Life is about progression. Learning that change is good – and accepting it – is what being a human is all about.
The same can be said of fashion and the journey that all of us take from a complete rookie to a seasoned sartorial pro. Because what you liked a couple of years ago, you may not be such a big fan of now. For example, I was all about Marmite on toast a few years back when I was studying for my MA. These days? Nah, we’re off that. Things have changed, I’m afraid.
When you first start out in the men’s style game, it can all be a bit too much to take in. Men’s fashion has seriously caught up with it’s female counterpart in the last decade, progressing to a level where the choices and options available to the average male are at an overwhelming level.
So, rather like learning to swim, it’s important to start in the shallow end and then work your way deeper. Begin by purchasing simple, classic, versatile pieces that you know will see you through any situation. Essentially, learn the rules of style.
But once you’ve learned the rules – you can then learn how to break them. This is a concept I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.
When I first started writing the men’s fashion basics series a couple of years ago, there were a few steadfast rules that I wanted rookies to stick to. This way you could avoid some of the more complicated problems that arise when trying to dress well; things like colour combinations, pattern mixing and obsessing over the details. They were the same rules that I stuck to religiously for many years too.
However, as previously mentioned, I’ve started to change my mind and, now that I understand them inside out, have started to break the rules that I laid down years before.
Here are my top five that I like to experiment with…
You’ve probably heard me say that navy goes with everything, except black. The reason for this is that when put together the two colours can create a black hole effect, sucking in the beholder’s eyes to their location and never letting them go to admire other aspects of your outfit. This is due to them being far too similar in colour and tone.
However, as we well know, not all navies are the same. A navy that has more blue base tones (rather than black base tones) can be paired with black because it will provide enough contrast to separate the two, so try something as simple as a navy blue t-shirt with a black leather jacket.
When integrating black and navy together in a formal outfit (which is where this colour combination can be really frowned upon), try and differentiate the two colours through texture as well. I’ve recently taken to wearing my navy denim dress shirt from Suit Supply with my cotton black suit, with the contrast in textures helping to lift the whole look.
Another rule I used to stick to avidly. When it comes to things such as colour, pattern mixing and accessorising, my advice to style newbies is to never use more than three.
For example, have no more than three colours at work in your outfit at one time – and one should always be neutral. This helps keep your outfits grounded in the real world whilst still allowing you to experiment.
To a certain extent, I don’t break this rule at all. What I like to do is add a subtle detail that bends, rather than breaks it. For example, if I’m wearing a navy suit with a green gingham shirt and a bold burgundy striped tie (the rule of three for patterns – two patterns to one solid) I then finish the look with a patterned pocket square in navy floral to add another pattern to the mix.
I’d recommend doing it this way to avoid your looks getting too messy. And only ever do it with one style – colour, patterns or accessories – NEVER all at the same time.
If you want an example of how it is done, check out FashionBeans reader favourite L.B.M 1911, who release some of the best lookbooks we see on site:
Realistically, black has a really hard time pairing with anything other than grey and white. I think it’s because as soon as it sits next to another colour, the black starts to look less rich and deep whilst the colour just looks cheap.
However, when it comes to wearing brown with black, for example brown boots with black jeans, this is something you can easily incorporate into your own looks. Just follow the same principles as navy and black and choose a brown in contrasting tone (and texture where possible).
This one always causes controversy with the purists out there. I’m a firm believer, after many years of trial and error, that as long as the trainers are simple in detail and construction, like a pair of plain white leather Common Projects, and you’ve lost the office based details such as a tie and a belt, it’s perfectly fine to wear trainers with a suit.
Obviously NOT to the office and obviously NOT with a formal suit or tuxedo, but it does work – especially when paired with lighter linen/cotton versions in spring/summer or with more unstructured cuts.
For more on this, check out the article I did on this subject last year.
I used to be of the firm belief that things always had to be a certain way – ties should be a certain length, tie bars should be placed at certain heights and pocket squares should be perfectly creased and folded Mad Men style.
These days? Who cares? Have some fun with it!
I regularly knot my tie so that the tail end is longer than the body to add a little bit of dishevelment to my look. Or why not take inspiration from the Italian style giant Giovanni Agneli and wear you watch over your shirt cuff? I’m not saying follow him exactly but it’s that sort of tinkering and tweaking of the details that can lift your look from something out of GQ to something that is truly your own.
For more on this, check out my article on the art of sprezzatura.
There you have it, a few things that I previously considered to be fashion faux pas, which don’t seem all that difficult to pull off now.
So if you’ve been in this menswear game for a while, why not give them a try? And if you’re only just starting out on your journey, just think what you’ve got to look forward to once you’ve nailed the basics.
But I also want to hear what you guys think too, so make sure to leave your comments below…