As much as I extol the benefits of having a wardrobe full of basics, once you’ve gotten familiar with them, those same clothes can be, well… kind of boring. Don’t you agree?

I love a Lean Wardrobe, and I believe every man should strive to own the basics. It’s good to have a handle on these essentials, but once you’ve mastered that art, what comes next?

Sticking to only your basics as a complete look can become robotic after a while, and as we know, the best personal style is a combination of 1.) the classics, 2.) trendy, “of the moment”, or popular pieces, and 3.) a bit of your own personality thrown in to the mix.

How To Take It A Step Further

So, what’s a man to do if he’s looking to take his style further, once his Lean Wardrobe is in place?

A few options:

  1. Good: blindly look at individual items in stores and online, and figure out if they’ll work for him through sheer willpower and imagination
  2. Better: browse through images (clothing collages, photos of guys wearing clothes) to find inspiration and see how others pull off the styles he likes
  3. Best: figure out the style archetypes he gravitates toward, study the distinctions, and emulate what he likes (while dropping what he doesn’t)

While some combination of all three is ideal, we’ve rarely discussed the third option. So let’s do that.

What Is A Style Archetype?

Essentially, it’s an iconic look or set of looks, a caricaturization of a lifestyle and the way its participants dress (and, by extension, act and live).

The following is a sampling—by no means a complete list—of what I believe to be relevant (especially in the US) archetypes of men’s style. It’s a bit oversimplified, but you get the idea.

  • Mr. Americana, a.k.a. I wear all denim everything, The Workman, The Modern Cowboy. Characterized by blue collar style, the wild frontier, or some combination of both.
  • The Continental Man, a.k.a. The Italian, Mr. Sprezzatura, The Rake, The Man With European Sensibilities. He loves color, a bit of flash, and impeccable tailoring.
  • The Minimalist, who has an affinity with dark, somber suits, simple white or light blue shirts, and dark ties. Think 60s-era Mad Men.
  • The Collegiate, a.k.a. The Trad, The Prep, Mr. Ivy League, The Wasp. Loves pressed khakis, tweed, OCBDs, penny loafers, and navy blazers. Anything traditional(ly American) or reminiscent of prep school style of the early- to mid-1900s.
  • The Rocker, a.k.a The Musician, The Punk. All black and skinny everything. Worn T-shirts, Stovepipe denim, sneakers or black boots, black leather jackets.
  • The Outdoorsman, a.k.a. The Woodsman, The Guy With A Beard And A Plaid Flannel. Focuses on function over form, appreciates durable products and fabrics: rigid denim, thick flannels, heavy wool sweaters.

Tip o’ the hat to a few other sites that have already defined these archetypes.

An Alternative To The Fine-Grained Description

For a more succinct version of this topic, check out my friend Tanner’s three main style archetypes over at Masculine Style: Rugged, Refined, and Rakish.

I tend to like this approach better. His series poses three overarching descriptions that illustrate the origins and attitudes behind the Rugged Man, the Refined Man, and the Rakish Man.

You’ll notice that elements of each of the granular archetype descriptions are found under one or more of Tanner’s three Rs. Therefore, you’re not beholden to any one specific type of look; you simply have to understand the characteristics of each and how you fit into them.

Another way of thinking about archetypes is to imagine you’re forming a sort of persona. Not necessarily denying or changing who you truly are, but finding a style that enhances how you want to feel or be perceived… akin to an actor playing a role in a film.

Archetypes Are Just Templates

Whether you’re inspired by the more granular approach to style archetypes, or you like the overarching definitions of Tanner’s three Rs, use this knowledge as a template or model for your own style.

You don’t have to copy (or even like) every single element of one particular look. You can mix and match elements from different style archetypes into a look your very own… and that’s the best part!

There are elements in each of these archetypes we can identify with; it’s our job to take that inspiration and apply it to our own look in a manner that speaks to us.

Conclusion

This isn’t the whole story, merely an introduction and the beginning of a larger conversation.

Going forward, I want the articles on EG to not only focus on the basics, but to become a source of inspiration that pushes your style further, confidently and assuredly. Your personal style needs to go beyond basics in order for it to be a true reflection of you, and I want to help you get there.

Does the idea of style archetypes help you compose your own look and personal style more easily? How do YOU find inspiration?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

If you found this article useful, make sure to check out our Lean Wardrobe resources page.

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12 Responses

  1. Jan Grossman, Esq. on

    So where would you place the classic, American, Brooks Brothers look? Though I perceive it as a blend of the Collegiate and the Minimalist, I am amazed that you omitted it entirely. It is certainly not the Continental Man, but not as drab and boring as how you describe the Minimalist; and, of course, not always as sporty as your description of the Collegiate appears. Add another category.

    • Mountain Evan Chang on

      Well, he does write: “The following is a sampling—by no means a complete list—of what I believe to be relevant (especially in the US) archetypes of men’s style. It’s a bit oversimplified, but you get the idea.”

      Then he mentions Tanner’s 3 main archetypes. I would say the classic, American, Brooks Brothers look you describe falls under “Refined.”

    • WideEyesTightWallets on

      I’d say that falls pretty well under the Collegiate style – Brooks Bros is pretty widely recognized as one of the ultimate prep brands. Yes, they have more formal wear, but every so often an Ivy guy has to dress up – and when he does, chances are it’s going to be a Brooks Bros suit. The base of the collegiate look might be ‘sporty,’ but I’d even disagree with that categorization – I’d describe chinos, OCBD’s and tweed blazers as more professorial or academic than sporty (never seen a sport that involved pressed khakis, loafers and tweed blazers) – but each archetype will have it’s own versions of casual and formal.

  2. TJ on

    If I had to pick one I would say that “collegiate” category. I like chinos, ocbd’s and loafers. Most of what I own now are staples of that style. I used to hate it but I’ve really come to love it. My favorite stores are J Crew and Brooks Brothers. I’m also a bit of the woodsman and the continental too.

    • Barron on

      That’s mostly what I’ve been into as well, the past several years. As you (and your style) evolve, keep on trying new things. Sounds like you have, considering you see a bit of woodsman and continental flavors in your overall style. I moved to NYC recently and I already recognize my interests shifting. While I probably won’t ever change my base tastes (they’re classic, after all), it never hurts to add new things here and there, and mashing up styles together.

      • TJ on

        I’ve moved to Florida recently so I have learned to love shorts in the summer. I don’t let it influence me a lot though, Flroida is not exactly a fashion Mecca.

  3. Eugene Walter on

    Would say that lightening up the collegiate look with graphic-ts worn under open button downs + throwing in a bit of woodsman and rocker would be a good way to let my nerd flag fly while still looking good?