Five Relatable Style Lessons

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Even with the explosion of online media nowadays for men’s clothing, it can be a challenge to find good, relatable content for how to wear a coat-and-tie. Much of what’s celebrated online is too aggressively styled for most offices – tightly cut suits, heavily patterned fabrics, and unusual accessories. Great for Instagram and menswear blogs, but less so for the day-to-day grind of most people’s lives. 

Which is why it was such a pleasure for me to talk with Mr. Kazuto Yamaki. He’s the CEO of Sigma, a Japanese manufacturer of camera lenses, flashes, and other photographic accessories. He’s also an exceptionally well-dressed public figure, but so far removed from the world of menswear blogs that I had to try a few times to convince him that I was not, in fact, joking when I said I wanted to interview him about how he dresses. 

Much of what Mr. Yamaki wears will be familiar to anyone who reads this site – softly tailored Italian-influenced suits and sport coats, paired with tastefully designed ties and solid colored dress shirts. Where I think he makes a distinction is that everything looks relatable, something you can wear to most offices today. It’s thoughtfully considered without being obsessive; informed without nit picking. And in being so, it looks more naturally put together. 

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Mr. Yamaki tells me he first became interested in clothing when he discovered Ivy Style through Japanese menswear magazines. “Even when I was just eleven or thirteen years old, I liked the clean style,” he says. “I was so impressed by the elegant, neat, and intelligent presentation, I dreamed of one day being such as stylish person. But I couldn’t afford clothes from the major Ivy brands, such as Brooks Brothers and J. Press, so I bought things from Japanese labels that had a similar look. They were more affordable.”

I imagine part of Mr. Yamaki’s sense of dress is a natural result of him being interested in clothes for so long, even if at arm’s length. He’s also had good cultural heroes, such as New Wave and Mod revival musician Paul Weller (“he’s been my guru for a long time, especially when he was at Style Council”). Still, even with a well-honed sense of taste, Mr. Yamaki is proof that one benefits from having good relationships with sales associates and tailors. “Normally, I rely on the advice of the sales staff at the boutique. I really can’t trust my taste in clothes,” he says. Mr. Yamaki also values his relationship with his cutter at Strasburgo, Mr. Takaaki Ohshima, who makes his custom suits. Mr. Ohshima was trained in London, but looks up to Italian tailoring houses such as De Luca Sartoria, which is perhaps why Mr. Yamaki’s tailoring has a Continental sensibility. 

As the head of a company with over a thousand employees, Mr. Yamaki’s opinion on how people ought to dress for work is equally well grounded. 

My opinion is that everyone can dress as they like in the office. If they like to be casual, they don’t need to wear suit and tie. If they like classic style, they can wear a classic suit. I don’t want to force employees to be in a specific style, especially the engineers. Normally, they want to work in a relax style. Therefore, in order to encourage them to wear what they like, I often go to the office in a casual style when I don’t have appointments with important clients.

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Some good takeaways, I think, from Mr. Yamaki’s sense of style:

  • Silhouette means more than anything. Much of Mr. Yamaki’s wardrobe is somewhat anonymous – suits in basic colors such as navy and grey, paired with simple dress shirts in equally classic colors. More than focusing on over the top details, Mr. Yamaki’s wardrobe is about the cut of his clothing. The jackets hug his neck; the clothes have a flattering silhouette. The suits and sport coats look classic without being fuddy duddy, modern without being trendy. When starting out, it can be hard to notice the small nuances in the cut of a suit or sport coat, but it comes naturally over time. Think more about the cut than anything when choosing what to wear. 
  • Suits are conservative; sport coats are lively. I share Mr. Yamaki’s taste in suits and sport coats. I find suits are better when they’re conservative, often made from English fabrics such as grey woolens and navy worsteds. Sport coats, on the other hand, can be livelier. Notice that Mr. Yamaki’s sport coats are often boldly patterned. “For spring/ summer, I like jackets in wool, silk, linen blends. For fall/ winter, I like wool/ cashmere blends,” says Mr. Yamaki. I imagine part of this is about the texture these mixes bring. See the first image at the top of this post for how wonderfully textured even a basic navy hopsack jacket can look. 
  • Conservative ties and shirts. With such lively sport coats, Mr. Yamaki almost always favors conservative ties and shirts. Ties are basic – solid colors or simple foulards – paired against solid white or light blue dress shirts. When dressing down a tailored jacket, he occasionally uses a darker colored shirt, such as the navy. Putting an outfit together in this way not only seems easier, but also more stylish. 
  • Cardigan as a substitute for a tie. One of the interesting things about Mr. Yamaki’s sense of style is how he often uses a cardigan as a substitute for a tie, giving his jacket a bit more of a casual look while still maintaining a bit of visual interest. “I normally wear a cardigan when I’m in a more casual environment,” he says. The cardigan makes things look easy and relaxed, while also breaking up the lines between the jacket and shirt.
  • One Square. In keeping with everything else, Mr. Yamaki’s accessories are just as simple and tasteful. On the occasions he wears one, his pocket square is almost always a simply folded white linen. It’s the choice of a man who knows how to dress well without having to read a dozen menswear blogs, which in many ways is what makes his style so appealing. 

(many thanks to Mr. Yamaki for taking the time to answer my questions, and to my friend Andre for introducing me to him)

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