The Fine Art of Intelligent Style

Being called stylish can mean many things; that you dress well, have a nice haircut or cool bag, drive great car, or own impressive art collection.

Even how you walk down the street can be stylish – think of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.

Then there’s the kind of stylish that transcends mere clothing or accoutrement: being smart.

We are not necessarily talking about book smart or theoretical physicist smart, although that level of intelligence is genuinely impressive. Simply being curious about the world around you and seeking out different points of view can make you a truly interesting person. As many women would point out, smart can be very stylish.

While politics and global affairs are issues about which one should be generally aware, it also helps to be up on a broad range of current events, able to carry a conversation, know something about the world, and be capable of clearly communicating your thoughts in a thoughtful way. You don’t have to be an expert on all things, but you should be aware of what’s going on around you and have an informed opinion.

Can you engage in a basic discussion about why what happens to the Euro affects the price of your favorite Belgian beer? Necktie, bow tie, or open collar for business meetings in New York versus Tokyo? How does instability in the agriculture sector affect heavy equipment manufacturers in Northern Europe?

These aren’t, abstract ivy-tower issues. They are real-world topics that when explored and discussed show some practical depth and intellect. And, when discussed well and with some flair, you can also showcase your smarts and, yes, style.

We hold firm to the belief that good looks will only get you so far. In today’s environment of polarized positions and toxic rhetoric, if you’re a narrowminded partisan of any stripe, unwilling to engage in thoughtful debate or self-examination, you do yourself and those around you a significant disservice.

Some people, like the brilliant writer Tom Wolfe, are both very smart and very, very stylish. One reason he can carry off his trademark white suit with such ease is because his intellect is equally sharp. Mr. Wolfe’s distinctive look is not merely a prop; it’s a physical extension of his wit, humor, and razor-sharp brainpower. In his case, you can bet that the man makes the clothes, not the other way around.

Perhaps one of the most intellectually forceful arbiters of style is Alan Flusser, who happens to be a close friend of Tom Wolfe.

Alan is an intellectual omnivore, fluent in such disparate subjects as publishing, global business, politics, economics, golf, Buddhism, etiquette, and of course the histories of American and English fashion. Drop Alan into a random cocktail party or boardroom and he can chat with anyone about practically anything.

Turning yourself in into a socially interesting person is not as difficult as you might imagine. While the prospect may seem intimidating – even manufactured – all that is really required is your taking an interest in the world out there.

For starters, take an inventory of the things that already interest you – art, music, business, economics, or history – whatever they may be. Then, every day, make a point to learn a little something from each of those areas. This is not a test, you don’t have to recall everything verbatim, just take in the information and notice where you found it and why it caught your attention. Be open to learning something new or, and this may be tough for some people, be willing to reconsider a position or view based on the facts you accumulate.

Thinking flexibly and keeping an open mind to new ideas is a hallmark of truly interesting people. The state of today’s menswear market bears little resemblance to a mere ten or 15 years ago. The fundamental constructs of what we wear to work, when traveling, and even at the gym have changed on almost every level. Dress sneakers with a suit.

Read a daily paper like the Wall Street Journal or New York Times and learn about business, finance, marketing, design, media, and politics on your way to work. And, hey, why not actually get a physical paper every now and then – it’s a completely different reading experience.

Monocle magazine is an OTC favorite. Its global briefing approach to telling readers about culture, governments, fashion, business, and design is unique, entertaining, and compelling. They even have a 24-hour streaming radio station that’s chock full of fascinating programming.

A growing number of apps deliver magazine and newspaper content right to your smart phone or tablet. Too busy to read? Listen to any number of podcasts on subjects ranging from art history to science to geopolitics. Better yet, make time to talk to your friends and coworkers about what’s going on in the world.

So, as you work to perfect your wardrobe, choose a new pair of bespoke shoes, or track down the perfect briefcase don’t forget to look around and learn something about the world. Becoming a better global citizen is about as stylish as you can get.

What tends makes many successful people so interesting is often their breadth and depth of knowledge. They are curious about the world, excited to learn new things, and can jump from topic to topic, making insightful connections along the way.

Be that guy.

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