Men and fashion, it is sometimes said, go together like socks and sandals. We rub along, but not comfortably or happily or prettily. It’s certainly true that some men feel excluded from and threatened by fashion. The word alone is enough to make them break out in an unsightly rash. But this needn’t be the case. Indeed, it shouldn’t be.
Style, in my experience, is a less loaded term. It’s harder, though, to put your finger on what exactly style is. It can be taught, but it can’t be bought. Happily, there are rules. Rules that can be broken, but only once they’ve been understood.
Should I get a size M or size L?
There is nothing less stylish than a man terrorised by his own trousers, nothing less attractive than a gut spilling over a too-tight waistband. Fit and comfort are crucial. That’s why skinny jeans and deep-V T-shirts look ridiculous on anyone over 24 and 10 stone. But comfort comes not only from the right size but the right fabric. Basic guideline: in spring and summer, nearly everything you wear should be primarily cotton; in autumn and winter, it should be primarily wool. But even cashmere will feel uncomfortable if it’s two sizes too small.
How much should I spend on a suit?
An inconvenient truth: you get what you pay for. By no means is high-end always better than high street, especially if you’re under 30, but aesthetic and ethical considerations often go hand in (bespoke) glove, and for important purchases such as suit, shoes, – investments, you might call them – it’s worth splashing out for. As a rule thumb, if it’s handmade in England, France or Italy, chances are the people who made it were paid and treated better than if it was mass-produced in the developing world. It’ll look better for longer, too.
Which sunglasses will make me look cool?
Sunglasses that suit your face. There’s no one-size-fits-all in men’s style. If you look as if you’re trying to be cool, you’re not. And just because they suited a TV star you admire, doesn’t mean they’re going to suit you. So try before you buy.
Can I wear colour?
The stylish man’s colour palette, at least when it comes to major purchases, tends to be limited. Blue, grey and sometimes brown are correct. Lilac, lemon, mint, fuchsia, tangerine, not so much. Navy is the safest colour of all. Formalwear is black or white, midnight blue at a push. Shirts are white, pale blue, perhaps pale pink. Leather shoes are black or brown. Injections of colour into smart outfits tend to come from accessories: red socks, yellow tie, patterned scarf. Red jacket, yellow shirt, patterned trousers? Not so good. At weekends or on holiday, of course, all bets are off – knitwear, polo shirts, swimming trunks can be any colour of the rainbow. I still tend to stick to navy.
What about patterned shirts?
Pattern is essential – the world would be a boring place without it – but it demands expertise. Generally, the rule is not to clash. If you are wearing a check jacket, make sure your shirt is a block colour, and vice versa. Leave the competing checks, the deliberately clashing colours and the oppositional prints (striped shirt with spotted tie) to the professionals. Better to mix pattern with texture. If you are wearing a patterned shirt, match it with a plain knitted silk tie.
How do I dress for the office?
A really good suit makes you stand up straighter, walk taller. Rightly or wrongly, it makes the world take you more seriously. And if it is cut right and fits properly (snug but not tight), and the cloth is soft and light, it is the most flattering thing a man can possibly wear. You don’t have to go full bespoke to get a good one. Plenty of excellent off‑the-peg suits are available, and you can – and should – take them to an independent tailor after purchase so they can be fitted to you. As far as trends go, double‑breasted is fashionable again, after decades of obsolescence, and a very slightly more relaxed cut – a softer shoulder, a fractionally longer jacket, trousers fitted but not cut quite so close – has arrived to liberate us all from the excessively buttoned-up, Mad Men-inspired 60s-style suits of the past decade.
Must I wear a tie?
Business shirts need not draw attention to themselves. That’s what ties are for: shocks of colour and personality in otherwise conservative outfits. Just know this: if you take your fashion tips from some politicians (in case you hadn’t noticed, style-wise our political leaders are a bunch of middle-management dorks), you will find yourself going about in a suit and shirt with no tie, and you, too, will be unkissably uncool.
How do you wear jeans?
Denim might appear the most humble and democratic of fabrics, but jeans are fiendishly difficult to get right. Many of us spend years trying to find the perfect pair of jeans – at which point that style is invariably discontinued by the manufacturer. I generally refrain from recommending specific designers or items, but fashion is full of exceptions and here’s one: APC, a rather esoteric French brand, makes a product named New Standard Regular-Fit Selvedge Denim Jeans. I have numerous pairs, in various stages of disintegration. They obey every rule of good jeans: medium-rise waist; straight leg; slim-ish but not skinny; raw, indigo denim (it’ll fade); absolutely no branding, or unnecessary stitching, or rips, or diamanté. By the way, that whole thing of wearing your jeans with a suit jacket, canvas trainers and an open-necked shirt? It doesn’t make you look like a Lower East Side art rocker. It makes you look like an oily Euro sex pest.
How much attention should I pay to accessories?
If you can afford it, a good Swiss-made watch is a handsome thing to own – watches being, for most men, the only way to ornament themselves these days, eyebrow rings being so passé. As for handmade English leather shoes, the really well-heeled man will own at least one pair of the following for work: leather oxfords, leather brogues, leather loafers. I would add to that: weekend brogues, desert boots or chukkas, suede loafers. Admittedly, none of these is cheap. But they are built to last.
And finally, you know what? Sometimes, a man should do and wear whatever the hell he pleases, and the rest of the world can go hang. Fashion’s about that, too. *Winks*
Credits in parts: guardianfashion