Conformity and Experimentalism

I would say that clothes and fashion are not inherent traits.  Unlike other forms of expression that can manifest with little to no training, dressing well is not only subjective but something that is hard to capture in words.  You (before you got into this world) might see a well-dressed guy and think “Man, that guy looks really sharp”, but you can’t necessarily put into words why.  Likewise, a lot of guys will think “I wish I dressed better” without being able to point out how they dress bad.

For this reason, the man who begins to “dress better” needs a lot of structure and rules; for lack of a better term, conformity.  Now, when I say conformity, I’m not using it as a negative.  On the contrary, I’m using it to describe the state where one follows the instructions exactly and emulates the looks they see and like.  The structure comes from our options:

For a casual office, a well fitted pair of chinos or dark wash jeans are great choices.

This provides us with directions that are open ended enough so we don’t feel like we are being dressed as opposed to being taught how to dress.  On the other side, we have to have rules, where we are told what not to do:

Don’t wear socks with sandals.  You’ll look like a dork.

This creates the boundaries we need within the instructions, as well as explanations (admittedly, they are pretty shallow like mine is) as to why the rule is there.  Most of the times, magazines will give you both in one blurb:

Graphic t-shirts make you look like you are waking up for your noon class.  Try a henley or a button-up shirt with no tie and the sleeves rolled up for a nice, put-together but casual look.

This is the first step in dressing better, in my opinion, and it’s the most important.  It is through the structure and rules that you begin to learn about putting together outfits, dressing to highlight your positives and hide your negatives, and generally get the gist of fashion.  

You try to emulate the looks in GQ or on Tumblr or the look of a celebrity in order to understand why it works or not.  This is like emulating a painting by one of the old masters, where you learn the tools that you need.  

Everyone goes through this, but unfortunately, some people get stuck here.  And, well, that’s fine if they are happy.  If you are content copying the J. Crew lookbook, then your journey is over and you are happy with the way you dress.  But the next step is when you find your own personal style.  The next step is experimenting.

Experimenting can take many different forms.  You might look at the way you dress, then find another style that you like and you start integrating elements from that.  Maybe you add some streetwear into your prep style, or start wearing Neapolitan-inspired suits instead of your raw denim.  Or maybe you might start reading a lot of blogs about fashion and trends, and you start adopting the newest looks into your repertoire.  This might mean buying a camo pocket square, slim cargo pants, or maybe even dropcrotch pants (but please, don’t buy dropcrotch pants).  You start experimenting with unique colors and patterns, accessories people haven’t thought of, random ways of buttoning a coat, or any number of different options.  If you go way far into this spectrum, you could end up as the guy you see in The Sartoralist or the guy who gets passed around tumblr, your image usually followed with a caption of:

You know, I can’t pull that off in a million years, but this guy is rockin’ it.  Swag x100

Of course, you could also look like an idiot.  But hey, that’s the risk you take with experimentation.

The goal, in my opinion, is to find that sweet spot on this spectrum where you feel the most comfortable.  I think for most of us, the extremes aren’t going to cut it.  We don’t want to look like a homeless alien, but we also don’t want to look like we’re Single White Female-ing Tom Ford either.  

I think that Dan. T over at The Style Blogger is a great example of finding a personal balance (in my opinion, he’s leaning more towards experimental).  Another great example is The Silentist.  In fact, the whole reason he started his blog was to chronicle his journey to discover his personal style and it’s a fascinating look on top of him being a great blogger with lots of good insight.

He’s a great example of someone who has found a good place on the spectrum.  He has a personal uniform that leans towards the conformity side (once again, this is not a negative term.  Uniforms are great).  However, if you’ve been keeping up with his site (and you absolutely should), you’ll notice that he also branches out, trying new color and pattern combinations, new materials, and even has adopted an element or two from other genres of style (Adding workwear outerwear into his wardrobe).  

The best example, which popped into my head as soon as I thought about this article, is his navy blazer with red decoration.  This jacket is the perfect blend of conformity and experimentation.  The color choice is bold and eyecatching, the buttons are different from the typical blazer button, and the use of cuff color is pretty unique.  At the same time, the jacket itself is ubiquitous with conformity, it fits in with the rest of his wardrobe in cut and style, and allows the rest of his outfit to play supporting roles.

The idea of conformity and experimentalism, where you ultimately fall, if you even move along the spectrum, is strange in the fact that I can’t tell you what will happen.  I will say that everyone starts out in conformity, in some way, but I can’t tell you if you’ll move around or how far or when you’ve found your sweet spot.  I do know that I haven’t found mine yet.  But that’s okay.  The journey to find my personal style is a fun one, and I hope it is for you too.

  1. thesilentist reblogged this from girouxmcisaak and added:
    While we’re talking about experimenting, I want to encourage you to read this great essay from girouxmcisaak on these...
  2. maisonluppiter said: Great post, man
  3. girouxmcisaak posted this