The Art of Attire

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Fashion is in many cases considered a form of art. When an art lover purchases an art work, they’re collecting something they love. When fashionistas purchase clothing, well, maybe they’re just shopping – but a cogent argument can be made that they’re collecting, too. Whether they’re collecting a favorite brand or an iconic look, from designer couture to hand-painted linens,  what we wear represents the art of fashion and more personally, the art of ourselves.

Museums often hold halls of fashion, clothing that has historical or celebratory value, whether we’re looking at presidential inaugural outfits from the 19th Century, Mondrian print scarves, or what Lady Gaga wore to the Grammys. Originality, fine craftsmanship, beautiful materials all play a part in what makes attire art. And of course, personal taste.

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With all that in mind – how a garment is made, what it’s made with, and an original approach, here in Southern California, the art of attire tends to focus on designer outfits at red carpet events — and there are plenty of those — and beach wear.

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Award ceremonies aside, there are a lot of us taking a walk along the sand, catching a wave, or just hanging out with a glimpse of blue sea always in view. And we still want our own personal, wearable style – the art of us.

This has led to a wide range of clothing for both sexes, from bathing suits to sun hats to cover-ups that cross over into evening wear, patterned beach bags that double as briefcases or overnight bags, and for guys, the relaxed vibe of the beach in shorts, shirts, and board shorts that are cool enough to leave the sand.

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Sure, there are mass market retailers that offer takes on beach fashion, but not only may quality be sub-par, let’s face it, purchasing anything off a rack in a chain store is – to use the art analogy again – not dissimilar to bringing home a print of the Mona Lisa and assuming it’s just as good as the real thing.

We recently met the owner of the Old Bull Lee brand of shorts, shirts, and board shorts, Lee Johnson, who more than agrees. Old Bull Lee is more or less the epitome of a clothing brand that represents the art of beach living. It’s a conscious choice, to make terrifically wearable clothes that more or less define a lifestyle. Johnson says his company doesn’t just make shorts – “We live and craft them.  We pride ourselves on making the finest quality. We pay attention to every detail,” he says.

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Culling fabrics from France and Italy, making his clothing in California where the company is located,  Old Bull Lee also defines itself with bold color patterns, precise keyhole buttonholes, and sophisticated styling.

Some patterned street short designs are printed in France by a 150-year-old company that uses Persan WAT roller printing to provide a soft and layered depth and great color performance. The material is lightweight, with a tight weave and substantial feel. Solid color shorts may utilize superior Japanese-made Duck-weight cotton,  with vibrant color that’s over-dyed or direct-dyed to prevent fading.

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And when it comes to Old Bull Lee board shorts, the design is just as meticulous, and the artful palette just as engaging.  There’s the vivid psychedelic undersea blue pattern in the company’s El Porto design, or the rich, tapestry-like half-speed-printed floral graphic in the Montauk design, the latter from internationally renowned artist Eduardo Recife. There it is again, fashion as art.

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Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say it’s fashion merging with art, as with the company’s 100% ring-spun cotton T-shirt that sports a hip apple green logo screen printed on the front in water-based ink. From casual shirts to button-downs crafted with Italian fabric and mother of pearl buttons, the art of beach style is epitomized by Old Bull Lee.

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Johnson of course notes the comfort of his clothing, the softness, durability, and fit – but in the end it all comes down to artistic design and fabric; to defining and representing the art of beach living, from Cape Cod to Santa Monica Bay, from the Carolinas to the Lone Star State.

While over the years the art of attire has often come to represent royal gowns and film costumes, in a very real way and on a very relatable level, when it comes to clothing, the real art is in creating lasting and lovely attire that fits the lives that people lead. And allows them to live their dreams.

  • Genie Davis; photos: Old Bull Lee

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