Fashion vs. Style

Through this blog, I’ve presented some information about creating an individual style. I’ve spent most of that time suggesting that individual style is an outgrowth of things other than the fashion industry. Today, I want to take a few minutes to emphasize the role that the fashion industry can play in assisting that process.

All of us have seen “that guy.” You know, the one wearing a suit that was fashionable ten years ago, or the one wearing a tie that is so wide that it looks like it was pulled out of an attic rather than off a clothing rack, even at a second hand store. And to be fair, these men may be men of substance, men of principle and thoughtfully selected values, and I suggest that this is admirable, far more admirable than any amount of fashion awareness that they may have developed. However, we are wise to consider the power of correlation.

We all have seen this, the tendency of individuals to assume that because a certain type of characteristics are observed, another group of characteristics may be inferred. Using our example, we may be inclined to believe that if an individual manifests a sense of fashion in their personal style they are also a individual of principle and character. The reality is that character and fashion awareness are developed independently of each other, but they are not mutually exclusive, either.

Being a student of human nature, you who are working to be both a man of substance and style, you are wise to develop both aspects.

So how do you become aware of fashion? And how do you make it work for you instead of against you?

First, understand that fashion can be described in many ways, and three of these are high fashion, business fashion and sportswear. High fashion is often what we think of when we think of the fashion industry. High fashion pushes the boundaries of color and fabric, cut and accessorization. Extremes are the watchword for high fashion, and changes are made often just for the sake of making them.

Most of us won’t spend much of our time in the arena of high fashion.

However, by watching what appears in high fashion from time to time, we may be able to predict some trends in business fashion. High fashion is to clothing what the racing programs are to automobiles; it’s where things are figured out. How wide can the lapel be before it overwhelms the jacket? What about the peaks? Or the stripes? Or the contrasts of blocks of fabric? All of these things are tried out in the high fashion world in the same way that brakes, transmissions and engine technology is tried out on the race track before it is integrated into your car. Keeping your eyes on the world of High Fashion prepares us for what will show up in the board room, what I call business fashion.

Business fashion is what we are more likely to see in movies and on television. Actors depicting lawyers, bankers, wall street investors and the like are probably going to be spending at least part of the presentation in what is traditionally known as a power suit. Dark colors, white shirts, ties with a little red in them and leather shoes so shiny that they look ready for a tuxedo rather than just getting ready for lunch. These are the staples of business fashion and they are amazingly prevalent in popular entertainment. Business fashion is also what advertisers are most likely to use to sell upscale items to upscale clients. By that I mean that the models involved will likely be wearing business fashion when trying to sell accessories to those with disposable income. Think of advertisements for high end goods, like watches, leather goods, luxury cars and the like, and frequently they will be presented along with someone dressed in business fashion. By watching this arena, a gentleman can get a sense of the items that need to be making their way both into and out of his wardrobe.

Finally we make our way to the world of sportswear. In merchandising terms, these are the everyday clothes that are worn when you want something a little more dressy than a pair of jeans and a work shirt. Don’t be mislead, denim jeans are prevalent in most sportswear lines, but they aren’t the only thing in them. There are also twill slacks in a variety of colors, and sometimes even some patterns in the palette. Long and short sleeve shirts abound, from polos to rugbies, and they all have their place. Knowing when to wear which is a matter of practice and practicality.

Watch the changes in each of these segments of the fashion world and, over time, you will develop a sense of which pieces harmonize with your interests and your lifestyle. Interested in making the right impression all the time? High fashion may become a hobby. Feel like you never want to be the worst dressed anywhere you happen to be? Business fashion can make this easy. Comfortable with who you are, regardless of what you are doing or who is doing it with you? Find some sportswear basics and mix and match to your hearts content. Knowing when to wear each type of piece? Now that is one part science, one part art, and developed over time. Together, we will explore that tricky subject as time goes on.

A Gentleman’s Wardrobe: Tier 4

So we are at the last of the posts dealing with the building of a wardrobe.   In past posts we had addressed suits, blazers and sportcoats and the relative strengths of each.  Today we move.to the most casual element of the gentleman’s wardrobe, the dress shirt.

Many men today think that the dress shirt is no longer needed except when being worn with a suit or blazer, even suggesting that those can be paired with a Polo shirt or crew neck shirt or light sweater and this is sufficient.  While I agree that such looks can be fun and attractive when executed properly, I still believe that the level of class and elegance demonstrated by a properly cared for and stylishly worn dress shirt is worth the effort and investment.

Dress shirts come in two basic types, solids and patterns, and then can be broken down even further.  The solids can be defined by color, weave and stitching accents while the patterns can be broken into stripes, checks, window-panes. . . you get the idea.  And that is before we even approach the idea of collars (point, button down, spread, narrow, nehru, and on it goes).  The point, then, of the dress shirt is to know what it can do and how to make it do what you want as effortlessly as possible.  Accomplishing that requires 1 tool and 1 piece of awareness.

The tool is an iron.  Despite what celebrities may look like when the paparazzi catch them off guard, an un-ironed dress shirt is an indication that the wearer is not paying attention to details, let alone to the message that his haphazard choices send about him without even trying.  If you want to be taken seriously more quickly, especially by people who are meeting you for the first time, consider the time it takes to iron a dress shirt as time well spent.

The awareness is of the way the shirt looks on you and how comfortable you are wearing it.  For instance, I like plaids in flannel shirts, but not in dress shirts.  I feel uncomfortable when I wear them, and as a result, I avoid the plaid dress shirt even when my friends and the fashion world say they are an indispensable piece of the season’s wardrobe.  If I can wear it with confidence, I won’t add it into the mix.  By the same token, I love a good sturdy cotton twill.  I don’t care if they look dated and somewhat stodgy, I feel much more confident in the piece, so it makes the grade even when some around me would go for anything but.

Remember that these tips are all about putting in place the pieces that allow you to move within professional environments comfortably and confidently.

Hopefully this has given you some things to think about.  Do you have questions about the various tiers?  Leave them below, and I will answer them ASAP.  Til then, live magnificently!

TJW

Wardrobe Planning

What’s in your professional wardrobe?

What do I mean by that?  I mean what are the pieces that are currently in your wardrobe that would allow you to slip seamlessly into a business meeting where millions of dollars were on the line?

Do you have pieces that would accomplish the task?

Do you know what pieces you should have?

When I was working in men’s clothing full time, this was a question I would often ask of my customers.  New graduates seldom had anything, and sadly, some gentlemen well along in their careers were not much better off.

But the question, and the answer, are critical.  What’s in your professional wardrobe?

Some gentlemen that I talk to protest, and tell me that they don’t need such things in their wardrobes.  “I’m just an average guy, I wear polo shirts and khaki’s to work, and that’s on the good days.  Why do I need to think about a professional wardrobe?”  The answer I give invariably is, “Because when you need to think about one, it’s too late.  It controls you, and you will spend more and get less.  Thinking about it when you don’t need it is how you maximize quality for every dollar spent.”

So what’s in your wardrobe?

Over the next few posts, we will talk about different pieces, and the combinations that make or break the wardrobe.  But in this post, I want to stress that we won’t be talking about spending a lot of money, and we won’t be talking about doing it all at once.  We will be taking the approach of finding a piece at a time, prioritizing based on the pieces that you currently own, and adding carefully to that group.

For my readers who are familiar with the business world, this makes sense.  For my readers who don’t, think of it this way: you wouldn’t dream of tackling an activity without the right gear, right?  Think of your wardrobe in exactly the same way.  You are putting together the gear that you will need to be successful in very focused and particular projects.

And if it we do it right, it will be fun.

So, here is some homework.  Look at your wardrobe.  Break it down in terms of suits, blazers, sportcoats, slacks, dress shirts in solids and patterns and colors, ties in colors and varieties and, believe it or not, even socks.  See what you would have available if you were called to the ring the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange, or to sit with investment bankers to discuss a multi-million dollar deal, or invited to the White House to present an idea to the president’s cabinet.

I know, a little far fetched, right?

But you never know.

Next week, we start talking about what you found, and what you need to find.

The Shoes!

In the movie “Sneakers,” when River Phoenix was telling Robert Redford and Sidney Poitier about the men who had come asking about Marty, there was a conversation that went something like this:

Poitier – “Suits?”

Phoenix – “Rack.”

Redford – “Shoes?”

Phoenix – “Expensive.”

Poitier and Redford – “Government!”

Whether we like it or not, shoes speak volumes about the man wearing them.  And while it isn’t always necessary to wear designer brands or the latest couture styles, a basic understanding of the message your shoes can send is critical for every man who desires to be a man of style and substance.

An earlier post addressed some basics for selecting shoes for a suit and a carefully crafted professional look.  This post will deal with shoes from a different perspective; we are going to look at shoes for all looks.  Three things figure into this equation: materials, style and function.

Function is the easiest of the three to address.  Function is about how the shoes feel, how they move with you, and how comfortable they are.  Please understand, I am not saying that this factor of function trumps the others because I address it first.  Function is important, but only as a part of the choice.

Currently, in the shoe world, there has been some effort by shoe manufacturers to cater to Joe Average by combining the distinctive look of a dress shoe with the inner working of an athletic shoe.  And regardless of how finely written the copy on their advertising, I think it is safe to say that a shoe that works to combine the best of  both worlds will rarely be a perfect fit in any world.  Said another way, just because a pair of shoes is built with the shank and innersole of a basketball shoe doesn’t mean it’s going to be serviceable for a quick game of hoops.  Likewise, the things that make shoes work on the court often make them stand out in not-so-flattering ways in the boardroom.

Function accepts this premise, and understands it, and doesn’t shy away from it.  The principle of function recognizes that comfort of the shoe is a factor of both its appearance and its wear-ability.  Function recognizes that if you are going to be on your feet for eight hours straight, the selection will be different than if you will be making short trips from office to board room to your car for the drive home at the evening.  Function also recognizes that any number of issues can affect footwear choice, from anticipated weather through the day to the likelihood of stopping by a football practice or a dance recital at the end of the day to see your kids in one of their special moments.

Function is just one of the factors that impacts on footwear selection.  The other factors will be discussed in upcoming posts.

On another note, we are going to be launching the “Everyday Dads” section of this website, where we will ask an “everyday dad” some questions about being a father, about handling the work life balance and other topics of importance to the modern man of style and substance.  Do you know someone whom I should touch base with about these ideas?  Are you one of those people we should be getting answers from?  Drop me a line in the comments.  After all, we’re all in this together.

TJW

Dust off the tux

Recently, while preparing for a concert, I reaching in the back of my closet and pulled out my tuxedo. My tux. there is something suave and sophisticated about saying that you own a tux (doesn’t everyone) to say nothing of the feeling that comes over you when you check your reflection in the mirror as you adjust the bow tie. There’s a reason that nearly every James Bond film has 007 dressing in a tux at some point in the film, and it isn’t just because they are looking for sponsorship money from Brioni or whoever is supplying the garment. No, I think it has something to do with the way a man walks when he wears one.  When that garment is worn aman just exudes class and confidence .

During the course of the evening, I mentioned to one of my friends, also wearing a tux at the event, that a man should wear a tuxedo at least three times a year. When I mentioned that, he looked at me with some surprise and then smiled and said, “Yeah, that would be cool.  But where?”  Allow me to provide him, and you, with some ideas.

Before I go any farther, please understand that none of these ideas are provided with the intention of stroking your ego.  In fact, if you wear your tux for that reason, you may be dressing with style, but your substance will be sadly lacking.  No, the reason I suggest these ideas is to elevate the experience and your participation in them from the mundane to the keenly felt and mindfully experienced.  By stepping up your wardrobe, you will step up your awareness of the entire event, of the other people experiencing it with you, and the truly amazing time and place that we occupy in history.

The Theater 

By this, I’m not talking about the movies.  I’m talking about a play, a musical, an opera, a symphony, or some other activity of the performing arts where you will be watching.  Certainly, it isn’t always required, but going Black Tie to something like this elevates it from “well, we had tickets,” to “this is an event!”  More likely than not, few of the other patrons attending will be dressed as you are, to the nines.  However, those who are will recognize you.  And so will those who aren’t.

Out to Dinner 

Select a restaurant you wouldn’t normally go to and use it as a chance to wear the tux.  Warn your date, and have her wear a dress that is a touch more formal than she might otherwise wear, and be sure that you are ready for a few people to wonder what you are up to and where you are going next.  Let them wonder!

Host a Party 

One of my friends recently threw a birthday party and told everyone in the invitation that the event was black tie.  It was delightful; we all felt like we were at an event, not just a birthday party.

So there you are, just some ideas.  What ideas do you, dear reader, have for other places to wear the Tux?  Share them if you please.  I’m sure we would all love to have one or two more occasions to dress to the nines!

 

Accessorizing the Suit: Finishing Touches

Over the last several posts we have been addressing the fundamentals of accessorizing a suit to make the most professional impression possible while spending as little as possible.  Remember, the point of these pieces of advice is to step up the appearance of a basic suit by the addition of critical pieces, most of which can be acquired for a very reasonable investment.  This final post will deal with what I call finishing touches, or “costume jewelry” for the man of today.

In a woman’s wardrobe, costume jewelry is just that, costume.  It is inexpensive and designed to produce a certain look, dressing up an outfit that might otherwise be somewhat plain in appearance.  For the gentleman and the suit, the same thing can be accomplished with a few critical items.  All of them can be obtained rather inexpensively to start.

Pocket Square

A critical piece of the bespoke man’s wardrobe is the pocket square.  In many circles, pocket squares have begun making something of a resurgence, while in others they have remained ever present.  Worn in the outside chest pocket of the suit with just a small amount of fabric showing, it is a symbol of taste and sophistication.

The pocket square can be worn either pressed flat with an iron, so that a slim line of fabric is visible just above the pocket, or in a more roguish manner, “thrown” into the pocket with the four corners being visible.  Also, the fabric of choice for high style is always white, although a choice of color that matches the tie being worn is also appropriate.

Lapel Pin

The lapel pin is a hold over from the days when honor societies and fraternal orders were commonplace, and the pin worn on a lapel was as much a key for entry into exclusive clubs as it was a mark of deeds accomplished.  Today, they are not quite so commonplace, and conversely, they are everywhere one looks.

If you are fortunate enough to have attended a school where you distinguished yourself in academics, sports, or some other aspect of college life, it is likely to believe that there is a lapel pin that reflects the accomplishment.  Volunteer organizations often also give Ribbons showing support for various causes have been made into finely crafted pins.  Find one for a cause that you believe in, and wear it with pride.  Finally, if you can think of nothing else, a flag showing either a country of heritage or the country of your citizenship can be a fine finishing touch.

Cufflinks

If you have made the investment in some french cuff shirts, cufflinks are a must.  More than simply holding your cuffs together, they can be a statement of various kinds.  do you have a particular interest or hobby?  There is likely a pair of cufflinks for that.  Is there a movie franchise that you think is worth talking about?  Again, cufflinks that are connected to this are likely somewhat easy to find.  Want to find something unique?  Cufflinks are an easy bet.  I have even made several pairs of cufflinks, and the ones I have made continue to be not only the least expensive ones that I own, but also the best conversation starters.

With these three items in mind, along with the other suggestions that have been made during these posts, you are well on your way to being recognized as a man who can not just wear a suit, but wear it well.

What other items or tidbits of advice have served you well in connection with your efforts to dress up your suit?  Leave a comment with them for the benefit of others.

Accessorizing the Suit: Fit to be Tied

Today, we will continue our treatment of helping today’s man of style and substance in properly accessiring the suit by taking our attention to the tie.  Arguably one of the least comfortable pieces of the wardrobe, when tied correctly and worn with a shirt that fits correctly, the tie becomes an indispensable part of the modern man’s wardrobe.  And while the thickness of the tie, the material, and the patterns may change over time, the value of a tie in the wardrobe of today cannot be overstated.

Material

The first thing to consider when selecting a tie to accessorize a suit is the material.  While there are many options available, silk is, I believe, the best choice.  It wears well over time, especially when taken care of properly, and responds well to being tied in a variety of knots.  While wool, cotton, leather, polyester and other materials will be available, they are typically not the best for use when putting together a classic and professional look.

Pattern and Decoration

This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the subject, as much revolves around the tastes or the wearer.  Some men I know wear only striped or solid ties, while others are more adventurous in their pattern selection.  Some men prefer to stick with one designer whose colors and designs have become predictable and safe, while others are always on the search for something new.  In most situations, whatever the gentleman feels comfortable with will likely be fine.  However, I have noticed a few rules of thumb that have served me well over the years.

  • If either the shirt or the suit has a noticeable pattern, the tie should be less patterned or differently patterned.  For instance, if the suit has a windowpane pattern, paisleys may be a good choice if a pattern is desired.  Likewise, a subtle stripe or geometric motif in complimentary colors may work well
  • Ask yourself, “What is the central piece of clothing?”  If the suit is being worn for a particular reason (a job interview or a funeral) the tie should be selected so as not to detract from the look, but rather to add to it.
  • Will there be anything to accentuate the tie?  Contrasting colors in shirt or suit, or other items, like jewelry or a pocket square, can influence the selection of tie.

Knot

Various knots exist, and I have been known to use many of them.  My personal favorite is the Four-in-Hand knot, a simple knot that is quite versatile.  The profile is longer than either the Half Windsor or Full Windsor, and thus becomes a nice knot for point collar shirts, especially modern fit shirts with a tighter collar profile.

For more information on how to tie a tie and instructions on different knots Click Here

These are just some thoughts on the tie.  What are some of your experiences with this piece of men’s clothing?