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.


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.

Lesson 11: Jeans by Shreyas
2 February, 2010, 10:07 pm
Filed under: Casualwear | Tags: , , , ,

Though you can wear other pants casually, today we’re just going to talk about the cornerstone of casual buttwear: jeans. Jeans are America’s greatest contribution to fashion; they’re sturdy, versatile, and expressive. They have wildly different personalities: a man who wears Wranglers would have little to say to one who wears Rag & Bone. Today we’ll talk about why some jeans are so expensive, which jeans fit your personality, and choosing the right fit, wash, and length.

About Denim

Denim is a unique fabric because of the way indigo dye works. Rather than sinking into the thread and dyeing it evenly the whole way through, indigo bonds to the thread surface. That’s what allows denim to develop the shaded patterns of fading and wear that it does—the cores of denim threads are lighter-colored than the outsides, so as the cloth is subjected to abrasion, the contact surfaces become lighter. (Most denim sold today has been made with synthetic indigo dyes that act similarly, but not identically, to the real thing. Real indigo dye has more imperfections in it, which lead to more unpredictable and interesting fade patterns.)

A lot of jean manufacturers manipulate this fading process in various ways, like the infamous acid wash of the 80s or the more recent manipulations of fading and “whiskering”—artificial crease patterns in the crotch. You can learn how to do your own artificial jean-aging on your favorite DIY website, too, but I prefer to let jeans fade and wear naturally. The color variations of jeans also come from post-dyeing processes; indigo only comes in one color (a deep, cool blue), and any other color notes come from operations that manufacturers call “washes.”

High-end jeans are generally made with selvedge denim, which means that the fabric was woven on special looms that create a tighter, stronger fabric. These shuttle looms are slower and therefore more expensive to operate than mass-production projectile looms, so the jeans are more expensive. You can identify selvedge jeans by looking at the inside of the outer leg seam; regular denim will have a cut-and-stitched edge, while selvedge denim will have a woven edge that usually has a brightly-colored stripe running along it.


There are basically two points of fit for jeans: rise and leg. “Rise” is the distance between crotch and waistline. Low-rise jeans are for hipsters with hipbones and guys with pot bellies; low-rise means they cut directly across what is typically the widest part of your frame, so they’re good to show off flat stomachs or to avoid cutting across the belly. (If you’re one of the latter cases, make sure your shirts are long enough to cover your belly when you raise your arms, because your pants won’t do the job for you.) Medium-rise is what I recommend for most people. The waistband of these jeans should sit slightly below the waist, but safely high enough to cover your buttcrack. (Low-rise jeans wrap around the hip bones; medium-rise sit on them.) The medium rise is forgiving of less-than-perfect abs without looking too uptight.

Finally, the high-rise jean, whose waistband actually reaches the waist. Who should wear these? Well, a lot of vintage-style jeans have a high rise, so if you’re going for a Man Men casual look or a sort of old-fashioned workwear effect, go for it. It’s easier to wear high-waisted jeans with a tucked-in shirt, too. (The added bulk of the shirt would otherwise conceal your waist and make you look like you have a gut.) Either way, it takes a pretty intentionally-styled outfit to make high-rises work, and you must take care not to wear jeans that go above your waist, or you’ll look like Urkel.

The leg has a lot more variables; each brand styles their legs differently. They do fall into some basic categories, though: the skinny leg, boot cut, straight leg, and wide leg.

  • Skinny-leg jeans work best for slim dudes without a lot of muscle definition: the point of the skinny leg is to emphasize tall, lean lines.
  • Straight-leg jeans work for most builds, and if your thighs are much larger than your calves, it can provide good camouflage.  The idea with the straight leg is to emphasize height, but focus more on strong than lean. (So if you’re a skinny kid who’d rather look strong than lean, or a skinny kid who’s also a bike messenger, wear these instead of skinny jeans.)
  • Boot-cut jeans are wider at the bottom than straight-leg jeans, and are usually narrowest at the knees. It creates the look of muscle definition if you don’t have much, conceals extremely large calves, and is good for people who actually wear boots. If you already have strong legs, though, you might find the thighs uncomfortably tight. (These and the skinny jeans run the greatest risk of looking like women’s jeans if worn incorrectly.)
  • Wide-leg jeans are enlarged versions of the straight-leg jean. They lack any definition of silhouette, so they’re good for making a specific fashion statement (“I enjoy urban streetwear”), but not for making your butt or legs catch the eye.

When you’re shopping for jeans, you have to look at your butt in the mirror. (If you’re not comfortable doing this, bring a friend to look at your butt for you.) Jeans that fit properly will show some definition. Some styles will wrap all the way around (Wranglers are infamous for looking painted-on in this region), while ones with roomier legs will contour to the roundest part and fall from there. Either way, you can tell your pants don’t fit if either there’s a horizontal crease at your seat, which means they’re too tight (there should be enough room for you to sit down), or if you can’t find your butt, which means they’re too loose. Also check where the rear pockets are. Unless you’re looking at specialty jeans of one kind or another, the rear pockets shouldn’t reach your thighs. They go on your butt.

Okay, enough of that. What about length? Test! You shouldn’t be able to see your socks when you sit down, and you probably (again, specific styles excepted) don’t want them pooling at the ankles very much. Pooling makes you look shorter, and creates a lot of wear-and-tear on the cuffs, which will make your jeans wear out faster. Wear the same (style of) shoes to the store that you plan to wear with your jeans so you can see how they work together. The shape of your shoes and the thickness of the soles affect how your pants hang, and you’ll want slightly longer pants to wear with, say, work boots, than you would with flip-flops.

Wash & Detailing

We’ve already talked about color. Just go out and pick a wash that you like and look good in, keeping in mind that your pants go next to your shoes. There aren’t a lot of washes like this that are popular now, but ones with a lot of texture or contrast count as patterns when laying out your outfit. I’d also treat complicated hardware or embroidery (adorned rear pockets, button flys, built-in chains, whatever) as accessories. Basically, just remember that interesting details make people look at things.

If you want to preserve the original color and contrast of your jeans, wash them after every few wears. Use cold water, the delicate cycle, and turn the pants inside-out before you wash. Turning them out keeps the dyed surface from rubbing up against your other clothes too much. To create a more contrasted wear pattern, wear them longer between washes, or if you think that’s gross put them in the dryer with some tennis balls on the no-heat cycle (that’ll create a different wear pattern than actually wearing them, though). Always button your jeans before washing them; it takes stress off the fly so it doesn’t wear out as fast.

Join us on Thursday for jackets and outerwear, and on Saturday I think we’ll do a rundown of some denim brands and the way they style their jeans.

Products I like: Shirts by Shreyas
30 January, 2010, 10:06 pm
Filed under: Casualwear | Tags: , , ,

Wicked Quick V-Neck Tee

This shirt is great. It’s got some very nice silhouette-shaping details: the textured dye job makes bright areas at the collar and sleeve hems, drawing the eye to the face and to the widest point of the bicept, which is great for making your muscles look bigger. The sleeves are just the right length (Note that if you’ve got especially long or short arms, your results will vary), and the belly area is subtly darker than the chest, for a slimming effect. Plus, that color is amazing. (It comes in a wide variety of colors, some of which are tamer than this.)

The texture also follows my fashion rule: Wear richer, not fussier, fabrics. It looks handmade and is visually interesting, without being a noisy or distracting design. In addition, the cut is obviously very intentional; hems don’t land like that by accident. (I just found the Wicked Quick brand today, actually, and I’m very impressed.)

MK2 Fitted Stretch Cotton Shirt

I really love the arresting color and black details, but the military style is what makes this shirt stand out for me. Military styles have the strong structure to make my shoulders look their straightest and my torso look its leanest, and the epaulets atop the shoulders help add the perception of bulk where it needs to be. The sleeves are long, but can be rolled and buttoned to a shorter length, making for a neater appearance while still keeping things casual. This is definitely a shirt that could be dressed up or down: with a blazer, the double front pockets would disappear, and you’d simply see a tablespoon of well-tailored crimson cotton. It doesn’t hurt that the model is wearing a shade of dark-wash denim that is a staple in my wardrobe; when I first saw this shirt, I said to myself “Oh! That’s a whole outfit for me, right there.” You know an item is worth purchasing when it mentally pulls together an outfit (or two, or three) with items already in your wardrobe.

Of Vice And Virtue Hooded Henley

I’m always on the lookout for warm clothes with interesting necklines—living where I do, it’s hard to be warm and fashionable. Even with the hood up, the lighter-colored lining on this henley draws attention to the face, and the sleeve detail is a nice thing to have peeking out of the cuffs of a jacket. I like the slim cut on this piece, important when you’re layering, and the extra length on the sleeves to help keep my hands warm and add to the slouchy, casual feel. It’s super casual without making you look like a slob.

Lesson 10: Shirts by Shreyas
28 January, 2010, 8:15 pm
Filed under: Casualwear | Tags: , , , , , , ,

In this unit, we’re going to break down casualwear into specific items of clothing and talk about them in some detail. Let’s start at the top, with shirts.

There are three basic types of shirts: tee shirts, collared shirts, and pullovers (sweaters and the like). Any of these shirts can be casual. There are formal versions of each as well; how do you tell the difference? In a lot of cases, the difference is what you wear them with—that is to say, you can dress the item up or down, as we discussed in the intro.


Tees are the most casual shirt, and there are a lot of different types to choose from.

The basic crew-neck is probably somewhere in everyone’s wardrobe. It’s safe and reliable. Fitted correctly, the shoulder seam should land just at the point of your shoulder and the hemline at the bend of your hip, as on the model. Be sure it’s long enough; check by trying on the shirt and raising your arms straight overhead. If it rides up and exposes your belly, it’s too short. It pays to shop around for tees with the right proportions; if you’re particularly narrow-shouldered you will need to find adequately narrow, long shirts to get the shoulder seams to fit right; a shirt that’s overly wide will make you look small-armed and boxy.

Raglans and baseball tees have a diagonal shoulder seam that ends at the collar. They put a lot of emphasis on the chest and shoulders, particularly if the sleeve color has a lot of contrast with the body color. If you’re narrow in the chest and torso, you’ll want the brighter color on the body section; if you’re wider, then go for raglans with bright sleeves and a darker body. Baseball shirts always have three-quarter length sleeves, which is great if you have nice arms, but otherwise tricky. However, raglans are also available in full- and short-sleeve versions, so experiment and see which works best for you. Note that the hem of a raglan is usually a little longer than a crewneck of similar size; this, along with the longer sleeve length, may make raglans a superior choice if you’re overweight and concerned about those particular areas.

Henleys and v-necks are designed to draw the eye up to the face, while also exposing a little bit of skin. (The one above is a pretty heavy knit, and you could conceivably treat it as a pullover, but the details at the neckline, hem, and cuffs make it an ideal example of this genre.) Henleys can read more formal than raglans and crew necks, but the V effect is nice on a casual short-sleeved tee as well. I highly recommend these for anyone with visible collarbones (girls love collarbones), but consider your chest hair when choosing a low neckline—if it’s very prominent, it’ll create a focal point that keeps the eye from going to the face. I’m not saying you should all wax your chests here, but for the more hairy among us, it’s always an option.

While we’re on the subject, I’d also like to warn you off the extremely low v-neck that goes past, say, the midpoint of the sternum. Unless you’re built like an underwear model, it looks like particularly sloppy sleepwear.

Collared Shirts

We discussed collared shirts in passing in the intro, as something that’s easy to dress up or down. Collared shirts that are inherently casual tend to have bolder patterns, decorative details, and less traditional construction. Many of them are designed for rolling the sleeves up—they have contrasting cuff linings that may match a contrast collar. (Note that the white-collared, white-cuffed pastel shirt is actually a formal item, for historical reasons. Back in the day, shirts were made with detachable collars and cuffs, and when the original parts wore out they were often replaced with white rather than attempting to match an aged fabric of unpredictable color.) Rolling up the sleeves to three-quarter length, or up to the elbow, is a common way to dress down a more formal shirt.

Layering a shirt and a tee can be an effective way of adding color and interest, but keep these things in mind: If you wear the shirt unbuttoned, it hangs straight down and does no good for your silhouette, and regardless of how you wear it, more layers add more bulk to your figure. If you’re layering, try to use a well-fitting tee made of pretty thin fabric.

Polo shirts (and their cousins, like the rugby shirt) are about as casual as tees. Because of their athletic roots, these shirts are usually cut for strong, lean figures and aren’t particularly forgiving, so wear with care.


The casual pullover—sweatshirts, hoodies, sweaters, cardigans, fleeces—should be worn with something underneath, thus the term “pullover.” Since it’s a top-layer item, you should always try these on with the appropriate kind of shirt underneath, and you might end up buying a size up from your t-shirt size when you do. That’s to be expected; pullovers need to be larger to accommodate the clothing underneath, and if they fit well they won’t make you look any bulkier.

I find that pullovers that display a lot of the lower layer, such as cardigans with low necklines, half-zip sweaters, and so on, are easier to combine with other clothes if they’re a neutral or one of the key colors of your wardrobe.

Fabric is a lot of what separates the casual pullover from the less casual. A finely knit cashmere sweater can be dressed up quite a bit more than a cable-knit fisherman’s sweater, and there’s no hope to dress up a jersey hoodie. Most solids are easier to dress up than most patterns; however, stripes and argyle are a little more formal than most patterns, especially when they’re in subtle colors.

That’s all for today. Join us on Saturday for some of my favorite shirts.

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.

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.