April 13, 2009 | 65 Comments
It’s Spring, so it’s high time we talked about men’s fashion.
Update: George Will and Daniel Akst from the Wall Street Journal have weighed in.
We’ll do women at another time, but for those who can’t wait, here’s a teaser: no wide-rimmed dark sunglasses. Although they are very popular, they add at at least five years to your looks. Understand me, lady: you look old wearing these.
The following rules have been derived and investigated over the course of a rough and storied life. They are not my rules: they have been handed down through the ages. Complicated statistical models have been employed. Mathematics that rival the most perplexing string theory have been used. Experts have been consulted. Rigorous experiments have been carried out.
These basic rules are therefore infallible, inviolable, inarguable.
Rule 1 Dress for the job! All other rules flow from this one. It’s the most obvious, but also the most abused.
The corollaries—or practical implementations—to this rule are many and varied. We won’t, therefore, have time to cover more than the most common settings.
a. If you are mucking about in the sewers, the fields, or you are a plumber or carpenter, if you fix cars or you are a cog on an assembly line, jeans are just the thing. Canvas, or fire hose-style rough cotton pants are preferred substitutes. Khaki, dark blue, white, or black are de rigueur. Other colors, such as purple, orange, red—any primary color, really—are unacceptable. Jeans should be worn at the hip and not lower. Leave decorations on pants to the kids.
If you are not in a profession where you are required to bend, twist, drag, drop, or drudge, then you must not wear jeans!
If you work in any office, even one in which you are the manager of people who do honest labor, jeans are still forbidden.
No, no—I anticipate your complaints. “But I spent $300 on these jeans. They’re expensive!” Yes, I agree: they are expensive. They are also jeans. Jeans are wore by laborers—an honest and worthy band of men—but if you are not a laborer, you do not wear jeans.
b. There is no such thing as “Dress-down Friday.” Ignore this rule completely. It is a setup for suckers, a device to see who would slack if given the opportunity. The people who dress down are always the first to go—and rightly—when times get tough.
c. Another exception for jeans, and other rough clothing like shorts, is the company jamboree, church picnic, or similar outing. Acceptable clothing includes knit pullovers with the company or organization logo. Even t-shirts may be worn, provided that they are not in public view on the way to and from the place of activity.
Rule 2 Always wear t-shirts. Undershirts, that is. They soak up sweat and extend the life of your shirts.
With two exceptions, never wear a t-shirt as your outer garment.
This includes those t-shirts on which is printed an aphorism that you find hilarious, or that mention a destination at which you once appeared and are anxious to advertise. Wearing t-shirts as a primary garment make you look like somebody who cannot be trusted with responsibility. Furthermore, the kind of person who believes a philosophy can be succinctly splayed across their chest is not somebody decision makers want to associate with.
It is never so hot out that you can get away with a t-shirt. Wear a loose linen shirt in the heat.
The first exception to the rule is, of course, sports. If you are playing a sport, a t-shirt is fine, even necessary. But if you are only watching, it is not. The second is labor; but if you indulge, at least wear a pocket t-shirt, they are handy for your pencil.
Rule 3 Wear a suit most of the time.
If you do not regularly wear a suit, think of it this way. Each day you wear a pair of pants and a shirt, correct? A suit is just that: a pair of pants and a shirt, together with a jacket that you slip on. A jacket fills you out, corrects your proportions, and makes you appear dressed.
Nothing could be easier than wearing a suit. It is a uniform. No thinking has to be done in the morning deciding on what to wear: just put on the next suit in line. Over the internet, custom-made suits can be had for about two to three hundred bucks.
Do not try getting by with a pair of slacks and boldly colored shirt. If you do not wear a jacket, your shirt has to fit perfectly, or else you risk looking unkempt. Most men wear shirts that have too much room in the waist, the material billowing from the belt like a pot boiling over. Sleeves are too wide, especially near the underarm. The trend—due to the absence of a jacket—has been toward expensive cloth and excessive color and pattern. Put on a jacket and the shirt becomes a mere detail.
Suit colors in the fall and winter should be dark. In the spring and summer, they should be light. Too many men continue to wear navy blue all through the hottest months. An off-white suit looks spectacular in August, and it is cooler because it is made of lighter-weight material.
To head off the most common objection: Suits are too comfortable! If yours is not, it is because it is ill fitting. The problem is with what you bought, it is not because your garment is a suit.
Rule 5 Ties are not necessary. A tie, or cravat if you are elderly, adds the necessary balance to your neckline when your shirt is buttoned and you are wearing a jacket. If you leave your shirt unbuttoned (wearing a jacket), an acceptable stylistic choice, no tie is necessary. A tie without a jacket is incomplete.
Unless it is Halloween, under no circumstances should you wear a novelty tie. If you do tie one on, you may as well wear a lampshade for a hat, for you have crossed the line that separates civilized man from the barbarian.
Unless your fashion eye is fully developed, then opt for simple colors and patterns.
Rule 6 Shoes should have leather soles at work.
Tennis shoes, sneakers, and so forth, are acceptable only on the tennis or basketball court, etc. They should never be worn elsewhere. If you are a laborer, wear boots or heavy shoes. They are more manly.
Leather-soled shoes used to be more expensive than rubber-soled ones, but given the price of logo-encrusted “designer” tennis shoes, this is no longer the case. Properly cared for, leather shoes will last forever. Nothing is more disconcerting than seeing a man wearing a proper suit who is also wearing a pair of cheap, rubber-soled shoes. It ruins the entire outfit and makes the man appear clumsy and amateurish.
It is a lie that rubber-soled shoes are more comfortable. Do not scrimp on footwear: discount shoes are no bargain. Buy fewer pairs of leather shoes and take the time to care for them. This includes regular polishing, which must be done at least every third wearing.
Leather-soled shoes also lets your underlings hear your approaching footsteps. Creeping along with rubber soles breaks the tacit adversarial agreement bosses have with employees. If your employees don’t know where you are, they become skittish and unnecessarily furtive.
Rule 7 Try a hat.
Hats keep your head warm in the winter, cool in the summer; they shade your eyes, and keep the rain from your face. They give a sense of fuller proportionality when wearing a suit.
The more clothes you have on, the wider the brim of the hat. Wear a suit, then wear a fedora, or homburg, pork pie, or if you are feeling frisky, a boater. Men who wear hats deservedly get more respect than those without. Besides the obvious savior faire, hats indicate intelligence and fine temperament. Everybody wants to spend time with the man in the hat.
Hats also let you spend less time with your hair. One of the more depressing trends has been the increase in men “teasing” their hair with goo, attempting to make it look spiky, and tousled, like they don’t care. Men who do this are desirous of “sending a signal”, which they are. It is: I am vain.
Golf caps can be acceptable, obviously when you are engaged in sports, but keep their use to a minimum. Also see Rule 9.
Rule 8 Hair length should be proportional to the amount left.
In other words, if you are going bald, your hair must be kept short. Comb-overs never, not once in the history of the world, have fooled anybody. Sporting one suggests your furtiveness is habitual: you will not be trusted, nor should you be.
Never dye. Gray gracefully. Blow-dried helmet-hair, like that worn by newsreaders or politicians, makes those in your presence wary. People will instinctively check for their wallet after talking to you.
If your hair is recalcitrant, grease may be used to tame it, as long as the amount used cannot readily be discerned.
Unless you sport a beard or a moustache—which you should trim assiduously—shave! Stubble indicates laziness. It is not manly: you never saw John Wayne unshaven. Yes, he got away with a rug—you will not—because he was in the movies and you are not.
Rule 9 With very few exceptions, NEVER wear a visible logo.
The sole exceptions are the jamboree or picnic mentioned above. Sports logos can be done, but should be restricted to the ballpark.
Wearing a logo—e.g., a pocket crest, a jacket’s manufacturer, especially the “designer” of a shoe—indicates a certain femininity, and suggests you want too much to be liked. It tells the world you are easily led, that you prefer the commercials to the Super Bowl.
A visible mark from a manufacturer or “designer” is an attempt to fool people into thinking it’s wearer is fashionable. True fashion is anonymous, it speaks for itself.
Rule 10 If you are going to take your jacket off, wear a vest, or waistcoat. This minor tip is brilliant, because it allows your shirt or belt or suspenders to be of inferior quality. And when you take your jacket off, you still look dressed. You can skimp on the ironing because the wrinkles in your shirt won’t be as noticeable.
Vests also cover the bottom of ties, so that you can concentrate on the knot, the most important part. This is beneficial because older ties, antique ones, were not made as long as today’s ties—because men wore waistcoats. When you come across a beautiful old tie, you will now be able to buy it.
Naturally, I don’t claim to follow all the rules; they are ideals. For me, a good day is one where I remember to zip my fly, or to match my shoes.
Due to the sensitive nature of this subject, some will like to respond by email. Do so. All questions will be answered in subsequent posts. firstname.lastname@example.org