From the silver screen to a wardrobe staple, the T-shirt and jeans combination is a stylish pick for every local guy.
By Christopher Luu | Photos by Chad Mellon | Clothing styled by North Menswear
Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.” Tom Cruise in “Top Gun.” The T-shirt has gone from being a symbol of rebel style to a staple piece in every guy’s wardrobe. Pair it with jeans and you have a combination that can be transformed to suit nearly every event in casual, coastal Laguna, from work to a walk down Main Beach to rooftop drinks with a special someone. There’s no better time to give this American staple a go in some unexpected ways—here, explore four distinct looks to dress up (or down) the simple Laguna uniform for any occasion.
Jeans and a tee often serve as a guy’s typical outfit for running errands, but rather than throwing on a dingy, shapeless shirt from the gym pile, you can channel a throwback style.
“There is nothing more classic than a white T-shirt and jeans,” says Pete Surprenant, owner and founder of North Menswear on Glenneyre Street. “I am particularly fond of a white pocket tee, which should be fitted but not too tight. White tee, dark denim and a broken in pair of boots—think James Dean’s effortless cool.”
If you have a pair of jeans worn so often that the material has softened and the blue has faded, show off all that hard work you put into them.
“Choose the right fit for your body type,” says Jenni Elmished, co-owner of Simple boutique. “If you are in great shape and have slim legs, go for a slim or modern fit. If you have a more athletic, muscular body, then a straight leg will look better.”
With any jean style, you can toss on a pair of classic aviators or Ray-Ban Wayfarers to channel that celebrity-off-duty look. And when the ocean breeze rolls in, nothing looks better over a vintage tee than a cashmere hoodie or a classic Baracuta jacket.
If your office is more laid-back than buttoned-up, it’s not out of the question to slip into a nicely structured T-shirt with khaki-toned pants or jeans. “Look for luxe materials like cotton, modal or microfiber and quality stitching,” says Leslie Christen, a Laguna Beach-based stylist. “… And buy in multiples—you’ll wear them a lot and you want them to be looking their best.”
Skip shirts with oversized logos, loud graphics and any distressing. “I would focus on solid colors like navy or heather gray if you work in a casual office,” Pete says. “For example, a navy tee with … chukka boots.”
When you find the perfect T-shirt, Leslie suggests pairing it with a slim blazer, wingtips and a colorful pocket square for a work-ready look that takes you from desk to dinner and drinks.
For the jeans, go with simple and clean, even opting for colored denim in lighter hues. With premium denim, the construction is important. “The washes feel soft and look like they have aged over time,” Jenni says. “Over-embellishment or heavy contrast stitching on the pockets can look unsophisticated.”
When aiming for quality, look for a pair that’s raw and uses selvage material, which means that the jeans are produced in small batches on vintage looms. It whiskers and fades with every wear, but it can be uncomfortable to break in for the uninitiated.
Jenni recommends denim with stretch for a pair that holds its shape. For a look that works in both casual and more dressed-up offices, opt for a V-neck sweater or a cardigan. Bright socks add personality, then up the ante with a bold timepiece—but leave the bling to the ladies here—for an outfit that’s ready for anything.
Dates aren’t always dressy, especially in Laguna. Pete suggests a more casual spin on the T-shirt and jeans combination with a touch of prep. “I am a huge fan of stripes. Classic and a bit nautical,” he says. “I would try a red-and-white striped tee under a soft chambray button-down, which should be left open and casual. Pair it with your favorite jeans and some clean Chuck Taylors.”
For a fancier occasion, try pairing T-shirts with more tailored options. A simple, dark-colored shirt looks great under a blazer with deep-blue denim and loafers—one of Leslie’s favorite looks—for after-dark debauchery. Whether you’re going for a round of sunset sips at the Rooftop Lounge or a reservation for two at Selanne Steak Tavern, jeans and a tee will fit in just fine.
“Women love the feeling of a soft T-shirt on a date,” adds Sophie Mae, a Laguna Beach-based stylist, personal shopper and fashion blogger. “Look for a style with a small V-neck in a darker color that is super soft to the touch. Be daring and pair with a colored or textured jean. This will give the traditional look more edge and can go from dinner to the movies.”
One textured option is coated denim, which has a subtle sheen and a slick feel. It’s a great choice for working up a sweat at Mozambique. A few denim brands are even offering linen-denim blends for the look of jeans with the airy, lightweight feel of breezy linen pants.
Also, keep in mind that footwear can transform the outfit. Driving moccasins, boat shoes or designer sneakers are all solid options, especially when they include pebbled leathers, suede or a few unexpected details, such as patent leather.
“In Orange County, we seem to be able to get away with a T-shirt and jeans at formal events,” Sophie says. “However, you still want to make sure that you appear dressed up enough. Opt for a black or dark charcoal T-shirt and high-quality, dark wash denim. You can go for a contrasting or traditional colored blazer to add a bit of texture.”
Stay classy by skipping shirts with the tux printed on the front, and avoid bright patterns (stripes included) as well as pockets. Most guys are familiar with basic cotton options, but for a dressier occasion, T-shirts in linen, combed cotton blends and microfiber are a better option.
It’s important to keep everything tailored, especially if your tee has a draped or V-neck. Blazers should be slim, sleek and definitely dark. This isn’t the time for banker pinstripes or a brash herringbone pattern. The same is true for the denim color—look for inky blue or black jeans, with matching stitching to get the cleanest look possible. Hem them shorter than usual so they have no break to keep things long and lean.
A tee paired with slim black jeans and Chelsea boots channels London’s 1960s mod movement. For an Italian-like look, ditch the socks and slip into a velvet slipper or a double monk-strap shoe, which has a pair of buckles in lieu of laces.
This is the time to pull out all of the extra details that walk down the red carpet, such as a vintage watch, a Sinatra-style fedora and, for the sartorially daring, a Savile Row-inspired silk scarf. Personality is key, especially when an outfit is slightly subversive, so the perfect look strikes a balance between menswear traditions and what’s on-trend.