This year, men’s style and grooming products forged into uncharted territory. Things that are often uninspiring, like vegan boots and rose fragrances, became seriously cool. Hand sanitizer became an EDC product and D.S. & Durga gave it a fitting upgrade. We even saw a small streetwear brand out-fundraise giant corporations with just a graphic tee. When the world turned upside down, designers and brands chose to innovate instead of bunker down.
Brain Dead x Blood Orange We Are One Tee
Fabric: 100% cotton
Charities Funded: The Movement For Black Lives and the LGBTQ Freedom Fund
The fight against systemic racism is one that millions are finally waking up to. Over centuries, the Black community has suffered countless acts of violence, but the murder of George Floyd in May ignited massive worldwide protests against racism in a new way. Many people marched, raised awareness and raised money to support Black Lives Matter.
L.A.-based streetwear brand Brain Dead put out one of the most significant graphic tees of the year in collaboration with artist Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange) to raise funds for the Movement for Black Lives and the LGBTQ Freedom Fund. Brain Dead’s founder, Kyle Ng, is familiar with his limited-release wears selling out, but this release was far from limited. This social justice tee was released on a pre-order model, freeing it from the limitations of physical backstock and allowing it to generate even more money.
“Obviously people stand in line for this stuff,” Ng said in an interview with GQ. “But why won't we stand in solidarity for something? Or why don't we stand for something that really matters?” He attempted to collaborate with larger companies, but corporate red tape halted those efforts. So, he called his friend Hynes and the tee was up for sale in just two hours. When the pre-order ended 48 hours later, they had raised over half a million dollars.
Brain Dead knew that it’s people who power revolutions, so instead of waiting for approval from corporate entities, it decided to act. It’s not the first tee sold to raise money for social justice, and it won't be the last. But it was without a doubt the most effective.
Drop Ibara Slim Jeans
Fabric: 15-ounce Yoshiwa Mills Japanese selvedge denim
Fit: Slim Taper
The race for better jeans has reached a fever pitch in recent years. Every name — from legacy denim brands to indie startups to one-person brands — put their skills on full display, churning out different versions of the Best Blue Jean.
Drop, an online marketplace for product enthusiasts, had released collaborative jeans with the likes of Naked & Famous and Raleigh Denim before, but the company’s foray into an in-house line of jeans was new territory. When it finally released the Ibara Slim Jeans, however, it seemed like Drop had known the space for decades.
“What we wanted to do was to make the ultimate enthusiast jean that was accessible to a bigger audience,” says Drop’s then-senior product manager of wearables John Webb. “And not just price-accessible, but wear-accessible, too.”
Any good jean starts with the materials. Here, Drop had denim custom-woven for them using three different yarn sizes, creating a fabric with tons of character that feels heavier than it actually is. From there, the rest of the details are ones you’d only find on dungarees in high-end denim stores or on a trip to Japan. The denimhead details — filled belt loops, lined yokes, hidden rivets, a double-selvedge button fly and a natural vegetable-tanned lambskin patch — would command a $300 price tag in many boutiques, but Drop's jeans come in at a fraction of the price — just $129.
Though Webb and his team at Drop set out to create the ultimate enthusiast jean, they ended up producing the best value jean.
Barbour Gold Standard Collection
Models: 8 waxed jackets, 2 quilted jackets
Materials: Waxed cotton, nylon, oiled leather, corozo nut buttons
Country of Origin: England
Over its 126-year history, Barbour has become synonymous with hard-wearing waxed-cotton outerwear. This year, the iconic British brand launched Gold Standard, a luxury line made up of 10 jackets that up the ante to the nth degree. Inspired by the brand’s iconic styles, these pieces feature updated designs, oiled-leather trims and traditional soft quilt linings.
“Our jackets were originally designed for working men and women who need protection from the rigors of the climate in the rainy British North East coast and country — therefore our customers are people who value perfectly crafted, understated but essentially marvelously fit-for-purpose products,” says Ian Bergin, director of menswear at Barbour. “Gold Standard is a premium execution of this and brings to the fore all of our pattern-cutting expertise and design heritage in creating these garments.”
Gold Standard jackets use two different wax cotton fabrics — semi-calendared wax and a rougher textured cotton wax. And while the material interplay is further complemented with tweed facings, corduroy collars and leather patches, the jackets never lose sight of Barbour's utility-first reputation — that is, basic designs and no-nonsense weather protection.
If the price point seems steep, consider this: last year marked the busiest year ever for the brand's rewaxing and repairs service. "Globally, over sixty thousand jackets were returned to our facilities, some of which were thirty, forty or even fifty years old,” Bergin says. Expect a similar lifespan for Barbour's Gold Standard offerings, if not longer. Which is to say, you’re not just buying one for the season, but rather, investing in a new family heirloom.
Fabric Blend: 50% recycled cotton, 50% virgin cotton
Details: Fabric panels are cut to reduce waste
Sizes: I, II, II, IIII
The fashion industry plays a major role in perpetuating a binary system of gender. Clothes are divided into men’s and women’s designs, a process that not only separates but also assigns genders to inanimate objects, thereby excluding countless people in the LGBTQIA+ community who don’t identify as one or the other. Though major brands like Gucci try to be inclusive by blurring the lines of traditional gender norms, collections are still split along binary lines.
Converse acknowledges that many people don’t identify as a man or a woman, but everyone does have a physical body. In traditional sizing, there are 14 sizes across men’s and women’s, but the brand's Shapes collection simplifies things by using just four sizes, labeled as I, II, III, and IIII, completely shedding the binary gender division. It also removes the stigma associated with letter sizing, helping to promote body positivity. Each garment is cleverly cut with hidden gussets and seams throughout to allow the wearer to choose their size based on their body and style, with silhouettes ranging from relaxed to super slim.
As a collection of basics, Shapes isn’t especially flashy, but it is forward-thinking in how it balances inclusion and simplicity. The collection manages to account for countless body types and multiple gender identities within just four sizes, creating a new sizing system along the way. It addresses body positivity and individuality, too. Though it’s difficult to tell how much further Converse’s new system will go, it could end up as the industry standard, just like the Chuck Taylor.
D.S. & Durga Big Sur After Rain Hand Sanitizer
Size: 8 ounces
Composition: 80% alcohol
Fragrance Notes: Eucalyptus, magnolia and wet wood
As the scope and reality of the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world, our daily habits changed almost overnight. Now, hand sanitizer is an essential part of a person's everyday carry. Purell and generic alcohol-based sanitizers will get the job done, but they often smell overtly clinical and can be harsh on the skin. Enter Big Sur After Rain hand sanitizer from D.S. & Durga, a spray that makes the experience less like you’re visiting the doctor and more like you’re at the spa.
RCI Chore Coat Kit
Material: Deadstock cotton twill
Necessary Steps: 40
Optional Patches: 1 sleeve patch, 3 embroidered patches
Reese Cooper’s DIY Chore Coat feels like a meal-delivery kit for clothes. It comes boxed up with all the necessary ingredients — fabric, patches and buttons — and invites you to actively participate in not just wearing it, but sewing it, too. Just read the instruction booklet, cut the fabric panels and assemble with a sewing machine. While some people learned how to make sourdough during lockdown, others learned how to construct a jacket.
Ground Cover 8-Eye Work Boot
Sizes: EU36 – EU45
Hardware: Steel aglets
Country of Origin: Portugal
Ground Cover proves you don’t have to sacrifice style for lifestyle. Its 8-Eye Work Boot is free from animal products and a far cry from the vegan boots of yesteryear. Its textured pineapple- based upper performs similarly to heavyweight canvas. Designed to be rebuilt, the Goodyear-welted style features a lug sole, microfiber liner, cork insole and steel shank. It will mold to your feet just like classic leather styles and stand up to years of wear.
Akila x Mister Green Lo-Fi Sunglasses
Total Produced: 100 of each color
Hardware: 5-barrel hinges, stainless steel temple cores
Cover: 100 percent UVA/UVB sun protection
What happens when you mix fresh designs, quality materials, low prices and a bit of hype? You get a brand like Akila, which produces sunglasses that are equal parts covetable and affordable. Take its collaboration with cult-favorite head shop Mister Green: each limited-edition frame is made with plant-based cellulose acetate and costs just over 100 bucks. The style is available in two colors — brown tortoise and black — but you'll need to head to a secondary market if you want a pair. When these shades launched earlier in the year, both sold out almost immediately.
New Balance Tokyo Design Studio x Snow Peak Niobium Concept 1
Sizes: UK 4.5–UK 11.5
Materials: eVent waterproof fabric, MT801 outsole, ABZORB compression foam
Closure: Toggle laces and zipper
New Balance’s Tokyo Design Studio collaborated with Japanese outdoor brand Snow Peak to produce a shoe that’s essentially a transformer on your feet. Taking a modular approach, the indoor slipper can be worn as is or zipped into a rugged outsole and shell to make an outdoor sandal. Waterproof booties can be swapped for the slippers, altering the style to an off-road stomper. The rise of techwear is due largely to its functional design, and these shoes take that honed performance into every part of your life.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian L'Homme à la Rose
Available Sizes: 1.2 and 2.4 ounces
Other Notes: Grapefruit, amber woods, sage, cistus
Country of Origin: France
When it comes to adding rose to fragrances, perfumers typically blend it with other notes like jasmine, patchouli or oud to make an accord (the fragrance world's equivalent of a dynamic music chord). Not Francis Kurkdjian, who put the iconic floral scent front and center with essence of Damask rose from Bulgaria and absolute of Centifolia rose from Grasse. L'Homme à la Rose is balanced with green, citrusy top notes and a dark, woody base, making for a masculine fragrance that challenges outdated conventions about who can, or can't, wear rose.