The end of 2020 is in sight, a year we’re all looking to quickly forget. As we all emerge from the enforced hibernation COVID-19 has placed on us, I thought it was time for us to remind ourselves of the essential style rules. Now, I know there are currently more rules in life than I think ever before, some that defy our logical reasoning but that’s for another time. With these pieces of guidance, I hope to have you stepping out from your lockdown/tier with confidence.
Now, of course, every man or woman that has an opinion on such things speaks from the vantage point of personal experience – and no doubt what works for one doesn’t always work for another; or what works for one is considered too pedestrian or too avant-garde by another. So, when it comes to dressing, they always have to be taken at face value. This Gospel in my view is solid suggestions rather than the definitive last word on style.
But good advice is never to be sniffed at, and, as menswear becomes ever more rich and varied, ever more experimental and abundant, trend-aware, in moments of confusion and self-doubt, it can help to have a valuable fall-back position that cuts through the white-noise.
Style ‘rules’ tend to be founded in history – they’ve worked for generations, so might well be assumed to work well today too. And they tend to be founded in the obvious, so obvious they’re often overlooked: a preference for a good fit, high quality, versatility, good value, lack of extremes and keeping it sober.
CHAPTER ONE: KNOW THY SIZE
Style founds itself on correct fit and knowing how to dress for your body type. Suits and jeans are the two main culprits of ill-fit, followed by one culprit which is rarely spoken about which is t-shirts. We’ve spoken about t-shirts previously, so I won’t go over old ground, you can find info here.
The key to a suit looking good is fit. Let me repeat THE KEY TO A SUIT LOOKING GOOD IS FIT. To ensure a good fit, see a professional tailor who knows their trouser ‘breaks from suit ‘sets’ and the difference between peak & shawl lapels. Suits must be flat cut and cut sharp on the shoulder and when buttoned it shouldn’t pull. Trousers should sit on the hip bones naturally, without sagging at the rear, while the length of the trousers shouldn’t bunch at the ankle and keep the leg slim fit. In the absence of a tailor almost all dry cleaners will measure you up for a small fee c. £10, so that when you’re buying ‘off-the-shelf’ you’re armed with the essential info to reduce your stress. Your main focus should be the fit across the shoulders… why you say? Because getting the chest and waist altered is a relatively easy job. Last but not least… classic is best and most useful – dark, two-button, single-breasted, moderate in details.
“It’s not boring. A suit is a uniform. The idea is to think of this suit as a canvas to build different ideas of individuality around. It’s the way you wear it, not the label inside, that impresses.”
Rise, colour, shape and break are the four key pillars to any denim purchase.
Before jumping online or stepping foot into any shop, getting the right inseam measurement forms the basis for all jean choices. As I mentioned with suits, dry cleaners will happily assist you here for a c.£10 fee, allowing you to tackle the rails/web pages knowing you’re not going to to end up with flipper feet or pedal pushers. Rise – the distance from the crothc seam to te top of the waistband. Is an area that should also be an area of equal impoortance, length can be altered easily – the rise cannot. If you are having you’re jeans altered – KEEP THE HEM. Otherwise, it will look as though your jeans have just ended abruptly. All denim should be comfortable but snug on the waist. A thumb should be able to slip in the waist band without too much force.
CHAPTER TWO: REPLENISH THY WHITE BASICS REGULARLY
Basic whites replenishment, like the garments themselves, is simple. From underwear to socks, singlets to socks, go through your drawers each month and throw out any items that are unpresentable: grey, stained, ripped, unsightly. Get rid of them. Uncertain? Toss it anyway. Holes don’t provide extra ventilation, and stains are far from artistic or sentimental; they portray a lazy approach to style and signal poor hygiene for anyone who has to witness them. Even if you undergarments remain hole-free for several months, replenish every season regardless. Basic whites look better bright.
CHAPTER 3: KNOW THYSELF
(Have I developed a clear sense of my own personal style?)
This question is pretty basic and gets to such reflections as: Where do my ideas about how should I look come from? How do I think others see me? Do I consider my assets and liabilites when shopping? What sort of image do I want to project? Is my image in balance with my professional and social life as well as my personality? Deep right?
STYLE. Because your personality isn’t the first thing people see.
There are few things less stylish than a man dressed as he thinks he should dress rather than in what he genuinely feels suits who he is. I highly recommend having a genuine style icon, an individual who owns their style with self-confidence that comes from their clothes being a second skin, not a costume.
CHAPTER 4: LOOK AFTER THY APPEARANCE
It’s the kind of advice your mother might offer, but if you’ve invested money and thought in your clothing, look after it. Use wooden hangers for shirts and shoe trees for your best shoes; have your suit dry-cleaned and pressed; wash your clothes regularly and, ideally, don’t tumble dry them (it can degrade the fabric); and polish your shoes. Equally, it’s not just the skin of your leather jacket that you need to care for, the same goes for the one you wear every day. Establish a simple, but no less solid, grooming regime, brush your hair and cut your nails. After all, the devil resides in the details.
CHAPTER 5: DRESS FOR THE SETTING
Style is not merely about self-expression; it’s also about being dressed appropriately for your environment. Think of clothes as being codes: you need the right combination to work with the setting you’re in – and that’s whether it’s a formal dinner or a lazy Sunday in the pub. The worst style is one which is out of place. Is this a kind of conformity? No, as one of Tom Ford’s oft trotted out fashion quotes explains, it’s a mark of respect for others. And about feeling comfortable with yourself. When in doubt, overdress.
CHAPTER 6: THOU SHALL NOT SKIMP ON GLASSES
Invest time into finding the right spectacles for you. Buy what you feel good in, taking into account your face shape but considering the top line of the frames’ relation to your eyebrow shape – team straight with straight, curved with curved – and your hairstyle. Buy wisely too, there’s no point buying cheap frames and being up-sold on expensive lenses because the frames will look tatty soon enough anyway.
CHAPTER 7: THOU SHALL EMBRACE COLOUR
Whether it’s on casualwear or formalwear, indulge in a bit of colour.
“Most men are unjustly scared of it – they’re intimidated by anything that isn’t navy or grey, but colour can be timeless too.”Oliver Spencer
This is one rule I have only learned late in life to embrace, being a dark skin African man but one I thoroughly now enjoy deploying. You can read more on my journey here.
CHAPTER 8: THOU SHALL MIX LABELS
Simply put: men who dress head to toe in a particular brand/designer are without taste or imagination of their own. Sounds savage I know but sometimes the truth hurts.
CHAPTER 9: IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHERE YOU’VE COME FROM, YOU DON’T KNOW WHERE YOU’RE GOING
Try and combine the sleek and modern with a great vintage piece. Show that you take a certain pride in ‘old world’ craftmanship, in objects and silhouttes that have stood the stead the test of time, in style rather than in mometary fashion trends.
CHAPTER 10: ATTITUDE
Is there a reason why us men shouldn’t enjoy clothes, get pleasure and satisfaction from knowing he’s at home in the world and with himself? Be confident about dressing comfortably, but remember to be appropriate about it.
CHAPTER 11: KNOW WHEN TO BREAK THE RULES
Know when to adhere to dress codes such as black tie and know when to break them. Some are there for a good reason, typically because the occasion demands it or some higher authority – your boss, perhaps – expects it. We can get too hung up about rules as well, and there’s always a case for ripping them up! That, after all, is how style advances, little by little.
“Enjoy the freedom there is now to make mistakes.”