Most 20-year old men feel comfortable wearing flip flops, sweat pants, and hoodies, but not so Ethan Wong from Street X Sprezza aka The Teenage Gentleman. As a teenager, he became interested in classic men’s clothing and he started building a wardrobe on a very tight budget using vintage clothes.
In today’s interview, Ethan shares:
- How he was able to build a wardrobe on a few dollars & how you can do it too
- What tricks he uses to find modern clothes that fit
- Where he gets his stuff from & who inspires him
- How people react to his outfits and more
This interview is particularly helpful to young men, and teenagers who want to develop their own, classic style without breaking the bank.
Sven Raphael Schneider: Most 20-year-olds wear flip flops, hoodies and sweatpants and you, on the other hand, have a more 30’s inspired style. Tell us more about it and how you got into that.
Ethan Wong: Well, I guess what really stood out to me from the 1930’s is that everyone was very elegantly dressed. Everything was sharply tailored. I think the best thing I love about it is that there’s no breaks, everything is clean lines, very fitted silhouette and just looking at today’s fashion, I just thought it’s either really baggy or really skinny, I just wanted the clean shape.
Sven Raphael Schneider: What was the first kind of touch point for you? When did you see this and thought for yourself “Man, this is what I would like to wear!”?
Ethan Wong: Twice a year, they have a dapper day at Disneyland, and I think I was on FaceBook, I was like “Wow this thing is really cool, it’s a place where, it’s an event where people go to Disneyland dressed up vintage or vintage inspired or modern. They just go dapper, a very general term but I remember looking at one of the pictures, I saw these guys wearing double breasted suits. They weren’t the typical like 1980’s flecked in a really low six on one but it was the real thing, windowpane patterns. This is about the time that I stumbled upon “I am, Dandy” by Rose Callahan and Natty Adams.
Sven Raphael Schneider: Wonderful Ethan! I think you just finished a bachelor’s degree in Accounting. I was wondering, how were you perceived at school? Did people like what they see? Did they make fun if you? Did they respect you more? What was the perception?
Ethan Wong: So in college, when I was dressed up, I’d wear a button down shirt and, jeans, and everytime else, it would be just like a t-shirt, gym shorts and even like my lanyard would be around my neck and my keys and everything. I saw some older guys, probably early 20’s and they were wearing button up shirts, but they were tucked in with chino pants, and I thought “Wow, that looks really good!” and I just thought, it kind of came with me, this was before vintage, this is just dressing up in general. I just decided that if I want to do that, why can’t I do that?It’s kind of my attitude toward everything. So I started to dress up very little by little, wear different jeans, better shoes and eventually at the end of my freshman year, I would wear ties, but they weren’t where I am now, just like a normal tie with button up, jeans, cardigan or something like that. I got to that point where I kind of had a small reputation at school, the guy who was always in a tie, always in a blazer and it just kind of evolved from there. My sophomore year, I made friends with this Indian guy, his name is Raj, he’s from Marilyn, and he was really good too. We saw each other at a distance and wow, we’re both into fashion, but we are in college.
Sven Raphael Schneider: So in the beginning, did people ask you “Oh, where are you going today? What event do you have?” and then after a while they probably stopped doing that or did they call you a douchebag or what were the reactions?
Ethan Wong: I went to a Christian university so for a lot of us, when you’re dressed up, it’s going to church. You kind of associate that with someone so “Why is this guy trying so hard?” “Are you trying to be a pastor, what’s going on?”, Me and Raj we would just kind of pass it off. I think the thing that we got most often is “Are you even comfortable wearing that?”, It’s coming from a guy wearing sweatpants, and I’m like “Well, I don’t know. Are you comfortable with what you’re wearing? I wouldn’t wear something I am not comfortable in.” I could sleep in this, I have fallen asleep in my clothes before, you know, and so does Raj.
Sven Raphael Schneider: How often would you say do you wear a jacket during any given week, I mean sport coats, jackets, kind of classic men’s wear jackets?
Ethan Wong: I’d say probably five times a week. Five out of seven.
Sven Raphael Schneider: Okay, what do you wear when you don’t go vintage? You mentioned that you have a lot of vintage items but also newer ones, tell us about your style when it’s not all vintage.
Ethan Wong: Yeah actually I’m wearing modern clothes right now. I mean if you count the 70’s modern, I kind of do because when you’re in the community, everything is 20’s to maybe like early 50’s. Everything after that is kind of like; that’s too modern.
Sven Raphael Schneider: So, what are you wearing today?
Ethan Wong: Well I’m wearing a 70’s jacket with elbow patches, a paisley tie, a modern Uniqlo shirt and I’m wearing suit supply pants and Aleen Edmond shoes. It looks like it could be vintage, I have a 30’s jacket that looks almost identically to this, same pattern, same weave, same fit but it’s from the 30’s. The label inside is different; there’s a vent in the back.
Sven Raphael Schneider: That’s great, so that means you combine clothes from different decades, right?
Ethan Wong: I do that, I tend to leave the 30’s stuff pretty much by itself. The most modern thing that maybe I’d wear is a custom shirt that has a 30’s spear point collar and everything, but I’m totally open to everything else like you know, 50’s, 60’s, anything after the golden era for me, I’d combine it with my modern clothes.
Sven Raphael Schneider: So, do you also go to 1920’s or is the 30’s where it ends for you?
Ethan Wong: I don’t think I own anything from 1920’s, it’s pretty rare to get something that’s that old. I think I do have a peak lapel, herringbone weave, wool, purple jacket from the 1920’s, late 20’s it looks pretty early 30’s to me and that might be the oldest thing I own and anything earlier than that, if you look at J.C Leyendecker that have like the 20’s style, with the belt and everything, I can’t find that, I’d wear it, but I can’t find it, and also, I do want to point out that the early 20’s stuff, I dare not use the word feminine, I know some people who love wearing that stuff, the Homburg or the very Edwardian kind of stuff and for me, I think the 30’s to me, is timeless. If I wasn’t wearing a fedora or something, it wouldn’t be that much different from what people wear today. Maybe a little bit fuller cut in the pants but the jackets, they’re just fitted the way I want them to today.
Sven Raphael Schneider: Okay, so you mentioned a few items. Could you tell us more about your favorite stores or sources of inspiration for your outfits?
Ethan Wong: I mainly shop, for vintage items let’s start with that one. I mainly go on eBay; I do have a few vintage dealers I’m friends with. I met them through the community. There’s one in particular, Benny Reese, he owns Reese’s Vintage Pieces. He prides himself with being the largest dealer in the US and he’s got a lot of the rare stuff. He’ll go travelling around the Midwest, pick up some random items and he’s a very good friend of mine, I go to a lot of his events at his house, he has a huge collection that every time I’m there “I’m just going to go to the garage and check out stuff you got” and then I’m going to walk out with a tie, walk out with a suit.
Sven Raphael Schneider: Does this store have a website or is it just a local store?
Ethan Wong: Yeah, he has a Facebook page right now, he also has an Etsy account but he does prefer people go instore because I think, he’s got like a huge collection, he doesn’t post everything on there. It helps if you contact him, set an appointment, go to his house and just look at his entire collection.
Sven Raphael Schneider: Ok, so where’s his house?
Ethan Wong: He lives in Pomona, California. I also like to go on eBay, you know, I’ve gotten a J. Crew cardigan for 5 dollars once, and I get a lot of my ties from there as well. I’ll look up Madder tie, and I’ll just find something. It’s been kind of bad because it makes me only buy things that are less than 20 dollars. I go on eBay, Goodwill, local thrift stores and find small statement stuff, a tie or maybe a shirt that I can get tailored later if I like the design or collar. Besides that stuff, I am guilty of going to Uniqlo, H&M, Banana Republic, but I think that when people ask me where I shop, It surprises them because it’s the same places that they would go, same mall, but I’m just wearing it in a different way. I think that’s the big surprise to people, I do wear modern clothes, it’s just I put my own version into it to make it look like me.
Sven Raphael Schneider: So basically, you always try to mix a great, unique outfit. You never go to one store and buy everything from there and just wear it, correct?
Ethan Wong: Exactly, I work at Banana Republic right now. I’m actually working on my Master’s Degree in Marketing because I found out that I don’t like accounting; that’s a whole different story. We’re supposed to sell to these people, and if anyone at Banana Republic is watching, I definitely do that but I do recommend sometimes you know, if they’re not happy, if they want other options that we don’t offer, there’s nothing wrong with going somewhere else. You can buy a suit from us; you can find a different tie somewhere else. I am always open to give small tidbits of advice to people who come into the store or to people who just come and ask me.
Sven Raphael Schneider: I’m really glad to hear that you’re helping people to find things even though that means that don’t buy all the stuff from your store, and that’s the same philosophy we have here, the many ways to roam, and we try to show people different things which is why we do these interviews because many different people have different styles, and different approaches and everybody can find what’s right for them.
Sven Raphael Schneider: So you have this blog, Street x Sprezza with Timmy Vincent Adam. Tell us more about that.
Ethan Wong: In November of last year, over a year ago actually, I was taking a road trip with my friend, Tim. We were just talking about passion; he was always into photography, and I was really into classic sartorial fashion. I think we both came to the idea that we could both start a blog, and eventually it came to the point now where Tim is more of the photographer side, he’ll be on it very occasionally but when it started, the idea was that he would start talking about street wear cos I don’t know anything about that.I talk about tailoring side and what I think about that, and now, Tim is kind of starting to go on his own projects, and I’m kind of combining it to my personal fashion where it’s not exactly entirely Italian, it is kind of the combination of two, street and sprezza. It’s all about what my style is and how I can help others to find their personal style.
Sven Raphael Schneider: Sounds fantastic! I noticed it’s a WordPress, do you have any ambitions to make it into your own domain one day? What’s the plan going forward?
Ethan Wong: I think eventually we’d want to kind of break it out but right now, it’s kind of just, I’m trying to not have that #menswearblog mindset where you have to be famous, you have to get sponsorships and all that stuff. I’m kind of just wanting it to be right now just an avenue for me to you know “Hey, check out my friend! I just shot a picture of us at a party; this is what we were wearing at school!” or just small rants where I’m talking about pant length, this is how it should be guys!” , so right now, I think the WordPress is okay just to reach the small circle that I’m in right now, people I meet on Facebook and school friends, people like that. In the future, I’m totally open for it to be its own thing.
Sven Raphael Schneider: So you basically want to share your style with people and help them to be inspired. So what are the reactions from people outside the university when they see a 20-year-old that’s really well dressed?
Ethan Wong: In person, when I’m walking down the street people will, most of the time, it’s very positive. Some are like “Wow, you’re such a dapper guy”, “You’re so well dressed”, “What do you do for a living? Even at work sometimes, I think questions about if Banana Republic carries suspenders has increased like five million percent cos I always wear them at work.
Sven Raphael Schneider: Is it different online?
Ethan Wong: Oh man, on Reddit it’s very hard to please people. I’m very surprised cos there’s a whole Reddit sub called /malefashionadvice and it’s very good for people who want to improve their style. Most of them are college people, some High school and some working professionals who never owned a suit in their life. Twice a week they post this “What are you wearing today?” It’s a very polarised opinion, I think when I first started on it, I started because my friend told me about it, I uploaded a picture of me wearing 30’s clothes, and I think it was one of the best dressed in that month, if you look at the comments, it’s very like “Wow, this is great!” or “This is a costume”. I’ll wear something modern, and it will be funny because I would assume people would think “oh it’s not a costume” but it’s still either downvoted or “You’re trying too hard” and I’m so surprised because this is male fashion advice and we’re supposed to foster the atmosphere and yet, with some people, I don’t know if there’s anybody else who could be feeling the pain that I get but I guess people either like it or really don;t like it. It’s very in between, it’s very hard to please them, I have come to point where I was like “no one’s gonna like it, it’s okay” at first, it was a new outlet and I was very hyped up “Wow these guys are actually liking” and it kind of went down so now, to save myself some stress, I’m just going to be like “I’ll just put it up there, if you like it, all good. If not, whatever!” and I think that’s what most guys, in general, should have the attitude about dressing up. As long as you’re okay with it, as long as you like what you’re wearing, by all means, wear it!
Sven Raphael Schneider: I think that’s a very good way to sum it up, it’s all about you. On the internet, people sometimes judge very harshly, and they say things to you that they would never say in person and as such you can’t always take it too seriously.
Ethan Wong: Yeah, I think that’s my girlfriends’ main advice for me. Ever since I found it, it’s been an outlet for me for fashion and it just kind of backfired a little bit, so I’m taking everyone’s advice at heart and just kind of focusing on myself and how I feel and not what others think.
Sven Raphael Schneider: So what do you do outside of school? What are your hobbies?
Ethan Wong: I think I’ve always been a kind of creative person. Right now I think I’m being creative with what I”m wearing. I think earlier in high school, I was really into making films which kind of led into my pursuing my MBA in marketing. Something creative that I can actually do in a career, I am really into film scoring. One of my biggest inspirations is John Williams, Star Wars, Indian Jones. Above all that, he’s done Christmas music, themes for the Olympics and for me, when music can do that, when you have that kind of feeling that you get from listening to something that has no lyrics, just notes on a page and yet you can feel, internalize emotion. To me, that kind of resonates with me. I love being able to create that kind of stuff.
Sven Raphael Schneider: Marvelous! So, if there was one thing in the style world that you could change today, what would it be?
Ethan Wong: I think that I would change pant breaks, I think for some reason men still aren’t getting that correctly. I mean, I have no problem with a very slight break, maybe because I’m a shorter guy who got bigger legs, but no breaks to me or just having it sit at the top of your shoe, to me that’s so important. I look for that.
Sven Raphael Schneider: I totally understand. I think most people wear pants too long which is why we added this mistake to our Style Mistakes & How You Can Avoid Them course. There is a number of ways, and there’s a ratio of how wide are your pants and how much break is okay because if you have puddles, it’s not okay. If you have a slight break in the front, it is okay. Now let’s talk about your wardrobe. At a young age, you were able to build an impressive array of jackets, suits, and accessories. What would you say are your favorite pieces, the ones that you wear the most?
Ethan Wong: Well I’d first start off with vintage. I have, one of my favorite vintage items is a two piece 1930’s, very tropical double breatsed suit, it’s fantastic. It’s got a very slight blue windowpane on it, the pants actually flare a little bit. You can actually see where the 70’s got the inspiration from.It’s a belted back jacket, in the vintage community I’m not sure how everyone else, we love belted backs, they’re cool. So my favorite other items, I do own a mid 40’s Borsalino, so that’s probably one of the other coolest things I own. I got it for 85 bucks; you don’t see that often. You don’t see a Borsalino that cheap. I think I have a pair of Stacy Adams spectators, they’re gorgeous. A white and slight burgundy brown, the cap toes are great. Got them on eBay, at first, I only wanted vintage, but now I am trying to you know, I am wearing suspenders now. I’m trying to mesh modern and vintage in my personal style. Those I think I’ve gotten he most wear on them because I wear them a lot especially the summer time cos they look awesome. I think even on the fedora lounge, someone said “Ethan, do you have any other pair of shoes?” I was like “I do but these are great!” With modern clothes, I think one of my favorite jackets would be, I have a suit supply, linen wool blend sport coat that I tend to wear pretty often. I got it when I was first getting into vintage and when I was going to dapper day for the first few times, two years ago.
Sven Raphael Schneider: So overall, how many jackets and suits do you have in your wardrobe?
Ethan Wong: I think I have about four full suits and maybe about six or seven sport coats.
Sven Raphael Schneider: When I was going through some of your pictures, I saw that you had these children’s suit and it has a huge stain on it but you’re still happy to wear that, that seems odd for some people but in the vintage community, that’s not so unusual. Tell us more about that.
Ethan Wong: I think my first, When I see something with a stain, “well, this is gonna be cheaper!” so that’s kind of the main thing I do. Most of my suits will have holes, linings coming off, or discolored in one part. The suit might be a lighter shade than the pants because maybe the owner wore it out more. There’s always gonna be problems like you said.
Sven Raphael Schneider: Yes, some things like a lining can be fixed, right? Or even a moth hole if you have a good invisible mender, it can be fixed, but if it’s a big stain or a huge hole, that’s just not something you can change. So basically, if there’s something you like and you love the cut of it, and it has a big stain, you have to accept that right?
Ethan Wong: Yeah, that’s how I put it. It’s a part of it, you’re wearing a piece of history, you’re wearing something that someone wore. With that particular suit, I think I’ve been suggested that I can soak the suit and I just, I’m too terrified. Might be the reason why I keep wearing it cos I don’t want to ruin the suit. Even though it was thirty dollars, to me it’s worth more than that.
Sven Raphael Schneider: So you’re about 5’8″, 160 pound, average build, not too muscular. What are the things that you can recommend to our readers, viewers and listeners that helped you to find well fitting, flattering clothes?
1. Number one thing is your pants. I’ve been talking about breaks the entire interview. They really can go a long way in how your body looks. I would also suggest having higher waisted pants, it’s a pretty good way to go. I know most people don’t make them now and for me, personally, suit supply, Banana Republic, they don’t make high waist pants.What I’ll do is buy a well length size, about one size longer and I just wear them higher up and to me they don;t look too different than the 30’s stuff I wear. The pockets may be a little disproportional to where they were, but having that higher point where your legs start, that can make a world of difference. I love how long it makes my legs look because it makes me look slimmer and maybe a tad bit taller. Raj was the person who suggested that, he actually wore his pants higher up cos I think we both don’t like too much of a drop crotch situation so we just hike them up, and I like how it looked on him and then now that I wear suspenders, naturally the pants will be a little bit higher. It has become a natural thing for me.
2. I think having an immaculately cut jacket can also do wonders for you. Even if you’re wearing a baggy shirt or something like that, if you’re wearing a jacket that fit you, that just accents the curves of the body, the shoulders, and everything. That can just make you look miles better than anyone else out there. It’s a good way to hide whatever you’ve got, if you’re too self-conscious about anything you got under your shirt, having a jacket that’s tailored for you, whether it’s custom or whether you buy something off the rack, get it cut just the way you want it, it makes a world of difference.
Sven Raphael Schneider: Yeah, looks like a million bucks but all it cost was 50 bucks at the alterations tailor.
Sven Raphael Schneider: So, what is your style hallmark?
Ethan Wong: I think that it does change every so often. When I first started, I’ll be the guy that’s always in double breasted then I became the guy that wears fedoras a lot. It kind of goes up and down with my style.
Sven Raphael Schneider: What would you say is your go-to suit and why do you think it is?
Ethan Wong: I think right now for modern clothes, it’s my navy blue suit just cos as separates you can wear anything with it, and together it makes you wear the most crazy pattern possible cos it’s such a classic combination. You can wear whatever you want with it.
Sven Raphael Schneider: Alright, what are your favorite clothing websites, sources of inspiration, tumblrs, what do you follow?
Ethan Wong: Well I think, Articles of style. I do enjoy reading Gentleman’s Gazette sometimes. I think one of my favorite one is when you talk about Pitti, that’s one of my favorite features that you do. Another one would be put this on, it’s very casual. Khaled Nasr on Instagram is pretty awesome. Besides male fashion advice on Reddit, I think there was a styleforum, I go on there just to kind of read reviews on more established brands. Usually, when I go somewhere else, it’s usually a one-time kind of thing.
Sven Raphael Schneider: What’s the single most inspiring piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?
Ethan Wong: Best advice I’ve ever gotten was “Wear whatever the hell you want as long as you feel good in it.”
Sven Raphael Schneider: Where do you see yourself in five or ten years down the line?
Ethan Wong: Well, hopefully I’ll be able to do something related to marketing where I can kind of craft that kind of thing.I’m very big in making things relevant for people, not just fashion, not just creating music but the whole idea of asking people and finding out what they want and to make it apply to them and I hope that my career will be in that sort of field. Even if it is in fashion or in music or something else.
Sven Raphael Schneider: If people want to check out your blog or your Instagram, how can they find you?
Ethan Wong: My WordPress blog is StreetXSprezza.wordpress.com, and my Instagram will be @theteenagegentleman .
Sven Raphael Schneider: Thank you, Ethan, for your time, it was wonderful to have you on. I hope our reader, listeners, and viewers could get a better understanding of what it’s like to be a stylish 20-year-old and thank you for your valuable insights, particularly like the fact about the long pants that give you this natural waist and longer legs especially if you’re naturally shorter. Great tip, thank you!