I was out the other night with some friends when several of them asked me about style and clothes and how I learned to dress well. Since how you dress tells volumes about you to the world and espcially to women, it is important to make sure that you’re sending the right message. Specifically in the area of women, dressing well is a simple signal that you are a man of higher status and that you “get it” and lowers some of her defenses she would use on a guy that she thinks is lower status.
First and foremost I’m going to be talking about about classic style, not about being trendy. Why is that important? Well, classic style is something that is well, classic, and that means that it has stood the test of time. Trends come and go and too often end up looking stupid in a short time (parachute pants anyone?) and costing you more money as you try to keep up on what’s trendy. If you buy a more classic wardrobe, you’ll always look sharp, you’ll save money in the long run, and you’ll never go out of style.
The first thing to remember, is that when you are starting out you really need to educate yourself. As with most things, you need to understand the rules before you can break them, and yes there are certain rules that apply to classic fashion. I HIGHLY recommend the following book: http://www.amazon.com/Details-Mens-Style-Manual-Ultimate/dp/159240328X. There are others, but think of this as Classic Style 101. Also, Mad Men (John Hamm, John Slattery), Ocean’s Eleven-Thirteen (George Clooney, Andy Garcia), and Law and Order episodes with Jesse Martin are both great shows for classic fashion. Other people that have great style include Paul Newman, Gene Kelly, Sean Connery, and Humphrey Bogart. Oh and believe it or not, Phillip Micheal Thomas, Don Johnson’s partner on Miami Vice had some amazing suits.
Here’s a quick break down of the most important rules:
- Shoes – Women notice shoes very quickly. My friend Hugh goes so far to suggest that you should spend more an your shoes than almost any other item in your wardrobe except for a suit. For some reason having nice shoes sends a woman a quick signal of your status. A bad pair of shoes can ruin a whole outfit. Do not wear loafers with a suit and do not wear dress shoes with jeans. If you don’t know the difference, read the book. A good pair of black Oxfords are the cornerstone of classic wardrobe.
- Socks – NEVER wear white socks unless you are at the gym. Period. Match your socks to your pants, not to your shoes.
- Trousers – Try to stay away from pleats for the most part, or at least keep them small. They are usually not that flattering for most men since they add lots of fabric and can make you look sloppy. A pair of well fitted flat front trousers are flattering for almost any man.
- Belts – Always match your belt to your shoes, and try to stay away from trendy belts. Giant belt buckles should be left to country and wrestling stars.
- Shirts – If you can afford to have tailor made shirts, I would recommend it. The fit will be so much better, and the style will be well suited to you since most tailors can give you a good recommendation. Also, if you are lean, buy fitted or European style shirts as they are more tapered and will have cleaner lines.
- Undershirts – ALWAYS wear undershirts. It will save your shirt from wear and tear and perspiration. If the shirt is a little thinner, it will keep a clean look especially if you are hairy chested.
- Ties – Do NOT wear theme ties (Christmas, Star Trek, etc..). The general rule is that the tie should have at least one color of the shirt in it. Once you get a feel how to match different patterned ties with various shirts, you’ll come off as having a more sophisticated style.
- Sports Coat – Having a nice sports coat gives you a more sophisticated look without the formality of a suit. They can also be paired with a nice pair of jeans and loafers.
- Suit – Don’t scrimp on this either. A cheap suit is easy to spot. Nordstroms is always a safe bet. Also make sure that you find a good tailor to make sure that it fits well as an ill-fitting suit looks bad and is not comfortable. If you are smaller stay away from double breasted suits since it will add a lot of extra fabric and make you look bulky. Also, stick with the classics – black, navy, gray, pinstripe, etc. Novelty suits are always a bad idea.
- Coats – A nice wool or cashmere coat will also make you stand out, and keep you nice and warm. A well-fitted Navy Peacoat is also an option, but is slightly less formal.
- Scarves – A nice cashmere scarf can add that final touch to an outfit. A “Where’s Waldo?” red and white number will make you look like a dweeb.
- If you are younger, you can add some non-classic touches, but as you get older, you should stay closer to the classic styles. Dressing your age is so much more attractive. Nothing seems more pathetic than a 40 year old trying to look 25.
There’s a lot more to it, but these are the basics to remember.
A few sites that I recommend to get you started:
- Dressing for Success, Again is an interesting article that I found about why many younger people are choosing dress better and give up the slacker look.
- The Impossible Cool is one of my favorite sites of classic styles. I love this site as it shows how most of the classic styles look so great, but it also shows how you can bend the rules as well.
- A Tailored Suit is a great site that explains the basics of fit for shirts and suits.
- Details, Esquire and GQ are a bit more on the trendy side, but most of their looks are from the classics. Master the classic style, then you can add your own touches to it.
Anyway, I hope this helps get you started. I’ll be doing some more posts on style in the future, but these are the things that have gotten me started on my path to dressing better.
I stumbled upon a wonderful song today called “White Wine in the Sun” by Tim Minchin (thanks John Mayer!) that pretty much sums up how I really feel about Christmas. I was sobbing by the end as I thought of my own kids. Thank you Tim for reminding us what’s really important about Christmas. Peace to you all.
Of the millions (billions?) of blogs on the internet, one of my all time favorites is Rands in Repose. With only a few posts a month he’s not a prolific poster, but I usually really like what he has to say. If you haven’t checked him out, do so and if you’re anything like me you’ll appreciate his intelligent and irreverent posts.
So it was with great enjoyment that I read his latest post Up to Nothing about how in this busy world of trying to get everything done sometimes you have to kick your brain into neutral to let it take its own course to those great ideas. I certainly agree as I’ve had some of my best ideas fall out of the sky in a daydream.
But then he talks about going to a bookstore and stumbling upon Wreck This Journal a guide to creativity that encourages, nay, demands the reader to experiment and do destructive things to the book. You rip out pages, put pages in the laundry, spill coffee on them, generally make a mess and see what happens! I’m thinking of picking one up for my daughter and myself.
And then the thought occurred to me – what if I were to approach life this way? Not that I try to destroy my life, but that I drop the fear of doing things “the wrong way”. That life is something to be experimented with and tried out. That I get out there, get crazy, and not be afraid to wreck it.
Having grown up in a strict religious environment I can tell you the pressure of trying to do everything perfectly instills a fear of experimenting with life. I was so afraid of doing things “wrong” and making mistakes that it was hard to truly learn from and enjoy life.
I realize that since leaving “the church” several years ago I have been conducting the grand experiment of my life. Living more like this over the last few years and letting go of doing things the “right” way has made my life so much more fun and interesting! I have learned more about who I am than I ever thought possible, and have grown in such profound ways because I stopped worrying about doing what I was “supposed” to do.
There are times that I fall back into that “habit of perfection”. I usually find that this makes me stressed out and tense because it usually means that I have some ideal of how something should be rather than trying it out and letting it unfold. Too often that image of what something should be is someone else’s idea. It’s like trying to create a masterpiece using paint by numbers. A true masterpiece comes from doing it your way, putting your spin, style, or whatever it is that truly makes it yours. It’s like David Wilcox said in Leave it Like it is:
A life-time of follow the lines/So it’s just like all of the rest
So go out there. Make a mess. Play in the mud. Do things wrong. Don’t be afraid to wreck this life.
This last weekend I discovered an interesting thing about my daughter and myself. As a father I work hard to treat my kids with a lot a love and fairness. But I learned this weekend that I need to treat them a bit differently than I have been. Not that I favor one over the other, but that as they start to become stronger in their own identities, I need to be more sensitive about what each of them needs.
This last Saturday we celebrated my daughters birthday and had quite a bit of fun. One of her presents was a lunch box which looked a lot like a purse, and Sunday she carried it around as if it were a purse. Part of the weekend included some daddy/daughter time, and not really having been able to think of anything else, I took her to the mall for some window shopping. The first thing I did was take her to the Nordstrom’s makeup counter and had them do a “makeover” with a little eye shadow and some lip gloss. I took her over to the mirror afterwards and oh my did she light up! It was delightful! And that’s when it hit me – she needs to feel like she’s a pretty little girl. We did some more window shopping and she got to try on some bracelets and necklaces, and I got her a little one that said “Daddy’s Girl”. We also got her some nail polish and did her nails that night.
Now, you might be wondering why this isn’t something that her mom should be doing. Well, her mother is not the girly-girl type and generally makes fashion decisions based on what is more practical than pretty. I know that there is a girly side in there, but she doesn’t nurture it very much. This was a byproduct of the way that she was brought up by her mother, and it seems that she is falling somewhat into the same pattern.
But before you think that I’m going to be all girly and do lots of girly things with my daughter, what I also realized is that the stronger and more authentically masculine I am as a man, the more she responds in a feminine way, allowing her to relax into her feminine nature. David Deida’s “The Way of the Superior Man” is a fantastic treatise on the dynamics of masculine and feminine polarity, and this truly fits in that dynamic.
Another part of being aware of this is that by me being a “real” man, my daughter will come to expect that is the way she deserves to be treated, and set the example for my son and how he needs to treat women. I know growing up that I really didn’t have much of a clue of how to really treat women due to the way that I was brought up.
Just one more way I’m breaking the bad patterns of my upbringing.
I am a consummate grower. Not as in the garden sense as I have killed my share of plants through simple ignorance, but as in personal sense. I’ve gone through a lot in my life and have worked hard to find that happiness that eluded me growing up. And while I am so much happier than I ever thought I could be and have learned to let the past go, I’m now too often in the future and not enough in the present. I think this habit came from the simple fact that I was so unhappy for so long, that if I didn’t believe that the future would be better, I probably would have given up.
So now I’m working on being in the present, or as the say in Zen Buddhism, “mindfulness”.
It’s not an easy habit to change, but I really want to be more fully present in “now” rather than always thinking about how things will be. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s exciting to think about all things I’ll accomplish and the kind of person I hopefully will become. If I didn’t have anything else to learn about or some way to improve myself, I think I’d go nuts! Life without a challenge would simply be hell for me. But I think an important part of happiness is learning to be happy with who you are now as well as be excited for the you that you’ll become.
I think I finally understand that quote about enjoying the journey and not just think about the destination. It’s a simple idea, but a truly profound one. It’s not easy to find that balance. But if I’m always in tomorrow, I can never really enjoy today. And since tomorrow doesn’t exist yet I’m not truly fulfilled either way.
So how do you stay fully present? How do you savor the moment? How do you relax and enjoy where you are and who you with without worrying about the next thing on your list?
This is not going to be easy, but I think I’m on to something.
I found an interesting post by Scott Bourne about how to improve your photography without buying any new equipment, which he attributed as an extension of the lessons from David DuChemin’s ebook “Ten“. I’m not a great photographer, nor to I have any particular inclination to be one beyond taking some good shots of my kids. But in thinking about it, I found that many of the items are great lessons that can be applied to creating the image of you. So, here goes my ripoff/rewrite of Scott’s great points.
1. Know who you want to be. Make a decision on what’s important to YOU – not to society, your parents, your girlfriend, or your teacher. Decide what’s right for YOU and then stick to it.
2. Don’t give up! It’s not easy to set a goal and then stick to it. But it sure is rewarding. Half of life is patience and perseverance. Gut it out. When it gets hard, dig in your heels and work harder. Work an extra 10 minutes on things you’re working on that spark your passion. Spend an extra 15 minutes a day studying people who you admire. Handle your camera. The more effort you apply, the better the result.
3. Just relax and be yourself. You don’t have to dress and talk like anyone else just to impress people. Just be yourself. This ties strongly to my first suggestion. If you’re not sure who you are, remember, you are NOT your clothes. You are the person BEHIND the image. Don’t be afraid to let that influence your style.
4. See in yourself the things you want others to see in you. Nuff said.
5. Develop your own interests and your own style. Don’t just copy someone else. Your image and skills will never really improve unless you stop copying other people’s ideas and start developing your own. It’s okay – great even – to be inspired by other work. Just don’t copy it. Do something new.
6. Work hard. And then work harder. I have a favorite saying I heard back when I was in high school. “Everybody wants to be a rock star without having to learn the chords.” There’s no getting around the fact that getting good with people involves dedication and hard work. Buying a lot of dating or self help programs or the best clothes in the world won’t do a thing for you if you don’t get off the couch and get out and meet people.
7. Be consistent. If your style is all over the place, it’s a sure sign you haven’t settled who you are and what you want to do with your image. Until you sort that out, nobody else will be able to either. Stick with it.
8. Be positive. With the emergence of online forums and the Internet things can become very negative. Trolls who can’t or won’t do what’s necessary to succeed really, really don’t want you to either. It would force them to come face-to-face with their failures. So ignore them. Stay upbeat. Stay positive. Stay focused on your goals not your detractors. Excise the people, places and things that are a negative influence on your life.
9. Be objective. Be open to constructive critiques of your skills. Step back and get rid of your emotional attachment to your image. Analyze it as a stranger would. Check yourself – to see if you’re hitting the mark you set for yourself. Be willing to admit when you’re wrong and learn from it.
10. Care about the people you meet. Talk to them as if you are going to be the last person to ever get that chance. Whether you’re at a bar, the gym, the grocery story, the movie ticket line, or anything in between, remember, you’re personality and skills can brighten someone’s day and possibly get you a date. If you can focus on that you’ll get better.
Being wrong is a feature, not a bug, if it helps you evolve a model that works: you start out with an idea that’s just plain wrong, but that contains the seed of a better idea. You improve it, and you’re only somewhat wrong. You improve it again, and you end up the only game in town. Otherwise, you are doomed to become extinct. Look at the painful demise of the newspaper industry: