Photography by JOSHUA SCOTT
Styling by CHARLES W. BUMGARDNER
Style Editor KAREEM RASHED
By late July, lockdown restrictions where I am in London had noticeably eased. Today, there are more people on the trains, more bankers in the financial district and more hedge-funders in Mayfair. Everyone, it seems, is back to business, with masks and socially distanced meetings now considered business as usual. But there is one notable change among the city’s purposeful men: Few are wearing suits.
When quarantine made work-from-home the new nine-to-five, the usual office uniform was put on hiatus. Now men are emerging with a more relaxed approach to suiting up. Sartorial historians will note there has already been a steady easing of menswear codes over the past century, including for the clothes considered acceptable for doing business. From frock coats to power suits to polo shirts, the stiffness has slowly seeped out. The pandemic has simply accelerated a decades-long trend.
But the need to dress up hasn’t disappeared, even if the look itself has shifted guises. In recent years, designers have proposed an array of pieces to help the modern man look sharp without a suit and tie, in many cases opting for a more casual version of traditional items. But the smart piece to invest in now is a blazer alternative.
There are many forms, all with the same aim: to add structure and polish. The covering layer may be practical, with handy pockets, or simply provide warmth. In any case, it’s helpful to understand the taxonomy of this new breed of outerwear.
First, take the knit jacket. It looks like a tailored sport coat but is made from a knitted or jersey material, which gives it the comfort of a sweatshirt but with the bonus of lapels and pockets. These are often offered single-breasted and in navy, to further mimic a blazer. The natty silhouette makes it an easy option for spiffing up casual attire like old jeans.
“Despite everything that’s going on, I think men still need to look sharp for both work and play, hence the rise of modern alternatives to the tailored jacket,” says the Armoury cofounder Mark Cho. The brand, our Best of the Best retail-store winner for its boutiques in New York and Hong Kong, has two exemplary models: City Hunter and Arthur’s Standard. “Of our two, City Hunter has a slight country look, with some notable fans such as the watchmaker François-Paul Journe,” Cho says. “The Arthur’s Standard is more workwear-inspired and favored by the art- and-architecture crowd.”
The second category of neo-blazer is the overshirt, which, as the name implies, is closer to a shirt than a jacket. A cousin of the safari jacket, the overshirt also shares some genes with the humble flannel shirt; it buttons all the way up and rarely has internal pockets. It’s particularly nice in linen for the summer, but this fall many brands offer the look in corduroy, leather and suede. Valstar, Isaia and Dunhill all have them, often with breast pockets and snap studs instead of buttons, for a more modern look. Layered atop a dress shirt or sweater, it’s an unfussy way to tie an outfit together.
Last, the shawl-collar cardigan. The previous examples evolved from jackets and shirts, respectively, but this one is firmly in the knitwear camp. While cardigans are typically associated with off-duty pursuits, the addition of a collar is all that’s needed to elevate it to a jacket substitute. But a word of caution: These work best in conservative colors, such as navy or charcoal. A friend who wore a cream version for a recent Zoom meeting was asked if he was still in his bathrobe.
More to the point, all these jacket alternatives are wonderful pieces for a video call at home. It would look odd to put on a jacket and tie in such a situation, anyway, so something relaxed yet grown-up is not only acceptable but preferable. You might even find the world outside has followed suit.