Sunday, August 29, 2010

Style Balls≠Style Brains

I took this picture about a week or so ago in Center City. Yes, the man in it is dressed as a cowboy adhering to a business-casual dress code. The moment I saw him I immediately thought that he looked ridiculous, but I also realized something that I didn't expect: that this guy, assuming that he wasn't a crazy vagrant stealing shit from Dudes Boutique on South Street, had brass balls and I admired him for it.

This presented me with some cognitive dissonance. How could I, a self-proclaimed style guy who prides himself on his knowledge of the traditions and history of Western tailored clothing, admire a man who went out in broad daylight in a place other than the rural American Southwest dressed like a fucking cowboy? I could do so because part of having style is having the willingness and ability to dress as one sees oneself, and if this man sees himself dressed as a cowboy, then so be it.

In style as in life, however, balls do not always win over brains. While this man showed off a major pair of cojones by dressing as a cowboy in Philadelphia, his look was inherently costumey and this is what I believe compromised it. Wearing a costume is a cheap, easy way to get attention; smartly coordinating a shirt, tie, and pocket square is more subtle but just as effective once the subtleties are realized. It's a simple case of negative attention versus positive attention.

The broader lesson here is that to dress ostentatiously is to appear foolish. It means you can't be taken seriously. This is particularly important to remember for events like job interviews, because no company worth its salt would fail to ask, "What the FUCK is this man wearing?" My advice is to learn the finer points of dressing -tie dimples, shirt/tie combos, proper fit, and a million other things- instead of being loud as hell and coming off as ridiculous. It takes a long time to learn the rules so well that you can break them, but once you do, you'll never look better.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On How The Wire Will Help You Dress Like A Man, God Dammit.

A chapter in my life came to a bittersweet end last night when I finished watching the final season of The Wire. For those of you who haven't seen the show, I suggest the following:

1. Stop reading this blog after completing these directions.
2. Obtain all five seasons of The Wire.
3. Take a week off from work and watch it all at once, because you're going to want to.
4. Remember to take bathroom breaks.
5. Deal with the emptiness you'll undoubtedly feel upon completion of the series.

In the interest of keeping the Wire relevant to the subject of men's style (and thusly giving me license to vent my sadness over the Internets), you should pay particular attention to two characters: William "Bunk" Moreland and Lester Freamon, both of whom are pictured above, with Lester in the cardigan. Throughout the series both men make rookie sartorial mistakes like having suit jackets with sleeves that are too long, but relatively speaking, they're the best-dressed male characters on the show. Here's a breakdown:


Bunk is a homicide detective who's wearing a suit nearly every time we encounter him on the show. While many of his colleagues follow suit (pun intended), Bunk separates himself from them by selecting items such as French cuff shirts, tie clips, and in the case of the photo above, a fedora hat. He also has a tendency to mix patterns in his shirts and ties, and generally does so well. His attire demonstrates both authority and swagger, two personality traits he possesses in droves.


Lester, an older character, is the epitome of what I like to call "Grandpa-chic." As you can see from the photo above, he looks more like Mr. Rogers than a detective, but it works on him, given his age, intelligence, and quiet but self-assured manner. His glasses work well with his face, there's always a dimple in his tie, and the cardigans he wears are, ahem, on point. He and Bunk share the same propensity and skill for pattern-mixing, and his look generally indicates that he's confident, intelligent, and can say a lot without being loud at all.

To get the full effect, watch the show. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Saggy Pants Seem To Be A Big Deal

I wrote an entry on saggy pants back in April, but since a young Bronx man was cited and had to go to court for wearing his pants low, the Sartorialist has weighed in on it, and my sartorial kindred spirit Bethany Rein just published a thoughtful Examiner article on the subject. Here are my thoughts.

As far as the look is concerned, my feeling now is the same as then: it doesn't look good. I know all of you will read the rest of this sentence and think "No shit," but I fancy myself a bit of a men's style purist; certain articles of clothing are supposed to fit a certain way as a result of appreciating their historical uses. This is why, for example, center vents are too sporty for a dinner jacket and why Brooks Brothers angles their repp stripe ties down from right to left instead of left to right. With that in mind, they're called "waistbands" for a reason: so that they're worn on or around the waist. The sagging pants look is a breach of classic good taste, and I don't condone it on sartorial grounds.

On the other hand, what you or I consider to be "good taste" isn't necessarily what a guy living in the Bronx thinks is good taste. In fact, the kid who was cited was probably positively reinforced for his behavior before the citation: his friends probably thought it was cool and he may very well gotten attention from girls. In his social circle, he's likely well-dressed. In addition to this, let's remember that Mr. Martinez was a young man, and what do a lot of young men like to do? Piss off people in authority positions, which is precisely what happened here. Punk kids wear too-tight black jeans (another shitty look), goth kids wear ridiculous makeup and boots with gargantuan wedge heels (separately but equally shitty-looking), and the hip-hop kids wear saggy pants. Adults fucking hate it, that's part of the point. Look at the picture above; doesn't that piss you off a bit that you can kind of see that asswipe's pubes? Bingo.

I side with Judge Franco on this one. One of the reasons that this country is such a great place to live in is that everyone, no matter his/her race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sex, or sexual orientation/preference has the right to dress however "foolishly" he/she wants, provided no indecent exposure is taking place. Conversely we, as the audience, enjoy the right to criticize, stare, or react however we want, provided no one is being harmed. To legislate what attire one segment of the population (namely, the powerful segment) deems "tasteful" would be an egregious misuse of legislative time, a waste of our tax dollars, and, to my not-legally-trained mind, a dangerous attack on all our First Amendment rights.