Dress nvc, the Man
Male adornment has blossomed, in part, because of" the cultural shift toward personal expression and individuality that took place in the latter third of the twentieth century. During the 1950s, the typical businessman literal!} hid behind his gray flannel suit. The eras political climate mandated fashion conservatism and uniformity In some circles, men who dared to dress differently were viewed with derision, as outsiders. Fortunately for mens fashion, the tradition-toppling sixties provided the jump start for males to shed their stereotyped personas. By the daw 11 ol the new millennium, a peacock had stepped our of the gray flannel cocoon.
One positive outgrow th of the sixties turbulence was the legitimacy that the period gave ro clothes as badges of communication. Masculine attire was swept up in the quest for broader social freedoms; conformity came to be regarded as almost an infringement of personal liberty. In the image-oriented eighties, men dressed to look wealthy and powerful. By the nineties, sophisticated men looked upon fashion as another means of discourse in an information-driven world.
I lowever. in one of fashion's less fortunate ironies, when asked ro name those public figures who now exemplify this newfound interest in male decor. American style gurus and menswear professionals come up relatively empty-handed. Likewise, fashion journalists from other Westernized countries are equally baffled, unable to produce even a foursome of domes-
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Men ofstyle, circa 1930s, captured head-to-toe.
Men oj style, circa 2000. pictured in celebrity headshots.
tie male fashion exemplars under the age of sixty. And no one is trying to conic up with such iconic elegantes as film legend Gary Grant or Italian industrialist Gianni Agnelli; just a couple of high-flying social or business magnates or even the odd I lollywood leading man with an affinity for the random sartorial flourish would do.
I low is it that after almost three decades of unprecedented fashion consumption, so few capable practitioners of this masculine art form have been bred? It dressing well were simply a matter of donning the latest designer duds or owning an expensive wardrobe, fashion nabobs should be in abundance My quick response is that learning how to dress well is much like try ing to build a classically beautiful place to live. No amount of professional decoration or priceless furnishings will ultimately make much of a difference il the floors or walls that they are to adorn rest on a shaky foundation. In try ing to survive in an increasingly competitive arena, the men's retailer decided to ride on the coattails of the high-profile designer brand, leaving the customer little choice but to base his dressing style on the shifting sands of fashion Unfortunately. when the style winds change, and they always do. the trend captive man found himself standing somewhere other than terra flrma.
I earning how to dress well is not as difficult as it may seem Much like the newly fashionable pastime of golf, stylish dressing is an acquired skill that can be honed and improved with correct practice. As a former low-handicap golfer. I am often struck by the fact rliar the vast majority of participants in both activities spend an inordinate amount of- rime repeat ing the wrong techniques, further ingraining the same faults into their swings, or in this case, into their closets.
While the golfing enthusiast can engage a recognized professional for instruction, the fashion follower lacks a body of objective experts to call upon for individual guidance. Any golf pro will confirm that without the proper grip, stance, and balance—the fundamentals all the practice in the world will nor enable the most dedicated golfer to fulfill his potential. Developing a flattering mode of dress is no different: without a working knowledge of the basics, a man cannot achieve true st\ lishness. *
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Dressing well rests on two pillars—color and proportion. Once yon learn which colors enhance your complexion and win specific proportions flatter your physique, you are halfway home. And what does it take for a man to grasp these two critical aesthetics? Not nearly as much aptitude or savoir fa ire as you might think. Consider this: the classic male tuxedo confers instantaneous elan on all comers, yet this old-world regime is composed of only two colors, black and white. II such a simple color scenario can help any man appear debonair, you don't need to be some kind of Kandinsky to look your best.
As for proport ion, here's the kind of mind-set responsible for the current state of sartorial confusion. Men. as well as women, invariably inquire whether tie widths will become larger or smaller. However, the answer lies not in the world o( fashion but in the realm of personal architecture. The w idth of a man s necktie should relate to that ol his jackets lapels, which, in turn, are governed by the size of the coat's shoulders. (See chapter 3. "Proportion: The Foundation of Style") Should a man be broad-shouldered, a slight!}' wider necktie will harmonize better with the jackets fuller proportions: if small-shouldered, a narrower necktie would be the more flattering choice. Fashion should be accountable to .1 specific set ol physical trademarks and not to some random, seasonally served-up sot of fashion flashes.
W ith this individualized approach, learning how to dress well begins to take 011 a certain logic, if not clarity. I lowever. men intent upon improving their dressing skills are often st\ mied by the lack of access to intelligent and personalized instruction. Unfortunately, no matter how sophisticated a store's merchandise, without a knowledgeable and experienced sales staff, the right clothes have little chance of ending up on the right back in the right way.
Due to unstable financing, debt ridden balance sheets, or stockholder pressures, many-larger retailers have been discouraged from thinking about the long term. And with profits squeezed by increasing overheads, sales training and serv ice are the first to suffer. Most retailers are reluctant to invest much in educating 21 new hire. Although t he exceptional retailer or indi vidual sales executive might take the initiative to learn about the history and traditions underlying fine menswear. he or she is not the norm. Nowadays, the distinguished salesperson is either promoted up to management or hired away by a competitor.
Particularly at the top end, where expectations for professionalism and superior service are justifiably higher, retail expertise has sunk to an all time low. Most better-quality retailers have traded tip to more expensive merchandise, ceding almost all responsibility for the education
OPPOSITE & LEFT: Two paragons of "seasoned simplicity": Signer Agnelli and Doug Fairbanks Jr. blanketed in the quiet assertiveness of a two-color ensemble.
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