I think it’s safe to say that most, if not all, the menswear bloggers out there hate “business casual”. The whole reason I’m writing this is because of a thread on Style Forum, The Worst Look. I think my favorite quote comes from Kiyoshi:
“Business casual” is the death of style.
I guess this is a tough sell, but I really don’t think you can blame a dress code for the death of style (And yes, I’m fully aware that Kiyoshi is speaking in hyperbole). The dress code that we loathe so much is simply a set of rules. While I could just copy and paste from the Style Forum post, let’s go ahead and wipe away the venom and look at a distilled list:
- A collared shirt (button-down collar, “dress” shirt, polo) or sweater
- Non-denim pants (Chinos or slacks)
- Non-sneakers (loafers/boat shoes/oxfords, etc)
I’ll just go ahead and say this right now with full discretion: this is my office dress code for day to day wear. For “Professional dress” days, we are required to wear at least a tie or a jacket.
But you know what this list also is? It’s a list of items that we, the Menswear bloggers, tell people seeking our advice to buy to build their wardrobe. Have you seen a single list that doesn’t tell you to buy some chinos or a pair of oxfords? Oxford cotton button-downs are so ingrained in our style culture that we are allowed to use the initialism OCBD and still be fully understood.
So if the clothes that are allowed in a “business casual” dress code aren’t to blame, then clearly it’s the wearer. We’ve established a weakened sense of dress in our society, and this “business casual” culture is to blame for the weakening style of men. Just look back to the days when men wore suits every day to work.
Like when? The nineties, when suits were worn so baggy and loose that they could easily shelter another person in them? Or the eighties, with the power suit: pinstriped, double breasted, baggy. I can’t even say anything about the seventies leisure suits that haven’t already been said.
No, of course we mean looking back to the fifties and sixties. Mad Men makes us think that men back in the day dressed impeccably. But we look back with rose-colored glasses, my friends. While we think that dressing Take Ivy makes us cool, we tend to forget that just a scant few years ago, that style of dress was old-fashioned, out-of-style, and nerdy. We wanna be Fonzie, but we dress like Potsie.
The problem is that most people don’t care about clothes. They look at the rules that they are required to follow and they adhere to them without going above and beyond. Just as men of today will wear square toe shoes and polos every day, men of yesteryear wore suits because they were required to. Sometimes, people just want to meet the requirements and go on with their day.
That’s why papers in college have a page requirement: So there is a standard to meet, and a standard to exceed. We are the ones who decide to exceed those standards (like I said, we’re Potsie). If we could change everything and eliminate “business casual” from the workplace, we wouldn’t suddenly turn our offices into J. Crew catalogs: We’d be surrounded by guys wearing ill-fitting polyester suits, hand-me-downs and bad ties.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to change society at-large. Sure, as the current style takes hold, the trends will start to filter its way down, affecting the available clothes in stores and then affecting the way guys dress. But by the time it reaches the masses, the style will have shifted and we will have moved on, even slightly. You can’t make people interested in something they don’t care about, and it’s pointless to blame a set of rules for that simple fact of life.
No, what you should do is dress yourself the way you want. If you work in a place with a business casual dress code, feel free to go above and beyond. Wear a sportscoat, wear a vest. Most of the times, putting on a tie is enough to impress your coworkers. But, if you wake up one morning, exhausted, and decide to put on a pair of khakis and a polo, do it. If you care about how you look, you’ll have already bought well-fitting versions of these. While you might not be wearing anything reblog-worthy, you can at least know that you’re rocking the hell out of Business Casual.
As I said during the weekend, I finally got my chance to venture up to Arden, North Carolina to take part in their fairly regular J. Crew Warehouse Sample Sale. I’d been wanting to go for a while, but once I had enough people interested in going with me, they ended up canceling the event for two months.
So, why should I care? There’s a J. Crew Outlet near me!
The reason you should care is that, unlike the Factory Stores in the various Outlet shops around the country, this Sample Sale (and the Warehouse Store in general) sells stuff made for the main store. The Factory Stores all have products made specifically for them, which tend to be a little worse quality. You can tell a Factory Store product because of the two diamonds on the tag. (Gap and Banana Republic Outlets do the same thing, but use three circles.)
How much off are we talking about?
One of the interesting side effects of constantly checking Tumblr, besides stumbling almost daily upon the absolutely NWS boob shot that is inexplicably posted on a Menswear site, is getting to see the oft-repeated “I’m new to dressing well” questions.
We’ve all been there: Completely overwhelmed by the breadth of knowledge that we need to take in in order to dress better. And sometimes, you just want a respected guide to just tell you what shirt to buy, or what navy blazer would be a great starting piece at a certain price range.
But I’ve also noticed that a fair amount of these Anons (almost always Anons) will start with “I’m new to dressing well” but end with “What is the best brand of unlined linen DB blazers” or “Where can I get some sweet camo dub monks?” Fellas, don’t mistake the Tumblrati’s fixation on fads and niche items as defacto recommendations on building a wardrobe.
In case you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been posting much in the last two weeks, it’s because my bike messed up so I’ve been dressing basic and spending my free time tearing down the engine. But thanks to that, I thought of a great extended metaphor: The Toolbox Approach. And when you think about it, a good wardrobe is put together just like a good toolbox.
All-in-One: You get what you pay for
If you really want a stocked toolbox, all you have to do is go to the store, head to the hardware section, grab one of the all-in-one toolkits and be on your merry way.
The problem, of course, is cost. You can grab the little 20 dollar set, and it’ll work okay for you, for a few months, but eventually, you’ll be right back at the store. Likewise, you can plop down 300 dollars and get the ultra- 1000pc. Mechanic-in-a-box set, which is great but it’s going to set you back. With your wardrobe, you can approach it the same way. You can go to Wal-Mart or you can go to Brooks Brothers, and you can leave with a fully-stocked wardrobe. The difference will be the cost and the quality.
The other problem with the All-in-One approach is that you will inevitably end up with a wide variety of junk you will never, or could ever, need. Most people aren’t going use the star-bit sockets. You’re probably never going to wear that bright orange dress shirt that you thought looked cool while dumping 10 pair of pants in your cart. When you buy all at once, you’ll end up with useless clutter. The best choice is to take your time. You already have clothes, so instead of dumping them all, make do with what you have and slowly integrate better quality, better fitting clothes.
The Bare Essentials
I’m not going to even take up much of your time here.
Hammer. Phillips and flat screwdriver. Adjustable wrench. Flashlight. Tape Measure.
White dress shirt. Light OCBD. Nondescript Chinos. Blazer. Jeans. Socks. Belt. Black captoes.
I just made a list that will cover 90% of your needs. Is it flashy? No. Will it handle every situation? No. But it’s a barebones list that I guarantee everyone who uses tools/cares about clothes has.
I’ve found myself with a pretty great selection of tools at this point. But this time around with the engine, I’ve found myself veering into territory where screwdrivers and vice grips won’t get me where I need to go. I had to look at piston pin pullers, and valve spring compressors. (And true to my thrifting nature, I made those tools with a c-clamp and ingenuity). But even if I did buy these tools ready-made, the point is that you can only get so far on your basic toolkit. But it doesn’t make sense for me to go out and buy valve spring compressors for a car, since I’m only working on motorcycles.
Likewise, my workplace is business casual and has a strict no-denim policy, so being able to wear jeans only during the weekend, it doesn’t make sense for me to buy 5 pair of raw blue denim. Maybe you work in a casual office, so jeans make sense, but you’ll never see yourself in a suit outside of weddings, funerals and job interviews. Then why spend your money getting a DB suit? This isn’t saying you can’t buy that, and I’m not saying I won’t get more selvedge if I find it for cheap. But it’s much more important to get the tools you need than the ones you want.
There’s no one approach towards getting into dressing better. Being overwhelmed is just part of starting out, but soon you will learn the rules and how things should fit. Hopefully you’ll start out small, getting things that you will need instead of wasting money on clothes you won’t wear that me or Alex will snipe at our favorite thrift spot. Once you have the basics down, you can branch out into fitting your career and lifestyle, and eventually, you can find your style.
It’s an interesting time to be into menswear right now, as more and more men seem to be casting off the old “who cares?” attitude and start putting effort in their appearance. If you’re one of the many guys who are making that step, I have to commend you. there are, however, a few things I see that you have to be careful of. Avoid these pitfalls and you’ll be golden.
For guys who wear almost exclusively t-shirts and jeans, stepping outside that comfort zone can be quite terrifying. For those past the neophyte stages, I’m sure you can remember the trepidation you felt when you first put on a tie to go out with your friends. And if you are starting out, you probably know that nervousness all too well.
So you want to dip your toe into a new style, without coming off as stuffy. There are plenty of ways to do this. The fabric, the style of shirt or tie, even something as simple as rolling up your sleeves can alleviate the stuffiness of an outfit. An untucked dress shirt, depending on the length and style, can also achieve this. But if you’re going to wear a tie, sweater, or blazer, you have to tuck that shirt in.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with these looks. If you’ve seen American Idol or a sitcom in the last 10 years, you’ve seen it. You think it comes off as casual, or rebellious, but in reality, you just look sloppy and lazy. If you took the time to tie a tie, you surely have the time to tuck in your shirt.
2) The shoes don’t matter
Like it or not, How I Met Your Mother has had a decent impact on guys wanting to dress better. NPH has led a generation of t-shirted individuals towards putting on suits voluntarily for the first times in their lives. The problem, though, is that “suit up” should really be “suit and shoe up”.
I knew a guy who asked me about good quality suits. After narrowing down his likes and price point, I told him that J. Crew is probably his best bet. He actually went out and bought a Ludlow suit, which even un-tailored fit him really well. Then I noticed his shoes: Square-toed, made of that leather than looks more like rubber than something organic.
I understand that shoes can be a hard sell for a guy getting into clothes, since a decent pair of shoes can easily equal that of a suit. While I know that you may not want to plop down that money, I have to say that a bad pair of shoes will easily undo anything you do up top. I highly recommend using second-hand stores and eBay to shoe hunt, since you can find some amazing deals. At the very least, find some nondescript, round-toe shoes and keep them polished. Use those until you can save up for some old stock Florsheims or Allen Edmonds.
3) Suit up and Coast
The reason I love wearing suits is the way it makes me feel. There’s something powerful about a suit. I’m not of the time when everyone had to wear a suit to work, so I don’t associate it with the daily grind. A suit makes me feel like a million bucks, and I think a lot of guys feel the same way.
And because of our casual culture, putting on a suit when you don’t have to will get attention. Your HR manager will ask if you have an interview, your friends will ask you if you have a date. Someone’s probably going to call you dapper.
But don’t rest on your laurels. It’s a sad fact, but even a bad suit will still get positive comments. If you really asked someone, they might tell you “well, it is a little big here…” or “that doesn’t match…”. Instead, ask yourself:
- Does my pants bunch up a ton at the bottom?
- Is this too long, making me look shorter than I really am?
- Is this too big, making me look like a kid wearing his dad’s suit?
- Does this fall off the shoulders?
If you turn a critical eye on yourself, you’ll pick up on things a lot quicker than if you depend on others to tell you where you’re falling short. Developing a keen eye is one of the most important skills in dressing better.
This little list isn’t meant to insult anyone. These are just little pitfalls that people fall into while improving their style. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that some of these (particularly number 3) have applied to me in the past. Hopefully this will help you avoid those same traps.
In a show of solidarity of Minimum Viable Wardrobe’s Herculean efforts, I have just gone through and whittled my selection of ties.
Note that I didn’t say “collection”. I did at first, and I sat here for a second, trying to think of a better term. A lot of guys seem to try to build the biggest tie collection possible. Every color, pattern, fabric, and shape. Knits, grenadines, repps and maybe paisley if your ballsy. But when it comes down to it, we end up wearing only a handful of these ties. I think out of all these ties, I’ve only worn two or three of them in the last year.
It’s a nice feeling, having this giant tie collection in your closet. You can face the day with any number of choices. But the fact of the matter is you won’t wear them all. If you’re a thrifter, this is an even bigger problem because the ties are so plentiful and cheap, you’ll end up with 40+ before you blink.
If you really want to put your ties to the test, do this: Take 3 of the shirts you wear the most and put them out. Now, take the tie and ask yourself, honestly, if you can see yourself wearing that shirt with that tie. If not? It’s probably time to donate it.
I’ve already touched on the subject earlier this month, but January is the time of lifestyle changes (or attempts) in the form of New Years Resolutions. And as such, there will be a big influx of guys wanting to know how to dress better. And this is great. The more well-dressed gents out there, the better.
But it’s a big step towards dressing well, and for a lot of guys, it can be overwhelming. That’s why we live in a privileged time, where one can find abundant resources in the form of websites, tumblrs, forums and even magazines if one is so inclined. It’s easy to find people who will answer your questions, articles on ways to stay well-dressed in every type of climate, and lists of the essential, must-have items for every man.
But there’s one thing that’s always missing, that is more important than dark denim, more important than Oxford cotton button-downs, more important than even a nice pair of shoes.
Confidence. Swagger. Steez.
Whatever you want to call it, it is hands-down the most important thing you can possess. Because if you aren’t confident in what you are wearing, you will look bad.
I think sprezzatura is one of the most harmful things in someone’s early days of dressing well. You hear that the best dressed always have a certain nonchalance, and you get examples of unlatched double monks and watches on the outside of the sleeve. You’ll be told you shouldn’t look like you spent an hour getting dressed. So you end up spending an hour making sure your tie is just slightly askew, and you end up spending the rest of the day fussing with the “haphazardly” placed pocket square.
And at that point, you’ve missed the entire point. The reason people can pull off sprezzatura is because they have confidence in what they wear. Things might not be perfect, but they wear it proudly and no one can call them on it. It’s the same thing with people like Tumblr darling Nick Wooster. He can wear some very loud, outrageous items, and most people love it. He has the confidence to pull anything off.
There are really two takeaway points I hope you will glean from this article. One is that you should be confident in what you wear. By that, I mean you shouldn’t wear anything you are doubting constantly just because the internet tells you you should wear it. Puffer vests are really big lately, and I’ve seen people wear them with great style. But for me, I always feel foolish and think they look silly on me. That’s why I don’t own one and won’t wear one. I’d rather sacrifice fashion than look uncomfortable with what I put on.
The second point is that you shouldn’t confuse nervousness at the change with a lack of confidence. When you first start wearing suits every day, or wearing button-down shirts, or even just stop wearing ratty jeans, you’re going to be nervous. You’re going to wonder how your friends and coworkers will respond to this change. And that is a natural feeling and we’ve all gone through it. Sure, you might get ragged on by your friends but after a few days, they ignore it. But if you don’t have the confidence in what you are wearing, you’ll look off. If you don’t think what you are wearing looks good, people will pick up that you are uncomfortable in what you are wearing.
If you can feel confident in what you wear, you can wear whatever you want. Even yellow shoes.
I’ve seen, in the last few days, a lot of posts pop up about people’s New Years Sartorial Resolutions. Now, I’m not a huge fan of New Years Resolutions to begin with. Every major life change I’ve made has never come from a resolution. And besides that, a lot of resolutions are either too grandiose or too vague to really ever work.
With that in mind, I wanted to make a few suggestions for everyone. Before you jump the gun into “get bespoke dub monks” and “wear a suit every day”, let me ask you this:
When was the last time you polished your shoes?
Do you iron your shirt every time you wear it, or just when you want to look your best?
Do any of your trousers have creases?
Have you even ever used a suit brush?
While it’s great to want to go gun-ho into the New Year, I think it would be wise to take a step back, and look at all the little things. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I am guilty of a few of these things myself.
So, for the New Year, think over what little steps you can take now, so you don’t have as much to worry about when you make your big ones.
So, a few notes about this look:
1) Normally, I’m all about the Maximalist look. I like experimenting with color and patterns and, well, just throwing stuff together and seeing what sticks. Today, however, I decided to take a step back. I’m not talking about going minimalist, either. As you can see, I did pick one of my favorite ties, the green pin dot, and I went with a spread collar with french cuffs. Instead of silk knots, I went with some simple cufflinks. I’m also wearing grey socks and black captoes.
The result? I think by pulling back on the color and patterns, I’m letting the suit speak for itself. The fabric of the suit is so rich, with a subtle herringbone pattern and a dense wool, that adding too much more to the outfit would really steal the show away from a great suit.
2) I did something a little crazy with the suit before I took the picture. This is the first suit I actually altered, so it has a special place in my heart. But, one of the reasons I don’t wear it too often was that the lapels were too big (pushing 4+ inches) and the button stance was too low.
I’m about average height (5’11”) but proportionally, my torso is longer than my lower body. If you notice, I’ve started shying away from pants that rest on the hip, not just because grown-ass men wear their pants higher, but because the lower I wear my pants, the shorter my lower body is, making me appear short and stubby. Likewise, I tend to favor shorter jackets, because with the jacket ending higher, it stretches out my legs.
This jacket, however, is a fuller length, but the button stance is down near my belly button. Because of that, the lapels form a very long V-shape. This can be great for taller people, as you can see in this picture of Tommy V:
Although that V was created by accident (his button popped off), it definitely lengthens his torso, which is fine in proportion of his legs. For me, combining a long V with a long seat creates the illusion of very short legs.
Now, I can’t really change the button stance. I did think about adding a third button to make it a 3-roll-2 suit, but I’d have to replace all the buttons and that would be a huge hassle. But there have been people who created 3-roll-2 suits out of regular 3 buttons by repressing the lapels.
With that in mind, I looked at the suit and adjusted the lapels. Up top, I moved them in maybe a quarter of an inch. Originally, the lapel covered up about half of the pocket square, while now it covers up only a fourth or so. Using a steam iron, I pressed this new fold, then did the same with the other side, making sure to compare the sides.
The result? First, the lapels don’t look nearly as dated. It also brought the lapels in on the inside (where the tie is), which actually narrows my frame. Originally, there was more shirt showing, which broadened my frame. Finally, the V is moved up about half an inch. Originally, the V ended right at the tip of the button. Now, the V is about where the waist of the coat is, which I think helps even out my proportions overall.
I took a step back in my outfit today to get back to the nuts and bolts. While color and patterns are great, fit and proportion is what truly makes an outfit work.
The Quick Middle Layer
It’s getting to be that time of year, when fall layers aren’t enough but it’s not quite time to bundle up for full-on winter. This morning was pretty chilly, so my trucker wouldn’t have been enough, but a chunky, heavy sweater or coat would have been overkill by the time I had to run to get lunch. With only a few minutes to spare before I had to be out the door, I opened my sweater drawer and grabbed this half-zip pullover.
It really illustrated to me the importance of having a go-to middle piece. Well, truth be told, I’m a fan of at least one go-to outfit in case of “oh shit, I forgot to set my alarm” but I’ve now realized that a quick layer is great to have on hand, too.
In college, this probably would have been a hoodie. And if it was a weekend, something like a heather gray sweatshirt would work too. But for work, I felt they were a little too casual. I wouldn’t have been able to wear them around the office. The half-zip met me midway, allowing me to pull off business casual around the workplace until I was warmed up enough to pop it off.
I think the thing about this sweater is that it’s versatile, which is what you want in a go-to piece. It’s neutral tone can blend itself in with any outfit and I feel that the zip adds a casualness of outerwear instead of a more, preplanned look of a normal sweater.
Long story short, make sure you have a go-to piece that you can grab without thinking. It might keep you from being frozen and late.
I think one of the core debates in the menswear world is the idea of functionality. I don’t necessarily want to lend credence to stereotypes, but there is the concept of men wanting their stuff to serve a purpose; superfluousness need not apply. But should the lack of function really cause someone not to buy a piece of clothing?
Just to get it out of the way early, yes, a balance between looks and use is the best choice. The tie clip is my primary example of this. Sure, a lot of people wear them because they look nice. At my job, I have to climb under desks to access computers, carry heavy boxes, and on days I wear a tie, it can get frustrating having it flop around so I wear a tie clip. I could, say, use a paper clip to hold it in place, but there’s no reason not to go for looks when function is nailed down. The same can be said for sunglasses. We buy sunglasses to keep the sun out of our eyes, but we choose sunglasses based on the shape of the lens, the style and the color. With the exception of the lens color, these don’t affect performance at all.
But we don’t always get to live in a perfect world with perfect choices. And besides, these items are really more necessity than desire. So the choice between fashion and function lies in our wants rather than needs.
It’s easy to take this to the extreme points. It’s easy to forgo fashion altogether for function. I don’t think anyone really thinks their bottle opener belt buckle or phone holster looks cool. They might think it’s neat, but deep down, they know that they are sacrificing looks for function. On the other end, you have the slaves to fashion, where the clothes can’t possibly serve any purpose. Thom Browne’s three-legged pants, I’m looking at you.
You, my faithful reader, I suspect are not on either end of these poles. But I do suspect that you do tend to lean in one direction. And as I stated at the beginning, there is a tendency to lean towards utilitarian items. And I’m here to say that you shouldn’t get hung up on functionality unless you need it.
And my main argument? Pockets.
I remember seeing a debate on a pair of slim wool cargo trousers. Many people liked the look, but were against the item because the pockets simply couldn’t carry that much stuff. I found this weird, because the reason cargo pants were so despised for so long was that the puffy pocket messed with the overall silhouette. The reason cargo pants came back in vogue was the slim design. But the desire for function struck hard and there was a backlash.
“Why have pockets if you can’t use them?”
That’s a good question. But men’s clothing always has pockets that we don’t use. How many of us use the ubiquitous 5th pocket in our jeans? The true centerpiece of men’s clothing, the suit jacket, is the prime example. I know that many of us do use the interior pocket. It’s a handy, easily accessible pocket perfect for something such as your cell phone.
But what about the rest of the pockets? The breast pocket is used for pocket squares, but that’s not a real function beyond adding more aesthetics. We don’t even use our silk handkerchiefs for their intended purpose. You can use the lower pockets for small items, but once you start to fill them, they ruin the shape of the coat. And really, how many of us have clamored over a jacket because of the addition of the sign of quality, but ultimately useless, ticket pocket?
We have buttonholes in our lapels where there are no corresponding buttons. Yes, you can put a flower in there, but that’s not function. We never button the bottom button of a coat, so why even have it there? And ultimately, what is the purpose of a tie? What possible use is it other than to add color, texture, and possibly be strangled with?
There’s no real answer. Most of these things were, at one point, functional. The lapel buttonhole did have a button, but most people stopped using it but liked having a hole to put a flower in. And tradition is the reason all these things endure to this day. But there’s no sense in pretending that they help add towards an outfit of ultimate usefulness. The purpose of clothes is to protect our bodies from the elements and our dignity from leering eyes. Such trifles like color and pattern don’t matter. But we still buy clothes because we love the black watch pattern.
So the next time you look at that slim cargo pant, or at a collar pin, or whatever else that catches your fancy, and you find yourself wondering what purpose it serves, remember that most of what we do with our clothes is for looks. If you want to buy it because it looks neat, then do so. It’s why we buy anything, really.