The following is a guest article from Robert van Tongeren of Restart Your Style.

The time is never quite right to take your style to the next level, is it?

You always have one more thing to take care of before you begin.

You have some excess gut you need to burn off, you need to get your finances in tip-top shape, or you simply have more to learn.

So you never get started.

You wait until the time is perfect. You read, you read, and you read some more, thinking once that perfect time comes, you’ll be fully prepared. You’ll know everything you need to know.

But the time will never be perfect.

You fix your finances, but then you realize you need to get in shape before you spend your hard-earned money on new clothes. You lose the flab and muscle up, but then you realize all those style tips you read a while back aren’t that fresh in your memory, so you better study up some more. Then, something happens that blows up your finances, and the cycle starts anew.

You have to stop waiting for the perfect time, because whenever you fix one thing, something else will come up. You will always be flawed, you will never be 100% mistake-proof, and something will always hold you back.

We aren’t perfect creatures with perfect lives. Not you, not Barron (Sorry B), not even me. I’m imperfect and I have an imperfect life, but I never let my limitations stop me from sharpening up my style.

So allow me to humiliate myself by confessing some of my own imperfections, and hopefully you’ll realize nothing can stop you from creating an awesome look.

1. I Don’t Know the Difference Between a Blazer and a Sports Coat

Yeah, I’m terribly embarrassed by this. You’d assume a style blogger would know everything about clothes, right? And here I’m telling you I can’t tell the difference between two garments.

You must think I’m an idiot for telling you this, because I just blew whatever credibility I had as someone giving style advice, right?

But here’s the thing: I’m no fashion expert. I don’t know everything about clothes. My knowledge is limited.

I’ve read a ton of fashion tips. I’ve read a gazillion articles on style. But I doubt more than 10% has truly stuck with me.

You can read all you want, but a lot of the information out there isn’t critical to looking good.

Focus on learning what’s important to put a flattering outfit together. Learn how clothes should fit, how to dress for your body type, and how to coordinate colors, etc. Everything else is just icing.

Worry about the details when you’ve mastered the big picture.

Some of you can probably tell me in the comments what the difference between a blazer and a sportcoat is. I know Barron could tell me. But honestly, I don’t care.

I’ve already looked it up a couple of times, but the information never stuck. Knowing the difference wasn’t beneficial to my style improvement, so why bother?

You don’t need to know everything about clothes to dress well.

You don’t need to learn everything before you get started.

You don’t learn style from reading about it either. You learn style from applying what you read and seeing the results with your own two eyes.

Just focus on one thing at a time, study it, and then apply what you learn.

  • Focus on learning proper fit for shirts, then find a shirt that fits.
  • Focus on learning color-skin coordination, then get clothes that flatter your skin.
  • Focus on learning pattern matching, then experiment with different patterns.

Trying to learn everything at once is the quickest way to fail.

Lesson: You don’t have to know everything about clothes to start enhancing your look now.

2. I Was a Terrible Dresser Not Too Long Ago

Yeah, I was absolutely horrible, and this was less than three years ago.

My everyday uniform consisted of:

  1. a graphic T-shirt
  2. an oversized hoodie
  3. a pair of baggy jeans

I always made sure the T-shirt and hoodie looked dreadful together, and I always ripped into the ends of my jeans, thinking it added to the distressed look.

If I would meet my past self today, I would guess I was actively trying to look my absolute worst.

tk picture: One of my better outfits of yore. facepalm

I took a while to realize just how poorly I dressed. I thought I wore cool T-shirts, cool hoodies, cool jeans — my style rocked.

But one day I read an article that made me realize I had a completely warped idea of how clothes should fit. I realized my look wasn’t cool; it was sloppy. I also realized how truly little I knew about style.

So I decided to start from scratch, get over my ego, and learn style as if I knew absolutely nothing (which wasn’t far from the truth). Every time I assumed I already knew something, I reminded myself of the fit article.

My biggest style improvements happened during the six months after that moment.

At the start of those six months, I didn’t worry about colors, patterns or accessories. I kept everything simple. I was fully focused on getting the fit right. (I didn’t know it at the time, but I was building my wardrobe foundation.)

After I felt I had a grip on fit, I focused my complete attention on wearing colors.

Again, I kept everything simple at first. I only wore one colored piece at a time, and kept the rest of my outfit neutral. I started seeing how some colors looked better on me than others. I developed an eye for it. Then I started learning about color matching. (Ed. note: This is a great way to go about learning which colors go best with others.)

If you break things down this way, you’ll make huge improvements in a relatively short time, no matter where you’re currently at style-wise.

Lesson: You can quickly go from looking sloppy to looking sharp by starting from scratch, and focusing on one thing at a time.

3. I’m Not the Best-Dressed Guy in the World

Do you wish to be the best-dressed guy in the world? Do you wish to grace the cover of GQ as this year’s best-dressed male?

If you’re like me, you don’t care about any of that — those are not your goals for improving your style.

My own goals are:

  • to make a mature, put-together impression when I meet someone for the first time
  • to not repel women with a sloppy outfit
  • to show people I respect myself enough to take care of my appearance

I don’t need to be the world’s best-dressed to achieve this. I just need to look well enough.

My style isn’t especially formal, extravagant or in-your-face. The simplicity I talked about before has mostly stuck, and I like it that way.

I don’t like to think too much about my outfits. I’m at a point where I can grab a few pieces out of my wardrobe and know how to combine them into a great outfit, without obsessing about too many details.

Ironically, when I started reinventing my style, I was mega-obsessive over the details. I wanted everything to be perfect, and my over-analyzing kept me from making progress for a long time.

When I embraced my inability to fix all my style issues at once, I started reducing them one at a time (see previous confession) and my style started leaping and bounding.

Lesson: You don’t have to be a perfect dresser right from the get-go. Embrace your style imperfections and reduce them one by one.

4. I Don’t Own a Single Suit, Nor Have I Ever Worn One

I have often read the following piece of advice: Every man needs to have at least one suit in his wardrobe.

And it has always put me off.

Not that I’m against suits, but it’s like telling me I have to dress hip-hop to be stylish. I’m not against the hip-hop look, but I’m not a hip-hopper, and I don’t want people to see me as a hip-hopper.

Every style source told me I needed a suit though, so the idea nested itself in my brain as truth.

I have felt ashamed for not owning a suit. I felt like a fraud starting a style blog, and even reconsidered it a few times.

But recently, I had an epiphany.

I’d feel like an even bigger fraud putting on a suit because I wouldn’t be communicating who I am. I wouldn’t be expressing myself.

While I fully realize I’d look that much sexier sporting a suit, I’d feel like I was sending people a wrong image of myself. I’d feel like I was pretending to be someone I’m not.

I don’t work in an office, I don’t attend formal events, and I’m not in love with the suited-up look. I have no actual need for a suit.

So I refuse to be ashamed for being a casual guy any longer. I refuse to be ashamed for wearing the clothes I feel most myself in, even if it goes against the image the style community paints of what a stylish guy looks like.

Style is ultimately about telling people who you are through your clothes, so never adopt a look you don’t like for yourself.

Buuuuuuut, DO NOT use this as an excuse to stay inside your comfort zone. Saying a look isn’t you is easy when you’re reluctant to leave your comfort zone.

Would you feel more professional wearing a suit? Is it something you see yourself wearing in the future? Do you see a dapper suit as your ultimate style finish line?

If your answer is yes to any of those questions, then go for it, dammit.

If you’re like me though, and a suit isn’t the finish line for you, feel free to chase the look you do want.

Lesson: Start building the look you want, and ignore anyone telling you to adopt a different one. Style is about expressing who you are, after all.

5. I’m Not Fashion-Model Pretty or Ripped Like an Athlete

I don’t have a fashion model’s face or an athlete’s body. I’m a skinny guy with baggy eyes, slightly crooked teeth and an undefined jawline.

I have a lot of things I could be insecure about, and I was for quite some time. But now, I feel confident about my appearance, even if it isn’t perfect. It’s as good as I can make it, and that’s enough.

Nobody’s expecting you to look like the guys in the magazines, dude. You’ll reap the benefits of great style even when your physique isn’t perfect, so don’t wait until it is.

As men, we are lucky enough not to be judged as much on our actual physiques as our perceived qualities. We can easily influence people’s perceptions of us by enhancing the image we present to them.

When you’re dressed and groomed well, people will assume you’re funnier, smarter and generally more capable, despite your physical shortcomings.

Lesson: Once you start progressing your style, you’ll reap the benefits despite your physical shortcomings.

6. I Have a Drawer Full of Crappy Accessories That I Never Wear

Once upon a time, I read a blog post telling me that accessories were the ornaments that give your outfit a personal touch. This blog post gave Johnny Depp as an example, which is why I now have a drawer full of wristbands and bracelets that I never wear.

The advice in the blog post wasn’t bad, nor was Johnny Depp as an example, but I didn’t understand the message.

The point of the blog post wasn’t “Wear a ton of accessories like Johnny Depp,” It was “Look how Johnny Depp uses accessories to create a distinct image.”

I’m not Johnny, and all those wrist accessories didn’t fit my personality or my look.

While I’m not thrilled to have wasted money on them, I don’t regret buying all those accessories. While I didn’t get the point of the article, I took action on it. I made a mistake, and I learned from it.

And the lesson has really stuck.

Making mistakes doesn’t mean you’re not improving. Quite the opposite. You learn best when you find out you’re doing something wrong, and then correct yourself.

Six months after I got serious about learning how to dress, I still made silly beginner mistakes, but my style had evolved a ton.

Every mistake you make will bring you closer to the style you desire.

Lesson: Don’t let your fear of mistakes shackle you from honing your style. They are part of your progress.

7. I Have a S#!^*y Salary

A while ago I made an important life choice. I decided I wouldn’t be happy continuing down the path I was on. So against the advice of everyone around me, I left it.

My decision came with a price.

I’m not making as much money as I could be. Hell, I’m making a lot less.

But you don’t need to be in the Fortune 500 to upgrade your style. You can do so with a mediocre salary. Just get it out of your head that all your new clothes have to be expensive. Learn which items you should spend little on and which items you should spend big on.

You’ll do okay.

Lesson: You don’t need a fortune to start enhancing your style.

Accept Your Flaws, Mistakes and Limitations and Start Upgrading Your Style Now

Look, I’m the most self-obsessed guy in the world and I don’t enjoy telling you my flaws and limitations.

But I want to show you that nothing can hold you back from improving your style if you don’t let it.

Flaws are acceptable. Mistakes are progress. Limitations slow you down, but they can’t stop you.

So stop waiting for everything to be perfect.

You don’t need to know everything. You don’t need a perfect body. You don’t need a huge salary.

You already have everything you need.

You’re ready to start rebuilding your wardrobe.

So get busy on that, you flawed, mistake-making human being.

Robert is offering to personally help your over your own sticking points and get you started on your style. Visit this page and follow the instructions to receive his free advice.



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33 Responses

  1. michael on

    Great piece, I swear, that’s my life, except I do have the suit in the wardrobe, I just never wear it, I prefer the Blazer/sports coat, I just looked and I can’t tell the difference.

      • Dan J. on

        About six months ago, a good friend – a lady in her early thirties – died of a heart condition. Completely unexpected and I found out about it the night before the funeral. I was quite happy that I had an appropriate suit hanging in the closet. I originally bought it for my step-dad’s funeral about ten years ago and that was the third time I’d worn it. I’m certainly not going to tell anyone else they have to have a suit. If you don’t – what, they’re going to come and take your style card? It’s your choice what to hang in your closet and how to spend your money. But for me, if something happened to my suit I’d certainly replace it. It’s important to me to be prepared for anything, even if the necessity arises very rarely.

        • Robert van Tongeren on

          I get it. I know why they say every man needs a suit.

          I actually scrapped a whole bit from this article where I analyzed the reasoning behind the advice, and why it didn’t apply to my situation. But I felt it was irrelevant to the point.

          The point being: Somebody who looks different than you, lives in a different place than you, has different morals and values than you and — to put it plainly — just isn’t you, might have set these rules for reasons that don’t apply to you.

          The point was that you shouldn’t blindly follow advice, or wear stuff just because somebody says you should.

  2. Chris Myhalsky on

    Great article! I’m happy to say that none of that really came as a surprise to me, and that I’ve been able to do well restarting my style thanks to a lot of that, although it just seemed like common sense stuff to me!

  3. David X L on

    Traditionally, blazers were worn for sailing while sport coats were worn for hunting (shooting jacket) or riding (hacking jacket). In most of the US, we call a blazer any lapel jacket worn with unmatched pants, but they were traditionally navy blue with a patch pocket and gold buttons. Sport coats look more rustic and are usually patterned.

    • Dan J. on

      The history of the terms is fine but it doesn’t help that much if I walked up to you and handed you a random jacket. Could you tell if it’s a blazer, sport coat or suit coat? If I wear my suit coat with unmatched pants, does it automagically morph into a blazer? There are some cases where it’s pretty easy to say “Yeah, this is X.” But there are lots of cases where I couldn’t start to tell you and I’m OK with that.

        • Dan J. on

          Generally speaking, no argument from me. There are some cases where a jacket is obviously an orphaned suit coat and I don’t care for that look. It just looks off to my eye, like the outfit is missing something. But, as I said, if I can’t tell the difference I’m OK with that and I’ll happily wear it as a blazer.

          • Robert van Tongeren on

            Yes, but that’s because suits are meant to be more formal. Blazers and sports coats are casual jackets.

            Anyway, it was just an example. The point was you could improve your style without having to learn every last thing.

      • David X L on

        I’m with you. The difference between a blazer and sport coat isn’t a big deal, but there are other situations where knowing the distinctions and histories of items may come in handy. For instance, knowing the history of shoes can help you decide their formality. Or knowing the history of a cummerbund will help you remember that the folds point up (to hold opera tix).

          • Robert van Tongeren on

            Ah, nice perspective. I still don’t think a newbie should try to absorb all this information before he gets started though, which was really the point. I believe most guys could benefit tremendously from just a pinch of the right information.

            Learning the history of shoes, to use your example, isn’t what a newbie should focus on.

            Instead of trying to teach him the different formalities of shoes through historic use, I’d restrict his options to five (or less) different types, and teach him when, where and with what they are appropriate. I would explain which one is most formal and which is most casual. Then later, when he can properly differentiate between the five, I’d slowly expand his options.

            I think that would be a much better way to develop his eye, as Derek talks about at the start of his article.

            Like I said, just keep it simple.

  4. K to the Poon on

    Great article. I was in the same boat style-wise 4 years ago, wearing baggy jeans, a long sleeve under a short sleeve tee, hoodie, track jackets, all that jazz. Once I realized how sloppy that look was and the impression I was giving, I started down the path of improving. It was a ton of trial and error in the beginning, since it was before I discovered that there were such things as menswear blogs and the such, but it helped me figure out what I looked good in, and what I should avoid. I didn’t start delving into wearing colors outside the norm until the past year or so, but boy am I glad I did.

  5. Don on

    I’m with you on all but 4… I’m a grad student but a few times a year, I have professional meetings and conferences where suit is necessary.

    I think owning a suit is still quite important even if its not in your everyday wardrobe. I mean, I think it was Aaron Marino on youtube that said something like “someone in your life will either get married or die in the next year, and you will need to wear a suit”…ok maybe thats not necessarily the case but its not a totally preposterous assumption, and other than those two occasions there will be events that come up that requires a suit on a short notice. even if I never wore my suit, I would still feel better to have one and not be the most underdressed guy at the said event (been there). Finally, a navy suit blazer and pants could be worn separately pretty easily and fit in the rest of anyone’s wardrobe. Now… a super 120 business suit is probably not something most people need.

    • Robert van Tongeren on

      Yeah, so in your case, the advice is solid.

      Where I live, people are not expected to wear suits to weddings or funerals, and I’ve seen my share of both. As long as you’re dressed nice, you’re good.
      But if you live in a culture where you’d be underdressed at these events in anything BUT a suit, then yes, you should have one in your closet. You don’t want to appear disrespectful.

      My point wasn’t that nobody ever really needs a suit. It was that you should question whether someone else’s so-called rules apply to your own situation. In your case the rule “A man needs at least one suit in his wardrobe” does apply, but that doesn’t mean it’s true for everyone.

      • Tj Pearce on

        I’m not quite sure what other pieces of clothing would work for a wedding/funeral? Are you not planning on wearing a suit to your own wedding, because it’s not “you”?
        I think I’m going to have to fervently disagree with you on the question of suits. A huge part of men’s style is getting in touch with history, and jumping in the always flowing river of men’s apparel. I’m just not sure how you can avoid the suit?

        • Robert van Tongeren on

          Okay, you’re obviously from a place where wedding and funerals are held more traditionally, and that’s totally cool. But know that things like these are not done the same way all around the world. There are differences in culture, and not just from country to country, but from state to state, and even city to city.

          I’m not against suits, but I feel no need to add the garment to my own personal wardrobe. I believe you shouldn’t wear anything you don’t want to wear, because if you don’t like wearing it, it’ll show.

          I guess we see style as different things, but then again, that’s why it’s called personal style, right? I don’t feel like I have to get in touch with history and jump in any rivers of menswear. I just want to look mature, presentable and attractive to the ladies. (See also: Confession #3)

          And to answer your question, if I ever get married myself, there’s a good chance I’ll wear a suit. But maybe my mrs. Right is very adventurous and I’ll be wearing scubagear instead, so excuse me if I don’t go out and buy a suit for that faraway occassion. (I assume I’ll have some time pre-wedding to go out and buy one)

          • Dave Hahn on

            TJ, you are wrong. I’m in my mid-thirties and go to weddings all the time – suits are not required at every wedding at all. Try wearing a suit in the middle of July outdoors in the South. It blows. Big time.

  6. Steve Gordon on

    Haha, your “old” look looks exactly like the old me! Actually, there are resemblances in more than the just the clothes also (for better or worse).

    An excellent article, summing up the best of your other articles. I like how you have great style advice, but still retain a “keep it real” perspective (a carryover from your old attitude, I guess). Some style blogs see themselves as “above” covering the basics.

    I recently updated my wardrobe with the basics from your wardrobe foundation articles. The only thing I have yet to commit to is a blazer/sportscoat. I’m still not 100% sure it’s for me yet, and cost conveniently stops me taking the plunge too hastily. But I’ve seen too many style recommendations in their favor to put it off much longer…

    As for owning a suit, you are pretty lucky to live where these are never be needed. Where I live, people would wear them to bed if they could! Really not me. I have one for formal occasions, and my first crappy one as backup. But you’re right – if worst comes to worst, someone could just rent one, right?

    • Robert van Tongeren on

      Don’t know if they see themselves as “above the basics”. I think most style blogs are started by guys who have a natural affinity to style, and maybe they have trouble relating to the newbie because of it.

      You know how they say the best players don’t necessarily make the best coaches? It’s because the best players tend to have a good dose of natural talent. When you have to teach yourself something without natural talent, you’re forced to figure out why things work the way they work.

  7. Talton on

    No fair, where’s the after pic?

    Great post, Robert. I like the emphasis of the fact that a personal style is an evolution and not something that happens over night.

    Per section:

    5. A fun and confident personality > being a shallow photoshopped model. Your personal style is an extension of that personality.

    6. Your style isn’t a destination, it’s an evolution. Plus it’s funny to look back to say “What was I thinking?”

    7. Fit > Cost

  8. Steven on

    This is by far one my favourite posts in this blog, I would rather read this than all of your style tips combined. Your honesty has made me like this blog, this is what a blog post should be. Yourself, right? Thank you for this article. 🙂

  9. Dave Hahn on

    Great article. #4 is my favorite and I totally agree. Every friggin’ blog keeps telling ya how much you need to get a navy and charcoal suit. I work in the entertainment business, on the post-production side. I work with creative people with phenomenal style every day. NOBODY wears a suit. EVER. When I’m off work, my friends are actors, musicians and artists. Guess what? All really cool people and NO SUITS. There’s the occasional blazer or sport coat but no one wears suits. My friends make decent money, are professional but our social and work environment don’t require us to wear suits except on the rare occasion. I have nothing against suits(I own several) or people who wear them regularly but the fact remains that fashion and style at it’s best is personal and unique. Wear or buy a great lined navy suit if that’s your thing but don’t feel like your wardrobe is incomplete without one. Especially if you’re just starting to build your foundation and you don’t wear suits regularly? Spend that money on some raw slim denim, some oxfords, a nice pair of brown shoes or boots, a nice full grain wallet and belt and a classic basic watch… Robert, love your before pic! I used to dress the same way – even bought a white belt at one time (face palm)…