Breaking out of the uniform
There is a picture taken of my grandfather and his children, taken some time in the 1940s. My “dzia-dzia” is standing proudly in a three-piece suit and a colorful print necktie, with his fedora tilted to one side. My aunts are wearing stylish hats, typical of the era, and my youngest uncle is sporting a double-breasted two-piece. I look at that picture and wonder, “When did men stop caring about how they look?” I think the answer is that we haven’t stopped caring, but that we’ve just forgotten how.
There is good news, though. Perhaps the television series “Mad Men” had something to do with it. We watch that and say, “Oh yeah, men used to look good back then,” and maybe we’ll don a sport coat and a Don Draper trilby hat for that party instead of the standard jeans-and-tee fallback.
I asked Lee “Old Bull” Johnson, from Old Bull Lee, and he had an insightful answer. “The first question might be, why? Why are you wearing what you are wearing? Comfort, warmth, attention? We all want attention. It is human nature, even those of us who say we don’t … do. So I guess it might be better asked as, how much do we want to stand out?” Lee believes in “character, opinion, flair. It just has to come from enough of an honest place that it has got a truthfulness to it In other words, it comes from somewhere inside of that person that is real, and is an extension of who they are, their likes, values, wishes.” Lee’s designs reflect that truthfulness. “Expressing yourself uniquely is a good thing. Mixing prints, old beat up but stylish dress shoes with shorts, and layers are an opportunity. Go timeless over trendy, but you can certainly reinterpret things or bring your own vision to the mix. That’s what personal style really is, it is having a vision that is your own, because you created it and it evolved, and over time became a look that has a certain signature to it because it differs from everyone else’s. That’s style, that’s memorable.”
So how do you add that “certain signature” to make your own style different from everyone else’s? Let’s start with the shoes, a detail which is often overlooked as men stick with the old standards. Tip: It’s okay for men to love shoes, too! Photographer Michael Freeby, whose photos are often media favorites, says “Get some shoes by Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo or Giuseppe Zanotti! All their shoes are glamorous in a way that is frequently missing from men’s wardrobe, but there is such a wide variety of choices from each designer that you won’t have to stray far from your comfort zone.”
Okay, let’s assume you have finally acknowledged the need to own a suit. But by itself, the suit can be a little boring. Michael says, “Add a pocket square with a splash of color to an otherwise colorless suit, or perhaps a colorful tie or bow tie.” Those of you who know me, know that I love pocket squares, and recently wrote about a new take on pocket squares made from burlap which adds a little rugged appeal to an ordinary suit. I usually fold them myself, and can manage a three-point, but the four-point is a struggle. I did discover an alternative in pre-folded squares. You’ll often find pre-folded ones sewn shut, or worse, coming with a false folded top and stapled to a cardboard insert. That’s cheating, and worse, it doesn’t allow you to pull the square out in a flourish when the need arises. A better option is Well Suited NYC’s very elegant pre-folded squares made from Italian fabric and handmade in New York. I know that Ted Danson, Chris Rock, Aasif Mandvi, Dave Chappelle and Jeff Goldblum are all pre-fold guys who use squares from Well Suited, and every one of these stars cut a very impressive figure, on television and in public.
We as men may have forgotten the joy of looking good, especially if we have a day job that requires a little dirt or grease. Mitesh Popat, CEO of PlantOGram, which delivers fully grown plants like their Cotton Candy mango tree that can be grown in cold east coast weather, says “Working in a nursery requires me wearing a company shirt with logo, jeans, boots and leather gloves with a hat. By the time I’m done, I look like a cowboy!” But after work, Mickey cuts an impressive figure, and he has a few suggestions. “Dress up your wardrobe with a beautiful belt. I personally love the Gold Buckle Salvatore Ferragamo that is black leather on one side, brown on the other so that I get multi use out of the belt, depending on the outfit.” He also shares a few of his tips for adding a little panache to any man’s wardrobe: “Adding jewelry to any wardrobe dresses an outfit up – a bracelet, ring, and a watch, or even a necklace. I always wear a gold Versace watch, necklace and bracelet.”
Next, I turned to Cassandra Campa, my favorite fashion stylist, who runs Next Level Wardrobe, and she suggest a few items to dress up the wardrobe, and her first bit of advice hits home for many guys who hesitate to ask for assistance. Cassandra tells me, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Clothing/style isn’t a common topic for most men to talk about within their peer group so I get emails from male clients all the time who just want a second opinion on an outfit. It’s great to get an unbiased review from someone with an expert eye. So whether it is from a friend, family member, partner or me, go ahead and ask for help!”
Cassandra offers three tips to help any guy get started: Prints, cool sneakers, and chambray shirts. On prints, she says, “Decide how bold you want to go with the print and go for it! Also, you can always layer over a sweater, or blazer if you want to be more conservative to start with.” Cassandra also recommends adding a chambray shirt, which she says will become a year-round, fashionable staple in any man’s wardrobe.
You can be casual and still have that little extra bit of flair and uniqueness, and Gath D’Silva, head of design at The Jacket Maker, who makes stunning bespoke ready-to-wear leather jackets, says “What you wear is you telling the world how you’d like to be treated, seen, heard and known.” Gath’s winter jackets are definitely on my “want” list! He gave me a list of five tips that can add panache to any man’s style without breaking the bank:
- A white t-shirt— Look for quality. A basic white t-shirt is not only comfortable but if the quality is right you can get a lot of mileage from this key wardrobe staple.
- A printed shirt— This piece can be short sleeved as is trending or long sleeved, it’s all about preference. The print could be tropical, artsy, quirky or floral. Go with what you relate to the most. This trend has really gotten many men to embrace the artsy side of style.
- White denims or chinos— Another wardrobe staple that instantly adds oomph to any guy’s look. This piece can be dressed up and down and looks equally good on either side of the style spectrum.
- Tan loafers— Something that adds the current element to any guy’s style transformation. A tan sneaker could work for the active, athletic types yet tan loafers takes your look to a whole new level.
- A Sports jacket— This isn’t a new piece or new addition to current menswear but it has evolved into a more diversified piece offering great versatility. This piece can truly smarten up your casuals and soften up your semi-formals.
Dan Blacharski is editor-in-chief of TheVivant.com.