The above phrase was uttered by my College Rugby coach more times than I care to remember during my teenage years. Often it was confused as a mere insult to a player who attempted the most complicated up-and-under this side of Dan Carter. However, what the phrase was really trying to communicate was that the simplest of routes, plans and ideas are the most successful. And this acronym applies just as well to men’s style as it does to a drift defence or loop pass.
In the spectrum of men’s fashion, things can get a little messy. OK, very messy. We’ve got trends, patterns, rules, top 10s and essentials coming at us from all directions every day. We even have rules for trends or top ten patterns these days. Sometimes, with all of this noise going on, the simple pleasure of just wearing clothes gets lost in the mix.
In a recent documentary, designer-come-director Tom Ford explains a scene from A Single Man where the main character George pulls himself reluctantly out of bed to get dressed. This scene wasn’t actually in the original book the film was inspired by, but Ford felt it was important to include because it was something he could relate to. Whenever he’s in a deep depression, one of the few things he enjoys is putting on a suit.
“It might be false but I feel like if I shine my shoes, put on a tie, and make myself look as good as I can possibly look, I feel better. That somehow it’s armour; it’s a ritual that I go through.”
And if we all took a moment to think about it, isn’t that really what’s at the heart of this menswear game? Aside from helping us get ahead in our careers and love life, clothes – or more specifically nice clothes – are enjoyable as end in themselves.
Similarly, in an interview with online US retailer Park & Bond, fashion director at Details magazine, Nick Sullivan talked on the same topic. When asked what we can expect next in men’s fashion, he replied with this:
“There’s a sudden pendulum swing away from jazzy shoes, look-at-me jackets, look-at-me trousers, look at all of this together. It’s toward something much cleaner. Shoes are a really good example. We’ve had wingtips, suede wingtips, multi-coloured wingtips, weird wingtips, bright pink wingtips, and now the only alternative to that would be a pair of black oxfords. So I think we’re going through a cleansing moment. It’s like everything is un-complicating itself.”
He makes an interesting point, and I think we had to go through all the options, loudness and peacocking in order to get to a stage where we can now concentrate on things like cut, quality and cloth. Perhaps guys can even start to develop their own sense of intuition too. By all means still pay attention to the books, blogs and magazines but rather than implementing the advice word for word, think about how what they’ve covered can be applied to your own sense of style and self.
I often use the Da Vinci quote – “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – and it’s a great place to start if you want to begin this ‘cleansing’ of your wardrobe. Forget the logos, crazy prints and super minute details and re-focus on great basics. And seriously, I mean basics. White and grey crew neck t-shirts. White oxford-cloths and blue dress shirts. Fitted grey wool suit trousers with black cap toe shoes. Khaki chinos. Grey suits and blue blazers. Raw selvedge denim with great classic boots.
Focus predominately on neutral colours such as blue, grey, white and black so you can mix and match as much of your wardrobe as possible. And dress how you want to – it’s OK to be a jeans and t-shirt guy if you have great fit and quality clothing. By streamlining your wardrobe you create a simple frame for what’s most important – yourself.
Now that you are starting to dress simpler, it’s always nice to add a point of difference to your look that can take it from the ordinary to the individual. An element of your dressing, more often than not an accessory, that lifts it from being neutral to distinctive. This can be anything from a colourful pair of socks to an interesting belt, all the way to a bracelet or distinctive watch strap. Because, as I said, dressing yourself is about expressing your inner self, so it’s always nice to show a little bit of creativity and flair.
You can even pick out and highlight certain trends still, but opting for more subtle pieces such as ties and pocket squares. I often wear a camouflage pocket square with my most Cary Grant of looks – grey suit, white dress shirt and navy tie – to great effect. Camo brogue boots? Not so much.
Truth be told, this notion won’t be for everyone. There are plenty of people out there who still dress to get noticed, be they hipsters, popstars, fashion bloggers or art school kids that will not be happy with any indication of moving to a simpler form of dress. However, I firmly believe there are signs to suggest that’s where we’re heading after these last few years of flamboyance and peacocking.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved it. But change is a good thing and there really is something to be said for the James Bond approach of suit, shirt, tie, shoes, done. There’s also something to be said for the confidence that it takes to do that rather than burying yourself in Aztec patterns, purple desert boots and camouflage fatigue jackets.
So why not start wearing a more simplified outfit for the simple pleasure of wearing clothes? you never know, you might start to enjoy yourself.