During my last trip to Naples, I not only had the chance to meet Giancarlo Maresca and a number of craftsmen, but I also met a number of young men with a strong sense for tradition and an affinity to suits and fine clothing. While older men often have a matured style, young men are more likely to experiment, which is just as interesting. Today, I would like to introduce you to suits, outfits and the style of young Neapolitan men and elaborate on how you can draw some inspiration from them, regardless of if you are a bespoke aficionado, off the rack buyer or a student on a budget.
Suits & Jackets
First of all, I must say that it is an illusion to believe most men in Naples are well dressed and when walking through the streets you will find many teenagers wearing anything but classic clothing. However, every once in a while you will spot a gentleman in a great outfit. The density of truly hand sewn suits is higher than in most other cities in the world. I probably saw 5 – 10 men a day that were exceptionally well dressed – among them many young ones. In the past, I already discussed the Neapolitan jacket styles and reported from my experiences in Napoli, so I will highlight the things I saw young men wearing. Unsurprisingly, the maritime culture that is so well expressed in navy suits and jackets has also rubbed of on the younger generation. So, most men will start out with a navy blazer and suit. Giuseppe, Gabriele and Gianni all own navy jackets and suits. Often, they combine them with light blue or white shirts and red, blue or other ties.
While this is exactly the way you should start out as a young man, by beginning with highly versatile pieces and expanding from there, I noticed the Neapolitan tendency to stick with navy and change the details, such as the weave of the cloth (think worsted, fresco or hopsack), switching out buttons or altering the color shade. Personally, I think it is great to have a selection of navy but it is not advisable to have half of your closet consist of just one color. Then again, when you are young, you can only invest in so many pieces and it makes sense to choose something that can be worn often. Instead of relying only on workhorse navy, you can also look into gray, subtle stripes and maybe even windowpanes.
Supporting young local tailors
Unlike many other young men, Gianni, Giuseppe and Gabriele owned a lot of handmade clothing. Now you may think they are just spoiled brats who have their bespoke wardrobe financed by their fathers, however that is not true. On the one hand, bespoke suits are considerably cheaper than in most other cities of the world. On the other hand, they decided to support a tailor friend, Enzo, whose rates are lower than many tailors and a fraction of what you pay at Rubinacci. So, they are actually supporting a young tailor that will be able to work for them for the next 60 years.
For example, Gabriele had a great three piece suit in grey glen urquhart made for him. The most unique part about it was the matching double breasted waistcoat with 5 buttons. Generally, double breasted vests have two rows with an even number of buttons; in the 1960’s some tailor came up with the idea to change it up a bit and so he used a single end button to create a V shape. In the past, I had seen it in old tailoring magazines and photos but I was happy to see that a young man like Gabriele would give it a try. You might not like the look of it, but you have to admit it is fantastic to see a young person appreciate old world crafts.
Giuseppe was also a good example of individual style. He paired a standard Neapolitan single breasted patch pocket blazer in navy hopsack with a white & blue striped shirt, red trousers, sand colored cloth belt and chocolate brown oxford half brogue shoes. Some of you may think that the red is too strong, but I think it is great that he tries out new things in regard to color and texture. Just navy, gray or khaki combinations are not very exciting, especially when you are just 20 years old. However, don’t assume that they wear suits all the time – when it is hot outside a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops are in order for them as well.
Hand made clothing on a budget
Of course, their budget is limited and so they can only afford very few new pieces a year but that’s where Naples’ vintage flea & pop-up markets come into play. Every Saturday morning, they scout these markets for bespoke treasures and they find a suit or a jacket almost every time! The great part about it is that one of these hand me down suits rarely costs more than 5 €. Furthermore, you can find handmade shoes, ties and all kinds of other accessories at the same price level and so it is really easy to create a great wardrobe on a budget if you have a typical build.
Fortunately, I had the chance to see some of Gianni’s flea market acquisitions, which consisted of a Solaro suit, light blue fresco jacket with mother of pearl buttons, coarse homespun jackets with spalla camicia and classic navy suits in great condition that all cost less than a pizza! Many of them had noteworthy details, such as the belt buckle place holder of the Solaro suit or the fullness hidden in the pleat of the Pugliese suit.
Once you combine vintage and bespoke your outfit will likely be less expensive than if you bought it new off the rack and at the same time, it will look better and will be made of higher quality. For example take a look at this outfit from Gianni. The blazer was bespoke creation from his friend Enzo, the pants were vintage, as were the shoes from Valencia. His salmon colored socks and white shirt were new and the tie came from a flea market, just like the suspenders. If you look closely at the trousers, you will notice the belt loops and suspenders. Now, a British gentleman would frown upon such a combination and personally, I always try to wear one or the other, but this pairing means the pants can be worn with anything. Neapolitans love the combination of both. In any case, his outfit is a perfect example of making new and old things work beautifully together. While I think there are few places in the world were you can find such an quantity of handmade clothing items at such ridiculously low prices, the young Neapolitan trio shows that you can dress elegantly and classically even when you are on a budget. If you live in a large city, go out and explore your vintage stores and you will find many unique items that are made to much higher quality standard that anything fast fashion or even department stores have to offer. Alternatively, eBay is a good place to start if you know your measurements. Bear in mind that you will likely spend the most money at your alterations tailor, so begin by finding a reliable and affordable one who understands fit. When I started to build my wardrobe, I did exactly the same thing. I scouted eBay, stopped by at second hand shops and found interesting vintage pieces. Just a few weeks ago, I picked up a vintage silk bow tie at an estate sale for $3. When I did not like those pieces anymore, I sold them to finance my next wardrobe addition.
Gabriele is a perfect example that style goes far beyond clothing. He is a traditionalist and prefers manual Leicas and old cars that need to be worked on. In the trunk of his Jaguar E-Type he always has tools so he can fix things on the spot if it gets too hot. I sat in his car and it at 6′ (1.83m) it is anything but comfortable. Considering it needs a lot of work and gets only a few miles per gallon this car is only for people who are obsessed by its beauty and old world charm – Gabriele is certainly one of them.
Ties & Shoes
While many young men in the US often have just one tie (that they probably didn’t buy themselves!) and the interested Americans might have thirty. Young well dressed Neapolitans had over 200 each. Again, only a fraction of these were bought new, and if they were, then often bespoke. On the other hand, the used ones were all from the flea market. Building such a tie collection on a budget allows to have a lot of different varieties textures, materials and colors. Such a neckwear mix will help tremendously to create unique outfits even if you just own 2 jackets and one suit because every time you put something on, the combination of tie and pocket square will be different, unless you create looks to wear repeatedly. Personally, I hardly ever wear the exact same outfit twice and even if I combine a certain suit with a shirt, the color of the socks, tie and pocket square will always change a little bit. I really enjoy this kind of wardrobe matching because it makes me use all the things I own and not just wear the same 5 things over and over again.
Another impressive experience was Gianni’s shoe collection. He had everything from unusual button closure shoe, over black plain oxfords, brogues, tassel loafers, monks and even crocodile leather shoes in his repertoire. Only boots don’t seem to be his style, but since he lives in Naples there is no real use for that. Again, the majority of these came from the flea market and were mostly of Italian or Spanish provenance.
Overall, these young Neapolitan men had a more exquisite wardrobe than most men in their fifties, yet they were able to compile it with taste, on a budget and of course, partially because they live in Naples where you can find such steals. Even though you may not be so lucky to live close to a metropolitan area with many vintage stores, places like ebay or etsy will help you find unique, interesting accessories as well as hand made clothing that won’t break the bank. Even if you can afford to buy new things, the weave, color scheme or fabric of a vintage piece is simply not available anymore and so this old world piece is the place to go. Of course, you can set yourself limits. For example, I am put off by used shoes and I won’t wear rented bowling shoes either, but that’s just me. Fortunately, you may be able to find new old stock, such as my Morlands sheepskin boots, which I really love for the winter. So go out and see what you can find. Of course, we’d be happy to find a few pictures of your acquisitions in our inbox. What are your favorite vintage pieces?