Aaron J. asks: How do I go about developing my own “personal style?” I see people at work, in the airport, and out to dinner – even some of my friends, who just seem to have it all together with their clothes – whether they’re dressed up or casual. Is it genetic, or did someone show them the ropes? I don’t necessarily want to dress exactly as they do, but I admire their overall style.
Tom talks: Aaron, it may be that they are one of the fortunate few, for whom it just comes “naturally”, or it may be the advice of their significant other, or perhaps, their clothier. Having said that, consider this. Developing your own sense of style is not unlike developing a sense of humour – figure out what makes you laugh and emulate that type of humour yourself. Start with the clothing in your wardrobe that you and your “audience” agree looks good on you. Then consider the style of the people you admire and dissect it – do they wear all flat front or some pleated trousers, what shirt collar styles do they use, are they tucked or un-tucked, do they “layer” their clothing, do they combine dressy pieces (sportcoat) with casual pieces (jeans), what shoe style(s) do they favour, what colours and colour combinations do they use?
As an example, many of our clients admire Cary Grant’s style. He was the epitome of simple elegance. When I think of Cary Grant, I think of the light colored grey suit, which he would typically wear with a solid shirt, and, of all things, a solid tie. So simple, yet such an impact! People still talk about his style to this day — he remains an undisputed icon of style.
Gianni Agnelli is another man who developed his own unmistakable look. The Italian Industrialist was known for his style, both in Italy and around the world. Milanese fashion designer Nino Cerruti considered Agnelli to be one of his biggest inspirations. He would wear a well-tailored Italian suit, but what set Gianni apart was how he wore his accessories. His signature statement was wearing his wristwatch over his shirt cuff. Not my style, but it worked quite well for him!
The contemporary media offer many new “style icons” to whom some look for ideas. Consider the business dress of actor John Hamm in the television show “Mad Men”, a debonair flashback to the 1960’s. One could also admire the tailored elegance of Daniel Craig, as James Bond, with or without his peak-lapelled DJs and fly front, evening shirts. There is no shortage of inspiration out there, but adopting someone else’s look isn’t the answer.
Begin to figure out what you like. You might select a specific collar style (one for dress, and one for casual). Consider having one detail that is your signature, such as always wearing a pocket square, a white linen pocket handkerchief, or perhaps double cuffs would work for you. Ask yourself what outfits you are most comfortable wearing. For instance, bow ties are a distinctive look. I appreciate them on other men, but feel quite self-conscious when I wear them.
Decide what you already have in your wardrobe that reflects your chosen direction. You may have several garments that simply need new accessories to make them just right for you. The worst-case scenario is that you need to call an arsonist and start over. Just remember that developing your personal style and building the appropriate wardrobe is a process, not an event. And remember: Tom is here when you need him!