MANual of Style

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.


“Douchebag” by Shreyas
6 February, 2010, 11:19 am
Filed under: Basic Concepts, Special | Tags:

My name is Shreyas, and some people think I’m a douchebag.

Chances are, some people think you’re a douchebag, too. What does that word even mean? Urban Dictionary certainly doesn’t have anything useful to say about it. The best I can figure out is, “A guy who I don’t like, possibly for reasons related to his personal presentation.”

In other words, a douchebag is someone who rubs you the wrong way. (My favorite is #9, “The name of the guy dating the girl of your dreams.”) Thing is, unless you’re a total care bear, there will always be people who rub you the wrong way, and since we humans are not identical, those douchebags might not be douchebags from where someone else is sitting. We gotta be cool with that.

What I’m getting at here is that you shouldn’t let a concept as vague as “douchebag” befog your thinking. If you see some dude on the street and instantly think, “What a douchebag,” stop and think about why. Is it that champagne polo shirt you swear you’ve seen on three other guys today? Is it the way he parked his car, or that he insists on wearing flip-flops in October like he’s still on spring break? I just want you to separate “that guy pisses me off” and “that guy’s outfit bugs me” because here at MANual, I don’t really care about the first, but the second bears some thinking about.

It’s easy to dress like your friends do, and a lot of guys you see whose outfits bug you are just doing that. They might not be thinking about it, or they might be dressing that way deliberately because they’re trying to convey a message with their wardrobe. The takeaway, for you, is don’t dress like that. You shouldn’t wear clothes that piss you off. You should wear clothes that make you look and feel good.

But at the same time, I don’t think you should judge people too harshly for the way they dress.

The other thing to remember is, everyone’s a douchebag to somebody. You shouldn’t let fear of looking like a douchebag dictate your style decisions for you. I’ve caught myself thinking “That guy is a douchebag” because I saw a guy wearing an outfit I loved, but wouldn’t have the guts to wear. Douchebag can imply fear or jealousy or disgust, and as a dashing and busy man about town, you shouldn’t take the time to worry about whether someone is applying that label to you because of your clothing. Never buy the first round at the bar? Sleep with your best friend’s significant other? Cut people off in traffic? Those are reasons to be concerned about your douchebaggyness. I attend roleplaying game conventions, and have been known to run games while wearing a three-piece suit and bow tie. I’ve gotten some askance looks from LARPers dressed in space marine regalia and suits of armor, anime cosplayers dressed like sailor scouts, and steampunk enthusiasts in goggles and ascots. I don’t really care, though: wearing a suit, looking sophisticated and turning heads makes me happy.

As long as you’re following your fashion rules for clothes that flatter you and not wearing anything blatantly offensive (swastikas, “now accepting applications for a Japanese girlfriend” T-shirts), wear what you like and don’t worry about anything else.

Lesson 8: Accessories by Shreyas
14 January, 2010, 10:44 pm
Filed under: Basic Concepts | Tags: , , ,

So let’s talk about accessories—all those things you wear without which you’d still be dressed, things such as watches, jewelry, gloves, scarves, and hats. (Not too long ago, a hat was an essential, not an accessory!)

Why Accessorize?

An accessory is a removable, repositionable detail. You use it the same way as any other detail—to draw the eye to a strong feature. You can also use it as a decoy. Since it draws attention to itself, you can deflect attention from a part you’re not so sanguine about. Until quite recently, I wore a pair of keys on different lengths of ball chain as a necklace; it’s a flashy, moving object that makes a clanking sound when I move, which makes it a nearly irresistible attention trap. I could tell it was working because lots of people made comments about it. At the time I was gaining some weight, and it helped keep eyes off my waistline.

That’s not a particularly subtle way to use an accessory, but I hope it makes it clear what you can do with them. One friend of mine always wears very fancy vintage belt buckles to draw attention to his package, but that’s not for everyone either. On the other hand, I have a lot of friends who spend hardly any money on their clothes, but invest hundreds of dollars and lots of man-hours finding just the right glasses to accentuate their faces. That’s a relatively low-risk thing to do; glasses have an inherent practical value, and if you don’t want people to look at anything you’re wearing, a great pair of glasses is a good way to accomplish that.

Path of the Eye

When you’re choosing accessories, think about where on the body you’ll wear them. Also think about the way the gaze has to travel to take them in. When people are casually looking at other people, their attention naturally falls on the face, and from there it travels to approximately the nearest visually interesting area; it generally gets to the hands at some point because hands are expressive and mobile. So, if you’re trying to keep eyes off your middle, you can wear a striking accessory on your wrist, or have a shirt with a bright sleeve detail, and the eye will travel from your face to your hands without ever going to your middle. Alternately, you could wear a long scarf hanging straight down, so when the eye moves off your face, it hits a straight line leading to the floor.

If you want to be checked out head-to-toe, be sure to wear an interesting belt and interesting shoes, and possibly jeans with an unusual back-pocket detail, to ensure that you get looked at all the way before the eyes go back to your face. It’s important to give people something to look at if you want them to look at you.

Accessories that Stand Out

Choosing a good accessory is a challenge. For starters, as usual I recommend a small selection of conservative items. It’s hard to go wrong with a nice analog watch on a dark leather band, a solid or striped scarf in a color that suits your skin, and a basic leather belt with an interesting buckle. Also consider a few pairs of shoes of varying levels of dressiness.

Forgive me, because I’m about to be judgemental: Most digital watches are only appropriate if you want to look like you’re from Back to the Future. If analog watches bother you, think of it as a mechanical bracelet and check the time on your cell. There are a few designers who make really cool digital watches (like Nooka), but they’re hard to find and often more expensive than comparable analogs.

But, back to the main point: Since the purpose of these things is to direct attention, you should feel free to splurge on really distinctive items, daring colors, investments, or conversation pieces. Accessories can add color to an outfit (I have a scarf with red and yellow stripes that I wear when I’m feeling down) or change your silhouette. They’re also a great opportunity to reference your interests; I knew a couple of Buddhists who always wore their prayer malas as bracelets, for instance. There is some great anime-inspired jewelry out there.

Less is More

While it’s important to have visual landmarks, you shouldn’t overdo it. Too many accessories cancel each other out and look cluttered. One or two is usually enough. Coco Chanel said you should always take off the last thing you put on; while you may not actually have to, it’s always a good idea to check yourself out as you’re walking out the door to be sure you don’t look like Mr. T.

That’s it for today. Check in with us on Saturday, when I’ll tell you about some accessories I like. Tell me about some of your interests or concerns, and I’ll recommend some stuff that you might like, too.

Lesson 7: Color & Pattern by Shreyas
12 January, 2010, 11:51 pm
Filed under: Basic Concepts | Tags: , ,

We talked about color briefly in regards to using it for emphasis, but we haven’t talked about it in depth yet, so here goes.

Colors that Work for You

What’s it mean when we say “That color looks good on you,” anyway? What that means is that the color, adjacent to your skin, makes you look healthy and natural. Without getting too much into the technicalities of color perception, the basic principle to understand is that the human visual system creates contrast, so wearing a really saturated green will make your skin, alongside it, look more rosy. Similarly, wearing black makes you appear paler, and so on. The other useful thing the visual system does is create relationships, so if your shirt is the same color as your eyes, it highlights your eye color. That’s a little harder to illustrate so it isn’t shown below, but here are some swatches of different skin tones with a variety of colors alongside them, so you can see a little bit of the contrast effect in action.

Once that’s sunk in a bit, try an experiment: find three differently-colored shirts and look at yourself in the same mirror, wearing each one. Pay attention to how it interacts with your skin tone and your features. Take notes in your style journal if you notice anything interesting.

Think about how you can use this effect to your advantage—you can intensify the impact of your hair color by wearing a color that contrasts with it, or downplay the redness of your eyes after a night of hard partying by wearing a light blue, etc. The trick here is that there isn’t a color (speaking broadly) that doesn’t work for you, but you might need to shop around to find the right tone of that color. (Like, for me, cool reds work, but warm reds make me look sort of jaundiced. The blue undertone counteracts the red’s effect to a degree that makes it wearable.)

Fashion Neutrals

In color theory, a neutral is a color that has no hue, but that isn’t actually a very useful definition for clothing. Instead, I think of neutrals as having a minimum impact on the perception of your coloring. In practice, that means everyone has different neutrals: one family that’s roughly the same as your skin tone (these will simply disappear; the various skin tones used in womens’ hosiery are the main example), and one that’s roughly complementary to it (these will slightly intensify your skin tone without shifting its balance of colors). In both cases, less saturated colors are more neutral-acting.

The complementary family is interesting because it includes denim. Most people have a couple of shades of denim they look good in and several they don’t look that good in, and this is why—the colors closest to the complement of your skin tone will exactly bring out your natural color, which is often the most flattering.

I don’t generally think of white and black as neutrals, because they’re extremely high-impact colors. Black acts like a super-saturated color, taking away the color from your face and making it look more contrasty, which will highlight any blemishes or irregularities you have, so if you do wear it, it’s a good idea to interrupt it near the face unless your complexion is really clear and luminous. To add insult to injury, black doesn’t reflect any light onto you, which exaggerates shadows (under most conditions you’re lit from mostly overhead). White is more forgiving to the complexion, but less to the figure—it has a lot of visual volume. If you’re built for it, a slim-cut white shirt is a great thing that illuminates you and catches the eye from across the room, but don’t wear it on a part of the body you want to minimize.


Patterns behave in complex ways, visually. The large-scale impact of a pattern is basically similar to the solid color it looks like from a distance. However, the colors that compose it have their own effects, and as you recall from Silhouette, the very fact that it’s a pattern rather than a flat color makes it more visually weighty.

The other important thing to be aware of, with patterns, is the effect of patterns with dominant lines. Just as with lines in the silhouette, lines in a pattern lead the eye in the direction of their motion and interrupt the eye in the other direction. That’s why horizontal lines make you look wider and vertical lines make you look taller. This effect isn’t quite as strong with patterns of lower contrast or small scale, so if you’re looking askance at a buttondown because it’s got horizontal pinstripes, don’t worry about it too much. (That’s a pretty daring pattern because it’s not traditional at all, but it’s not particularly dangerous, visually.) As you might suspect, grids tend to cancel themselves out.

Color and Color Together

There are a couple of well-known ways to combine colors, based on their relationships on the color wheel. Again, I don’t think we need to get into the nuts and bolts of color theory, but it’s useful to think about the ways colors interrelate. Generally, when you’re putting together an outfit, you want to start with a dominant color (the color with the most visible area) that is flattering for you, and build color relationships around that color.

A couple of ways to put colors together:

  • Monochromatic: All colors are tints and shades of the dominant color. They vary in saturation and brightness but not hue. The monochromatic scheme can be really high-impact if executed in e.g. orange or yellow, but in greens, blues, and greys it’s pretty subtle.
  • Complementary: The dominant color and its complement—the color opposite to it on the color wheel. Complementary schemes are almost always pretty high-impact, because they have a very strong built-in contrast.
  • Split Complementary: One color and the two colors adjacent to its complement. Any of the colors may be dominant. Still contrasty, but a more subtle statement than the direct complementary scheme. Omitting one of the three colors can sometimes create a pretty interesting color relationship, but it’s risky.
  • Analogous: Two or three colors adjacent to one another on the color wheel. This is a pretty colorful way to go about your life, but it’s also relatively safe, as in hard to screw up.

Color and Pattern Together

Combining color and pattern is a pretty advanced technique that’s hard to master. One safe way to start is to wear a color that actually appears in the pattern; you can be sure that that color will work with every other color in the design. It’s a little more challenging to match by eye, but also relatively safe, to pair a pattern with the complement of one of the dominant colors in the pattern. Doing so will draw more attention to the pattern than color-matching does. Of course, it’s always safe to pair a pattern with white.

Once you’re comfortable pairing colors and patterns this way, your eye for color is probably developed enough that you can confidently make more subtle pairings. Refer to the color schemes above.

Pairing Patterns

This is a complex topic that deserves its own post, and we’ll tackle it farther down the line. For now, this concludes today’s lesson, and we’ll see you Thursday for the last lesson in Unit 1, the intro to accessories. See you then!

Spotlight: shopping online, silhouette examples by Elizabeth
9 January, 2010, 11:42 pm
Filed under: Basic Concepts | Tags: , , ,

Shopping online

Shopping online is a little tougher because you can’t try clothes on. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it, though. You just have to do a little extra legwork.

If you’re just browsing, you need to pay attention to measurements to get your sizing right. Get yourself a tailor’s tape measure; they’re like a buck at a fabric shop. (It’s really hard to measure clothes accurately with rulers; clothing is neither rigid nor straight, after all.) Measure a piece you already own, that fits right, to figure out what size you’re looking for. Here is a little guide on how to measure a garment so you know you’re on the same page as the sellers. Armed with those numbers, you’re much more likely to end up buying clothes that fit the way you expect them to.

If you’re looking for a specific, hard-to-find item, think about setting up a Google alert for an appropriate search term, so you’ll be able to jump on it if it should turn up on eBay or something. Be as specific as you can! Include brand, size, and style in your terms; “46 double-breasted Armani suit brown” is going to pick up a lot fewer false positives than “suit”is.

A demonstration of silhouette
On Thursday, we talked a bit on price and how to shop. One of the inevitable questions that comes up during comparison-shopping is “Why would I buy [Garment X] when I can get a cheaper one somewhere else?” Sometimes the answer is that there’s no good reason to spend more. Sometimes, though, the answer is about small stylistic details that make a world of difference in how the garment is perceived when you wear it. Here are some examples.

Hanes Long-sleeve T-shirt: $7.99

Here we have your standard long-sleeved tee. On this model, the shirt looks pretty baggy; the shoulder seams are pretty far down his arms and you can see excess fabric at his back and wrists. It’s clearly cut for someone with wider shoulders and a little more mass in the torso and arms.

REI OXT Men’s Long-Sleeve T-shirt: $29.50

This one’s a little more slender in the arm and torso; the sleeves are also uncuffed and it’s shorter so it won’t bunch up around the waist as much. We can see that these models are similarly built if we look carefully, but the overall effect of this shirt is noticeably thinner and longer-looking, because it avoids the weighing down and shortening effects of excess fabric.

A|X Logo Panel Crew from Armani Exchange: $58.00

This one is cut similarly to the last, except that it has a lower neckline and still thinner sleeves, and it’s a little shorter. It also seems to be made of a slightly heavier fabric, which smooths out some of the wrinkles. The overall effect is longer and thinner again, with the low neckline adding apparent length to the neck (which makes you look taller). The colors work with this too, using bright contrasting elements at the sleeves and neckline to draw the eye, and dark panels to shave away the sides of the body, which taper toward the chest so they create a V-shape.

Since this shirt’s so closely cut, it’s going to be a lot less forgiving than the others of a few extra pounds, and if I’m right that it’s a heavier fabric, it’s less versatile to layer with. On the other hand, it’s a great silhouette.

So, when you’re looking at similar garments with very different price points, that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for. Each cut will flatter a different kind of body. These particular examples are made of different fabrics, too; that’s another thing to keep in mind, since the weight of your clothes affects when you’ll be able to wear them comfortably and what you can wear them with.

Lesson 6: How to Shop by Shreyas
7 January, 2010, 9:26 pm
Filed under: Basic Concepts | Tags: , , ,

If you were like me, when you were a child clothes just magically appeared, and when you had the privilege and money to shop for yourself, you really didn’t know how to go about it, and you ended up with a good number of things in your closet that nobody has any use for. That happens because shopping effectively is a skill, and it isn’t one that most parents teach their children.

Luckily, you’ve got me.

Getting What You Want

The first thing to know about shopping is that it’s kind of like hunting: You’ll do better when you know what you’re after and you plan appropriately. Whenever I go shopping for clothes, I have a list in my head (much like a grocery list) of what I’m looking for. For instance, “Socks, t-shirt (maybe lime ? maybe blue graphic to go with that sweater), and my jeans have holes in them AGAIN, I guess I should get something a little more well-made this time.” You don’t even have to be that specific: “I’ve got a date on Thursday, and none of my cold-weather clothing looks good on me any more. I need something warm and slightly dressy—maybe a heavy button-down, or a nice sweater?”

You don’t necessarily have to limit yourself to this list when you’re actually making purchases; its purpose is to guide your attention and help you remember what you actually need.

The other thing about shopping is that sometimes you don’t end up finding what you want. Sometimes it just isn’t there! That’s okay, though. Think of it as recon; later you’ll have a better idea of what you can find where.

Speaking of recon, do this. You’ve probably picked out a few stores that generally carry clothes you like in your price range (if you haven’t, think about that, and list them in your style journal, or look at Getting Started farther down the page); try and hit every one when you go to the mall and see what’s new. You might find yourself saying, “Hey, I like that thing, maybe I’ll pick one up later,” or “Hm, this season’s clothes don’t really interest me,” either of which helps you plan future shopping trips. You’ll also find, if you look around, that different locations of the same chain may carry very different inventories: I find that the H&M in Holyoke is a lot more interested in weird, attention-grabby clothes than their location in Stamford, which is more focused on basics.

The knowledge you acquire from doing all this recon is to make the finding-and-purchasing part of your shopping trip faster and easier; you can head straight to the store that’s most likely to have what you’re looking for. Make sure to jot down where you like to shop for what in your journal, and the price ranges: for example, I like to buy jeans at Target, because color and cut change, and I’m hard on jeans; shirts at Express, because they have beautifully tailored button-downs that work for me when I’m in okay shape; accessories at Guess, because there’s a lot of leather and chrome, and although they’re pricey, I buy accessories rarely enough that I can afford the splurge; and ties from my favorite local men’s boutique, Jackson and Connor, because they’re astonishingly beautiful. I don’t buy shirts at Guess, because they’re too expensive and loud; I don’t buy pants at Jackson and Connor because I wear out jeans too quickly; and I don’t buy accessories at Target because they usually look like something I bought somewhere else a year earlier.

Once you’ve found the right garment, try it on to make sure the length and fit are right. There are no hard standards for mens’ clothing sizes, so they tend to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Different stores also have different target customers, and the cut of their clothes reflects this: Abercrombie & Fitch makes clothes in a noticeably beefier cut than skinny Hollister, for instance, and more traditionalist department-store lines tend toward more conservative, roomier silhouettes. European lines are sometimes very skinny indeed. This means that you might be Medium at one store, Large at another, and XL at a third. Nothing is wrong! That’s just how the garment industry works. N.B.: Even if you know your size at a particular store, you should try on everything before you buy it anyway, because manufacturing isn’t perfect and occasionally stores modify their cuts, so clothes will vary slightly in size. No two shirts are perfectly identical.

Sometimes, if you look closely, you’ll notice the mannequins at various stores have different shapes to them. Some clothing stores have designed their own mannequins– not just for creepy ad campaigns like the one for Old Navy, but because their clothing is structured for a specific body type, and putting it on a mannequin with that body type improves the look of the clothes. I know I can’t shop at Hollister, for example, because one look at their slim-shouldered, skinny-armed mannequins tells me their clothing is not for me. The exception here is for stores which carry big and tall sizes; mannequins aren’t made for these, except maybe at some higher-end clothing stores which specialize in big and tall clothing. So if you’re outside of the averages, then mannequin-hunting won’t do you much good; if you’re pretty much an average dude, however, checking out the mannequin silhouettes couldn’t hurt.

Getting a good price

Much of getting a good price is timeliness and comparison shopping. If you’re looking for basics that you can get at any of several locations, like plain t-shirts or pants, check all those locations before you pick anything up and see if any of them are having a sale, or simply keep in mind who’s at what point on the price range. It’s probably possible to do this kind of research online, too, which saves you gas, time, and shoe leather.

For seasonal garments, the best prices happen just when they’re going out of season (when it starts getting warm, stores try to clear their racks of winter coats, etc.), but the tradeoff you make there is that their stock will be depleted, so the selection isn’t as good. The prices do tend to decline steadily as the season goes on, though, and they’re highest just when the weather changes and the new stock comes in, so you can balance those factors to your liking as long as you’ve got last season’s gear to keep you going until you decide it’s time to strike.

Besides the end-of-season sales, there are usually significant sales just after Christmas, and often just before it as well. Keep track of community events like sidewalk sales, too; any big promotional opportunity for a store will lead to a sale.

Finally, there’s always a sale or clearance rack somewhere in the store, which is a good place to check for things as long as you aren’t trying to get in on the latest five-minutes-old fad. They are usually in the back, or in a corner. Look for the least accessible, least trafficked place in the store. (Bafflingly, Express puts their sale racks front-and-center, which is really convenient for me; Elizabeth thinks the tactic they’re employing here is to trick guys into buying things while their better halves are poking around the womens’ section. It works for us because she doesn’t shop at Express.)

Getting good quality

For us, “good” quality means “sufficient for our needs.” I’m not going to tell you to go out and buy the very best stuff money can buy, made of only the best organic spider silk. Any ass could do that, and it’s not going to help you.

For clothes, quality is mostly a measure of durability and tailoring. Durability can be sacrificed for clothing that you don’t expect to keep for long (e.g. graphic shirts, trendy going-out clothes) or treat roughly (sneakers for gardening). Timeless staples that you treat gently should usually be more durable; you’ll pay a little more for them, but the difference between a $100 suit and a $300 suit or between a $15 sweater and a $50 sweater can be years of wear. It’s an investment.

You can check durability by looking at the seams of the article of clothing, and also assessing the strength and thickness of the fabric. If something is well-made, the seams will feel strong and look straight, and will not pucker; puckering happens when the seams are not ironed flat before sewing, and shortcuts tend to belie other workmanship issues. If there are loose buttons or hanging threads, that’s a dead giveaway that what you’re looking at isn’t made to last.

Tailoring is a different matter: sometimes the difference between an $8 and $80 white t-shirt is the tailoring. The difference is difficult to describe, but easy to pick out when you try a shirt on: two shirts that look nearly identical on the rack can create wildly different silhouettes. In the case of a designer t-shirt like this, the extra $72 is not for fancier fabric, but for a different, harder-to-find silhouette. Whether that silhouette works for you, and is worth the money to you, is entirely subjective. (I have a $60 T-shirt I bought from Jackson and Connor because it made me look 20 pounds thinner. The vanity was worth it to me, and the confidence I have wearing it is priceless.)

Getting Started

If you’re really not comfortable going out shopping by yourself, because you don’t really know where to go or what to look for, try out Elizabeth’s ‘rule of three’ technique: Go out shopping with a stylish girl who likes you and a guy friend whose judgement you trust. Your girl friend’s job is to find clothes for you to try on; your guy friend’s job is to tell you when those clothes make you look silly. This is time-consuming, and you’ll probably get dragged all over the mall because window shopping is a big-deal recreational activity for many American women, but you’ll end up with a few new clothes, and more importantly, an idea of where they came from. After one or two such trips you can start just going back to the places where you successfully found things you liked. Of course, many men simply hate shopping; in that case, inviting some friends along may make the ordeal much more palatable, and hopefully these tips should also help ease the pain.

Special considerations

7-10% of men are red-green colorblind, which makes choosing clothing which looks flattering difficult. If you’re colorblind, try to bring someone with you when you go shopping regardless (at least, when looking to buy non-monochromatic clothing. Red-green colorblindness can affect the perception of shades of colors too, so it’s not useful to only stay away from red and green clothing.) Of course, it’s a good excuse to strike up a conversation with an attractive salesperson, as well: “Excuse me, but I’m colorblind. Can you tell me how this shade works on my skin?”

Stay tuned for our special Saturday post.

Lesson 5: Silhouette by Shreyas
5 January, 2010, 3:55 am
Filed under: Basic Concepts | Tags: ,

Happy new year, guys! I hope you all had a great holiday.

Today we’re going to talk about silhouette. Silhouette is about the outline of your body. As with all things in fashion, you can manipulate the way it’s perceived with the cut and color of your clothes.

The Ideal Silhouette

Our goal right now is to look healthy and strong. (We’ll get to tall and thin later in this post.) People read that from the proportions of landmark points on the body: the shoulders, waist, and hips. For men, it’s desirable to have wider shoulders than hips, and a waist only slightly narrower than the hips. If you’re already built like that, great! Having good proportions opens up a lot of options for you.

If you’re not built precisely like that, there are some things you can do.

If you’re of average or thin build and your hips are significantly narrower than your shoulders, you can look into trousers that are made of heavier fabrics, such as corduroy, winter-weight wool, the stiffer kinds of denim, and so on. It’s easier to add apparent mass than take it away, so that’s my first suggested line of defense. You could also explore styles of shirt that draw attention to your neck rather than your shoulders, like v-necks, polos, ringer tees, and collared shirts (wear the top button open). Here’s the thing to remember: Details add emphasis. Anything more visually complex—textured areas, contrasting colors, thing like collars and epaulets—will draw the eyes and make the adjacent features stand out more. By the same principle, if you’re trying to de-emphasize your shoulders you should avoid shoulder stripes, baseball tees and raglans. They’ll make you look even more top-heavy.

If you’re wide around the waist, wear straight-legged pants, not tapered ones, so the eye isn’t drawn to a bulge around your middle, and chunky shoes or boots may help to anchor the eye. Similarly, wear shirts that fit comfortably around your middle; stretching a garment across a feature makes it seem bigger than it is. (This is also the reason that athletic sorts of guys tend to wear shirts with tight arms.) You can also wear structured tops—jackets, military shirts, certain sweaters—to add presence to your shoulders. The object of the game is to emphasize your limbs so their mass appears proportionate to that of your torso, in order to end up looking like a brick rather than a couch potato.

In addition to this, you can try to make yourself look taller and longer. To make your legs look longer, wear pants without cuffs and be sure they’re the right length, so they don’t pool around your shoes. This creates a long, straight line which makes you appear taller. Similarly, short sleeves or long sleeves rolled up will visually shorten your arms. In general, you want to avoid cutting across the widest part of any part of your body: the upper arm, the thigh, the belly. When selecting shirts, be sure they’re long enough, so they go past that widest part.

If you have small shoulders, then do all that stuff I warned top-heavy guys not to do: wear structured tops with details around the shoulders. You could find one of those gradient-dyed tees that’s more saturated at the top and more muted at the bottom. Avoid things that draw attention to the center. Or you can do pushups. Shoulders are one of the easiest, fastest parts of the body to build muscle on, and it hardly takes any time at all.

A Quick Understanding of Emphasis

Just to underline the logic behind all those tips above, here’s the things that create emphasis:

  • Saturated color. Whenever two colors are adjacent, the one that’s more vibrant draws more attention.
  • Lines of contrast (differently colored features, such as ringers on tees, and large-scale patterns as well). Less contrast means less emphasis.
  • More fabric—layers, pleats, pockets, seams, etc.
  • Other details—reflective fabric, graphics, patches, etc.
  • Pattern—this operates on the same principle as larger contrasty areas. As the scale of the pattern decreases, the degree of emphasis does too.
  • Texture—Similarly, a fabric with more texture is more salient. Velvet, corduroy, and satin are a lot flashier than jersey.

By avoiding these things—using simply structured garments without a lot of decoration or strong coloring—you can de-emphasize an area.

That’s all for today. See you Thursday for an intro to shopping.