Accessories can be tricky things. Especially for guys who are just learning how to dress better, there’s often the urge to make an outfit “pop” with unusual items such as colorful socks and flashy tie clips. Over time, most people find that less is more – better to focus on fit and create a message with your clothes than overdo the details. Much like good writing, your message is usually better when it’s not overwrought.
At the same time, once you learn the basics, a thoughtful accessory or two can really make an outfit. Jesse calls this “having a point of distinction”:
It’s easy to pile wild choice on top of wild choice, or conversely to make nothing but down-the-middle clothing decisions. To choose to demonstrate understated mastery and nonetheless show distinction is much more difficult.
The key to wearing accessories well is in knowing how to coordinate them with the rest of your outfit. Don’t just pile things on – draw from and build on aesthetic traditions. An indigo dyed scarf can be a nice way to accentuate the workwear sensibility of a rugged leather jacket. A dressier, suede o-ring belt can lend a little something to a chunky shawl collar cardigan. Don’t be afraid here to go bold. When an accessory coordinates with the rest of your outfit, it can pull everything together. Some good starting points:
If you haven’t yet, get some good leather gloves. Plain brown leather ones – usually made from finer Napa leathers or lambskins – will go with almost anything. Unless you regularly wear black shoes. If so, get black gloves.
Your second pair ought to be something a little more interesting. Handsewn gloves look particularly nice in peccary and carpincho – sometimes referred to as the king and queen of glove leathers. Peccary has a slightly grainy texture and an unmatched soft feel (get them unlined, if you can). Carpincho is a spotted leather that looks a bit more distinctive from a distance. Either looks great with dressier overcoats.
Peccary and carpincho are expensive, but you can get unique gloves for considerably less money. Consider things such as suede (dark brown is more versatile than tan), grainy deerskins (good for rugged workwear and outdoorsy clothing), or even basic leathers in uncommon colors (e.g. hunter green or navy). Knitted wool gloves, including fingerless models, are better suited with casualwear. A good pair of gloves made with a leather front and tweed back can also be nice.
Some options to check out: Merola, Maison Lavbre, Thomas Riemer, certain models from Dents, and Hestra’s Table Cut collection are great for high-end gloves (they’re usually made from better materials and feature handsewn seams). Aarch is particularly good for value (note, their site uses Australian dollars, so convert to USD to see the lower US price). For more affordable buys, see Hestra’s mainline, Dent’s mainline, Maison Fabre, Ralph Lauren, and Nordstrom’s house label. Archival Clothing also recently found these Austrian wool mitts, which I think look great.
Again, your most versatile scarf will always be your simplest. That means something made from a solid colored wool, typically in basic colors such as navy or grey. They’ll go with anything – including navy or grey outerwear. If you want to get a little fancier, classic tartans can be nice.
A boring scarf will do little for a boring outfit, however. For the times you want to add a little something to an ensemble, pick up a couple of bolder options.
Bold here can mean any number of things – a larger scale plaid can be striking and an unusual pattern will catch the eye. I also like oversized scarves, which help add volume. Thinner silk scarves look better against heavier, tailored overcoats, but oversized scarves can be great with leather jackets and parkas.
If you’re looking for something to go with a rugged outfit, consider an indigo-dyed scarf. We have some made from antique Japanese boro and vintage silks. I wear one (pictured above) with a vintage black Schott double rider. Kiriko and Indigo People also sell similar items, albeit made from newer materials. Kapital has chunkier, almost blanket-like wool pieces if you want to let out your inner Lenny Kravitz.
A little more refined are Begg, Stoffa, Drake’s, and Christian Kimber. I wear their scarves with everything from tailored sport coats to contemporary outerwear. Stephan Schneider, a Belgian designer known for his sophisticated use of textiles, is also great.
For an affordable buy, don’t be afraid to browse through discount sites such as Barney’s Warehouse. Bolder designs often make it into sale sections, and since a scarf’s construction is pretty simple, it’s easy to get good deals.
A nice belt will never make an outfit, but it can pull everything together. Something like a ribbon belt can look great with a pair of khakis or fatigues shorts and an oxford shirt. Tasteful exotics, such as lizard skins and alligator leathers, can be great with a suit or sport coat. I also really like studded and Western-styled belts with workwear, such as the one above from Byrceland’s.
If you’re looking for something rugged, start with vintage options. A local thrift store can be a great resource, otherwise we have a directory for where you can shop online. Vintage belts are easy to size and they’ll come with a nice patina. I also think they look cooler than things you’d get from RRL.
Otherwise, you can get new belts from brands such as Ace Western, who specializes in handmade reproductions of vintage designs. Bryceland’s has some great looking models with John R. Craighead styled buckles (I love the New York one). Regular workwear haunts such as Unionmade are worth checking out, as are legendary ranchwear shops such as Rockmount. I myself wear a studded Sugar Cane belt, as well as some custom pieces from Don’t Mourn Organize. They have a double-layer horsehide belt they called their Clint Stitch, as it’s modeled after something Clint Eastwood once wore, and some basic harness straps you can outfit with vintage Navajo or Western-styled buckles (or, even better, something from our shop). When it comes to buckles here, don’t be afraid to go loud. A modestly etched silver Western buckle will just look like a solid silver piece from afar.
If you’re looking for something more versatile, check out companies such as Ledbury, Billykirk, and Narragansett. Their harness and bridle leather belts are outfitted with rugged closure systems that go just as easily with contemporary workwear as they do with jeans and a button-down. For something more refined, look for dressier belts with slide or o-ring buckles. Whether in calfskins or exotics, you wear them with casual suits and sport coats. Shops such as Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, and J. Press stock some great options. Anderson’s braided belts can also be a great way to spruce up a summertime outfit. And lastly, if you need something more contemporary to go with designer wear, Margiela is an easy bet.