Fast forward to today. Men’s clothing is back with a vengeance. There are many factors that went into this sea change and if you have a demographer for a neighbor (not unlikely in DC), go ask him about it. Many companies have reinstated some form of dress code and there is a major resurgence of interest in men’s fashion. Men are finally taking back what they gave up decades ago – good taste, style, and a sense of swagger. If the “Decade of Gap” gave us anything sartorially useful, it is the realization that guys do, in fact, have a real desire to feel good about how they look. It also gave the menswear industry the chance to essentially reinvent itself.
Speaking of the Gap, I should point out that it’s in a world of trouble right now. Ever since Mickey Drexler moved on to J.Crew and turned that company into a catalog and retail powerhouse, the Gap has slid further and further from it’s core audience. With questionable product choices, serious retail over-saturation, mismatched price points, bad lease deals, and a general lack of good design sense, Gap is facing tough times. Let this be a warning to other marque brands: if you lose touch with what the market wants and who your customers are (not who you want them to be), well, you’re toast. By the way, here is a great New York Magazine article on Drexler’s move from Gap to J.Crew.
OK, let me get back on message…
Dressing well is the new cool. Influential urban style makers like Sean Combs have broadened their empires to include boardroom fashion. Emerging designers like Michael Bastian, former fashion director for Bergdorf Goodman, are injecting new life into mainstream menswear. A key aspect to the new cool is taking classics and reinterpreting them. Dressing well in this brave new world is fairly simple if you remember a couple of rules.
First and foremost, be true to yourself. I’ve said it many times before, but it always bears repeating; know what kinds of clothes you like and what looks good on you. Always pay attention to style, fit, balance and purpose. The clothes you wear should match your style and personality, they need to fit you well, they need to work with each other, and they need to make sense.
Wearing a suit every day makes life relatively easy – just find a shirt and tie that match. Skipping the tie altogether can make things a little more challenging. You don’t want to look like you forgot your tie; rather, you want to look like you don’t need one. Pairing a classic grey suit with a cashmere turtleneck or elegant open neck French cuffed shirt can be perfectly appropriate in the boardroom. Pocket squares are another way to inject style and color to an outfit without relying on a tie.
Always keep in mind that depending where you are in the country, or world for that matter, regional traditions will always dictate what is appropriate. A sport coat and nice pants may be considered dressy in Las Vegas, but if your meeting is in New York, it better be coat and tie.
While dressing well doesn’t necessarily mean dressing up, that is not an excuse to look like you’re taking out the trash. Try and go for a more polished look and choose tailored pieces. Properly fitted clothing makes you look better, thinner and smart. The traditional blue blazer, with or without the brass buttons, is an exceedingly useful article of clothing. Pair it with dress pants, beat up khakis, or your favorite jeans; it works with everything. Throw in the aforementioned pocket square and you’re ready to go.
Investing in a couple of good shirts will pay big dividends. French cuffs, also called double cuffs, give you the opportunity to show some individuality with cuff links. Shirt makers like Thomas Pink and Charles Tyrwhitt, both British imports, have a fantastic array of choices when it comes to patterns, materials and collar styles. These types of shirts are perfect for pulling off an elegant no tie look.
For warmer weather, pick up some nicer quality polo shirts to pair with tailored khakis or a poplin suit. Play with colors and find out what works for you.
So, don’t be afraid to try something new and bring your work wardrobe into the 21st century. Just make sure, to bring along an honest friend who will let you know what works and more importantly, what doesn’t.