I have been asked on occasion where I find my style inspiration. I think this is a compliment, though you never know. For me, there are lots of different sources, from people I admire to books, cars, magazines, art, buildings, even the shape of a shoe. Since we are starting a new year, I thought this might be a great time to give you some ideas on where to find inspiration for your own personal sense of style.
One of the quickest ways to figure out what kind of style you’re drawn to is to just look around. Who do you admire? What celebrities, politicians or friends do you think have innate style or just a great look? We often find ourselves drawn to the elements and characteristics of people we truly admire, so be aware. So if you think Cary Grant or Brad Pitt are the guys you’d like to emulate, fantastic.
Sometimes an object can have the same effect. I have a particular pair of shoes that are about 10 years old. Hands down, they are my favorite. As they have aged, these shoes have taken on a certain personality that mirrors my own. When I have them on, I am more aware of how I dress, the bag I’m carrying, and even how I want to project myself to the world. I think about places I want to visit and even the kind of closet I’d like to keep them in. So, yes, even a shoe can be inspiring.
Building up a pool of style resources is an important and personal endeavor. Luckily for men, there is more information out there than ever before on dressing well, figuring out who you are and, most importantly, being the kind of guy that people want to know.
One of the first things I always suggest is to create a personal reference library. It can be as compact as a spare bookcase or as grand as a home office. The point is to have a place that is all yours and where you can store the things that will be part of your personal style guide. A reference library can include books, favorite pieces of clothing, magazine ads, cigar boxes or anything else that catches your attention. I turned a spare room into my study. It is filled with all the things that I find inspirational: lots of books, family pictures, art, boxes of magazine clippings and newspaper articles, old pens and watches, and even a bowl of golf tees. Each of these things represents a part of who I am and what I find interesting in life.
When it comes to assembling your own reference library, here are some classic men’s clothing and lifestyle books that I recommend. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but this selection is chock full of good information, advice and suggestions.
Classic Books on Classic Style
Elegance, by G. Bruce Boyer
Dressing the Man, by Alan Flusser (Flusser has several excellent books that are virtually considered textbooks on men’s style.)
Gentleman’s Guide to Grooming and Style, by Bernhard Roetzel (This encyclopedic behemoth covers every category you could ever imagine)
The Preppy Handbook, by Lisa Birnbach (Yes, I’m serious. There is a lot of fun stuff in here.)
A Well-Dressed Gentleman’s Pocket Guide, by Oscar Lenius (A great little guide)
Surprisingly Good Books on Overall Style
Beyond Soap, Water, and Comb, by Ed Marquand
Off the Cuff, by Carson Kressley (He’s a little over the top, but Kressley worked for Ralph Lauren and could probably teach a class on individual style.)
Maximum Style, by Perry Garfinkel, Brian Chichester
Chic Simple: Men’s Wardrobe, by Kim Johnson Gross and Jeff Stone (In fact, most of their books and mini-tomes are very useful.)
As for magazines, while many are filled with ads for cars we’ll never buy and clothes priced for a king, they are great for inspiration and fresh ideas. A particular favorite of mine is Men’s Vogue. This is the American version of the long running European magazine and it’s a welcome arrival. Menswear, a larger format magazine published by DNR, is a great option and also gives industry insight. GQ and Esquire are style standards. Esquire recently came out with “The Big Black Book,” sort of a cross between a book and a magazine. It has an excellent style guide and highlights all sorts of classics every guy should have in his closet. you can order it through the link above.
For the literary crowd, I have to mention that an endless source of sartorial advice can be found within virtually any P.G. Wodehouse book. Besides still being side-splittingly funny, his timeless roaring Twenty’s characters, Bertie Wooster and butler, Jeeves, dispense equally timeless nuggets of guidance on socks, shirts and ties.
Figuring out who you really want to be and finding sources of inspiration to help you get there are important steps in creating your own true style. While I can’t speak to women’s fashion, men’s style tends to follow an architectural pattern. Imagine that personal style is like designing a building. First, you have the foundation – good shoes. Then there is the support structure – pants. The main façade – jackets, sweaters and shirts; and the decorative elements – ties, cufflinks, gloves, hats, glasses. Finally there is the streetscape, those elements that put you into a context. They are things like bearing, attitude, etiquette, and an overall sense of who you are.
By breaking this all into smaller pieces, the whole process of self-evaluation feels less overwhelming. It captures your layers of style and the different elements that come together to tell everyone who you are. When you can see a shirt and understand why you like it and how it fits into your personal style, you’re seeing the whole building.