Part II: Clothing Advice
I lean towards a youthful version of trad (hence the blog title). It’s basically a more conservative version of prep that looks to the past for modern day dress. It’s not even a flashy style in the eyes of fashion; it’s just what men have worn for decades. Many people would see this as boring but it’s certainly better than looking like a preteen shopping at American Eagle. But that’s also an uneducated view towards trad. You can easily spruce things up with correct fitting and use of color, fabric, and accessories to transform a “boring” style into something flattering and presentable.
The mindset for trad is that clothing you would normally consider dressy is actually casual and wearable on a daily basis. For example, you may have to re-train your brain from thinking a tucked in button down shirt is strictly reserved for formal occasions (…the answer is no btw). Trad relies on American minimalism and it follows these schools of thought: Practicality and Utilitarianism > Fashion. Quality items that will literally last you a lifetime. Paying tribute to the past. When men wore suits on a daily basis and actually cared how they looked.
College Trad Clothing Rules
1) Investing in one item of high quality from a reputable brand is better than three items of lesser quality from a cheap brand. Keep it for decades.
2) Buy clothes that complement your build. For example, if you have an athletic body, show it off (tastefully) with clean and form fitting lines. If you’re a bit more stockier, stay away from vertical patterns and 3 button suits and invest in darker colors to appear slimmer. Many brands such as Brooks Brothers and Bill’s Khakis offer various fits.
3) Generally, anything made in USA, England, France, etc. > China, Mexico, Malaysia, etc.
4) Buy the staple items that will be the backbone of your wardrobe first (see list below). When you’ve got the basics covered then you can build on it.
5) Honor thy classics. Embrace minimalism.
6) Find a good tailor. Custom fit your clothes.
7) Prefer the originals. Sperry boat shoes, Brooks Brothers oxford cloth button down shirts, Levis jeans.
8 ) Darker or neutral colors and patterns are always more versatile.
9) Natural material is better than man-made. 100% cotton or wool > polyester.
10) NEVER BUY FULL PRICE. Be frugal. Clothes can be cheap if you know where and how to look.
Wardrobe basic starters that should be in every guy’s closet:
-4 oxford cloth button down shirts (OCBDs): white, light blue, university blue stripe, university red stripe
-2 Solid color polos: white, navy
-1 white spread collar dress shirt
-2 chino pants: khaki, stone
-1 all season wool pants: gray, charcoal or navy
-2 Shorts: khaki, stone
-2 Jeans: light and dark denim
-3 Sweaters: v neck, crewneck, shawl cardigan. Heather grey and navy.
-2 Outerwear: 1 light jacket, 1 heavy wool coat
-1 Blue Blazer
-1 Suit: charcoal or navy
-4 ties: repp colors, navy grenadine, black knit
-5 Shoes: penny loafers, boat shoes, desert boots, athletic sneakers, black captoe dress shoes
-Socks, underwear, etc.
-1 watch: white or black plain faced
-2 sunglasses: one wire frame, one athletic frame
-3 belts: one light brown leather, one dark brown leather, one navy surcingle
Continuing from the list above, the following is a brief explanation of each clothing genre. Following “Basics” highlighted in dark red are the specific wardrobe items and respective brands that I’d buy first if I had to start fresh all over again, and therefore the essentials I’d advise to a beginner. Hopefully it’s not a surprise that I repeatedly recommend neutral shades of white, grey, and blue, as well as certain outfitters famous among trad circles. Again, this is just your initial set up, and you can explore different patterns, colors, and fabrics once you have the foundation down. And while the specifics pictured are merely my own first line suggestions and that they indeed can be substituted (I provide alternate brands as well), just know that I endorse my submissions based off years of testimonial experience and know-how of working prep & trad knowledge.
I also understand that as college students or young professionals, your budget will be low. A lot of the following brands are pricey. However you shouldn’t worry, as my budget has always been strict too and I offer a few cheat codes below and in Part III where I revisit Rule #10. Also, many of the primary and alternative brands are great for the budget-conscious.
Oxford Cloth Button Downs (OCBDs)
Invented by Brooks Brothers, the buttons on the collar were to prevent it from flapping on Polo players during matches. I love wearing these shirts and rock them everywhere, including to class regularly. The secret to wearing OCBDs casually is to treat them as you would with any other shirt, because after all they were the original polo shirt and not meant to be worn for dressy events anyway. Keep them rumpled and don’t iron them. Roll up your sleeves. Put your sunglasses in your chest pocket. Rough them up a bit. Overtime, the natural fraying gives it character. I generally wear my OCBDs tucked in. In fact, the few times they can be worn untucked and not look sloppy is when you’re in a relaxed environment, such as a sandy beach. OCBDs can be worn with pants and shorts alike. Stay away from short sleeve button downs, instead roll up your long sleeves when it gets warm.
Basics: 4 OCBDs and 1 white spread collar dress shirt from Brooks Brothers. OCBDs in solid colors of white and light blue, and university stripe in blue and red. (Wait for BB post-Christmas sale where shirts and other attire are usually 40% + additional 20% off the morning of). I prefer the “must-iron” slim fit OCBDs that lack the artificial ironing treatment, as they are still made in the USA.
Alternative brands: Lands End, JPress
Of all the items, this should be most tapered, especially to compliment you if you have the athletic build. I don’t usually like logos, but the polo is my exception since a logo on the upper left chest are so ubiquitously attached these days. Try to stay with solids because stripes are more memorable and therefore less versatile. Have a range of dark and light colors. I love a fitted Lacoste polo with the green Crocodile, but my preference is for the Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece.
Try to stay away from Ralph Lauren’s Pony because they are too mainstream in popularity and have lost its former high praise in the current preppy context. If you are still in college, look into the “Southern College Preppy” brands that have become so popular in recent years, such as Southern Tide, Southern Proper, and the original purveyor Vineyard Vines.
But try to retire these youth-oriented brands as you grow older past your undergraduate days. Lastly, you should eventually own at least one solid slim black polo that is perfectly tailored to your body. This can be used for your “dressed to kill” occasions where you’ll choose a fashionably forward statement over your usual preppy accord, like going to a nice downtown club or a chic lounge. A slimming black polo in a luxurious tangible weave like piqué cotton compliments your build, and the lack of a logo allows no distraction of a girl’s admiring gaze of your hard-earned chest muscles (you sly dog *wink*). I like boutique outfitters like Purple Label Ralph Lauren, Kent Wang, and Tom Ford for a high end polo.
Basics: white and navy Brooks Brothers Polo in slim fit
Alternative brands: Vineyard Vines, Southern Tide, Lacoste
No, chinos are not just reserved for cell phone salesmen, and they can indeed be worn casually. Trad guys consider chinos a standard and are worn most of the time. Once you get khaki and stone colors, get British tan, navy, and dark green next. Then there are the GTH colors or fabrics like Nantucket red, sky blue, patchwork, and plaid. During summer, try seersucker, poplin, and linen. For winter, look into corduroy and twill. All-season 100% wool pants can be worn for more dressy situations.
I keep my inseam shorter than normal; standing 6’1″ I wear a 30″ to 31″ inseam because I like a slight to no break. I also prefer cuffs with my chinos. These kinds of trend started in the Ivy League schools in the 1950s and earlier and it’s a great preppy look that survives today. But if you want to play it safe then keep a half break, or where the pants have some fabric hanging over the tops of your shoes.
Cuffing is a popular trad element and looks best with pleated pants but can be worn with flat front too. Another word on pleats: it looks cleaner and more youthful to stay with flat front pants, but in the deep south pleats are actually preferred. Lastly, pants always look better with OCBDs than with polos in my humble opinion.
Basics: khaki and stone chinos from Bill’s Khakis in the slim M3 model. Medium grey wool gabardine slacks from JPress.
Alternative brands: Duck Head, Jack Donnelly, Lands End, LL Bean Double L
Easier to use GTH colors, plaid, seersucker, and patchwork with shorts. Generally stay away from pleats. Inseam should be 5 to 9″ depending on your height and how comfortable you are with showing off your legs (another reason to do squats when you workout!), but they need to at least hit above the knee. The purest preppy length however is a few inches above the knee. I wear most of my shorts at 6 to 7″ which means the shorts hem end right before the start of my quads, and I rarely go past 8″ inseam. Many shorts these days come in the industry In the summer I enjoy pairing OCBDs with shorts, surcingle belt, and boat shoes or loafers.
Basics: khaki and stone colored chino shorts from Bill’s Khakis
Alternative brands: Duck Head, Polo Ralph Lauren, LL Bean Double L
True tradsters don’t wear jeans past their driveway; chinos are your jeans and jeans are for yard work. Of course as a 20-something you don’t have to follow this strict rule. I look to Levis 501s and 505s as my staple denim. Dark jeans adapt well to all times of the day, while light denim is only for the day.
Do not buy pre-distressed jeans. Why? Because it’s fake! Do you like your woman faking it during sex? Hope not. So instead of paying for expensive True Religions with holes and cat whiskers, buy a pair of $35 (on sale) Levis 501STF jeans, which stands for “Shrink to Fit”. Before wearing, you should soak the denim in hot water and then wear it, as this will help break-in and mold the jeans to your legs (google this popular Shrink to Fit method for more details.)
Then the hardcore denim enthusiasts recommend to sparingly wash the denim thereafter, which helps to “age” the jeans for that beloved lived-in look as you wear it over the incoming years.
Some only wash their denim a few times a year, which may sound disgusting, but it will help earn those natural whiskers and creases faster. Your 501STFs and your higher quality raw denim pairs will become an appendage of your body as they earn a personality of their own.
Your grandfather back in the day when he was young boy would get a pair of new jeans that were supposed to last him for years. He would play baseball in them, roll in the mud, knick them on fences, and collect grass stains. The natural fading and holes that he got were from living in those jeans, not paying extra for prefabricated fakeness! Wear your 501STFs for when you go out, and your straight cut 505s for when you cut the grass or make a grocery run.
Eventually, look to the high tier jean makers like Raleigh Denim, A.P.C or Sugar Cane Co. for selvedge raw denim that will be your “nice” pair of quality jeans.
Look for ones that are made in the USA (or Japan like the Sugar Canes are sourced from), as such examples of quality denim usually are. You’ll want the unwashed or original raw models so you can break them in the same way you did with your 501STFs. And with that, you can live the rest of your life with only 2 to 3 pairs of denim, replacing as needed or when the natural holes number as much as the fake holes on your old True Religions.
Basics: Levis 505 in medium stonewash, Levis 501STF in indigo
Alternative brands: Raleigh Denim in Jones slim fit, A.P.C. New Standards, Sugar Cane Co. 1947 model.
A prep favorite is pairing OCBDs with a Shetland crewneck during the colder months. I also like V-Necks and Cardigans. A navy or heather grey V-neck can be worn with everything. My go-to classic look for a cool evening out to town is wearing your white spread collar dress shirt under a navy v-neck with chinos and loafers or chukka boots. Look into nicer fabrics like cashmere when you have the budget, with the ulimate name in luxury cashmere being Italian boutique Brunello Cucinelli. Two specific items that are necessary trad classics in your closet are a few Shaggy Dog brushed Shetland wool sweaters by J Press and the famous Norwegian by LL Bean. Other trad favorite styles include the Fair Isle, Shawl, and Cable Knit.
Basics: grey Shaggy Dog from JPress, navy v-neck from JCrew in slim fit, solid navy or cream shawl cardigan from JCrew
Alternative brands: Canvas by Lands End, LL Bean, Pendleton Woolen Mills
The iconic red G9 Harrington was popularized by one of our sartorial heros, James Dean, in the movie Rebel Without a Cause. English country gentlemen would wear a Barbour wax coat while hunting, which is very warm even without the extra inner lining if you layer with a scarf and the aforementioned crewneck sweater and OCBD technique underneath.
For winter, a suitable choice would a wool Pea Coat. Sterlingwear of Boston has the US Navy contract for pea coats and their American made coats can be had for much cheaper than most high label designers. Other casual alternatives are car coats (also known as university coats), mackinaws, and field coats. For the more formal end, look for top coats such as the Chesterfields and Trench.
As with everything, fit is very important and makes the difference between looking handsome in a slim and sophisticated topcoat, or unflattering in a bulky drape. Longer the coat, the more formal it is considered. You’ll want at least one mid-to-long lengthed coat for dressier events, so that if you wear a suit or sportcoat underneath, your overcoat will go past it (and if it does not then it is not long enough, therefore not formal enough). The maximum length should end by your lower thigh and never past your knees. You are not a 1920s Italian Gangster.
Start off with a lightweight quilted Barbour Liddesdale (which you’ll see me affectionately call Liddy throughout the blog) for cool autumn and spring days, and a heavier wool pea coat for the winter. Once you have those two staples, save up for a nice formal overcoat as described earlier above.
Basics: olive Liddesdale by Barbour, navy or black authentic pea coat from Sterlingwear of Boston
Alternative brands: JCrew University Coat in slim with thinsulate, Brooks Brothers Chesterfield, Gloverall Duffle, Baracuta G9 Harrington, Filson Mackinaw Cruiser
Suits, Blazers, Sporcoats
You probably have heard this famous adage by now: A man in a well-fitting suit that cost him only $100 will look better than a baggy, ill-fitting $1000 suit. The two major key principles for suit buying is to make sure your suit jacket is the correct chest size and that you have the right jacket length. Another big consideration is to make sure the shoulder pads hug your shoulders and does not go past them (although an experienced tailor can take them in for a nominal fee).
Everything else is more negotiable. A good jacket length is where you can cup the bottom naturally with your hands while standing, while a the fashionably forward style is to go slightly higher. As long as it covers your butt and isn’t unappealingly short then you should be good.
You should also be able to see 1/4″ of your shirt cuff peeking out your suit cuff when your arms are at your side. Leave out the stripes and patterns until you have at least 2 basic solid suits. This is in the same reasoning as your solid polos, as stripes and patterns tend to be more memorable and less versatile. Do not buy black! Charcoal and navy will do everything for you, with navy being my personal first choice. Black for your first suit is a common rookie mistake, as it is better advised to buy a more versatile dark grey/charcoal or navy.
The reasoning is that black is reserved only for funerals and eveningwear (after 6pm), while a de facto navy can be worn for those occasions as well as for your first job interview and more. Save black for your fourth or fifth suit (or don’t have one at all!) There are countless other tips for suits out there that you can search for, but the above lays the groundwork. Suits are the reason why you want a good tailor. You want the fitting to be slim and updated for a youthful appearance.
When the jacket has 2 buttons, button only the top. If it has 3 buttons, button the middle or both the middle and top. If it has 4 buttons or more, throw the jacket away in the trash. Button when standing and walking, unbutton when sitting. Do not use the jacket as an “orphan” blazer, no matter what fashion magazines tell you. You can however use the slacks alone, and since you already have medium grey wool pants (as seen above in this guide) then your navy or charcoal suit pants can double as a second pair of standalone darker-colored dress slacks. Remember, keep attention to the hemming too, as you’ll want a no to slight-break just as I mentioned earlier for pants.
A blue blazer with gold or bronze buttons can trace its origin from the seafaring officers of yesteryear, and is quintessentially American and every guys needs to have one. Wear for semi-formal events. Needs to be as clean on your body as your suit (unless it is a “sack blazer” which is a bit full cut, compared to a more shaped “darted”.) Also FYI: the classic blue blazer is the only orphan jacket known as a Blazer while any other jacket made out of a different pattern and/or fabric is called a Sportcoat (or Sportjacket.)
Breathable suit or sportcoat designs in chino, linen, poplin, plaid, madras patchwork, and seersucker are good for the warmth of summer. Tweeds, donegal, and other thicker wools or heavier fabrics for winter. A navy or khaki unlined chino sportcoat works well for going out on a warm evening.
Since suits are such a power item for your arsenal, when you become CEO you can look into the top shelf labels like Brioni, Oxxford, and Ralph Lauren Purple and Black Label.
Basics: navy 2 button in all-season wool Brooks Brothers Fitzgerald cut suit (Around $500 during post-Christmas sale), 2/3 button sack navy blazer from JPress
Alternative brands: Hickey Freeman, Anderson-Little
‘Repp’ ties stand for regimental, which were the patterns that British military officers wore. The colors could also represent what college you went to or what fraternal order you belonged to. There is a lot of history that goes into those colors, but nowadays they just look damn cool. Look into other patterns and materials once you have enough repps. Knit ties for summer. Bow ties are for fun occasions, and are popular in the south (and if you have the dandy enough.) A navy grenadine, black knit, and a formal glen plaid tie are also essentials. Keep ties 2.75” to 3.25” inches wide, although a 2 to 2.5” may be acceptable for knit ties.
Basics: burgandy & navy #1 repp tie and green & navy Argyle Sutherland repp longtie or bowtie from Brooks Brothers. Navy grenadine and black knit tie from J Press
Alternative brands: Paul Stuart, Ben Silver, The Cordial Churchman, TheTieBar.com
Just as complicating of a topic as suits. Back in the day, all you would need were your penny loafers and a pair of dress shoe. Not practical of course in present time, so I’ll just list what I would need for a basic shoe collection: Bass Weejuns, LL Bean Blucher Mocs, Sperry Original Top Siders, and Clarks Desert Boots for casual use. Allen Edmonds Park Avenues for dress shoes. Adidas Sambas for casual and weightlifting at the gym, New Balance 993s or 990s for running and casual. Invest the most in your pair of black captoe dress shoes: Allen Edmonds is a good starter dress shoe brand and are made in the USA, but only represent the lowest of the quality cobblers available out there. These brands (read: more expensive) include Alden and British makers John Lobbs, Crockett & Jones, and Churchs. Stay away from square toes. Leave the Rainbow sandals for the beach.
Other preppy suggestions: Bean Boots for rain/snow, camp and driver mocs, suede bucks, chukka boots, wingtips, and monk straps.
Basics: as described above
Alternative brands: Rancourt & Co, Quoddy, Red Wing Boots, Cole Haan Pinch Penny Loafers, Jack Purcell in oxford white
Multiple pairs of solid colors like navy and dark gray. Then a range of solids and argyles in spring and fall colors. I also like herringbone and bird’s eye patterns. I go sockless in boat shoes, moccasins, and loafers when its warm, but wear socks during the colder months to avoid any weird looks.
Basics: navy, charcoal, black solids from Pantherella
Alternative brands: Brooks Brothers, Corgi, Marcoliani
Accessories: They say there are only 3 types of accessories appropriate for guys. A watch, sunglasses, and a wedding band, as needed. Everything else is supplemental.
And another comprehensive subject with a wide range of differing tastes. First off, start wearing a watch if you don’t regularly. Marks of a gentleman are his watch and his shoes, as they say. A cell phone is not a timepiece.
Watches are what purses are to women, but at least a trad man goes for functional minimalism! A simple and cheap Timex reader watch with a white face works well for all situations and on a limited budget. Rotate a leather band with a NATO strap or preppy ribbon. Money wise from generally least to most expensive: Timex, Seiko, Citizen, Hamilton, Omega, Rolex, IWC, Piaget, and Patek Philippe. Of course there are other worthy brands out there but these are the ones I see the most in trad world.
Your first watch should be plain faced in white or black. This is your mainstay watch that can be worn casually or formally.
No fancy bells and whistles, just a simple quartz or automatic movement with maybe a datejust. The Seiko “5″ line is very affordable and highly respectable among horologists. I’d start there first, and save up for nicer watches down the road. You just need one to start with, so make it count with versatility. Aim for a responsible size of 36 to 40mm for your workhorse primary watch. You can go larger for a chunky sportwatch for the casual weekends, but don’t go too ostentatious unless you are a famous rapper. I limit at around 42mm.
Basics: Seiko 5 models like the SNXS79K or SNX123
Alternative brands: Citizen Eco Drive, Hamilton Khaki Field, Timex Easy Reader
Aviators and caravans are classic wire framed sunglasses for casual and formal occasions, along with wayfarers and clubmasters. Keep another pair of sports shades for running or outdoor stuff. Do NOT mix the two, you should not be wearing your Oakleys with a suit. American Optical and Persols are my favorite brands for regular wear. Bolle and Costa Del Mar for sporty outdoor activity. Spend the extra money on the polarized lenses, your eyes will thank you after a few hours at the beach or the slopes. More of my thoughts on sunglasses and eyeglasses found at this article.
Basics: American Optical Original Pilot in gold color, polarized lens, and bayonet temples, Costa Del Mar polarized sportshades
Alternative brands: Persol, Moscot, Randolph Engineering, Bolle, Maui Jim
Keep leather dress belts 1″ to 1 1/8″ thick and with smaller buckles. Thicker belts and larger buckles are for jeans only, such as a Shotgun Shell belt. Engine-turned buckles are my favorite because they can be interchanged with multiple straps, and remind me of something a hot shot investment banker from the 1980s would wear.
Surcingle and needlepoint belts are extremely preppy and GTH, especially if you add in a few motif or embroided themes to your belt collection. I don’t consider a black belt necessary because most of your shoes will be brown, and when you do wear your black captoes, it will usually be with a suit, in which case you will not need to wear a belt at all! However, if you do own a black belt then I’d suggest a chic and luxurious exotic skin that goes with the engine-turned buckle. Check out companies like Smathers & Branson, Tucker Blair, and Leatherman Ltd.
Basics: navy surcingle from Lands End, 1 1/8″ width calfskin in a light brown from Trafalgar, 1″ width dark brown belt from Trafalgar with engine-turned buckle plaque
Alternative brands: JCrew, Orvis, Tiffany & Co engine-turned plaque
Trad/Prep brands to trust. There are certainly more out there but these are off the top of my head:
Brooks Brothers, J Press, Lands End, LL Bean, Ralph Lauren, Hickey Freeman, Oxxford, O’Connells, Allen Edmonds, The Andover Shop,Alden, Cable Car Clothiers, Gitman Brothers, Pennington, Gloverall, Quoddy, Rancourt & Co, Sperry, Sebago, Southwick, Woolrich Woolen Mills, Gant, Orvis, Perlis, O’Connells, Barbour, Filson, Anderson-Little, Murray’s Toggery Shop, Bill’s Khakis, Trafalgar, Bass Weejuns, Ben Silver, Hart Schaffner Marx, Sterlingwear of Boston, and Paul Stuart.
Traditionally “fratty” brands like Vineyard Vines, Patagonia, etc. are not officially Trad, but do have a place for our younger college readers.
End result, Yale 1964: