Category Archives: Tom Talks

Wearing Patterns: A clear path to Individual Style

Oxxford Clothes

For the most part, since early childhood I suppose, most of us haven’t particularly cared for rules. Rules are confining. Those who are inclined toward creativity and proclaiming their originality are especially prone to finding ways to bend the rules to their own will. There’s an old saying: You first have to know the rules before you can break the rules. Dalai Lama XIV is quoted as saying, “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”

With respect to wearing pattern (and color), there are rules that neither you nor I invented that, when given due respect, will allow any one of us to appear to others in a way that is both agreeable and very individual. The fact of the matter is that the eye seeks visual harmony and is distracted or annoyed by visual dissonance or incongruity. That is one of those rules or laws of nature.

When what you are wearing is harmonious in color and pattern, the people who see you better enjoy the experience and you enjoy a better reception. It is in knowing the rules, including the major-minor rules, and then effectively following, breaking, or bending them where a clear path to individual style is made visible.

Not to be confused with monotony, harmony is a pleasing or congruent arrangement of parts. It’s all about how you put it together. I’ve heard it said by others and I’ve said it myself when seeing someone who is either a particularly well proportioned human being or is simply dressed in a way that is especially well done, “She (or he) is put together!”

Oxxford Clothes

Harmony – being “put together” – can be achieved in a nearly endless variety of combinations of pattern, color, and texture. In this forum, we will deal mostly with the mixing of patterns, and that in the simplest of terms. Pattern, or form – whether stripes, checks, plaids, paisleys, or geometrics – is based on lines, both straight and curved, and how they are configured or relate to one another. The successful wearing and mixing of patterns – achieving visual compatibility instead of optical vibration – involves several factors, and especially these:

  1. Scale (proportion)
  2. Intensity (contrast)
  3. Type of pattern (stripe, check, etc.)
  4. Color

Rules to Guide You:

Tom James Custom Suits

Oxxford Clothes

1. When combining two like patterns – two stripes for example – vary the scale of each. If the jacket pattern is a large plaid, then combine it with a shirt (or contrasting vest) exhibiting checks that are closer together. If your shirt has narrow stripes, then you can wear it with a jacket that has wider stripes. This rule holds true, even if another item in the total look is not solid, but of a different pattern.

Tom James Custom Suits

Tom James Custom Suits

2. When combining two different patterns – a stripe and a check – they will better harmonize if similar in scale. The exception to this rule – and aren’t there always exceptions to every rule? – is the combing two smaller or tight patterns. If at least one or both are muted or of subtle intensity, then you will probably not give others a headache when they look at you. Otherwise, if one pattern is small/tight, then it is likely best combined with another pattern that is larger in dimension.

Oxxford Clothes

3. Mixing three patterns – a herringbone jacket, check shirt, and stripe tie – is especially in harmony when all three patterns are similar in scale and intensity. Even when all of the pieces are from the same color family, the use of multiple patterns creates substantial visual interest. If you want to create more “pop” – a desire that I frequently hear – then consider choosing a tie of bolder intensity than the suit and shirt or varying the dimension of one garment in the ensemble.

Not forgetting the simple elegance of suits, jackets, shirts, and ties of solid color made from beautiful cloths, the rules above provide a basic framework for successfully wearing patterns. The point is to use pattern to your every advantage to announce your individuality and to communicate clearly who you are and what you’re all about.

Mixing it up with style and substance,


Your Individuality is Showing

How your Individuality is Revealed by your Clothing

What is it about you and your appearance that most distinguishes you from your rival colleague, your arch competitor, or the mass of other professionals in your generation?

What is it that others immediately recognize and admire about you when they see you?

A younger colleague recently described me to someone else as “smart.” Of course, I immediately applauded his keen insight and then concluded that his perception of me must have something to do with my appearance! Is it because I recently started wearing glasses? They do make me look at little like Clark Kent (aka Superman. I’m just sayin’). Or is it because my office walls are lined with books (some of which I’ve actually read)? Or is the reason my occasional wearing of a bow tie? I am also regularly described as a nice guy, somewhat reserved, and good with kids. I don’t even have any children, for heaven’s sake. How do people come up with these ideas?

It is clear to me that from the aggregate of all I display to the world – the words I speak and the way I sound to others, the way I behave and carry myself, and the way that I appear to others (probably even the car I drive and the way I comb my hair) – my character and individuality are revealed.

My style has evolved over many years of learning and observation, trial and error. Not one to latch on to the “fully fashioned” style of a particular designer or school of thought, I prefer to pick and choose from a range of styles and to figure out how to put them together in a way that works for me. Developing and regularly evolving an authentic, personal style has always been my goal. Having discovered the option of custom clothing early in my career has been a real advantage. Custom really opens up the range of possibilities for personal expression.





Color, pattern, the style and cut of your clothing, and how it is all coordinated work to reveal any number of things about your personality and character. Stripes connote authority, while earth tones are warm and inviting. A trim cut is progressive while a cuff on your pants reads conservative and sincere. Any given complete look may strongly communicate one particular characteristic or may quietly convey a complex of meaning.

If you can come up with three or four words that best describe how you want to be perceived by others, your Tom James Clothier can help you construct a personal style and corresponding wardrobe that will enable the desired perception.

To help you along, here are a few words (by no means an exhaustive list…feel free to add your own) to consider:

Confident Competent Compelling Authoritative
Conservative Professional Intelligent Affable/Likeable
Enterprising Approachable Progressive Gentlemanly
Powerful Sharp Detailed Assured
Creative Sophisticated Intrepid (there’s a word) Modern
Charming Traditional Personable Commanding
Impressive Expert Prosperous Distinctive
Natural Prudent Refined Stylish
Successful Sincere Trustworthy Diplomatic
Fashionable Precise Imaginative

What is your clothing (and how you wear it) revealing about you?

Sartorially resplendent,


That My Own Style Be My Own

“I much prefer that my own style be my own,” wrote Petrarch, “perhaps uncultivated and rude, but made to fit, as a garment, to the measure of my mind (and body), rather than to someone else’s, which may be more elegant, ambitious, and adorned, but on that, deriving from a greater genius, continually slips of, unfitted to the humble proportions of my intellect.” (Italics are mine.)

Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca) was a 14th century scholar and poet, considered to be the Father of Humanism. Clearly the idea of thinking or dressing in one’s own way is not at all a new idea, but is one that has been tested by time and proven of immense value by people of all stripes who want to intentionally project something about themselves. When an idea, or certain way of dressing, has truly become your own, it rings of authenticity and the world can’t help but take notice.

What is the measure of your ambitions for this New Year?
What are the proportions of your personality and character?
How well do your wardrobe and the way you wear it fit the measure and proportion of all that you are and aspire to be?

The way that your clothing is cut, the way it fits, and the amount and coordination of color and pattern you employ, among other considerations (the car you drive!), all impact how you are perceived by others and work to reveal your personality, character, and ambition. This month I will delve into:

  • How individuality is revealed in your clothing
  • How to effectively mix patterns and color to project the desired result
  • How your Body Type determines the Cut of your Clothing

Buckle your belt, keep your pants on, and get ready for the best year of your life!

Yours in all things Sartorial,


My Real Wardrobe is somewhere in that Closet!

Your “real” wardrobe is the clothing that you actually enjoy wearing – clothes that fit your body, style preference, lifestyle, etc. Believe it or not, most successful people…men in particular…have a lot of clothes in the closet that they don’t actually wear and feel good about. Perhaps this situation could use some attention?

The end of the year is logical time to set aside a few minutes to give thought… and a little effort… to organizing, culling out what should be given away or thrown away, and generally making sense of everything that is taking up precious space on your clothing racks and shelves.

I was in the closet of a new client this week and we took a few minutes to go through his neck wear collection. For him it was a walk down memory lane. Some of those lengths of woven silk had been hanging there since before Clinton entered the White House. After that guided tour of his neck wear history, I had him go do something else for 5 minutes while I removed the most egregious offenders. When he reviewed and agreed with what I had pulled out of the line up it was like a weight had been lifted. Even better, he can now actually see all of the great options he still has hanging there to choose from.

If you are at a point where it would be timely to go through the closet to make better sense out of everything (I recommend that you do this at least annually), the following are a few suggestions that work equally well for men or women:

  • Examine the fit, condition, and fashion/style of everything in your wardrobe. Try-on anything that you haven’t worn in the past six months or aren’t completely sure about the fit. Set aside anything that doesn’t work for whatever reason. Be particularly ruthless with accessories (ties, belts, etc.)
  • Divide your wardrobe into Four Categories:
  1. Items that you will never wear again.
  2. Clothing that might be worn again if properly altered, repaired or coordinated.
  3. All of your Year-round Basics. Further divide these items as either dress or casual.
  4. Seasonal, special occasion, and collectible or vintage garments.
  • Get rid of everything in the first category. Donate items that could still be useful to someone else (not too worn, stained, etc.)
  • Items in the second category should be altered, repaired, etc. (I can help with that.)
  • Clothing in the third category should be placed up front or wherever most convenient in your closet because this is your go-to clothing. Consider your dressing habits and lifestyle as you organize this portion. (I.e. button-up shirts that you wear with a suit or sport coat should be separate from others that are more casual.)
  • Seasonal clothing should be divided into Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer. Keep the current season’s items near the front and properly store the rest. Special occasion clothing (tuxedo, etc.) should be properly cataloged and stored.

  • Want to help victims of Sandy while you’re at it?

    Contact the Tom James store nearest to you to donate your gently used clothing. Tom James is working with agencies in New York and New Jersey to donate your gently used business and professional clothing, but of particular importance is outerwear for cold weather.

    Find the store nearest you.

    Doing good while keeping it real,