Guest Post - Why style should never be costume

Thursday, September 22, 2011
I can only apologise for the recent dearth of posts. A number of 'real-life' issues have recently occupied much of my time, and it's been hard to focus on the blog. I do have a number of posts coming up, though, and I appreciate all your continued visits, comments and emails!

In the meantime, one of my long-time readers has kindly offered to fill the gap with this guest post:

Why style should never be costume

Jake’s earlier post on wearing a jacket without a tie got me thinking. Thinking hard. The innumerable fashion rules that have built up over the years are about as useful as they are subjective and contradictory. The more I read and see and try on clothes (and experiment with whole styles at a time), the more I realize what a limited impact style ‘rules’ can, and ought, to have.

There are of course times when a good style guide is indispensible: your first black tie event. If you are so fortunate, even your first white tie event. Beyond that I feel they occupy a shaky patch of ground. Aside from such situations that need absolute ‘dos and don’ts,’ rules of style should provide no more (and please, no less,) than a helpful guiding hand – something to second-guess your occasional less well thought through instincts with. One might ask a friend what they thought of an outfit, but would you let them dress you? If the answer is yes, stop reading and come back in a few years. If not, then why would you let a set of rules have such an impact? Worse still, the rules have no idea who you are. Ignoring black/white tie occasions, style is used best as an extension of your own self, and when it comes to personality one size does not fit all.

Deep down, other people know this. It is why they avoid men who frequently wear excessively jazzy ties, (and use the word ‘jazzy’ to describe them) – their personalities will often prove to be similarly excessive and irritating. Fakery can be spotted a mile off as well. A man who wears a contrast collared shirt with a diamond stud tie-pin next to his pocket-watch chain and three-pointed pocket square, and who is not at least a minor royal, may be wearing everything the Ralph Lauren advert told him to, but comes across only as faintly greasy. Very few members of the male population look like Ralph Lauren models, and therefore sadly few of us have the build and facial structure to support such accoutrements. This is not to say that traditional smartness can be thrown by the roadside: clothes can be used to change your own mood and attitude along with how others perceive you, without a whiff of pretension. A general feeling of Monday morning malaise will be cut short by the ritual of putting on a suit and tie. Similarly, no matter how lazy you feel on the inside, a well fitting suit that matches the shirt, tie and shoes projects the image of a composed and competent man.

Given how varied we all are, shifts in fashion should be regarded as essentially irrelevant. Skinny fit suits were fashionable, but if you ever played Rugby in your life they probably did not look good. Double-breasted suits are seeing a resurgence now, but will look just as good on some as they did before, and as unflattering on others as they always have. ‘Mad Men style’ suiting has been popular for some time, but adjusting what you wear to account for this will neither impress your boss nor make members of the sex that interests you any more likely to be interested by you. Dressing to suit fashions really serves only to boost your confidence, a boost unnecessary to those who have a real grip on their own personal style. Chasing the endless changes to the appropriate lapel width for a suit will only result in the feeling of style slipping constantly through your fingers. If Tom Ford, for instance, feels that he looks best in a dark suit with an open necked white shirt then that’s good for him: he does. He has the charisma, looks and style at other occasions to pull it off with plenty of margin to spare. Telling him he would look better with a tie is as absurd as it would be to tell Gordon Brown he would have looked sexier and more charismatic without one.

This is of course a sprawling topic, with exceptions and examples to be found in every corner of Google images. In general though, there is only one hard and fast style rule*. A style guide might stop you from looking your worst, but it will never have you looking your very best.
*Never wear black shoes with jeans.