I have a confession to make. Admittedly, I don’t know much about “fashion”.
I don’t follow menswear blogs or keep up with the latest on the runways of Pitti, Capsule, or New York Fashion Week.
I have a lot going on, and frankly, I’m not all that interested in the newest collections and the current season’s “must have” items.
Maybe you’re like me.
You like clothes, but you don’t like them enough to spend hours on Tumblr checking out pictures of well-dressed guys. (Minutes, maybe. But not hours.)
You shop with a purpose, but you don’t spend your whole paycheck on a jacket.
You may not care about the technical terms describing a pair of leather shoes, but you care enough to learn what looks good and what is considered a well-constructed shoe.
You don’t need to be a menswear expert well-versed in the terminology and minutiae to put together a basic, good-looking outfit.
Check it. Eight tips to being the best-dressed man around…
This is pretty much all you need to know to dress well
Master fit and proportion
This is absolutely crucial. I’d argue this is the most important tip of all. Here’s the thing (and I’ve said it before), you could be decked out in the finest italian suit, but if you’re wearing the wrong size, you’re going to look terrible.
Conversely, you could buy an ultra affordable suit, take it to a tailor, and look like a million bucks.
Figuring out how clothes should fit can be quite a process, especially if you’re still in the beginning stages of reworking your style and building a leaner wardrobe. It takes patience and the willingness to try on lots of things.
Knowing your measurements is helpful as well. This article should get you started.
Understand your skin tone and choose colors that complement
In the beginning, keep it simple.
You want to find colors that contrast with your skin, not blend in and wash you out.
It’s hard to go completely wrong here, and by no means is this a set-in-stone type of guide, but this should get you started.
Again, don’t think of the above guide as a be-all and end-all resource; it’s merely a starting point from which to jump off, a place to start your experimentation.
Adopt a personal uniform
A personal uniform is a set of looks you can turn to when times are tough, like when you’re late for work and staring at your closet, unsure of what to put on.
There are plenty of benefits to figuring out your own personal uniform, namely, not needing to think too hard about what to wear in the morning.
But also, having a personal uniform lends itself nicely to the idea of a Lean Wardrobe.
By the way, “personal uniform” doesn’t necessarily mean one singular outfit, but a set of pieces that you can mix and match to create similar looks that are consistent, day in and day out.
This is my idea of the perfect uniform, some days with a tie, some days without. If I had to choose one outfit the rest of my life, it would look a little something like this.
Why? It’s not too casual, not too dressy, and it would be appropriate for the majority of social situations I find myself in, save for the most formal and casual events.
Know what your “thing” is
Every person has his or her thing. Some people enjoy color, others like wearing gray chinos practically every day. Maybe some people out there prefer only brogues. Figure out your thing.
Trend-forward people may call that idea stodgy or boring, but I call it style. It’s like your signature. A signature style! These guys get it.
Experiment once in a while
Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb and experiment with new looks. This is where more fashion-forward type pieces can come into play. This is also how you evolve your own personal style.
Here’s an example: I like the idea of unstructured knit blazers. I don’t wear sweatshirts, but I like knits. So I figured a knit blazer would be perfect. It’s the comfort of a sweatshirt but in the silhouette of a tailored jacket. Perfect, right?
So a few weeks ago I was dragged into Forever 21 of all places, and in the interest of keeping myself entertained, I checked out the men’s section.
They happened to have a fitted knit blazer in a decent selection of colors for $30, so I thought hell, why not try it out?
Finding more affordable options for experimental pieces is the way to go when you’re trying new things.
A $30 knit blazer from F21 might not be comparable in build and quality to a $600 version from a high-end store, but it’ll be good enough, especially since I’m just experimenting and not sure if I’ll even enjoy wearing it.
On the other hand, something classic that you KNOW you’ll make use of time and time again through the years is something worth investing in (i.e. a single-breasted, double-vented, two button navy suit).
Understand how to accessorize
Don’t leave accessorizing to the ladies! They sure know how to dress, but accessorizing is one thing guys can learn a thing or two about.
There are a few places where it’s safe for guys to experiment and GFC (go F’ing crazy) with color and pattern: Socks, ties, pocket squares, belts, and sometimes shoe laces, jewelry, and leather goods (like wallets).
In fact, if you have a personal uniform with pretty basic colors, I encourage you to GFC with color and pattern. Why not?
Start with something simple (like a stripe) and learn how to incorporate more complex prints (like paisley) and colors (like eggplant, or chartreuse, or teal).
Know how to delay gratification
The real key to a Lean Wardrobe is knowing exactly what you need and how much use it will get.
Put off buying something for as long as possible. Tease yourself to see how much you really need something!
Here’s how: Get online and add stuff to your cart, and then X out the window. Or go to a store, pick up something you think you need, walk around for a bit, put the item back, and walk out of the store.
If you continue to think about that item for days or weeks after you put it down, there’s a good chance you truly want it. Only at that point should you consider it a serious contender worthy of your money and closet space.
When it comes to staples, buy the best quality you can afford
It might take you a while to realize your true wardrobe staples. It will take a bit of trial and error, and as you go through cycles of more affordable versions of things, you’ll start to realize what you wear most, and what’s worth investing in.
For me, it’s a good navy blazer (maybe even two: an unlined cotton one for summer, and a wool one for every other season), a good pair of denim, a few good oxford and sport shirts, and a few good pairs of leather shoes. That is pretty much all I ever wear.
As things wear out, I replace them with better versions.
When my cheaper brown lace-ups started dying on me years ago, I replaced them with higher-quality versions. As my cheaper blazers lose shape, I start to eye ones made better, making mental note of what to save my pennies for.
It’s all about observing what you wear, buying the best possible versions of those things when the time for replacement comes, and taking care of the new, better versions as much as possible.
What about replacing your staples with more affordable versions?
There’s a separate camp out there who thinks you should always buy the most affordable options of whatever you wear frequently, since you tend to wear them out and they have to be replaced anyway.
I can understand that point of view, but ultimately, it depends on your particular situation, and which staples you’re replacing.
If you love dark denim and wear them out frequently, but can’t bring yourself to spend $200 on a “premium” pair, I get it. Sometimes you have to pick and choose which pieces to invest in.
If it’s something you’ll wear and keep for years, I find it justifiable to invest a bit more money (i.e. a navy blazer, for me). Feel it out and see what fits your lifestyle (and wallet) best, and adjust as you go.
See? You don’t have to know everything
You don’t have to be some clothing expert, nor do you have to know designers’ names, upcoming trends, or all of a garment’s technical terms.
All you really need to understand are a few key points, and you’ll be miles ahead of your peers and colleagues who aren’t necessarily in the know.
Questions or other points you think may be helpful to other EG readers? Leave em in the comments below!