I received an interesting question from reader La Corbusierie:
Could you please help me? I was an honest pursuer of menswear goals, was trying to look nice and classy, was ordering USA-made navy blazers from eBay and honing my collection of Goodyear-welted dress shoes. But now I realize that I feel myself the best in a simple grey sweatshirt, navy chinos and sneakers. I’ve recently felt the urge to buy a a green Penfield weatherproof jacket and vintage Nike’s. Am I lost forever? What should I do? How do I save myself from the perils?
Naturally, the answer here is, “You gotta do you, homie”, but I think this speaks to something a bit larger and I can relate.
My default workday uniform is a OCBD, jeans and desert boots (or linen shirt, linen-cotton trousers and loafers if it’s summer). I may put on a jacket if I’m headed out for lunch so I can carry my EDC (wallet, chapstick, pen, cellphones and inhaler).
I don’t wear most of my wardrobe (hence why I keep getting rid of a lot of it). I keep my suits and jackets zipped up in canvas suit bags, my trousers and ties on hangars and racks, and shoes polished on a shelving unit. I keep them there in the event I need them.
But the fact is I don’t need them very often — at least not at my current job. I’ve worn a suit maybe twice since getting this job (and never once in Mountain View, Calif.) and rarely wear a necktie for work-related reasons.
When I do “dress up”, it’s mostly because I want to do so — going out with friends for dinner, visiting family, attending a show of some sort in the evening — not because it’s required or expected. I simply wear nicer things because I want to and enjoy it. It’s become part of my personality in a way to wear something appropriate where there’s a sense of occasion.
No one will punish you if you’re not wearing lookbook-fresh, streetstyle-shot ready outfits every day. Nor should you feel obligated to do so. If wearing casual clothing suits your everyday life better and you’re happier and feel more like “you”, then do it.
But the important thing is to have a good suit around for when you need it or a decent business casual outfit for when you have to dress up a little for a nice dinner. Keep those around in the closet, sell or donate the rest.
If you’ve found a uniform that works for you, awesome. Don’t worry about what #menswear thinks, because at the end of the day your opinion and choices matter more to you than anyone else.
After moving out to the San Francisco Bay Area last week, my daily commute now consists of maybe getting up off of my bed and into the living room. As you can imagine, this doesn’t necessitate clothing remotely approaching the most casual work attire.
Combine this with the area’s tech-startup culture and you instantly find yourself in a completely different mindset from when you have to get up, get dressed, get on a train and get to an office building each morning for work in the hustle-bustle of Chicago’s Loop.
I’ve continued to wear my uniform, however, I’ve shed parts of it. I don’t put on a sport coat or blazer, nor do I knot a tie around my neck. What you see above is what I wear each day: jeans, a blue OCBD, military web belt and socks (if my toes are cold).
Often, we leave the apartment for lunch and I’ll quickly throw on a pair of desert boots and a navy washed cotton sport coat with a silk pocket square. It’s still casual and gives me the ability to carry my loose items like my wallet, pocket calendar and phones with me around downtown Mountain View.
It’s not something that would ever get you noticed by a street-style photographer in New York during fashion week, but it’s still stylishly practical for the environment I work and live in daily.
I know many will probably find this extremely boring. It’s not challenging. The pocket square is barely trying to interject a color into a very monochrome palette. Wouldn’t a necktie elevate this look? Why not add a more formal element or two? Anyone could do this!
And, yes, anyone could do this. That’s my point. Creating a stylish look is really simple. You don’t need a complicated wardrobe or to really do anything super “advanced” with color, patterns and fabrics. You don’t need to wear a full suit — or even a necktie — to have a cohesive, put-together look. And dressing nicely doesn’t even have to be a daily practice that interferes with your daily life and morning routine.
If you’re living frugally on the Ramen Noodle Budget, don’t think you need to wear a new outfit everyday of the month. No one will ever expect you to never wear the same thing twice. Odds are, if they do notice that you wore the same thing twice, then you’re probably dressing a bit too outrageously to the point where people are remembering your clothing instead of you as the person.
So, realize what you need each day and dress yourself accordingly for your situation. It might turn out that you don’t need much.
Fit details after the jump:
I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately toward moving even more closely toward a personal uniform. Pieces of this have been slowly happening the more I’ve come to find what my tastes and preferences are for things.
When I first started to learn more about the topic of dressing nicely and #menswear in general, it was very overwhelming. Besides the depths of information you could mine via forums, blogs and sites, there was also seemingly an equivalent amount of infinite products and combinations you could purchase.
Taking a look back through my WIWT archives, I’m really all over the place. A lot of stuff is pieced together and I was buying items an individual units, not as part of an overall cohesive effort to recognize where each piece fits into my wardrobe as a whole.
I had a lot of shirts in different colors, which meant a lot of ties in different colors. This meant getting more pocket squares in a lot of colors. And so forth, the wardrobe expanded. I’d get an odd jacket here and there and then get a tie for the jacket. The cycle got out of control. I went from only filling up one tie hangar to needing four of them and thinking of getting a fifth. At that point, I really had to reassess what was going on.
A large part of my wardrobe wasn’t been worn very often. I found myself going back toward the same look more often than straying from it and doing something a bit wild and different. Sure, I could put together some interesting looks and dress loudly when I felt like it, but being a rebellious personality isn’t my thing — it was a reaction toward being bored in a bureaucratic work environment and thinking, “I should do at least one fun thing today,” and coming up with odd things to wear was part of that.
But now, things have changed in my life. The new job environment, for one, is much more relaxed and wearing my bureaucratic uniform with a noisy twist is somewhat out of place with the lifestyle I have now. This has all gotten me thinking how I want to re-approach my wardrobe and style.
(Image via AP)
The desire for a uniform is something that I’d been kicking around for a while. I started giving it serious thought after reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs and his experience working with designer Issey Miyake. Steve Jobs’ uniform emerged from their collaboration together to design an Apple employee uniform:
He also came to like the idea of having a uniform for himself, both because of its daily convenience (the rationale he claimed) and its ability to convey a signature style. “So I asked Issey to make me some of his black turtlenecks that I liked, and he made me like a hundred of them.” Jobs noticed my surprise when he told this story, so he showed them stacked up in the closet. “That’s what I wear,” he said. “I have enough to last for the rest of my life.”
Complimenting that passage was an essay by John Gruber who recalled the time he saw Jobs up close and noticed the obvious parts of his uniform with one striking detail: grass stains on Jobs’ shoes:
Surely, my mind raced, surely he has more than one pair of those shoes. He could afford to buy the factory that made them. Why wear this grass-stained pair for the keynote, a rare and immeasurably high-profile public appearance? My guess: he didn’t notice, didn’t care. One of Jobs’s many gifts was that he knew what to give a shit about. He knew how to focus and prioritize his time and attention. Grass stains on his sneakers didn’t make the cut.
I like the idea of only worrying about something once and never having to think much of it again. I see the hobbyist appeal of clothing and the creative outlet it gives people, too. But on the flip side of the coin it would be great to make a decision and never have to deviate from it much again. That “daily convenience” does have some value to some people.
As I began to edit my wardrobe down mentally, I noticed the items I’d keep were meant to all just work together seamlessly. The less variation, the less time spent on the tyrannical paralysis that comes from the abundance of options and choice.
I also began to think about what I wanted my clothing to convey about who I was as a person. This is really cliche to say, I realize, but it’s really true about how you get judged by what you wear. I realized that if I were to pick a uniform and stick with it, then each element would have to be saying the right thing.
More importantly, it would have to be extremely versatile, able to work casually and professionally throughout the day. In addition, I wanted it to be easily modifiable throughout the seasons in a simple manner. It also needed to give me the functionality I wanted for my EDC of items I carried with me. Finally, each element either had to be something I could easily stock up on or would last me a significant amount of time (maybe even a lifetime). I didn’t want to find myself wearing out an item and then not being able to easily replace it.
With this in mind, I thought about other people well-known for the uniform they wear and a few came to mind immediately. The first was Thom Browne, who distinctively wears a grey suit, with a few red, white and blue accents (namely, to maintain his branding, but they are also meant to introduce color on a neutral palette):
(Image via Hypebeast)
Now, say what you will about how Browne plays with the suit’s classic proportions or his more “out there” fashion designs, but the takeaway for me was that he recognizes that if you start with a neutral base, you can inject a small amount of color that will be magnified since it’s surrounded by so much blandness around it. Importantly, wearing shades of the same color without much contrast also makes the color in your face stand out more noticeably.
I also thought of Bill Cunningham, who has made of career of documenting street style through photography. One of the interesting parts of the documentary about his life (“Bill Cunningham: New York”) was where he talked about his humble uniform. It’s simple: he picks up a workman’s jacket in France and wears it simply for its functionality found in all the pockets which he uses to store his photography gear.
(Image via PMc)
What you wear should be functional. I hadn’t even really thought to use my blazer pockets to hold my stuff until I saw this video featuring Sid Mashburn, who explained that he uses it to carry everything he needs throughout the day. Nowdays, I can’t imagine not wearing a blazer just for that reason. So, whatever I ended up choosing would have to give me that functionality throughout the year. Seasons can change as can actual items being worn, but the functionality should remain consistent.
When it comes to uniforms that balanced casualness and formality, I thought also of Andy Warhol’s semi-well-known uniform of a blazer, repp-striped tie and blue jeans. I think this came pretty close to where I wanted to move towards. You’re arguably more dressed up than just wearing a shirt and jeans, but denim also means you’re not too over-dressed for an occasion.
(Image via LIFE)
Some would consider Warhol’s uniform a bit of an ironic statement to adopt an aesthetic from the Ivy-League look. I’m not much of a historian or expert on the artist’s life, but I do know that I really like wearing my navy blazers the best and most days at some point I’m in my pair of Levi’s 501s and an OCBD. In the end, I’m probably heavily borrowing from this look, which was borrowed to begin with itself.
Here’s the uniform I’ve picked.
In truth, it’s not ultra restrictive as you might think. There’s still a lot of variance and I’m keeping some items on hand still for certain occasions. But on the whole, this is what I’ll be wearing Monday thru Friday.
Shirt: Blue button-down collar dress shirt — While white shirts look nice and clean, I think they wash me out a bit. Also, I wanted to move toward a blue palette and this is the base layer to build upon. The button-down collar is less formal than a spread collar shirt might be and works best at time when layering is needed from a v-neck sweater or a tie is not worn. For most of the year, I’ll be wearing OCBDs from Brooks Brothers, however, last year I discovered that I really needed summer shirting. To solve this problem, I’ll be getting some MTM linen-cotton blend shirts for something lighter.
Neckwear: Navy neckties — Wearing and knotting a tie is one of my favorite things, so I think this is a great place to have a variety of options. I’m going to be sticking to simple patterns (dots, bar stripes) and the simple palette of only including white and/or red as secondary colors used. I don’t want anything too complicated or flashy.
Pocket squares: Coordinating with the tie I choose to wear will be much simpler now, but I still would like variation to exist. I have two Kent Wang squares with contrast trim in blue and white, another white linen square, two white linen squares with red floral designs for summer and a E.G. Cappelli silk square that’s got a paisley geometric set of designs in blue, red and gold. Again, I’m sticking with elements of red, white and blue that could easily go with the rest of my uniform.
Jacket: Navy blazer — This was a simple one to pick. I have several for different times of the year in worsted wool, flannel and an unlined tropical wool one for summer. I have another linen-cotton unlined one for summer weekends with a faint light-blue pinstripe and a cashmere one for cooler temperatures. I have a few “blogger blue” ones to also rotate in, too, during warmer weather. Regardless, the idea is to keep my jacket centered on the shade of blue. It’s simple to work with and looks great.
Pants: Dark denim — It’s comfortable and fits great. Again, it keeps with the blue palette, too. My day-to-day is a bit too casual for needing grey trousers five days a week now like before.
Footwear: Unsure — I’m not quite sure what to pick and will be giving this a lot more thought. Regardless, I’ll be rotating in the various shoes in my wardrobe for now until I really have something I feel strongly about.
I’ll also be keeping several other wardrobe items on hand beyond just the elements of my uniform. As great as a uniform is, it’s never going to be batting 100% for you in all situations.
Here’s the rest of what I’m keeping on hand:
Grey wool trousers: one tropical wool, one mid-weight wool, one flannel — At some point, I imagine I’ll need to wear trousers for slightly more formal occasions. My fix is to simply have a trouser on hand for each season.
Worsted wool suit: dark grey, navy — When the blazer and trousers won’t cut it for formality or for business meetings, I’ll be needing a suit. I’ll also be keeping two spread collar dress shirts (white for formal events and evenings, blue for business and daytime).
Sweaters: solid v-necks in lambwool, tennis sweater, chunky knit cardigan — The v-necks will be for layering in colder weather (one grey, one burgundy). The tennis sweater is also a great layering piece and can be great for milder weather when you might take your jacket off. The chunky knit cardigan is for when I just want to be warm around the house or running to do errands.
OCBDs: pink, white, ecru, red & white university stripes — There’s no way I’m going to give up my Brooks Brothers button-down shirts. They’re great for wearing casually and I’ll be wearing them on weekends when I want to do something a bit different.
Seasonal suits: seersucker, grey donegal tweed — These are great because they’re more casual, yet weather appropriate. Plus, they have the added benefit of being able to be broken up with the jacket and trousers worn separately. I’ll probably put these to use on the weekends as well.
Tuxedo: midnight blue dinner suit — Because sometimes you have the opportunity to wear black tie and shouldn’t miss the opportunity to do so. Also includes the obvious tuxedo shirt, black bowtie, cufflinks, solid white silk pocket square, black over-the-calf socks and black captoe balmorals.
Reds: red gingham button-down shirt, red go-to-hell chinos — For the most casual of days when I feel like having fun. Both still fit nicely into my blue palette.
Certainly, within this realm there are wardrobe staples that I’m glad to have and would never get rid of, even at my most minimalist wardrobe state. Others are a necessity to have on hand for the job. Additional elements are seasonally incorporated because of dropping temperatures. And some could be shed, but I’d miss them terribly.
And this is where attempt at a uniform begins — after an entirely too long of a thought process and even longer blog post. It is all a journey and experiment. I’m pushing myself toward one direction and away from another. It’s still much more narrow than it was before and a lot more focused.
There’s the added benefit of also being much more focused when it comes to future purchases, where all I have to do is ask myself, “Is this part of the uniform?” Interestingly, the only remaining purchases I need to make are MTM shirts for summer, otherwise, I own all of the elements now.
I’ll likely be picking up a necktie here or there if I find ones that really strike me. If I decide on a footwear uniform, I’ll make a purchase in that direction, too. But for now, it’s good to know that I’m really set with my wardrobe each morning I wake up to do work and go about my day.
I won’t say this is something everyone should do or that it’s even all that interesting or that it’ll make you the best-dressed person alive or that your uniform should look like mine. I will say that it’s for me and where I’m at in my life and I know it’ll work well.
I realize it’s been a slow week here at the blog, but I’ve been occupied with a few (good) things during the evening and a few (annoying, bad) things during the daytime. I’m going to be working on some stuff over the weekend for the upcoming week.
In the meantime, some #menswear long reads for those of you who’ve grown bored of looking at NYFW:
A charcoal suit is quite literally a suit of armour for many men - it is austere enough for business and respectful enough for mourning. It can transform in to the most dignified of English dress, or be slick and mode for those looking for more edge. I prefer it to black in all bar a dinner suit, especially when the cloth is tightly woven with a little sheen.
They are awesome.
I know that most of my followers aren’t going to do their own alterations, nor have the desire to do so. And that’s cool. I don’t hate cha. But I do hope that if you are contemplating making the leap, you do so. It’s not the most fun, but it is really rewarding. And it’ll help you save money.
Have a great weekend!
Last week, vigilantesteez left me a note asking how my personal style compared to that of my coworkers:
Hey man, another fellow Chicagoan here. Great tumblr! I’m sure you’ve addressed it before, but how does your style compare to your contemporaries at the office?
This is a bit of a complicated question. I work out of two offices (state capitol building and downtown Chicago) and there’s kinda-sorta three dress codes.
When I’m at the capitol for legislative session, the dress code is typically a suit. It’s actually in the state Senate rules that all gentlemen in the chamber must wear a jacket and tie (the state House chamber has no such dress code, and there’s no dress code for women in either chamber). Suits aren’t required, however, I tend to wear them — much like every other staffer, legislator, lobbyist or statehouse worker on session days — because it’s a fairly conservative environment. Have I bucked the trend and gone with odd jackets or no-socks? Sure, but you won’t find others often doing that. So, that environment is fairly formal.
When I’m up in the downtown Chicago office, there’s sort of two dress codes: when legislators are in the offices and when legislators aren’t in the offices. Some coworkers will wear a collared shirt, jacket and have a tie around if we know legislators are in the offices for meetings that day, however, most days it’s a very casual environment. Polos, khaki chinos, jeans, tennis shoes, etc., are kind of the norm here.
So, why do I wear a jacket and tie every day?
Well, our offices share the same floor as several other offices, including the governor’s office. From what I can tell, the governor’s office staff always wears suits. Often, visitors come up to the floor and once in a while I happen to know some of them waiting in the lobby, say “hello”, and they’ll be with someone who I don’t know and will introduce me. This happened once, a long while back, and the person with whom I wasn’t familiar asked if I was an intern.
For a while I thought it was my age, but I realized that question wouldn’t have been asked if I hadn’t been dressed like an intern (baggy chinos, untucked dress shirt, sporty “dress” shoes), but rather someone who looked mildly professional. After realizing this, I decided that it was time to dress better and stop being mistaken for an intern.
While my older colleagues have the choice to dress however they wish and not be mistaken for an intern, I don’t think I have the same choice because of my age. Just because there’s an option to “dress down” doesn’t necessarily mean that you should or must do it. I got a little bit of guff from coworkers when I started “dressing up for an interview” every day, but after doing this for well over a year I can pretty much wear whatever I want and look natural doing it.
My style in comparison to others in the office is definitely less conservative in a lot of ways — despite the fact it might be considered sobering around #menswear types. I don’t mind wearing fabrics and colors that are a bit loud, maybe even saying “GTH”. I’m one of only two people on staff who wears a pocket square. I definitely have my clothing altered for a slimmer, younger, modern cut — especially with trousers going no break. I don’t want to look like I’m dressed like a typical midwesterner from the suburbs.
So, I do try to differentiate myself, even if we’re all under the same dress code and putting on a suit. I might test the boundaries a bit, but at least I don’t look like an intern.
Lots of great essays came out this week. I haven’t had the chance to blog about them yet, but they were good reads in case you missed them.
If “dressed by the internet” is an officially coined phrase, then it’s time for the “dressed by the internet” look to die. There’s a lot of talk about “finding your personal style”. Let’s all actually try that instead of wasting money competing in the Online Steez Olympics and posing for attention. How great would that be?
It started in highschool, on eBay. Thrift, upsell. Buy a poorly listed item, take better pictures, upsell. Buy a suit without a description, give measurements, upsell. I got better and better at it the more transactions I made and the more I learned about product.
I have a sartorial confession to make. This is the very first year I’ve gone sockless. I know I know, how did I ever manage? Well, to be perfectly honest there was a time (let’s say freshman/sophomore year of college) when I’d talk your ear off about how socks were the only thing that kept society from complete collapse.
Why you might ask? I drank a lot more back then.
You see, I acquired that watch years ago through less-than-legal means, a part of my past I am deeply ashamed of. It’s the only relic I have from that period of my life, and I have held on to it as a symbol of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.
I’ve come so far, in fact, that I have lately wanted to get rid of that watch. I don’t need a reminder—I’ve moved past that to a whole ‘nother life entirely.
Note: This is the fourth and final part in a series to help you with picking a necktie. Be sure to read the other parts if you have the time or curiosity.
But as you play with the endless possibilities and gradually build up your neckwear wardrobe, you’ll probably, eventually, devise a set of your own philosophies toward what goes under your collar.
These are mine. I hesitate to call them personal rules or maxims, because they’re so personal to me, my wardrobe and what I’ve found works. So, don’t take them as something everyone — including you — should do.
If I wear a tie, I wear a jacket. Or a cardigan sweater, waistcoat, sweater vest or light coat. I feel like you need a layer on over your shirt if you wear a tie, otherwise it doesn’t look right. The tie isn’t framed by a “V” around your upper middle chest and neck. Something’s just off about that for me.
Neckties do actually serve a purpose: to keep your collar upright under your jacket. Most off-the-rack and cheaper shirting will slouch beneath your jacket without a tie (or button-down collar). A tie keeps you from looking sloppy while wearing a shirt and jacket.
There’s such a thing as “too skinny”, but it’s not the same for everyone. I draw the line at 2.75” for knit ties and 3” for regular ties. I find the skinnier my tie gets, the tougher it is to achieve a great knot and dimple.
Don’t be afraid to go “fat” on tie widths. I think that if your lapels are a bit average sized (or wider), then why not try ties that are 3.5” in width or larger? They look imposing and knot gorgeously with even a simple four-in-hand.
Silk knit ties are great for travel. Some people don’t like to wear them with suits, but I often pack them for when I’m traveling for work. You don’t have to worry about creasing them in your luggage and I’ve gotten by with packing just one navy silk knit for an entire week.
More than half of my current tie collection consists of two types: silk knits and navy ties. The silk knits are often where I turn toward for when I need something colorful, with texture and yet a bit more casual. The navy ties are often what I wear to work. I buy solid navy ties in a variety of fabrics, widths and sometimes with conservative patterns on them. I have over a dozen ties where the dominant color is navy and find they work wonderfully into my daily uniform.
Find a few cheap but good solid ties to keep as an emergency necktie. Maybe keep one in your car, your briefcase or your office. Don’t buy anything fancy or expensive — keep it plain and cheap. Same with a plain white dress shirt. You’ll never worry about spilling something on yourself again.
There are two types of ties that get attention. You have those that are loud with their pattern and radiate brightly across the room. Often it seems as if the wearer is using the tie to signal to everyone that he exists — and often upon closer inspection the tie looks kind of cheap. I feel this way about “designer” or especially “novelty” ties, as if one’s sense of humor can be displayed on silk (or polyester). To me, this is the wrong way to draw someone’s attention. The preferred way is to wear a quality tie with subtle details that are only apparent up close to a trained eye, moving uniquely with the wearer’s outfit, integrated perfectly. You wouldn’t know it across the room, but you’d definitely notice it if you were close enough for a conversation. If you want to make an impression with your neckwear, then do it from only several feet away.
When buying new, there’s often a pricepoint where quality does jump significantly, but there’s often a plateau of diminishing returns where you’re probably just paying for a brand name sewed on the back. I have a hard time telling people what they should spend on a tie, but I know that I personally haven’t regretted any of my “expensive” tie purchases. Although, I’ve gotten equal satisfaction with finding steals of equal quality on eBay and thrift stores.
Think about how a tie fits in your wardrobe when buying a new one. I’ve seen a lot of really cool neckties that I would love to own, however, they don’t fit with my wardrobe at all and I’d rarely wear them. There’s often a reason why something is the “least-worn” item in your wardrobe.
Bowties aren’t for me. I have one that I wear with my tuxedo, that’s it. Nothing against people who like wearing bowties and I can think of instances where I might wear one, but I just would rather wear a tie. I like having that length of silk laying down the length of my chest.
For knots: four-in-hands for silk knits and button-down collars. And once in a while I’ll use a half-Windsor, because that’s the one my father taught me.
I don’t think of wearing a tie as “dressing up”, despite what others might think. You can wear a tie casually or formally. You can have fun wearing a tie, or wear one with seriousness. There’s enough variety out there to fit almost every occasion and environment.