Friday, April 28, 2017

In Review: Meeting in the Middle - A Look at RRL and the Odd Sport Coat

Also Pictured: Shirt - J. Crew, Belt - Thirteen50, Jeans - Levi's Vintage Clothing, Boots - Allen Edmonds, Scarf - Polo RL

There's probably no other brand - or man, for that matter - that epitomizes quintessential American fashion like Ralph Lauren. That's a bold statement for sure, but one I think is well merited. And while Polo is unquestionably at the forefront of the consumer consciousness, my favorite line by far is RRL (pronounced "double RL"), named after the Lauren family's ranch in Colorado. The RRL brand is a love letter to the Great American West - a niche passion project that has gained a real cult following among heritage Americana enthusiasts over the years since it was started in 1993.

Though the brand puts out some eccentric pieces every season, RRL collections consistently display a level of restraint and sophistication virtually unmatched among their peers. I've come to love a lot of Japanese Americana, for example, but RRL has such a finely nuanced aesthetic that it almost always manages to avoid the costumey impression that other brands, both domestic and abroad, can sometimes get mired down in.



RRL have a huge fan base, but the barrier for many, including myself, has always been the cost of admission. It's flat out expensive. However, during a recent sale at Stag Provisions I was able to pick up an odd sport coat from RRL's AW2016 collection for $99.96 - heavily discounted from its initial $590 MSRP (with other sizes still priced at $325, oddly), and one of the lowest prices I've seen on RRL outerwear anywhere. The purpose of this review isn't so much so others can buy this exact jacket (though you can at a higher price at the time of this posting), but rather to give a closer examination of RRL design, materials, and general pricing advice if you've not previously had the chance. Let's take a look.

Design, Materials, and Construction



You've likely seen an engineer or railroad jacket if you've ever come across an otherwise conventional short work jacket and stopped to think "what are all these weird pockets about?" A distinctive workwear staple, RRL updated the theme and translated it into an unvented, cuffless, notch lapel blazer in light cotton-wool blend. The aesthetic is more formal than a workwear jacket for sure, but in practice it's also as casual as a blazer could be. It's not a huge leap to get from one point to the other, in fact for the most part just a modification of a few pocket shapes and locations.
Post Overalls Engineer Jacket

The bottom set are relatively traditional patch pockets where you'd expect them to be on either jacket type, more or less, but on the right side there's a tiny patch pocket right above the lower one. And on the left chest, rather than a welt or traditional patch design there's an almost rectangular pocket originally meant for holding a pen/pencil and a pocket watch. If it weren't for the pockets, the whole garment would be relatively nondescript - almost boring if you already owned something similar, and yet the engineer pockets offer a little intrigue to an otherwise familiar pattern.




On the inside of the jacket you'll find a few more random pockets in polka-dotted indigo cotton. If I had to criticize one element of the design, it's that I could do without the random pops of color, but I'm a known curmudgeon when it comes to "fun" flashy elements in my clothes. Turn down all that rap dancing and get off my lawn! I do like the subtly patterned buttons, though, which add another level of small detail that set it apart from the everyday blazer.



The body fabric is a lightweight black and cream Italian cotton-wool jaspe twill infused with a little elastane for flexibility. In hand it's remarkably light and feels almost more sweater-like than jacket, also left unstructured and cotton-lined at the sleeves. Build quality is generally good, and stitching is of decent quality and density, though I think it's important to note that the garment is made in China, not in the USA. While that isn't an inherent knock on quality, I think it's notable given the pricing and driving theme of the RRL brand. And while I do think the manufacture is solid, I don't see much on this piece to justify the price alone from a materials or construction standpoint. More on that later.


Sizing, Fit, and Styling



I'm 5'11" and 155 lbs in a skinny limbs early pregnant sort of way with a true 38" chest (36-38R depending on maker). Having previously bought and returned an incorrectly listed medium RRL shirt I was swimming in a few months ago, I elected for a size small in this jacket. Workwear has traditionally been a looser-fitting genre out of practicality, and while some companies recreate garments exactly to spec in all their boxy glory, RRL typically take more liberties to update and modernize fits.



With that being said, the jacket does fit on the slightly relaxed side through the shoulders and chest, though I wouldn't call it baggy by any means. I could also layer a light sweater underneath without much issue, something I've come to appreciate vs. my earlier days of wearing garments with much closer allowances. There's no tightness through the chest or midsection, but curiously you may notice there's still a touch of tension at the buttoning point, which I think is actually due more to the drape of the soft fleecy fabric than normal pulling, if that makes sense.

In daily wear, the jacket is something easily thrown on with a pair of jeans and a well-worn chambray shirt, or some chinos and a rumpled oxford - the key being sort of lived-in attire, a touch rugged, and not at all fussy.

Thoughts and Recommendations



Make no mistake about it - I really like this jacket, which I think sits at a happy medium between traditional work and tailored wear. The term "casually tailored" gets thrown around ad nauseam in menswear, but for the life of me I can't think of a better way to put it.

RRL Handknit
I also love the RRL aesthetic in general. The designs are interesting but approachable (no small feat), and the fits are modern and familiar. More than that, I think they really do capture the romantic heart and soul of their inspiration. It's easy to see why the brand has so many fans - I mean, just check out Julian Landa's Instagram feed - who wouldn't want to look like that? And don't get me started on their handknits. But RRL's work has always presented itself as somewhat of a paradox to me, as it draws upon an unquestionably blue collar heritage yet sells at an eye-wateringly white collar price. For the price of one of those handknit sweaters, I could just buy a small child and teach him/her to knit me a whole lifetime of sweaters.

Heritage workwear is not a cheap market, mind you - a great part of the appeal of it is that the clothes and products are made just like the good ol' days from prime materials and construction, meant to last you years and years of hard use sitting at the desk in front of your computer, and that kind of manufacture carries a premium. But a large part of RRL goods are manufactured in China, which seems incredibly dissonant with both the theme of the line and the pricing. I don't have any problem with Chinese-made products in general, and there's nothing to say that American products are always made better - in fact, there are plenty of great Chinese-made products out there. But Chinese manufacture is almost always primarily a cost-cutting measure, and none of those savings seem to be passed on to the consumer end.


So in the end, I think you're left with exclusivity of design and brand prestige being the major drivers of pricing - the former being somewhat understandable as no one can consistently do what RRL does, despite there being a lot of competition on the market. At MSRP, however, I find it a tough pill to swallow. At the end of the day, though, demand determines value, and as long as people are willing to buy RRL at list it's hard to argue against their pricing strategy.

RRL x Schott Double Rider
But If you can find RRL on sale, things quickly become a lot more palatable. I don't think I can get to a point where I'd ever claim RRL is a strong value per dollar in the same way a value merchant like Wolf vs. Goat is, but WvG can't make what RRL does, and at sale prices similar to what I found my jacket at I can't come up with any competitors at the price point I'd rather have. To that end, Stag Provisions, where I bought this jacket, often has extra % off sales, and the Mr. Porter biannual sales are usually a good spot to grab things at a good price. More so, I usually do my hunting on the used market at Grailed or eBay.

For those with more experience with RRL, please drop me a line or leave a comment in the section below. Am I being too harsh on the pricing? Too forgiving on the manufacture? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Pros


Vintage aesthetic with modern fit
Creative design
Solid, though not superlative materials and construction


Cons


Expensive, even on sale
A large number of products Made in China (see above for discussion)

Where to Buy


Mr. Porter
Official RRL Store
Stag Provisions
Unionmade
End Clothing

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