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:
- Good: blindly look at individual items in stores and online, and figure out if they’ll work for him through sheer willpower and imagination
- Better: browse through images (clothing collages, photos of guys wearing clothes) to find inspiration and see how others pull off the styles he likes
- 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.
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.
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.