Style lessons from Patrick Johnson, the Bondi Prep-God.
If you follow Australian menswear at all you know Patrick Johnson.
An icon of the local tailoring scene, Patrick is the co-founder of P. Johnson, a clothier which has grown from a door-to-door made-to-measure business into a full menswear label stocked at Barneys and Mr Porter.
Although his blend of classic and contemporary tailoring has captured the hearts and wallets of Australian men, there’s more to Patrick than just his clothes. For example, my brother tells me that there’s a guy in his office who dresses in P. Johnson from head to toe but somehow still “looks like shit”.
G. Bruce Boyer – one of my favourite menswear writers – noted that men who only wore one label had no real identity or taste of their own. They were, as he put it, “lacking in imagination”. Here, I have to agree. You can’t copy someone’s fit and expect to look stylish. That takes something money can’t buy.
For everything else, there’s this guide we’ve written.
1. Dress down your formalwear.
Patrick wears suits that are versatile and can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. His navy jackets with patch pockets sit in the realm of casual tailoring but don’t drift too far into casualwear. You can dress them up with a pair of navy twill trousers to form a suit, or dress them down with a pair of odd trousers in a contrast colour like cream.
This middle-of-the-road approach lends his tailoring a nonchalance. Because most Aussie guys dress a lot more casually on their days off, they often look like they’re suffocating in their suits at work. Patrick, on the other hand, wears a lot of lightweight suits (in mostly solid colours) that respect conventional tailoring without sacrificing ease and comfort.
2. Prep can be cool.
One of Patrick’s signature looks is a cashmere or merino wool sweater thrown over a tailored jacket.
It’s a style fraught with connotations of WASP privilege though it doesn’t look that way when he does it. The reason for this is because his knits looks like something he might actually wear – and not just an affectation. His sweater are normally pretty muted and lightweight; something you’d throw on if the weather suddenly changed. They’re preppy in a Sydney-sort of way, like Japanese whiskey and cafes inside abandoned warehouses.
I like to think that Patrick is trying to channel a bit of Ralph Lauren too.
3. If you feel comfortable, you’ll look comfortable.
Patrick likes to wear chambray shirts and lightweight tailoring – clothes that can be worn nearly everywhere. The cuts are shorter and trimmer than what you find with an English tailor but they’re not as extreme as something from the likes of Thom Browne. They exist in this sweet spot between casual and formal, and by extension, they are classic and contemporary. Clothes like these keep his outfits looking dynamic.
Another important factor lies in his choice of cloths. His wool suits tend to have a soft sheen that reflect the radiance of the Australian sun, and are so light that they don’t really seem like suits at all. They wrinkle and crease like Italian linen and lightweight cashmere, like clothes you wear when you don’t want to wear anything at all.
4. Consistency is king.
A lot of guys experiment with clothes the same way you might sample food at an all-you-can-eat buffet. They try everything but can’t appreciate anything.
Patrick on the other hand is pretty consistent in everything he wears, even when he mix and matches clothes from different backgrounds. His newest “shacket” (shirt-jacket), for example, carries the same softness and Neapolitan ease we’ve come to expect from his tailoring. The shoulder seams align with the body underneath and collapse slightly. Yet there’s just enough visual structure in the pockets and collar to keep things looking smart.
5. Dress to live. Don’t live to dress.
Patrick’s style revolves around the need to travel for work. His jackets draw from a wide range of influences and are very easy to wear. “We take from everywhere,” he told Broadsheet last year. “Savile Row fit and process; US Ivy League ‘freshness’; [and] Italian light construction.”
This eclectic approach results in an appealing cosmopolitan style – something essential when you’re continually bouncing from one continent to another.
We also see the influence of travel reflected in his pragmatic approach to casualwear. One of Patrick’s more unusual garments, a cotton travel vest, has plenty of pockets that you can drop your keys, phone and other belongings into.
Of course, not everyone can emulate Patrick’s style but I think it goes to show that it’s better to let your tastes evolve naturally from your needs first, and your wants second.
6. Know thy bling.
Last but not least, the key to dressing like Patrick is learning to rock jewellery well. Unlike peacocks who dress like they dove straight into a pile of accessories, the jewellery he wears pulls his outfit together in a subtle way. They complement his outfits, not only because he has picked them carefully, but because they extend his personality.
This is evident in the types of jewellery he picks as well. In an interview with the Financial Times earlier this year, he revealed that one of his favourite travel watches is a 1930s Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, and that he also wears two Cartier trinity rings that remind him of the French dramatist Jean-Cocteau. On a recent photoshoot with Valet Magazine, Patrick also wore a vintage Patek Phillipe on one wrist and two Indian brass bracelets on the other. Both sets of jewellery look slightly weathered, like objects with secret lives of their own.
Patrick’s style can be captured in three words: Preppy, Bondi, and Steeze. His look – tailored, casual, and relaxed – reflects the privileged and sunkissed lifestyles of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs while also drawing inspiration from the elegance of classic Neapolitan tailoring. The suits he wears are impossibly light; perfect for modern Australians on the go, with a sporty cut. Like his casual wear, Patrick’s style is elegant and effortless.
So if you insist on copying someone it might as well be Patrick.
Read our feature on P.Johnson Tailors here
Cover photo via. Mr Porter