On Developing Personal Style

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So, I’ve been working on a two-part series for Put This On (for those who don’t know, most of my writing is there). The posts were inspired by an online Vogue article I read earlier this year. Apparently, fashion editors are just like the rest of us. Despite having closets overflowing with options, they mostly rely on the same things for their day-to-day routines. An excerpt:

Like an exploding volcano of denim and satin, a tidal wave of cashmere and cotton, our clothes threaten to overtake our tiny apartments, to bury us alive under tees and trousers. This wouldn’t be so bad, maybe, if we actually wore all this stuff, if 365 days meant 365 different outfits—730 if we changed for evening! But nooo. In fact, most of us rely on a few favorites in serious rotation, leaving the rest of the orphans in the closet begging for crumbs.

To judge just how severe this situation has become, and with spring in full flower and the temptation to buy still more!—more!—beckoning from every shop and laptop, I asked some of my Vogue colleagues to share with me what it is they actually wear from their bursting closets.

I decided to ask some of my favorite people in the menswear industry the same question. With all the options in their closets, which presumably outsize anything in our own homes, what do they truly wear on practical basis?

 

 

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Some of the answers were predictable. Ethan Newton at Bryceland’s and George Wang at BRIO talked about how much wear they get out of their navy sport coats (although George apparently splits his time between single- and double-breasteds). Alessandro Squarzi at Fortela and Brian Davis at Wooden Sleepers mostly wear vintage militaria, workwear, and denim. And a few people talked about the usefulness of waxed cotton Barbours, mid-gray wool trousers, and button-down collar shirts. 

At the same time, there were some interesting contradictions. Mark Cho at The Armoury said he felt life was too short to wear navy jackets all the time, so he prefers “fancy” sport coats – heavier tweeds and woolen jackets in bolder patterns for winter, then smaller-scale, crisper patterns in wool and wool-silk-linen blends for spring. Gabriel Öberg Bustad at Skoaktiebolaget doesn’t wear jeans; Alessandro and Brian almost live in them. Michael Hill at Drake’s also noticeably lit up when he told me about his love for cotton suits (something often described as bad purchases by people who wear suits). 

I love cotton suits for all the reason why people hate them. They’re stiff, they crumple, the color fades. I can picture my cotton suit sitting on the end of my rail at home now. The way the sleeves curl, it looks like my arms are in them, and the sleeves will probably stay like that even after the jacket has been cleaned. If you get one in a heavy drill cotton, the fabric almost moulds to your body. That’s the wonderful thing about cotton suits. They’re casual and age with you, much like a good pair of jeans. 

I was only able to talk to a small number of people. If I had the time, I’d interview Yasuto Kamoshita, Yukio Akamine, Nick Sullivan, Patrick Grant, and Bruce Boyer, as well as less-than-traditional dressers such as Chris Gibbs of Union and Josh Peskowitz of Magasin. Even with the people I covered, however, I was happy to see such a diverse range in answers regarding people’s practical and everyday essentials. 

 

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Which brings me to a quick point about developing personal style. There are so many guides online nowadays about what you need to buy and how you should wear your clothes. Yet the things that end up being useful in your own life are often items you experimented with, and, by chance, found you reach for the most. Yes, it’s hard to build a tailored wardrobe without mid-gray trousers, brown tweeds are great, and jeans are good for almost anyone who doesn’t live in suits and sport coats. But the most stylish guys I know dress in a way that fits their personality and lifestyle – not some vague caricature drawn up by a menswear writer. 

Going into fall, we’ll probably see hundreds of lists soon about autumn essentials. The worst ones will be advertorials for things the writer has never even touched, much less owned. The better ones will be about practical basics, but they’ll be so devoid of personality they’re almost soul-crushing. Singer-songwriter Father John Misty, patron saint of the not-lost wanderers, had a great point about this at The Cut a few years ago:

[Father John Misty] tells me he’s wearing snakeskin shoes and purple-and-green Dries Van Noten pants. What he can’t stand are “basic-ass dude” clothes. “Like, everyone kind of looks like a graphic designer. I just hate that look.” It’s a trend, he says, that mirrors what’s happening in music. “It’s predicated on not fucking up, as opposed to the emphasis really being on expression. There’s a lot of prescriptive fashion — ‘Oh, you need the perfect white shirt, and you need the perfect khaki’ — and it’s just so boring.” If he could have any influence over the fashion choices of the men of the world, he says, “I would like to see more of a Moroccan-slash-pajama vibe.”

Developing personal style takes a lot of experimentation, and admittedly a lot of money, but it can also be very fun. It can take ten purchases to find that one thing you actually reach for on a daily basis. On the upside, it’s never been easier to recoup your costs. Coming up at Put This On this week, I’ll have a post comparing different online second-hand markets and consignment shops where you can list your clothes. Buy stuff that makes you excited and be honest when it’s time to cull your wardrobe. That’s the best way to develop personal style. 

(photos via the Instagram accounts of Mark Cho, Alessandro Squarzi, Brian Davis, Kenji Cheung, Drake’sEthan Newton, George Wang, and Gabriel Öberg Bustard)

 

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