Thursday, March 6, 2014

How to Be a Well Dressed Man about Town, Spring 2014 Edition

A few years ago I did a blog entry that ended up being read by over 2,000 people, making it one of my most popular posts. I suppose it could have been one guy reading it 2,000 times. But I don't think so. The piece also got picked up and re-posted on the "Rocker" website for an even larger audience.

The article was about fashion for working class dudes. Especially guys past 30, who want to dress well and stand out in this world of baggy sweat pants, over sized Wal-Mart T shirts and chunky white plastic running shoes.

Now, I must explain that when I say "fashion", I don't mean catwalks and runways and "Zoolander" haircuts. I am not referring to "blue steel" here, folks. Nor am I talking about the skinny-fit, "metrosexual" look. I am talking about timeless, classic clothing for work or play that won't ever go "out of style". I know this because the designs of much of the clothing I'm talking about originated 50 or more years ago, and are still commonly worn today.

(Photo: Anonymous, well dressed middle aged dude found on the internet.No idea who he is, but he "gets it".)

I wanted to do another piece about this, for guys looking to buy some items to wear this Spring (if it ever stops snowing). I wanted to emphasize low cost alternatives to the high end, fancy boutique men's store stuff. There are companies charging huge amounts for their high quality reproductions of classic mid century work wear and casual fashions. Alot of these are great, and they're also made in America, so you are supporting small businesses and helping to provide jobs for Americans.HOWEVER. If you just cannot afford to pay premium prices for these items, don't worry. I will show you how to get the classic, timeless look you want on the cheap.

Before I start, let it be known far and wide that a man does not need a huge closet full of clothes, unless he wants to have that. What most guys need for Spring, really need, is the following:
SIX SHIRTS:3 long sleeve and 3 short.
THREE PAIRS OF PANTS: One blue jean, one black jean, and one dressier pair of slacks.
A PAIR OF GOOD SHOES (sneakers, brogues, what have you)
ONE LEATHER JACKET (with removable lining)
ONE LIGHT SPRING JACKET (such as a Harrington or Eisenhower).
That's all you need. I personally have a drawer full of pants, two leather jackets, three pairs of boots, five or six pairs of sneakers, etc...but I'm just like that, you don't have to be. Now that you know what your basic needs are,let's get specific, gents. We're gonna start at your coconut head and eventually get down to your stinking feet nubs. Are ya with me? Let's go!

BRIXTON HEADWEAR: One thing every guy needs for those colder Spring days is a good hat. My choice is the Brixton Brood newsboy cap. It has a nice retro feel, like the newsboy caps of the 20's, 30's, and 40's. It's rugged and warm, and it goes with almost anything. Brixton has a great website full of good hat options, but remember one thing. Frat boys, "Jersey Shore" meatheads and "Mad Men" wanna bes have ruined the Fedora for everyone. Stay away from the Fedora at all costs.

RAY BAN GLASSES/SUNGLASSES: Whether you are slowly going blind as a bat like me, or you just want to keep the cursed sun out of your eyes, or you'd like to creepily check out girls without them being sure that you are staring, Ray Ban glasses/sunglasses are the way to go. The Ray-Ban Aviator was developed in 1929 to keep the glare from the sun and shiny plane metal out of the eyes of our fighter pilot boys in the skies. The regular Joe on the street wanted to look like the flyboy heroes too, so eventually these iconic shades became available for public purchase. In 1952, the ultimate icon of cool was introduced: The Wayfarer. You've seen these on the noggins of everyone from James Dean to Chet Baker to Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Elvis Costello and Huey Lewis, not to mention every rockabilly and punk rock rocker that ever lived. Ray-Ban recently introduced a "modern" take on the Wayfarer, and although it is usually an absolutely awful idea for iconic companies to "update" their eternally popular,classic designs, these are actually pretty great. Ray Bans tend to be on the expensive side, but check eBay for hundreds of cheaper copies, some of which are probably just as good.

WRANGLER WESTERN SHIRTS: It's Springtime. Some days are warm, some days are cold. You'll need a good short sleeve option as well as a long sleeve. For the long sleeve, go with a Wrangler western shirt. These things have never been trendy. These are American working class icons. They look good on almost everyone. They come in endless variations of colors and patterns. They are inexpensive and will last you for years. If you have the time and patience, look them up on eBay. You can likely pick up five of these used for the price of one new shirt. Now, there are hundreds of companies making shirts like this. Some are very, very cheap and some are ridiculously expensive for a piece of work wear. I'm telling you, go with Wrangler. If you are a larger man, do not tuck these in. If you are very tall and thin, you can tuck them in if you like. If you are of smaller build, like myself, tuck them in. They tend to be very long, so if the shorter fellas leave them untucked, it looks like we're wearing a dress. No dresses allowed here.

WARRIOR BUTTON DOWN SHIRTS: I usually recommend short sleeve shirts by brands like Fred Perry and Ben Sherman for that classic Ivy League springtime look. Those are great items, but they can be quite expensive. As always, check eBay. Many of my FP and BS shirts were purchased that way, for less than half of their original cost. If you want a crisp new shirt that has never known another man's arm pit...go with Warrior. Warrior is a Brit company that makes affordable reproductions of classic '60s button down shirts. Timeless, sharp plaids and checks, with button down collars and really nice details. You can find these in America at Angry Young And Poor, Sourpuss, and other in the know online shops.

NOCONA LEATHER BELTS: So many companies make good, affordable belts. The aforementioned Brixton, for instance, has great belts. But if you, like me, like to incorporate iconic tough guy western items into your wardrobe, please know that it's now safe. Madonna and Brad Pitt have stopped wearing these things, and they are no longer trendy. You may don them once again. I usually go with a brown belt for blue jeans and a black belt with black jeans. For your dressier pants, go with the brown for a dark pair of pants and the black for a lighter pair. If you are only going to have one belt, go with the brown.

LEVIS 501 ORIGINALS: Denim is a huge fetish item for a lot of people. If you start delving into the world of denim, you'll hear terms like "selvedge", "Japanese selvedge", "Neppy", "Vintage cut", and endless discussions of which thickness or weight of denim is the best. Even Levis themselves has gotten into the game of super expensive selvedge denim and re-issues of their iconic jean cuts from the past. That stuff is fun to look at, but you really only need one thing, and it's not expensive. A classic, iconic 501 original jean. This is something I would try to buy new if I were you. Get the raw, dark denim. If you buy the "Shrink To Fit" variety, know that you should buy about two waist sizes bigger than your normal size, and about three inches longer than usual for the inseam. They shrink. Hence the name. The idea is that they conform to your body as they shrink, which they do. But in order to get them to do that, you have to wear them wet. if you don't have that kind of time, simply go with the 501 Originals. Get your regular waist size, and a few inches longer on the inseam, because you will want to cuff them (fold them up) on the bottom. Either go for the chunky three or four inch rockabilly cuff or the sharp, two inch tight 60's style mod/ skinhead cuff. AVOID the modern "skinny jean" look. It is way too trendy these days, and looks terrible on anyone over 25. You want slim, clean lines, yes. You do not want to look like you are wearing denim pantyhose.

DICKIES 873 SLIM STRAIGHT PANTS: Dickies are always great. You can wear them to work, or with a nice button down as dress pants. Just make sure they're clean, dummy. A lot of guys feel that the original Dickies flat front work pant is a very baggy and unflattering cut, and I tend to agree. Again, you don't want anything skin tight. But you also, and I really have to emphasize this, do NOT want to wear baggy clothes. It tends to make a person look sloppy and out of date. My Motto: "Take the Time to Find Shit That FITS". Dickies makes a new "Slim Straight" option, the 873. These are perfect. In the photo I've chosen, the model is wearing a very new, unwashed pair of these, and he is also wearing them a bit long. This is making his pants look a little baggier than you'd want. If you buy a pair with a slightly shorter inseam than you'd normally go for, or cuff them with a nice two inch turn up, they will look great. Dickies also makes a "skinny" trouser for those so inclined, but again, it's not really our thing.

So let's sum up what we've learned so far:
Classic, timeless work and casual wear is ace
There are expensive options, but they are not necessary
SLIM is good, TIGHT is not
BAGGY leaves you saggy

For your jackets, you cannot go wrong with two old standards. 1)The Levi's Trucker Jacket, and 2) The leather bomber jacket. Shoes or boots by Doc Marten and/or Red Wing. The thing to remember is have fun, tailor your personal style to your interests and what appeals to you, and wear it confidently. Ladies be likin' that!