Mark 4 July with a celebration of classic US style from seven American brands.
The US has given the world a great many things over the years. Rock ‘n’ roll. Pro wrestling. Neoliberal capitalism. Competitive eating. The Real Housewives Of Orange County. Mr Bill Murray. But one thing that is often forgotten is the contribution it has made to modern menswear. Unlike England or Italy, the US has no great tailoring tradition. Unlike France, it can’t claim to have produced such illustrious fashion houses as Lanvin, Berluti, Balenciaga or Saint Laurent. And yet, despite its relative upstart status, there’s perhaps no country in the world that has influenced the way that we dress today more than the good ol’ US of A.
Don’t believe us? Take a second to look at what you’re wearing right now. Jeans? Invented in Reno, Nevada by Mr Jacob W Davis, and first produced by his San Francisco-based fabric supplier, one Mr Levi Strauss. Sweatshirt? Originally credited to Russell Athletic of Alexander City, Alabama. Button-down shirt? Designed by Mr John E Brooks of New York clothiers Brooks Brothers. We could go on. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination, for instance, to guess the origins of the baseball cap or basketball sneaker, both of which have broken free of their respective sports to become staples of the modern man’s wardrobe.
With 4 July mere days away, we figured that there’s no better time to buy into this particular slice of the American dream. Read on as we reveal a few of our favourite menswear classics that were born in, or at least adopted by, the US. And to show just how widely understood the vernacular of American style is, we’ve included our favourite versions made by international brands, too.
You wouldn’t think it to look at them now, but basketball shoes used to be simple things. Take the Converse All-Star, which was introduced in 1917 and later renamed in honour of the basketballer who became its star salesman, Mr Chuck Taylor. Refreshingly free from limited-edition colourways, space-age midsoles and million-dollar athlete contracts, the Chuck Taylor All-Star is packed instead with vintage charm. And though you won’t find it on the basketball court any time soon – at least not in anything approaching a professional game – it lives on as a casual sneaker, and has established itself as a true icon of American style.
That’s “Oxford cloth button-down”, in case you were wondering, and despite the “Oxford” in the name, it’s perhaps the quintessentially American shirt. As previously mentioned, it was first designed by Mr John E Brooks of Brooks Brothers, New York. While spectating a polo game, Mr Brooks observed that some of the English polo players were fastening their collars to their shirts in order to keep them held down during games. Applying this concept to dress shirts, he invented a new style that found popularity as part of the “Ivy Look”, an influential trend that evolved on the campuses of elite American universities in the 1940s and 1950s. The OCBD remains popular to this day, with designers such as Thom Browne finding new ways to reinvent it. We particularly like this version, with red, white and blue sleeves. Very patriotic.
The first Hawaiian shirts were made by Japanese tailors long before the remote Pacific island group became a part of the US in 1959. Is it fair to say, then, that it was born in the US? Perhaps not. But it got its green card thanks to Mr Elvis Presley, who modelled a fetching red number in 1961’s Blue Hawaii, and gained full US citizenship a couple of decades later when Mr Tom Selleck repeated the act in the 1980s crime drama Magnum, PI. The cut of a Hawaiian shirt – loose, short-sleeved and with a camp collar, which is designed to be worn open – is having something of a moment, and based on the recent collections at the SS17 shows, it is set to continue next year. Why not get in on the act in time for Independence Day with this example from the cult California surf brand, Stüssy?
Is there anything more quintessentially American than whiling away an afternoon at the ball game? Hardly, thinks Mr John Brodie, VP of content and branding at J.Crew. “Baseball is a window into the American mindset,” he explains in a recent article in The Journal. “The big grassy expanse of a baseball field… recalls our agrarian roots, and baseball’s gear has a decidedly anachronistic feel.” As far as baseball gear goes, it doesn’t get much more anachronistic than that made by Ebbets Field Flannels, a Brooklyn-based purveyor of vintage-inspired baseball caps that are constructed from flannel and wool broadcloth. This one’s a replica of the cap worn by the Los Angeles Angels in 1954. (There’s a New York Yankees version available, too, but you’ll have to hurry – it’s on sale as we speak.)
Quite the marriage made in heaven, this one. Champion is a heritage sportswear brand founded in 1919 – if it wasn’t already obvious from the sweatshirt – with a logo so recognisable that it was appropriated, along with the DHL logo, by the French buzz brand Vetements for its SS16 collection. Mr Todd Snyder is a designer with a CV that reads like a who’s who of menswear, with previous stints at J.Crew and Polo Ralph Lauren under his belt, to name but a few. The resulting collaboration between these two heavyweights of American style was released in 2013 to considerable popular acclaim, and not just from the guys: according to Mr Snyder, the sweats were so admired by the wives and girlfriends of his customers that he was compelled to create a women’s range, which debuted only this year.
Yes, even the humble T-shirt has American roots. Originally an undergarment designed for the US Navy, it became standard issue across the entire military during WWII and was introduced into the civilian wardrobe by returning veterans. There’s something indubitably American about the plain white tee, which has been worn by some of Hollywood’s most iconic actors: Mr Marlon Brando in The Wild One, Mr Montgomery Clift in A Place In The Sun (both 1951) and Mr James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause (1955). Seeing as it’s the Fourth of July, though, we’ve ditched the white in favour of a slightly more eye-catching version from the New York surf brand Saturdays NYC in a shade we like to call “Rocket-Flare Red”.
Plaid is not an American invention: the pattern can be traced back to Scottish tartan. But the plaid shirt has become such a part of the fabric of American life through its associations with lumberjacks and grunge music – and, yes, hipster culture – that it’d be remiss not to include it on our list. Such is its enduring popularity that even the US’s most forward-thinking designers are happy to embrace it. This version by red-hot New York streetwear label Public School gets our vote, but if you’re looking for something a little more colourful you could do worse than examine what’s on offer from Gitman Vintage or J.Crew.