There are many people who believe men get the raw end of the deal when it comes to all things fashion-related. After all, in the animal kingdom it’s almost exclusively the male of the species with the fantastic fur or dazzling plumage.
Centuries ago, the men in the court of Louis XIV of France followed the King’s lead and wore high heels to accessorize their bewigged, bejeweled and bedecked wardrobes.
In more modern times, David Bowie and the Glam Rockers of the 1970s seemed the apparent heirs to the dandified male, which was more acceptable than in previous eras. In our own times, it can be harder to find men known for their unique sartorial statements. Iconic writer Tom Wolfe is considered eccentric for wearing Mark Twain-inspired all white suits.
While entertainers like Andre 3000, James Franco and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are known for their bold fashion sense, for the most part, men seem to play it safe when choosing their clothing and grooming style. “Too safe,” is the general consensus of women faced with an endless sea of khaki and denim.
I was pondering the notion of male fashion conformity while working with a new client eager to update and define his personal brand. It was hard to figure out a way to create a unique personal style statement for him, while still respecting the unwritten wardrobe rules of his workplace.
In the end, we agreed that any style changes should be gradual and not incredibly noticeable as he worked his way up the corporate ladder.
As I walked around the city, I started to pay even closer attention to the sea of identically clad professional men in button-down shirts and jackets or suits. Even the so-called hipsters looked interchangeable with their tattooed arms, artfully arranged facial shrubbery and oversized plastic-framed glasses.
And then I noticed the modern equivalent of Superman striding down the street – a businessman wearing a deceptively ordinary navy blue suit. I say deceptive, because with every step that he took, there was a flash of an incredible scarlet red lining.
Adam Licker, an executive with a major television network, was kind enough to indulge my curiosity about his fantastic suit – a wedding gift from his wife, purchased from custom clothier Astor & Black. Licker wears his suit proudly, describing it as his first “statement piece.”
He says friends and co-workers often comment appreciatively and ask where he got it. While Licker doesn’t consider himself a sharp dresser, but rather a “typical guy,” he does admit that having a custom made suit has turned him on to a new way of dressing. “I never really thought about it much. Whenever I look at men’s clothing, nothing piques my interest. But now that I have it, I want another one.”
Guy Style Lesson: Even typical guys can have fashion epiphanies and style updates. Start with one piece and slowly add more statement pieces or colors to your wardrobe.
It’s a Tie
Wall Street Journal bestselling author Fred Minnick spends much of his time writing about whiskey and wearing ascots — sometimes simultaneously.
For the uninitiated, ascots are usually formal, short wide ties usually made of thicker, woven silk. Originally made popular at the Royal Ascot Races during the Edwardian era, an ascot can be both a style statement and conversation starter — provided you’re confident enough to deal with both.
Minnick credits legendary wine writer Bill Marsano, an ascot devotee, with fueling his own passion for the atypical tie. “Maybe it’s the level of sophistication they’re presented with, but I always feel that people who wear ascots are put in the light of a sophisticated gentleman. And that’s a level of sophistication that I’ve always wanted to present.” He continues, “I feel empowered when I’m in an ascot, it just gives me a certain level of confidence — not that I’m not confident to begin with.”
As for the reaction to Minnick’s quirky choice of neck wear? “If I’m in a room full of strangers, I’ll always get at least one compliment.” Minnick’s growing ascot collection began with a gift from Marsano, whose wife makes most of his ties. And Minnick’s ascots have become a signature piece and sartorial secret weapon. He says, “When I’m wearing my ascot I almost always know I’m going to be the best dressed guy in the room.”
Guy Style Lesson: Choose a signature piece and slowly build a collection. If you’re bored of typical ties and not brave enough for an ascot, consider unusually patterned pocket squares.
Bold is Beautiful
Yul Brynner and Telly Savalas were known as much for their tough guy images, as their shining baldpates. While most men fret about their receding hairlines, London-based motivational speaker and trainer Steve Thomson decided to shave his head — despite having a full head of hair.
He realized his hair was getting shorter and shorter through laziness and the dread of having messy hair in front of a client or audience. “When I finally figured what the heck — give it a go, I can always just let it grow back,” Thomson shaved it off.
He believes audiences find him more memorable and “even a cursory casual meeting has become more likely to have a positive outcome when the other party is reminded that I’m the big bald guy.”
In Thomson’s case, what some men see as a negative has become his signature look. “Confidence in carrying off a look is about ownership. I believe anyone can get away with anything if they take the position that they ‘own’ their particular look and take pride in that fact of ownership.”
He also believes most fashion relies on people copying other people. “It’s hard to stand out in a crowd if you are wearing the same look/ hairstyle/colors as half the others in the room.” He continues, “The twist is that most people don’t really WANT to stand out from a crowd, but actually seem to want to blend in.”
Guy Style Lesson: Choose one feature you think will set yourself apart from the crowd and highlight it.
Your statement pieces or features can be as bold or as subtle as you choose. On the subway home last night, I noticed a guy wearing the typical button down shirt/nice pants combo with a twist: his shirt had a fine line of aqua running through it and he’d accessorized his boring brown shoes with aqua shoelaces to fantastic effect.
Rachel Weingarten used to have a weakness for men in kilts. She’s a style expert, marketing strategist & personal brand consultant for CEOs, politicians and celebrities and the creator of MintStyle. Rachel is the award-winning author of Career and Corporate Cool® and Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America ‘40s-‘60s, and a regularly featured expert on TV shows including Good Morning America and The Today Show. Visit her online at http://racheletc.com or on Twitter @rachelcw Write to her at email@example.com with your burning style questions.