About the Author: James B. is a trained economist and semi-trained house-guest, who is hoping to prove empirically that marginal utility is greater than marginal cost until at least the twentieth pair of Goodyear-welted shoes. He enjoys fine French wines, rare Cuban cigars, long walks on the beach, and subverting well-worn clichés. If you recently drove past a puffed-out bicyclist with a jersey covered in cat fur halfway up a hill on the backroads of rural Maryland, that was probably him.
Uniqlo is BIG in Japan—and in a lot of other places too judging by the *billion dollars* of operating profits their parent company Fast Retailing made last year. So ubiquitous is the simply-styled, accessibly-priced brand in their home country that there is even a dedicated term—yunibare—that means something like, “yeah, we all know you’re wearing Uniqlo head-to-toe (and we aren’t impressed)”.
Among some here in the United States, Uniqlo has retained more style cred than many of its competitors, perhaps due to frequent “collabs” with fashion luminaries like Billie Eilish, the estate of the late designer Jean-Michel Basquiat, and …[checks notes]… the novelist Haruki Murakami? Scrub that. Let’s just say that Uniqlo is usually well worth a look, particularly for their casualwear.
For a fit perspective, I am 5’6″ / 135lbs on weeks that I don’t have ice-cream in the freezer. For the tops I went with XS, the bottoms a 30 inch waist (I had no choice in length). Here’s a gander at some of Uniqlo’s Spring ’21 collection.
UNIQLO is known for excelling with basics, so let’s start with a basic, sharp looking polo. Four colors to pick from. Jersey AIRism fabric here, in a versatile olive green (which looks darker in person than on the UNIQLO site). The fabric (72% cotton, 28% polyester) feels nice and light for hot summer days. Sleek covered placket keeps things looking modern. No button down collar on these. That’ll please those who DON’T like the button down feature on their other polos, but it could lead to a limp collar over time. Oddly for Uniqlo, this one came with a small hole in the sleeve, which is unusual for a company with generally good quality control. Body length is on the short side. That’s not unusual for UNIQLO, but it could be a problem even for those of us with decidedly un-long torsos. Uniqlo really needs to make some polos that let you reach for the stars without giving off belly-dancer vibes in the process. Size here is an XS on 5’6″/135. A small would have a longer length, but then it’d also be wider too. Something to consider if you’re a familiar shape.
Another warm weather basic, these with eight different colors to pick from. Shown above is the “natural” option, in a size small. They seem to run a bit tight, but admittedly I’m on the top end of the fit range of the size small I ordered (made to fit 27″ up to 30″ waists). Stretch comes from 2% spandex, blended with 98% cotton. Waist has a dress-trouser style hook-and-eye closure rather than a simple button. So they lean more formal. These would work for, say, dinner at a beach-front restaurant, but some might find them too dressy (is that possible for shorts?) for a backyard barbecue or a picnic in the park.
Half-and-half cotton/nylon blend here has a bit of texture, but doesn’t feel all that nice to the touch. Button-down collar will stand to attention, so you could wear this beneath a jacket. Duck-egg blue color is summery and should be easy to match. In terms of fit, readers with eagle eyes (and elephantine memories) may remember from last year’s Polopalooza that Uniqlo’s polos can run short in the body. This year? Same story, though not as bad/chopped as in the past. Again, size XS here on 5’6″/135. Here’s what a medium looks like on Joe, who is 5’10″/190.
Uniqlo chinos definitely have their fans, and the tobacco color of this pair was spot-on. Somewhere between ‘British tan’ and regular brown, these could be worn like khakis but with more visual interest given the greater contrast with shirts and jackets. The cotton material feels acceptably good, and has a little bit of stretch. Note that UNIQLO does NOT sell these with a variety of inseam lengths. Instead, everything comes with a 34″ inseam, with the expectation that their customers are headed to the tailor post-purchase. (I had to pin these 30×34 pants up in the legs for the shoot). Let’s be honest. Tailoring inexpensive chinos is a dealbreaker for a lot of guys, considering the competition (GAP, J. Crew, etc.) sells chinos in a variety of inseam lengths. Overall, good basic pants but the ‘slim fit’ was definitely on the baggy side, more like a regular or even athletic fit, so bear that in mind. Size 30″ in the waist here.
Linen-Blended Jacket – $49.90 ($69.90)
Jacket time. Uniqlo’s business-type blazers can be hit or (mostly) miss, but this casual linen-blended jacket in light blue makes for a decent warm-weather alternative to a wheelhouse navy blazer. Unconstructed and unlined except for the arms, with nice details like those patch pockets and subtle pick stitching on the lapels. The fabric blend (55% linen, 45% cotton) runs very light. In fact, I took to calling this the ‘Stupid Sexy Flanders’ jacket, because when I had it on it felt like I was wearing nothin’ at all. Wrinkles easily, but that’s linen for you. Fit again was leaning slightly baggy (I’m in my normal 36S), particularly in the upper arms. Could be a hit with the “coming back from the gym on deltoid day” crowd. Gonna need some tailoring work for most.
***BEST IN SHOW*** Heads up—this was not just best in show, it’s arguably one for the ages. Uniqlo has really nailed it with their OCBDs, and this white one could conceivably pull duty in any scenario from the beach to a business meeting. Material is 100% cotton, maybe a hair’s breadth thinner than last season’s incarnation, but still plenty durable. Collar has a nice ‘roll’ as they say in the trade. Even $30 is a fair price for a workhorse shirt, but these regularly go on sale/promotion for $20 or even $10 on clearance. At those prices, they’re exceptional.
Uniqlo’s Airism undershirts are not just good—they are GREAT. Two versions here. For warm-to-hot weather, the regular v-neck short-sleeve t-shirt will work very well, and the mid-gray color makes it much less visible as a base layer than white would be. And for those super-hot days—and I mean, hotter than Ned Flanders in a lycra ski-suit—there’s the “micro mesh” version, here in a beige that is practically invisible. This one has an unusual construction—very thin material with no seams at all on the neck, just the V sliced into the fabric. Looks like it would tear easily, but having worn these things for five-plus years, they hold up very well.
Going out on a high note, the color of this linen shirt was really something, much nicer in real life than in the online image. A lovely inky shade that evokes Japan’s famous aizome dyed indigo cloth. (On a side-note, samurai apparently wore that particular cloth because it helped prevent wound infections. And we thought we were the generation to invent tech fabrics?!). The 100% linen material does feel slightly rough, and of course wrinkles as soon as you look at it, but for aficionados that’s part of the charm. Fit was slim though not labelled as such and there was no regular option, which was a slight bummer. Still, though, a classy shirt.
Overall, plenty of decent options if you decide you want to aim for that whole yunibare look this spring and summer.
In Closing (shipping, returns, etc.)
A few words in closing on purchasing from Uniqlo for those who haven’t done so recently. For the last year or more, free delivery options only kick in at a relatively high threshold—sometimes $75, often $100. Otherwise, you’re on the hook for $8 standard delivery and, should you need it, another $7 for a prepaid return label. And beware—if you order from the website, you can’t return items to a store. Only by mail to the online warehouse location. And if you buy from a brick-and-mortar? You can *only* take returns to *that* same store. Or mail it to certain other stores (you *can’t* mail it to the warehouse). Got all that at the back? Insane, I know. But then, again, what would I know? I for one certainly didn’t make a billion bucks last year. Maybe Uniqlo actually knows what they’re doing.