MANual of Style


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.

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Lesson 12: Jackets by Shreyas
4 February, 2010, 11:16 pm
Filed under: Casualwear | Tags: , , , ,

I love jackets. Living in New England, you don’t have a choice but to have a warm layer you can wear all the time, and I find that in cold places like this, you’ll find that almost everyone has a great coat—because you need to wear one so often, it’s a smart thing to invest a little extra thought and money in. (If you live in a warmer climate, put in the thought anyway, but also keep in mind that you can make good use of an item with a shorter lifespan, since you won’t be using it as hard.)

Today we’re going to talk about short jackets. The trench and long woolen coat are a little more formal, despite the best efforts of Dick Tracy and Matrix lovers to turn the trench into everyday wear.

Choosing a Color

Remember what I said earlier about outerwear: it is easier to make it work with your whole wardrobe if it’s one of your neutrals. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should never have colored jackets (In my time I’ve had red, green, sky blue…), but they require a little more thoughtfulness to integrate into an outfit. If you do choose a strong color, it must be a color that looks really good on you, not one that’s merely okay, since while you’re wearing it, it’ll be the most visible color in your outfit.

When to Wear a Casual Jacket

As a rule of thumb, I think that as you shed layers you should become less formal, not more. Ergo, don’t wear a casual jacket with your interview suit. There’s a sort of cognitive dissonance that happens if you take off a piece of clothing and start looking more dressed up, and I generally think that your casualwear shouldn’t be unsettling.

Formal jackets should never be worn indoors, but lighter casual jackets can, especially if you’re somewhere you can’t settle in, like the mall. I wouldn’t suggest that you wear a snowboard jacket to your Sociology class, but you can certainly leave your track jacket on in a café and no one will think anything of it. Anything less massive than a biggish sweater can act as an integral part of an outfit, rather than as a removable outer layer.

The Bomber

Shades of Greige Herringbone Bomber, $165

Descended from WWI pilot gear, the bomber jacket has lots of functional details: a high collar, snug cuffs, a fitted waist, and a wind flap over the zipper closure. It’s designed to keep cold air out in windy conditions. The constructed silhouette of the bomber flatters the waist, but it can be bulky, particularly since many bombers have quilted or shearling linings. Don’t put anything in the breast pockets; if you do, they’ll sag. I particularly like the flat pockets of the jacket above; you’ll find that many military-styled items have pleated or bellows pockets, which add a lot of weight.

The bomber-and-scarf look is traditional and iconic, by the way, for a good reason: it looks cool. The most traditional implementation uses a pretty hefty scarf, but it’s more modern to use something more lightweight, which will drape rather than bulk up—the softness and motion add contrast with the jacket’s structure.

The Puffy Coat

Fred Perry Quilted Jacket, $215

Puffy/quilted jackets are often quite warm, but they also tend to add a lot of volume in an overstuffed way. The jacket you see above is one of the slimmest specimens I’ve seen. Skiing and snowboarding jackets are usually of the puffy kind as well; as a matter of personal taste I don’t wear snow-sports jackets unless it’s actually the season for the sport. Since they add so much bulk and erase the contours of the body, I suggest wearing with caution unless you’re quite thin. Wear them with narrow pants to counteract the Michelin Man effect.

The Track Jacket

Oakley Faded Track Jacket, $46

Track jackets generally offer a slimming silhouette, backed up by ribbed cuffs and waist. They also have a collar that can be zipped to a stand-up position; that can add some height to your look, but if the collar is so tight it stretches when you zip it up, the folds that result from stretching it will cancel out the effect. Personally, I don’t wear my collar up unless it’s windy. Track jackets sometimes come with raglan sleeves, so if the raglan look works for you, you should go and find one. As with other sports jackets, I personally feel like it’s a little more appropriate to wear track jackets when the sport is in season, but don’t let that stop you.

I wouldn’t ordinarily accessorize a track jacket. The collar isn’t the right shape to accommodate a scarf, and it’s too lightweight to wear with gloves. You should generally zip up a track jacket whenever you’re wearing it, because the structure of the collar makes it drape in an unattractive way when it’s open.

The Leather Jacket

Diesel Lade Leather Jacket, $550

Just some notes about leather here—jackets of many styles are made from leather, from the track look here to the iconic double-breasted motorcycle jacket. Leather jackets often have metal details and linings of some delicacy, so they require extra care. Since leather shouldn’t stretch very much (it weakens the material), you should be absolutely sure you have the right size before you choose a leather jacket. Unlike fabric, a tight spot in a leather jacket won’t gradually creep into place and become more comfortable, without damaging the stitching and lining. I recommend trying jackets on until you find one that’s uncomfortably small, and then go one size up from that; don’t get a jacket that’s too big, either, because the way leather folds breaks up your silhouette and adds a lot of visual distraction you don’t want.

I prefer to wear wool gloves with leather jackets. For some people, wearing matching leather gloves works, but it’s not for me.

The Hoodie

Unconditional Zip-Off @ ASOS, £290

Since hoodies have more substance around the neck, they’re good for adding volume to your shoulders; by the same token you shouldn’t wear a hoodie with a scarf or turtleneck, because all the mass will make it look like you don’t have a neck at all. Although historically hoodies have been baggy rather than tailored, more recently designers have been introducing slimmer and more constructed silhouettes, and playful pieces like the one above (which is pretty damn cool if you ask me, but since it’s so unusual it’s a big style statement).

There are more jackets in the world, but I hope that’ll give you an idea of what you’ve got to look for and think about. Remember: wardrobe integration, silhouette, accessories. Should you ever wear it open? Collar up or down? At some point I’ll talk about layering in greater depth, too. For now, I’m signing off. See you on Saturday, when we’ll talk about what it means to be a douchebag.