This story is part of the GP100, our list of the 100 best new products of the year.
This year, men's fashion looked back, but it also embraced change: a well-known designer upended the collaboration status quo, while a trendy Philadelphia brand embraced its working-class neighbor. Stories like these reveal an industry at odds with itself: changed by the pandemic yet eager to move forward.
Crocs, for example, used its collaboration with Salehe Bembury to evolve; J.Crew let its wide-leg pants usher the brand into a new era; Standard & Strange (re)turned to a 19th-century process to make its new T-shirts; Away broke free from the airport for the great outdoors; several grooming brands focused on refinement, whether of their pillar products or of crude raw materials.
Below, find the best style and grooming products of the past year.
J.Crew Giant-Fit Chinos
Why It’s Notable: The relaxed-fit trend is here to stay, partly because of these pants — it’s hard to imagine a time when J.Crew stops making them. (It’s doubtful that skinny jeans will come surging back.) They’re an accessible entry point to the wide side that really showcases how comfortable true trousers can be, courtesy of the stone- and enzyme-wash finishes, which serve to soften the pants, and the roomier legs. The Giant-Fit Chinos are far from skinny, but they aren’t clown pants; they’re the new normal.
The Big Picture: Much was made of ex-Supreme Designer and Noah founder Brendon Babenzien’s appointment as creative director of J.Crew’s men’s department in 2021. “J.Crew is back,” those with high expectations exclaimed. But those who’d followed J.Crew from earlier days, when Mickey Drexler (Gap, Alex Mill) and Todd Snyder ran the show, when there was a Liquor Store, when blue Oxfords and skinny chinos were in everyone’s carts, knew this was a pivotal hire.
When Babenzien’s first collection rolled out roughly a year later, it comprised straightforward softballs like corduroy collared Oxford shirts, colorful barn coats and bright knit sweaters, but the pants were a far cry from J.Crew collections prior: they were super, super wide. Plus, the khaki-colored pants were modeled by none other than Babenzien himself in a spread contextualizing his J.Crew debut. Paired with his own aged leather jacket, the chinos looked great — but people wondered whether they could pull them off.
Clearly, demand was there, though — the Giant-Fit Chinos were the new J.Crew’s first mega-hit. They were pre-saved to the carts of soon-to-be shoppers from all over, as most sizes were back ordered by the close of day one. Eventually, they were completely sold out. Those that missed out, us included, found themselves inclined to check up on J.Crew more often than ever before. Babenzien, it seems, at least at surface level, has indeed brought J.Crew back, both in front of potential shoppers and into the everyday fashion conversation — something that couldn't have been said about J.Crew for a long time.
Width: 4 inches wider than the regular-fit chinos
Materials: 100% cotton
American Trench O.E. Keystone Hoodie
Why It's Notable: Camber’s hoodies are the stuff of legends. They’re hefty, well-made and hard to get, even though they aren’t all that expensive. American Trench has made it easy, though, by tasking the workwear wholesaler with white labeling its Original Equipment Keystone Hoodie.
The Big Picture: Most hoodies ebb and flow, meaning they stretch out as you wear them and shrink when they're washed. Camber’s, however, don’t give at all; they’re built tough, and to last, using a 12 oz heavy-duty cotton blend. The tight knit and fleece cotton liner make it super warm, and the tailored fit keeps your body heat close, which helps keep the wearer toasty, too.
Our tester found this was a flattering, form-fitting hoodie with plenty of room to breathe because hoodies are for relaxing, after all. Right now, there’s no better hoodie out there than this one, and American Trench’s custom colors put it over the top.
Materials: 90% cotton, 10% polyester
Fit: Size up for extra room
Air Eau de Parfum
Why It's Notable: A cologne created from thin air might sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. Air’s Eau de Parfum is made from captured carbon, aka CO2, which we release into our atmosphere at an alarming rate. The technology company, which makes carbon-based vodka and now carbon-based commercial airline fuel, turns a harmful pollutant into something harmonious.
The Big Picture: Air Company uses proprietary machinery — a patented system they call the Carbon Conversion Reactor — to transform captured CO2 and green hydrogen into impurity-free ethanol, methanol and water. The process mimics photosynthesis, “working with nature, not against it,” the founders say. From there, the company distills the liquid, which separates the three elements. Then, the ethanol and water are mixed with the scented oils, creating AIR Eau de Parfum.
It’s a roundabout process that’s paving the way for further research and development, of not only other colognes but other potential use cases for captured carbon. So far, Air’s backers include NASA, Jet Blue and Virgin Atlantic, among others. The consumer products fuel — no pun intended — the grander research plans, which all aim to better our lives here on planet Earth.
The sweet-smelling cologne, at the very least, beautifies it while making use of our waste. But it’s just a stepping stone toward more impactful product launches because while the product is nice, it’s just a conduit for the technology. It has the potential to transform carbon pollution into an alternative to fossil fuels.
Cap Colors: Black, chrome or white
Notes: Orange peel, fig leaf, musk and tobacco
Crocs Pollex Clog by Salehe Bembury
Why It's Notable: When the most in-demand sneaker designer collabs with the ubiquitous comfort-clog brand, it signals the start of a new era.
The Big Picture: Crocs ongoing collaboration with sneaker designer Salehe Bembury has given the brand bonafide streetwear hype capable of attracting several thousand customer-long queues and astronomical resale prices. Sure, Crocs were nothing new to footwear fans — even those that don't care about shoes at all — but they'd never received interest like this. Crocs were suddenly covetable like sneakers: something folks were eager to own and suddenly taken for granted once supplies were limited.
It's hard to give Bembury full credit for Crocs's resurgence, but he took the brand to a level it hadn't yet reached, inventing a new silhouette in the process.
Colors: 10 as of publish (more to come)
Resale Value: Up to $2,300
Rosa Rugosa Workwear
Why It's Notable: This stylish workwear with a culinary slant and an inclusive sizing scale is manufactured fairly in Matty Matheson's Toronto neighborhood.
The Big Picture: Matty Matheson — the multi-hyphenate chef behind YouTube-based cooking shows, several restaurants, a cast iron pan and cutting board brand, and a farm in Fort Erie, Ontario — founded a new workwear brand, Rosa Rugosa, with designer Ray Natale. The brand's hard-wearing shirts run true to size, meaning you must check your measurements before ordering from the corresponding list of alpha sizes: small through XXXXL. As for pants and shorts, waist sizes span from 28 to 52.
The Rosa Rugosa factory is a great place to work: Matheson and Natale were able to guarantee a set of workplace standards often unmet by other companies. Sewers are paid well above a living wage and offered paid lunches and other perks, like health benefits. "Rosa Rugosa isn't going to become this thing that has 250 SKUs," Matheson explains. Right now, the brand sells just seven styles. They won't be limited to collab T-shirts or fast-tracked logo tote bags, but chore coats and double-knee work pants — things that fit in with the existing collection.
Although a large portion of Rosa Rugosa's audience is here in the States, the factory is in Toronto and the clothes are made in Canada. And it's where Matheson's heart is, too. "This is where I'm from. This neighborhood has given me everything," he says. "This is the neighborhood I lived in for 16 years. Everything I have has been built within four blocks of this neighborhood. There isn't a place in this world I'd rather do this... and I am genuinely proud that we were able to figure this out and create jobs and a system that supports local sewers here."
Price Range: $75-$165
Factory Location: Parkdale, Toronto
Away F.A.R. Duffle 70L
Why It's Notable: The Covid pandemic changed the way we spend our time and brands are taking notice — once focused only on airline travel, Away now has its sights on the great outdoors.
The Big Picture: Away's F.A.R. duffle is big — 70 liters holds a week's worth of clothes and accessories. It competes with brands like Peak Design and Patagonia (coming in at $10 less than the latter) and is made with similar materials like recycled polyester fabric, recycled zippers and recycled webbing.
It has a trolley sleeve so you can slide it on and roll it atop your suitcase, but the design is less airport and more open air. It's waterproof, has compression straps to cinch down gear and has abrasion-resistant materials to stand up to outdoor use.
Dimensions: 15.7" x 27.5" x 11.8"
Weight: 3 pounds
Soft Services Speed Soak
Why It's Notable: Traditional lotions leave most folks feeling greasy, and more concentrated moisturizers, like Vaseline, aren’t good for all-over application. Soft Services’ Speed Soak, a hybrid gel-lotion that soaks in immediately, works faster than lotion without the dreaded drying period.
The Big Picture: Soft Services set out to revolutionize body care while so much of skincare focused exclusively on the face. Its products have slowly addressed the rest of the human body — from the backs of our hands to our limbs and torsos. It’s refreshing to have a brand offer true, fuss-free solutions, not meaningless skincare products that appeal simply to our vanity.
Volume: 5.5 fl oz
Contents: Clouded gel-cream
Tom Sachs General Purpose Shoe
Why It's Notable: Tom Sachs’s ongoing partnership with Nike has yielded a number of well-known (and super successful) sneakers. Now, the professional experimenter is back with a disruptive collab he calls the General Purpose Shoe (aka the Boring Shoe).
The Big Picture: Most high-profile sneaker collabs are hard to get. They’re either uber-expensive or super-limited and often both. But Tom Sachs’s all-new everyday trainer, the General Purpose Shoe, is meant to be easier to buy. It's affordable and in demand yet widely available.
First, the shoes are only $110, which is $20 less than Air Force 1s. Second, they’re made in bigger batches, which means there are more pairs to sell. And last but not least, they made it to big box stores like Kohl’s, where adults and kids alike who don’t have access to hype sneaker drops could conceivably get a pair.
Availability: Nike, Kohl’s, END.
Collection: Tom Sachs’s NikeCraft
Blundstone Lug Boot
Why It's Notable: Blundstone’s Original Chelsea Boots have long been a hit with just about everyone, but it seems they’ve found some competition… from another Blundstone boot. New for this year, the Blundstone Lug Boot blends the functionality of the brand’s work line with the looks of its lifestyle designs, resulting in a boot that’s bigger but just as nimble, our tester found.
The Big Picture: Blundstone has long made both lean lifestyle boots and heftier work footwear. This design pulls the two poles closer together, we found, thanks to the marriage of a chassis originally saved for job sites with an upper made famous on city streets. Plus, it’s not that often we get a new Blundstone silhouette. Why change what’s working, right?
Price +/-: +$25
Insole: Comfort Arch Footbed and XRD Technology in heel
Materials: Waterproof Leather, TPU
Standard & Strange Wakayama Special Loopwheel Tee
Why It's Notable: This shirt is not only a relic of yesteryear's manufacturing, it's one of the softest, most comfortable tees you can wear.
The Big Picture: Oakland retailer Standard & Strange enlisted one of the few remaining loopwheel mills in Japan, in a city named Wakayama, to produce a top-tier tee. These mills are increasingly rare — there are just two left in Japan and a handful in Germany. The aging machines are far from fast: They can only knit one half a roll of fabric each day compared to modern machines' five rolls a shift.
But, the slow process produces a product that is far finer. The gravity-fed knitting system creates a fabric that's lightweight, almost airy and incredibly soft. And because loopwheels knit circular patterns, abrasive side seams are nowhere to be found.
Available in five colors, the Wakayama Special Loopwheel Tee is a pleasure to wear, but it's also a history lesson. Loopwheels are a relic of the past, from eras where slow and steady manufacturing was the only option. Now, in the era of fast fashion, products like this are a welcome respite from synthetic blend tees and performance chinos.
Material: 7.5-8 oz long-staple cotton
Fit: Relaxed, true to size
Why It's Notable: The Bevel Pro is a professional tool made public and is ideal for those who shave their head every two days or tidy a true beard.
The Big Picture: Founded by Tristan Walker, Bevel was the first head-to-toe grooming brand for Black men. Whether it be hair or body wash, face cleansers or, of course, electric trimmers, Bevel makes it all and specifically for people of color, who are more prone to ingrown hairs, razor bumps and burn. The razor works on sensitive skin, actively reducing the likelihood of irritated skin after use.
The Bevel Pro is easy to use — just make blade adjustments using the internal Bevel Dial, which is literally just a dial you twist back and forth — and it's incredibly sharp.
Height: Adjustable from 0.0-2.5mm in .1mm increments
Runtime: 4 hours
William Ellery Lovebird Jackets
Why It's Notable: Designer Trevor Davis is slowly building his brand, William Ellery, into one of the most notable new menswear outfits in the US. With Wes Anderson-like flair and Tom Sachs-ian ingenuity, he makes “expedition gear” for everyday life.
The Big Picture: Small brands are often urged to scale, but small-batch projects are often more ambitious. William Ellery, a budding New York brand from a former Tom Sachs employee, approaches each project with a kid-like curiosity, creating pieces that stick out from the sea of generic graphic T-shirts and screen-printed sweatshirts. The LoveBirds Jackets, for example, is an assortment of sourced vintage hunting jackets adorned with hand-made and -painted duck pins and pond vignettes.
He used vintage to his advantage, which is almost even more impressive. And he tied the collection together using his own original artwork, but in a way that isn’t overbearing and still lets the jackets shine. Vintage collections like these are an ever-growing trend in the menswear industry, especially for emerging brands — like Aimé Leon Dore or Rowing Blazers. But William Ellery is doing it in a niche within the outdoors industry, where few style brands have succeeded authentically.
But the Lovebird Jackets are just one example, and Davis’s brand had an incredible year. It’s one to watch, for sure, especially as he wades into offering original designs.
Headquartered: Brooklyn, NY
Other Notable Collections: William Ellery x Stan Ray Lost Boys Auto Club