Men’s Style A to Z of Modern Dressing For Men

Categories Fashion

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A mixture of advice, guidance and observation for developing your personal style.

There are plentiful resources available to the modern gent about ‘the rules’ of dressing. Online, in magazines and elsewhere, the mantras about fit, about putting together pattern and texture and colour, about wardrobe builders and feature pieces, are repeated so often that even the casually interested could not but help remember them.

But isn’t ‘fashion’, in all its guises, meant to be about breaking rules? Playing with and subverting them? Disrespecting them in order to create interest, display personality, and progress from generation to generation what we understand as men’s fashion? Isn’t that why men wear coloured chinos, or tapered track pants, or dress for work in the city like some Beau Brummell updated for the 21st Century?

Of course, some of the rules are timeless and will always apply. A man in an ill-fitting jacket and pants will always look… wrong. Fit, colour, pattern and texture – in menswear, the rules that generally apply to the combination of all these things do not dramatically change from year to year.

And despite the runway looks of more ‘directional’, avant-garde designers, menswear itself does not change greatly from year to year. White-collar men still dress in suits, or variations thereof, and more and more men whatever they’re field of work are interested in lifting their casual dress game.

What follows is a distillation of lots of things we’ve learnt, and lots of general observations that might help you work out where menswear is at in Australia, and where you fit in.

A
Athleisure. It’s one of those Zeitgeisty terms which is used liberally everywhere and while initially referring to the leggings-worn-outside-the-gym revolution among women, now also encompasses luxe cross-over sportswear for men. Think the tapered sweatpant and the sort of high-end trainer you’ll find on sneakerboy.com. Think ‘K’ further on in this story. What does it all mean? Some reckon athleisure has further casualised the workplace, further de-formalised dressing in general, and is the beginning of the end of the blue jean. No doubt all of these claims are exaggerated. In the end, it’s another option, and in many ways athleisure’s championing of innovative ‘technical’ fabrics – which promise everything from odour reduction to sweat wicking, greater ease of movement, breathability and protection from the elements – is a development which is in parallel with new techniques in suiting and other more traditional forms of dress. The boundaries will likely continue to blur but for now, garments considered ‘athleisure’, to us, means “not at work”.

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B
Blazers. No modern man should be without one. Most menswear brands now make one, in recognition of their ultimate versatility as a wardrobe piece that could, theoretically (or Karl Stefanovic-like), see you through an entire week from work to post-work event to weekend. Is a blazer a sports jacket? No, technically, it’s not, but the distinctions are kinda boring and redundant and really, it’s all more of an argument for the most anal of menswear bloggers. All you really need to know is that a blazer is not a suit jacket, and therefore is made to be worn with different and usually contrasting pants, be they chinos, denim, stripey stovepipes or breeches and hose (we’re kidding about the last one… or are we?). In this way the blazer is the bridge between the work suit and your out-of-work attire, which makes it perfect for the busy modern gent who does not spend his every day ‘in the office’. The history of the blazer, which is complicated, includes both single- and double-breasted versions, and American, English and Italian ‘styles’, but again, the distinctions aren’t that important anymore unless you’re about to write a detailed history of menswear. Today, something labelled a blazer could be structured, semi-structured or unstructured.
What is important is that the blazer works with the rest of your wardrobe and can be incorporated with a wide range of your shirts, pants and shoes for multiple looks. This is why a light blue or light grey coloured blazer is particularly versatile, though any hue headed towards navy blue will work for most men. Other than that, texture is your preference – wool, hopsack, linen – and as with anything you own, fit is key.

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C
Colour. If you look at the Street Seen pages in the quarterly issues of Men’s Style, shot during fashion weeks in Milan, Paris, New York and the like, you’ll see some outrageous use of colour by the men pictured. Some of it so OTT, it’s ridiculous (see ‘P’). Australian men, in particular, are less adventurous when it comes to wearing bold colours (unless it’s swimwear)… and that’s perfectly fine. In which case it’s all about how you wear colour. We tend to suggest the ‘pop’ of colour is most effective – the pocket square, the tie, the accessory, perhaps the shirt – which makes a statement when combined back against the traditionally favoured male colours of blue, grey, charcoal, white and black. Or a combination of tones of colour (see ‘T).

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D
Denim. Some stats say ‘A’ has eaten away at the popularity of denim in the modern man’s wardrobe… personally, we see no evidence. Good denim options remain an essential part of the versatile wardrobe. Of course, there is a difference between that pair of jeans you throw on to slink down to the shops for milk on a Saturday morning, and the pair you wear to dress up for Fridays at work, or afterwards to nightclubs, parties, pubs, etc. This second pair is an important decision. Generally speaking, the denim should be dark. This equips you to wear them with blazer, shirt, good belt and dress shoes as office and after-office wear… but also far more casually on weekends with trainers and a tee. There’s plenty of denim inspiration in this very issue, from page 64.

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E
Enquire. By which we mean, don’t play up the male stereotype and be a Silent Bob when it comes to finding out about menswear. At Men’s Style we speak to people every day who are responsible for creating engaging retail experiences and therefore we know they spend considerable time and energy in training staff so that your in-store experience is painless, efficient and successful. Don’t know your measurements off-hand? Ask them. Don’t know whether that jacket will look good with the two shirts you own? Describe the situation to them. Unsure whether an item makes you look too old, too young, too short, too wide? While a shop assistant practises diplomacy (and also needs to make a sale), it’s also in their best interests that you make a purchase you’re happy with and will likely – as most men do – return in the future. Don’t be afraid to avail yourselves of their training.

F
Fit. Fit, fit… fit! It’s almost too obvious to state, and probably the word you’ll find most on any self-respecting menswear blog or online resource. And that’s because it remains the mistake men most often make, and the one that will make redundant the fact you spent more money on an item than you should have. Whether you’re rugby forward-sized, jockey-sized, or somewhere in between, knowing and understanding your key measurements and your posture will go a long way to helping you work out your personal style. Of course, the best way to discover this is to undergo the ‘bespoke’ or made-to-measure experience at a tailor or high-end suitmaker. A knowledgeable person at such a place can give you insight into your shape, and therefore knowledge about which labels, which styles and which sort of garments work best for your ‘fit’.

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G
Grooming. So you invested in a beautiful tailored suit, and an on point knitted tie, pocket square, and some awesome brown leather derbys. Man, you look the part. Hang on, dude, there are long stray hairs trying to join together between your eyebrows! You have a long red shaving rash along your jawline. Um, there’s dark circles under your eyes, some leftover burger in your teeth, and your breath smells like tuna. Arrrgh, it’s all ruined. There is no excuse for getting the dress right and forgetting about the ‘temple’ it covers, is there, chaps?

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H
History. We’re not going to pretend it’s absolutely essential knowledge, but for the contemporary man who likes to have control over his appearance, understanding even the basics of why suits have multiple buttons on the sleeves (see our History of the Suit feature on page 94), or the differences in how a suit is constructed, or why cuffing your trousers is informal, or the origins of the buttoned-down collar, or a million other of the finer points of menswear history, allows him to be discerning. Likewise, brand heritage. A grasp of the back story of Louis Vuitton will help a gent understand why even today, travel informs everything the brand does. Likewise Salvatore Ferragamo, or Ermenegildo Zegna, or any of the people behind most ‘name’ brands. The informed man not only develops taste but understands quality and, let’s be honest, sees through the bullshit that sometimes passes for marketing.

I
Interchangeable. It should always be a guiding principle when wardrobe building, for reasons of practicality, price and longevity. What does it mean? It means buying base pieces which work together and give you multiple combinations to wear every day. It can start as simple as three good, key jackets/blazers, five shirts, three different types of pants, and three pairs of shoes. If these pieces comprise your strongest male colour combinations – navy, black, white, grey, brown, tan, maybe some olive green chinos – then your wardrobe becomes truly interchangeable; which equals stylish but also utilitarian. Then you can bring in accessories – pocket squares, ties, scarves, man bags, ‘J’ (below) – to add some dash, some panache, some colour and personality.

J
Jewellery. It’s grown in popularity for men and the wrists of many a besuited city corporate warrior are these days adorned with a collection of cuffs, bangles and charms. Apply the KISS rule – Keep It Simple, Stupid. An excess of jewellery and you risk looking like Mr T. A watch is an essential gentlemanly accessory, as are cufflinks and a tie-bar. A single bracelet, an ear-stud and two rings – one relationship, the other subtly decorative – are advisable unless you’re Jack Sparrow. Choose your gold, silver, bronze and copper tones so that they’re visually close to each other. These items should be worn so their hues complement each other.

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K
Kanye. He’s a modern day fashion icon. Just ask him. But seriously, put all the mouthiness and braggadocio to one side and Kayne West’s style evolution is an interesting time capsule of men’s fashions of the past decade. From his early period where he looked like most other rappers, in various items of street wear, through his Late Registration period where he went a bit 1970s, then onto Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Balmain, Gucci, nerdy chic and shutter shades. On into the Yeezy and Kim K period, where he mixes up ripped jeans and heavy boots or hi-tops with high fashion, whether on stage or at the Met Gala Ball. Sometimes he’s pre-empting trends, sometimes aping them and – Kanye being Kanye – most of the time, just impossible to categorise.

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L
Loafers. The sockless trend of the past few years, which shows no signs of disappearance, demands a man own a good pair of loafers. They’re more than a fashion statement, they’re also comfortable, practical and versatile. It’s your preference between a more traditional penny loafer, a tasselled version, or the Gucci loafer style with the metal clasp. After that it’s a question of colour (see ‘I’). Bucking the trend and wearing socks? Ensure they’re of a colour and pattern which complement both your outfit and your shoes. The beauty of the loafer is its versatility… you’ll find yourself wearing the right pair for occasions from formal to casual, with dress pants, chinos and shorts.

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Also, Layering. You want your layers to work together but also in isolation (with the obvious exceptions: undershirt, jacket, scarf). So the shirt should be able to be worn by itself. The jumper should work with the shirt and the jacket. The shirt and jacket should work together without the sweater. To ensure this you want to layer – as with all fashion – with an eye to colour, pattern, material and texture. Obviously as you add layers you also add the potential for a lot of different elements. Do it wrong and you’ll look like a harlequin. Pull it off and you’ll have an interesting look that says you really know your style.
Colour? Remember the principle that says analogous colours – those that are neighbours on the colour wheel – work best together. Use that as your basis for most layering. Got a blue shirt? Try layering it with blue-violet or blue-green. However for stronger statements that are still eye pleasing, opt for complementary colours – those that are opposites on the colour wheel – such as orange/blue, green/red and yellow/purple. Don’t overdo the brighter or bolder colours. One or two is sufficient. Everything else should be more muted. Remember also that blacks and whites go with everything and can provide the contrast/framing you need to emphasise your colour choices.

M
Made to measure. From reading Men’s Style and perhaps also online sites about menswear, we’re guessing most readers of this publication would by now be aware of the difference between bespoke and made-to-measure (MTM). In brief, bespoke involves the making of a new and unique pattern (for a shirt, or a suit) being cut for a specific individual based on his measurements, while MTM is the modification of a standard size, such as a 42 jacket, to accommodate an individual’s body shape and size. Specialist tailors tend to comprise the former; larger, well-known brands, the latter. If we take suits, many guys working in the city often only have time for MTM rather than bespoke, plus it’s cheaper because the process is less time- and labour-intensive.
So, how to assess a good MTM service? Opinions vary. How many different fabrics can you choose from? How many measurements do they take (some MTM may be 5-7 measurements of your frame, others up to 60)? Which details of the suit are you allowed to choose – number of buttons on jacket? Pocket style? Single or double vent? Pleats? Cuffs? Lining? Lapel width? Monogramming? All of these questions should help you assess whether the end result of the MTM process is a perfectly fitting piece. The proof, of course, is in that proverbial pudding.

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N
Night-time. Many labels now talk about the desk-to-dark concept. Pieces you can put on in the morning to wear to work but which will also carry you into your after-work evening life socialising, dining, or entertaining. Men, in particular, who still don’t shop as often or as widely as women, are a ripe target for this concept. Clothes which achieve more than one end, and save time, and make life altogether less complicated, are speaking to the heartland when it comes to blokes. But there are also times when you need to make an effort. Date nights, events, work dinners, occasions. Ultimately you still need a few pieces which you only wear at night and scream ‘special event’.

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O
Originality. It’s the thing with trends, isn’t it? Starts off a trickle, ends up a flood, see: hipsters. Let’s be frank. When it comes to men’s fashion, the majority of us don’t really, truly have the courage to be original. Australian men are far more circumspect, tending to only adopt certain style trends once they have reached critical mass among their mates. That’s changing. As guys become more educated about menswear, and understand how to forge a personal style, confidence grows and they feel emboldened to experiment, or wear something unconventional they may once upon a time never have considered.

P
Peacocks. An Australian online men’s lifestyle blog recently ran a photo on Facebook promoting itself with an image of men at Pitti Uomo – the famous menswear trade show in Florence – dressed in an outrageous assembly of coloured and patterned suits. Modern-day peacocks. The comments underneath the photo were both hilarious and instructive, paraphrased most accurately as “what a bunch of douchebags.” Indeed, at Men’s Style we’ve been asked more than once why Australian men don’t dress like the men we sometimes feature on our Street Seen pages in our quarterly issues. Men whose dress screams “Look at me! Look at me!” It should be understood of course, that the men photographed at Pitti Uomo or around any of the annual fashion weeks are, to some degree, part of a performance. This is menswear on steroids, where the men on the streets now compete with the sometimes out-there creations of designers inside the venue in full view of a small army of ‘street-style’ photographers. It’s a modern-day phenomenon, but not a realistic reflection of how men now dress.

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Q
Quality over quantity.
It’s the mantra which Men’s Style has always chanted. That the journey into discovering your personal style starts with investing in pieces you love, pieces you’ll wear, pieces that last. It requires holistic thinking when faced with a sale, or a rushed shopping excursion, or pure necessity (a new suit for the races or a wedding, for example). Do I really need this? Does it fit with everything else I own, and how? Is it worth the money? Answer: yes, if you’ll wear it regularly in combination with many other things in your wardrobe; no, if you think it will make you look “fashionable”, which probably means you’re reacting to a trend, rather than making a more measured decision.

R
Routine. Be it their wardrobe or personal grooming, most stylish men we know practise a predictable, manageable routine that may encompass a rough plan for what they’re going to wear each of the week’s working days, and a process for getting ready each morning that takes no longer than 30 minutes max. There’s no need to be all Felix Unger about this. It can be as simple as a cursory arrangement of shirts and pants and jackets together on a Sunday evening. The morning routine can be as simple as face washing, shaving and moisturising (along with any other necessary plucking or defoliating). The take-out: some kind of routine, however simple, is better than none and can be the difference between well-presented and slightly shabby.

S
Shoes. Once a terribly neglected part of a man’s attire, and a guaranteed turn-off for women should they not be up to scratch, today’s man makes a greater effort with footwear commensurate with his growing interest in style and grooming. Take a look downwards in any of our major cities. We have one small quibble… enough with the brown/tan shoes with EVERYTHING. It became seemingly compulsory to wear a pair of brown shoes with a blue suit to work four or five years back and now it has reached epidemic proportions. Variety, chaps. Black and brown dress shoes, as the basics, loafers (‘L’), trainers, some espadrilles or slip-ons, and go from there. The more pairs, the less quickly they’ll wear out. Practice good shoe maintenance, too, to ensure longevity – cedar trees, anti-perspirant spray for your feet, leather inners, etc.

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T
Tones. Mixing tones (as well as patterns and textures) is one of the great arts of menswear and even more relevant today as men gain greater confidence with layering and separates become popular once more. Our Fashion Director Kim Payne loves tonal dressing and it will regularly feature in her fashion shoots for Men’s Style, so we asked her the secrets…
“Choose colours like blues and greys when you’re first getting a grasp of how to do it,” says Kim. “Take one colour then go either side of it, whether that be a lighter or a darker hue of the same colour. Don’t go too far or it will look too exaggerated. It’s often easiest to incorporate some denim to get you going.
“With suiting, keep the colour of the suit as the strongest tone and then either add the same tone or lighter for shirting. Then you can go for a stronger tone with your tie.
“Tonal dressing just needs practice. Once you find a key piece, work around that until you understand how it all fits together.”

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U
Understatement. See ‘P’. There are some chaps around now who are so into the modern male dressing thing and the revival of dandyism in all its strains, that they have gone completely over the top with their look. The truly stylish man may still include dandyish elements but there is a restraint and composure to the overall look – conveyed via neutral colours, or complementary textures, or even a correctly tied necktie – that is sadly missing from some of Instagram’s menswear “stars”.

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V
Version. As in, be the best one of yourself. It’s one of those Instagram-worthy memes but by making some effort in your dress, it’s an easy thing to achieve. It doesn’t require a lot of money, or even that much time, but the pay-off of a finished, considered look is the perception of you as a man with purpose and direction.

W
Watches. The ultimate male accessory still provides that fine finishing touch to the well thought-out look. Unlike our fathers and grandfathers, in a world where wristwear encompasses product priced from $100 to more than one million dollars, most contemporary men own more than one watch. These days that may include a traditional mechanical watch, a cheaper yet still stylish or more fashion-focused quartz timepiece, and perhaps now a hybrid timepiece/fitness tracker like the Garmin fenix Chronos. Diameter, colour of dial, and bracelet or leather or rubber strap are the key things you need to take into account when assessing a timepiece to add to your collection. Would you only wear it with a suit? If it’s a dive or sports watch, can it be worn for other occasions without looking like you’re about to depart for the Maldives? Really, we’re advising: don’t be rendered goggle-eyed by the long list of functions and the fact it’s a masculine 47mm. Ask first, how does this fit with what else I own?

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X
X equals “collab”. As in H&M X Balmain, or G-Star X Marc Newson. It’s an increasingly popular way to combine the power of brands (even if that brand is an individual) for a special co-partnered project. If you see an X between two well-known fashion or design names, the resulting product is likely to be limited edition, which will instantly add some zeroes to the price of the product but also help you go some way to achieving ‘O’.

Y
Yellow. Generally speaking, sometimes a hard colour for men to wear. Pull it off and send us a photo.

Z
Zipper. That old chestnut: don’t forgot to do it up.

From our 2016 Classic Edition

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