Hi there gents!
Not so long ago I bumped my face (hard) against the fact that my wardrobe was dominated by outdoor clothing (duh!) and I was mostly looking like coming down the mountain all the time. It was comfortable, I admit it. Putting together a few pieces of outdoor clothing with a pair of jeans is as easy as it sounds but, I knew that had to change.
Let’s assume that you’re as lost as I was with fashion when I first started thinking of this (not that I am very advanced now…). I knew I could always get help from someone with a better sense of fashion than me, but that alternative always left me feeling like -obviously- I couldn’t do things on my own. However, looking for help from people with a better eye is always a good option. It will help you form your own opinion of what you like, through the possibilities they present.
Now when it comes to fashion for men like us, with a strong outdoor side, it is even more complicated. We battle to leave the puff jacket and pick the wool coat when it’s cold outside but, there are a couple of tricks and a few options to squeeze the best out of a style you can carry while in the urban jungle. Here’s what I have learned so far by doing a decent amount of online research, asking guys on stores and every possible person I had around me that knows a bit about this subject in the last three weeks.
Fashion isn’t necessary expensive
At the beginning, my approach was to trying put out the fire with money. While that option does work, I can’t say is optimal. I’m not saying with this that you should just buy cheap stuff. On the contrary, I am just saying that if you start enjoying the process, you can -and should- take the time to find those unique pieces at the best possible price. However, I think the best place to start is getting your skills honed around the essentials.
So when it comes to people with zero base on fashion, the easiest is to begin with the most classical combo out there. The formal-wear. It is extremely important to understand that: what you can learn about this structure can be distilled to every other possible outfit you might want to choose for yourself later. Fashion is a lot about feeling good, feeling refreshed and treating yourself. The more comfortable you feel about it, the better you’ll get at it.
Master the Suit and Shirt
A suit is more than just a good fit. That sounds like some sort of sacrilege but, it is true. Most of us don’t have the fortune of having a body type that will fit perfectly to something you pick of the shelf, hence, the tailoring is a must. Of course, a tailored two-piece is the best point to start but, still, is just the start. It is almost obvious that as a true Outdoor Sport lover, you will not choose to wear one every day and most men will not invest heavily into having more than one suit (unless is required as a work attire) so, making the most out of that one suit (maybe two) is key. In order to achieve this goal, after you get that good suit, get five from everything else that combines perfectly with it.
If this sounds confusing, let’s start with the basics: classic white and pale blue will go with almost everything and they will compliment your suit. Do not cheap out on these. Investing in quality will go a long way and you’ll be able to make the most out of your outfits and always look sharp.
When it comes to putting accessories into the equation, most men will make two simple mistakes. On one hand, most will choose to avoid patterns and, therefore, creating a boring, flat look. On the other hand, most men will over do the pattern combination, creating a confusing mix with too many elements crying for attention.
“The easiest way to match your tailoring is to limit the statement to one piece, and keep the rest plain: a patterned suit with plain pieces elsewhere, or vice versa.”
But that covers only the basics. The next step requires a masters in menswear, including an understanding of complementary shades, finishing touches and shoe suitability – knowledge that will not come easy and this is where anyone you consider to be an expert in the matter will help you build your understanding over the topic.
The greatest combination is the simplest one
Suit and shirt is the bedrock of your formal-wear. Get this combination right and you're off to look unbeatable. Get it wrong and you will look like an apprentice on its first day at work.
“A crisp, classic white shirt will never fail, and sits with all suit colours and tones,” says Alan Cook, menswear design lead at Marks & Spencer. “That said, lilac and purple are just two tones that work well with grey or navy suits, while soft greys and periwinkle are sound choices with black or charcoal tailoring.”
Our second level is about going more into the details. That means: Shirt and Tie
(a complicated one in my opinion)
Air-ties, roll necks and T-shirts are all fair game under a blazer these days, and with the menswear menagerie so crowded, it’s tempting to put the humble tie on the endangered species list. That would be a mistake. A shirt and tie may sit on the conservative end of the dress code spectrum, but it’s a classic combo for a reason. Do it right, and it’s about much more than looking good. This timeless pairing can make you appear trustworthy and employable (not that this is the final objective but, is a good definition).
Finding the appropriate tie can be daunting. There are so many colors, fabrics, shades, textures that the decision process becomes overwhelming. Especially as a beginner, when your knowledge is limited. Add to that the simple fact that you’re not used to wear one and you have -instantly- created a problem.
However, there is an elegant and simple solution to this problem: Once you’ve confirmed the general dress code, identify the overarching colour: your tie should, ultimately, complement the dominate shade with an overall colour or stripe, or opt for a pattern or colour that’s in contrast.
For example, try matching a rich blue tie with a sky-blue shirt and dark navy suit for a tonal look, or a red tie for some colour-pop contrast. If you’re wearing grey, stick with muted tones such as brown or burgundy, or choose a black tie for a sharp salt-and-pepper effect. If you’re wearing a black suit, and you’re light skinned, use the tie to dial down the contrast between you and the suit by opting for a warm colour like burgundy.
Another important piece of advice I’ve found (and quite funny) is to avoid any pairings that invoke thoughts of a specific holiday: red and green, black and orange, red, white and blue and so on and so forth. While it is possible to pull off such combos, it’s a delicate balancing act that can come across costumey as opposed to polished.
Third level is the pocket square.
A tiny detail for sure, but one that can enhance your shine considerably. A strong match between a pocket square, shirt and tie is mainly based on the colour. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the same print or texture as long as the shades work together. In fact, something too samey can look a bit too perfect – a bit like a wedding starter pack. Also one must consider that some color combinations work better than others.
It is a finer detail, for sure, but feel free to experiment with material and print. There isn’t an ideal fabric or one to be avoided – with pocket squares you can be as adventurous with the fabrics and prints as you like. However, it is important that the colour should complement either the shirt or tie. We don’t want the pocket square to be going all over the place.
For a fail proof start, pair a white shirt with a white pocket square. For a more advanced approach, look for a patterned pocket square where the secondary colour matches the tie, or go tonal with a subtle change of shade between the shirt, tie and square. Look at this example
Moving forward in the levels, we have the socks
A foolproof technique is to match the colour of your socks with the colour of your trousers. Black on black, navy on navy, fifty shades of grey.
For a slightly less conservative (read: boring) take on it, look out for subtle details within an outfit to highlight with your socks, things like the lining of a suit jacket, a colour detail on the belt, or your pocket square or cufflinks. All of these make for suitable elements to be matched.
Know that some combinations are easier to pull off than others (as always). Classic dressers should opt for black or dark greys socks – especially when you’re wearing a darker suit, or, if you do decide to spin the colour wheel, mustard, turquoise and red sit especially well with navy tailoring thanks to the contrast. If you do take this route though, ensure the vibrancy is limited to your ankles only. Not something I personally like.
Now for the shoes and suit
Now, nobody is saying you need a sneakerhead-style walk-in wardrobe, but every man should own at least a few colours and styles of work shoes. A single pair won’t sit with every suit hanging on your rail, but when it comes to matching your shoes and trousers, some are more versatile than others.
Always wear black shoes with a black suit and recycle them for deep navy business suits when you have a day in boardroom. Chocolate brown shoes will work with your staple navy and grey tailoring, and it’s also worth keep something a little less formal in your rotation for dress-down days.
“Deep, dark claret shoes work well across a range of suit colours, from black and navy to dark brown and grey,” says Phill Tarling, a stylist who counts Tom Hardy on his client list. “Tan brogues can be worn with blue and grey suits also, but they don’t work with darker tones.”
It’s not just the colour to consider, but the style of shoe too. “My advice is to keep your footwear simple – a classic brogue, Derby or loafer for a classic suit. It’s much easier to make a statement up-top with your accessories than it is your footwear.”
Here’s a curved ball. The cufflinks.
Once you’ve got the main show sorted, it’s onto the support acts. Some well-deployed accessories, like cufflinks, can lift a look from standard to headliner – providing you pick the right ones.
Wearing cufflinks can be a way to add personality to a formal outfit. While some abstract cufflinks are acceptable, they should be out of bounds with a dinner suit or on smarter occasions. And if you’re wearing a shirt that requires cufflinks, chances are it’s such an event.
When wearing a white shirt, you can experiment with any colour, pattern or shape cufflinks, unless you’re in a strict formal environment. Gold designs really stand out against a light blue or navy shirt, while black onyx is better suited to black tie. So that means having at least two sets in your arsenal should be the rule.
The right accessories
By now, I have the feeling we are getting somewhere :) If your 9-5 demands a suit, it’s worth investing in fine leather goods to match because you’ll get the wear out of them: the belt, the briefcase and the shoes. But such pieces should chime just as well as the threads on your back.
The classic rule is well-known: leathers should always match leathers, so if your shoes are brown, your belt should be too, the rule applies to briefcases too if you’re wearing all-black. However, other coloured suits don’t have to match. Good news, especially since a good leather laptop case doesn’t come cheap.
The colour of the leathers you choose can speak volumes about your personality. Opt for all-black accessories when you need to look sharp and corporate, but switch for tan on the weekend. Either way, they should be of complementary colours or varying neutrals. And you can never go wrong with navy – less formal but always classic.
Well, that’s about it. As a bottom note, I am doing this for myself as well. Most outdoor guys out there think the whole fashion thing is reserved for other people. That we don’t need to tap into this because we can always get by using “the required minimum” or just jumping into our comfy outdoor clothes. Believe it or not, if you’re like me and you have way to many hard shells, soft shells, mid layers, first layers, blah blah blah. Chances are you have never put much effort into learning any of these things because you think you look “the best” while on those pieces. You don’t and you should reserve those clothes for the environment they were designed for!
I hope you found this useful. If you have anything to add, make sure you leave a comment :)