Sportswear and its Merits

By Alex Roest

As we’ve seen in The Boutique as a Sartorial Temple there had been a serious move towards a more casual street smart look since the fifties. A transposition of attire as it were.The very word sports jacket indicating a thing or two as well although it was still a long way to go to the tracktop being established as a classic.

Three-button sports style1.

There is however a huge gap between what was once considered as a sporty (weekend) outfit and todays uniform of studied nonchalance. The difference is basically an attitude thing though. Whereas people before the second World War (and for some time afterwards still for that matter) wanted to look smart and tidy in sports jacket, button-down shirt and slacks, scruffiness seems to be the norm nowadays. People most definitely don’t want to come across as neat anyway. Back in the day a man wouldn’t take off his jacket too easily which should be looked upon away from convention. Even within the comfort of his own home the sake of smartness would still call for a nice sweater or cardigan to be worn over the (open necked) shirt. If one understands this intrinsic need, well, that would be a start I’d say. Perhaps in this day and age the knitwear would be a bit more adventurous so the sporty element will be a bit more prominently on show. There might even be a tiny label to spot on first or second glance (gasp).

It’s all a matter of nuance and a shifting emphasis really. A contemporary take on a classic influence, a style update which can be lifted from fashion, but that’s optional.

The same goes for the footwear. Think nice, clean trainers instead of the classic loafer for instance : Puma Clyde or States, Adidas Samba or Forest Hills, New Balance Trackster, Nike Bruin or Cortez or Diadora Elite are all great classic alternatives. Please be aware of the fact that not all re-issues are all that great though.

Puma Clyde – Olive and green. Classic Puma basketball shoe straight from the archives2.

To elaborate on this, just stop and think of the fact that the classic sports jacket will look pretty formal to the average modern eye. The wearing of a simple knitted polo shirt under a (suit) jacket will ask a lot more of the imagination to reach the same liberating effect, if you will, too. In this respect one could e.g. think of a Rapha cycling top and in doing so implementing a functional, hard wearing garment to an otherwise semi-formal outfit. The loosened tie worn cuphandle style might still carry some validity when applied imaginatively (like under an interesting v-neck and blazer combo perhaps), but you’ll get my drift by now.

Further still I’m convinced it’s next to impossible to make those of classic sartorial persuasion see the beauty of the tracktop, let alone them donning one, but as an example I’d like to point out the smart effect the following ensemble will have, once you’ve got an eye for it :

Classic (that word again) box-fresh (like) trainers, a pair of the best modern jeans there is to be found (indigo, possibly dry/raw and no distressing or other distracting, silly details), matching belt, quality T-shirt and cotton or wool mix tracktop in perfect colour coordination with those trainers. Solid colour socks too of course ; Burlington or Falke rather than toweling ones and you’ve arrived. Oh, and all this topped off with a short, neat haircut needless to say. As in a best of both worlds sort of way ; counterbalancing the overall casual presentation that is.

Fila Match Day Jacket3.

The idea of taking countrywear to the city is not a new one, indeed far from it, but it’s a core idea nevertheless when it comes to ‘Smart Casual’. Casual smart reminds me too much of a business suit worn ‘sans tie’ by the way, so the correct term would be as stated thank you very much. I do like the sound of ‘Casual Chic’ as well. It would become a bit pretentious however when used on a regular basis. Also, it’s not at all in accordance with the working class roots of the matter (tongue placed firmly in cheek). Taking schmutter out of its context and applying it to less obvious, new surroundings remains an endless source of inspiration for those into what we’ve previously dubbed as ‘Hard Dandy’.

Perhaps the biggest challenge within this approach is to make a combination of formal-, sports- and country gear work. e.g. Trainers, cords and formal shirt topped off with some heavier ‘outdoor’ knitwear (I would like to mention CP Company and Stone Island here).

Such an outfit is guaranteed to be appreciated. What makes it all most interesting, to my mind anyway, is that it is a reversed form of rebellion. Subtle, smart and sensible at the same time. The perfect look in short because it never really dates.

Another good look may consist of a sports shirt meant to be worn untucked, so that the bottom of the shirt can be seen from under a colour-wise complementing v-neck. Again, if this combination is worn in perfect harmony with some nice casual footwear, with maybe some fitted cotton trousers worn in subtle support, it may result in a very youthful look that will actually work regardless of age. And what’s more : there are so many modern classic jackets to be found in both bold or sober colours, whatever the occasion may ask for, that have a street smart appeal. Cotton/windcheater, like the Baracuta G9, waxed cotton (Barbour and Belstaff spring to mind), corduroy, denim, leather, wool, you name it. Just try on a few of those handsome numbers in front of a full length mirror at your favourite clothes shop, simply enjoy the fact that you won’t be able to buy them all and let the mirror decide for you.

Barbour International Jacket Sandstone4

Suede chukka boots with matching belt, quality jeans, plain merino roll- or turtleneck and tweed jacket with a paisley hanky is another look I rather like in a more classic framework. Think Steve McQueen in “Bullitt”. The jacket may require a contemporary touch mind, perhaps an Italian, semi fitted one or then again maybe the use of a mixed fabric would be nice.

The possibilities there are to discover through experimentation never stop to amaze me. Sartorial exploration will keep me busy until the end of my days and I suspect a few of you reading these lines will keep me company in spirit. Fellow travellers and all that.

Alex Roest


1 New York Public Library Digital Images

2 End Clothing

3 Microzine

4 Oi Polloi

Recommended reading :

Trainers by Neal Heard

Casuals by Phil Thornton

They’ve Done Us On The Wardrobe Front pt II: Phil Thornton Casuals by Alex Roest

  1. Pat Williams    Nov 29, 00:58    #

    Cool site.

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