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 men 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.

Style 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 break.

That same prefabricated trend cuts across the fashion landscape, and people really love that. 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 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?

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