gatsby.

Sebastian Ward makes a thoroughly modern shirt based on design philosophies of the 1920s sprinkled with some Victorian panache. Elements like high arm holes and a fuller cut body with back darting allow the shirt to naturally conform to your body. The longer hem and arms, ending in snug barrel cuffs, guarantee that your shirt stays tucked in place, even when moving around and stretching. While not particularly avante garde, you simply do not see this kind of detail, design, and quality in any other OTR shirt.

If Sebastian Ward shirts have a stand-out feature that makes them easily, and quickly, recognizable, it would be the collar. With a broad cut-away design that sits proud on your neckline, the collar’s elegant proportions are surely distinctive. Long points ensure that with or without a tie, everything stays stylishly in place below a jacket’s lapel while at the same time allowing for a beautiful collar roll. The unique, off-set two button collar – while visually interesting – also adjusts slightly the placket seam, shifting it off the center of your neck, allowing a tie to sit more comfortably.

And the fabric, sourced from Thomas Mason, is just amazing; silky smooth yet substantial. Thick Australian mother of pearl button and single needle tailoring round out the many features which put this shirt at the top of the stack.

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Ledbury Pops into Georgetown

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Richmond, Virginia, based shirt-maker extraordinaire, Ledbury, is back in the national capitol for the 2014 holiday season.

The brand, best known for its e-commerce approach to Jermyn Street quality shirting, opened up a seasonal pop-up shop at 1254 Wisconsin Avenue. Situated in the historic retail heart of DC’s menswear shops, it will run from November 15, 2014 through January 25, 2015. The shop also boasts a sharp new design concept that’s a minimalist take on its annual Ledbury Quail Hunt. It’s the living room-cum-wardrobe you’ve always wanted.

Another exciting feature is that they are debuting the limited run Georgetown Collection. Ledbury designed four limited-edition shirt styles that will be sold exclusively in the pop-up shop – along with the rest of the Ledbury range – and are inspired by the notion of a winter weekend in the District. The collection features flannels and brushed twills.

Although we, very regretfully, had to miss the big opening shindig last week, the Ledbury crew sent along the first shirt available from the Georgetown Collection (pictured above). It’s an incredibly soft flannel, with an awesome blue, white and pink plaid. This slim-fit shirt is casually sharp and sports a natty short point collar.

Do yourself a favor and make time to visit America’s Capitol city this holiday season, and don’t forget swing by Georgetown and pick up a limited edition shirt from an equally capital brand.

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The Polo Shirt: An American Classic

Lumina Navy Polo_1For generations now, the polo shirt has been a cornerstone of any classic, Ivy League-inspired wardrobe. While most people who hear “polo shirt,” tend to think “Polo ™” shirt, the first branded version was actually developed in 1929 for tennis legend Rene’ “Le Crocodile” Lacoste.

Lacoste wanted a comfortable shirt to replace the traditional, but impractical, dress shirt and tie worn by tennis players at the time. In doing so, he unwittingly gave rise to one of the most versatile garments ever conceived. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

With its unique ability to straddle the elusive line between casual and formal, the classic polo can carry you from the office to the country club with little difficulty. Of course, while it’s not always right for every occasion, when paired with a sharp outfit the polo shirt pretty much has you covered for anything short of a black tie dinner. Jeans, grey flannels, Nantucket Reds, and shorts all play well with polos. It’s more dressy than tee shirt, yet less formal than an oxford button down – itself another shirt that has universal serviceability.

JFK Polo and KhakisThe genuinely timeless combination of a well loved polo shirt and khakis is about the most classic look you can opt for and usually works just fine for most situations in which you need to be presentable. In fact, it’s so versatile an outfit that it works equally well with worn-in, beat-up favorites or pressed and crisp, off-to-cocktails-on-the-lawn togs.

Pass on overly logoed or pre-aged polos and instead opt for classic solids or simple stripes. While the hyper-preppy look might work for image fixated teens, simple and timeless is what makes the polo shirt so universally useful and why it continues to be such a wardrobe staple of East Coast adherents.

We are particularly partial to Lumina Clothing’s Carolina Garment Dyed Polo in navy (shown at top). It’s a nice blend of classic styling and an easy, everyday modern design. The fit is trim but comfortable while the shirt’s rougher finishing is casually informal. With hemmed sleeves, a longer three-button placket, and finished collar, this polo’s look is less tennis court and more JFK sailing off Hyannis.

When going “nice” casual, keep the overall feel less stuffy by choosing clean boat shoes or penny loafers and a woven leather or ribbon belt. For a more business look, try a dressy belt with a silver monogrammed buckle, blue blazer, and high-grade slip-ins from Alden. A black polo paired with a grey or pinstriped suit is actually very sharp, in a George Clooney sort of way. If you are going to give that look a try, make sure to opt for a fine-gauge shirt in a silky finish, like KP MacLane’s Signature Men’s Polo.

One of the best things about the polo shirt is its versatility. It comes in a variety of styles and almost any color under the sun, from basic white to jet black, solids or preppy stripes.

Polo shirts also happen to age very well. So, that beat up old polo at the bottom of the shirt drawer – the one with the seriously frayed collar and torn hem – will look just great at a clam bake with some faded khaki shorts and a cold beer.

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Halibut Shirts: Italian for “Fun”

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Halibut is an Italian shirting brand that combines a genuine love of design and craftsmanship with an equally disarming sense of fun and whimsy.  Their name is a bit quirky and the logo seems destined for sandy beaches somewhere, but don’t let that party schtick fool you; Halibut makes very good shirts and the company takes its business seriously.

Founded by five friends, the company is based in Padua, not too far from Venice. All their shirts are designed in-house, crafted in Italy, and sold through the brand’s e-commerce site. With varied international backgrounds, the team focuses on fabric development, design tweaks, and a particular attention to detail that sets Halibut shirts apart form others in “dressy casual” space. The shirts’ designs are grounded in traditional American and European sensibilities, but possess a fresh and innovative streak that is evident right away.

Halibut LogoCase in point is our FIFA World Cup 2014 tribute oxford.  First off, let’s take a moment to appreciate the fact an oxford shirt was created to pay homage to the world’s most important football (or soccer, depending on your preference) match. Hats, balls, shoes, and tees? Of course. An American style preppy dress shirt? Now, that’s something interesting. Rendered in a dense, smooth cotton, the unique hand – gently worn-in and instantly comfortable – is a hallmark of Halibut’s fabric-centric touch.

The clever pattern of embroidered national logos is at once cute and casually stylish. We see this as an international version of Brooks Brother’s iconic preppy fun shirt. Since the shirt itself is decoration enough, it’s best worn open collared. And the collar itself, a form of hybrid club, compliments the casual form of the shirt; unstructured yet substantial and its smaller size nicely balances the garment’s informal, slim cut. The fit is indeed very fitted. Described as a slim cut, the body is quite lean but the sleeves are well proportioned and comfortable.

The third button down is an enameled riff on the company’s swirl logo and again points to a certain deliberate irreverence. However, the shirt itself is no joke. With a growing selection of styles, from solids to checks to washes, Halibut’s clear focus on material, design, quality, and construction make for fun, casual shirts that are also all business. Even if that business is just kicking the ball around in your yard with a nice cold drink in your hand.

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OTC Visits Ledbury

Ledbury, the Richmond, Virginia, clothing brand best known for its exceptionally well-crafted shirts, is in expansion mode.  Founders Paul Trible and Paul Watson, who met while in graduate school at Oxford – and apprenticing with one of London’s well-known tailors.  They were committed to creating  an American tailored clothing brand with Saville Row quality, geared toward modern, discerning customers.  Located in a renovated tobacco warehouse built in 1866, Ledbury’s home base appropriately atmospheric and refined; it’s grounded in the past but re-imagined for today’s world.

Ledbury’s shirts are great-fitting, high-quality and can be worn in almost any setting and, as they like to say, “by any generation.”  The company’s collections are influenced by the studied tailoring of English tradition as well as the relaxed atmosphere of the founders’ Southeast U.S. roots.

Fabrics are sourced from Italian mills and all of their shirts are made in one small factory that has refined its craftsmanship through generations.  This focus on quality, comfort, and relaxed yet refined style shows through in the product.  There are a few features that make Ledbury shirts unique.  The fabrics are substantial but not heavy and possess a distinct drape and hand.  Details like thick mother-of-pearl buttons and specially sewn collars that hold their shape tie or not, all combine to create a great design. The shirt’s second button is dropped just enough to create a flattering “V” when worn without a tie.

While we prefer the slim cut shirt – which is slim, not skinny – even the brand’s classic fit has an overall trimness that creates a flattering look for most men.

Ledbury also offers a range of tailored blazers, sweaters, and accessories that compliment their signature shirting.  For example, the crew neck sweaters have necks designed to be worn over a collared shirt and allow for a more comfortable and attractive fit.  The distinctive Free Union Belt is another Ledbury item that has received a fair amount of attention. It’s clever quick release lever, combined with a refined rustic aesthetic makes for a unique and locally hand made heirloom.

OTC stopped by their Richmond headquarters over the summer to check out the new retail space as well as their operations and design center.  Some of the items in these photos will be past season – like the swim trunks – but whatever Ledbury puts out, rest assured that it is bound to carry their signature American classic/elegant/casual style.

This is a smart company that is managing its growth and capital wisely; it’s got two businessmen at the helm after all.  So, when you combine smarts with a passion for a new sense of what American sportswear (in the traditional sense) means, the result is a brand that has some real potential.  And the Pauls are managing that potential in a way that slowly builds a brand focused on reputation and product – not hype or trends.

We see Ledbury as a transitional company that is part of a movement that is redefining American style for a global audience.  And that doesn’t just mean customers in other countries, although we are not surprised that the Japanese love Ledbury.  Americans who look to brands like Ledbury for design and quality also like them because they take what is best about American heritage and blend it with things like English construction and detail and Italian fabrics and fit.  They play with the basics to evolve clothing and design in a way that meets consumer desire and also retains classic elements.

The Ledburys of today’s menswear resurgence make what makes American style, better.