What is style all about? I am perceived as a stylish man by those who know me well. But what exactly does that mean? One colleague put it this way: ‘You and I could be wearing exactly the same thing, but it would look great on you but only average on me.’
I am not at all persuaded of the accuracy of that observation. However, let’s assume for a moment that this were true, the question would still need to be faced: Why should this be the case? My answer without too much hesitation would be that style is primarily about how clothing is worn and not just what clothing is worn.
In other words, style is not just about wearing what is on trend. In fact it is often nothing to do with what is on trend at the moment. Trends rise and wane, fashions come in and go out. Style, in contrast, is timeless and permanent. If you look at male style icons, some of my favourite include John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Fred Astaire, Duke of York, they dress in ways that were relevant to their time and in the fashions of their day, but they still ooze style now, even though we are unlikely to dress in 1930s style.
Style is intimately connected to how clothes fit and is about making the most of your assets, whatever they are. Now there are some body shapes which show off style particularly well. If you are tall with broad shoulders and a narrow waist, yes it is true that you will have an easier time finding clothes which accentuate a manly figure. However, that is only true if you are about 5″10′ to 6″3′. Male models often fall into that category. Over this height it does get complicated to find clothes that fit well.
However, let’s assume you do that you don’t look like a male model, who does? Even for your particular body shape there are ways to dress and decisions to make which simply make the most of your assets.
Gok Wan has been preaching this gospel for a number of years now to our female counterparts, advising them to think about what sort of clothing hides the bits of their body shape that they like least and accentuates those elements with which they are least unhappy.
Of course there are some things we can change about our bodies through exercise and a more healthy diet. Indeed most of us would benefit form paying a little more attention to these areas. I know I certainly ought to. However, there are many other things about our bodies and ourselves that we can’t do much about. Exercise and diet are of little help if we taller or shorter than we’d like, and as far as I know there are no exercises that will help our receding hairlines. If you hear of one let me know…..
In cases like these it is our approach to style which might offer some possibilities. So if you are not as tall as you would like to be, or if you are rounder about the midriff than is your ideal, for example, think about wearing vertical stripes which have the effect of visually lengthening the body. For fuller figured gentlemen a double breasted jacket might be a more flattering fit than a single breasted one.
If you’ve got thick thighs, whether it is because you play rugby for England or could eat pies for England, you might want to avoid pleated or combat trousers. Having that extra material really does not help matters. Whereas, if you are stick thin, you might prefer the pleated and looser trousered look.
The most important element of style as far as I am concerned is the capacity to wear your clothing with confidence. And there is nothing more confidence building than knowing that your clothes fit as well as they can.
So if you have the means and the patience have your clothes tailored for you by expert craftsmen. There is no more effective way of having clothes that fit you well. Moreover, this used to the the norm for gentleman’s clothing up until quite recently. However, it is now really accessible only to the well heeled and deep pocketed.
In order for the rest of us mere mortals to achieve similar results we must spend time both selecting the best fitting clothing from the rack and then having it adjusted so that it fits you just so.
Once you have well fitting clothes, which are snug in the places you wish and looser fitting in the places you prefer, you can then think about the little flourishes you want to add, whether cuff links, a pocket square, or contrasting laces with your thoughtfully selected shoes.
Instead of a belt consider braces which not only keep you trousers in place far better but they also avoid the horizontal line that a belt inevitably introduces, visually splitting you in half. In most cases when one is not wearing a jacket, wearing a belt is not problematic. However, when wearing a suit, the point of the exercise is to link visually the upper and lower sections of the body. Wearing a belt works against this. And braces add a certain flourish of their own,
So what is style all about? I suggest it is the art of wearing clothes with intelligence; clothing which makes the most of your assets and minimises your less flattering elements. But most of all, style is working out how to select clothes which fit your body so that you wear them with confidence.