The Product Review: Alara Italian Indigo Denim Shirt

Alara's Indigo Denim Shirt. Tie by American Eagle. Pants by Black Lapel (Part of custom suit). Shoes by Banana Republic. Watch by Stuhrling.
Alara’s Indigo Denim Shirt. Tie by American Eagle. Pants by Black Lapel (Part of custom suit). Shoes by Banana Republic. Watch by Stuhrling. Photo credit: Liz Todd.

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.

This shirt pairs easily with dressier fabrics thanks to the cutaway collar.
This shirt pairs easily with dressier fabrics thanks to the cutaway collar.

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.

Up-close and personal. Glasses by Burberry.
Up-close and personal. Glasses by Burberry.

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.

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The Product Review: ALDO Sneakers

Sneaker culture continues to intersect more and more with the world of #menswear on a daily basis through the influences of both hip-hop artists, athletes and the clash between streetwear and high-fashion brands. These competing influences can make it difficult to seek out sneaker styles that are, first and foremost, both wearable for the stylish guy and inexpensive (unlike, say, this style “on-sale” at Barneys New York). There are definitely welcome antidotes to both increasing trends and questionable designs, however. Thankfully, certain options will never go out of style (think low-profile kicks like the Jack Purcell sneaker or the similarly classic Chuck Taylor model), and the great thing about investing in a pair of clean, minimal sneakers is the potential for getting all kinds of wear out of them during the warmer summer months.

Casual sneakers in the summer. T-shirt by Gap. Jeans by Levi's (508 fit). Watch by Stuhrling. Sunglasses by Tom Ford. Sneakers by ALDO.
Casual sneakers in the summer. T-shirt by Gap. Jeans by Levi’s (508 fit). Watch by Stuhrling. Sunglasses by Tom Ford. Sneakers by ALDO. Photo credit: Liz Todd.

On the other hand, a pair of higher-cut sneakers can do just as much work leg work (pun intended) as a lower-profile pair of sneakers. While it’s always a wise move to have a relatively inexpensive, basic pair on-hand (like these from Urban Outfitters), a higher-cut sneaker rests more easily under jeans, provides more stability for walking around or exploring a big city (take NYC, for example!) and can actually team well with colored shorts in the right setting.

A recent purchase from ALDO (as seen above) definitely fits the bill for a solid, casual sneaker, despite being different than your average pair. The ALDO Gianpiero model (or the Gia, for short) does a few different things well. Available in light grey with a black captoe (or in a light blue option with a navy captoe), the sneaker is made out of a lightweight canvas that nonetheless provides good stability around the ankle. It’s free of any visible logos, another positive in a streetwear era where so much seems to be driven by having a large symbol splashed across an outfit.The construction of the sneaker and the upper part of the shoe also provides nice breathability.

These sneakers can be worn just as easily with a T-shirt as a casual button-down shirt.
These sneakers can be worn just as easily with a T-shirt as a casual button-down shirt.

The white sole is a welcome addition, a slightly stark pop against the light grey-and-black combo, and the black laces seem durable, yet could also be switched out for a more eye-catching pair. The most notable thing about these sneakers revolves around the fact that they combine certain elements we see in high-fashion sneakers — like the faux-leather captoe and black details — with a distinctly wearable quality and, even more importantly, a very affordable price point ($75, according to the ALDO product page).

In fact, the black captoe echoes the classic Jack Purcells or Converse Chuck Taylor sneaker, just in a different shade and on a slightly beefed-up model. The great thing about these sneakers is that they can also pair just as easily with the same type of casual outfits as a more conventional, low-cut sneaker. They’ve worked personally with a striped navy tee and olive jeans, ( as well as the above outfit), and they’ve also paired with light blue shorts and a black v-neck (sans socks on the feet). They can more than hold their weight under some slim denim, and the sleeker profile means they also won’t look out of place in a shorts-centric outfit.

Although it’s certainly tempting to reach for low-cut sneakers when the weather heats up, mix up your sneaker rotation with some higher-cut kicks. Better yet, pick up a pair that avoids the high-fashion trappings of most sneakers, and you’ll continue to add to a well-rounded wardrobe.

Starter Style Review: Banana Republic

Editor’s note: Building great style on a budget can be difficult and expensive. This is the sixth part in an occasional series chronicling great locations to start a wardrobe and buy affordable, good-looking style staples. Catch posts 1-5 in the series here .

The more formal, older brother of the Gap, Inc. group.
The more formal, older brother of the Gap, Inc. group.

Earlier in the year, I took a  look at some essential stores that can be used to start building great personal style at nice, affordable prices. Now, we’re getting back to that same idea, diving into the dressiest of the Gap-Old Navy group — Banana Republic. It’s a store that most of us seem to shop at during one point or another, and it’s not that tough to see why. The prices are, by and large, affordable. The quality is well put-together, and the items feature a fairly good bit of variety. So why does a store like J. Crew seemingly get more attention and appear more on the cutting edge? It’s a question worth considering.

A trip to an NYC Banana Republic (the Upper West Side location, for those curious) offered some answers to those questions and revealed some unconventional items. BR does a lot of things well, quite well, but doesn’t appear to stand out in one particular area (as J. Crew does with its Ludlow suiting and its curated collaborations with brands like Mougin & Piquard or Timex and Alden). However, that doesn’t mean the store is worth overlooking in its entirety.

A selection of lighter-weight blazers on display.
A selection of lighter-weight blazers on display, right next to some polos.

Namely, the store’s lighter-weight blazers and tailoring are a particular strong point. From houndstooth linen to a light grey cotton-linen blend and a khaki option, all were relatively high-quality, with nice, trim fits, minimal interior lining (a crucial point in the hot weather), and features like slimmer lapels. The basics were included too, like some navy and light grey suiting options. However, the selection even in this NYC store was nowhere near as extensive as the website, and only appeared to include the brand’s Tailored Fit option, as opposed to the trimmer Modern Slim option. On the other hand, there were quite a few tailored dress shirts and silk ties on display, making BR a pretty solid first bet to pick up a starter suit and tie set.

Some of the extensive shirting and ties offered at BR.
Some of the extensive shirting and ties offered at BR.

So, the suiting and dress shirt selection is solid and reasonably-priced. What about the rest of the store? Banana Republic has, to this point, done a nice job staying competitive in the men’s footwear market. Some of the more modern options offered in-store (like the Ryan suede double-monk strap shoes, as reviewed here) seem durable and of reliable quality in terms of construction and appearance. And the options offered in-store seem to reflect that  — basic oxfords in grey and navy suede, a chukka sneaker option and some leather loafers, among others. The selection had nice variety in terms of color and options offered, and when on-sale, (like the 30% off featured on this particular day), the prices are knocked down to just north of $100 for some shoes — definitely not a bad price at all.

Shoes on shelves, mostly in summer suede.
Shoes on shelves, mostly in summer suede.

But, it seems Banana Republic could do more to draw in younger customers looking for more contemporary items. The brand’s slim-fit denim is a relatively recent arrival, and exists on the website next to a relaxed-fit option — admittedly, most younger, trimmer guys are looking for something a little more polished and free of most pre-distressing, as found in some of BR’s pairs. Now, not that a lighter-wash or slightly distressed jean is a bad thing (it’s certainly not, especially in the spring or summer) but when combined with a slightly less-trim fit, it would seem that J. Crew has Banana Republic beat in this department (with its slim 484 fit).

The 'vintage straight' fit, as seen in-store.
The ‘vintage straight’ fit, as seen in-store.

Elsewhere however, the brand turns up some pleasant surprises. Many seem to love the dressy sheen of BR’s Luxe-Touch polos,  which can also be worn fairly casually with shorts. Some other eye-catching options include the washed vintage polos (as seen near the bottom of this page) and a bevy of striped and colorblock selections (try and avoid that logo, though!). And some more unique, sporty-looking summer and early fall sweaters were on display, too (think thicker, athletic-inspired stripes, sturdy buttons and ribbed collars — like this option here.

The store’s selection of T-shirts, in both crewneck, V-neck and pocket options, is pretty straightforward, although the shirts that combine, say, colorblocking, a slight wash and a pocket (as seen online) look promising for the future. Much of the same goes for Banana Republic’s shorts, which recently underwent a slight overhaul with the introduction of the slimmer-fitting Aiden short. As always, be sure to keep an eye on the sale section — a spin through that area of the store turned up some pieces with a pop of color, including the dark green military-inspired jacket below (which was not available on the website).

photo 1While the brand has done a nice job positioning itself as a good entry-level location for suiting and tailored blazers, as well as standard sweaters, polos and T-shirts, it appears there’s one key factor that could be keeping younger customers out of Banana Republic stores. The brand seems a little more straightforward and less edgy than, for example, J. Crew, and has only fairly recently introduced more tailored fits in some products. The slimmer fits are largely a positive step, but it’s come a bit later than other brands.  And the same qualities that make it ideal to build starter style also might keep more stylistically advanced customers away.

At the end of the day though, it’s a store that’s worth checking out for affordable, more tailored basics and some good steals in the shoe department. When combined with slightly more forward brands, like J. Crew, BR’s products can definitely exist side-by-side as part of a well put-together wardrobe. That’s about all you can ask from your closet.

Summer Style Suggestion: Patterned Shorts

My favorite look so far this summer also happens to be the easiest to style: patterned shorts.  These have been gaining popularity for a while, and for good reason! You can throw on some shorts, a loose tee and sandals in the morning for a daytime-casual look, and then switch into a crop top and flatforms or wedges for a night look. My favorite thing about these shorts are how comfortable they are. I prefer the looser cut so I can still move around in them.  Most of the patterned shorts have a wide color scheme, so you can wear almost any color with them.

Check out these specific pairs:

Urban Renewal Gauze Ruffle Short
Urban Renewal Gauze Ruffle Short

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JOA Daisy-Trim Floral-Print Short
JOA Daisy-Trim Floral-Print Short

Urban Outfitters has so many cute options for patterned shorts, but these two were my favorite!

Nasty Gal It's a Trip Shorts
Nasty Gal It’s a Trip Shorts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nasty Gal always has so many patterned shorts in stock.  I love this pair because the lace trim can help to dress up the shorts a lot!

Tobi Carrington Shorts
Tobi Carrington Shorts

Tobi, one of my favorite online shopping websites, has some great options as well! I love the ruffle at the bottom of this pair!

These shorts look great on so many body types, go with everything, and are super comfortable. They are all the rage, so almost any store in your price range will have some! If you are crafty, pick up a pattern and some cool fabric (vintage fabrics are great for these!) and sew them yourself!

That's what I did!
That’s what I did! Vintage fabric and tiny pom-pom trim!