The pithy, opinionated, and sometimes brutally frank Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke challenges average guys to live a life less ordinary and embrace classic style in the broadest sense. it's time to rise above the trite, the boring, the predictable, the mundane, the banal, and the commonplace. It's time to stop behaving like barnyard animals at the trough and leave behind the perpetually sloppy man-child aesthetic of the last two decades or so. It's time to learn once again how to present and conduct yourself like an adult with some grooming, finesse, and sophistication. And here is where you can learn how.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

This Victorian example has to be the most stylishly dress, most colorful Father Christmas/Santa Claus I've ever come across.  Anywhere.

Just a brief message today to wish readers a happy and joyous holiday season filled with friends, family, food, and good cheer.  Remember to dress it up a bit over the next few days, and mind your manners on all occasions and in all situations.  As stylish guys, we do so not because it's required, but simply because we want to.  And it makes us more pleasant people to have around.  Merry Christmas from The Average Guy's Guide to Style.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Style for a Lazy Day. . .

Here is the notorious cad, bounder, and maven of style, Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke out for a stroll on a mid-December weekend afternoon.  

Dressing with flair and style does not always mean jackets and neckties.  Nope.  Sometimes, it includes more casual wear too.  For instance, on a chilly fall day, how about a 19-year old Norwegian wool sweater worn over a button-down shirt (tucked in), well-worn tan corduroy pants with a belt, some old leather docksider shoes and Argyll socks (not visible here).  Extremely laid back, seasonal, adult, and appropriate for a lazy weekend afternoon during the early Winter.  What DON'T you see?   That's right.  No sign of over-sized basketball shorts, saggy sweatpants,  dad jeans, a backwards baseball cap, athletic shoes, or a beer and bean dip-stained t-shirt.  Yes, Vern, it is entirely possible to look pulled together without sacrificing comfort. 

 And here's Heinz-Ulrich enjoying a stein of hot chocolate at a local cafe after his pre-Christmas consititutional.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Holiday Dressing. . .

 An illustration of a cocktail party by the late Laurence Fellows that appeared in the old Apparel Arts magazine.  Now, you don't necessarily have to don a suit for holiday gatherings, but how about sprucing yourself up a bit this December?  This particular illustration comes to us courtesy of The Gentleman's Gazette.

And no, we aren't talking about the kind of dressing you stuff a turkey with!  Rather, the subject is pulling ourselves together and raising the attire bar several notches above what has become the accepted norm -- sloppy -- over the last couple of decades.  In other words, guys, get dressed for those special Holiday/Christmas/New Year's Eve dinners and parties that come around each year at this time.  Actually dressed. 

Getting dressed means that the following items should be left at home in your bedroom closet: sneakers, sweatpants, t-shirts, an untucked "going out" shirt, jeans or cargo pants, shorts, flip-flops, or anything resembling a baseball cap.  That's dressing down, and frankly, very few people can pull it off well.  Save those kinds of garments for the gym, basketball court, beach, pool, or backyard where they are actually appropriate.

For upcoming December social occasions, how about a navy wool blazer or tweed sports jacket instead? Combine it with some creased wool dress pants or dressier corduroys, a blue or pink cotton oxford cloth button-down shirt (pressed and tucked in of course) with a light crewneck sweater over top, and loafers (tasseled if you're feeling adventurous) with a matching belt.  You can always excuse yourself for a few minutes to remove the sweater and comb your hair again if you become too warm.  

Step up your look a notch or two for religious services with a nice wool necktie of some kind, either plaid or with small paisleys or foulards.  Better to save those "Holiday" ties with blinking lights or elf graphics for another time though.  

In any case, make sure your socks aren't white!  It's safer to go with something dark, like navy or charcoal over-the-calf socks.  A pair of colorful argyll socks can add a bit of light-hearted pizzazz to your ensemble though.

"But that kind of thing sounds expensive!" you might protest.  Well, to reiterate a point I've made in previous posts, if you know your correct sizes (visit a tailor to get measured), it's fairly easy to find the items mentioned above in thrift and consignment shops.  It just takes a bit of patience and maybe some time.  You can't necessarily count of finding everything you need in one fell swoop, though, so it pays to think and shop ahead when you are assembling an adult male wardrobe.

"I'll be overdressed!  I'll feel. . .  Funny!"  Well, the plain old fact is that it's actually better to show up a wee bit overdressed to what is a special occasion after all. You absolutely do not want to be THAT guy who shows up in a stained shirt and torn jeans with scuffed sneakers however.  If being the best dressed man in the room makes you that uncomfortable, you can always remove the necktie, roll it up, and put it in your jacket pocket.  And if you must, remove and hang up your jacket in the hall closet.  Just don't forget to claim it when you leave.

The main point here is this.  You've got to realize that you aren't 10 years old anymore.  You're a man now and should dress the part.  Especially since we are talking about special occasions that someone might have gone to considerable trouble and expense to plan and organize.  It's all about showing respect for yourself, your hosts, and the occasion.  Trust me.  It's not "cute" to show up for a party or event looking like you've just crawled out of bed to slurp up your cornflakes on the floor in front of the TV on Saturday morning.

So gentlemen, as Tiny Tim rightly observed, let's make a serious and concerted effort this December to eradicate the strange phenomenon of the perpetually sloppy and eternal man-child.  Let's dress and behave like grown men with some grooming, taste, class, and sophistication.  And hey, for a change, how about shaving and getting dressed for your own family even if you aren't leaving the house on Christmas and New Year's Day?  Chances are your significant other and adult guests will appreciate your effort.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Look and Feel Mah-velous on a Budget. . .

Is it Bertie Wooster, or the late Duke of Windsor?  Nope.  It's just that notorious cad, bounder, and style maven Ulrich von Boffke in  his cold weather gear lounging around Zum Stollenkeller one recent late afternoon.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that you need scads of money to begin dressing more stylishly once you've made the decision to leave the sweats, flip-flops, cargo shorts, and backwards baseball caps behind.  In the photograph above, Ulrich von Boffke models an ensemble for us that was put together for well under $100US courtesy of thrift shops, Ebay, smart online shopping, and a Christmas gift from his wife (hint, hint, hint).  Consider the following:

Harris Tweed jacket from thrift shop @ $5.99
Pants and Shirt -- Land's End Overstocks in 2004 @ < $40.00
English Wool Necktie from thrift shop @ $1.99
Fair Isle Sweater -- Christmas Gift in 2011
Italian Silk Pocket Square with Hand-rolled Edges from thrift shop @ $2.99
Shoes -- Vintage US-Made Florsheim from Ebay @ $20.00
Socks -- Target on Sale Summer 2011 @ < $5.00

As you'll note, it's fairly easy, and cost effective to kick up your personal style a notch -- or five -- if you start keeping an eye on thrift and consignment shops (vintage clothing shops are priced high) and Ebay.  Distribute your physical dimensions to family members who might buy you clothing items for birthdays, holidays, or other occasions.  And don't be afraid to drop obvious hints about garments that will combine well with what's already in your wardrobe.  Before you know it, the saggy pants and over-sized basketball shoes will be just a fading memory.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A brisk morning walk. . .

Noted cad, bounder and style maven Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke modeling the ensemble described below.

Enjoyed a brisk morning walk around the neighborhood with my small son this morning.  As the calendar takes us toward December and the start of Advent and the Christmas season, my thoughts for this cold, late November day are as follows: Vintage Harris Tweed.  Corduroy.  Navy wool necktie with tiny orange and grey paisleys.  Windowpane button-down shirt.  Brown suede wingtips.  Orange and brown Italian silk pocket square stuffed carelessly into pocket.  Photo to follow later.  


Ulrich von B.

Friday, November 23, 2012

"But I feel so uncomfortable when I'm dressed up!"

This classic menswear illustration by the late Laurence Fellows shows two gentlemen simply relaxing and enjoying themselves in each others' company.  And what do you notice?  Why, they're dressed of course.

A common complaint heard from many average guys is that they feel physically and psychologically uncomfortable in situations where they must dress up.  But what does "dressed up" mean anyway?

Dressed up means unwrinkled, clean adult clothes with decent leather shoes and a matching leather belt with some kind of blazer/sports jacket and wool or khaki pants combination at the very least, or even a suit for those more formal occasions.  A silk, linen, or cotton pocket square is optional for those more adventurous sartorial souls out there.  

Moreover, when you are dressed up, your creased pants should sit at your natural waist (in the vicinity of your belly button), NOT down around your hips or rear end with the crotch between your knees.  Your necktie, if you are wearing one, should be comfortably cinched up high enough to cover the top button of your fully buttoned long-sleeve shirt.  Finally, its front blade should be long enough to end at the very middle of your belt.  Too much longer or shorter than that, and you look like a goofball who hasn't a clue.

Dressed up does not include in any way the following items: sneakers, sweatpants, t-shirts, an untucked "going out" shirt, jeans or cargo pants, shorts, flip-flops, or anything resembling a baseball cap.  That's dressing down, and very few people can pull it off well beyond the gym, basketball court, beach, pool, or backyard where those kinds of garments are actually appropriate.  Get it?  Got it?  Good.

Let's make a serious and concerted effort to eradicate the strange phenomenon of the perpetually sloppy and eternal man-child by getting our collective act back together and sprucing ourselves up beyond the bare minimum.  Ok, guys?  A highly effective way to do that is by dressing like we're adults more often than has become the accepted norm over the last 20-odd years. In a word, let's dress and behave like grown men with some grooming, taste, and sophistication.

With that out of the way, how can we address the perceived comfort issue?  There are two related ways to feel and appear more comfortable and at ease when you are dressed up.  Pay attention.

First, as I've indicated here in a recent post, get clothes that fit.  Get your precise measurements taken at a tailor and purchase garments that come as close as possible to those measurements.  Thrift and consignment shops are a great way to do this without breaking the bank.  Where and however you buy your clothes, yes, you'll need to try them on and check yourself out in the mirror to ensure proper size and fit.  Get over it!  Make your purchases once you've picked out a few good quality items and then revisit your tailor for any necessary alterations (sleeve and inseam lengths, minor waist alterations, etc.).  Remember, about the only thing tailors cannot do is alter shoulders in jackets.  So make sure a jacket fits there before purchasing it.  If it does not, walk away.

Second, once you've assembled a modest wardrobe, wear your clothes.  Don't keep them in your closet, saving them for those two or three special occasions a year.  Pick up and dust off your self-confidence, put on some good looking threads, and go forth!  Leave the house.  See and be seen.  Join friends for a drink in the evening at your favorite watering hole and do it dressed.  Or throw on some loafers, tuck in your shirt and grab a sports jacket  before you meet that special someone for a coffee and something sweet at your local cafe on a Saturday or Sunday.  The point is, wear and enjoy your clothes.  Caring about appearance and making a modicum of effort to look acceptable for public consumption -- the world ain't your living room after all -- will have all kinds of explicit and implicit benefits for you. 

For starters, you'll find that by actually wearing dressier, ADULT male clothes, you begin to feel less self-conscious and more comfortable in them, soon forgetting them altogether.  That's how you look and feel comfortable in your clothes.  Call it nonchalance or sprezzatura, an Italian word that's enjoying a lot of popularity right now.  In any case, when you look comfortable  in your clothes, you also project an incredibly strong aura of self-confidence that's hard to ignore.  Women, co-workers, and supervisors to name just three groups with whom you interact routinely will pick up on your improved appearance immediately.  Not to mention sales clerks, restaurant greeters and waiters, plus ticketing/gate agents in airports  and flight crews.  People, whoever they are, pay attention to those who appear pulled together and at ease in their dress, speech, and behavior regardless of the situation.  Calm power, or the appearance of it, is an aphrodisiac as the saying goes.  Trust me.

And here's a photo of that well-known style maven, notorious cad, and bounder Ulrich von Boffke in an equally relaxed setting earlier this fall, sitting around the house DRESSED.  No sweatpants or ratty cargo pants in sight.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

For special occasions, how about dressing for dinner?

Of course, you don't necessarily need to wear a suit for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner -- even though that is the example my father and grandfather set for me -- but for Heaven's sake, don't turn up to someone else's house where you are a guest, or your own holiday table, in sweatpants and a t-shirt!

For those special occasions that come up between mid-November and January 1st each year, including Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner,  how about leaving the jeans, t-shirts, and sweats behind for a few hours?  Demonstrate that you have a little taste and grooming by tossing on a pair of khaki pants worn with a leather belt and loafers, a blue button-down shirt (tucked in of course), and nice sports jacket or blue blazer.  And don't you dare wear a hat to the table, baseball or otherwise!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

An Uncomfortably Preachy Topic: Table Manners. . .

Hopefully, when you sit down to a meal with others, your table manners are better than this guy's.

In the blogosphere right now, you'll come across many blogs that talk at length about men's clothing style, grooming, appearance, and how these things contribute to our being/becoming/conducting ourselves as gentlemen.  But there is one hugely important and related topic that no one seems to mention on the many blogs that I read daily.  What is it, you ask?

Why, table manners of course.  Shock!  Horror!  Gasp!  Yep, I said it.  And I'm making no apologies.  Table manners should be as much a part of our personal style as our attire and grooming, if not more so.  Average guys ought to keep that in mind.  Even when we are at home with the door closed.  Newsflash!  Our close family is just as deserving of polite behavior as people we work with, ride public transport next to, or pass on the street.

However, because table manners are, perhaps incorrectly, associated with upbringing and/or perceived socio-economic class, they are an explosive issue, prompting accusations of snobbery and arguments about elitism.  Regardless of your position, basic table manners are clearly a challenge for many these days based on what you'll observe in most any restaurant or dinner gathering in which people from different backgrounds come together socially.

Sadly, lots of people labor under the delusion that manners in general are stiff, overly formal, old-fashioned, and outmoded with no place in modern society.  And if that's your attitude, fine.  I can't change it.  But let me make a few relevant points.  We aren't talking about state occasions, bowing to our social superiors, curtseying to the Queen, shrimp forks, or finger bowls here.  Just common decency and ensuring that we remain pleasant to have around.  We are not cavemen, dogs, or farm animals eating from troughs after all.  Moreover, actions speak louder than words.  And just like our attire, our behavior speaks volumes about us and conveys a great deal about where we come from, and the kind of person we are beneath the fancy clothing, excessive education, certifications, and impressive-sounding titles.  

Of course we want to make a good first impression with the various people we meet and those we work with.  But we also want to maintain that positive initial image over time.  Likewise, we want to remain attractive, likeable, and desirable to our chosen mates and partners.  Why risk spoiling that with crude behavior?  Finally, if we have them, we want to set solid examples of decent behavior for our children.  We want to teach them to be gentlefolk with good grooming and at least a modicum of refinement and sophistication.  Basic table manners are a part of all that like it or not. 

So, without belaboring the point any further, here are a dozen tips to remember that will go a long way in helping us average guys to be pleasant dining companions -- and more gentlemanly -- whether we are around the family table, having a working lunch with colleagues, or meeting that special person's parents for the very first time with a sit-down dinner as part of the equation.  Here we go:

1) Above all, use the words, "please," thank you," and (if necessary) "excuse me" liberally.  Don't forget it!

2) Sit up in your chair with both feet on the floor in front of you.  Don't bend one of your knees and rest your foot on the seat of the chair with your bent knee at face level.

3) Keep your elbows off the table and your napkin in your lap during the meal.  Oh, and you might want to use it to wipe your lips gently when necessary.

4) Ask for things to be passed to you.  Don't reach.

5) Cut your food -- or if eating a roll or bread, break it -- into bite-sized pieces.  Don't force huge hunks of food into your mouth.  Ick!

6) No one will take your food away from you, so don't slump over your plate with an arm around it, picking through your food with your fork.

7) Slow down!  Don't gobble your food as fast as you can.  This is not a pie or buffalo wing eating contest at a summertime county fair.

8) Don't slurp, burp, or make other noises at the table.  Chewing with your mouth closed might help.

9) Likewise, avoid (like the plague) talking with your mouth full.  No one wants to see that. And just imagine how embarrassed you would be if you spit out bits of food in the direction of a dining companion.  Chew it up, swallow, and take a drink before you say anything.

10) Remember not to gesture or point at others with your eating utensils.  We're nearing the end of the meal here, guys, so stay with me just a bit longer, guys.

11) When you finish, don't wipe up your plate with a piece of roll or bread.  Just place your silverware to one side on your plate (the right side in the 10 o-clock-4 o'clock position), and leave any remaining food residue where it is.  By the same token, DON'T lick your utensils clean.

12) Finally, please don't pick food from your teeth with a toothpick or finger while you are still at the table.  I actually witnessed a young woman engage in the latter yesterday in the dining commons of my small college where I was holding late-semester meetings with students.  Ugh!  If you find yourself with food stuck between two teeth, excuse yourself from the table for a few moments to take care of the problem quietly in the restroom.

An extra special Bonus Tip to keep in mind. . .
While at the table, there is certain subject matter (illnesses, certain surgeries, anything having to do with the bathroom, or bodily functions, etc. ) that is best left for another time.  If you absolutely need to discuss it at all.  Talking about thing like that during meals is crass and will probably put at least one other person at the table with you off of their food.  Our mothers raised us better than that, and we are no longer 10-year old boys at summer camp trying to show our friends how gross we can be.  Hopefully, we have left that behind by now.

So, there you are.  Make the pointers above habitual, live and die by them, and you will be well on your way to becoming an extremely pleasant dining companion in most situations you'll encounter.  And, as I indicated previously, if you take issue with what I've said here and persist in in ignoring it, that's fine.  We are certainly permitted our different points of view.  But there is probably little danger of us sitting down to enjoy a meal together anytime soon.

Let's find some nice middle ground in our attire. . .

Hugh Bonneville in character as Lord Grantham on the popular period piece Downton Abbey.  Although this photo shows only his top third, he is clearly in extremely formal "white tie" dinner attire.

We here at The Average Guy's Guide to Style are all for smartening up our collective appearance as a society.  And finding a nice middle ground in our grooming and attire is a start.  

But a common complaint many guys have is about feeling uncomfortable and constricted when they are dressed up in anything beyond jeans and sneakers (or shorts and flip-flops).  Well, here's a little secret.  If your clothes -- in particular your collar, chest, shoulder, and waist measurements -- are sized and fitted correctly, discomfort will no longer be an issue.  It's very hard to take accurate measurements of yourself though, so get thee to a tailor and have him or her do it for you.

Confidence is another issue related to the perceived level of discomfort that many average guys complain about.  Well, if your clothes are clean, fit you well, and feel good to you, your confidence level will go through the roof.  But be careful.  No one wants to be THAT guy in a blue blazer and white yachting cap at a relatively informal backyard picnic and barbecue in the summer.  And you certainly don't need to put on a suit and necktie to visit the mall on Saturday either.  No, no, no.  But let's ditch the sweatpants, tracksuits and basketball shorts, guys.  There are lots of nice middle ground clothing options between the two extremes that will help you to look like an adult male and avoid resembling an overgrown boy.

Common sense is what is called for here.  Use a little of it and dress for the environment, situation, or event in which you'll partake.  Sure, ratty looking, rumpled, over-sized clothes are fine for raking leaves in the back yard or maybe flopping down on the sofa with a plate of goopy home-made nachos to watch the big game on Saturday or Sunday afternoon.  But otherwise, let's all tuck our shirts back in, hitch our pants up to our waists where they belong, and put on belts before we head out the front door, eh? 

 At the other end of the spectrum, here is a basket of rumpled laundry. . .   which calls to mind the appearance of so many guys we see in public these days.  Whether, or not the tech boom of the 1990s is entirely to blame for the degree of sloppiness that now prevails, haven't we lost something as a society in sliding to such appallingly low standards of appearance and behavior?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Have Fun with Patterns and Footwear. . .

Even in black and white, this photo of the late Duke of Windsor provides a good idea of his sartorial eccentricities.  We here at The Average Guy's Guide to Style are certainly not suggesting something so outlandish for you.

But don't fear adding a little bit of pattern to your wardrobe either.  An item like this subdued houndstooth jacket -- modeled here by that notorious jet-setter, bounder, and cad the Prince Ulrich von Boffke -- will add a bit of visual interest and flair to your wardrobe without going over the top and straying into more flamboyant territory.  Not that there's anything wrong with that!

Shoes and socks are another place where average guys can shake things up a bit and add some pizzazz to their appearance.  Suede wingtips along with a subtly striped pair of charcoal socks are sometimes just the ticket.  Tasseled loafers, too, will work equally well with dress jeans, khakis, or creased wool pants like those above.  Just make sure keep it fairly simple in relation to the rest of your clothes that you put on in the morning.  And be certain to match your belt as closely as possible to your shoes.

A little bit of style goes a long way. . .

A little bit of care put into your personal appearance goes a long way.  And you don't even need to be as pressed and starched as Don Draper (played by John Hamm) from Mad Men.

“Since the time it was introduced in the seventeenth century, the modern suit has been about two things: power and sex. If you doubt us, try this simple experiment. Some evening, go to a nice hotel bar where you don’t know anyone, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. The jeans don’t even have to have holes in them, and the t-shirt can be clean. Now, return to the same bar the next evening wearing a nice suit. Take note of the difference in reaction from the bartender and of the other patrons in the bar. Remember them.” - Esquire Style Handbook

Well, I don't know about the power and sex bit.  But, I have noticed how a blazer or sports jacket with a clean shirt, a clean pair of jeans worn with a belt, and some kind of LEATHER shoes (or even cowboy boots), to say nothing of a suit and tie, still wakes people up and gets them to pay attention. Fast. 

Service people of all stripes snap to it quickly. And everyone else you cross paths with -- women in particular, though my wife refuses to believe me -- will react much more favorably to a guy who looks like he's got his act together than might otherwise be the case. I've experienced this everywhere from university campuses to airports, on planes and in trains, from Barnes&Noble bookstores to the hospital, from large cities to small towns. 

It's amazing how just a smidgeon of care about -- and effort put into -- one's personal appearance and the message it conveys will grease the wheels of life.  Considerably.  Try it yourself and see.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Stylish, Understated, and Masculine. . .

Not cheap, but certainly not as expensive as some, the various scents in the Royall line are one of the best kept secrets in the world of men's fragrances.  Not pictured are Royall Bay Rum and my new favorite, Royall Vitiver.

For average guys, kicking up our style a notch or two involves more than just clothes and shoes.  At some point, you'll want to think more seriously about things like aftershave and cologne.  Now, there are lots of these on the market at all price points from the horribly cheap to the frightfully expensive.  Moderation in most things, however, is a good route to travel, and that also holds true true when it comes to male fragrances.  Don't worry.  It's not necessary for you to load up on Axe body wash, spray, and aftershave (Ugh!), or dip into your savings account to afford a bottle of exclusive Aqua di Parma. 

Very often, you can find nice, unique aftershaves and colognes in the US$25-60 range, and that's the case with today's feature.   Royall Bermuda Limited produces a collection of understated, masculine fragrances that are within easy reach of most pocket books.  Even better, these are a well-kept secret that many men don't seem to be aware of.  So, using one will be a truly unique addition to your style arsenal and help you stand out from the legions of Axe-wearers who plague our public spaces these days.

My maternal grandmother first presented me with a bottle of Royall Lyme one Christmas in the md-1980s, and I have been a fan ever since.  For our recent wedding anniversary, my wife gave me a new one to try, which I have fallen instantly in love with. . . Royall Vitiver, which has a spicy yet simultaneously clean aroma unlike anything I have ever experienced.  Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, it is much easier to track down and purchase items like these than once was the case not too many years ago.  So, if and when you are seeking a new fragrance, to help you kick up your own style a notch or two, give one of the Royall Bermuda Limited lotions shown above a try.  You won't be disappointed.

One final important note though.  When we have a scent that we really like -- and I sometimes stray close to this territory myself -- it's occasionally too easy to splash on a bit too much of your favorite aftershave or cologne.  And we've all been in an elevator with THAT guy, or behind him on the street.  Know what I mean?  Aftershave and cologne are things that only a spouse, partner, or lover should be able to smell when they are up close.  You don't want to apply so much of the stuff that people can small you across a room, and the aroma lingers in the air after you have left the building.  Less, is more here, Elvis, so resist the urge to drown yourself in that new Royall Musk you just bought.  Believe me.  Others will silently thank you for your consideration.

Friday, June 15, 2012

An Eye-Opening Lesson in Men's Style. Or Lack Thereof. . .

Part of the cast from the sadly concluded TV program Boston Legal, looking extremely spiffy, confident, and capable.

This particular blog post was to have been about pants alone, but after an experience I had this week, it made better sense to make a slight detour and discuss some common style gaffs that we see again and again, though I was surprised to observe them given the environment in which I found myself, and the situation of which I was a part two days ago.

On Wednesday, I endured my civil duty for the day and reported for potential jury service here in my small-to-medium-sized Midwestern city.  While I won't go into the details of the case (extremely distasteful), or why I was, ultimately, excused from service, the experience was eye opening with regard to men's style.  There wasn't much in evidence, and if the the men discussed below were striving for a well-groomed, sophisticated professional appearance, they fell far short of the mark.  

Given the gravity of the situation, I was surprised that no one seemed to make the effort to dress more seriously in view of the task potential jurors would be asked to perform if selected to sit on the jury.  Of the 31 people present that morning, about a third of whom were men, I was the only one wearing a jacket and tie besides the judge, four attorneys, and the bailiff.

On that note, the lawyers and bailiff, who ranged in age from approximately 30-60 years old, exhibited a number of style gaffs that average guys who want to kick up their own look a notch or two should do their best to avoid.  So, I'll briefly enumerate the problems I noticed right off the bat as we sat in the courtroom, waiting for the judge and attorneys to start their interviews of potential jurors and the weeding-out process:

1) Pants that were too long
Much of appearing stylish has to do with fit.  And ill-fitting pants are probably one of the first things most people will notice.  Three of the four attorneys in question had on pants that were far too long, exceeding even 'full break' length.  They might have been wearing $5000 suits for all I know, but they still looked sloppy, and like they were wearing castoffs from a dead great uncle or someone else.  Make sure to opt for a medium break when you have your own pants altered.  It's classic, timeless, and your pants will look like they fit you. . .  not some former college basketball player who didn't make the pros.

2) Pants that were too short
The fourth attorney wore pants that were too short, almost highwaters, and he looked like a dweeb.  Sure, this is a really trendy look right now, but unless you're trying to channel your inner Pee Wee Herman (and you know what he was arrested for), don't go there.

3) Suit coats that were too big
All four attorneys and the bailiff had on coats that were far too big in the chest and/or shoulders.  The unfortunate result was that their respective garments hung from their frames like winter coats tossed carelessly on a coat rack in the front hall.  Again, it made them appear as if they were dressed in someone else's clothes, and they all looked somewhat less than pulled together.

4) Suits or sports jackets that were too shiny
One of the four attorneys in the courtroom wore what was clearly a summer-weight, casual suit in some kind of shiny sage color.  Now, I'm a fan of silk and silk blend sports jackets in many colors and color combinations.  As long as they don't exhibit a visible shine that is.  But this guy's suit was S-H-I-N-Y.   Shiny!  It probably cost him a pretty penny too, but it looked cheap and screamed slimy, small-town lawyer.  There is, after all, a reason why we have this particular stereotype, and this individual fit it well.  Make sure to avoid a similar situation when you add items to your own wardrobe.

5) Neckties that were tied too loose or tied too long/short
When a necktie is tied properly, you should still be able to slide a finger or two between your collar/tie and you neck.  The knot should be cinched up to meet the top edge of your buttoned shirt (the top button should not show), and the large end of your tie should hang to the center of your belt, assuming your pants are sitting on your natural waist (not sagging down around your hips).  Oh, and tuck the small end of your tie into the label or special loop for this purpose on the rear of the large end.  Keep in mind, neckties need to be checked two or three times during the day (in the men's room mirror) to tighten the knot and make sure your tie is hanging straight.  Make that a habit whenever you don a necktie.

6) Necktie and dress shirt worn without a sports jacket or suitcoat
The defendant wore a decent looking light blue dress shirt and solid color dark tie, presumably instructed to do so by his defense attorney in an attempt to appear less threatening and more credible.  A real stand-up guy.  What was missing, though, was a suit coat or subdued sports jacket.   Sorry, but someone who puts on a tie without adding the requisite suit coat (or sports jacket) just succeeds in looking like a high school-aged greeter at The Olive Garden.  To be fair, the defendant clearly has bigger problems than how he was dressed for his trial the other day.  

7) Casual shoes that looked like workboots worn with a suit
The number of men who seem to think this is an acceptable look is astounding.   Even if you have on expensive clothing that has been properly altered to fit you well, when you add footwear like Clarke's to the ensemble, you resemble an Amish farmer gone to town to sell his harvest of turnips and potatoes from the back of his horse-drawn wagon.  Get some decent pairs of leather dress shoes guys!  One of the attorneys the other day sported what was obviously a pair of Clarke's with his black suit, and he looked ridiculous.  How can the rest of us take him seriously?  As an aside, avoid black suits like the plague and opt instead for charcoal gray.  It will impart a much more refined appearance, and you won't look like an undertaker or funeral director.

8) Dress shoes that were scuffed and/or with visible dust along the welt
The bailiff and three of the four attorneys present on Wednesday morning wore leather dress shoes that were scuffed and/or dusty.  Something that was readily apparent from quite a distance away.  Regardless of the cost of your gear, you've got to maintain it by caring for it routinely, or it will look shabby very quickly and wear out much sooner.  Have at least two pairs of dress shoes to alternate day-to-day, so that they have time to dry out and regain their shape for 24-36 hours.  Add considerable life to those same dress shoes by storing them with cedar shoe trees inside, giving them a weekly shine with leather balm and polish, and brushing them off at day's end with a horsehair brush.  Keep an eye, too, on the wear you put on soles and heels, taking your shoes to the cobbler for repairs sooner than you think you should.

9) Shoes and belts did not match 
Say it with me!  You shoes and belt must, must, must match in color and (preferably) degree of shine.  I don't think there was a man present on either of the legal teams who obeyed this particular style rule, but doing so will dress up your own look instantly.

10) Neckties and shirts that were the same or very similar in color
When your shirt and tie are the same or similar color, you look like you bought a cheap shirt-necktie combo at Target, T.J. Maxx, or Kohl's.  Worse, you also resemble a cheap thug from Tbilisi with a unibrow, who sells fake Gucci handbags, pirated CDs, and smacks around his three different girlfriends once they start asking when he's going to make honest women out of 'em.  So, it's definitely a look you want to avoid as you work to reconfigure your own wardrobe and kick up your style a notch or two.

11) Pants that weren't pulled up high enough
Ok, if you've got on a suit (or a sports jacket-odd pants combination for that matter), your pants need to be worn at your natural waist and kept in place with a belt.  The saggy prison chic look that exposes your boxers and/or buttocks to the world has no place when you're dressed for public consumption.  End of discussion.  This particular issue involved a younger (25-28 years old maybe?) clerk of some kind, who was in and out of the courtroom during the morning, not one of the attorneys.  Still, why hasn't someone taken this guy to one side and quietly provided some gentle but firm guidance?

12) Shirts that were not tucked fully/smoothly into the waistband of dress pants
Since none of the four attorneys or the bailiff were anything approaching overweight, this point, in particular, baffles me.  If you're trying to make a positive impression and hope to convince others that the case you make for your client is worthy of a jury's consideration, how hard is it to get your shirt tucked in smoothly when you dress in the morning?  It's not a look that guys interested in kicking up their style a notch or two should emulate.  So, make sure to tuck in your dress shirts NEATLY when you put on your clothes each morning.  Be aware, too, that the occasional check or 'retuck' might be necessary during the day, and that is easily accomplished in the men's room, taking you what?  Maybe 30 seconds before you zip up? 

My call for potential jury duty was eye-opening and provided 'a teachable moment.'  I've shared the experience because the popular conception of attorneys is that they know how to dress and present themselves, thanks to perceived high salaries (not always the case actually), much like the characters seen on TV shows like L.A. Law and Boston Legal.  And maybe that image holds true if a lawyer is in a large city and fortunate enough to be a junior or senior partner in a high-profile firm.

From what I've seen in my little corner of the world, however, the law schools from which these attorneys graduated need to coach their students in better dressing.  It can only help them in both their personal lives and professional careers in much the same way that dressing more nicely and with more flair can help us average guys in our own endeavors.  The main point here is that a poor appearance gets in the way of your message, whatever that might be.  So, it is vital that we men make the effort to present ourselves to the best of our abilities.  To put our best foot forward as an older generation might have phrased it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

You've got your measurements, now what?

A selection of Brooks Brothers button-down shirts.  True classics in the word of menswear.

Alright.  After braving that all important visit to the tailor, what's next on the agenda for average guys, who are interested in kicking up their style up a notch or two?  Well, once you have your exact measurements, you'll want to begin by purchasing a few long-sleeved cotton shirts.  Avoid shirts that are sized as small, medium, large, or extra large.  Opt instead for shirts that are as close as possible to your precise collar and sleeve size.

Keep it simple for now and pick up half a dozen dress shirts to start.  A good mix is one white, two  blue, and three patterned or striped ones  (keep the patterns and stripes understated) with button-down collars.  This type of shirt is extremely versatile and will work with a tie and sports jacket or blazer, or without.  If you are in the United States, button-down shirts can also be paired with the right kind of suit for that traditional East Coast ivy league preppy look if that's your thing.  In any case, whether you ever wear a tie or not, be sure that your shirts are always clean, pressed, and tucked in (you'll need a belt or two).  You’ll look more pulled together instantly.

 A prime example of how the simple act of tucking in a correctly fitted, clean, and pressed shirt will instantly kick up your style several notches.

Now, how can you begin adding shirts (and eventually other things) to your wardrobe without breaking the bank?  Watching for sales at you local department stores or menswear store is one way.  Even better, shop online at places like Land's End  or L.L. Bean and check out their overstocks or clearance pages.  You can, of course, find and purchase much more expensive shirts, and there are many possible options, but those available from these two outlets are decently made, affordable, and will last for quite a while with normal care and maintenance.  Occasionally online sellers like these will run sales or other kinds of special promotions that will allow you to save big bucks.

Remember though to think the purchases of sale items over carefully before you part with your hard-earned cash.  The guys at Put This On have a number of interesting things for you to consider about clearance sales, both the kind that are offered in the physical and the virtual worlds.  On that note, Ebay and Etsy are also good online sources for clothing if you don't mind gently used items.  The only difficulty here is that you might not be able to find five or six shirts in your size all at once, so it might take a few weeks for you acquire everything.

A fourth option, and the most fun one, is to find and frequent your local thrift or clothing consignment shop, your local Goodwill, or the Salvation Army store.  Usually, those located in more affluent neighborhoods will have a wider variety of higher quality items to sort through.  Naturally, you'll need to examine the stock carefully and wade through lots of less-than-stellar clothes, but occasionally you'll strike gold.  When you find those sought after items, buy them right then, because they won't be there when you come back later.

A blue cotton oxford cloth button-down shirt like this one will go with anything from jeans to suit.  You can't go wrong with a few of these hanging in your closet.

The subject of thrifting effectively can fill a book, and if it appeals to you, have a look at An Affordable Wardrobe (link at right).  The guy behind the blog has an encyclopedic knowledge of thrifting and tailoring tips.  He also offers some amazing clothing finds for sale in his online shop.  Check it out.

One final word on shirts for today.  Stay away from the short-sleeved variety.  Unless you will be at the beach or around the pool, these always scream 'guy who doesn't know any better'.  And before anyone wonders about it, never, ever, EVER pair a necktie with a short-sleeved shirt.  Why risk looking like a goofball?  Otherwise, it's got to be long-sleeved 100% cotton shirts since these are the most versatile kind to own and the most comfortable.   You can always roll up your sleeves (neatly) should warmer weather warrant it, and most places are air-conditioned these days anyway.

Next time, here at The Average Guy's Guide to Style, we'll talk pants.  Tune in then!