If I Could Speak to My Younger Self
In my time as a man interested in men’s clothing and style, I’ve made many mistakes, some of them very expensive. If I could speak to my younger self, I would give the following advice. Note, I don’t pretend these are universal truisms, but from my experience building a wardrobe, and seeing others go along the same path, I think these are more often true than not. So, if you’re just starting out, perhaps you will find these useful.
1. Always prioritize quality over quantity. It’s better to have one perfect navy sport coat than five sport jackets that aren’t quite right. Better to have five pairs of truly nice shoes than ten that are mediocre. In the end, many of us will acquire wardrobes that are much bigger than what we need, and only wear 10% of what we have. It’s better to trade quantity for quality.
2. Beware of accessories. Nice things such as sport coats and shoes are expensive, and it’s easy to stave off these purchases by picking up small accessories here and there. If you do, you’ll soon find that you have a hundred ties, but only three sport coats to wear them with. Beware of acquiring too many accessories. It’s better to save your money for things that will make a bigger impact.
3. Beware of sales. Clearance sales can often be false bargains. Psychology Today had a good post about why this is. If given the stark choice, it’s better to purchase things you truly love at full price, than to go for a sale that will only leave you wanting. (That said, shop smartly, as most things go on sale, but don’t buy something just because of the price).
4. Build a shopping list. Figure out your annual budget for clothes, make a list of what you truly need, and then decide how much you want to spend on each item. This will help you avoid the pitfalls #2 and #3 above, and make sure you’re building a wardrobe, not just a collection of clothes. It also helps discipline you to something I think is truly important: giving a purchase a few months worth of thought before actually pulling out the credit card.
5. Prioritize fit above everything else. By fit I don’t just mean whether something fits you well (shoulder seams end at the shoulders; collars stay on the neck; chest isn’t too big or tight; etc), but also whether the silhouette flatters you. Learn the difference between fit and silhouettes, and pay attention to both. Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale, has some trendy stylistic detail, or is made with the finest hand stitching in the world. If it doesn’t fit and flatter, all that means nothing.
6. Pay attention, then ignore, what other men are wearing. One of the best ways to learn how to dress is by paying attention to well-dressed men. At the same time, know that just because something looks great on someone else doesn’t mean it will look great on you. You may not have the same body type or live the same lifestyle. Take inspiration from good places, but also be honest about how something looks on you.
7. Take time to find your sense of style. Feel free to experiment, but do it slowly. A little dabbling here and there is fine, but if you jump in with both feet too quickly, you may find yourself purging what you have in a year or two. Finding your own sense of style will take years of maturity (literally) and a lot of honesty. Give yourself time.
8. Don’t spend too much money in the beginning. “Buy less, buy better” is a good mantra to live by unless you’re just starting out. If you are, buying mid-quality things on sale can be a smart way to experiment here and there, as well as make sure your mistakes won’t be too costly. And yes, mistakes will be made.
9. Dress coherently and simply. There are some men who dress with great success by having thing clash and layering dozens of items on themselves. However, I’ve found less is more, and harmony is better than chaos. Have a message and stick to something simple.
10. Be patient. If you can’t afford something today, learn how to scrimp, save, and shop slowly. You don’t need that big of a wardrobe anyway, and you certainly don’t need to acquire everything now. Patient, thoughtful wardrobe building will always win out over a hurried, excited shopping. Once you’ve gotten a good handle on your sense of style, imagine the wardrobe you want in five or seven years, and slowly work towards that.
11. Don’t go to grad school. Oh wait, that’s for a different blog. Nevermind. Still, this is a good thing to tell my younger self.
Should I Cuff My Trousers?
Cuffs (called turnups by the Brits) are a curious phenomenon. They seem to have emerged from country clothing – an innovation to keep one’s trousers out of the much and mire. They grew popular, though, for entirely different reasons. Cuffs add a bit of visual interest to the end of your trousers, but perhaps most importantly they also add some physical weight, which helps your pants hang attractively. They even help your trousers hold their crease.
To Cuff Or Not To Cuff?
So: should you cuff your pants? It’s really a matter of personal choice. The traditional answer is that cuffs go with pleated trousers, and plain hems with flat fronts. To some extent, that’s true. I think a pleated pant really cries out for cuffs. The American traditionalists, though, have long cuffed their flat-front pants. I say cuff pleated trousers, and decide whether to cuff flat-fronts based on personal taste.
What Should I Cuff? When Should I Cuff?
There’s also the matter of formality and aesthetics. A cuffless pant is generally more modern and sleeker. A cuffed pant is more traditional and a bit fuddy-duddy. (That gets mixed up a bit when the avant-gardists are also pseudo-traditionalists, like Thom Browne.) Thanks in no small part to Mr. Browne, fashion has swung towards cuffs. I personally prefer cuffs – for the weight and visual reasons listed above – so I’m happy with that turn of events. I’d just caution against cuffs on casual pants. They fit on what Derek has called “dress chinos,” but on run-of-the-mill chinos, they look out of place.
What’s Height Got To Do With It?
Traditionally, alterationists have advised taller men to wear cuffs, and shorter ones to avoid them. I’d say that while shorter men might do well to avoid a large break when they’re chosing their trouser length, they should feel fine wearing cuffs. Traditionally, cuffs are worn with at least a small break, but recent fashion has allowed for cuffs worn without break. Our friend MistahWong, pictured above, is 5’7” and wears breakless two inch cuffs as a matter of course. He always looks great.
How Big Should My Cuffs Be?
If you chose cuffs, what size should they be? The boldest fashion-y types are proclaiming to the world their two inch cuffs. I’m fine with that (I like cuffs, after all), but two inches is really a sign around your ankles that says “I AM TRENDY, SEE?” If you’re cool with that, I won’t stop you from wearing two inchers.
Traditionally, the size of the cuff is determined by the size of the man. This is reasonable, I think. I personally wear 1 3/4” cuffs, and I’m a long-legged 6’3”. I think they look strong but not outrageous. 1 1/2” is also a very reasonable choice. I’m not personally a huge fan of cuffs smaller than that, but it’s your choice – some choose 1 1/4” cuffs. Look and see what looks like it fits your body and your sensibilities. After all, the very short (and very sharply dressed) Matthew Fan wears two inchers, and he looks great, but he’s self-assured enough to carry off a statement.
So, Let’s Summarize!
- Cuffs are a personal choice.
- I prefer cuffs on pleated trousers – they help the trouser hang better. On flat fronts, it’s your call.
- Don’t cuff your most casual pants.
- Shorter men should be careful not to wear their pants too long, but shouldn’t worry too much about wearing cuffs.
- There was a time when all cuffed pants had a full break; that’s no longer requisite.
- 2” is huge, 1 3/4” is big, 1 1/2” is moderate, 1 1/4” is small. Wear what looks and feels right.
Photo: Most Exerent
This is Isaiah Berlin in an Anderson & Sheppard suit.
As an academic and a menswear enthusiast, this gives me all sorts of joy.
(This photo, by the way, is said to be in the new Anderson & Sheppard book, which is set to be released this week.)
Elegance: Put This On Season Two, Episode Five
Put This On, a web series about dressing like a grownup, visits Milan, a world fashion capital.
New York Times: The Case for Spending a Little More Sometimes
The Beauty of a Soft Collar
I assume my friend The RJcat might find them to be a bit affected, but I really like soft collars. Ones worn without collar stays and allowed to give some natural expression. I think they look a bit more carefree and comfortable, and those to me are the bedrocks of good style.
A soft collar requires two things. First, there needs to be enough cloth. Many collars these days are skimpy and can’t carry a good necktie. If you wear them with one, the collar’s points will lift up off the shirt and make you look like you’re being choked. Even without a tie, a short, stubby collar can look awkward, almost like it’s apologizing for its own existence. A more traditional design will have longer points, which in turn will give you more material to express some character.
The second requirement is a soft interlining. A man’s shirt collar is traditionally made with three pieces of material – the two cotton fabrics that make up either side of the collar and an interlining sandwiched in between. This interlining is typically steam pressed into place so that it’s essentially glued to the cloth. If the interlining is stiff, the collar will look rigid; if it’s soft, it will roll, curl, or otherwise do whatever it will naturally do.
Note that some shirts are made with unfused collars, which means the interlining won’t be glued to the shirt fabric. If you rub the collar between your fingers, you can feel the fabric slide across the interlining sitting in between. These types of collars will express their own character (one that Mr. Tony Chang of Ascot Chang, my preferred shirtmaker, described in my interview with him). However, this matter is technically a separate issue from whether the interlining itself is soft.
A stiff collar has its own merits, of course. It will look a bit sharper and more “at attention.” In a truly professional setting, I suppose these are the only way to go. For myself, however, I mostly wear soft collars with fusible interlinings most days of the week, and every once in a while, something unfused. On a well-made shirt, such collars will express themselves like the ones above. Only if I need to look more professional will I straighten them out with collar stays, and that’s the part that The RJcat would probably disapprove.
(Photos taken from Ethan Desu, Voxsartoria, and The Sartorialist)
We have some eBay finds today to end your week with. If you’d like to find other good auctions, remember you can also use our customized search links for high-end suits, good suits, high-quality shirts and fine footwear.Suits, sport coats, and blazers
- Chester Barrie brown sport coat, 40
- Ralph Lauren double breasted suit, 42
- Zegna navy summer sport coat, 42
- Ralph Lauren Purple Label tuxedo, 44Outerwear
- Quartermaster’s pea coat, size?
- Navy Gloverall duffle, 40
- Engineered Garments black duffle, XL
- Nigel Cabourn pea coat, 52Sweaters and knits
- Ballantyne grey v-neck, 44Shirts and pants
- Charvet white shirt, 16.5
- Bill’s Khakis M3 chinos, various sizes
- Floral print pants, 32
- Brooks Brothers navy chinos, 33Shoes
- Blue Car Shoes, 8
- Ralph Lauren brown quarter brogues, 9.5
- Carmina black monks, 10.5 (same model as pictured above)
- Peal suede chukkas, 11
- Peal wingtips, 11
- Sutor chukkas, 11.5Ties
- Some nice ties
- Marinella ties
- RLPL ancient madder tie
- Marinella seconds
- Striped cashmere tie
- Turnbull & Asser solid navy ties (1, 2)Misc
- SAB umbrellas
- Fox horn handled umbrella
If you want access to an extra roundup every week, exclusive to members, join Put This On’s Inside Track for just five bucks a month.
Drake’s striped blue dress shirt
Suede Edward Green Dovers
Banana Republuc white dress shirt
John Lobb black City II oxfords
As Different As Night and Day
There are various rules for how men should dress according to the time of day. Many of them are simply carry-overs from English conventions on proper evening dress, but I think a few also have their own merits.
For example, a white shirt works better at night because white frames the face better under artificial lighting. Likewise, smooth calf, particularly in black, can look considerably more stunning than a matte suede. Calf will gleam from the reflecting streetlights, whereas suede will look rather unremarkable when there’s not enough light to show off its nap. This is why I think every man should have a pair of black calf shoes, even if he doesn’t go to many formal functions.
I also don’t think certain lighter-colored garments should ever be worn at night, but this is a rather fuzzy area. If you have the occasion, a classic white or cream dinner jacket will obviously look quite fantastic, as can a cream linen or solid tan wool suit on a casual summer’s evening. However, I think the acceptability starts to weaken once you get into those brighter garments that principally express the cheerfulness of daytime – for example, loud chinos or light-colored shoes. Those are best worn when it’s sunny out, in my opinion.
So, when I can, I try to get dressed according to the time of day that I’m going out. If it’s in the morning or afternoon, I may wear a blue shirt, mid-toned jacket, and brown suede shoes. If I’m wearing a tie, it might also be of a brighter color, but doesn’t have to be. If it’s at night, I’ll wear a white shirt, darker jacket, and black calf shoes. The tie will likewise be dark. In this way, I think I better reflect the time of the day’s mood and work well with my environment. After all, the expressions of these two kinds of ensembles are as different as night and day.
(Photos: Taken from Suitored, Leffot, and John Lobb)
Michael Alden demonstrates his rule for double breasted gorges: never higher than the bottom of the tie’s knot. Possibly slightly below, but never above.
Our friend, Mistah Wong, demonstrates what clean fitting shirt should look like (as well as how to clean your teeth). Remember: too tight is often just as bad as too baggy.
(source: Most Exerent)