30 Comments.

I’m about to get real with you guys right about now. Let’s talk about this whole “fashion” thing. Or would you call it a “style” thing? Most dudes seem to use them interchangeably, and I can’t blame them because lots of women do too.

For the purposes of this article, let’s define the two terms so we don’t get confused. I may be biased, but this is how I see things.

“Fashion” is ever-changing

There are no constants, no staples. Fashion is difficult to keep up with, as it changes by the decade, the year, the season, sometimes even by the week. What is considered in fashion today could possibly be different tomorrow. There’s no sustainability in fashion, and one could go so far as to say fashion can be wasteful. Wasteful as in, a closet full of barely-used clothes, left unloved because they’re no longer fashionable. Or wasteful as in the stacks of money spent chasing trends because everyone else is doing it, and it’s fun to have the latest, greatest thing… just because.

It seems the worst followers of the religion of Fashion aren’t really true to themselves; they seem to wear things or carry things or like things because these things are “in”, they’re popular, everyone else wants it. Human nature, sure…. But not exactly something to be proud of.

Style is personal

“Style”, on the other hand, is something I can get behind. Style is personal. Style is all one’s own, and no one can say otherwise. The truly stylish man knows, understands, and respects the rules, yet knowingly defies and breaks them, bends them and interprets them as he pleases. Great style means not taking oneself or one’s garments too seriously, because to be honest, there are things in life way more important.

uStyle isn’t directly affected by trends. It doesn’t change with the direction of the wind, or the disapproving look of a fashion magazine’s Editor-In-Chief. Style can adopt and adapt to certain trends, and most importantly, put a unique spin on it. Ultimately, the truly stylish gentleman has a casual irreverence towards trendy fashion.

Personal style choices turned trendy by the masses

How many can you name? I’m pretty sure the “vintage” homeless hobo hipster chic look was something unique before it became Urban-Outfitterized. I can imagine a bunch of kids in Brooklyn in the early- to mid-2000s thinking, “F the trends, and F consumerism, F this and F that… let’s buy clothes strictly from Goodwill and look as ratty as possible.”

Maybe their thought process didn’t go exactly like that, and maybe The Goodwill isn’t my clothier of choice, but I can get behind that movement. Those hipster pioneers were honest and were being themselves, and I’m all for going your own way.

What happened though? Fast forward to 2009 and your everyday suburban pre-teen is sporting factory-ripped skinny jeans and running over his Vans with his bike so they look more distressed, because straight out of the box is SO not cool! Give me a fucking break.

That same prefabricated trend cuts across the fashion landscape, and people really love that shit. They eat it up, just like the brilliant marketers had planned. Another case in point: the whole Americana fashion trend. I bet 95% of people who are on the Americana bandwagon wouldn’t have thought twice about a pair of Levis several years ago, because Seven For All Mankind was slangin’ the $190 pair of jeans. It was the in thing, and everyone wanted it. Stop lying to yourselves… you’re not genuine, you’re a follower.

Look around at the pro-selvedge jean crowd, the uber-thin tie crowd, the dudes with handlebar mustaches sporting the Old Timey Gold Miner look. Perhaps we all long for a simpler time when a handlebar mustache perfectly complemented the pocket watch in one’s waistcoat, but the only time I care to see that thing is when the mixologist is pouring my Bulleit Old Fashioned at the local speakeasy… and even then, I wonder if that guy is a bandwagon jumper.

What’s the point?

Look, my point is this. If you love facial hair, great. Don’t just grow it out because everyone else is.

Don’t get on your high horse about the wonders of Japanese woven selvedge cone denim or whatever the hell that shit is, when you know that three years ago, you couldn’t tell the difference between True Religion and a pair of Faded Glory from your local Walmart. (For the record, I’ve never spent more than $50 on denim.)

Don’t talk about Filson and Orvis and Pendleton like you’ve been chopping wood in their clothing your whole life. And stop talking about rebelling against the system and rejecting consumerism or whatever else you’re babbling about, when you know you purchased your Levis 510 Super Skinnies from Urban Outfitters, a large corporation.

How the stylish use fashion trends

What I’m trying to say, is find your own way. Do you. Don’t be someone else just because… have your reasons.

I’m not without fault, of course. If you take a look at photos of me throughout middle school and high school, I was right there with all the trends. I wore the oversized Polo Sport, the Nautica, the Tommy Hilfiger logo tees, I even had the windbreaker with Tommy Hilfiger down the sleeve. I wore the Old Navy polar fleeces and the baggy cargo pants. I stuffed the tongues of my sneakers.

Several years ago, I wore the bootcut jeans and the short sleeve plaid shirts, the solid dress shirts with the similarly-toned shiny ties, getting my Regis on. I’ve done all of that. I jumped on bandwagons and I’ve jumped off. I’ve done all the things I’m telling you not to do, but I’m also owning up to it.

I still find myself attracted to certain fashion trends from time to time, but I try to remember that the stylish dude bends trends and adapts them to his own personal style. You can be unique by not trying to be unique.

Think about Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers may be plain as vanilla in his button-ups and cardigans, but you can take his style and find examples of it on the golf course in the 1960s, as well as many modern iterations of it on the streets today.

Genuinely like it

It’s okay if you find yourself liking certain trends and other pieces considered fashionable, as long as you like them for real and aren’t trying to be someone you’re not. Don’t do it because everyone else is. Following a trend for the hell of it takes the fun and creativity out of your personal style. Also, you should be honest with yourself. Take a look in the mirror, and if it doesn’t look good and know you can’t pull it off, don’t force it. Be real. Do you.

Lastly, experiment! Clothing should be fun. Find inspiration and inject it into your own personal wardrobe. Take certain aspects of trends you like, find color schemes that complement your skin tone, look for materials and fabrics you enjoy, and put it all together and see what you get. Don’t go too crazy, but don’t be scared either. The evolution of your personal style is all about experimentation and seeing what works. Sometimes you have to step outside your comfort zone to find new things you like, and to avoid getting stuck wearing a uniform.

What are your thoughts?

Do you agree with my thoughts on style vs. fashion? It’s okay if you don’t. I’d love to hear what you have to say. Why not leave it in the comments below?

By the way, if you are in the process of evolving your own personal style, make sure you sign up for email updates (you get new articles delivered straight to your inbox!) You should also follow me on Twitter.

PUBLISHED January 17, 2011


Barron is the Founding Editor of Effortless Gent and the Cladright Association. He's from San Francisco but currently living in New York. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Tumblr.



  • http://www.twitter.com/johnjschroeder John S

    Barron,

    I come to your site every time I see a new article pop up and I genuinely enjoy your take on things. This “Style v. Fashion” is something that pops up every time something new starts trending (granted this is all the f’in time, but that’s another story). I definitely agree with your particular take on this debate. The biggest thing as you point out is, of course, each person’s development of their internal sense of style. Depending on how you see yourself and what that personal sense of style is, this can make you appear (to the un-styled, fahion-y masses) alternating with the winds as “fashionable” or an “outlier” as it were. But it doesn’t matter what they think or say as long as you’re comfortable not only in your outfits, but your own skin as well.
    I think you summarized it best with “The evolution of your personal style is all about experimentation and seeing what works.”

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Hey John,

      Thanks man. I’m glad you find all of this useful and (hopefully) entertaining. I’ve always seen style as personal, intimate, and really all about oneself. It never has to be about expensive labels or pricey fabric or ultra fashionable styles, it all boils down to what you like what looks good on you. That, and a whole bunch of confidence. Thanks for reading.

  • Retropian

    I enjoyed your thoughts on style vs fashion quite a bit. I especially liked the comment on facial hair; I have worn a beard for years. Not because it’s trendy(for a while beards were trendy, are they still?) but because I think I look better with it. I too never spend more than $50.00 for denim, and never never would consider a pre-distressed pair. Lastly, my advice is to be a bit of a contrarian anf buck trends.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      If I could pull off some semblance of facial hair, I totally would. I’m glad you do it because you like it, and you keep it even if someone considers it “not cool” (although in my opinion a good looking beard is always pretty damn cool.)

      When I was younger I would buy stylishly distressed jeans… this was when I didn’t know better. Nowadays, it’s so much more fun to buy a dark, inky pair, and wear them till they’re beaten and distressed by your own everyday use.

      Thanks for your comment!

  • http://taoofbachelorhood.com/ Michael

    Yes! I just got back from a trip to Las Vegas and watched the guys line up outside the various clubs. 95% of them were wearing cookie-cutter fashions that they’d obviously put on so they’d be “accepted.” There were the shirt-and-tie-but-no-jacket guys, the button-up-with-white-T-underneath guys and the Affliction/Ed Hardy guys (thankfully very few remaining of those), pretty much all wearing similar jeans. But every once in a while someone would appear who was really put together, with a sense of self-coordination and personality. They were themselves, which made them better-looking than guys whose frame of reference is the ads in FHM.

    I think most guys don’t like to shop, so it comes a bit from just wanting something society says is okay to wear. Shopping is like exercising, though: the more you do it and the more you KNOW how to do it, the more fun it is. Then you can start mixing and matching to your own personality.

    Cheers for a great piece!

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      I noticed that in Vegas, there are a lot of guys in those club lines with their “going out” shirts on… I love the concept of the “going out” shirt. Like, what designates a shirt as going out-worthy?

      This alone makes me happy that not everyone is a snappy dresser. When someone walks through the room and is mindful of what he has on, what works for him, and has the ability to put it all together, it shows.

      Great analogy with shopping and exercising. so true!

  • http://twitter.com/TheStyleGent TheStyleGent

    Barron, great article! I think everyone has mentioned the diferences between fashion and style, but I wanted to add this point. I think with age comes understanding and I know from experience that when I was younger I thought style and fashion were the same. life taught me otherwise (I want to forget the 80’s entirely) the thing that I’ve learned is the important to translate clothing as an extension of your personality. the more you dress to your personality, the more stylish you’ll be.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Thank ya sir! And that is an excellent point. I think that whole ‘growing up’ phase is one’s chance to experiment with various trends (especially with the multitude of influences at that age). I know I’d like to forget some things myself. haha.

      “The more you dress to your personality, the more stylish you’ll be.” — well said!

  • Man Manifesto

    I loved your post. Truly loved your post. Yves Saint Laurent, one of the greatest style influences the world has ever seen, once said ““Fashions fade, style is eternal.” That quote definitely meshed with your ideas. I think style is the general vibe of what your clothes do for you and your personality. Personally I think of my style as sort of classic american with a twist. This is my “style philosophy” so to speak and it transcends various trends and fads. Great post, i think im going to write about it on my own blog.

    check out my blog at manmanifesto.tumblr.com

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      thanks!

  • Jacci in Ohio

    I’m not a dude – I’m a lady, but I think this was all excellent advice. It’s so tricky to nail down a truly personal style, yet still look fresh and current. My own style is heavily influenced by classic, timeless pieces, mostly in neutrals. That can get so staid and boring, though. I’m trying to really own my classic bent and make it signature. Your thoughts on working with trends & inspiration were right on.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Hey Jacci,

      Thanks for your comment. I think any iteration of one’s personal style can get boring after a while… it turns into a uniform almost. That’s why it’s important to find other styles / colors / textures you wouldn’t normally consider, and see if you can incorporate it and adopt it as your own.

      Anyway, it’s all about experimentation and having a bit of fun :)

      ps — i feel like you’re one of the first / only lady commenters here. so welcome!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_APY7MRTFFLALIKAN66NAO7O5GM KG2V

    Heh – does that mean I can keep wearing my 30+ YO Orvis stuff (and using my rods/reels) that I boguth back then, or my 20+ YO Filson hat I bought to keep my head dry? (grinning)

    Gah, I still remember when A&F was a REAL outfitter, not an “urban outfitter” – as in, go in, browse the gun rack for a nice double to take to Africa

    The authentic stuff was made the way it was for a reason – then again, I’m not going to wear my Woolrich to work – I’ll wear some classic styles. Hunting? That’s different, and the stains got on their the hard way – honestly

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Definitely, if that’s your thing. Actually I really love old A&F (from what I’ve seen) and I’m sure the older Orvis and Filson stuff still looks great. I’m glad you still have the same garments you bought 20 and 30 years ago; keep hanging onto em and that really says something if the clothing you bought years ago is still holding up today.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chaackjr Christopher Arthur

    While I agree with the notion that Fashion is ever-changing and that Style is a personal expression of self I don’t agree with the very harsh criticism of kids who are trying to find their self expression in the world. We as human being receive much of our ideas from what we see. We become inspired, we expand our minds from this interaction and I don’t see the problem with that. There isn’t much difference in my mind between being inspired by your grandfather who was a logger in the pacific Northwest and buying a pair of Redwing boots as a result of that or being inspired by seeing them on the shelf at Urban Outfitters. The only difference that you’re discerning here is that it’s “cooler” to have that heritage storyline to your clothing. We’re not enemies, we both hate vapid, fake people whom grab on to the latest trends and release after a week, I’m just saying just because you shop at a big store, don’t have a cool story/ street cred to go with why you like something and just came to like it doesn’t mean you’re a poser, it simply means you’ve learned about something at a later time from a later source. A Beatles fan who got turned onto them in 2006 is no less a Beatles fan that first heard them in 1968 and in no way less sincere, it’s simply cooler to say you were there first. In that sense by putting such a premium on being there first makes you no better than those “fashionable” people to which you dislike. I say rejoice in the fact that Americana and slim fits are popular, that way so many more people now have an introduction to more tasteful personal style. It only behooves us for tasteful and classic items to be popular so they can get a wider view and in a sense beautify our society. That’s my opinion, do with it what you will.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Hey Christopher,

      Ultimately, what I’m trying to state is this: style is all about wearing things because you genuinely like them, not because some fashion magazine, gossip rag, or close friend tells you it’s cool. I admitted that I went through those phases as well, as a kid trying to find my own style. I’ve made mistakes, followed trends, hopped on bandwagons, you name it. But the lesson here is, as adult males, we need to elevate, and not hop on trends for the sake of the trend. If you like something, then wear it, but make sure you truly, genuinely like it. That’s all.

  • Cheeky

    Well, I’m a little lady and I enjoyed this post. There’s a reason I don’t own a single pair of skinny jeans, flare jean, bubble skirt, platform heels, tops in 3/4 length sleeves, or capri pants. I don’t like ‘em. I think they’re either uncomfortable, unflattering or totally impractical. I always get compliments on my style because I make sure I’m wearing clothes that I enjoy. So, I generally look confident. I really enjoy menswear, or my feminine version of it. I’ll throw on a tailored blazer with a pocket square any day. Happy to say I’ve never rolled the sleeves on my blazers. My jackets are too pretty to sacrifice to fashion. And it just ain’t my style.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      That’s great to hear! It really is all about what you feel most comfortable in, and what you know looks the best on you, regardless of trend.

      And thanks for reading, I’m always curious as to what my small number (or what I assume to be a small number) of female readers think.

  • http://www.tophatmoney.co.uk/ payday loan

    That’s great to hear! It really is all about what you feel most
    comfortable in, and what you know looks the best on you, regardless of
    trend.

    And thanks for reading, I’m always curious as to what my
    small number (or what I assume to be a small number) of female readers
    think.

  • Guest

    I enjoyed reading this a lot. I think that many of the points were very true, especially that so many young people like to pretend they are doing there own thing. I just feel that everyone needs to remember why they spend money on clothes. If you are going to spend money, why not purchase something that you genuinly like and can wear for a while, not just one year.
    Overall great article. 

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Thanks for reading. I think following trends and being influenced by what your friends wear is just a part of forming your own style. Eventually (I hope) people grow out of that and form their own opinions about what looks good / what they should stay away from.

      And you’re right, it’s all about buying things that will last and you can wear for a long time. Another thing people realize as they get older (myself included).

  • Style103

    Great piece on personal style vs.fashion trends.. I must say that i too came from the “school of hard knocks” era. The fleece old navy pullover, the gap carpenter jeans, the nautica wind breaker jacket, grant hills and many many more trends that became staple at that time. My personal style sort of evolved from this model into the 2010’s. Not that I would be caught dead in any of the items listed above at present, but im saying that i use that time frame as a reference to my current style. My muse for the art I present to the world is 90’s inspired, modernized by a love of skinny jeans or at least fitting (non baggy). Fedora hats I rock religiously and a fresh pair of timberlands (not from the flea market) chuckkas in black leather or the regular 6 inch joints but I wouldnt particulary go for the kind that extremely urban. Accessories are also a factor… They can make or break you a la the great sunglasses trend. Ugh, i hated sunglasses never worn them to this day. I live in North Carolina and people always azking me where im from because idress differently than thet peaople in raleigh. and thats just casual!! Its all about having a strong sense of who you are, embracing it and incorporating that into your style. Knowing what you can pull off and certain mindframes.. Less is almost always more but sometimes more is more.. It depends.. I agree with you that personal style evolves and adjusts bends and breaks the rules of engagement as it pertains to trends!

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      It’s funny recalling what I wore back in the day, and all the things you mentioned above (carpenter jeans, nautica windbreakers, etc) fall into that category. I have to agree that a lot of my current style evolved from that as well. You hit it on the head, it’s all about having a strong sense of who you are.

  • olde schoole

    As one of those kids in Brooklyn in the early to mid 2000s, I remember thinking how played out that look was already. The guys that I thought were really pulling off something interesting had a look that could only be described as 19th century meets hard rocker. Once that look caught on, it was overdone, and soon we had boys with 12inch beards in extra-small t-shirts. The originals really looked cool though. They could party like it was 1899 too.

  • Steven

    I’ve been looking for a site light this for a long time. Some of my buddies call me metro or some sort of other term that they find degrading but they come to for me for advice, I’m going to forward them here!

  • Lasse

    “Fashion is what you buy, style is what you do with it”

    Somehow I think this expression is correct. Because you can’t really buy fashion (Off course you can buy it but might be outdated tomorrow?)
    So Barron I do actually agree very much with this post, i think you got it right with fashion and style.

    PS: I believe most fashion is quite ugly now a days..?

  • Cris0

    People over-complicate things. Open your mind. What you like is what you want, it’s just a matter of how you choose to cover your body. You want to throw sewn together rags with some shiny stones rolled between the threads or something, then do it. I don’t think it’s illegal or wrong to not dress according to someone else’s rules.

    And another thing, who seriously as an adult criticizes someone’s way of dressing unless you’re such a little bitch? Pisses me off, just shut up and do your own thing.

    cool article.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/paulabrahamsmusic Paul Abrahams

    I spent a good part of my 30s and 40s being a DAD. When my relationship ended I found that fashion trends had passed me by, many times. I started to ‘look into’ fashion and style to make my self more attractive to women and to myself. Broken marriages can drain one’s self esteem. Clothes and personal grooming are a great place to start feeling good again. Now that I’m hitting 55 I’m more interested in what feels comfortable. Here in Sydney Australia, it doesn’t get cold or rain for long so the wardrobe is mostly Autumn, Spring and Summer. Being a musician I’ll always add a bit of rocker to my style and its a good reminder to not follow the herd and find what works for you.

  • Tyler Taylor

    How have you never spent more than $50 on denim? I can’t seem to find any for LESS than that except like old navy, or finding levis buy one get one half off.

    • http://effortlessgent.com/ Barron

      Levi’s in dept. stores often have sales. Usually find em for $44 or something like that. I also don’t buy denim that often.