Fashion vs Style: The Basics
Geoffrey Bruyere and his associate Benoit Wojtenka are professional fashion consultants from Paris, France. They are authors of the Style Guide for Modern Men.
Reading about men’s fashion sometimes feels like you’re reading an alien language. You may even know what the words mean, but it still feels like it’s written in Slovakian.
Fashion is often associated with frivolous and superficial cliches, and if you also think that, you’re not completely wrong. Being “fashionable” is often depicted by media as something extravagant and inaccessible. From celebrities to models on the catwalk, to fashion shows couture or bizarre artistic experimentation. It’s an enigma for most of us guys. A little bit like watching a soap-opera or reading ancient literature. We find much of it useless, and really, who can blame us. I mean who really needs to wear a Chanel shirt every day?
So good news: I won’t talk about fashion. Because being a well-dressed, and stylish man doesn’t require you to turn yourself into a fashion-addict. Dressing well only requires you to know a few rules, with a bit of fun thrown in. Most of it is based on experience. Not appearance.
Be honest for a moment and tell me the difference between a shirt which looks terrible on you (Christmas presents from grandma?) and a similar shirt which looks great on you? Does it necessarily match the shirt price or even the brand? Then why would you want to waste your money on something which isn’t shaped correctly for you just because of a brand name?
I’m here to talk about style, not fashion. Fashion requires entry into an entire sub-culture that most of us have no use for. Style simply requires knowing what you’re doing.
Style pervades our entire life, not fashion. The guy interviewing you for your job doesn’t care if your suit is Brooks Brothers or not. But he’ll notice if it doesn’t fit right. Your girlfriend’s parents don’t care what kind of seam your jeans have. But they’ll notice if you’re dressed like a slob. You need to look at your best when the moment calls for it.
People will rarely compliment you for being over-dressed and trendy. On the contrary, you’ll be complimented when you reflect your personality through clothing effortlessly. That’s the essence of it. Make it simple but effective.
Look at any girls wearing jeans or t-shirts. Almost every average girl knows how to wear tight jeans, and fit the right clothes to their body to appear sexy naturally. I’ve never met a girl who enjoys wearing baggy jeans or oversize hoodies everywhere they go. They look sexy because they know their stuff and hide their flaws well. And guess what? They’ve been learning it for most of their lives. While we were busy playing basketball and soccer, they were figuring out what kind of clothes flattered them the best.
Fashion is for Nerds; Style is for Everyone
Take any fashion magazine for girls like Glamour, Cosmopolitan or Vogue. They have an excessive amount of information for eye-lids, nails color, bags price range, and cosmetics make-up innovation. When was the last time you looked at a girl and noticed her eye-lids or nail color? Probably never, right? The point is that if women want to look better, there is an absurd amount of information readily available for them. But finding the equivalent kind of information for the men is difficult nowadays.
There are of course magazines and articles dedicated to fashion for men but they usually suck (sorry, just being honest). The writing is either very specialized and disconnected from the daily needs (high end luxury brand no one can afford; over-complicated catwalk analysis) or very generic and trivial (don’t wear white socks or the colour yellow; trim your eyebrows, etc.).
There’s a clear distinction between learning about style and fashion. Style gives you the possibility to define your own version of “cool” while the fashion simply follows trends set by others. Fashion is always changing. Style never dies. Fashion is consumer whoring, unnecessary items tagged with useless hype and overpriced into oblivion. Style can happen at a thrift store or in a bargain bin.
The most common misconception about men’s fashion is that you need to be “fashionable” or pay for high-priced brands in order to look good and impress. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s the same old peer-pressure and pop culture hype. Sure, you won’t look out of place if you follow the latest fashions. But you’ll be missing what’s most important: what suits your personality and suits the context in which you’re in.
If you’re in college for example, being well-dressed just means to wear casual and comfortable clothes. Your competition are guys like Mark Zuckerberg. Popping out a suit would be clearly ridiculous. But not wearing that suit to your internship at a prestigious bank would spell trouble. It’s a matter of common sense. Looking good must combine both self-expression (style) and context (rules) to work effectively. Try to be too stylish and you’re marginal. Follow the rules too well, and you become boring and look like everyone else.
Know Your Basics
The basics are the bread and butter of every man’s wardrobe. The basics are usually cheap, easy to change and to find, and the foundation for you to build your personality on top of. It’s very hard to go wrong with the basics.
The basics are: T-shirts, Shirts, Jeans/Pants.
Jacket, coasts, and even shoes are not basics. This is because they require more specific types of knowledge on how to wear them effectively and they will end up being far more expressive than the basic pieces. Things like jackets and shoes are often considered “show pieces,” and will be covered in future articles.
T-shirts: I usually recommend a round neckline, and not too tight around your neck. V-necks are popular but add too much feminine style and I don’t recommend it unless you have a very defined chest. A good T-shirt gives a great silhouette by acting like a second natural skin. The right size is defined by your shoulders which should cross with the T-shirt’s seam at the sleeve. The perfect length should go slightly below your belt line when your arms are at rest by your side. If you raise your arms and your navel is showing, then the T-shirt is probably too small.
Shirts: Shirts are relatively easy to wear. Shirts have to criteria to consider: collar-type and the cut around the armpit/back/waist. The collar is relatively associated with your face. If you have a long face, the collar length needs to be longer. If your face is round and small, the spike will also be small, and the cut, slimmer. A good cut will emphasize your shoulder and your back. Giving you a very masculine silhouette.
The perfect fit deals with your armpit and shoulder. The shirt’s seams have to stop at your shoulder’s edge. Your back must not float with extra space. If you look sideways into the mirror and the shirt is parachuting behind you, then it’s too big. The length is defined via the shirt’s purpose. More formal shirts are longer so that they can be tucked into your pants with little trouble. If the style is more casual, then the length will usually be shorter and you can wear it like a t-shirt, leaving it outside your jeans or pants.
Jeans: One of the most important garments you’ll wear everyday. Stop wearing washed out jeans that you buy at the mall. They’re just plain cheap and not stylish at all.
Go for the raw denim. The raw jeans are chemically untreated items and will change beautifully over the time. Just be careful when you wash them and never mix it with your other clothes as the jean’s natural color will fade and stain on your other clothes.
The good fit is to find the ones called ‘fit” sizing. Not slim (which is too feminine) or regular (too roomy). There are different cuts but knowing if it’s the right size is easy. Just put your thumbs in your pocket. If it’s tight, you’re on the right track. If you can’t close the jean’s buttons, then obviously it’s too tight. They should not hang off of your waist at all or “sag.” If so, then they’re too big.
Also always err a size down when buying a new pair of jeans because they will stretch out over the time and often gain an extra size.
Where can you find good jeans? First of all, put aside Sears or Target, and huge random shopping malls with big promotion signs. Getting better products means you need to find stores dedicated to it. I mean, if I were to eat great Chinese food, I wouldn’t go to the food court in the mall, I’d find a boutique restaurant.
Some good places to start shopping for the basicsnj include:
- Uniqlo: probably the best place to get a solid set of basics if you’re new to fashion. From jeans to shirts. Look out for the J+ collection, with higher quality clothes.
- H&M: the quality here can go from the worst to the best. There’s probably only 10% items worth to buy. It has great basics, clothes, and jacket, but you’ll need a bit more experience to really filter out the good from the bad.
- Alternative Apparel: very good for t-shirts. Some of you probably prefer American Apparel for the t-shirts, but I find Alternative Apparel to be a better quality and design.
- Zara: great for finding shirts and t-shirts. The jeans are terrible… Forget about them.
- GAP: If you’re on a budget, the shirts are nice and jeans are OK. The quality is acceptable.
Some advanced fashion designers you can look for:
- B.Scott: They make the best hoodies in the U.S. the quality is simply terrific and the design very original and clean.
- James Perse: the L.A laid-back style, higher quality cotton, more comfort.
- Obey: Very solid basics here too, even though it may be street-wear oriented, the quality makes up for it and the cut is solid.
- A.P.C: the best jeans are here. Even Dior copied their model and perfect cut. Go for the new standard one. Their shirts are also very popular, but it’s more expensive.
Every man should have a solid selection of T-shirts, button-down shirts, and jeans in his wardrobe. They’re the basis for every outfit and the foundation of any type of style you wish to pursue later. Think of them as the canvas in which you paint your self-portrait.
Next week, we’ll be discussing how to determine the quality of clothing as well as discussing examples of outfits on men that are put together well and why they work.
Learn how to look better and notice how differently people treat you. The Style Guide for Modern Men is a guide to how to dress well for men.
It’s loaded with hundreds of pictures and will show you everything you need to know to be a well-dressed man. Get noticed.