Being called stylish can mean so many things. You dress well; you’ve got a nice haircut, cool bag, nice car, impressive art collection. Even how you walk down the street can be stylish – look at John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Then there’s the kind of stylish that transcends the mere suit or fancy watch; being smart. Smart is very stylish.
Now, I’m not talking about book smart or theoretical physicist smart. To me, smart is being curious about the world around you and seeking out different points of view; these things make you an interesting person. Good looks will only get you so far; to be a truly stylish person you need to be able to carry a conversation, know something about the world, be up on current events, appreciate art and music and be able to actually communicate your thoughts. You don’t have to be an expert on all this, but you should be aware and have an informed opinion. Some people, like the brilliant writer Tom Wolfe, are both very smart and very stylish. One reason he can carry off his trademark white suit is because his intellect is equally sharp. It’s not merely a prop, it’s a physical extension of Wolfe’s wit, humor, and razor sharp intellect.
Turning yourself in into a socially interesting person is not as difficult as you might imagine. Take an inventory of the things that already interest you – style, politics, business, design, philosophy, economics, or history – whatever they may be. Then, every day, make a point of learning a little something from each of those areas. This is not a test, you don’t have to recall everything verbatim, just keep the information handy. Be aware of news stories too; get a daily paper and skim through the various sections. Have conversations about what’s going on in the world or just your own office.
Being aware of different industries also pays off when your interests cross paths. For example, among other things I’m interested in style, politics, business and global events. I have also been following Ralph Lauren’s company for years and, having worked at two of his stores, am particularly fascinated by his ability to target specific markets.
Over time, I have read a few books about him, clipped newspaper and magazine articles on his approach to business and ordered the company’s annual reports – nice enough to go in the bookcase by the way. As a result, I have learned about market segmentation, global menswear production, political issues facing the textile industry, and how cultural expectations affect product development. Not only do I have a greater understanding of the business of fashion, I also have a lot to talk about at a cocktail party.
Apart from the excellent advice found here at OffTheCuffDC.com, there is another resource to which you can turn for a quick shot of sartorial, cultural, social, and political information from around the world. Monocle, a totally unique print magazine and interactive website which launched last March, is my pick for best international style magazine. The current issue covers such interesting topics as how to properly brand an entire country, finding a bank to house your private art collection, current trends in automotive design, and topical updates from across five continents ranging from Nicolas Sarkozy’s clothing choices to an interview with Tokyo’s feisty mayor. Stuffed throughout the magazine are numerous fashion reviews and style stories as well. The innovative layout, excellent writing, local perspectives and elegant photography make Monocle a must read.
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.