Once upon a time, a bachelor by the name of Bertram Wooster contributed a piece on ‘What The Well-Dressed Man Is Wearing’ to a periodical known as Milady’s Boudoir. He was the narrator of PG Wodehouse’s legendary Jeeves stories, and generally known for a series of extravagant sartorial disasters that were only put to rights when Jeeves intervened and got rid of, for instance, his white mess jacket with brass buttons.
I have neither butler nor mess jacket, but I share his interest in questions of wardrobe.
Fashion can be a challenge for us blokes. But I have always believed that with a minimum of effort and expense, we can nevertheless always look – well, perhaps not stylish, but kind of okay. And if you’d like to look kind of okay, or have a gentleman friend in your life who might benefit from appearing less ridiculous, then these are the style tips for you.
No brand names
You can’t always avoid brand names. But when you can, do – or at least try to keep them subtle. The problem with brand names is that they file you into one of three categories, all of which are, in my view, unpleasant.
Let’s start with the early adopters. If you, unlike me, have some fashion gold-panning ability that lets you identify the Next Big Thing, and consequently discover the achingly cool new jeans brand that’s big in Japan but no-one knows about here, then you’ll look like you’re trying to impress people. Admittedly, you may actually impress them, but when you wear the distressed denim with the purple safety pin jammed into them instead of a brand label (I’m making this up, but is it any stranger than Ksubi’s Liquid Paper logo?), you make people like me think you deliberately want us to ask where you got them. I refuse to do this.
The second option with brand names is that you give the impression of conforming with everyone else and being unable to think for yourself. I remember when every second guy was wearing Mambo or Okanuis (this is going back a bit) or Ben Sherman or Diesel – it got terribly predictable, and made them look like sheep.
And the third option is that you stick with a brand name once the cool kids have decided that it’s incredibly lame. I can illustrate the horror of this outcome with a simple scenario: imagine being the last man alive who wears Ed Hardy.
But if your clothes have no brands, then they never go out of style. Admittedly they never go into style either, but that’s a trade-off I’ll gladly take.
Conservatism is best
You’re aiming for “timeless classic” here. A well-made pair of blue jeans or a charcoal woollen sweater is always going to look good, regardless of prevailing fashion. Whereas if you went along with the “distressed jeans” fad, what you’d have now is a pair of jeans with holes in them that you’re now too embarrassed to wear – or should be.
Note that when I say “conservative”, I don’t mean “suitable for wearing at a golf club dinner”. So, no boat shoes unless you’re actually on a boat. And even then I’d question them, frankly.
Solid, dark colours
My wardrobe is predominantly black, navy, dark grey and occasionally brown, sometimes with a white or light blue shirt. That’s about it. Well, I do have one fluorescent orange t-shirt that I bought in a moment of madness, but I try not to wear it out of the house.
With this palette, I always dress boringly and predictably, but I rarely look ridiculous. A black long-sleeved cotton shirt and a nice pair of jeans looks absolutely fine in just about any social scenario – you’ll never feel overdressed, or excessively underdressed. Plus, wearing black makes you look a mildly like an arts administrator, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Indifference beats excessive effort
I’m the first to doff my cap to a genuinely well-dressed fellow. I find myself doing so regularly when I visit Melbourne, a town whose menfolk somehow operate on a higher sartorial plane. In Melbourne, you will often see fellows sporting a gorgeous vintage shirt set off by the perfect waistcoat, perhaps coupled with a lovely woollen tie. Every second barman in the Victorian capital has hair Brylcreemed with dazzling precision and a painstakingly waxed moustache.
I appreciate such elegance, but then I imagine the sartorialist spending hours browsing through vintage stores and then standing at home in front of his mirror each morning, trying different combinations, and then spending forever in the bathroom, pruning his facial hair with the excessive care that OCD-fuelled retirees devote to topiary. And I think – surely it’s not worth the effort. Dressing well consumes time I’d rather devote to things I care more about. Admittedly, they include Game of Thrones and trying to finish Angry Birds Space with my nephew. But I still don’t think looking amazing is worth the enormous effort required.
Don’t pay too much
I am happy to waste large sums on the things I love, like holidays and gadgets, but because clothes don’t matter much to me, I resent paying a lot of money for them. This is why my favourite places to buy clothes are the ultra-cheap category killers like Uniqlo, Muji and H&M, which sell reliable, unbranded basics at cheap prices.
None of these chains have come to Australia yet – and yes, I know this makes me seem like a massive tosser. (As I say, I shell out for travel, not clothes.) But let me put it in these terms: imagine an IKEA for clothing.
There’s an obvious problem with all this, and that’s the recent revelations about garment factories in Bangladesh. I’m willing to pay more to ensure workers are treated well. But I’m not willing to pay a lot more for fancy brands. I’ve always felt that no articles of clothing, except perhaps a suit, should cost three figures. They just aren’t worth that much to me. Sure, I’ve occasionally worn properly tailored shirts and that kind of thing, and I can appreciate the quality and craftsmanship and the superior materials – but i’m too cheap to shell out for them. And on the rare occasions I’ve bought an expensive article of clothing, I only stress about whether it was going to get stained or damaged in the laundry.
The exception that proves the rule
Last year, I went to Hawaii, and the tropical heat got to my head, so I found myself purchasing a wide assortment of absurdly bright Hawaiian shirts. Admittedly, they were only $20 or so apiece (despite being made locally) – which some may nevertheless view as overpriced given their appearance. But I had enormous fun appalling my colleagues and friends with their extreme garishness. It was the perfect way to make them appreciate the reliable dullness of my usual wardrobe.
If you follow my advice and stick to the kind of conservative, boring and cheap clothes I wear, then you could look conservative, boring and cheap too!
But here’s the great thing. Virtually nobody ever comments unfavourably on my wardrobe, because it’s just too dull to be noteworthy. And if they do, I just ask them how much their outfit cost and roll my eyes. Because the bottom line is this: if you put considerable time and money into your wardrobe, then you will undoubtedly end up someday wearing a sarong like David Beckham. And that means I win.