Gap + GQ: Best New Menswear Designers in America - 2015 Collection Impressions and Select Items Review

A few years ago, Gap started an annual partnership with GQ to showcase "the best new menswear designers in America." This year that included The Hill-Side, NSF, Stampd, and David Hart with the collections being released in select Gap stores around the nation at the end of September. When they first dropped, I stopped by my local Gap to take a look.  I liked the design on a few pieces (mostly in the Hill-side and David Hart lines), but passed originally due to the price point and the large proportion of synthetic blends.

Less than a month after release, though, Gap surprised many by placing the Gap + GQ collections on deep discount. After reading some feedback online, I decided to take a second look in store and ended up leaving with a good deal of the David Hart collection and a side of Hill-Side. Some thoughts on those pieces and the collection on the whole after the jump.

The Hill-Side Collection

This isn't the Hill-Side's first rodeo, being carried previously through third party merchandising at J. Crew in addition to many smaller menswear stores in the nation. The Hill-side, in both Gap + GQ collection and their main line, showcases a line of accessories in addition to their workwear-oriented garments featuring interesting usually heavy textiles from around the world. In person, the herringbone pants and the herringbone tailored jacket initially caught my eye. The jacket I passed on due to some fit and styling issues (short length, poor fit with a large collar gap, etc.). I did end up picking up the pants, however.

David Hart Collection

David Hart, who brought out his first full menswear line in 2013 after earning his stripes at Anna Sui, Tommy Hilfiger, and Ralph Lauren, draws inspiration from one of my favorite periods, the 50's-60's, and the collaboration is made up of fall fabrics in a mix of earthy tones and pastels (of which I tend to gravitate towards the former). The collection includes a beautiful heavily weighted wool/nylon blend zip cardigan, as well as some solid anchoring pieces in the tweed wool blend items and wool pants. The turtleneck and the reversible balmacaan were also great, but a bit too bright for me in what would have otherwise been very compelling in a different palette. Here are some more details on the items which I did pick up (David Hart tweed pants and tweed jacket, the tab collar oxford shirt, windowpane wool pants, wool zip cardigan, windowpane shirt, and the Hill-Side herringbone pants).

Tab Collar Oxford and Windowpane Shirt 

Materials and Construction
The tab collar cotton oxford shirt is made with a starchy, medium-weighted basketweave. Stitching and construction are generally decent without being particularly noteworthy - I'd say in line with other oxfords in its price range. The focus of the shirt is the tab closure which tightens up the presentation nicely with this interesting and uncommon detail. The single-yoke back is side pleated for a little allowance in movement.

The windowpane shirt is made with a nice 100% Pima cotton and feels slightly thinner and much more refined than the oxford. Aside from the cloth, made in a more approachable palette and pattern, the shirt is built exactly the same.

David Hart Windowpane Shirt Tab Collar Detail

Sizing and Fit

David Hart - Oxford Size Small

Though you could forgive someone for calling the materials and construction mundane, the fit on the two shirts really made this an easy choice personally, especially at the price. I normally take a slim small in most major clothing retailers (Gap, BR, J. Crew, Uniqlo, Bonobos, etc).  The S fits well, actually more so for my frame than many shirts I own through the body, neck, and sleeves - regardless of cost. For comparison, it fits me ever-so-slightly fuller in the body than a J. Crew slim small with a similar neck circumference and a shorter sleeve length. The crucial thing to note is how the tab collar effects your tie choice - given that the tab closes behind the knot, it basically requires you to wear a skinny tie with a corresponding skinny knot. It's impossible to close the tab otherwise. That has repercussions downstream, as collars and lapels with larger proportions may look off balance if worn together.

Impressions and Value

A few subtle details in design, decent construction, and a good fit make this not a rip off at MSRP $59.95, though materials and construction are trumped by some higher priced brands at comparable price on sale (more so for the oxford). It's easy to gloss over the oxford and windowpane shirt among the rest of the collection - I certainly did until they were right in front of me. Of the two shirts, the windowpane wins - the great Pima cotton fabric is more of a standout and it's just more versatile. The color of the oxford somewhat demands to be noticed and is sure to be a polarizing choice. That being said, at the $18 I paid for the oxford or even the $30 that I mail-ordered for the windowpane, the fit and tab collar closure made this a surprise favorite, offering something a little unique in an otherwise familiar standby.

Tweed Pants and Windowpane Wool Pants

Materials and Construction

I'm a sucker for visual and tactile texture, and tweed hits straight to the heart of that. Though true Donegal tweed is only woven in County Donegal, Ireland, the characteristic bright flecks in a darker, rough woolen weave has led to the Donegal name being applied to this pattern on the whole in the public consciousness. The David Hart tweed for Gap + GQ is a twill weave blend composed of 62% wool, 28% nylon, and 10% silk (the % listed on tag slightly different than the website listed composition).

The materials here are potentially the biggest controversy - specifically the nylon content. A lot of menswear enthusiasts, myself included, have been conditioned to recoil in horror at the thought of synthetic fabrics. While there are valid reasons for some of that, there are also real advantages to blends as well. For instance, Bemberg/cupro is a semi-synthetic fiber made from processed cellulose. It is generally accepted as being far superior to silk for lining garments. Regarding this wool/nylon/silk blend, nylon is a petroleum-based synthetic fiber used for many purposes, but in wool blends it adds resilience, is usually softer and less irritating (depending on the quality of the wool), and limits the matting and shrinking tendencies of pure wool while being more wrinkle resistant. And of course, it's also cheaper. Sounds amazing, right? Then why don't we all switch to nylon blends?

Well, nylon doesn't absorb moisture easily, so it can get trapped in a nylon-blended garment and sometimes get clammy or kind of sticky against the skin. It can also feel different in hand in a manner that some find off-putting. In addition, it has a tendency to be recognized most commonly as being used by garment makers with lower construction standards as one cost-cutting measure in a string of other cost-cutting measures, favoring a trend towards generally inferior garments, especially where the percentage of synthetics is high. At the end of the day, though, it seems that the demonization of nylon and synthetic blends is, at the very least, somewhat undue. You'll notice if you examine some very high end garments, many of them use blends - and for good reason. That said, I still usually prefer the feel and qualities of pure wool and natural fabrics in most instances.

This particular fabric is nice and heavily weighted, with a slightly softer hand and silkier feel than standard wool tweed (though scratchier than the windowpane wool pants), as well as a slightly different luster than pure wool as a result of the silk/nylon content.

The pants are constructed with a flat front, slant pockets, and back button welt pockets. They close with a zip fly, hook closure at the waist, and are lined with polyester to the knee, a synthetic fabric I don't particularly like in this case, especially compared to Bemberg.

General build quality is okay, though aside from the fabric generally unremarkable, as you might expect from a garment in this price range. That's not a knock on it - it just doesn't do anything above and beyond its price point in terms of construction.

The fabric of windowpane wool pants is 100% wool with a texture in hand softer than the tweed with more loft to it, but otherwise lined and finished identically to the tweed. Although I don't mind the texture of the tweed, when I pick up the windowpane I definitely prefer it in hand. However, the stock pictures make the aqua blue look almost downright electric at times. In person, in certain light the blue seems to almost glow, though low light thankfully mutes some of that contrast.

Sizing and Fit

Gap describes the fit of the tweed pants as a slim tailored fit, which is accurate in my experience. The waist is counter-intuitively larger than normal Gap vanity sizing, and I had to size down to a 30" instead of the usual tagged 31" for my true 33" waist. Aside from that curiosity, the pants fall slim through the leg and finish with a trim leg opening. My only issue with the fit is that the front slant pockets tend to flare slightly without any tension or tightness around the hips. It's not a huge deal and it's hard to notice, but it's not ideal. Otherwise, the pants feel tailored very well through the body of the garment, aside from needing to be hemmed (fit pics cuffed to show ideal break). The drape of heavier fabrics is fantastic in general, and these are no exception. They wear beautifully and fall well down the line of the leg.

Aside from a less scratchy feel in the calves below the lining, the windowpane wool pants fit pretty much identically to the tweed - that is to say, wonderfully. Also, oddly enough, without any pocket flare whatsoever (fit pics cuffed to show ideal break).

Impressions and Value

If I had to choose one thing to keep out of everything in the entire collaboration, it very well might be the pants. The design is simple but sleek and tailored. The fabric is interesting and, considering the cost, very good for the price with decent construction. The fit is close to right-on right off the peg. At $35.60 and $40, respectively, for the tweed and windowpane trousers, I think they hit it out of the park for value - a clear winner.

Tweed Jacket

Materials and Construction

The tweed blazer is a two-button, 2.5" (at the widest point) notch lapel coat with a single vent, welt chest and flap side pockets. The interior of the coat is lined in the same blue polyester, and features a few nice small pockets for pens and other items. Though collars are often backed with wool melton or felt, judging by the flatter feel and texture I'd wager this one is also a synthetic blend of some sort.

David Hart Tweed Jacket Lining

Surprisingly, the cuffs are functional - a choice that's become increasingly popular over the past few years. Functional cuffs (also called surgeon's cuffs) allow you to roll up the sleeves and used to be an indicator of higher quality construction. However, if the sleeves aren't the correct length it can be a difficult and expensive problem to fix.

Tweed Jacket Functional Cuffs

Tweed Jacket Center Vent

While I didn't notice any glaring deficiencies in the tweed pants, unfortunately I can definitely tell the difference in construction between this jacket and some higher priced, more solidly-made ones I own. I can't quite pin down if it's one thing or the summation of many smaller issues - there's just a certain feeling you get when you pick up a very well-made garment. It's very hard to fake or make up for, and I find that a bit lacking here.

Fit and Sizing

I was skeptical of the jacket, to be honest, for a few reasons in terms of fit as well. I've seen fit pictures where the tail seemed quite short, of which the effects are potentially twofold: (1) it ideally can give the impression of a trimmer, more rakish and modern fit  (2) it can also result in somewhat of either a feminine appearance at times or that of a guy in a shrunken suit (ala Thom Browne). The single vent is also a choice that can potentially be troublesome, as any tension or overly-trim fit can result in an unsightly flaring apart of the vent (though this isn't an issue if the jacket fits well). And finally, the inclusion of functional buttons leaves room for one more potential headache, as noted above.

To some up the fit - in short, it's short. Coming from more traditional length jackets, by at least a couple of inches. Once (and if) you can get past that, however, it actually fits better than I expected. The size small correlates with a 36S, more or less, and fits well in the shoulders and chest. Nothing seems too tight and there's no flaring out of the center vent. The sleeve length, as well, is remarkably good. When I tried on the Hill-Side jacket, it left a collar gap that instantly killed the fit. Fortunately, that was not the case with the DH tweed jacket. Sleeve pitch (the angle at which the sleeve head is attached to the shoulder) is a little bit off, resulting in a little bunching at the back of the upper arm (visible in the above and below pictures), but nothing horrible. The gorge, the point at which the notch in the lapel is located, is actually higher than I initially thought as well. For something that's tagged in a common S/M/L size, though, for a jacket fit it's overall a pleasant surprise.

That being said, it just doesn't wear quite to the standards I'm used to - which in this case would be something like the more classically styled Suitsupply models or Eidos Napoli. It still feels very short to me (and almost as if it's squashed in proportion), it drapes and wears less naturally than I'd like, and wearing the jacket seems to accentuate some of the pitfalls in materials and construction more than the trousers do. The pants are currently at the tailor for hemming, so I'm holding off on a final impression on the jacket fit until I can see both together (post will be updated at that time).

Impressions and Value

The valuation of the jacket is difficult. Really, how well constructed can a sub-$150 suit jacket/blazer be? That's the real question. It would be preposterous to expect any canvassing, horn buttons, hand stitching etc. - though the latter two are much less important to me. At this price point, it's in large part the fit and somewhat the fabric that generate value, with construction and finer materials a secondary consideration. Out of the jackets that I own (some Suitsupply, Eidos Napoli, MTM Black Lapel - all either half or fully canvassed, as well as a vintage Harris Tweed jacket), this jacket lacks the structure and level of quality the others have, and I can notice the difference in my hands and when I have it on.

Let's be clear - that's entirely unfair. The aforementioned jackets cost, at street price, orders of magnitude more than the DH jacket. It doesn't help, though, that you can find half-canvassed J. Crew Ludlow jackets <$200 on sale (though that's still more than twice the price as well). I think this one has to come down to fit and budget. Not everyone can, or is willing, to pay >$200 for a blazer/jacket. I am, and the more time that goes on in my life I've come to appreciate not settling for things I'd rather invest in with a little more money. But let's not forget that value also factors in cost, and I paid $71.99 for this jacket. For that price, you can certainly do a lot worse. I'll have to wait personally until I get the pants back to fully evaluate the jacket. If you are lucky enough to find this in store, as well, depending on the sale I've seen it for as low as $48.  For that price, forget everything else - if you like the fit and the look, by all means go for it as long as you are aware of the potential issues presented above.

David Hart Wool Zip Cardigan

Materials and Construction

It's hard to translate into pictures what a beast this thing is. Built from a thick bone-colored 55%/45% lambswool nylon blend, this is one of the heaviest and beefiest sweaters I can remember coming across. The blend is a higher percentage nylon, which in this case I think just comes down to cost control given the gauge and weight of the whole garment (it really is that heavy).

That being said, it feels quite nice and substantial. The sweater features a beefy shawl collar, zip closure, with two welt pockets and ribbed hem and cuffs. Knit in a Cowichan style, the pattern is geometric and is more earthy in tone than most of the collection. Design-wise, it's not something you see every day, and I mean that in the best way possible. It's a real character piece.

Sizing and Fit

Reading through the customer feedback, there's a few comments noting the large size and bulk of the sweater, with one recommending to size down. I ordered an XS (a size down), and it fits in the shoulders but otherwise is a bit constricting through the sleeves and the body when zipped up. If you want a very svelte, slim fitting sweater you are barking up the wrong tree altogether. Given the weight of the fabric it's just not achievable unless you are truly very skinny. Even wrapped a bit tight around me like an eggroll, it's still a hefty piece of fabric and almost feels more like wearing a jacket than the sweater it is. Unfortuantely, the XS is too small, so I'll have to exchange for more appropriate size (S) before judging the fit.

Impressions and Value

This isn't a cheap sweater, especially considering the retailer, and the nylon content is more than I'd like to see. That doesn't change the fact that this sweater is awesome. Design-wise, I think it's the most compelling piece in the collection and the one with the most soul. Online at $139, it can be discounted currently to ~$80s, which is about my limit given the material constraints. Below that, I think you would be hard pressed to find a comparable item with the same substance, design, or value. If the design meets your aesthetic and you can handle a heavy sweater, I'd highly recommend taking a closer look.

The Hill-Side Herringbone Pants

Materials and Construction

The Hill-Side pants are designed true to the casual, deeply textural, and heavy fabric aesthetic the brand is known for. Unlike the jacket, which seems to be somewhat a clone of an existing mainline Hill-Side garment (JK1), the pants are similar, though not identical, to other mainline pieces that I could find.

The 67% cotton, 20% polyester, 13% acrylic fabric (% on tag differs slightly from the website listed content as well) is the chief focal point here, with a touch of nep peeking out of the classic charcoal herringbone weave. In hand it feels virtually identical to a heavy cotton - I didn't notice any synthetic "off-ness" in any regard. 

The unlined pants include slant pockets and a front coin pocket, a button fly, and back button welt pockets. The most interesting detail is the double-stitched panels above the knee down - easily missed on first glance, but a nice vintage workwear feature.

Front Stitched Panels

It's an overall design that feels vintage, as if plucked from the archives, yet relevant today. That's not to say no one else is doing that - there are several American and Japanese brands that have been very successful in channeling and/or reproducing vintage workwear and Americana. Nevertheless, the Hill-Side seems to handle that task easily in this case.

Sizing and Fit

The Hill-Side pants (also pictured - Club Monaco henley, Don't Mourn! Organize bridle belt, Corter leather bracelet)

The pants are cut in an approachable slim straight fit, with more room throughout the entire garment than the David Hart pants aside from the waist, which fit me in my normal 31" tagged size as opposed to having to go down a size in the DH. The website fit pictures seem fairly accurate, though with a fuller break the pants get a bit baggy fast. With less of a break or a little cuffing that cleans up nicely.

The Hill-Side pants double cuffed (also pictured - Barbour wool shawl collar sweater, Allen Edmonds Dalton boots)

The Hill-Side pants rolled cuff (also pictured - J. Crew Macalister suede boots)

Impressions and Value

The MSRP on the pants is $98, which is a bit steep for me given the price is mainly based on the design of these cotton-based pants. They're already on discount, however, and at the price I paid (~$26) the pants are almost untouchable for that style on anything but the most ridiculous of higher-priced garment sales (e.g. the whirlwind panic that is the Unionmade Archive clearance).

Overall Impressions

When I look at value, I generally look at design, fit, quality of materials, and construction against the price. Thoroughly prepared, you usually get the best value by purchasing higher end items as they dip in price rather than buying the more expensive merchandise from economical retailers at, or close to, MSRP. Collaborations between the "high" and the "low," so to speak, usually fall somewhere in the middle (similar to the Uniqlo x Lemaire collaboration), but often don't meet my threshold for purchase due to materials and construction constraints for the price range. It took me a little while to take a serious look at the Gap + GQ collaborations, in large part because of that presumption, but I'm glad I did. At the prices pieces are going for, it's hard to pass over.

However, although the collection has its high points, there are definitely other things about the collection I didn't like. You'll notice I didn't mention much about NSF and Stampd at all, which is because I really didn't care for them at all. They don't appeal to me for a number of different reasons, and that's fine. And though I liked many of the Hill-Side textiles, some of them were also pretty underwhelming for me. Even within the David Hart line, it was riddled with too many Easter egg colors for me that, while cohesive as a line, really turned me off of a few things I would have otherwise enjoyed in a more versatile color palette. Like the Uniqlo x Lemaire collaboration, the Gap + GQ collection is inconsistent enough in terms of fit and finish that it isn't an absolute success from start to finish.

Overall, though, the collection serves to be a refreshing reminder at times that you can still find interesting clothes and good value without trawling the depths of the internet, making impulse buys on flash final sale items, or abandoning the middle market waiting for higher end outlets to make huge cuts. Sometimes that value is right down the road at a store we all grew up with.

Things I Liked

Interesting details and fabrics
Cohesive design throughout the lines
Great fit on certain garments
Priced aggressively on sale

Things I Didn't Like

Cost-cutting measures noticeable at times
"Hate it or love it" color palette in much of the DH line
Depending on your preferences, synthetic blends


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