When I was in college my girlfriends tended to dress me, and one in particular, decided that my preference for rowing shirts won off the backs of vanquished opponents, Grateful Dead concert t-shirts, and frayed collar button downs carried over from my prep school dress code days needed to be replaced with a new standard “Dave Look” based on white Brooks Brothers button downs and well faded blue Levi’s 505 classic jeans. Brooks Brothers was different in the 1970s, still the standard bearer of the iconic American Ivy Traditional look, and because of my allegiance to all things Yale, I expanded to include a few button flap pocket J. Press shirts as that shop was the classic Dink Stover haberdasher of New Haven.
After thirty years of Brooks Brothers I finally decided enough was enough. The quality of the oxford cloth was deteriorating, everyone and their brother owned the same shirts, and button downs simply aren’t fashionable enough for someone in the digital creative world. I’ve always been accustomed to life spent in coat and tie thanks to my years in boarding school. Forbes was a good place to indulge in bow-ties and suits. But once I arrived at McKinsey at the nadir of the dot.bomb revolution I realized the older partners were lost trying to repurpose closets full of $8,000 Brioni suits into something resembling business casual. The pit of sartorial despair was Lenovo — the computer industry is the worst dressed collection of pleated Dockers, golf-shirt wearing conformists in the world. As one former colleague despaired, the look was pure Greg Norman.
One headhunter last summer gave me shit for showing up in a bowtie and said I needed to go more digitally hip. For example? I asked. Carry an iPad and dress like Bradley Cooper the guy said. I didn’t know who the hell Bradley Cooper was, but I had visions of being a tan-in-a-can douchebag in distressed fashion skinny jeans with a collarless shirt, hipster fedora, and some wasp waisted velvet blazer with a pink lining.
Feh. No thanks.
A couple years ago I sucked it up and went English, specifically Turnbull and Asser, and haven’t looked back since. I can’t afford custom shirts — hell, Forbes.com in its annual “Living Extremely Well” index pegs a dozen bespoke T&A shirts at $4,380, a mere $365 a shirt. Me, I am content going off the rack, and being an American preppy at heart, can’t bring myself to go to french cuffs and cufflinks, so my cost per shirt is considerably less. Sure, a custom shirt would be a fantastic luxury, but I’m not living at that end of the sartorial closet where I have the right to insist on hand tailored suits from the likes of Huntsman, Thomas Mahon, or Gieves and Hawkes (someday, but not now).
One thing to be said for the Jermyn Street school of shirtings is the British don’t shy away from plumage and do a wild job with color and patterns. So, goodbye boring blue, white and pink Brooks Brothers, and hello to tattersalls, university stripes, spread collars and those nice little gussets that beef up the tails. The shirts simply feel better and feeling good is the first step towards looking good. And thank heavens for the current office environment in Manhattan, something about working out of a mid-town townhouse behind the Museum of Modern Art demands a little more fashion effort than a Research Triangle office park.