Okay, I think I understand what you are on about (the try hard comment was partly tongue in cheek but I think you got me there ;-)
So "hard" is about contrasts, often too stark; straight lines, dark vs light, shine versus dark matt... as you say your typical "power dressing". Personally I don't see anything inherently wrong with the dark plain navy suit, power red tie, napisan white shirt, shiny black captoes look, apart from it's boring and predictable. Softening it up with a lighter (dare I say it blogger) blue suit, black or dark brown brogues, patterned moroon tie, light blue shirt... if nothing else it's more interesting and shows more personality and imagination. You might call that "softer".
As far as casual goes, there is no doubt that stark contrasts can be in your face - e.g. a bright pink shirt under a muted jacket a la Preston. You might call this high contrast style "hard", which it probably is, but I'm not sure it's any less viable than a "soft" expression, say if you replace the bright shirt with a powder blue one. The two types of dress communicate different things. One is louder and full of contrast (harder), one is softer and blends elements of an outfit. Depending on your context and your personality I would argue both are equally acceptable, all other things being equal.
Personally, I'm probably a "soft" dresser 80% of the time. Makes up for my hard face. Sometimes I'll dress hard as well if I'm in a confident mood. Dressing hard is fine as long as you understand what you're communicating when you do it.
PS - congratulations Rob.
yeah thats the general thrust of what I'm on about.
Hard isn't just about contrast - all black always looks hard, funnily enough stark arctic white is always hard too. Off whites not so much.
Theres nothing intrinsically wrong with a hard look - if thats what you are after - but its generally an unapproachable look and doesn't invite people in. You have to work hard personally, and you can, to over come the overall effect of hard and repelling. (I'm thinking here of Horney's 3 basic modes Towards, Against, Away). Some people look inviting naturally, build, stance, face, colouring, eyes etc and they can dress hard and convey different meanings, others look hard and need to dress softer to convey humanity.
I used to be told I had dark penetrating,scary eyes that, combined with black hair and a swarthy appearance, put people off, (especially when I wore,shades black leather jacket on black jeans and black leather boots!), now thats alright if you want to put people off, or going to a gig at a sticky carpet pub, but , at least these days, I rarely want to push people away. I was most dramatically made aware of it some years ago when a well known feminist commented on a loose knitted grey woollen jumper I was wearing made her see/regard me as a different more approachable, less hard person, more trustworthy.
It all depends on context - I also love a hard look at times - especially in business city dress - and if its a group where everyone knows you well then it just looks pretty damn smart. If however you are meeting with a group for the first time you need to consider how you want to be seen and responded to. Sometimes if I'm representing an organisation, say up on stage giving a speech or presentation, handing out prizes, depending on the context, then the full hard rig is just right - it lend an air of responsibility, representing others NOT just myself, fiduciary duty, care, respect for the occasion, and so on.
My issue is people don't think about it enough and explore options.
In this respect I have long been influenced by the general thrust of what Goffman says.
Its also part of my trying to understand what might be an Australian approach to menswear (outside of the Billabong/Ripcurl/ Dads jeans/ t shirt / "I must be comfortable" aesthetic.
Looking at films and trying to workout what is being conveyed by the clothes is a rewarding and educating experience. In modern movies (in old movies stars - males in particular - were required to supply their own clothes for the character - which is why, amongst other reasons, watching Cary Grant is useful) each piece of clothing is chosen by wardrobe/director to give meaning in context. Sometimes it will undercut dialogue and present a counterpoint and contribute to ambiguity in others it will be consistent and reinforce the dialogue and narrative drive and curve.
Its a long while since I watched CO The film.
But with a quick look at the snap above you can see a lot of contradictions - bowler hats are a symbol of London City Financial,and Guards, wear although originally a working class rural hat, braces - high waisted pants, violent blokes but drinking milk......