It's said that women dress to look attractive and men to not look foolish. But decades of merely not looking foolish -- at least since the '70s -- has got to be boring even for guys who aren't especially into clothes.
Perhaps that's why Nat Nast shirts -- quirky, retro, bowling-style designs -- have been such hits. The vintage label, revived in 2000 by the daughters of Nat Nast, is sold in 600 fine men's stores and top-tier department stores, as well as being all over TV. In 2004 a Nat Nast shirt became an object of comic obsession in an episode of Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" TV series. So far the sisters have sold 20,000 of that design.
Worn untucked, they're most famously done in color blocking or bold stripes down the chest and are distinctive without looking "metrosexual," a style many men, including a lot of gay men, shun. In fact, they're much favored by two of TV's archetypal male figures: Tony Soprano, the soul-searching Mafia boss (he mostly offs guys who deserve it) of HBO's "The Sopranos," and Charlie Harper, the loutish TV bachelor of CBS's "Two and a Half Men."
Earlier this month, Tony (James Gandolfini), recovering from a recent shot in the gut, still managed to deck a young punk while barely mussing his Nat Nast shirt. Charlie (Charlie Sheen) polishes his Malibu couch-potato pose in Nat Nast shirts while boasting impeccable male pig credentials: He's a selfish, lying, irresponsible, bed-hopping cad. Clearly, these are shirts for the guy's guy.
Nat Nast shirts are the single best-selling item at Lansky at The Peabody, where inventory includes, since February, a "Walking In Memphis" themed shirt based on the song and designed exclusively for the store. Nat Nast Shirt Custom Made for Lansky's This shirt embroidered with images from the song "Walking in Memphis" ($145) was created by Nat Nast for Lansky Brothers.
Lansky's will have a Nat Nast trunk show May 13, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at The Peabody store that will be attended by Nast's daughters, Barbara Saletan and Patty Canton. Canton designs the line, drawing from her father's original designs. Saletan handles sales. Their father is sometimes credited with creating men's sportswear. He realized the relaxed camp shirt that was part of the Navy uniform would be popular in civilian life as well, and began making the shirt in Kansas City in 1946. A few months later, an acquaintance asked Nast to design a bowling shirt for his team.
Nast created shirts with inverted pleats on the back to allow movement and embroidered them with the names of the team sponsors and players. The shirt style was hugely successful and Nast became known as king of the bowling shirt.
But by 1961 bowling had declined as America's favorite family sport, and the label went out of use. The current Nat Nast collection includes both woven and knit shirts, done in silk and cotton and blends of the two, as well as sport coats, trousers and jeans.
At Lansky's the shirts sell from $95 to $175. Many color-blocked and striped styles are $115 to $125. Most expensive are the embroidered shirts, which are collectibles, and are based on real-life '40s and '50s themes. Tags explain that martini glasses and shakers on one shirt, for example, honor the old Sands Hotel Brat Pack.
The "Walking in Memphis" shirt offers images or logos from the song and include W.C. Handy, Highway 61, Cadillacs, etc. The shirts also come in crazy '50s prints, solids, checks and more. They compete with island-themed Tommy Bahama shirts that have a "preppy in paradise" flavor. Nat Nast is more "city and Saturday night," said Saletan. But they're not the only alternative. The rising popularity of poker has recently given birth to yet another hip camp style, HighRoller, developed by gamblers who wanted to look cool at the table. These shirts, also sold at Lansky's, thoughtfully come with an "ace up the sleeve," a little ace sewn onto the left cuff of each one.