Fashion, which affects to be honor, is often, in all men’s experience, only a ballroom-code.
—R.W. Emerson, Manners
He is only fantastical that is not in fashion.
—Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy
This being our last article in our Men’s Fashion series, we decided to offer a list of advice that you can print out, pin to your closet, and read each morning for an early dose of style and snootyness. All tips are based on our own mistakes, so while some may lead to considerable success, others are still being worked on.
However, no piece of advice for the fashion-conscious man can beat this: The well-dressed gentlemen has no rules save those he writes for himself, based on his own proclivities, self-image, and waist-size. Also, those who affect to be unfashionable are just as pretentious as those who claim the title. Do better: Dress as well as you choose and forget about it.
Rules for Dressing
- Always match your belt with your shoes when your shoes are black, brown, or white. Other colors will be difficult to match and should be generally avoided, unless you wear sneakers every day, at which point you can wear whatever holds up your pants best (note: a length of rope is not an option here). If you wear suspenders, you do not wear a belt, and vice-versa. Also, if you wear suspenders, you either look like Bozo the Clown or Michael Douglas from Wall Street, neither of whom are fashion icons.
- Ties should be tied in whatever style most strikes your fancy. You should know that there are many different ways to knot your tie, and different knots say different things. Knot styles can be found here. We recommend the Windsor or the four-in-hand, but must leave it up to you to choose appropriately (feel free to explore past what your daddy taught you). We shouldn’t have to say this, but clip-on ties are only acceptable if you’re a magician, because then your life sucks enough without a knot around your throat.
- Socks should match the color of your pants, though not the exact same shade. White socks are for gym class. Ankle socks are for tennis, and only women get to wear the kind with the little fuzzy ball on the heel, damn the luck.
- Visors work on sunny days on a golf course when the bill is over your forehead, curved like a frown. Other positions look stupid. A smiley bill on the crown of your head makes it seem like everyone’s laughing at you behind your back. And yes, they are.
- If you’re going to own different watches, wear the appropriate timepiece for your outfit: black band, black jacket; brown band, brown jacket; silver band for either sport or suit. Better yet, buy a watch you really like and don’t worry about matching it. Nobody really does that anyway.
- Everything in an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog is off-limits. We repeat: off-limits.
- Relating to our khaki-instructions in our pants article, reader G. Gallivan writes “I think you all give khaki chinos a hard time. If they fit well and are made with good materials (e.g., bills brand) and are accompanied by passable shoes (i.e., no stupid hackneyed banker-type or ultra-preppy lace-ups/loafers), they can be a good thing.” Well put.
- On loafers: Save your pennies for a school-drive. On boat shoes: the barrel knot went out in seventh grade. On flip-flops: wash your feet afterwards. On wingtips: keep them polished. On currently favorable rubber-soled dress shoes with rivulets for treads: you’re kidding, right? For anything made by Prada with a red stripe somewhere visible: Return immediately.
- A note on matching ties and shirts: Everyone has now seen the solid-colored shirt matched with a tie of the same, or slightly-off color. Gucci started it; Regis hijacked it six years later; the English can’t stop. Try mixing things up a little. Try brown, or green, or red. Medium to thick stripes (diagonal: yes; horizontal: maybe; vertical: never) always work. Polka-dots, when small, work. Obscure crests, family-related icons, and/or discreet logos, work. Flying pigs, Warner Bros. characters, or “fundraiser” ties with children holding hands never work. And piano keys only belong on a Steinway.
- Buy a money clip. Use it when you wear a suit. Someday, a tailor will thank you. When you use a wallet, replace it when it shows wear and clean it out frequently. Throw away those receipts, the expired coupon for that little Italian place you’ve been meaning to try, and (and this should go without saying) any and all birth-control aids. Your wallet reflects who you are as a person, whether cluttered, cheap, nostalgic or stuffy. If you’re going to carry this stuff wherever you go, be sure it says something about you, preferably something nice. DO NOT carry around pictures of ex-girlfriends/boyfriends; When you’re in the shower after the first sleep-over in a relationship, he or she will go through your wallet, and that’s not how they should learn about your exes.
- On tailors: Find one near your house and form a close relationship. Anything—anything—can be improved with a few personalized revisions. Even Gap T-shirts.
- If you plan on wearing vintage T-shirts, it’s better to wear local vintage, e.g., a 1978 track jacket from your high school, not one that was invented by Urban Outfitters. That way you’ll have a story to tell, and no one will be wearing the same T-shirt the day you show up on TRL. Also: class rings are acceptable. As are pinkie rings. Just be prepared to be hated for them.
- Pocket squares are illegal for anyone under 35. Over 35 and they add a dash of class and distinction to your suit. The rule used to be that you should match the square with the tie. Many men abused the rule. Now, go subtle, either white or a solid color, a small pattern, in the end one that matches your front but not too closely. You will look dapper.
- A cowboy may wear both a cowboy hat and cowboy boots, as may anyone in a Western state, including Texas. Even the President can pull it off. You, on the other hand, cannot, unless you can a) ride a horse, b) country dance, and c) win in a fight. Without a knife.
- If you feel lost as a dresser—that is, you want to dress well but you’re not sure how, pick a fashion-hero. Look at what they wear, and how they wear it. Important, though, is to make sure you pick a decent role model; Morley Safer, good; Charlie Rose, bad.
- Eyeglasses are one of the few respectable places to fly your freak flag. Think Peggy Guggenheim, Le Corbusier, Woody Allen. The best examples are always either the most eccentric (Guggenheim) or iconographic (Allen). Unless your picture’s on the TV everyday, do your best to be original. Note: Drew Carey is not original.
- The umbrella: a classic and necessary accessory, available in both compact and fencing-foil styles. Compact is more practical. Put it in your coat pocket, in your bag (should you carry one), in the glove compartment (should you have one). You can sometimes never tell when it’s going to rain, and when it does, you want something to shield you from the unflagging pour of rain down your collar. Full-length umbrellas make a severe statement, and can be used as weapons whenever the need (or desire) arises. Metal tips are the most imposing, and the click-clack of their tip against the sidewalk in time with your stride is a satisfying thing. Another advantage of the full-length style is the enormous diameter of the umbrella when in bloom. Then, even the most insistent of weather stands no chance of wetting you or your sea-faring friends that you may anchor to your belt-loops. Just be careful on the sidewalk: you can poke an eye out with those things.
Somewhere between the dress shirt and the T-shirt is the golf shirt, also known as the polo shirt. Devised by tennis player Rene Lacoste for neither golf nor polo, it’s a staple in most men’s wardrobes. Ever since business casual was imposed, men have killed for short-sleeves with a collar. Do us a favor: buy solid colors or primary stripes, with none in the vertical category. Collars stay down.
The funny thing is, wear a polo shirt to your country club and it’s a polo shirt, time-accepted. But wear a polo shirt to your punk-rock club and it’s something else entirely. It’s a contradiction, and often the best style can come out of such contradictions, those moments when something doesn’t quite add up, and it becomes notable not for being good, but for being somehow just not quite right. It’s in such ways that we can have fun with our clothing choices and the messages they impart. Choose not to look like everyone else, but instead choose to confront what certain clothing means. Confront and distort.