Window Dressing

The best way to learn how to dress is by observing well-dressed men. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many around nowadays, so many style enthusiasts have gone online for inspiration. The internet, however, is mostly filled with clips from lookbooks, street style photos taken outside of fashion tradeshows, and images of store window displays.

To some degree, these things can give good instruction. They may make you notice how certain colors go really well together – such as grey and green – or how appealing a certain fabric’s pattern can be. However, they should not be taken too literally, as most are purposely over-the-top. Lookbooks and magazine photoshoots are over-stylized in order to be provocative; most street style photos today are just of peacocks in the fashion business; and store window displays are meant to showcase a retailer’s seasonal wares, put together in the most eye-catching way possible. Thus, most of these images have people (or mannequins) who are over-accessorized, over-layered, and often doing some new gimmick that’s meant to draw attention.  

If taken too literally, they can make you to think it’s a good idea to put some bauble in your lapel hole, pop your sport jacket’s lapels, roll up your jacket’s sleeves, invent some new way of wearing pants, and layer some denim jacket underneath a bubble vest, both layered underneath a sport coat. One can argue whether these things actually look good online (I think sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t), but they certainly don’t in real life, as they come off as incredibly contrived and affected.

So, take what you can from the internet, but pay attention to what works in real life, and what looks unnatural. If you actually look like you stepped out of a fashion photoshoot or store window display, you’re likely not be very well-dressed.

(Photos from The Sartorialist and LBM 1911)

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Tavi Gevinson

I had a great conversation with Tavi Gevinson on my radio show Bullseye this week. If you don’t already know, Tavi is the editor of RookieMag.com, an online magazine for teenage girls. She’s 16, and commands a staff of grown-ups (and a few other teens). She rose to prominence as a fashion blogger with her blog The Style Rookie, and I talked to her about some of the odd things about fashion blogging, as well as about our mutual enthusiasm for thrifting. This is an amazing young woman who should really be on your radar.

You can also listen to the full episode here (it also features Michael Ian Black and Retta, who’s best known as Donna from Parks & Recreation). Every episode of Bullseye is free in iTunes - you can download them or subscribe to the podcast here.

On the podcast Necessary & Sufficient, host Evan Forman sends his guests an envelope containing two index cards, each with a single word. They then open the envelope live on the air. When I appeared on episode 100 of the show, the words were “fashion” and “style.” A discussion followed.

Q and Answer: When Can I Wear a Tie Without a Jacket?
David asks: Just recently found your blog, and it’s a go-to for me everyday.  I do have a question.  You are adamant about the “tie with jacket only rule.”  I am a history teacher at a suburban high school in upstate New York.  The school has neither proper heating nor cooling, and I am constantly on my feet, walking around, at the front of the room, helping kids etc.  So when is it OK for me to take my jacket off and roll up my sleeves?
When I wrote this piece on 25 things you should know, there was a bit of controversy surrounding my suggestion that you shouldn’t wear a tie without a jacket. A fair amount of controversy, actually. But I wrote it advisedly, so let me offer you some guidelines.
First of all, it’s perfectly appropriate, in the course of work, to take off your coat. I myself take off my coat when I arrive at the office, and hang it on a coat rack. Most people who work in situations that demand a tie also work in situations that require them to sit frequently, and sitting wears unnecessarily on your coat. If I go out, or meet a colleague, or get cold, I put my coat back on. Generally, though, it’s off. That’s fine.
There are a few reasons it’s better to wear a coat. The first is that you will look better. Unless you happen to be Ryan Lochte, your physique will generally be more flattered by a coat than a shirt. It also makes you look “finished,” as though you’re fully dressed, prepared. A bit of variety and layering also makes almost any outfit look better.
But if you have some reason to take your coat off, no one will begrudge you. Taking a long walk in the sun? Carry your coat. (Short walks are often cooler with a seasonally-appropriate coat shading you.) Digging a ditch? Take off your coat. That’s fine. It’s like wearing your hat in a train station - the activity trumps the normal etiquette.
The question comes in when you are dressing with a tie but without a coat.
Ask yourself: why am I doing this? What is the occasion that demands the formality of a tie but doesn’t require a coat? Besides transitory situations (sitting at your desk, digging a ditch, eating soup), why would you need to wear a tie but not a coat?
The answer is pretty much “I work at a cell phone store.”
Which is not a good look.
Now, there’s a certain semi-ironic aesthetic that peaked a couple years ago that alludes to the (work-engaged, desk-sitting) necktied nerd of the 1960s. The NASA engineer look. It usually involves an extremely slim shirt and trousers, a skinny tie, and a tie clip. The sleeves are typically short or rolled (an allusion to those engineers-at-work). In warm weather, this look has no coat.
While I’d say that the style’s a little stale, fashion-wise, it looked fine on some people. Mostly very skinny ones who could pull off the irony. I sincerely had no beef with these people. Have no beef with these people - I’m sure there are people who look fine in this outfit even now. The truth is, though, that 99% of the guys wearing ties without coats in America today look like yutzes.
The simple solution is simple. If you’re wearing a coat, and the situation demands it, wear a tie. If you’re not, and it doesn’t, don’t. There’s no need to put the cart before the horse.

Q and Answer: When Can I Wear a Tie Without a Jacket?

David asks: Just recently found your blog, and it’s a go-to for me everyday.  I do have a question.  You are adamant about the “tie with jacket only rule.”  I am a history teacher at a suburban high school in upstate New York.  The school has neither proper heating nor cooling, and I am constantly on my feet, walking around, at the front of the room, helping kids etc.  So when is it OK for me to take my jacket off and roll up my sleeves?

When I wrote this piece on 25 things you should know, there was a bit of controversy surrounding my suggestion that you shouldn’t wear a tie without a jacket. A fair amount of controversy, actually. But I wrote it advisedly, so let me offer you some guidelines.

First of all, it’s perfectly appropriate, in the course of work, to take off your coat. I myself take off my coat when I arrive at the office, and hang it on a coat rack. Most people who work in situations that demand a tie also work in situations that require them to sit frequently, and sitting wears unnecessarily on your coat. If I go out, or meet a colleague, or get cold, I put my coat back on. Generally, though, it’s off. That’s fine.

There are a few reasons it’s better to wear a coat. The first is that you will look better. Unless you happen to be Ryan Lochte, your physique will generally be more flattered by a coat than a shirt. It also makes you look “finished,” as though you’re fully dressed, prepared. A bit of variety and layering also makes almost any outfit look better.

But if you have some reason to take your coat off, no one will begrudge you. Taking a long walk in the sun? Carry your coat. (Short walks are often cooler with a seasonally-appropriate coat shading you.) Digging a ditch? Take off your coat. That’s fine. It’s like wearing your hat in a train station - the activity trumps the normal etiquette.

The question comes in when you are dressing with a tie but without a coat.

Ask yourself: why am I doing this? What is the occasion that demands the formality of a tie but doesn’t require a coat? Besides transitory situations (sitting at your desk, digging a ditch, eating soup), why would you need to wear a tie but not a coat?

The answer is pretty much “I work at a cell phone store.”

Which is not a good look.

Now, there’s a certain semi-ironic aesthetic that peaked a couple years ago that alludes to the (work-engaged, desk-sitting) necktied nerd of the 1960s. The NASA engineer look. It usually involves an extremely slim shirt and trousers, a skinny tie, and a tie clip. The sleeves are typically short or rolled (an allusion to those engineers-at-work). In warm weather, this look has no coat.

While I’d say that the style’s a little stale, fashion-wise, it looked fine on some people. Mostly very skinny ones who could pull off the irony. I sincerely had no beef with these people. Have no beef with these people - I’m sure there are people who look fine in this outfit even now. The truth is, though, that 99% of the guys wearing ties without coats in America today look like yutzes.

The simple solution is simple. If you’re wearing a coat, and the situation demands it, wear a tie. If you’re not, and it doesn’t, don’t. There’s no need to put the cart before the horse.

Put This On Season Two: So Far

Above: Episode 3, (New) Traditions, shot in London.

Put This On, Season 2, Episode 2: Eclecticism from Put This On on Vimeo.

Put This On, Season 2, Episode 1: The Melting Pot from Put This On on Vimeo.

Season 2, Episode 2: PTO Place: Jay Kos

From Put This On Season 2, Episode 2, a profile of New York menswear retailer Jay Kos. Kos is known for mixing traditional style with bold fabrics and colors, and is a favorite of contemporary dandies like Fonzworth Bentley.

From Season 2, Episode 2 of Put This On

Put This On Presents: Dave Hill vs. Fashion Week 2012

Put This On’s intrepid field correspondent Dave Hill hit New York’s Fashion Week once again to find out what makes it so magical. Turns out, it’s mountains of cocaine!

Can you spot Anna Wintour, Scott Schuman and Bill Cunningham? How about Dave Hill? Can you spot Dave Hill?

Put This On Season Two & Season One DVD: Coming Tuesday 3/13!

Previously: Dave Hill at Fashion Week 2011

(And be sure to pre-order Dave’s new book, Tasteful Nudes… and Other Misguided Attempts at Personal Growth and Validation)