Style Suggestion: The Chambray Shirt

It’s been a while since it got truly cold in most parts of this country, but that doesn’t mean we don’t all need a reminder on the certain types of textures and fabrics that just work well in the winter. The key here is to continue to look for items with a rougher texture, things that just seem to blend nicely with stark, cold landscapes.

In fact, the desire to change things up in terms of outfits and texture can be quite tempting this time of year, but there’s something to be said about doing what works, time and again. Filling this gap is, surprisingly (or not) where something like a chambray shirt comes in. It’s been written about and suggested on this site a good number of times, but with good reason. On a personal level, a chambray shirt in the rotation (as pictured below) is becoming a frequently worn item because of its versatility — they exist in that perfect space where they can be dressed up or down.

J. Crew's chambray shirt. Nice texture for winter, without a doubt.
J. Crew’s chambray shirt — dressy with a workwear feel.

Notably, chambray shirts are the perfect antidote to a look that might be too dressed up. In some cases, a crisp white shirt worn under a more casual, rumpled cardigan might just look too stark. Or with a more casual patch-pocket blazer, for example, the white shirt just might stand out a bit too much, even if it’s a white OCBD. Enter the chambray shirt. In a lighter shade like blue (like the J. Crew option pictured), it works in just as many different outfits as a blue Oxford cloth button-down might work. (See option #1 here for a reminder). If you’ve got a v-neck sweater under a navy blazer, throw a lighter chambray shirt in there to flip the look on its head. Wear it on its own under that same blazer, too.

Heck, GQ is even a proponent of wearing it under a suit (a bolder move, but one that definitely works). The texture of the shirt is the key here — it’s marled and weathered, and it’s got a great workwear feel to it. More importantly, it’s a item that’s trendy yet most likely won’t die out anytime soon — it’s become, in some ways, the modern-day version of the OCBD, as it exists in an older dimension with a workwear vibe and yet is cut slim for current times. It can be worn under layers in the cold, and it’s the perfect type of shirt to pair with a thicker-weight tie. A wool tie (or a knit tie) has more going on texturally than a silk tie, so the combination just works well together. Underneath the odd vest or a heavier blazer, (as seen in the photo below), the chambray shirt falls right in line with a lot of different textures going on.

The base layer on the top here is a nice chambray shirt.
The base layer on the top here is a nice chambray shirt.

For what it’s worth, many (including J. Crew’s head of menswear) count the chambray shirt as an essential, a highly versatile item that lends class and a rugged feel to any outfit — two things highly difficult to do at the same time. If you’re into it, it’s also got a very old-time Americana feel to it in terms of style — details like the tab collar option on the J. Crew shirt and the front-button pockets lend itself to that. Look for one cut slim and in a lighter color, and it might even continue to be worn into the spring and summer months. That’s the definition of versatile style right there.

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Starter Style Review: Express

Editor’s note: Building great style on a budget can be difficult and expensive. This is the fourth part in an occasional series chronicling great locations to start a wardrobe and buy affordable, good-looking style staples. Catch the first, second and third parts in the series here . Look for more in the coming weeks!

There are a couple things pretty apparent upon first entering Express. First: It’s bright. Everything from the clothes themselves to that lighting to the bright red 40% sale signs. And it’s kind of loud. The music is often a mix of strange techno-electronic beats, which makes for one interesting shopping experience.

And there it is. That notorious lion logo.
There it is. That notorious lion logo.

And if that wasn’t enough, there’s that lion logo. That thing is everywhere — on T-shirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, polos, jackets, graphic tees —you name it, that logo’s on it. Since many are now heading in the anti-logo direction, that’s a definite hit against the clothing. Granted, it could be layered over if it’s on a T-shirt, but not so with a sweater. There’s a few stacks of shirts and sweaters without that logo, but a good chunk of the clothing is emblazoned with that large lion. Even items that would be perfectly good on their own seem to have it.

So that’s upon entering the store. When digging around, there are actually some alright finds. The Photographer chino (as pictured below) fits about like a Dockers Alpha Khaki (although it’s more expensive). But in a light khaki shade, a grey and even a darker amber color, it’s a good buy. Generally, anything without a logo is actually quite solid in terms of fit and quality. Outerwear looks to be a good buy from here, as the pieces are often cut slim and in neutral colors.

Actually a decent buy at the right price.
A decent buy at the right price.

The store’s suit separates actually aren’t half-bad either — the trick would be to catch them on a sale. And since suit separates are becoming more ubiquitous this year, it’s a good idea to get into that market at a lower price. The color selection is surprisingly nice, with a few patterns thrown in there, too. The quality and construction isn’t up there with anything from a nicer department store, but in some solid shades (like navy or charcoal), a blazer or pants could be a good buy when on sale. The dressier department is also where the pitfalls keep popping up, unfortunately.

A light shade of khaki that wouldn't look out of place in the summer.
A light shade of khaki that wouldn’t look out of place in the summer.

Certainly most of us remember (and probably wore) the middle school or high school dance-esque bright solid shirt and bold patterned tie combo. It’s not inherently bad, but if it’s ill-fitting (likely the case), it’s a recipe for disaster. In the dress shirt area, that’s what Express seems to specialize in. Granted, the fit of the Express 1MX shirt is a personal favorite, but only makes a ton of fashion sense with a white or light blue shade – not highlighter yellow, bright purple or dark maroon.

Lots of silk ties, not a lot of winter-weight texture.
Lots of silk ties, not a lot of winter-weight texture.

The ties themselves actually have some half-decent patterns to them, but again, harken back to the solid shirt-patterned tie combo. And the lack of winter-weight fabrics or knit ties (at least on the shelves in this store) is somewhat disconcerting.

Other dress shirts are hit or miss, as well. A green checked shirt hanging on one of the racks wouldn’t look out of place under a khaki summer suit with a grey knit tie, but then there are anomalies like an odd shirt fading from one color into another (see below). There was also what looked to be a newer ‘soft wash’ shirt (the phrase on the tag), which felt much more forgiving to the touch than a starchy, bright dress shirt.

This shirt seems to be a miss.
This shirt seems to be a miss.

Neutral basics like crew neck and v-neck tees, along with briefs and boxers, are available in typically bright shades but also dark solid colors — while a bit overpriced, these are likely a decent purchase. Patterned socks from Express are actually a personal favorite, but like much of the rest of the store, wait until a sale to snag two or three pairs at once.

Jeans are another area where Express seems to have some misses. Although they introduced the ‘super skinny’ Alec jean last year, the store still offers (and tries to push, no less) bootcut jeans (for more than $60 on-sale, more than $100 full price). Dark blue denim, free of distressing, is in short supply here, unfortunately.

Accessories from Express (like a belt or a watch) could work on a budget — a reversible leather belt takes care of 2 things at once, for example — but there are certainly better (and less pricier) places to go than Express for, say, a good watch.

The ultimate takeaway from the store would be this: stay away (if it’s your preference) from those large, garish lion logos. Look for solid basics including outerwear and slim suit separates, but steer clear of those neon dress shirts and patterned ties. Keep an eye out for solid buys like crew neck or v-neck tees or a collared shirt with a colorful, understated pattern. Buy on-sale and in pairs with most items like briefs or socks. And maybe pick up some chinos if needed. Again (and this is important) watch out for those lions. Happy shopping!

Starter Style Review: Urban Outfitters

Editor’s note: Building great style on a budget can be difficult and expensive. This is the third part in an occasional series chronicling great locations to start a wardrobe and buy affordable, good-looking style staples. Catch the first and second parts here and here. Look for more in the coming weeks!

Going underground with a trendier store.
Going underground with a trendier store.

For all the great things about stores that offer classic style essentials, there’s something to be said for brands that, for the most part, turn the entire model on its head. The first striking thing about walking into an Urban Outfitters (if you’re fortunate enough to have a brick-and-mortar location near you) is the explosion of color and pattern, particularly in the men’s section. Oh, and the full-size bear costume (see below). Now, the thing with the entire brand is that they offer a highly unique shopping experience, selling things like nifty housewares and books on how to bake with Nutella alongside, yes, a bear costume. But, if you can get past the store’s relative eccentricities, there are actually some great takeaways. Like those pops of color and pattern, and plenty of eye-catching, wild designs (some of which look strangely wearable in a street style-esque way).. The store leans distinctly younger because of that, but it’s always refreshing to see brands push the boundaries, like with the crazy floral print crewneck sweater below, which, I’ll be honest, I took a hard look at (I have a soft spot for wild patterns and designs).

Well, hello there.
Well, hello there.

The sweater below certainly was eye-catching in a statement piece sort of way, perhaps an item to wear to a particularly ironic college party. However, there are actually some tremendous finds within the store once you can get past some of the more out-there designs, including some wilder-looking tees and, um, unique drape scarves.

Maybe, just maybe, a bit wearable?
Maybe, just maybe, a bit wearable?

A particularly strong point is the store’s collection of nice basic tees, made by BDG. They often sell colorful striped and solid T-shirts in bargain packages, which makes it easy to stock up for casual wear in the spring and summer (a particular favorite of mine). In the warmer months, as long as the shirt has some color to it — and stays firmly away from crazy graphic tee territory — a tee is always a solid and basic style pick.  The selection of henleys and long-sleeve shirts also is a positive, and the shirts are cut slim, another definite plus.

photo-34
Stacks on stacks of shirts.

If you need to stock up on slim jeans or corduroys, Urban Outfitters has you covered here, too. For just under $40 (the price of some Levi’s on sale), you can pick up pants in either the 510, 511 or 508 fit — the 508 fit has a slouchier rise, but isn’t cut nearly as slim through the leg and thigh as the 510 or 511. Cords, black and grey jeans and tan twill pants all were in stock, any of which would be a good buy from personal experience.  Unfortunately, it didn’t look like this particular location had any of the versatile and tremendous 513 — maybe a change in stock or buying practices?

photo-36
A terrific price for some basic jeans or cords.

Urban Outfitters also does a nice job with colorful, yet slightly ‘out-there’ socks — extraordinarily colorful to the point that they even feature ‘colorful’ language on one of the pair’s designs. But paired down with a nice desert boot (as seen below) and some dark denim, they might be a nice talking point for an outfit? The desert boots in question also were offered in a great shade of grey that wouldn’t look out of place with jeans or chinos either.

photo-37
Stumbled upon a classic silhouette in a trendier store.

The biggest takeaway with Urban Outfitters is that, like any store, there are going to be hits and misses. Distinct hits and misses, in fact — like that hilarious bear costume. But scouring the shelves in this case led to some astonishingly low prices (like $39 for a pair of Levi’s), some extremely solid essentials (like the striped and colored v-neck and crewneck tees) and some unique finds (like the strangely eye-catching floral print sweater). As with any location, go in with some essentials in mind, and you might be surprised by what you leave with.

Starter Style Review: Old Navy

Editor’s note: Building great style on a budget can be difficult and expensive. This is the second part in an occasional series chronicling great locations to start a wardrobe and buy affordable, good-looking style staples. Catch the first part here. Look for more in the coming weeks!

There's more than meets the eye with this brand.
There’s more than meets the eye with this brand.

Old Navy is one store that often seems overlooked when it comes to style and fashion. Maybe it’s because they fall under the large, large banner of Gap (which also includes Banana Republic) or perhaps it’s because the brand’s looks lean decidedly casual and tend to cater to a younger crowd (note the expansive kids section and back-to-school deals). However, there really are some terrific finds in terms of style essentials — in fact, a decent amount of Siblings With Style’s budget picks  for a menswear starter kit were gleaned from Old Navy. A good look through the store reveals just as many essentials in-person as online, all at very reasonable prices.

When browsing through the store, there certainly are some fantastic finds. In the local brick-and-mortar location, there was a massive clearance sale that marked large quantities of items down to as low as $5 (in this case, a selection of pique polos).

One of the store's standout selections.
A style staple at a low price.

Perhaps one of the better bargains around is the store’s selection of v-neck sweaters (for $10 in some instances). The sweaters are mostly offered in darker hues fitting winter and fall, but navy and grey v-necks as seen above are two items that can pull duty regardless of season.

Shirting also is a surprising strong point at Old Navy. As seen below, Old Navy featured a nice selection of light chambray and denim shirts, in addition to classic Oxford cloth button-downs (a tremendous polo alternative) and shirts with some interesting, subtle patterns, like pin dots and various symbols. The selection of strong plaid and striped shirts also was on-point with other brands — shirts with patterns like that are a steal at a bargain price and can even make do with little tailoring if layered under a sweater.

Winter-appropriate textures and fabrics
Winter-appropriate textures and fabrics.

Old Navy denim and trousers also earn the store significant style points. In offerings ranging from relaxed and straight to slim, the store had a variety of washes, including an inky black and some dark denim with slight distressing. At the particular store in question, slim-fit jeans were going for $35 — less than a pair of Levi’s for quality that can’t be beat for the price and fit. Corduroys also were on-sale for low, low prices, going for as little as $10. The fact that the pants were offered in a variety of darker shades (like navy and grey) helps them fall perfectly in line with the hues of the season while remaining a style essential.

Corduroys on sale at Old Navy.
Corduroys on sale at Old Navy.

The store’s selection of basic essentials is something Old Navy’s always done well, and it appears they continue to emphasize nice-fitting, basic T-shirts, henleys and thermal long-sleeve shirts (some of which can be seen next to those corduroys above). Buying these shirts in bundles can yield some nice, low prices. Old Navy’s jackets and outerwear are tremendous for the price, too — don’t forget about that essential navy peacoat.

Dark denim. Low price.
Dark denim. Low price.

Additionally, Old Nav offers some slightly trendier items, including puffer vests (now being layered above suits), a camo thermal long-sleeve shirt, and a shirt-jacket cut trim through the body and arms, in addition to a selection of jean jackets. The sale racks are absolutely worth looking over as well, as selection is actually quite extensive for most every size. And Old Navy does the basics, like boxers, boxer briefs and undershirts, at low prices, too — maybe not a bad idea to stock up there.

With Old Navy, like any store, there are sure to be magnificent finds at low prices as well as ‘duds’ at high prices. However, it’s definitely a store worth browsing to pick up style essentials and start a wardrobe at low prices.

Starter Style Review: Target

Editor’s note: Building great style on a budget can be difficult and expensive. This is the first part in an occasional series chronicling great locations to start a wardrobe and buy affordable, good-looking style staples. Look for more in the coming weeks! 

Bullseye. Starting things off with Target. Yep, Target.
Bullseye. Starting things off with Target. Yep, Target.

Putting together a great wardrobe can seem a daunting task at first. Starting from the ground up, particularly trying to build in style essentials on a budge, is also taxing to a certain degree. But thanks to the explosion of an interest in men’s fashion, plenty of stores are now carrying more style staples than ever before — and at great prices.

In fact, when style inspiration comes from so many places (including affordable brands like Old Navy and Uniqlo), it can actually be tough and tiring getting bogged down in a long list of locations. That’s why it’s wise to keep certain stores from slipping under the radar. Chains with surprising names are increasingly stocking everything you could need to build some a basic wardrobe, including Target, however unlikely it might seem (witness Target’s collaboration with noted designer Phillip Lim this past fall).

A look at some of Target's shirt selection.
A look at some of Target’s shirt selection.

Target’s Merona line offers fantastic men’s style items, including, at varying times, a nice selection of blazers.  A recent trip through a Super Target revealed just as much. Keep in mind that Super Target is larger than the typical Target store, of course, but just as many style essentials were on-hand.  In addition to the Merona line, the rest of the men’s section was well-stocked with Mossimo polos in a variety of colors, v-neck and crewneck t-shirts with stripes, patterns and bright solid colors, and some shorts with interesting patterns for spring and summer.

Shelves were also stocked with short-sleeve and long-sleeve henleys, two pieces that can become layering staples year round. There was also a nice selection of corduroys in seasonally appropriate shades (as seen below), and slim-fit jeans from Denizen, a branch of Levi’s. The store’s Merona Oxford cloth button-downs are a particular personal favorite, and at a nice price point, too. For under 25 bucks a pop, it’s tough to turn down an item that can pair with so many different outfits.

A rich shade of orange in a seasonal corduroy.
A rich shade of orange in a seasonal corduroy.

Along with some style staples, the store also offered pieces with a slightly trendier take (like the sweater below). An item like that isn’t for everyone, but through collaborations with designers like Phillip Lim, the chain is offering affordable pieces with a more fashionable bent that could be worth taking a risk on if you fancy changing things up. In addition to those trendier pieces, the store’s shoe collection is also solid, featuring some solid desert boot-type silhouettes, along with loafers and dress shoes.

Classic crewneck sweater with a trendy pattern.
Classic crewneck sweater with a trendy pattern.

Accessories are a high point, too. Things like socks (in mainly solid colors, but with some wild patterns) can also be had at low prices, as can, for example, undershirts. Notably, Target offers one of the better deals on the versatile, casual and ultra-affordable Timex Weekender and Timex Easy Reader, two watches that, when paired with the right outfits, are as versatile as any below $100.

In addition to these items, there are certainly some hidden gems waiting to be uncovered in Target’s shelves, all at great prices most likely. When stores like Target do something as unexpected as men’s style in such a surprisingly good fashion, it’s definitely worth checking out. Keep that in mind as you browse the shelves for groceries on your next trip to the bullseye.