MANual of Style


The Future of MANual of Style by Shreyas
29 July, 2012, 2:04 pm
Filed under: Site Matters

This concludes MANual of Style — for now. Stay tuned for information on where the MANual is headed next.



Lesson 16: Fine Details by Shreyas
25 February, 2010, 10:51 pm
Filed under: Casualwear, Special

This brings us to the end of the casualwear unit.

Today we’re just going to talk about some details: the signature item and the matter of richness.

Signature Items

A signature item is an extremely noticeable item, often an accessory, that you wear often if not always—Hercule Poirot’s moustaches, my key necklace, Ianto Jones’ astonishing ties, etc. A few friends-and-acquaintances of mine have signature items (a hat in one case, a watch in another) they have had to replace over time, as the original wore out.

Signatures are a delicate balancing act between unnoticeable (most mens’ wedding bands) and cartoonish (Gilligan’s hat). I think it’s pretty cool to have a signature item, but it takes balls to do it and careful styling to pull it off well. A really good signature can be a comforting style talisman, something you’re always confident about no matter what else you’re wearing. If you want to try it out, pick something you have that’s pretty eye-catching and unusual, and try to incorporate it into your outfit for a straight week. If that feels good to you, maybe you’ve got a signature item.

Richness

The quality of fabrics is something that is sadly neglected in the education of the modern man. I think everyone should have a solid idea of what makes a fabric look rich, and mostly what makes fabrics look rich is quality. The things that make fabric look good are also good indicators of its feel and durability.

A good fabric will have a high thread count. Usually you won’t see this on the label of anything but bed linens, so to get a comparative look at some different thread counts, look at your favorite department store’s bedding section—you’ll see that, as a general tendency, higher-end sheets have higher thread counts and feel smoother against the skin. This is because thread count (the number of fibers per square inch) is constrained by the fineness of threads used to weave the fabric. A tighter weave requires finer threads, leading to a smoother-feeling fabric. Generally, if you can see the weave without bringing a fabric close to your eyes for a serious inspection, you can probably feel it too. (For sheets, the printed count isn’t an infallible metric for market reasons, but the naked-eye test is a good rule of thumb.)

Good fabrics will also have threads that are finished differently, and composed of longer single fibers. Check out Wisegeek’s discussion about combed cotton—a fabric using longer fibers will feel smoother to the touch and last longer, because the longer pieces are more securely interlaced. The smoother surface will also give it a subtle sheen.

You’ll also find that high-quality shirting fabrics are often woven in interesting ways that play with texture. One of my favorite shirts is a sort of platinum affair with alternating matte and satiny stripes—the combined textures make it look more expensive than any one of them would by itself.

What’s the point of all this? Well, good fabric is attractive because it’s touchable. It feels nice under your fingers. A good shirt can make people want to touch you (or give them an excuse). It’s as simple as that.



Special: Sick Style by Shreyas
23 February, 2010, 10:50 am
Filed under: Special | Tags: ,

Today, I was planning to post a rundown of events at the con and talk about cool style I saw there, but over the weekend a nasty stomach bug laid the entire family low, myself included.

So, instead, I’m going to tell you about how to be sick without looking and feeling like shit. (Granted, there is a limit to the amount of help I can give you, because I am not a doctor and sometimes when you’re sick, you’re just sick, but I hope to offer a palliative at least.) If you’re badly off enough to need a doctor or a hospital, please disregard all this advice and proceed straight to the professionals.

Hydration

Water is the most important thing when you’re sick. If you can keep it down, staying hydrated can be the difference between hobbling around like an invalid and losing a sick day, and being well enough to face the world. Your system needs water to deliver nutrients where your body needs them and flush out wastes; if you don’t drink enough, icky things just build up in your bloodstream and make you feel sicker. On top of that, when you’re dehydrated, your skin sags and unevenness in its coloring become more visible.

If you can, drink an electrolyte-carrying sports drink or lemonade with a pinch of salt. The salt helps cut through the numbness of sick taste buds and gets essential nutrients into your system. It’s best if you have a low-sodium salt blend containing potassium, but regular salt is good too.

Grooming On the Go

Especially when you’re sick, you need to be able to touch up when you’re out and about. Be sure to carry whatever you need with you so you can do that. If you’re vomiting, you need toothpaste and lip balm, and possibly eye drops (capillaries burst by the strain of vomiting can make your eyes red). If you’ve got sinus issues, carry tissues and gum, since a stuffed-up nose can lead to bad breath. If you’re coughing, you need tissues, cough drops, and possibly a warm, soothing drink that you can either carry around or prepare easily. If you’re bleeding for any reason, carry spare bandages and antibiotic ointment if you like.

This way, you’re ready if you have a particularly bad attack of something and need to recompose yourself.

The Buddy System

Last bit of advice: If you’re ill, you should never go out alone. Be sure to have a sympathetic person at your side who can tell you to chill out if you’re pushing yourself too hard, or call for help if your condition worsens.

That’s all for today; see you again on Thursday for the last bit of Unit 2.



Lesson 15: Putting Together an Outfit by Shreyas
16 February, 2010, 9:11 am
Filed under: Basic Concepts | Tags: , , , ,

There are a few different ways you might approach putting together an outfit; I thought I’d sketch some situations out for you and show the thought process behind them. Some of these processes may look like they take a while, but you’ve only got to do them once. Once you know a particular outfit works, just remember it (put it down in your style journal if you want to), and you can go to it effortlessly. Say you’re getting dressed in the morning, and you say to yourself:

I want to wear my crazy hat today!

Okay, great. The first thing you do is get your hat and put it on your bed, or couch, or hat rack or whatever. All set? Good. This object is going to act as your valet. You lay out outfits on it like it’s a paper doll and imagine yourself wearing them. It’s a lot more efficient than actually trying on everything you might consider wearing like girls do on TV, and it gives you a good visual check against your gut feelings about how two or more items work together. (After you get some practice, you can do this in your head, but even when you get to that point, it’s useful to do the valet thing every now and then.)

What you’re trying to find is a dominant garment—the biggest thing you’re wearing, probably a top—with colors and textures that work harmoniously with your hat. Harmony doesn’t have to mean that they’re identical. Contrast can work just as well; just remember what we learned earlier about color, pattern, and texture. However, in this case you’re trying to showcase a particular item, so you don’t want to contrast too strongly. Your other pieces should complement and support your star item, rather than compete with it, so the supporting pieces should be less emphatic.

Once you have that dominant garment, you’ve got your palette of colors and textures. Assemble the rest of your pieces based on the two items you have in front of you. Keep in mind, the formality of your outfit emerges from the formality of the pieces. A nice sport jacket can elevate a tee and jeans to going-out wear; similarly, a cool pair of sneakers can make it okay to go to the grocery store in a three-piece suit.

I am sad today. I shall wear black.

I’m sorry to hear that! The thing about wearing black (or any other monochromatic outfit) is that it really shows if your clothes are faded; black dyes especially are usually made up of a mixture of several colors that fade at different rates, so after you wash your favorite black shirt a few times it might become green or grey or navy. If this is the case, you have two solutions: you can either dye your clothes (a messy and laborious option), or you can wear them so they don’t touch other, differently colored “black” things, such as by wearing a light-colored belt between your black jeans and your black tux shirt.

Instead of wearing just one color, you can showcase a color by pairing one key item with neutrals. That might turn out to be a little easier. Either way, be sure that your showcased color doesn’t overwhelm your face; some colors are easier to wear in larger amounts than others. You can always experiment and see what’s the ideal amount of lime green or royal blue for you.

Man, I feel fat today.

The best thing to do when you’re not feeling super great about your appearance is to dress up, not down, and pay attention to silhouette. Start by thinking about the cut of your clothes before texture and color, and choose the clothing which best creates the way you want to look. If you’re feeling weak, go for T-shirts that cut across the widest part of the bicept to look more muscular. If you’re feeling fat, go for slim-cut items and thinner layers. If you’re feeling too skinny, wear structured items that give your frame more power and substance. Only after you’ve got the silhouette worked out should you start worrying about whether the colors go. If something doesn’t work, then swap it out for a piece of clothing which does the same (or a similar) thing for your silhouette. And for extra self-esteem boost, include one accessory or item that makes you feel really good, that you’re proud of finding, and choose today to show it off.

Putting it together

When you get good at constructing outfits in these ways, you’ll be able to tell what type of outfit an item is good for when you purchase it (“I love this color!” versus “I love this cut!” versus “This is a work of art and I want to show it off”). You’ll also be able to create outfits which do more than one of these things— monochromatic slim-cut silhouettes and outfits that show off a single color as well as an amazing item, for example.

The power was inside you all along

Honestly, if you’ve been paying attention to all of the lessons here on MANual of Style and dutifully writing in your style journal, you already have all of the tools to put together a killer outfit. This is just an overview of the things we’ve already discussed. You have the power, now use it.



Accessories I Like by Shreyas
14 February, 2010, 8:16 am
Filed under: Special | Tags: , ,

Hi friends! Sorry about the late post—Elizabeth and I started our Valentine’s Day festivities a little early.

On to the meat, though. Here are a couple of pieces from Sundance, which tends to focus on women’s gear as a general rule, but occasionally has a cool piece for men in an unusual stone. If the handmade look or the cowboy aesthetic appeal to you, Sundance is for you.

See what I mean? I like the big looped clasp on this, it’s kind of a cool reference to a lasso. The thoughtful combination of metal and leather gives you a little more flexibility when pairing this with other pieces, too. Given how massive this is, however, I’d suggest wearing it with a pendant and a fancy belt, at most. Adding a lot of stuff to your hands will make them look feminine.

This is the sort of thing I really like Sundance for: bold rings with unusual stones. Since this particular stone is opaque and unfaceted, it comes off as an interesting panel of color rather than a huge piece of bling.

Here’s a piece from Novica, a site that collects interesting objects from artisans across the globe (realistically, mostly Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa). I love the contrasting textures on this ring. Since it’s not particularly large, a viewer will have to be fairly close to get its full effect; from a distance it’ll work like any other silver band.

And here’s a great houndstooth fedora on sale at Nordstrom. The yellow detail on the hat band adds a bit of levity and versatility—the added color means it’ll tie into colorful outfits more easily—and it’s got a nice narrow brim that isn’t so small as to look disproportionate.

That’s it for today! See us on Tuesday for a serious rundown on putting together an outfit. Also, Elizabeth and I will be at Dreamation next week, so come by and say hello if you’re there!



Lesson 14: Casual Accessories by Shreyas
11 February, 2010, 2:33 pm
Filed under: Casualwear | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Not much of an intro today, because there’s a lot of ground to cover. Suffice it to say that accessories are important: they provide the bit of polish that separates someone dressed acceptably from someone who is dressed well. With a little bit of knowledge about how to choose the correct accessories, you will find your outfits look complete, without ever having realized they were incomplete before.

Hats

There are a lot of similarly-structured hats with brims and crowns of various shapes, and usually a hatband; it would be tedious to list all of them here, but here are some things to think about when choosing these brimmed, non-baseball caps. Right now, “stingy” brims are in fashion, which is to say that they have thinner brims than usual; this is flattering to most face shapes, but if the stinginess is exaggerated it tends to make the head look big or the face look round. The other thing to remember is that choosing a hat shape is functionally equivalent to choosing a haircut; your hair will have little to no visible shape when wearing a hat, so it’s up to the hat to make the usual adjustments to the width and length of your face. These types of hats usually come in stiffened fabric or felt; the stiffened fabric is an all-season thing, but the felt caps will be too warm for summer. Likewise, woven hats (hats made of a solid material with visible holes) are summer-only.

As far as looks go, patterned hats are more likely to draw the eye to your face, but less versatile overall. The same goes for bright colors, as opposed to neutrals. (Remember: subtle patterns, such as pinstripes, count as solids here; however, there’s been a trend towards very high-contrast pinstripes; those are sort of a no-man’s land between solid and pattern.) I would suggest that if the hatband has any sort of ornament, it shouldn’t be much taller than the band itself; you want people to look at your face, not the side of your head.

A good hat is a great way to get people focused onto your face, as long as the brim doesn’t overshadow too much. Which brings us to baseball caps.

Baseball caps are really only for people who look good bald; the fit of a baseball cap means that your face is viewed without the frame of hair to alter its silhouette. On top of that, a particularly low or long bill casts shadows over the face in the wrong light, making you less likely to catch the eye on a bright day. Baseball caps are also the lowest level of formality when it comes to haberdashery, with the possible exception of paper party hats— if your outfit errs on the side of formality, even if it is “casual,” you run the risk of looking like you’re trying to conceal hair loss. This also goes with the general idea of becoming less formal as you remove layers of clothing.

The final thing to keep in mind is the decoration which adorns your baseball cap: follow the rules we laid out for graphical tees in our “Shopping from the closet” lesson. If it says or implies something you would not walk up to a stranger and say to them, it’s not appropriate. And if you wear a cap with an actual team logo, make sure you know something about the team in case a fellow fan strikes up a conversation.

Now that you’ve chosen the ideal baseball cap, breaking it in is fairly simple. Soak it in warm water, shake off the excess water, and let it dry while you’re wearing it. To curve the bill, wrap rubber bands around it overnight. Voila! Perfectly broken in.

Hats like beanie/skull/knit caps are like basbeball caps without bills: they cling to your scalp and remove the frame of hair. They’re good for winter months, strange in warm weather, and count as outerwear: since they’re specifically and obviously for warmth, it looks strange to wear them inside, and it’s important to pair them with a jacket of a similar or greater weight.

Jewelry

The important thing to keep in mind when it comes to jewelry is that less is more. That’s not to say you can’t wear a ton of necklaces or something: I do, certainly. But the general rule is this: the more expensive your jewelry is, the less jewelry you can get away with wearing. If you have a really nice Movado watch, it will look gaudy in the company of a lot of rings, and out of place with a shell-and-wood surfer necklace. It’s also important to let the higher-quality and special pieces breathe; you want people to notice and compliment them, and not let them get lost in a bunch of visual noise.

On the other hand, some jewelry works best in tandem with others. The shell-and-wood necklace that wouldn’t go with your watch might look great with a leather cuff. I also have some great, brightly-colored beaded bracelets that are entirely too slender and girly on their own, so I pick out a handful of them to wear on one hand (and usually make sure one of them is black and/or chrome). Put together, they look like one item, and the girlyness is vastly toned down.

The other important thing to remember when grouping jewelry is to choose materials that complement each other. Leather, wood, and shell are all very organic materials; brushed metal and smooth stone aren’t. Partially it’s about texture, but organic materials also tend to read as less formal than metal and stone, and they tend to come in completely unrelated colors.

Make sure to choose pieces which are the right length and thickness for your frame: if you’re a big guy, a slender bracelet or a frat-boy choker will seem constricting and uncomfortable, even if they fit well. Likewise, if you’re small, don’t overdo the wide leather cuffs or the chunky industrial watch, or you risk making your delicate wrists look weak and weighed-down.

As a final note, there are pieces of jewelry that just don’t count: wedding rings, small earring studs, and functional, utilitarian belt buckles. Any body piercings you never take out do count, but you should consider them only for color and texture, and not their level of formality.

That’s everything on casual accessories for now. See you Saturday, when I talk about specific accessories I enjoy.



Lesson 13: Sneakers & Sandals by Shreyas
8 February, 2010, 11:02 pm
Filed under: Casualwear | Tags: , ,

Shoes are good. If we didn’t have shoes, we’d all have to step in things all the time. It would be terrible. Respect shoes.

The most diverse category of casual shoe is the sneaker, or “trainer” for our friends across the pond. As the British term implies, sneakers originated as athletic shoes; thus they have rubber soles, and you can find sneakers designed for the performance needs and style preferences of many different activities. If you’re looking for style and comfort (rather than shopping for a specific sport), you need to know the weight and construction differences between types. Many brands specialize in one sport or another, and they often make street shoes in similar styles. A street shoe is usually labelled as a sneaker or athletic shoe, rather than “basketball shoe” and so on. The specific construction of one style of shoe might be more comfortable or flattering than another for you.

Basketball shoes are usually heavy, have thicker soles, and tend to be high-tops. I also find that they tend to be flashier and stranger than the average sneaker. They’re good if you want to look taller or anchor the eye at the ground, since they have a lot of visual mass and thick soles. They’re also good if you want to make your feet look bigger, which you might want to do if you have particularly broad shoulders and smaller feet. If you actually want to use these for exercise, they’re crappy to run in (they’re designed to support you when jumping), so save them for show or basketball.

Soccer shoes usually have cleats. Similarly-styled street shoes look like this. They tend to be low-profile shoes with thin, flexible uppers and soles; in other words they’re pretty much the stylistic opposite of basketball shoes. The flash in soccer shoes often comes from color rather than construction. I once had a pair in dark green and lime suede. Soccer-style shoes are good for deemphasizing a large foot, since they’re small and tend to be constructed of soft curved lines. I like them because they’re flexible and breathe well.

Running shoes are lightweight, low-topped, have an upturned toe and thick soles. The upturned toe visually shortens your foot, so this is another option if you want to minimize your feet. The design of running shoes tends to either be very traditional or kind of weird (shoes with new technology invariably show off that technology on their exterior somehow), but they tend to be less flashy in general than basketball shoes. They’re good if you want to be light on your feet and not draw too much attention while doing it. Running shoes also breathe well, which is important if you spend a lot of time in your shoes.

Chucks (or Cons) are named after Chuck Taylor, a basketball player who popularized the style. (Classic Chucks are high-tops, as you would expect of a basketball shoe.) They tend toward a thin upper made of canvas, with no padding at all, and the style is pretty standard, though they come in a wide variety of colors and prints. Other than this, their features remain similar to other basketball shoes. Personally, I find Chucks to be more of a liability than anything else; they have white on the vulnerable toe, where it is likely to get scuffed and stained. However, if the uppers get dirty, you can just throw them in the washer because they’re canvas.

That’s by no means an exhaustive list, but they’re the basic types that most athletic shoes relate to.

The right sneaker for you

Once you’ve got an idea of what style works best for you, it’s time to go to the store and try some shoes on. Any good shoe salesman can size you and tell you what to look for, but everyone’s feet are different, so you should definitely walk around in a new pair of shoes (just do a lap around the aisle in the shoe store) before you commit to it.

Once you take care of that you can think about color and detail. A safe way to add color to an outfit is to add brightly-colored shoes; they don’t necessarily have to relate to your outfit as long as you’re wearing neutrals or sticking to a single color. However, if you do buy brightly-colored shoes, you have to keep them clean. This goes doubly for yellow and white, which show stains the soonest, and triple for Chucks because they’re canvas, so if you don’t wash them promptly, the stains will soak in and you’ll never get them out. Regardless, it’s a good idea to have a pair of dark sneakers in neutral tones for wear when the weather is crappy.

Rather than going for one or the other extreme of color, you can also choose a subdued non-neutral that looks good on you. These are really tough to find, but I think they make a lot of impact.

Decide on the level of detail you want—contrast stitching, panels of different colors, patterned canvas, logos and other embellishments—based on how much care you want to put into your shoes and how much attention you want them to draw. More detailed shoes call for more care; since people will look at them more, you should take good care of them. Lacing is an easy, low-investment way to personalize your shoes and add or suppress detail. You can change the color of your laces for various effects, or you can lace them in different patterns for graphic or functional effect. Check out Ian’s Shoelace Site for some really in-depth discussion of shoe lacing methods, including how-tos, pros and cons of different methods, and other good stuff.

Changing your laces is an effective way of refreshing a pair of tired shoes, too. Clean them well and put in a new pair of laces, and it’s almost like having new shoes. I have one caveat, though: brand-new laces will take a while to lose their factory gloss and look integrated with your shoes, so this is a place where it might be preferable to experiment with contrasting colors.

Socks

You should always wear socks with shoes, and never wear socks with sandals. See, the purpose of socks is to keep your feet warm and absorb moisture (i.e. sweat), so your shoes don’t get stinky over time. If you leave out the sock when you’re in your sneakers, they soak up sweat and dirt and become a breeding ground for smelly things and foot infections. It isn’t pretty. On the other hand, the reason sandals are open is to allow air to move freely over your feet, which socks interfere with. Also, you’ll look like someone’s grandfather if you wear socks with your sandals.

Generally, it’s a good idea to pair light socks with light shoes and dark socks with dark shoes, even if you firmly believe that no one will see your socks. (I have this advice from my fiancée, who I consider to be a reliable authority on hosiery.) It’s presently trendy to wear exactly the minimum sock you can and still separate yourself from your shoe. I think that’s a good thing to do if you’re wearing shorts and have nice ankles, but I also find that no-show socks tend to slip out of position and become uncomfortable easily, so when in long pants I opt for slightly longer socks.

(Note that despite having their own heading, socks are not footwear in their own right.)

Sandals

Sandals are essentially a shoe sole lashed to the foot with some arrangement of straps. As distinct from flip-flops, sandals fasten to the heel or ankle in some way, so the foot and sandal move as a unit. These straps are your friends. When looking for sandals, be aware of what parts of your foot will be exposed vs. covered, and choose sandals that cover the parts of your feet you like the least. If you are embarrassed by your hairy toes, get something with a strap that covers them. If you don’t really want your foot to be visible at all, but you want the airflow and freedom from socks that sandals provide, get yourself some huaraches.

Sandals are good for hot weather and any situation where you might be taking off your shoes a lot, but it’s difficult to find one that provides the support and traction for high-stress activity. They tend to give an even more casual look than sneakers and complement already summery attire well.

Flip-flops

Flip-flops, or thong sandals, have straps that only hold the toes against the sole. They’re the most casual type of sandals, usually inexpensive, and come in a wide variety of patterns, colors, and sole treatments. Since you can see the footbeds of flip-flops all the time, they’re often decorated. They’re demanding to wear—as you step, your toes have to work to grip the bottom of the shoe and push it back into place with each motion. If you’re not used to it, walking in thongs for long periods can be painful.

With flip-flops and sandals, be aware that you’ll get tan lines on your feet.

We’ll talk about more kinds of shoes later. I’m starting to feel long-winded. See you on Thursday for casual accessories!




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