Frugality and restraint are qualities that are admired in the world of traditional menswear, but may seem perplexing to those not in the know. For example, why does Prince Charles insist on wearing a Barbour jacket so tattered and threadbare when he could easily buy a closet full of them? Simply speaking, it is a manner of pride. The same can be equated to wearing a whimsical plastic Swatch watch with a $5,000 bespoke suit, as Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, or Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of Blackstone group, does.
Sporting a Swatch watch with tailored clothing or preppy sportswear is a subtle form of nonconformity. It can be viewed as a frugal trad fashion statement, while being conscious of color and design, unlike our Boston cracked-shoe-wearing forefathers. Wearing a Swatch (such as the 1998 “jellyfish” model I’m sporting in the top photos) with an otherwise traditional ensemble makes a bold, yet simultaneously discreet statement in a way that a Timex or Seiko cannot. It brings an element of playfulness to the table, and acts as a bridge between ’80s prep, minimalist (or in the case of some models, somewhat surrealist) design. One could even say it is a nod to our preppy roots without going full into the madras and boat shoe camp. In order to better explain the appeal behind this horological/sartorial phenomenon and why they choose to wear their Swatches, I’ve enlisted help from some of my menswear-conscious colleagues. — AL CASTIEL III
I first purchased my Swatch after talking about it with Michael Hill [Creative Director of Drake’s London] over dinner. In my mind, there are only a couple of watches actually worth having. I’m not quite at the point in my life where I’m ready for a Rolex, so I’m pretty happy with a brightly colored swatch or two. I love how completely and unpretentiously cheap they are. There’s no phoning it in. It’s no secret that it’s a 50-dollar plastic watch you found on eBay, and that frees you up a lot to get the boldest and most fun Swatch you can find. I guess it could be considered another GTH piece to some.
In terms of what to wear it with — everything! A bright green or orange swatch isn’t going to blend in, so let it clash. I think it’s a lot of fun as a contrast to a more conservative outfit. Brown corduroy trousers, a tweed jacket, and black knit tie paired with my green translucent swatch has sort of been my uniform this winter.
Matthew L. – a principal designer in Boston:
The Swatch for me is the nail in Bennett’s cabinet door. It’s Murakami at Versailles. It’s a signal to civilians that I don’t take dressing up too seriously and to other adepts that I take it deadly seriously, indeed. It is only partially a fashion choice. I work in the design trades and am more often than not walking around a partially built house, so my wardrobe has had to adapt. I still need to project professionalism, but I can’t wear anything too precious. So it’s Levi’s over APC, New Balance over Alden, LBM over Kiton, etc. When looking at sub-$100 watch options, the choice is clear. That, and my eyeglasses help shriek “designer” at everyone so it’s a fun bit of signaling.
Tyler S. – an advertising professional in NYC:
Swatch watches allow for a moment of gentle irreverence to an otherwise austere marketplace when it comes to folks who care about their appearance. There’s a reason Lloyd Blankfein wears one. For me, I don’t care to talk about reference numbers all day as it gets adenoidal. I’d much rather talk about pretty much anything else other than the number on the back of your watch and how Paul Newman’s daughter’s ex boyfriend owned one similar to it. I admire other fine watches that the Swatch group owns as well, and they have a time and place too, but more often than not, I’ll be wearing a Swatch. It’s a great way to add some playfulness to an outfit with some models, or an understated and practical look to others.
I’ll wear them with anything, from custom suits to jeans and a sweatshirt. If it’s a semi-formal event and I opt not to wear a formal watch, I’ll go for a more subdued choice in my collection. I’ve also been known to wear formal three-piece suits and a more playful Swatch, just so long it’s not to a formal meeting or similar event.
It’s the art of the high/low. A swatch (and let’s be clear, it’s only a certain few models that vaguely recall the original Jelly Fish [model]* under the sleeve of a $2700 hand-sewn suit is sort of a small rebellion. Most men wearing expensive tailored clothing are emphasizing their station in life even further by strapping on an even more expensive time piece just in case you didn’t get the hint. The swatch is intentional. A choice. It’s fun. It’s like keeping a figurative locket of boyhood on hand (pun intended), lest I ever take myself too seriously.