Other Stuff to Know - 7
Building a Wardrobe — Men
Men have it easy compared with women when it comes to putting together a basic wardrobe for professional, social and casual attire. First of all, men’s clothing is subject to dramatically fewer and less radical fashion changes over time. Second, the choices and variety of designs and styles available for men are much more limited.
To look your best, particularly in an office-related business or profession, take this approach to selecting suits, sports jackets and dress pants:
- A basic wardrobe for men should include several wool single-breasted, two or three-button suits. At least one of the suits should be dark-blue and another grey or charcoal-grey. In my opinion, unless you are extremely tall, two-button suits usually look better than three-button suits. Double-breasted suits are an option for men who are tall and thin.
- Solid black-colored suits are usually too stark looking unless they have some discreet variation in the fabric, such as a small bird’s-eye or sharkskin pattern. Beige and light-blue suits are both appropriate for wearing in the summer but they get dirty relatively easily. People with pale skin have to be careful when selecting grey shades of suits as lighter greys can wash out their complexion, especially in the winter.
- For a slightly less dressy alternative to a suit, wear a two-button, dark-blue navy blazer with charcoal-grey, grey or beige-colored pants. Another less dressy alternative to suits is to wear a sports jacket and dress pants. The darker the sports jacket and pants, the more they are suitable to wear to a business event or in the evening. Both blazers and sports jackets look best with solid-colored pants.
- Men’s suits, blazers and sports jackets with classic, simple traditional English or Italian styling are preferable to anything that attempts to look “fashion forward” or trendy. Jackets should be slightly tapered from chest to waist and jacket shoulders should have a natural look with minimal padding. The back of jackets can have either two side-vents or one center-vent. Suit jackets should have four buttons on each sleeve but blazers and sports jackets only need three buttons on their sleeves. The chest and sleeve buttons on a blazer are usually brass-finished.
- Select suits, jackets and dress pants in natural wool fabrics that ideally can be worn year-round. This means avoiding heavy fabrics. Suit fabrics that weigh “11 ounces” (per square yard) are the most versatile. If you live in a hot climate, select suits and dress pants with 7 to 8 ounce fabrics. In addition, fabrics that do not easily crease and wrinkle are the best. Some garment manufacturers make pants and suits in wrinkle-resistant fabrics.
- Suits are usually made using a woven “worsted wool” fabric. Lighter-weight blazers and sports jackets can also be made from a blend consisting of wool and cotton, wool and silk, or even a combination of wool, silk and linen. Linen jackets and pants can be worn in the summer but wrinkle easily. Another excellent fabric for lighter-weight dress clothes is wool gabardine, especially in beige or tan colors.
- For maximum use, the color and pattern of sports jackets should be relatively subtle. One attractive choice is what is known as a Glen check or plaid in North America or a Prince of Wales check in Europe. Other options are tweed, herringbone and houndstooth patterned fabrics.
- The top button of your two-button suits and jackets usually should be done up when you are standing. With three-button suits, only the middle button should be buttoned. It is unnecessary to have more than one suit or jacket button done up unless you are wearing a double-breasted jacket. When you are sitting, jackets do not have to be buttoned, even at more formal events.
- Your wardrobe should include three to four dress pants to wear for social occasions in the evening that do not require a suit. The most versatile colors for dress pants are black, dark charcoal-grey, beige and tan.
- It is a personal preference whether you wear your pants with pleats in front or with plain fronts. The same goes for having the bottom of your pants cuffed or uncuffed but most men now prefer to have them uncuffed.
Some cautions regarding suits, jackets and pants are:
- The fit of men’s clothes is important. Take your time in finding the right size of garment for your build and height. You must be able to move freely in your suits, jackets and pants. Avoid tight-fitting clothes that pull or stretch when you are standing or sitting. Pay particular attention to how well a jacket fits around your chest. The collar and back of your jackets also need to fit smoothly over your neck and shoulders. Pants should not fit too snugly at the crotch. Similarly, the arm holes of jackets should not fit too tightly. Ideally, the center seam of your pants should have some extra fabric inside so it can be let out if you gain weight. Frequently, you will need to ask to have your suits, jackets and pants altered by the store so they fit you better.
- Although men can occasionally wear the pants of their solid-colored grey, charcoal-grey and beige suits with blazers and sports jackets, it is not a good idea to do it often or the suit pants will wear out much sooner than the suit jacket. In most cases, the jacket of a suit should not be worn with any pants other than that jacket’s suit pants.
- Men often err in having jacket sleeve lengths that are too long or too short. Ideally, suit jackets, blazers and sports jackets should show three-eighths to one-half of an inch of the shirt sleeve at the bottom of the cuff when your arms are held straight down at your side. Jacket sleeves that cover all of the shirt cuff and extend over the upper part of your hand are too long.
- Frequently, men wear pants that are too long or too short. The bottom of your pants should slightly break over the front of your shoes and be about three quarters of an inch longer at the back, so the pants rest approximately half an inch above the bottom of the heel of your shoe.
- When you purchase clothes, anticipate that some fabrics may shorten or shrink when they are first washed or dry-cleaned. Also, keep in mind that new pants have a tendency to ride up over your waist after you have worn them for a while, so allow for this in determining the right length of your pants when purchasing them.
Here is some advice concerning your dress shirts and ties:
- Select dress shirts that complement your jackets and suits color-wise. Generally, you will get the most use out of plain-colored shirts, especially white, cream and light-blue colored ones. On the other hand, striped shirts go well with solid-colored jackets and suits. Unless they are subtle, patterned shirts can be difficult to co-ordinate with the rest of your outfit. For dressy occasions, a white shirt is usually the best. Except for extremely hot climates, always wear a long-sleeved dress shirt whenever you wear a tie and jacket to the office or for a social event.
- There are several options in selecting a style of collar for men’s dress shirts. The first consideration is the length of the two collar points, the second is how widely the points are spread apart, and the third is whether or not the points are attached. In the latter case, there are two choices – “tab collars” where the points are held together with a buttoned tab that goes under the tie knot or “buttondown shirts” where the end of each collar point is buttoned down on to the shirt.
- The most popular style of dress shirts are those with a “spread collar”. The second most popular style is a “straight collar” with a relatively narrow spread and unattached points. Buttondown shirts are also popular for both dress and casual occasions. The length of the collar points can vary with each type of shirt collar.
- When you are selecting your dress shirts, try different brands of shirts on in the store to find one that fits you properly on the collar, around your shoulders and in the length of the sleeves. Also, avoid shirts that either have too much excess cloth or are too tight around your body.
- The most common mistake made by men purchasing shirts is buying one that feels right in the store but chokes the throat after a few washings when it shrinks. Allow for the inevitable shrinking by purchasing shirts with a collar size that is one size larger than your neck size.
- Some men prefer to wear dress tie-shirts with folded French cuffs and cuff-links. French cuffs generally are not, however, worn with button-down shirts. With custom-made dress shirts, you can have your initials sewn on the left-hand breast of the shirt in a complementary color. Such monogrammed initials are meant to be discreet but tend to look ostentatious when they are located elsewhere, such as on the cuff of the shirt.
- The most common fashion error committed by men is wearing clothes that clash and are not color or pattern coordinated. If you are wearing a suit or jacket with a stripe or any type of pattern, wear a plain-colored shirt underneath it. Striped or patterned shirts should only be worn with solid-colored suits or jackets. If you are wearing a striped shirt, do not wear a striped tie.
- The color and pattern of your tie has to complement that of your shirt and jacket. Ties should generally be somewhat understated in classic patterns such as regimental stripes, subtle geometrics and solid weaves. Vivid, brightly colored ties tend to look garish. I am not a fan of wearing dark ties with dark shirts.
- The type of tie knot you use depends in part on the width of your face and neck, and in part on the type of collar on your dress shirt. A Windsor knot where the tie is threaded over on both sides looks best for someone with a wide face and neck, wearing a large spread-apart collar. For everyone else, the thinner-looking “four-in-hand” knot or the half-Windsor knot generally looks smarter, providing the top corners of the triangle of the knot are covered on both sides by the joints of the collar.
- The website of the menswear retailer Brooks Brothers provides an excellent description of the different types of knots and how to tie them, including bow ties. Go to www.brooksbrothers.com.
- Tie your tie so the inside thinner piece hangs down no more than one or two inches shorter than the wider piece in front. The front of your tie should hang down to the middle of your belt buckle or just over the top of your pants. Ties vary in width depending on the current fashion. Generally, 3 ½ inches in width is a good choice.
- When you are taking off your tie, work the long wider end of the tie back out of the knot first as opposed to tugging the thin end out of the knot. This is much easier on the construction and lining of the tie and will cause your ties to last longer.
Follow the one-star rule. If you are wearing a tie with a bold color or pattern, the color and pattern of your shirt should be subdued. Only one article of clothing should stand out at a time.
These guidelines apply to selecting footwear and accessories for your wardrobe:
- Generally, black shoes are worn with dark-blue, grey or black suits and pants, and brown shoes with brown or beige-colored suits and pants. Increasingly, however, men are wearing different shades of brown shoes with blue and grey suits and pants.
- Dress shoes should be Oxford-styled tie-up shoes or simply designed dress loafers or slip-ons without any buckles. The advantage of the latter type of shoes is that they are appropriate for both business and casual dress.
- Purchase the best quality of dress shoes you can afford. Pay careful attention to selecting only shoes that fit properly. For this reason, buy shoes in the late afternoon when your feet are somewhat swollen from walking around.
- To help preserve your dress shoes, apply a coat of polish to your new shoes before you wear them. Afterwards, always keep your shoes clean and well-polished. When you're not wearing your shoes, keep them in cedar shoe trees to maintain their shape, absorb moisture and deodorize them.
- To add a sense of flair, some men wear a silk handkerchief (also known as a pocket square or foulard) in the outside breast pocket of their suit jacket, blazer or sports jacket. If you decide to do so, pick one that is solid-colored or patterned to complement the rest of your outfit but not one that is identical to your tie if you are wearing one.
- Belts and socks need to either closely match the color of your pants or, in most cases, be darker in color. For example, navy-blue, grey or black pants look best with a black belt and beige or brown slacks with a brown or oxblood-colored belt. Men’s belts for dress pants and suits should be leather, about 3/4 inch to 1 1/4 inches wide and have a conservative plain buckle.
- Suits and dress pants generally look better with solid-colored matching socks. Do not wear light-colored or white socks with dark pants. For dress pants and suits, wear midcalf or over-the-calf socks as opposed to socks that just cover your ankles. You do not want to show any bare skin on your legs when you are sitting down.
- Over-sized and clunky jewelry on men, in my opinion, tends to look ostentatious. The same goes for men wearing large gold chains or rings, other than discreet-sized signet rings or wedding bands. Rings worn by men on the index finger, middle finger or thumb usually appear out-of-place.
- There is a wide choice of different smart-looking cufflinks, including ones with your initials on them, but avoid overly large and garish-looking cufflinks. The more formal the event, the more discreet-looking your cufflinks should be.
Some other points to keep in mind are:
- In cold climates, men need to have a long, single or double-breasted wool overcoat or topcoat that fits comfortably over their suits and jackets. These should be in a solid color that complements your other clothing, such as black, dark-blue or camel. For rainwear, men should have a trench coat that goes below their knees. Trench coats with a button-in wool lining are ideal for fall weather.
- When you are going out in the evening on a date or with friends and you want to dress up a bit, one option is to wear a blazer or sports jacket with a dark solid-colored T-shirt, knit polo shirt or turtleneck sweater. The most versatile of the latter choices is a black silk T-shirt.
- For most organizations where casual attire is either the everyday dress code or permitted on Fridays, wear well-pressed cotton or khaki slacks with a casual shirt that has a collar, plus socks and loafers. Depending on the climate, you may also want to wear a sweater or sports jacket.
- Men should avoid carrying around a lot of unnecessary stuff in their wallets. The thinner the wallet, the better in terms of not having it bulge out from your pants or jacket. I prefer to use a thin black or dark brown leather credit card holder to hold one or two credit cards, an ATM cash card, my drivers license, a health insurance card and my business cards, nothing else. I carry my paper money folded in my right forward pant pocket.
- Cellphones and other PDA devices should be kept in either your pockets or a briefcase when you are out of your office or walking around. Avoid wearing PDA’s clipped to your belt when you work in an office.
It is a major benefit to find a knowledgeable salesperson who can offer you good advice on purchasing your wardrobe. Later on in your career, you may want to look for an affordable, skilled tailor, as custom-made clothes usually have a better fit, last longer and give you a much wider choice of fabrics, especially for suits and sports jackets. This will also enable you to have extra details incorporated into your clothing, such as an inside pocket for your cellphone or “surgeon’s cuffs” put on the sleeves of your suits and sports jackets with button holes and buttons that can actually be undone.
Some retailers sell “made-to measure” suits that enable you to have a choice in selecting the fabric, the lining, the buttons, and the style of lapel and rear jacket vents. Such suits are usually better fitting but cost at least 20-30% more than suits purchased “off-the-rack”. Most of the work on these suits, however, is still done in a factory.
The most expensive suits are custom-made using patterns based on the customer’s exact measurements. Such suits are sometimes referred to as a “bespoke suit”, a term originating from the custom tailor shops on Saville Row in London. It means that you are speaking with the tailor who makes your suit by hand there on his or her premises. These suits require four or five fittings and cost up to $3,000 each. The advantage is they should provide you with a close to perfect fit and last significantly longer than a factory-made suit.
See Your Appearance
in the Citizen of the World Guide, Make the Right Impression
An excellent source of further information on men's clothes is Alan J. Flusser's book Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion.
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