Mixing up high-and-low elements has become a popular calling card for #menswear fanatics in the past few years. Using unconventional, more casual items (like a denim jacket), paired with dressier items (like a shirt and knit tie) is probably the most commonly seen version of this style move. And the return in popularity of the chambray shirt, coupled with the fact that brands like J. Crew have brought them back into vogue as part of the ‘workwear’ revival, only highlights this fact further. The desire to break up more formal elements, like sleeker suit trousers, with unique textures and fabrics (like chambray or denim) is a movement that’s not losing steam, and that’s where a high-quality denim shirt comes into play.
The brand Alara has perfected using high-quality fabrics to craft both sport and dress shirts across the past two-plus decades, first parlaying that experience into producing house-brand shirts for major retailers and designers, and lately using their expertise to craft shirts under the Alara brand name. Based out of a Midtown NYC showroom, I had the opportunity to speak with the brand’s head of e-Commerce, Phil Davies, and the brand’s president and founder, Mehmet Ulu. Getting the chance to see so many well-crafted shirts in person was a real treat, as many are made with ridiculously soft Egyptian cotton. They were also gracious enough to provide me with their Italian Indigo Denim Shirt in Slim Fit, (part of their collection of Sport Shirts) for review.
What works so well about this particular denim shirt (and denim shirts in general) is that perfect mix of high-low styling. A denim shirt is inherently casual, with a more unique texture than the average dress shirt, along with a vastly different color. This shirt, with its lighter wash, is much the same; however, a cutaway collar instantly makes it a bit more formal (for some great examples of how to pull this collar style off, visit the fantastic site Men’s Style Pro). This shirt is a lighter-weight denim that’s equally fit for both warm and cold weather — it’s got a rugged look to it that brings to mind lots of workwear vibes that remain so popular in many menswear circles. And even though it’s a lighter-washed denim, I could see it pairing equally well with a v-neck sweater and a herringbone blazer in the colder months. Although the cutaway collar is more daring than a traditional spread collar or a more conservative point collar, a slimmer tie knot holds up well and doesn’t look too out of place.
The shirt is soft and breathable, making it easy to wear in the heat. And it has a relatively slim fit that’s not restraining — the armholes are decently high and the sleeves are pretty trim, both positives for an off-the-rack shirt. However, it’s not quite as slim as a J. Crew slim-fit shirt, for comparison, something that could be a drawback for some. The shirt does, however, live up to its Italian name — it’s got a nice sprezzatura vibe to it, something especially relevant given the inspiring street style seen recently at Pitti Uomo. Another instant positive about this shirt? The price. In talking with Mehmet at Alara and doing some research, similar shirts retail in the three figures. However, Alara sells this specific shirt for $78 — compare that to a lower-quality Express 1MX shirt, which retails for just $18 less at full price, and you realize you’re getting quite the deal for a well-made shirt. Of course, other budget options are out there too, like this more distressed and Western-leaning shirt from H&M.
On a final note, the summer seems like an especially perfect time to wear this shirt; it’s got an easygoing, laidback vibe that practically begs to be worn to a slightly upscale outing or a nice dinner, preferably outdoors somewhere. It could even serve as a layering piece, much like a workshirt, if the temperature dips during a beach weekend. Wear it as often as you like, dress it up, dress it down — this is one denim shirt that’s fit for suiting and swimwear.