Ring Jacket & My Brown Balloon

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Ring Jacket was another store I had the pleasure of visiting during my extremely packed Japan Trip. With his great history and modern take on ivy/Italian style, it was a must.

The buying was optional, but who am I kidding? It’s Balloon!

Introduction

Ring Jacket is one of my grail brands.  If you’re into menswear, you’ve no doubt heard of it, whether you’re into ivy style or not!  Started in 1954 by Fukushima-san, Ring Jacket was one of the brands started during the ivy craze that come to form a lot of Japanese menswear (see Ametora).  According to their website, the idea was born out of a desire by Fukushima-san to create clothing that was comparable to custom garments.  This is inherent in its construction, which features full canvas (quite rare in most everyday RTW).

The early designs were modeled after intricately after ivy sack suits, with a 3-roll-front and a moderate lapel; this is referenced in this Forbes feature with Kapil, the head of wholesale.  As time went on, they’ve moved on from being strictly ivy-trad to becoming a mix of Japanese (which has spades of ivy) and Italian, focusing on super-soft tailoring, high rise trousers, and pleats, offering fantastic construction for a reasonable price.  They even have created their own 100% wool cloth (named balloon) that has a natural stretch, wrinkle resistant, and open weave.

All of this is why they’re beloved by so many menswear enthusiasts the world over.

The exclusive Armoury model 3 (I think).

As popular as they are, Ring Jacket (for a while) could only be found in Japan.  I’ve heard stories from guys where they would buy RJ during trips or use proxies, until the Armoury brought them out into the world.  In their NYC and HK stores you could finally find Ring Jacket without traveling to Japan; trunk shows were conducted throughout the year for MTO.

In the end, the Armoury’s prowess in the menswear market allowed them to move away from RJ’s standard RTW offerings and instead develop a few of different models exclusive to the Armoury.  The Model-3 is their mainstay, with an extended shoulder and la spalla camicia, leaning more into menswear’s Italian fascination.  They also have the Model-1 which a bit more northern Italian, with a padded shoulder.

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It is actually seeing this model 3 on The Armoury’s tumblr and IG that got me interested in Ring Jacket.  Obviously the difference between RJ and Suit Supply (the main RTW brand I wore until recently) was miles head, especially when I tried it on at the Armoury. It only emphasized the fact that  my desired “vintage aesthetic” could be achieved by being specific in my contemporary purchases; not all modern was H&M or J. Crew.

Balloon!

Soon I could only dream of getting an RJ piece. I wasn’t too hard set on whether it would be through the Armoury or by RJ itself, as the jacket differences were pretty excusable.  Not that I wouldn’t mind a longer shoulder line for that “macho V-shape”, but I already had a variety of jackets with different shoulder treatments, that I simply wanted a generally softly tailored jacket with a 3-roll-2 front. If we were talking about suits though, I’d prefer the Armoury models as they are more in line with my suit aesthetic (fuller chest/trouser).

With that said, the regular styles offered by RJ are just as good and have great potential to be core pieces of my wardrobe.  After all, you all know that I prefer to use striped shirts and patterned ties to show off my vintage style.  I just wanted a balloon jacket because I knew that I would wear that baby year-round.

In terms of USD price, the two options were the same: pretty expensive.  Looking at the Armoury and RJ USA websites, sportcoats were about $1.3-1.5k while suits were just under $2.5k.  While the prices are pretty good considering the quality/design/construction, it seemed that getting MTM would be a better value, especially considering that I wasn’t exactly sure what size I’d take.  RJ Japan sizes differ from their American sizes and lately, I’ve had issues regarding jacket length; the Armoury and RJ only make regular sizes and no long or shorts.

Either way, dropping that much on a garment didn’t seem feasible for me at any point.  It didn’t help that my only exposure to the products was through instagram, as I didn’t get to make it to the NYC store during my trip and I kept missing the trunk shows at The Bloke.  To add insult to injury, they didn’t carry my size at the Bloke either.

All I could do was enjoy the classic soft tailoring on Instagram. That is until I went to Japan!

Soft, clean shoulders!

#pocketfisting

DB’s are good too!

Ring Jacket Aoyama

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It was only natural that I made a trip to Ring Jacket imperative on my itinerary, just so I could experience  the brand outside of my brief visit to The Armoury.  The factory is in Osaka, but they had a few in Tokyo; I was recommended to go to the one in Aoyama as it was a stand alone store, which would have a bigger selection than Ginza Six.

Ring Jacket wasn’t too far a walk from the station.  It was a nice walk, as it was a sleepy  early evening (you can probably see this in the pictures). I was already sweaty though, as I believe it was the same day as my visit with Yamamoto-san of Tailor Caid. The store was in a bit of a small fashion district, surrounded by other stores like Balenciaga, Theory, and Stone Island (at least from what I remember).  It was like a mini Rodeo Drive!

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Like most of luxury stores I had been to during this trip, the store was pretty quiet.  This is in contrast to vintage stores or regular stuff like Beams Plus. Honestly this could be simply because I came on a weekday.

The store is pretty expansive space, with suits and jackets adorning the side racks, shirts in the tables, and a tie display right when you walk in.  A bit of it was slightly modern (which makes sense considering the demographic), but it was mostly very tasteful, in keeping with the Japanese style I had seen during my stay.  Outside of a few colorful jackets and checks, the majority of the suits were very tasteful, in solid blues, browns, and occasional corporate pinstripes.

With it’s vast array of wide lapels, soft shoulders, and side tab trousers, it is pretty clear why Ring Jacket is one of the best RTW in menswear.

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I need a light brown summer suit.

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Not super keen on the pink linen safari blazer, but it’s cool!

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Wool balloon seersucker!

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A bit too much of a belly and high peak for me, but still very nice.

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Cashmere-wool-silk, I believe.  The sales associate said even this was too luxurious for him. Seems that like Yamamoto-san, some people tend to enjoy hardwearing fabrics.

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Pin collar shirts RTW!

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A brown checked balloon sportcoat.  A bit too light for my taste, but still pretty good.

So this is what I came for: balloon sportcoats.  From what I’ve seen on my friend Cody Wellema (and on RTW at the Bloke), it seems to be the ultimate fabric.  As I stated earlier in this article, Balloon is a fabric exclusive to Ring Jacket that has a natural stretch, wrinkle resistance, and is open weave for breathability.  To me, it’s similar to high twist wools like Fox Air, Fresco, or Crispaire though with a bit more casual flair to it due to the textured weave.  I’ve told you guys in the past that I’ve wanted to focus on buying LA-appropriate tailoring and to put a stop to buying vintage tweeds and flannels, simply because four-season stuff is more wearable here.

It is this reason that I was heavily debating on buying a balloon sportcoat.  I wasn’t sure if I was keen on getting one new or used (on places like Grailed or Drop 93), but I had to make sure of my size, especially in the slimmer Japanese sizing.  Like I said before, the Bloke carried Ring Jacket, but nothing that fit me; from what I remember, the American 38 was too big.

I did a bit of research before hand and basically came to the conclusion that I was definitely interested int the solid brown and brown check balloons.  The latter was going to replace the Spier & Mackay fresco I got last year (and wore to NYC) that was just too short for my taste (I sold it to my friend Trung).

The first one I tried on was the 48 and as you can see, it’s pretty short and a bit too tight.  I wasn’t surprised, as I knew that there was bound to be fit differences between the Japanese and American sizing.  The sales associates said this was my “correct fit”, but I was adamant that I try on the 50 as I never like to wear jackets that are too short.  I can’t really give a reason why, but it just feels uncomfortable and disproportionate.

There, isn’t that better? This is a size 50. More room the chest/waist and a longer length, which is more proportional and fits in with my more classic aesthetic.  Of course there is a slight shift in the buttoning point and shoulder line due to sizing up, but its really negligible. I was definitely a size 50 in the Japanese sizing.

After trying on the 50 and seeing how it looked, I was hooked immediately. A Ring Jacket purchase was in my future, whether it was in five minutes or in a year.  All of the balloon jackets were the same price, so I made sure to try on any that caught my eye, just in so I could make a complete decision.

You all know that I love brown plaid jackets, so this one was a must to try. However, after seeing it in person, I wasn’t a big fan of this one.  This balloon is more of a grey-brown and didn’t really fit the ideal I had in my head.  Plus, I really needed a solid, dark-brown jacket after selling my fresco left a hole in my closet.

I also tried a DB in the size 50, but I think a size down is more proportional.

My Balloon

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Check out that texture.  Allows it to be worn plenty into fall/winter to pair with flannels.

I bet you can guess what happened: I bought the dark brown balloon in a size 50! Hear me out first.  I actually thought that the prices would be the same in Japan, maybe a hundred or so less. Realistically I thought that if it was $1.35k for a jacket in US, maybe it would be $1.2 or so in Japan.  I was dead wrong.

The price for a balloon sportcoat in Japan was ¥70,000 or roughly under $700; the actual amount I paid was about $650 after I checked my credit card statement.  I brought my passport to waive tax but he told me that wasn’t possible due to there being a Ring Jacket store in the US, but he did some discount thing “for tourists” that made the price basically as stated on the tag.

Overall, that’s almost 50% off the price in the States.  That made it extremely easy to say yes to the dress (or rather, the balloon jacket)! It might be my most expensive garment, but I’m very happy with it.  Unfortunately I couldn’t wear it right when I got back from Japan, as I had to take it to my own alterations tailor to finish the sleeves. There wasn’t enough time in my trip for RJ to do it with their tailor!

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The jacket is literally perfect, especially with the color.  It’s a rich, dark brown that you guys know I love to wear. There’s just something about brown jackets that is so special to me.  Their “vintage” allure is a bit apparent, as brown is a “country” color and shouldn’t be in town, but I think it just comes down to the fact that navy and grey will always be the main choices.  Brown is different, a bit more subtle and understated but has potential for character.

With it’s 3-roll-2 closure, unstructured shoulders and body, and hip patch pockets, it’s pretty much the perfect Ethan jacket.

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Check out that visual texture!

The fit is damn good and nearly spot on! Nothing about it was altered apart from the sleeves.  According to Kapil, this jacket  is the 280 model: a slim fit Japanese exclusive that is only available in Balloon.  He was initially surprised I had to size up to a 50, but after I told him the model (and how slim the 48 was), he understood.

While it is called a slim fit, it actually is very comfortable to wear.  There is plenty of room in the chest and waist for that sack-esque cut but without sacrificing figure. The super soft tailoring (especially in the shoulder) makes it more comfortable than the Drake’s jackets I tried on, immediately making this superior in my eyes (plus this was considerably cheaper).

My only “issues” is that the lapels are slightly on the slimmer side and the notch is high. Also, you can note that the quarters don’t exactly curve out as much when compared to a few other garments I own, making it a bit less contemporary.  However, those points are negligible compared to how much I enjoy everything else about it. With the right styling, it fits into my vintage-inspired aesthetic.

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The back is probably where there is the most issues. You can see the wrinkles in the sleeves which could be  due to some pitch issues and overall slimness. Honestly, it’s probably because I didn’t pull the jacket down well, as I just normally throw on a jacket and walk out the door. It could also be due to the fact that the open weave of the jacket “catches” on textured shirt cloth, like this vintage oxford from Ascot Chang.

You could also infer from the rolls in the top that the upper back is slightly tight, perhaps due to the lat workouts I’ve been doing in the gym. I could probably take it to my tailor, to have some of the issues fixed, but the back is hardly ever an issue for me, especially if the garment is RTW.  As long as the fit is comfortable, I’m good!

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Until very recently, I didn’t have much in terms of warm weather tailoring. Most of my stuff was made from cotton, which isn’t breathable, but is comfortable to wear when it’s hot, breaking in and getting softer over time.  I do have a Crispaire suit  from Ascot Chang and a hopsack navy blazer from Spier & Mackay, but the Balloon really is next level.

The breathability and softness of the jacket really is superior to anything else I’ve owned. It may come off as a one of those sweater-jackets/jersey jackets that my dad likes to wear (for comfort, he says) due to how it softly it lays on the body, but I can dig it.  It’s my challenge to pick other pieces and play up the formality.  That really isn’t hard to do, as brown is one of my favorite colors to wear and tends to go with everything!

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Good match for chinos!

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A solid black knit tie goes against my main mode but it’s nice to break out.

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Obviously, the brown jacket goes with denim. The chambray shirt and paisley tie leans into the Drake’s aesthetic!

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Perfectly slouchy.

 

Conclusion

I’ll admit that I’m pretty stingy with money.  It comes from being a vintage collector and a thrifter at heart, which is good for things like vintage ties or hearty sack-jack tweeds, but hasn’t really been good for summer tailoring.  It’s not impossible to find a hopsack jacket on eBay, but most of the time, as I said in my Tailor Caid article, summer pieces seldom stand up to time. I’ve even had to sell off or return vintage cottons due to condition.  In the end, I felt that investing is probably best, especially due to innovations in fabrics, contemporary designs, and overall comfort/softness.

I have done that a few times lately, but nothing super expensive. I did invest in a great Neapolitan-inspired hopsack from Spier & Mackay and two cotton suits from Atelier Fugue, but honestly, these were on the affordable side, similar to what you’d spend at Suit Supply.  I had heard and seen great things about Ring Jacket and their Balloon cloth and was determined to figure out my fit for a future purchase.  However, I couldn’t stop myself as soon as I tried it on.  And to my luck, it was just under $700. Still pricey, but worth the investment for something that I know my wardrobe needs, but also fits in perfectly with my aesthetic.

I think it’s worth the investment simply for the Balloon fabric, as I haven’t seen much in the same vein here in my menswear starved city.  It’s pretty damn comfortable and wrinkle resistant, making it similar to many of the “techy” fabrics that can be found at Banana Republic or other mall brands, with the big exceptions that it’s 100% wool.  Plus the design and details are perfect for menswear guys.

If you ever want to get Ring Jacket for yourself, I heavily suggest attempting to get it in Japan! The prices are much cheaper than they are in the States, coming down to nearly 50% off.  However, you’re limited to the slimmer Japanese fit, which may not work for most people. I’m not sure how proxy’s work, but could be worth a look!  Either way, the US prices are still damn good for the product that you’re getting.  I can’t think of any other tailoring brand that’s easily accessible in LA that makes a similar product in the same quality. There’s a reason why Ring Jacket is a RTW menswear darling.

And I’m glad I finally own one for myself.  Worth it.

Always a pleasure,

@ethanmwong

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3 comments

  1. JJ Katz · July 29

    Very nice, detailed story and nice purchase. Hope you enjoy it.

    Like

  2. Chip · September 2

    In the market for a RJ Balloon jacket myself and was considering a trip to Tokyo or Osaka at the end of the year. 2 questions for you on buying in Japan:
    1. Did they say how long it’ll take to get sleeves shortened by RJ themselves in Tokyo?
    2. Do they have full balloon suits in Japan rather than just the jacket? Don’t see any full suits online but was wondering whether they have them there.
    Thanks!

    Like

  3. Pingback: The Appeal of Raw Hems and Distressing | STREET x SPREZZA

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