MANual of Style

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.


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.


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.

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!

“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.

Products I Like: My Style by Shreyas
24 January, 2010, 12:08 pm
Filed under: Special | Tags: ,

Here are some things that I like. I don’t own any of them, but if I did I’d wear them.

Levi’s Authentics in Dusk, Straight Leg

These are the sort of jeans I wear every day: A little slouchy, but not too wide in the leg, in an unsaturated wash. The subdued color doesn’t take too much upkeep, and it frees me to wear more daringly colored tops.

Guess Byron Shirt

I like this shirt a lot. It’s not too fitted around the waist, so it’ll still fit all right if I gain a few pounds, but it’s cut slim overall, and has a nice vertical detail, which adds a nice height and deemphasizes the stomach area (since the line is straight, the eye will just skim along it rather than pausing in the middle). I like the subtle sheen of the fabric and the glossy detail, which add richness.

Express Half-Zip Sweater

I own a couple of half-zip sewaters in this style; the mock turtleneck effect adds presence to my shoulders. I particularly like the color of this one and the details on the sleeve and wrists—again, drawing the eye to my arms (which are nice) rather than my middle (which is squishy).

The North Face ‘Nimble’ Jacket

By now I think you get the drift. For outerwear like this jacket, I prefer grays, so I can freely layer colors underneath with relative impunity. Notice the shoulder and side details.

You can see that, simply by following my style rules, these garments all fall together into an outfit effortlessly. Neat, right? See you on Tuesday!

Finding Your Own Style: Your Fashion Rules by Shreyas
21 January, 2010, 9:34 am
Filed under: Special | Tags: , , , ,

In the past few weeks, you’ve put down some important stuff in your style journal: thoughts about your shape and what silhouettes work for it, colors that look good on you, maybe some observations about clothes you already own and like, stores in your price range where you can get that stuff. Maybe you’ve picked out some people whose style you admire and would like to emulate.

Let’s start putting that knowledge together.

First, deconstruct your style icons so you can decide which aspects of what they’re doing work for you and which aspects don’t. (If you don’t have any style icons, flip through a few magazines and find some pictures you like.) You’re not looking for particular pieces when you’re doing this; you’re looking for ideas about color, cut, detail, accessories, and so on. Check out the case studies in the last post to see what I mean.

Color Palette

Especially in TV and movies, costume directors tend to create a very tight color palette for each character. This can work to your advantage if you’re just starting to branch out from a mostly monochrome wardrobe or just building a wardrobe from scratch; by simply lifting a color scheme from a character you are sure that the colors work well together, and there won’t be too many of them to handle.

If that’s not how you’re going about this, go over your list of colors that look good on you, and pick a few you like to be key colors for your new style. You’re not confined to these colors; just keep them in mind when you shop so you can buy things that relate to them.

Pattern and Texture

Choosing your textures and patterns is a more freewheeling choice; you’re not really restricted by “what works.” Just decide whether you want to be a bold pattern kind of guy or not. That choice goes hand in hand with texture: apart from houndstooth, most textured fabrics are solid-colored (or speckled like tweed), so if you do want to be wearing a lot of patterns you’re going to be restricted in the kind of textures you can wear.

If you do want to be a bold pattern kind of guy, every time you buy something you’ll want to check the pattern and see where the lines are leading.

Cut and Construction

Look at your notes on silhouette. Do you have a feature you want to focus on, or one you want to deflect attention from? This may be a place where what works for you will diverge from what works for your style icons: Daniel Meade tends to wear slim-cut suits I’d love to wear, but I know I’ve got more workouts ahead of me before I can pull that off, so instead I opt for Ianto’s bolder lapel choices and stay away from double-breasted jackets. Fortunately, all my style icons prefer really heavily constructed clothing, even in their casualwear (check out Michael Weatherly’s fantastic ochre jacket in my last post), and my silhouette really benefits from heavy construction.

Writing your own rules

Once you’ve thought about this stuff critically, it should be easy to come up with a few simple guidelines for what to buy when you’re constructing your wardrobe. When I refer to “fashion rules” from now on, I won’t be talking about crap like how you shouldn’t wear white shoes after labor day; instead, I’ll be referring to the rules you’re going to write for yourself, right now. Open up your style journal and write down 3-5 guidelines that will inform your style choices from now on. (Things like “Leather is cruel” are not rules, per se; if you have strong ethical obligations that inform your style, they’re just that: obligations and considerations. Note these as well, but they don’t count towards your rules! You have to have a certain number of strong aesthetic guidelines in order to construct a coherent style.)

Here are my rules for me, if you’re curious:

  • No bold patterns. (This has been really hard for me, as I’m a recovering pattern addict. But the patterns I loved were graphical and of-the-moment, and I want clothing that stays in style longer.)
  • Wear strong colors: no beige, no khaki. My neutrals are grays and desaturated blue denim. I look best in warm jewel tones.
  • Constructed silhouettes with broad shoulders and straight legs work best for me. No shapeless sweatshirts or tapered jeans.
  • Accessories are where I don’t have to worry about staying classic: Shiny, big metal pieces, leather, and of-the-moment stuff is perfectly okay.

It helps to think about the style of the places you shop, by the way. You’re a lot more likely to find that awesome bomber jacket at Fossil, whose leather goods are of nice quality and range in style from classic to steampunk, than at American Eagle.

How This Works in Application

So, one day I decided, “I want to dress more like Daniel Meade.” I started watching him more carefully, noticing what he was wearing. Elizabeth helpfully found me an interview where Eric Mabius said he likes to wear suits by Ozwald Boateng, who’s a Savile Row tailor, which clearly I can’t afford, but looking at his website shed some light on the style I was looking for. (Apparently Mabius likes playing Meade because he gets to wear all his favorite clothes in character.)

Daniel’s jewel-tone palette works well for me, so I stuck with that, although in practice I lean more heavily on dark reds and yellowy greens, and less on the character’s deep blue and dark brown. At one point I also had about five shirts in some shade of violet, which just happened because I look great in violet and I kept buying shirts to go with the same tie (Hey, I love that tie, okay?). The constructed silhouette also works for me; a few months ago I saw Daniel in a structured hoodie made of t-shirt fabric, and recently managed to find one in a great shade of crimson.

Every now and then I wander into H&M and spot some slim buttondown in a big, high-contrast floral print (which is, bluntly, their answer to the Hawaiian shirt) and say, “Hey awesome! I should wear that!” Then my style rules kick in, and I ask myself what my icons would look like wearing that shirt (pretty silly.) It goes back on the shelf. What I’m drawn to, on the hanger, isn’t always what looks good on me.

That’s it for today. I’d love to hear about your style rules (or style problems)! Next week we’re going to get into the details of the specific garments that make up your wardrobe.

Creating Your Own Style: Case Studies by Shreyas
16 January, 2010, 11:41 am
Filed under: Special

Sorry about the late post, guys. I was watching Torchwood and lost track of time. On Thursday I’m going to talk about creating your style, armed with the knowledge you’ve acquired recently about what colors and silhouettes work for you. Today, I thought I’d lighten the material a little.

I find it’s useful to look at people in the media for style ideas, because whenever those people appear in public, they’re selling their brand, and as a result, many of them have very consistent and distinct styles. It makes them ideal subjects for study.

Case 1 (and 2): Ianto Jones and Daniel Meade

These two characters, Ianto Jones of Torchwood and Daniel Meade of Ugly Betty, are played by actors with similar coloring, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that their color palettes are basically identical: jewel tones, moderated by white, charcoal, and rich chocolaty brown. These are men who aren’t afraid of pink.

You’ll see these characters dressed mostly in solid colors, with the occasional pinstriped suit thrown in. They achieve diversity in their wardrobe with color and texture; Daniel especially distinguishes himself with very rich fabrics. Sometimes you’ll see him do things like using a velvet blazer to add luxury to a nice tailored shirt and dark jeans, for instance. Ianto is more buttoned up, so you won’t catch him in denim, but the thought process is still there: use one luxurious item (for him, usually a spectacular tie like those pictured) to pull together a boldly colored outfit.

The key thing, to dress like these guys, is to make one color the key to your look, and build around it: in the second photo, you can tell that the tie was chosen to complement the shirt, and the jacket is dark and simple so it doesn’t compete.

Case 3: Tony DiNozzo

Michael Weatherly’s character on NCIS is a lot more casual. He favors polo shirts and v-necked tees or sweaters, to draw the eye upward (Weatherly is a little squishy in the middle). His color palette is more muted, relying more on earth tones and the colors of leather, wool, and wear-and-tear. DiNozzo is also much more tolerant of pattern; when you do see him in a buttoned shirt, it’s often dressed down with a bold stripe. This character’s attitude is more relaxed, and it shows in the wardrobe: rather than building outfits around special key items, he can assemble them without a lot of work by sticking to his color scheme and resisting the temptation to layer or accessorize too much. The character comes off as well-dressed because the garments are tailored well, even though they’re not flashy, and again, the thought process is simple and clear: Keep the emphasis on the face using dramatic necklines; use subdued color; indulge in pattern and the textures of natural materials.

On Thursday, I’ll talk more about these thought processes, how to create your own, and how to boil it down to a few simple rules to keep in mind when shopping or getting dressed. See you then!