For many men of my generation, who grew up in the 1980s and ‘90s, our first introduction to classic style was at a Ralph Lauren store. That’s where we fell in love with things such as sporting tweeds, chambray work shirts, and the chalky hand of ancient madder. Ralph Lauren didn’t invent these things, of course, but they presented them in a way that felt sexy. Brooks Brothers has been many things, but it has never been sexy.
In some ways, Drake’s is doing that for a younger generation, albeit at a much smaller scale. As the brand has expanded beyond just accessories, taking on tailoring and sportswear, it’s been able to present a fuller vision of how classic style can be worn today. These lookbooks have become incredibly popular in recent years, often getting posted on sites such as Reddit’s Male Fashion Advice within minutes of their release. And much like how Ralph Lauren helped translate classic style for me, I think Drake’s is putting a new spin on the language. Instead of showing pinstripe suits in luxuriously paneled offices, with decor reminiscent of an expensive lawyer’s sanctum, they feature softer takes on classic menswear in more relatable environs. Tweeds and duffle coats are shown being worn at university campuses, seersucker suits in Southern diners, and brushed Shetlands on moss-covered, rocky shores.
This season, the team went to Lanzarote, one of the seven main Canary Islands located just off the coast of Morocco. It’s a short four-hour plane ride from London, making it a popular fly-and-flop destination for vacationing Brits (many retreat there for some much-needed winter warmth). But for Drake’s, the subtropical archipelago was also an excellent solution to a real problem. How do you shoot a spring/ summer lookbook in the middle of January, when it’s snowing in London? To show their collection in a warmer clime, they headed to the one place known as the “Island of Eternal Spring.”
Some designers wipe the slate clean every season and start anew, but when I first interviewed Drake’s Creative Director Michael Hill seven years ago, he described his work as a kind of evolutionary process. “If you look at our collections from season to season, our designs never move dramatically, but they do progress nicely and slowly,” he said. “When you go through the design process, you very naturally come up with fresh takes, either on things you found in the archive or things you’ve been developing with mills.” That means playing with a color scheme on an old David Evans pattern or coming up with a twist on last season’s yarns.
The company has stayed close to that design philosophy as they’ve grown into a fuller menswear label. This season still has soft-shouldered sport coats made in Italy – the mainline’s versions are all half-canvassed, the more affordable Easyday is totally deconstructed with just some light fusing. They also still do slim-straight legged, flat front chinos and trousers; shirts made in their own factory; and an admirable collection of knitwear. Everything just comes in new fabrics.
I particularly like their tailoring this season, which goes beyond your usual linens and tropical wools (although, they have a handsome, slubby linen sport coat too). There’s a tonal olive cotton seersucker suit, which is a fresher take on the milk-and-sugar classic, and a navy glen check with some color variation in the yarns. Patterned linens can sometimes be hard to wear because the lines can look so sharp, but this one is exceptional (it was also woven by Loro Piana). Being such casual fabrics, you could break these suits up into separates and wear the jackets alone with tan or gray trousers.
There are also some springtime versions of cold-weather favorites. This wool-silk-linen sport coat has a pattern that’s reminiscent of a gun club tweed, but it’s made from a material that’s light and breathable enough for summer (Michael notes the added silk-and-linen mixture gives the fabric a uniquely dry hand). The garment washed, beige needlecord suit, meanwhile, looks promising for those cold and damp spring days. When I talked to Sid Mashburn a few months ago, he said he wears finer ribs well into summer. “Even if it’s still cold in April, I won’t want to wear those chunky, wide waled cords, I feel like I’m mentally done with them. But a baby waled, five-pocket cord? I wear those throughout the summer. I think I picked that up from Californians who used to wear those baby-waled OP shorts – you think it’s a fall fabric, but they made it work for California’s warm climate.”
As usual, there’s always something exciting in Drake’s accessories section. This season, they have crinkly viscose-blend scarves that can add a touch of texture to an outfit, expressive rhombus motif ties that look like they came straight out of an issue of Apparel Arts, and single stick umbrellas inspired by Drake’s rep stripe ties. Among their casual outerwear, you’ll find Drake’s version of a walking jacket – a classic British design made for walking in the fells – and an equestrian-inspired stable coat. The stable coat looks a bit flat in product photos, but it comes into its own in the image above. The best thing about that jacket? The inside has a long, ten-inch strap that secures itself to a larger interior pocket. “The detachable strap forms a loop, from which you can hang a sweater or a scarf,” Michael explains. “It’s good for those days when you might need to carry a scarf on days that transition from warm afternoons to cold nights, but you don’t want to have to carry it around all day.”
HOW TO DRESS FOR SPRING
Lookbooks are rarely meant to be taken literally. More often than not, they’re intended to convey a designer’s inspiration or vision, helping to set the mood for a season, rather than trying to give actual outfit ideas. Drake’s, however, is unique in that their presentations ride the line between inspiration and instruction. To be sure, the looks are still somewhat aggressively styled. This season, for example, they tied colorful sweatshirts around their models’ waists and shoulders to give the outfits some verve. But if you read between the lines, you’ll find some practical suggestions for how to dress this spring. I went over five areas with Michael.
A good trick for spring is to brighten all of your usual colors. Navy turns to French blue, dark brown becomes dusty tan. But how do you incorporate more cheerful colors without turning into a Crayola box? Michael suggests using one bright color as an accent piece. “In our lookbook, we have one of the models wearing a bright, Kelly green tie with a washed out tan suit. I think the tie works in that case because it helps visually anchor everything, but it’s not something I would pair with a bright blue suit,” he says. “It’s like the high-low thing. If you’re wearing a bright color, tone it down everywhere else. Say if you’re interested in wearing a pink sweatshirt. Ask yourself what goes well with pink. Well, green. So try layering with a green piece of outerwear. It’s about balance.”
They’re not necessarily bright colors, but I like the terrycloth hiking shirts this season, which come in apple green and jam red (Michael tells me they were inspired by an old climbing shirt he has in his wardrobe). “Those would work with both casual tailoring or with jeans,” Michael notes. “Another good choice is a strongly striped shirt. Something in a mid-blue or grapefruit pink can be a way to incorporate more color into a wardrobe without making you feel like you’re stepping out of your comfort zone.”
The Field Shirt
Spring is full of opportunities to dress down tailoring. These wheat-colored field shirts remind me of the best days of Banana Republic, back when they were still a safari-themed outfitter and not just a generic mall brand. The shirts are casual enough for jeans and workwear, but they can also be used with suits and sport coats. “For our lookbook, we paired them with a navy suit and olive seersucker,” says Michael. This olive linen dress shirt could be used much in the same way (maybe not with an olive suit, but with similarly casual tailoring).
The Underrated Cotton Suit
Like most men, my spring/ summer tailoring mostly relies on tropical wools and linens – sometimes the rare bit of wool-silk-linen mix, if I can find something. Drake’s has some wonderfully unique options this season, including garment dyed and washed pieces that feel a bit more relaxed than what you can get through bespoke (since garment washing is only possible when you’re making things in large quantities). My two favorites this season are the olive tonal seersucker and wool-silk-linen sport coat, but Michael says he’s most excited about cotton.
“I love cotton suits for all the same reasons some people hate them,” he says. “They’re stiff, they crumple, the color fades. They don’t look perfect, but I think that’s a good thing. I can picture my cotton suit sitting on the end of my rail at home now. The way the sleeves curl, it looks like my arms are in them, and the sleeves will probably stay like that even after the jacket has been cleaned. If you get one in a heavy drill cotton, the fabric almost moulds to your body. That’s the wonderful thing about cotton suits. They’re casual and age with you, much like a good pair of jeans.”
White is often considered a neutral base when it’s worn through shirts and sneakers, but put the color on legs and guys get uneasy. “We don’t think guys should be scared of white pants,” says Michael. “Particularly with white jeans or five-pocket cords, they can be a jumping off place for a lot of things. The advantage of white over classic blue jeans is that they’re easier to dress up. In fact, if you just substitute indigo jeans with white, suddenly an outfit can look a bit smarter. And they work in almost any situation where you’d wear blue jeans – they go with olive, navy, and stone colored jackets.”
Perhaps the best thing about white jeans is that they’re an easy way to dress down a sport coat. Guys often try to dress down tailoring with denim – sometimes successfully, sometimes less so (I think the combo only works with certain cuts and materials). In the fall and winter months, this is easiest with tweeds and blue denim, but for summer, white jeans can be a more natural choice for pure linen and wool-silk-linen mixes. “They work with desert boots, penny loafers, and classic sneakers,” says Michael. “It’s one of those things where, if a guy just wears a pair for a few days, I think you get over that mental hurdle.”
The Useful Suede Chukka
No shoe will do everything, but Drake’s makes a strong case for suede chukkas. In their lookbook, you can see how they style them with casual suits, blue blazers, and game jackets (I have a similar pair from Alden, which I often wear with sport coats and tailored trousers, as well as field jackets and jeans). Michael says he uses his company’s Clifford boots as his go-to travel shoes. “I don’t know if I should admit this, but even if I’m going away for business, I’ll take that pair and that’ll do me well across the board,” he says. “They don’t have a metal shank inside, which makes them easier to get across security, and the crepe soles are so comfortable to walk in.”
Drake’s version is an upgrade from a standard desert boot you might see elsewhere. When they approached their manufacturer, they wanted to do a version of a desert boot that would work with both jeans and tailoring. So, they took the company’s regular design and reshaped the last, slimming up the front, narrowing the heel cup, and making the toe box softer and less bulbous. The insole was upgraded from a synthetic material to full leather, making the shoes more comfortable over time as a footbed forms. Finally, the interior was the sharpened up to give more ankle support, whereas the originals are a bit floppy. “A suede desert boot is a tremendously useful style,” says Michael. “If it’s not this for me, then it’s probably a loafer, but suede chukkas are where I’m at right now. You can wear them with casual suits, you can wear them to dinner, you can wear them on weekends. There are very few situations where they don’t look right.”