- Dec 3, 2009
- Reaction score
I offer here my tentative hypotheses regarding rules for “good dress.” I offer them for discussion because much of what I have read on the subject seems superficially reasonable but less and less persuasive over time. I am happy to amend or even abandon these “rules” if I am persuaded otherwise. So have at it, my people: 1. Color theory is overrated – While I don’t dispute the fact that some colors will flatter you more than others, the oft-cited rules-of-thumb are pretty much worthless. Consider, for instance, Michael Caine in Alfie. The prophets of color tell us that people with his hair and skin color should avoid blue. Yet Caine looks stunning in his navy and French blue suits and jackets. I’m supposed to look bad in tan and khaki and good in mid-greys … but – I look good in the former and bad in the latter. You have to use your own eyes and learn to trust them. Flusser can’t be trusted. 2. The more handsome you are, the less dandyish you should dress – When you wear multiple patterns, contrasting colors, and flamboyant apparel (say, ascots, bow-ties, jewelry, etc.) you are drawing the eyes away from the face. If you’re only so-so looking, then “dandy” is the road for you. If you’re an 8 or better, go minimalist. Cary Grant knew what he was doing. So did Fred Astaire. They embraced different styles for a reason. 3. Clothes send signals and you should care about those signals – There is plenty of relativism out there which counsels you to dress in the colors, styles, and what-have-you that you like. To a large degree, of course, you should; your dress should give you pleasure. But … what you wear speaks loudly to others about who you are. If you care about how others perceive you (and most of us do), then you have to take those sartorial signals into account and modify your preferences accordingly. 4. You have more leeway regarding proportion than you think – Many will argue that the proper width of your coat’s shoulder, lapels, etc. are dictated by your body type. To some extent this is correct. But there is plenty of room here for personal preferences. Slavishly adopting big (or narrow) shoulders because a tape measure dictates exactly this or that is unnecessary. Much like color theory, the key is to trust your eyes. For instance, I have a narrow face and should – pace Flusser – go for narrow shoulders. But I look far better with a little shoulder width than I do in more exactly fitted shoulders given my torso (15” neck, 40” chest, 33” waist); the resulting “V” offers more aesthetic advantages than disadvantages in my case. I think you have to go pretty far into the big or narrow shoulder market to jump the sartorial shark. 5. Two cheers for fashion – Many here embrace the Mantonian perspective; fashion is an evil whore who will lead you astray, suck-out your cash, and deposit you into the sartorial darkness. I have come to believe that this is for the most part bunk. Good designers can synthesize a coherent look by combing elements of this and that and whether you like the final product is more a matter of subjective preference than anything else (bad designers combine elements that are discordant, incoherent, or poorly considered so I’m not referring to them). Of course, a heavy man cannot wear a Ralph Lauren black label suit to advantage (for instance), but beyond that rather obvious caveat, there is nothing wrong with embracing a well-considered “in” style. If it looks good on you, it will never be a mistake to wear it (whether it will remain eternally trendy is, of course, another story). The third cheer is missing because excessive fashion-ist instincts can close the mind. Witness the il-considered thunder often directed at big-shoulder looks here that are perfectly fine on the wearer but not particularly fashionable at the moment. Given that there are many “fashions” to choose from today (Tom Ford and RL to some degree, for instance, are going big shoulder in an era of elf suits), I rather doubt any but the more extreme variations will be unwearable in the foreseeable future. 6. Confidence (and self awareness) is everything – If you have to ask whether you can wear an ascot, a bow tie, a blazer with gold or brass buttons, etc., then you can’t. You have to wear outlier apparel (defined as that which is not seen every day) with confidence. If you do, you can get away with almost anything save for the extinct items such as top hats, bowlers, canes, etc. There is something tremendously appealing about self confidence and you can demonstrate yours to great effect by wearing these sorts of clothes and accessories. Caveat – no matter how hard you may try, you might just look like a kid playing dress-up in a fedora. Your eyes will tell you whether a look “works” for you and, sometimes, no matter how confident you might be about it, you just look stupid in the mirror. In that case, don’t force the issue. 7. Elegance is under-rated – If we define elegance pace Wikipedia -
… then we might want to keep in mind that minimalist dress (as defined in 2 above) is both more modern (in keeping with the modern view, that is, that “less is more” and that form should follow function) and tasteful if our loadstar for “taste” is popularly defined (an important caveat because taste is subjective). Too often the discussion boards conflate sophisticated, complex dress with elegance and minimalist dress with novice or thoughtless dress. You may not prefer elegance, but it too often dismissed without much thought as being too easy for more sophisticated dressers. 8. “Classic style” is no better than “x style” – Blasphemy to some, I know, but it is simply a matter of subjective preference whether you want to dress in an unassuming manner or whether you want your style to be more arresting. Now, I tend towards the classic myself, but I leaven the look with choices designed to bring me as close to the “ideal physique” as possible. Suits are rather sexual representations of the underlying body and there’s no reason not to appreciate that and do your best with it (or so say I anyway). You may not want to go too far to accentuate the good or disguise the bad, but if so, your choice is no better (objectively speaking) than another. Overstatement is in the eye of the beholder of course. 9. Always dress as if you’re going to meet your future wife (or mistress) – First impressions count for far more than any other and you never know when serendipity will put you in front of someone you will want to impress. Believe it or not, there are actually academic studies showing that men who dress well and (seemingly) expensively are far, far more attractive to women upon “first meet” than are men who do not or dress street bohemian (no matter how stylish they may be). This is the second-best argument for dressing well. The first-best argument is that it takes no more effort to dress well than to dress slovenly and we all feel better when we look our best. 10. Texture is under-appreciated – Mixing texture well is a lost art and is as aesthetically powerful – if not more so – than mixing patterns or colors well. The plebes wear everything smooth. The sophisticated dresser does not.Elegance is the attribute of being unusually effective and simple. It is frequently used as a standard of tastefulness, particularly in the areas of visual design and decoration. Elegant things exhibit refined grace and dignified propriety. Some associate elegance with simplicity and consistency of design, focusing on the main or basic features of an object, its dignified gracefulness, or restrained beauty of style.