The Real Value Of Classic Men’s Style

August 17, 2011

Marisa Zupan recently expressed concern that men are losing touch with the real reason they should be getting dressed up: women. In her opinion, there is a lack of gender balance in whom men are getting their advice from, and they’re more likely to get dressed in order to impress style bloggers than earn a compliment from a woman. As she put it, “the modern man’s dressing custom has become a staunchly bro-ish affair … and the feminine perspective is seemingly no longer in the game, benched in what once was a two-team sport.”

Her article engendered a number of responses from the men’s style blogosphere, and they were published yesterday at Park&Bond. As you can see, I was one of the respondents. My text was edited down quite a bit, but the general spirit is there (more or less anyway).

Among the responses, there seems to be a theme about dressing for yourself, not others. Lawrence of Sartorially Inclined states this directly, but others allude to it as well. The problem with this advice is that it can lead men down crooked paths that end up in a world of drop-crotch pants. Have no doubt – the people wearing Rick Owens are definitely not dressing for anyone but themselves.

Now, to be clear, unlike many other “classic men’s style” bloggers, I’m incredibly open to experimental or conceptually-driven fashion (though maybe not Rick Owens). However, such things aren’t what Put This On is about. Jesse and I write about men’s style in a very pragmatic sense. For this, if I were to pen my response again, I would strongly emphasize that men should dress not just for themselves, but everyone else, men and women alike.

Dressing well is both a personal and social act, and you do it not only to communicate your personality, but also please others around you – your boss, secretary, client, family, friends, and your significant other. It’s not enough to achieve one of these things alone. If it were, dressing well would be easy.

This is where classic men’s style actually has value – it’s an approach to dressing that tries to consider everyone involved. For example, through a suit, a modern man is able to communicate to his boss that he’s responsible; to his clients that he’s professional; to his friends that he’s sophisticated; and to his date that he’s romantic.

This is a point that may seem obvious, but sometimes I think it’s lost when I see pictures of some of my favorite men’s style bloggers. So many look like caricatures. Men’s style bloggers as a group are a nerdy bunch, and they often want to embody a certain kind of style that is traditional and coherent. For example, they’ll wear corduroy trousers with a tweed jacket, complete with a shooting patch and bellow pockets, and then have a Shetland sweater and tattersall shirt on underneath. This may be historically correct for a late-20th century Englishman going hunting, but it’s odd for any modern man who lives in a city. Such a man is dressing only for himself, even if he can be considered part of the “classic men’s style” community. What he’s wearing is arcane and odd, and he’s not taking into account any of the other people he interacts with.

To me, this isn’t what classic men’s style is about. What I love about what I wear is that it’s appropriate and sharp for nearly all situations. Take, for example, the fact that I’m in Moscow right now. As I’m typing this, I’m wearing grey tropical wool trousers, a light blue spread collar shirt, navy fresco wool blazer, navy socks, and brown loafers. It’s not unlike what I would wear to dinner in San Francisco, where I’m from. Whether in Moscow or San Francisco, however, I’m appropriately dressed for nearly any function (at least any function that a 32-year old man would attend). It’s an international uniform that will probably serve me well for the rest of my life, and since the fit is good, I look sharp in it. That’s the value of classic men’s style.

Now back to Zupan’s dilemma – should we take women more into account? Absolutely. Since dressing well is about considering others, you need to heed the opinion of women as much as anyone else. Dress for the men’s style community, women, people around you, and yourself. If you can please all these people, then you’ll have struck something truly great.

So what does that practically mean? I don’t think it means we should take other people’s prescriptions. Generally speaking, most people follow trends more than I think is advisable. So be skeptical of what people say you should wear. However, as I noted in my response at Park&Bond, heed the vetoes, especially if there are choruses of them. If you walk out of your house in your little English countryman outfit and women snicker, don’t think it’s because they haven’t hung out at the right online forums or read the right arcane books. It’s because you look like you’re going to the menswear equivalent of Comic-Con.