One Word: Plastics — An Appreciation Of The Swatch Watch

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

Chase W. – sales at Drake’s NYC

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.

F.E. Castleberry:

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.

64 Comments on "One Word: Plastics — An Appreciation Of The Swatch Watch"

  1. You had me until Fred showed-up.

  2. I’m all for playfulness…but my wrist is sweating just looking at these pictures.

  3. Bernard Faber | March 26, 2018 at 5:33 pm | Reply

    Ain’t insoucianse when you brag about your style and cost of dressing.. It is being poseur or maybe better yet a phony. It is a good thing that this site exists for all those that are unbearable in normal
    social settings

  4. I realize that unhappiness is the human condition, but let’s follow that old-fashioned notion that if you can’t say something nice….

  5. Swatch is an affordable, well-designed luxury for the people;like a Volkswagen Beetle from the seventies. There aren’t too many affordable luxuries today still in production.

  6. Richard E. Press | March 26, 2018 at 6:29 pm | Reply

    At least now I can point to Prince Charles’ example when my friends belittle my decades of choice wearing a battered beleaguered Barbour.

  7. I don’t think a coat or jacket is the full Prince Charles until it’s been patched.

  8. @Christian: That’s a cool sportcoat you’re wearing in your profile photo. It looks like a Black Watch tartan.

  9. Somehow I can’t picture Alec Baldwin in Glengerry Glen Ross removing his Swatch watch telling the beleaguered sales reps it cost more than their cars! ?

  10. @Mitchell

    That’s quite an eye you got. Photo was snapped by Jack Carlson at his Rowing Blazers office, after he thrust me into a cotton Black Watch jacket.

    I’ll likely be reporting on the collection soon.

  11. I’m generally a fan of always dapper Al Castiel III but I think he misses the mark with this one. I’m all for playfulness but to me that means go to hell pants, critter shorts or fun shirts. When the Swatch watches were at their peak of popularity in the 80’s they were considered garish, gaudy, showy and vulgar by everyone except people that were garish, gaudy, showy and vulgar and preppies certainly didn’t wear them. The beat up Barbour jacket worn by Prince Charles does not make for a good comparison. I don’t think wearing a well made, high quality, simple, understated piece of clothing until it’s usefulness is over is the same as wearing a loud plastic watch. I think a vintage Timex or L. L. Bean field watch would not only make a better frugal choice but would also make a better impression.

  12. Graham Smart | March 27, 2018 at 1:19 am | Reply

    Considering the fact that The Graduate first screened in 1967, some readers may be too young to appreciate Christian’s plastics reference in the heading.

  13. Colored Swatches are okay for 13-year old girls, but for grown men? Just not seeing it.

  14. I’ll stick to my trusty CASIO F-91W. It’s not the prettiest watch, but it works and cost me about $10. It does serve the same purpose though not quite as gaudy.

  15. What a timely post: I just got an email that the new Timex Marlin is (finally) back in stock.

  16. Charlottesville | March 27, 2018 at 10:29 am | Reply

    A bit off the main theme, but the mention of threadbare Barbours has me curious. Mine is 28 years young, and is in need of attention, including some restitching, a good cleaning and re-waxing. Has anyone sent their Barbour off to the company for cleaning, reconditioning and repairs? How did it go?

  17. It suffers even more when you leave a comment about Fred.

  18. Hideous. The watches, I mean.

  19. This is a great post, Al. Can I ask what the provenance of the jacket you wear in the top photo is?

    I had the pleasure of visiting the Drake’s store and meeting Chase this past January. I’ve been wondering when he might make an appearance on Ivy Style.

  20. Thanks, Eric.

    I had the jacket made for me at The Andover Shop a few years ago.

    -Al

  21. I almost posted that I’d heard a rumor about Fred becoming the CEO at Brooks. My concern for y’all’s cardiac health outweighed my love for childish pranks. Carry on lads.

  22. At least Wes Anderson is American.

  23. I admire frugality, but man, those watches are just really ugly. However, there is much to admire otherwise.

  24. I like the idea of wearing something incorrect on purpose, vacating the platonic ideal, the costume. However, idiosyncrasy loses its virtue when promoted and generalized.

  25. @VEA- You must be a ton of fun at parties.

  26. Chewco L.P. (Offshore) | March 28, 2018 at 12:23 am | Reply

    Hmmm… the Swatch Group is the greatest watch company in the world. They’re celebrating their 35yr anniversary and this is why I think a lot of blogs I read are writing about the beauty of the Swatch brand Swatch watch… and a lot of watch collectors are posing online (proudly) with their silly-looking Swatch brand Swatch watches… and here’s why:

    Every serious watch enthusiast/collector (I know) owns a Swatch brand Swatch watch. I don’t think you can consider yourself a serious watch collector if you don’t own one. (I use the word “watch collector” appropriately because the high-end watch market, with average prices well above the $300,000-range, is EXCLUSIVELY for “watch collectors” and not the casual watch buyer)… its just a different world.

    I think its important to point out that, like Volkswagen (or even Ralph Lauren), Swatch owns an impressive portfolio of brands that span the entire spectrum. For example, at VW, you can buy anything from a VW Golf or an Audi all the way up to Lamborghini or Bugatti… well Swatch owns high-end stuff like Breguet, Omega, and Harry Winston… and also owns Tissot, Longines and Swatch brand.

    The appreciation of the Swatch brand Swatch watch comes from the fact that its beautiful [read: whimsical] and simple <– says the man I know who owns many expensive watches and sometimes wears his silly Swatch brand watch.

    When I see "rich" people wearing Swatch brand Swatch watches… I don't think they are doing it ironically or to be "radical." I think that they are in "the know." I think its a nod towards the fact that Swatch saved the watch industry from the Quartz-crisis. Its a very high-quality, affordable watch made by the smartest, most innovative engineers and pioneers in the watch-making industry… and its whimsical, simple, durable and handsome.

    The real question is: why don't YOU own one?

  27. Chewco L.P. (Offshore):
    The popularity of Swatch watches simply proves a fact that readers of this blog already know: There are many more people with bad taste than good taste.

  28. Still, if nothing else, Swatch makes a welcome change from all the undue eulogising that goes on with Timex.

  29. Unhappiness! The Human Condition! FEC! Wow, this post/ comments has a lot in it to unpack. Leaving aside the ever-present armchair psychology in the comments section, it’s interesting to see swatch get some run here. While I agree with the guy who doesn’t want to talk reference numbers, their poses in the photos and ruminations on these watches are anything but irreverent or playful (save Al, anyway). Whatever makes these guys happy, I guess.

    I’m all for playful – my everyday watch is a Reverso, but I do occasionally wear a Snoopy watch (mechanical, NOT quartz) that I’ve had since I was probably 5 years old. Not sure where that fits on the Casio>Timex>Swatch continuum.

    @Charlottesville: My Barbour is half as old as yours and has been back for mending several times. They do an excellent job. No need to worry about it.

  30. Swatch watches, as I recall in high school, were mostly worn by girls and by guys who were in theater classes. They were worn three or four at a time on the same wrist similar to the guys today who wear multiple bracelets. There was a lot of United Colors of Benetton as well.

    My most whimsical watch was an Omega Dynamic with a white and blue dial. Lost it in the ocean, damn it.

    Cheers,

    Will

  31. @Mitate,
    “Undue eulogizing”? Hardly! The TIMEX T20501 is the ultimate minimalist watch, and, as such, deserves all the praise we can offer.

  32. Referring to the Timex by its model number is itself a form of eulogizing.

  33. Christian,
    I referred to the number because some TIMEX models are as undeserving of praise as the Swatch.

  34. @sacksuit

    I get you–I, too, thought Swatch watches were for young women. At least in the staid Midwest it seemed that way.

  35. I must admit that I look forward to VEA’s commentary every time Castleberry is mentioned as a sort of guilty pleasure.

  36. It should make you feel guilty. It makes us complicit in his petty obsession. Bad for all involved.

  37. @Benjamin

    I agree. It’s like my turning up the I’m to Sexy for my Shirt song when driving alone in my car.

    Cheers,

    Will

  38. Seems to me that one would be better served with a Seiko 5 series: mechanical, understated, and functional all at a price that says, “I don’t care about status.”

  39. B:
    There are still places in New England where Ivy League style means “I don’t care about status, I dress like everybody else”

  40. Minimalist Trad | March 29, 2018 at 12:10 am | Reply

    @B
    Here’ what the Seiko Co. website says about the Series 5 watches:

    “Bold designs that speak volumes about those who dare to wear the Seiko 5. The inspiration lies in the edgy designs and dramatic colours”

    That doesn’t sound understated to me.

  41. Old Trad, your terms of reference would appear to be slightly different to mine. Here is my ‘ultimate minimalist watch’: https://www.deployant.com/review-a-lange-sohne-saxonia-thin-37-mm/

  42. Christian, if you don’t want your entire comment section turning into old cranks ranting about Fred Castleberry, maybe you should start considering why your site attracts so many old cranks.

  43. Mitate,
    That is a beautiful dress watch.
    Too luxurious to be minimalist, though.
    Also, at 37 mm, it’s almost 6% larger than the TIMEX (35 mm).
    Ideally minimalist, if it were readily available, is the TIMEX Marlin re-issue at 34 mm.

  44. Joel, I wouldn’t say you’re too old, given the juvenile nature of your comments, but you’re certainly a crank. Tell me, what attracts you to this site? All you do is leave cruel remarks, you have said nothing about clothes or style (Ivy or otherwise) in any of your comments.

    You didn’t harass Will, though, that’s an improvement.

  45. I do like the unapologetic nature of a Swatch…that it’s so goddamn PLASTICKY. In a way, it’s much more honest than some fabric blends many of us wear and, yes, sadly, that last photo above.

  46. Old Trad, Lange & Sohne create perfection few others can equal, but I don’t own one. I’ve always been happy with my small collection of mainly Swiss watches. But as for a Saxonia being too luxurious to be minimalist, minimalism to me is paring down to the simplest form, using, most crucially, the finest materials. Think Mies van der Rohe; exquisite materials with ultimate minimalism.

  47. While I appreciate Mr. Castiel’s enthusiasm for this website and his willingness to contribute, I think his article misses the point of Ivy Style. And it’s clear why looking at the picture of Mr. Castiel — he’s not Ivy or trad; he’s a dandy. Ivy Style is about the conservative classics and the understated power of clothes that comes with the confidence of knowing you’re wearing the right clothes for your station in life. Ivy Style isn’t aspirational; it’s a uniform for a life of privilege. That’s part of the reason it’s called “IVY” style; going to an Ivy League school gives one a similar confidence. I’m sure that Mr. Castiel is an affable fellow, but his style screams aspirational. In fact, that’s his problem: almost every piece he’s wearing screams. The coat is enough. The Swatch watch is enough. The non button-down collar with a sportcoat is enough. The deliberately mis-tied club tie is enough. But in combination, it screams dandy, not Ivy. Sometimes less is more, Mr. Castiel. Once you recognize that, you’ll understand how Ivy is different than dandy.

  48. Don’t even try combining Ivy and dandy! Only I get to do that.

    And maybe George Frazier….

    And Bruce Boyer on certain days…

  49. Henry Contestwinner | March 29, 2018 at 3:45 pm | Reply

    I almost didn’t recognize Fred without his trusty sidekick (a bottle of hot sauce) in the photo. Maybe he figures that pictures of himself are spicy enough without the sidekick.

  50. @Christian—I take your comment as sarcastic. However, there are a couple points worth noting. First, Bruce Boyer is hardly a dandy. His style is polished and elegant, and as far as I can tell, never flamboyant or showy. In fact, I consider the charm of his style —which is neither ivy nor dandy—to be its reserved elegance. I think Mr. Boyer’s persona embodies that reserved elegance as well. Second, i must reserve judgement on Mr. Frazier. I simply haven’t seen enough images of him to cast judgement. I will, however, submit another familiar name: Richard Press. Mr. Press embodies Ivy style with a touch of playfulness that never verges to the dandy. He understands that wearing a bow tie requires a frame of conservative surrounding garb. Likewise, he knows that an ascot need not be worn with a flashy coat or an ostentatious shirt. Mr. Press knows this because he is Ivy. Perhaps a result of his time at Dartmouth or the fact that he’s descended from the most storied linage in Ivy Style history. Either way, Mr. Castiel would do well to take a page out of Mr. Press’ sartorial playbook and recognize that true Ivy men don’t need flash to make their wardrobe shine.

  51. @YM

    Bruce Boyer not being a dandy in your view (or even his own) didn’t stop him from being included in the book “I Am Dandy.”

    What is your definition of “dandy”? Beau Brummell, the inventor of the concept, was not flamboyant or showy, and was the very archetype of “reserved elegance.” I’ve studied the word “dandy” and concept of dandyism for 25 years and have a library on the subject.

    You’re certainly correct that Richard is no dandy. But you would have enjoyed seeing him last week: red turtleneck under a pink oxford!

    C.

  52. Officer Trad | March 29, 2018 at 6:32 pm | Reply

    I always enjoy when watches come up on this site. It brings up some lively banter. While a Swatch is definitely not for me, I appreciate the message. It reminds me Of seeing Robert Mueller wearing his Casio.

    And as much as Freddy C. bugs me, I do like his quote. Trad/prep is all about playing the “high/low.” However, the key, as with all fashion (forgive the term), is to never look like you’re trying too hard.

  53. “Perhaps your definition of dandy could be more nuanced? I’ve studied it for 25 years and have a library on the subject.” I really, really hope this was meant as a joke…

    Yale Man’s comments, WGJII’s, and VEA’s first, seem like they’re pretty accurate. I actually don’t have anything against wearing something like a Swatch with more formal wear, and it is a thumb on the nose, but it’s certainly not the same as a patched Barbour or Ivy insouciance (hopefully that’s a tony enough word for CC), it’s just a bit of rebellion and nonconformism…

    Related (I’m surprised no one has said this yet, since it’s turned up here before): Robert Mueller, a pretty Trad/Ivy guy, wears a Casio G-Shock (if I remember right), a popular watch in the military, with his beautiful button-down collars and dark suits. The clunky style of the watch clashes with the suit in a similar way to a Swatch, but the effect is the opposite – rather than seeming studiously fun, it seems like simple functionality, from a man who only wears white shirts because he fears even a colored shirt could compromise his neutrality or solidity.

    I agree with the dandy diagnosis. The best style comes from those who don’t seem to give it a second thought (though they may in reality give it three or four). Throwing in something “ugly” or surprisingly cheap or clunky works best when the rest of the ensemble is ultra-conventional and tasteful. But to pair a flashy Swatch, obviously dying to be noticed and commented on, with all the Pitti Uomo hallmarks just seems like you’re trying to get photographed by Scott Schuman.

  54. P.S. – My apologies to Officer Trad, who beat me to the Mueller punch, which I missed somehow.

  55. Yale Man’s comments were a breath of fresh air. He said so much that needs to be said.
    I too recognize Mr. Castiel’s enthusiasm, but his style is certainly not Ivy/Trad. I hesitate to use the term dandy, because for me it describes a style that is far more theatrical than that of Mr. Castiel. My impression of his photo: the wrinkled collar with one point sticking out of the jacket is either forced sprezzatura or the product of a careless photographer.

  56. Please let’s not put Mr Castiel and Mr Boyer in the same category. Mr Castiel is still struggling to find his personal style, tending toward the Italianesque. Mr Boyer found it long ago and seems to effortlessly adhere to it. The only common factor I see is their shared fondness for spread collars: They suit Mr Boyer and add a je ne sais quoi to his otherwise traditional style; in Mr Castiel’s case, they do no such thing.

  57. Not a fan. Plastic and tweed are colliding worlds.
    If you’re going for a cheekily humble, eccentric watch, why not try a Russian one like a Raketa, or Vostok? Some really oddball modernist designs. It’s nice to top up on cold war snazz, too—the sartorial equivalent of the vodka martini in the late 50’s.
    Here’s a nice sampling of what’s out there:
    http://forums.watchuseek.com/f10/

  58. Stepping aside from the semantics for a moment…Thanks for the post Al. I bought a Swatch Scuba Libre a few years back after I had a Swiss Army Watch stolen at the gym. I like a watch with a yellow rubber strap for the summer, goes with nothing and everything, and fine for fishing, boating, or the beach.

    It had been put away for the winter and you inspired me to grab it out the drawer. The watch had stopped with a dead battery. I took it to the Swatch store in Grand Central and was surprised and pleased that they replaced the battery on the spot for free. For anyone with a stopped Swatch in the drawer, it is worth a visit to get it going again for free.

  59. I don’t like Swatch. They look ok with casual knock about weekend wear but not with traditional tailored outfits. As someone said above, tweed and plastic do not mix well….

  60. I agree w/ the comment above re: casual / weekend wear.

    Having said that – I joined the club and as an electrical engineer – I love this
    watch. It’s super cool.

    I’ll rotate my jelly along with my Omega and IWC.

  61. @Menkerios – agreed on Raketa or Vostok

  62. @ Yale Man – you are spot on. It’s a uniform to fit it. This may be a weird analogy – imagine a guy who wants to be part of motor cycle gang – buys all new leathers and a brand new bike – you look aspirational and totally out of place next to the guys that are wearing leathers that they’ve owned for years or decades.

  63. This weekend I got an Apple Watch and suddenly there is no point in ever wearing a traditional watch again.

  64. Karen Chambers | April 30, 2019 at 6:41 pm | Reply

    I found a swatch watch when I worked at Portland Saturday Market… it was nearly paper thin with a nylon military green band and totally waterproof (at least it was under water a lot…as a Massage Therapist)..Just usually never took it off it was so comfortable and light on my wrist, I loved wearing it!…I lost it somewhere down through the years but it was a great watch and would love to buy one like this one!…I thought it was the best watch…and yes I tried to locate the owner of the swatch watch from the market…but wasn’t able to find……it was nice to wear and miss this watch

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