The Power of The Knitted Shirt: An Example

When it comes to dressing casual these days, one might feel the desire to be modern without appearing like a little boy. What I mean by this is, it is easy to throw on a t-shirt, jacket, chinos and some Tennies, and voila, you are casually acceptable and perfectly modern. But, this is how 99% of boys, and even men these days will be dressing.

To me, this has become not just uninspired, but also a bit too casual for the man looking to dress with a bit more sophistication. On the other hand, it is quite easy, when one wants to dress with sophistication, to “over-frump” one’s self. I’m sure you’ve seen guys online, while following the rules of elevated casual, looking like a grandpa. Honestly, I’m not sure which is worse, a man dressing like a boy, or a man dressing like the elderly.

Either way, I think many of us want to avoid such aesthetics, so I wanted to give an example of how to do so. Now, I want to be clear here that I am not talking about dressing up in any formal-casual or business-casual way. I am referring to casual dress only right now.

I think this particular example is of importance because it represents the lower limits of sophisticated-modern casual. A polo, and especially a button down shirt, can remain casual yet sophisticated, but either would turn the formality up one notch. A shirt without a color will always be the most casual one can take it.

That is precisely what makes pulling off a crew-neck or V-neck so difficult. It is far too easy to go too casual with it. Conversely, that is something that makes a collared shirt of any kind dangerous in the exact opposite direction. A collared shirt can appear too formal, if worn and mixed with other items improperly, but I’ll save that discussion for another day.

In my opinion, the best way to ensure a shirt without a collar is more sophisticated than casual is to make that shirt a knitted one. Knitted shirts are typically quite different than a woven shirt in terms of drape as well as design. Knitted shirts often have banded bottoms as well as banding on the sleeves, both short and long. To be clear, not all knitted shirts are created equal, and one should avoid more casual, athletic sweaters when trying to elevate their look.

There is just a more sophisticated air about a properly knitted shirt that adds to brining up the formality of the outfit. My go-to are cotton knitted shirts from John Smedley, as shown here because cotton breathes better in warmer temperatures than wool and especially cashmere. I like to obtain warmth from my jacket rather than my base layers, as this allows my outfits to be more adaptable to changing weather patterns throughout the day.

Thus, even taking the jacket off produces a look that is far more elevated than a woven T-Shirt would produce. The knitted shirt creates a beautiful complexity of formality that allows the elegant man to dress down without dressing like a kid. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with wearing a T-Shirt, I’m simply saying that an older gentleman, like myself, is often better off keeping T-Shirts for athleisure wear and more rustic attire than sophisticated-casual ones.

I remember my first introduction to the idea of a knitted T-Shirt as an option for sophisticated-casual coming from an Oliver People’s advertisement. There was just something so effortless and simple about it. The idea that elegance could be expressed so concisely in nothing more than just a shirt, trousers, a nice pair of sunnies, a beautiful watch and a well chosen pair of shoes, reminds me of the satisfaction I get from the simplicity of a camp color shirt and shorts with the appropriately associated accessories in the summer, but now tailored for the spring and fall.

I don’t know, there has always just been a sense of lacking I associate with a typical woven T-Shirt or polo shirt when compared to the sense of occasion their knitted counterparts bring. There is just something about the artistry that goes into a piece of knitwear that makes it stand out as wholly appropriate as the centerpiece of an outfit, a feat not capable of being accomplished by a woven T-Shirt or polo.

One of my favorite examples of the power of knitted shirting on film is from the movie Focus (one of my favorite movies of all time). In fact, it may have even been from this film that I got the idea of using knits to upgrade the formality of a shirt, likely subconsciously without me even realizing it! If you haven’t seen the film, I highly recommend doing so, as it is an incredibly stylish entry into the con/heist genre.

Now, since a component of the outfit that is close to my face is such a casual one by nature, the rest of the outfit needs to compensate in order to support the direction of formality the knitted choice is going. Instead of jeans, I chose chinos. Instead of a cotton or leather jacket, which could make the look either too casual or too rustic, I chose suede.

My watch is a classic GADA Omega Planet Ocean on a metal bracelet, which possess a versatility akin to the Rolex Submariner. My sunglasses are rather eccentric being almost completely square, but are grounded due to their aviator-like material and construction. But, I would say it’s the top and bottom of this ensemble that can make or break the effect.

Starting with the bottom, it would be easy to simply slap some Tennies on this puppy and call it a day, but to do so would lean far too casual. Chukka boots is a more sophisticated choice, but so too is the last the boots are framed upon. These boots are the Crockett and Jones Sulgrave model on their No. 379 last, which is elongated and sharp, rather than short and more rounded.

A longer more pointed last gives these boots a more formal appearance, but their overall design and unlined construction provide a casual laid-back counterbalance. So, even down to the tips of my toes I am communicating how I want this outfit to be perceived. This is how deep one can take this.

Lastly my hair is freshly cut and maintained with a buzzed sides and long top look that is modern yet traditionally styled. I’m not pretending to be younger than I am at the age of 41, but I’m also not condemning myself to overtly old man vibes. Many other styles of hair cuts could work here for sure, but the general rule of owning up to, rather than attempting to mask, one’s age, while simultaneously injecting something modern, is key.

And, I will tell you, the way this outfit was received was highly successful. Everywhere I went, I felt like the best dressed man in the room, and the responses from passersby helped confirmed those feelings. The day I wore this, there were many young men half my age wearing something very similar in tone, but completely different in terms of formality and execution.

The T-Shirt, chinos, Tennies and cotton jacket just couldn’t hold up to the sophistication of the look I put together, and bows of respect as well as defeat were the norm of the day. I even found myself noticing women checking their own attire, attempting to access wether or not they were up to par, only to quickly realize they were not.

When an outfit is socially impactful, it is a very good feeling because you know you are adding to the conversation. You are offering a community a new benchmark to uphold and injecting an inspiration of style, sophistication and beauty into the world. Many before have inspired me to access my own personal style and determine where there is room for improvement, and the opportunity to be able do the same is rewarding for sure.

Finally, just a note on quality. I purchased some of these items at full price and some second hand at a discount, but all of them are of a very high quality. Make no mistakes about it, the same outfit with lower quality items would not look as nice. I know some may be offended by this statement, but I think you shouldn’t be.

Take the sweater for example. It’s a Sea Island Cotton variety that at original price would be about $325, but I got it for $60 on eBay. Meaning, instead of buying a middle of the road sweater for $60, I bought the highest quality sweater available for $60. Does this mean I had to compromise on color and style? Well, yes, but a grey sweater like this is a classic staple that can be used with many different outfits in many different situations and climates.

Thus, this is a sweater I may very well be able to keep for the remainder of my life and the choice of quality afforded me that luxury. It’s high quality and well made, and is less likely to fall apart like a cheaper sweater might. Additionally, limiting myself to only high quality items makes me want to make them last and gets me away from choosing things that are fast fashion and keeps me sticking with the basics.

The same is true of the jacket, having found it for about half off it’s $700 price tag, I still had to give some serious thought to the purchase. I had to think about wether or not it is something I want in my wardrobe forever. Buying only luxury items puts the proper amount of pressure on every purchase and steers us away from buying things we don’t need and accumulating more inevitable waste. Obviously, much more can be said on the topic of quality over quantity, but for now, I’ll leave it at that.

One final, final note is in regards to this outfit’s connection to James Bond. I see this look as an extension of what was explored in Quantum of Solace, that being sophisticated-casual, just with a slightly more modern-casual appeal. I think Quantum’s casual outfits were an improvement to those found in Casino Royale, and with the knitted polo being something of a Bond staple, the exertion to knitted T-Shirts doesn’t feel like that big of a leap.

I think moving forward, it will be more and more important that Bond’s casual attire allows him to fit in even more with the lower formality of the average man, while still remaining the stylish rather than the fashionable version of that. I think a knitted T-Shirt accomplishes that quite well, and only time will tell if Bond will adapt the same sentiment.

Ultimately, I love this look. For all it is and for all it was, it was a damn fine day and I looked damn fine in it. What more can any of us ask for?

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