(That’s almost as many as the number of episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show…) For a question as trivial as “how do I improve my style and my appearance?”. Google was warning me…
All these answers to that existential question that a man asks himself at least once in his life:
“What should I wear for a first date, a job interview, or a wedding?”
Because knowing how to dress well is an undeniable quality. But developing your style when you’ve spent a good part of your life acquiring bad habits (see this article “Those bad habits that you (really) need to kick”) is as difficult as honoring your gym membership…
Not to mention the disappointment when your friends ask you with a forced smile if you’re “trying to be a fashionable guy” when you make the (admittedly somewhat clumsy) effort of wearing an original shirt and looking the best you’ve ever looked.
Or the traumatic experience of being coerced into purchasing a basketful of items by the sales assistant in a department store when you didn’t want to buy anything.
Or even that feeling of powerlessness when you find yourself face to face with an incomputable number of possibilities when you just want a new pair of jeans for your wardrobe.
It goes without saying that unless you’re really interested in a subject, you’ll give up easily – because of a lack of motivation, but also because of a lack of concrete references to guide you.
Too little (useful) content about men’s fashion
As surprising as it might be, there isn’t a single medium (magazine, blog, book, video) that makes men’s fashion consistently accessible to the average guy.
The press’ coverage of men’s fashion is either very technical and specialist (streetwear, suits, watches, designers) – which is fascinating but pointless most of the time – or very general and obscure. Darn it! You can’t help but wonder if they’re not doing this on purpose.
But listen to this: having style is about dressing in a way that’s appropriate to your personal background, your culture, and, above all, your budget. It’s not about finding the piece that will make you the coolest guy at the party.
And while discussing this topic with Ben over the course of an afternoon, I realized that the difficulties of dressing well could be grouped into four overarching problems…
Overthinking, or the art of being right but still being wrong
What’s great about being curious is that you can start your internet session with a Google search and end it playing on Farmville or looking at LOLcat images. Conversely, you can fall into the (bad) habit of seeking out and accumulating information just for the feeling of having knowledge – information which, instead of clarifying the topic of your research, only makes it more confusing!
I understand why people end up on the latter path. But that insatiable thirst for knowledge, the need to understand and theorize a subject, comes at a price! When it comes to clothes, researching an item is almost like using a mathematical formula to work out the values of the pros and cons. Asking yourself 10,000 questions about a shirt: the shade of the fabric, the size of the pockets, the width of the collar… Basically, becoming a walking Wikipedia article on men’s fashion – but not knowing how to organize and prioritize all this information, and even less so how to apply it!
In practice, you find yourself giving interminable scientific speeches about colors and cuts, and having heated discussions about the merits of Japanese denim, yet having no idea what to buy. Basically, you find yourself in a situation as strange as a Pokémon vs. Digimon fight – and, masochistically, you kind of enjoy being there.
That’s because you’ve intellectually idealized this kind of research, whose results don’t really help you in real life when you’re looking for a concrete outfit that suits you. Case in point: I’m still waiting to witness someone successfully reproduce a look from a men’s magazine, whose looks seem to play in the domain of artistic abstraction – mentally stimulating, but totally out of place when put into the context of a person’s everyday life.
Rather than drowning in a pool of information gleaned on the internet, save images you come across that inspire you, and have fun adapting them to your own needs (don’t worry if the pieces you have aren’t exactly the same). You have to start somewhere, and you’ll learn faster by doing than by thinking.
The budget and coherence of an outfit: a tale of outrage
Buying reduced luxury clothes alone won’t make you stylish. I know that money is a huge obstacle. And that spending money on clothes is just a “waste” for a lot of people. However, in practice, there’s the problem of having a bad wardrobe that brings down almost every new purchase you make, thus preventing you from making any real progress. The most common mistake: wearing the Armani jacket you bought in the sales with a pair of vomit-blue jeans, probably faded with Tide detergent, that make your jacket look like an item from a thrift store. You can have as many pieces worth $1,000 as you like, but if you don’t have the patience to make sure they harmonize with the rest of your wardrobe, or the salary to fund them, I just don’t see the point.
Mixing pieces of different qualities will ensure that things turn bad as quickly as a jar of mayonnaise left out of the fridge overnight. It’s more a question of a lack of coherence than a lack of taste. Think about it: it’s almost certainly never occurred to you to eat caviar with coke lite, put your clean laundry in the same draw as your dirty laundry, or even add a Rebecca Black song to your iTunes…
When it comes to your budget, consider buying within the following price ranges:
- shirt: $120 – $200
- jeans: $150 – $350
- jacket: $250 – $800
- coat: $550 – $1,200
- casual shoes: $250 – $550
- t-shirt: $10 – $70
- sweater: $70 – $200
This should give you an idea of how much good-quality pieces of clothing cost. Clearly, there are some items that you can’t “cheat” with in terms of how much you spend, such as shoes, jackets and coats. Prices also depend on the hype and exclusivity of the brand.
Overestimating the power of detail, or the art of worrying about nothing
Buying an outfit on a whim is often a mistake, as experience proves. You tell yourself “this piece is awesome, it’s just so unique and perfect”. And then, just when you go to put it on for the first time, you see it hanging there awkwardly in your closet, and start having second thoughts. The following year, it ends up either in a thrift store or in the hands of your younger brother via emotional blackmail.
Just as the sales are made to trigger a desire to buy, so are the flashy details on the products of some luxury brands. Buy for yourself, not to impress others. True luxury consists in your originality, and not the name of a designer or a pair of sneakers that cost you $800.
No single item of your outfit determines whether you’re well-dressed or not. It’s the item’s coherence with your personality and the elegance with which you manage to give it your own flavor, drawing on your culture and your story. Detail can help you dress well, yes, but only when you understand its role and purpose. For example, if you’re spending a night with the guys, you can show up in a hoodie and sweatpants and still look good if the details on said hoodie and sweatpants create the impression that your outfit is more than what a pimple-faced teenager would wear because they didn’t have anything else to put on.
Social pressure, or how to avoid making a fool of yourself
This is a difficult one. Finding your style is ultimately finding what suits you the most, and discarding what doesn’t suit you. Taking this as your starting point, what are you supposed to do when other people are trying to impose on you a stylistic vision that isn’t your own (especially when those people are in your close circle, meaning endless shopping sprees with your girlfriend, being bought clothes for Christmas that you would never wear, etc….)?
Not to mention the continuous mockery directed at someone who’s trying to improve his physical appearance from his friends, who are often far from practicing what they preach. I don’t think there’s any point writing 10,000 paragraphs about this. You’re never going to please everyone. The ideal is to find the perfect balance between an outfit that is acceptable to your peers, but still personal enough to please you.
Rather than getting into debates with people over the nitty gritty of dressing well, take note of outfits that work in real life, and those that don’t. Try them out, adapting them to your style (the pieces you have, your personality and mood, your budget) rather than trying to copy and paste them onto yourself. Make them personal, and see what happens.
The easiest places to find inspiration are online lookbooks.
You’ll get quite a few ideas from http://lookbook.nu//. (Click on “guys” under “gender” at the top-left of the screen.)
I’d also advise you to take a look at http://droptokyo.com/street/
Another way to get inspired is to browse forum posts on the topic of “what are you wearing today?” – you’ll find them all over the internet if you do a Google search. Here are some to start you off:
Create an “inspiration” folder on your desktop with “do” and “don’t” folders inside, so that you can save and categorize the images you come across for future reference.
Did you find this post (kind of) helpful?
This is only part III of a trilogy of posts on “how to develop your style”. Make sure you check out the other two, written by Ben:
- How to develop your style – part I : finding a style that (really) suits you
- How to develop your style – part II : refining your taste