A reasonable and experienced person would look at a $150 price tag on a suit and see a huge red flag. The fabric must be cheap, the construction has to be horrible, the buttons and lining probably melt near an open flame, and the people actually making the suit are likely grinding out an 18 hour work day with a 10 minute lunch break in an un-airconditioned fire trap in eastern Asia.
I get bludgeoned with emails from startups in the over-saturated menswear world looking for free promotion in the blogosphere. At best, some of these brands might have fine ideas that are poorly executed. At worst, they’re amateur gimmick magicians who wouldn’t get past the first audition for Shark Tank, offering an ill-conceived fix for something that was never broken just to make a buck. Then there is the rare diamond in the ruff, compentently presenting an elegant solution that meets my four criteria, which dictates that the product or service be 1.) handsome, 2.) well-made, 3.) affordable and 4.) workable, i.e. have an actual application in one’s life. Combatant Gentlemen is one of those rare diamonds in the ruff.
When the folks from Combatant Gentlemen called and asked me to sample offerings from their line, I have to admit that my skepticism was raised. With suits and dinner jackets between $140 and $220, business or casual shirts for $40 or less, cotton/cashmere blend sweaters for $35, chinos for $40, selvage denim for $70, wool outerwear for $120 and ties for $16, my “too-good-to-be-true” alarm was at DEFCON 1.
As a smart move for any brand catering to the remotely curious and conscientious menswear consumer, Combatant Gentlemen is very transparent about their fabric sources and chain of production. As they say it, Combatant Gentlemen is “one of the only design-to-delivery menswear companies in the world.” Similar to the way popular online custom tailors, Jack Erwin and other worthwhile brands have been able to offer quality goods at a great price point, Combatant Gentlemen skips the middleman and the retail markup. They own every part of their vertical process, down to the cotton fields and the sheep. The wools are produced in Italy and the garments are made in their own facilities in China. Consequently, one could conceivably walk away with a small wardrobe of smart pieces for less than $500.
So I made some selections from their collection…
As for suits, I’m all stocked up on my basic dark wools. I was, however, in need of a simple cotton suit for occasional wear in summer months or trips to tropical climes. Along with the chino suit, I picked up a black crewneck sweater, a black v-neck sweater, two casual shirts, one dress shirt, a pair of navy chinos and two very nice ties. A few business days later, a small wardrobe arrived.
I already have a navy seersucker suit, so I chose the Khaki Slim Fit Chino Suit ($140). The suit is 100% Italian cotton with a soft hand. The jacket is half-canvassed with pick-stitching, straight flap pockets, three interior pockets, a soft shoulder and a trend-proof lapel width (not skinny, not wide). The pants are half-lined, which is nice, too. Minor details, like the button quality, the sleeve button details and a few forgivable loose threads mark this as a lower-end suit, but these are some of the reasons why one pays $140 and not $1,400. And like any off-the-peg suit, the suit required tailoring, especially since the pants come unhemmed. A few days and dollars later, my tailor was finished with the suit. All in, I’m pleased with what will work very well as a great warm weather suit.
The crewneck and v-neck sweaters are a lightweight blend of 85% cashmere and 15% cotton, and the cardigans are 100% cotton. The design of the knits is simple and classic, with an honest fit on the slimmer side. I opted for the Black Crew Cotton-Cashmere Sweater ($45) and the Black V-Neck Cotton-Cashmere Sweater ($45). They’re terrific.
The shirts come in a sensible selection of patterns and colors, in either regular or slim fit. I picked the Charcoal Grey Flannel Button-Down Collar ($40), the Blue Chambray Button-Down Collar ($35) and the Light Blue Poplin Semi-Spread Collar ($30), all in 100% Italian pre-shrunk cotton. The fabric feels great, and the fit is genuinely trim. I’m 5’10” and I weigh 150. If I were 10 or more pounds heavier, the regular fit would have been the right choice.
My favorite pair of chinos were dark navy, but I ripped them. Fortunately for me, the Navy Blue Slim Straight Chinos ($40) are a great replacement. The cut is slim, but definitely not “skinny,” and straight-ish, but with a very subtle taper. They’re the classic chino pant that we know and love, made with premium Italian cotton that is then “peached” for a soft and slightly broken-in feel.
The only part of the website that left me slightly overwhelmed was ties. But I wouldn’t necessarily consider this a problem. More of a “luxury predicament” with so many handsome options. I know my tastes and I know what works well on me (blue), so I grabbed the Outside the Box Tie and the All-In Knit Tie (both $16). To my relief, the silk ties come not skinny, not wide, but at the perfect width of three inches.
The total price tag for all of this: $405. Crazy.
One of the nice things about these guys is that they offer a small collection of tried and true classics. They don’t seem interested in overwhelming the customer with too many options or with aggressively fashion-forward designs. The collection sticks to the basics, which is a refreshing and welcome contrast to the clutter of vain attempts to re-define the way men dress, which won’t happen on any real scale in our lifetime.
I also want to say something about brand experience and taste here. The kind of half-realized brands I mentioned above often sabotage a good idea with an unfortunate website, a cheesy logo, amateurish graphic design and typography choices, little consideration for painless returns and exchanges, opaque customer service or help options, or some combination thereof that litters the internet and menswear in general with yet another half-baked half-business. Combantant Gentlemen suffers from none of these viral pitfalls. The website, the logo, the design and typography, the photography and presentation of the merchandise, the access to customer service, the suggestions for tailoring and garment care, the tags, the catalog and other details both online and inside the box make a very good impression, especially for guys without a lot of experience with making these kinds of purchases. Their carefully considered process makes it feel like you’re getting something tasteful and special, which makes a difference.
Are the suits in the same fabric and construction league with Tom Ford, Gieves & Hawkes or Brioni? Absolutely not. You won’t get luxury label “mine’s better and more expensive than yours” bragging rights here. But that’s not the point of this brand. With the right choices and good tailoring, a guy could outfit himself here and outshine most label junkies with more money and less restraint. What one gets from Combatant Gentlemen is a very affordable option for looking smart, handsome and pulled-together – a perfect solution for a young guy just starting out, a new graduate buried in student loan debt or a man with a tight budget and a desire to dress with dignity and look like he belongs at the table.
Bravo, CombatGent. #DressSmarter
http://combatgent.com (Use code FRIENDSOFGEORGE and get a free tie with any purchase.)