When one thinks about the centers of international style, Washington D.C., let alone the United States in general, does not jump to the top of most people’s list. And while there are many men who travel internationally, shuttling from an important breakfast meeting in London to a vital lunch in Vienna, few really do it with true international style. Many look worn out and bedraggled in ill fitting suits, shoddy shoes, and anonymous ties. More and more however, “international style” is starting to make an impact in the daily lives of men everywhere. For those looking to find good examples of sharp dressing that spans the world, there are a few beacons of global elegance who wordlessly preach the gospel of great style.
On the cover of the current issue of Men’s Vogue, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair stands comfortably alert, eye to eye with the reader in what could be called his second skin: pale blue textured shirt, red woven tie with a discrete dotted pattern, and dark suit pants. Blair’s outfit is a good example of classic international style. Though simple, his ensemble is universally accepted as authoritative and tasteful. Superior fabric quality and skilled tailoring further make such apparent plainness markedly influential. Though your days are probably not filled with international crises or crafting a national economic policy, it never hurts to dress as though you are. Mr. Blair’s outfit could be called the global diplomat’s uniform. It is elegant but disarming, powerfully masculine yet ubiquitous in an everyman sort of way.
The same can be said of Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations. If ever there was a perpetually elegant politician, it is he. One can imagine Mr. Annan shrink wrapped into his bespoke duds each night, only to emerge the next day with nary a wrinkle. When asked once about his sartorial leanings, Mr. Annan explained that as the global face of the United Nations, he always had to be seen as a calming and reasonable head of state. That meant he always had to be dressed as though he was about to step out and address the world at any given minute, because he very well might.
No matter where in the world he went, the Secretary General was, in a word, dashing. As any global traveler can tell you, such a feat is very difficult. Annan succeeds at this task by keeping things simple; traditional and reserved suits, simple but elegant shirt and tie combinations, and always presenting himself as a global figure. This last point is important because rather than just about choosing clothes, it is about choosing how you want the world to see you.
Suits on a plane
The Wall Street Journal recently had an interesting profile of Thomas Barrack, Jr., CEO of Colony Capital, who takes a customized approach to dressing internationally. The article describes his methodical and rather complex philosophy for turning out appropriately anywhere in the world. It involves multiple closets in several properties scattered across the globe. And a corporate jet with its own separate wardrobe.
While most of us do not have such vast logistical resources at hand, we can still take away some important information from Mr. Barrack’s strategy. He pays close attention to where he is going and focuses on the details of that particular culture. Though he keeps customized wardrobes in his many home bases for fool proof sartorial appropriateness, he does not try and pass himself off as a local. Rather, Mr. Barrack makes an effort to be compatible in whatever culture he finds himself. The interview notes, for example that pocket squares are fine in London but not really right for New York. When in Italy, he wears his scarf by passing its end through the loop, but in the states, it’s over under. Single or double vent? It depends, but regardless the jacket never comes off during a negotiation. In true CEO fashion, he favors Hermes and Ferragamo ties for their universal, yet subtle message of power and hideously expensive bespoke footwear. Lucky him.
Bringing it home
In men’s closets across the United States, wardrobes are finally starting to express a more international flair. Stylistic influences like Daniel Craig’s Brioni-clad James Bond and an influx of British premium clothing brands like Thomas Pink and Charles Tyrwhitt have brought a double cuffed attitude to the attention of button downed American men. The sport jacket has emerged as a new wardrobe staple, no little thanks to style-of-the-minute powerhouse H & M, at which I recently picked up a lovely double vented linen model with angled hacking style pockets for a mere $50 USD.
So, while many American men are a little gun shy of standing out too much, the proliferation of checked shirts, fitted double vent jackets and cuff links show that definite changes are indeed in the air. I think it is safe to say that, while the world is becoming smaller, it is also starting to dress itself a little better too.