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.
My 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 the 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 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 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.
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 white, light blue, university blue stripe, university red stripe. (Wait for BB post-Christmas sale where shirts and other attire are 40% + additional 20% off)
Alternative brands: Land's End, J. Press
Of all the items, this should be most slim cut if you have the build. I don't usually like logos but on polos its ok. 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 black Lacoste polo with the green crocodile.
Basics: white and navy Brooks Brothers polo
Alternative brands: Vineyard Vines, Southern Tide, Lacoste
No, chinos are not reserved for 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. This trend started in the Ivy League schools in the 1950s and it’s a great preppy look. 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. Grey wool gabardine slacks from J Press.
Alternative brands: Duck Head, Jack Donnelly Khakis, Land's End, LL Bean
Easier to use GTH colors, plaid, seersucker, and patchwork with shorts. Generally stay away from pleats. Inseam should be 7-9" depending on 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. I wear most of my shorts at 8” which ends right at the start of my quads. In the summer I enjoy pairing OCBDs, shorts, surcingle belt, and boat shoes or loafers.
Basics: khaki and stone shorts from Bill's Khakis
Alternative brands: Duck Head, Ralph Lauren, Land's End
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 "Shrink to Fit" 501 jeans and wear them for at least a year without washing. It may sound disgusting but you will earn those natural whiskers and creases over time. STF 501s will mold to your body and earn a personality of their own over the years. Kids back in the day would get a pair of new jeans that were supposed to last them for years. They would play baseball in them, roll in the mud, knick them on fences, and collect grass stains. The natural fading and holes the kids got were from living in those jeans, not paying extra for prefabricated fakeness! Eventually, look to A.P.C or Sugar Cane Co. for selvedge denim that will be your “nice” jeans. And with that, you can live the rest of your life with only 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 501 STF in indigo
Alternative brands: Rugby by Ralph Lauren, A.P.C, Sugar Cane Co.
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. Look into cashmere when you have the budget. Shaggy Dog sweaters by J Press, Norwegian sweaters by LL Bean, and Fair Isle, Shawl, and Cable Knit sweaters are trad favorites.
Basics: grey Shaggy Dog shetland crewneck from J Press, navy v neck from J Crew, navy or cream shawl cardigan from J Crew
Alternative brands: Canvas by Land's End, LL Bean, Pendleton Woolen Mills
The red G9 Harrington was popularized by James Dean in the movie Rebel Without a Cause. English countrymen would wear a Barbour wax coat while hunting, and is very warm if you layer underneath. For winter, a suitable choice would a pea coat. Sterlingwear of Boston has the US Navy contract for pea coats and their coats can be had for much cheaper than most high label designers. Other casual alternatives are car coats and field coats. For the more formal end, top coats such as the Chesterfields and Trench. As with everything, fit is very important and makes the difference between looking slim and sophisticated or bulky and unorganized. Longer the coat, the more formal it is considered. Length should end at mid-thigh and never past your knees. You are not a 1920s Italian Gangster.
Basics: brown olive Liddesdale by Barbour, navy or black pea coat from Sterlingwear of Boston
Alternative brands: J Crew University Coat, Brooks Brothers Chesterfield, Gloverall Duffle, Baracuta G9 Harrington
Suits and Blazers
A man in a well-fitting suit will look expensive even if it only cost him $200. Just make sure your suit jacket is the correct chest size and that the pads hug your shoulders. Everything else is negotiable. A good jacket length is where you can cup the bottom naturally with your hands while standing. You should be able to see 1/4" to 1/2" of your shirt cuff peeking out when your arms are at your side. Leave out the stripes and patterns until you have at least 2 basic solid suits. Charcoal and navy will do everything for you. Do not buy black. There are countless other tips for suits out there but the above lays the groundwork. Suits are the reason why you want a good tailor. You want the fitting to be slim and youthful.
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 featured above) then your navy or charcoal suit pants can double as standalone darker-colored dress slacks.
A blue blazer with gold or bronze buttons 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.
Chino, plaid, patchwork, and seersucker sports jackets are good for summer. Tweed, wool, corduroy, and herringbone for winter. A navy unlined chino blazer works well for going out on a warm night.
Since suits are such a power item, when you become CEO you can look into the top shelf labels like Brioni, Oxxford, and Ralph Lauren Purple Label.
Basics: navy 2 button Brooks Brothers Fitzgerald cut suit ($500 post-Christmas sale), 2/3 button sack navy blazer from J Press
Alternative brands: Hickey Freeman, Ralph Lauren, 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 tie from Brooks Brothers. Navy grenadine and black knit tie from J Press
Alternative brands: Paul Stuart, Ben Silver, Southern Proper, The Cordial Churchman
Back in the day, all you would need were your penny loafers and a dress shoe. Not practical of course in present time so I'll just list what I would wear: 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, New Balance or Asics for running and other physical activities. Invest the most in your pair of black captoe dress shoes- Allen Edmonds is a good starter shoe and made in the USA. Other brands (read: more expensive) include Alden, John Lobbs, and Churchs. And stay away from square toes. Leave the Rainbow sandals for the beach.
Random others: LL Bean boots for rain/snow, camp or blucher mocs, driver mocs, suede bucks, tassel loafers, chukka boots, wingtips, and monk straps.
Basics: listed above
Alternative brands: Rancourt & Co, Quoddy, Red Wing, Cole Haan, Jack Purcell, Nike Classics
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 winter months to avoid any weird looks.
Alternative brands: J Crew, Gap, Brooks Brothers, Corgi, Marcoliani
Accessories: There are only 3 types of accessories appropriate for guys. A watch, sunglasses, and a wedding band, as needed. Everything else is supplemental.
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. A cell phone is not a timepiece. Watches are what purses are to women, but at least a trad man goes for minimalism! A simple and cheap Timex 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.
Basics: Seiko 5 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. Ray-Bans and Persols are my favorite brands. Spend the extra money on the polarized lenses, your eyes will thank you after a few hours at the beach or the slopes.
Basics: American Optical Original Pilot in gold color and bayonet temples, Costa polarized shades
Alternative brands: Persol, Moscot, Randolph Engineering, Bolle, Maui Jim
Keep leather dress belts 1" to 1.25" thick and with smaller buckles. Engine-turned buckles are my favorite and remind me of something a hot shot investment banker would wear. Thicker belts and larger buckles are for jeans only. Surcingle and needlepoint belts are extremely preppy and GTH, especially if you add in a few motif or embroided belts. 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! Check out companies like Smathers & Branson, Tucker Blair, and Leatherman Ltd.
Basics: navy surcingle from Land's End, 1" light brown belt from Trafalgar, 1" dark brown belt from Trafalgar with engine-turned buckle plaque
Alternative brands: Austin Jeffers, Ralph Lauren, Orvis, Tiffany & Co belt plaque
American brands to trust. There are certainly more 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, Alden, Cable Car Clothiers, Gitman Brothers, Pennington, Quoddy, Sperry, Sebago, Southwick, Woolrich Woolen Mills, Gant, Orvis, Filson, Anderson-Little, Murray's Toggle Shop, Bill's Khakis, Florsheim, Bass, Ben Silver, Hart Schaffner Marx, Sterlingwear of Boston, and Paul Stewart.
“Neo-Prep” brands like J Crew, Vineyard Vines, Patagonia, etc. are not traditional but they have done well enough to mention.
End result, Yale 1964:
Photo credits: Life