Are these athletic-fit performance dress shirts the real deal? Read my State & Liberty review to find out!
Hybrids of ‘performance’ and ‘dress’ clothes aren’t necessarily new in the menswear space, but we’ve (mostly) evolved beyond trying to slap running soles on derby shoes. Rather, companies are offering dress shoes, shirts, slacks, and even casual clothes in performance materials.
If you care about your appearance, there’s a pretty good chance you like to keep in shape. If that’s the case, you’ll likely find that many off-the-rack clothes, particularly shirts, are just too billowy for your frame.
Mass-market clothes just aren’t made for you — they’re made with the ‘average’ man in mind. (For reference, in the US, the so-called average man is roughly 5’9” and is overweight, tipping the scale at around 200 pounds).
State & Liberty is a company seeking to solve that problem. In this article, I’ll break down the brand’s story, the niche they fill, and whether their products might be a good fit for you. I’ll also compare them against Mizzen & Main, the other titan of performance menswear.
About State & Liberty
Steven Fisher and Lee Moffie, passionate lifters, and in the case of Moffie, a defenseman on Michigan’s ice hockey team, had a similar problem. These students at the University of Michigan couldn’t find a dress shirt to fit their athletic body types.
Most ‘standard fit’ shirts were simply too full in the torso, but ‘slim’ shirts were far too tight throughout the upper body. Since they couldn’t find what they were looking for on the market, they decided to build a dress shirt that would fit guys like them.
They called their company “State and Liberty” after an intersection on U of M’s Ann Arbor campus.
They began with just a performance dress shirt but have since expanded dramatically to include a full range of tees, polos, henleys, chinos, suits, sports jackets, outerwear, and even a performance fabric tuxedo. They also offer accessories: belts, bags, socks, and ties.
While e-commerce is still the vast majority of their operation, State & Liberty has opened almost twenty brick-and-mortar outlets in the U.S. and Canada.
The majority are concentrated in the Midwest and East Coast, but there are also locations in Denver, Greater Los Angeles, and Houston.
What I Picked Up
My experience with higher-end ‘performance’ fabrics in clothing has been, frankly, mixed. In my view, quality and fit can vary across items in a brand’s lineup. State & Liberty’s offerings were kind enough to send over a full range for me to test drive.
- Taylor Crew Neck T-Shirt
- Felix Blue on White Polo
- Bates Brown Henley
- Herbert Solid Pink Dress Shirt
- Athletic Fit Stretch Chino in Navy
- Field Jacket in Khaki
Now let’s get onto the review.
Quality and Fabric
‘Quality’ can be a little subjective. Brands trumpet it, and reviewers (guilty as charged) harp on it all the time.
However, as I’ve gotten deeper into the game and noticed most readers don’t care much about Supima cotton and stitches per inch, I tend to associate ‘quality’ with durability.
Can the clothing hold up to everyday life? Can it survive a washing machine set on warm? What happens if I stick in a dryer- even if the tag tells me not to?
I’m pleased to report State & Liberty has held up well over the last three months of wear.
The polo and tee are made from a cotton/spandex blend. While thinner than my much-loved Public Rec T-shirt, they are far from transparent. I didn’t notice any significant shrink or stretch after the spin through the dryer; actually, it held the shape quite well.
The same goes for the collars on the polo and dress shirt– after a few washes, the once-crispy collar can get a little floppy. That is not the case here.
The field jacket is perhaps the star of the show. The fabric is light and stretchy; it very much reminds me of one of my workout tops spun up into something more elevated.
I suppose that’s kind of the point, and this would definitely elevate your weekend coffee run instead of the ‘performance’ hoodie you usually reach for.
Most items are quite comfortable and have gotten a fair amount of wear. As I largely continue to work remotely and off-camera, the tee and polo are in regular rotation.
I also put the dress shirt through a 14-hour corporate retreat without wrinkles or much in the way of odor retention.
What Doesn’t Work
Honestly, from a quality and construction perspective, everything I tried was solidly built.
These garments have held up well throughout long travel days in a car, being rolled up into suitcases and chasing my kid around. While the material is excellent, I would like to touch on breathability.
Because these are made with polyester fibers, they’re simply not going to breathe as well as a natural material like cotton.
While it (thankfully) doesn’t retain sweat and odor the way cotton will, you might run a little warmer wearing these garments. I’ve also not found myself gravitating towards the chinos.
The fabric makes an odd swishing sound when I walk and reminds me of the ‘windbreaker’ pants I wore as a kid.
The field jacket also “swishes,” but it’s far less annoying. Additionally, since I’m writing this in the dead of summer, I can say that I would’ve preferred if there was ventilation worked into the sleeve linings.
While I’m far from a bodybuilder — I don’t get to lift nearly as much as I’d like (it’s tough with a toddler running around, and since I haven’t had my Brawndo in years) — I do try to stay pretty lean.
With most brands, I’m a small in shirts and jackets and roughly a 30×30 (sometimes even a 29×30) in trousers, chinos, and other pants. So, that’s what I ordered, with mixed results.
State & Liberty recommends taking the larger size if you’re between sizes, and I’d definitely recommend doing so for the T-shirt, henley, polo, and trousers. Our first go-round was quite slim. The shirts hugged my waist and, while I could button the chinos, they looked like leggings!
That said, I was able to quickly and easily size up to a Medium, and we got it straightened out. The shirts taper nicely through the waist.
I can feel a little snugness in the upper back as the darting (yes, darting, more on that later) pulls, but it’s far from constricting.
While I did size up in some items, the small ended up being the right fit in the dress shirt and jacket. The shirt measures roughly 36” at the waist, which gives me about 4” of give — right where my fit preferences have evolved. It’s slim but far from painted on.
The sleeves are slim but not tight. The shoulder seam sits where it should, and the sleeve length is excellent.
The jacket sleeves should fit most ‘average’ length arms without much of an issue. If you need it, it should be easy for an alterations tailor to take them up a little as there’s no elastic around the cuff. Just factor it into the cost, though-at $250, this ain’t cheap for a field jacket.
What Didn’t Work
Once we dialed in our sizing, the fit left little to be desired. Before the advent of ‘slim fit’ shirts, I had to get darts put in most of my shirts. They were simply too big in the waist, no matter how hard I tried to find one that worked.
At one point, I’d actually considered having darts added to a few of my tees. But, now that I’ve gotten the chance to try it, I’m not sure I would have. It’s a novel concept, and it certainly works in the dress shirt.
Actually, it makes for quite an aesthetically pleasing fit. But, in the casual shirts, I’m just not entirely sold on it. That said, I have a couple of suggestions for how State & Liberty can improve when it comes to fit.
First, the point of darting is to take in any excess fabric around the lower waist and back area to prevent the unsightly billowing many gym rats are subject to. However, the darting here seems to come up a couple of inches too high.
I’m far from Johnny Bravo, but when I reach forward or find myself at my desk over my laptop, I can feel the fabric pulling. If these shirts are designed for V-shaped dudes, I’ve got to think others may feel it as well. I can’t imagine it would throw off the aesthetics to lower it a little more.
A second way to improve is to consider adding two side pleats in the back of the dress shirts. That gives gents with pretty significant drops a chance to spread their wings (er…lats) and allows for freedom of movement.
State & Liberty, like some others in their market space, adopt a versatile color palate free of extremes. No ultra-bold colors, crazy printed shirts, or anything like that. I can dig it.
A few elements stood out to me. First, I think the collar on the polo and dress shirt work really well for most guys, even if you’re a little smaller.
A lot of ‘hip’ brands these days still make collars with a point and band height so short that they don’t sit well under a jacket and can also make your neck look unnaturally long. Both the collars worked really well here.
Second, I appreciate the henley has some depth and texture to it. It makes it look a little less ‘performance-y’ than my Public Rec one-which, as comfortable as it is, is kind of difficult to style.
Third (and this could also fall under the ‘fit’ category), I do like the details and ability to dial in the fit on the field jacket. State & Liberty has added little drawstrings on the inside to help cinch in the waist.
As someone who does get annoyed with boxy fits on outerwear, it’s a nice touch that adds a lot of versatility to the jacket.
What Didn’t Work
A few minor quibbles here and there, but there wasn’t anything that is inherently difficult to style.
First, both the polo and the dress shirt have elastic ‘loops’ on the inside of the collar. I suppose it’s to help the collar lay flat. I can kind of see the point if you’re wearing a tie with the dress shirt, but on a polo, it seems kind of unnecessary.
Second, the field jacket has a center vent cut into the tail.
Perhaps that’s to help keep the shape if you’re sitting down and have the waist cinched in, but it seems an odd stylistic choice.
Third, each of the dress shirt colors has a different name. If they all fit the same, why not just have one name and leave it at that?
State & Liberty vs. Mizzen + Main
Many companies are capitalizing on the athleisure trend (can we even call it a trend anymore?), and State & Liberty and Mizzen + Main are two of the leaders in this space.
I had the opportunity to write about Mizzen + Main way back in 2019 and have worn some of their stuff for the last three years.
In the dress shirt category, I think the two are largely on par, fabric-wise, for their foundation line. But in fit and price, it’s not even close.
State & Liberty’s foundation shirt (in my case, the “Herbert”) fits me far better than Mizzen + Main’s Leeward line. And, for 40 bucks less-the, Leeward is now going for $138 MSRP; I’m here for that.
When comparing quality, while my higher-end ‘Spinnaker’ line from Mizzen + Main has been great the last couple of years, the henley…hasn’t. I mentioned in my article a few years back, it started to fade after a few washes, and from there, the downward spiral continued.
In fact, it pilled so severely after a few months that, had I paid for the shirt myself and not been sent it for review, I may have contacted Mizzen + Main to see about a replacement.
That hasn’t happened with State & Liberty, but admittedly, I’m writing this in summer and haven’t gotten the chance to wash it as much.
By and large, at this point, I’d recommend State & Liberty over Mizzen + Main, especially if you’re a slimmer guy.
I vastly prefer the State & Liberty’s dress shirt fit and styling to Mizzen + Main’s Leeward line. The fabrics are generally comparable, though.
I still prefer my Public Rec T over State & Liberty from both a fabric and fit perspective. While I can appreciate the darting as a unique stylistic touch, it’s just not for me. But, both garments have held up very well, and you’ll get your money’s worth in the quality department.
The field jacket is a unique garment, and I think it offers an interesting blend of athleisure-style fabric in a refined package.
The ability to cinch the waist without compromising the silhouette is also a nice touch. While it is still quite pricey, I think it’s a more versatile investment piece than a similar Lululemon piece.
Overall, though, if you’ve spent time in the gym and want to show off your hard work, State & Liberty is definitely worth considering.
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