Once you’ve spent a couple of years deeply immersed in the world of men’s fashion and style, you start coming to a few conclusions.
Firstly, there is a huge difference between fashion and style, with the ways they can be incorporated into the real world varying significantly. Secondly, no matter how much you want it to happen or how hard you try, you will never be able to resurrect Reebok Classics from the grave. I know, sad times. Thirdly, having a go-to uniform isn’t necessarily the big ‘no no’ you used to think it was.
I touched on the benefits of a uniform slightly in part 98, ‘A Few More Steps’, and figured now would be a good time to expand on the concept. Due to years of being forced into dull, dry, scratchy and starchy school uniforms when we were kids, it seems the idea of a uniform can often conjure negative feelings amongst men.
Not only that, with the amount of clothing options available to guys these days, I can completely understand the urge to dip your toe in every sartorial pool you can find. But there are a lot of positive things to be said for having a uniform.
Your Signature Look
A more accurate name for a uniform in the world of style would be ‘signature look’ – an outfit that once people see you in it, they immediately identify it as ‘you’.
Personally, I find the major benefit of having a signature look is that it allows me more time to think about the parts of style that I enjoy most, such as textures, colours, patterns and shoes. What I don’t enjoy so much is spending ages trying to figure out what to wear in the morning. By investing in pieces that I know fit into my look (chinos/seasonal fabrics trousers, shirt and waistcoat/jacket) I can be ready in a matter of minutes.
For others it could be that it means you remain stylish but understated or that you always show up as the best dressed.
However, one of the key aspects to developing a signature look is experience. If you’re new to this game, you should go crazy. It’s pretty much the only time you’ll get to, especially if you’re in your twenties or younger (controversial I know). Spending time experimenting with new styles means that you get to understand what suits not just your body shape, but also your skin colour, hair colour and lifestyle. Allow me to give you an example…
My Signature Look
I enjoy dressing up on the formal end of the style spectrum; it makes me feel confident and is suited to my profession. Nothing fits this description better than a suit. The great thing about a suit is that it’s already 60 per cent of your outfit done – all you need is a shirt, some shoes and a tie.
However, I have a nightmare with suit trousers. I have big thighs so I tend to have to buy larger waist sizes and then get them tailored to fit me. This can get expensive and, again because of the thighs, I tend to get a lot of crotch wear, which means I need to replace them about six months later and go through the whole process again.
This problem is often due to the thin material the average suit trouser is made from. With this in mind, I simply swap the trousers for either thicker seasonal versions or durable cotton chinos, but keep the tailored jacket. It means I feel a lot more comfortable and confident in myself and ensures I don’t spend every penny I earn on trousers or sacrifice my preferred formal, tailored approach to dressing.
Furthermore, due to being slightly bigger than your average male, I tend to stick to darker, neutral colours for my outer layers, with colour injected via shirts, ties and pocket squares. This comes from years of experimenting with different coloured items and finding that wearing darker colours on the outside of my outfit flatters my size, rather than emphasises it.
Like I said, it’s lessons like these that will help develop your look.
Mix It Up
I’d like to point out that I’m not suggesting you wear a strict uniform EVERY day. Develop a signature look that you wear one day a week or perhaps a couple of signature looks that you wear to the office every other day.
I’ve found that by wearing variations of my uniform to work most days, when it comes to the weekend I really do put some thought into what I wear and make the most out of what’s in my wardrobe, in a way that I never used to.
An All-Day Look
Having a signature look allows you to do something that I’ve always been a big proponent of: wearing what you put on all day. Once you know what suits you and what works, it’s a lot easier to wear your clothes from the moment you step out the door to when you hit the sack in the evening.
Sure, you may have to lose a few pieces or add a layer as the temperature drops, but you’ll be confident and comfortable throughout because you won’t be thinking “I can’t wait to change out of this when I get home”.
A Signature Look Isn’t Boring
Which brings me to my final point: a signature look doesn’t mean you’re boring, it means you understand what you like, what your lifestyle is and how to dress your body.
It comes from learning from your mistakes and gaining experience in an area that only a small minority of men really understand. In turn, this gives you the opportunity to pick and choose the trends that you like, rather than being a slave to them.
If you’re a guy who tends to stick to jeans, t-shirts and chunky cardigans – why not branch out and pick up an unstructured navy blazer for those occasions you need to step it up a notch? Or perhaps invest in a printed shirt that can really add a point of difference to your everyday jeans. Don’t even get me started on the world of penny/tassel loafers with selvedge denim.
On the other hand, if you tend to dress up regularly like me, why not try and incorporate more workerwear-inspired pieces such as flannel/chambray shirts, raw selvedge denim or even washed cotton t-shirts? The greatest benefit of having a signature look is that it only takes a few key pieces each season to breathe new life into it.
And in an age of limited resources (read: wardrobe space), isn’t that what we’re all after?
Uniform Lookbook: Smart-Casual To Formal
To help illustrate my point, I have provided some lookbook inspiration. The ‘uniform’ we are focussing on today consists of three key pieces: a blazer, shirt and pair of trousers (could be jeans, chinos or tailored versions).
The lookbook below shows how these three key pieces can form the foundation of a wide range of looks, from smart-casual to business-casual to formal:
With a few simple tweaks and the addition of accessories, the basic shirt/trousers/blazer combination can be adapted to multiple occasions.
Uniform Lookbook: Adjusting For Season
Not only can the above ‘uniform’ adapt to the occasion, it can also be adjusted effortlessly to suit the season. Switch your blazer between linen for summer and tweed for winter, or simply alter the colour of your trousers/chinos from bold and bright to rich autumnal hues.
The options available to you are endless, and you should never feel restricted by your signature look:
With a few simple tweaks to fabrics and colours, the basic shirt/trousers/blazer combination can be adapted to the current season.
So there you have it guys, just a few thoughts that I’ve been having recently on the benefits of picking a look and sticking to it. Think of it as a grown up uniform for a grown arse man.
Maybe you have a different uniform to mine, or maybe you don’t have one at all – either way I’m always interested to hear what you think, so let me know in the comments section below.