The first step to success.
Most regular guys are goal driven, we want to be successful in our work and personal lives. Knowing how to dress and comport ourselves is akin to receiving a master key that unlocks a lot of life's barriers. Humans are hard wired to make snap judgements based upon what we see. First impressions are critical because they last. Howeever, nobody wants to spend too much time on clothes selection. Below, you will find a straightforward guide to mens' dress and social technique. It takes inspiration from Steve McQueen, a regular guy with timeless style.
The golden rule is to keep things simple and masculine. Fit and quality provide confidence. Select solid colors and avoid patterned clothing with the subtle exceptions of sport coats and neckties. Tie bars, chains, bracelets, badges and pins contribute unwanted distraction. Loose neckties with open shirt collars either look contrived or convey intoxication. Sweaters, sweater vests or cardigans worn over shirts tend to age most of us.
The following principles are not absolute but will let you assemble outfits and be certain that clothing won't clash. Select your shirt and build your outfit from one option only. That includes socks, shoes, pants, belts, neckties, jackets, overcoats, scarfs, gloves and leather watch bands. Shirts and pocket squares are restricted to white and blue. Outfit option A is restricted to gray, charcoal, navy and black. Outfit option B is restricted to green, navy and shades of brown like, khaki, golden brown, tan, chocolate and burgundy. Stainless steel cuff links and eye wear are compatible with both outfit options. Color for men will guide your palette expansion with respect to polo shirts, casual shirts, neckties, pocket squares, jerseys and sweaters.
The second principle is contrast. Building an outfit comprised a white shirt and one other color may appear to be the simplest solution but you can't live in a funeral suit. Color tones rarely match unless purchased as a unit. Select contrasting jacket and pant separates. One item's color should be significantly different from the other. Matching a navy jacket to black pants is an example of poor contrast. Reserving pattern for your sport coat eliminates the risk of a clash between pant and jacket. Clothing etiquette is almost boundless, extending to fabric contrast and beyond. Currently, solid wool dress pants and cotton khakis are the typical pairings of casual jackets, sport coats and blazers.
1: Vacation & Summer
Vacation wear is the most casual element of a man's wardrobe and can be a sartorial minefield. However, this classic ensemble, will have you blending with the jet set. It pulls double duty as stylish lounge and summer wear too. Black water shoes and a few pairs of boardshorts cover any marine activity. Hurleys look great in solid black, red and orange. Cotton bush shirts, linen pants and leather slingback sandals comprises a good general purpose vacation outfit. It can be smartened up with leather loafers, silk camp shirts or cashmere v-neck sweaters.
An unbuttoned and untucked solid rugby jersey, blue jeans and canvas loafers are perfect for exploring around the town. Smart golf attire may comprise of a black Ivy hat, wayfarers, black collared merino top, light gray khakis and white golf shoes. Black masks any damp patches, merino wool has excellent moisture and odour management. Cotton underwear is very durable but retains moisture, generating odour. Synthetic trunks, boxers, and no show socks are better suited to warmer weather.
Casual clothing may be surmised as jackets and mid layers that are compatible with jeans. Leather jackets are ideal for situations like coffee shops, burger joints, ball games and going to the movies. They can be paired with almost anything but an unbuttoned shirt offers the greatest impact. All leather is not the same. It comes in light, medium and heavy weights. These grades take precedence over hide type when gauging durability. Horsehide is the strongest followed by bison, cow and goat. Lambskin and sheepskin are considerably less durable. I recommend medium weight cowhide as a minimum for everyday use. Horsehide is ideal for motorcycle jackets, being tough and naturally waterproof. It's worth spending extra for quality leather as it will see you out, if oiled periodically. Don't store your jacket in plastic as it needs to breathe.
Casual leathers can be broken down into three categories, motorcycle jackets, flight jackets and everything else. Belstaff's Panther motorcycle touring jacket is versatile but prohibitively priced. Schott's 689H represents the holy grail of classic motorcycle racing jackets. The quality is second to none and the styling suitable for everyday causal wear. The layout is similar to the Aero highwayman but has a more tailored fit. The horsehide leather will be stiff initially but gives the jacket robust appeal. Wear it with blue jeans, black cotton web belt, and black Caterpillar boots. Cheaper glued construction footwear can fall apart without warning. The Cats are made in the U.S.A. and employ a Goodyear welt. This method connects the upper and outsole with additional stitching to standard cement, preventing the embarrassment of catastrophic outsole separation. All of the footwear in this guide, have their outsoles sewn to their uppers, vacation footwear being the only exception.
The A2 flight jacket will be many guys first choice but there are number issues you should be aware of. The waist is bloused like an MA-1. This will flatter a stout build but looks sloppy on an athletic frame. The knitted cuffs and waistband get tatty. Most examples come in goatskin, cheaper jackets will be lambskin. The suppleness of goatskin affects jacket drape. WWII A2's were manufactured from horsehide, Aero still make like they used to. Bomber jackets are a generic variant of flight jackets. They are bloused but some designs forgo knitted cuffs and waistband.
Pictured above, US wings offer their alternative Indy jacket. Based on the Indiana Jones model, it has a similar layout to military G1 and A2 flight jackets but offers a straight fit. The leather cuffs and waist are more durable. Side adjustment straps maintain a smart fitted look. Distressed or virgin cowhide is the way to go. I prefer distressed but virgin will give that presidential style when teamed with a crisp white, open necked shirt, cream khakis and oxfords. The distressed jacket looks best with bush shirts, or navy 'wooly pullys' Complete the rugged effect with tan Caterpillar boots, cotton web belt, navy jeans, sand jeans, gray khakis or olive khakis. Danner Acadia field boots are cooler in hot weather.
Alpha Industries' MA-1 and M-65 jackets are timeless casual icons. The MA-1 looks best unzipped in olive and navy and the M-65 in khaki, olive and black. Named after Ryan O'Neil's character in Peyton Place, worn by James Dean, Elvis and Steve McQueen, the Harrington jacket is wonderfully versatile. It looks preppy with khakis and oxford shoes and super cool with jeans and ankle boots. Black, navy and cream are the colors to own. Merc make the most authentic style with metal zip, tartan lining and a short body that barely extends to the waist. Style gurus own multiple examples of a classic garment, in several different colors. These fabric jackets represent a perfect opportunity to adopt the strategy. Tan desert boots and chukka boots are the most appropriate casual footwear.
Two button leather blazers aren't appropriate for the office but enable a graceful wardrobe adjustment if hitting the town after work, just lose the necktie. Optionally, wear a thick wool turtleneck underneath, to deliver stylish warmth. Brown and cognac are the most versatile but black blazers look terrific with gray and burgundy shirts. Wool dress pants strike a more refined image when matched with leather blazers but khakis and dark navy jeans are satisfactory. Goatskin or cowhide are preferred if available. The Barbour Beaufort is the only fully waterproof fabric jacket in this guide. The navy model is quite versatile, functioning as executive top coat and casual weekend rain wear. Wear it with khakis, jeans, rugby jerseys and sweaters.
Dress jeans should be worn in classic dark navy or sand. Novelty colors of black, green or brown will fade too quickly and appear shabby. A modest rise will flatter the gut and promotes a good fit on the rear, which is critical to the look. Denim jeans are undeniably casual, never wear them with suit jackets, neckties or pocket squares. If you are uncertain, upgrade to a pair of khakis or corduroy pants. Denim on denim and corduroy on corduroy should be avoided.
It is acceptable to wear a sport coat with jeans but it remains a distinctly casual affair. Jackets should remain unbuttoned at all times. Navy jeans work with 2 button, single breasted, wool, tweed, camel hair, cotton, linen, silk and corduroy coats. Wear them with crisp, long sleeved shirts and desert boots Tan, brown or burgundy dress shoes also work well but black shoes look peculiar with jeans. Switching to smart black ankle boots resolves the issue.
3: Business Casual
Business casual may be surmised as "no jeans, sneakers or athletic wear". It may be worn in casual surroundings but is perfectly acceptable for an office, posh restaurant or family celebration. Appropriate mid layers consist of untucked short sleeved polo shirts, untucked short sleeved work shirts, turtleneck sweaters, tucked open necked dress shirts and dress shirts with neckties. Cotton work pants offer a more professional appearance than jeans. Most guys wear them with instructor belts. Pictured above, corduroy pants are of versatile medium formality. Wear them with turtleneck sweaters, textured sport coats and desert boots.
Cotton khakis and wool dress pants constitute the formal range of business casual pants. Dockers offer their khakis in four styles, D1 slim, D2 straight, D3 classic and D4 relaxed. Khaki, tan and olive look terrific when matched with a royal blue shirt and navy blazer but avoid darker colored khakis. Light wool pants come in trim or classic fit. Classic has more room in the seat and thighs. Solid colors of gray, navy and black work best.
The smooth leather outsoles of traditional dress shoes can be treacherous on wet surfaces like grass, leaves and marble. Loose gravel can catch you out too. Dr Martin's oxford shoes are extremely versatile, suitable for bad weather, the job site and the office. Black and brown would cover most men's wardrobe. Avoid colors that feature the casual yellow thread. The thiner PU soles of Bates uniform shoes retain practicality and represent a progression in formality. In fact, once polished, they may be worn with a suit or tuxedo. Bates formerly incorporated rubber soles that would disintegrate after 5 years. The new PU Vibram sole resolves that.
Alden's premium oxfords compliment business casual attire and business suits. Bargain hunters pick them up at the Nordstrom clearance sales. Wolverine's Krause boots are a premium alternative to dress shoes. They compliment everything from suits to the most casual leather jackets and jeans. However, these leather soled beauties are not designed for hiking or mucky construction sites. Replacing the Krause's boot laces with long shoe laces will make them look even smarter.
Pure cotton socks retain moisture enabling bacteria to feed on the feet and make them stink. A cotton and Lycra mix will be less damp. Wool socks will keep your feet dry and sweet smelling. Moisture is wicked away and evaporated, keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer. Wigwam wool and silk hiker socks are favored for their durability and luxurious comfort. The nylon mix supports machine wash but make sure it's set on cold. Check out the woolly pully page if you want to lanolize your socks. Matching black socks to black shoes and navy socks to brown shoes keeps the logistics pretty simple.
Sport coats are fundamental to business casual style and may be worn in several levels of formality. Single breasted two button designs are the most versatile. The design originated from the country pursuits of the aristocracy. Today, many sport coats retain rustic undertones, their material will often sport a weave of herringbone, houndstooth or check. Pure wool sport coats will be restricted to cool weather. Blends of silk and wool support year round wear. A keen eye is necessary to wear plaid sport coats without appearing dated or gaudy.
Pairing a sport coat with a thick wool turtleneck sweater, corduroy pants and suede desert boots gives a relaxed look with enough warmth for fall and winter. Black, navy, royal blue, burgundy and gray are preferred sweater colors. Avoid cable knit, pastels and shades of white, brown or green. Sport coat, sweater and trouser color should contrast. Substituting khakis and an open collared, long sleeved shirt takes formality up one level. Add a silk tie and pocket square when in the company of suits. Though less formal, this ensemble will often make more of an impression than competing suits. Coats featuring structured shoulders are most appropriate, if wearing neckties and pocket squares.
Favored by European royalty for their flexibility, blazers blend the formality of a suit jacket with the relaxed fit of a sport coat. Casual use may incorporate lightweight cotton turtleneck sweaters or open necked shirts. However, the blazer trumps the sport coat when necktie and pocket square are incorporated, conveying significantly more gravitas. Solid navy, single breasted, two button designs are the most versatile. Brass buttons add traditional flair. If absent, ask your tailor to add them during alterations. Deep blue shirts and vibrant solid or striped neckties deliver the greatest impact. Gray wool trousers, olive khakis and tan khakis are classic companions. Avoid blazers in polyester blends or colors of gray and green. They're intended for security staff and professional golfers. Unlike sport coats and suit jackets, blazers may have their lowest button fastened.
Sport coats and blazers have several advantages over generic suits. Purchasing a good basic fit is less difficult, as trouser and coat can be purchased separately. Most suits are sold in fixed sets with a standard drop of 6". This means if we buy a 40" suit, we are forced into 34" suit pants, which may not be desirable. Secondly, the ability to compose different outfits by mixing sport coats, blazers and pants, creates the illusion of a broader wardrobe. Considering we receive more value from sport coats and blazers, it makes sense to invest in high quality examples with the luxury of natural materials. Made in the U.S.A., Joseph Abboud's coats represent the median price point between re-branded Asian product and premium Italian brands such as Zegna and Brioni.
High quality dress shirts should take priority in our clothing budget as the coat is removed for the majority of office hours. Shirts frame the face and torso, which is what others will focus on. Select your dress shirts by the following sequence, fit, collar type, cuff type, color, pattern and size. A classic fit flatters stout builds but billows on trim waists. Trim fit compliments an athletic build. Pictured above, spread collars flatter long faces. Forward point collars suit all other facial profiles and may be worn unbuttoned under sport coats, blazers and suits. Barrel cuffs have integral buttons and work equally well in casual or formal context. French cuffs are only obligatory for black tie but make us look and feel special. A selection of solid white, blue, French blue and royal blue shirts is perfectly adequate. Solid white shirts are the most formal. Nordstrom are a proven source of premium pure cotton shirts.
Consider the necktie the last bastion of masculinity rather than a corporate leash. It serves to unify the disparate elements of a man's outfit. Picking up another outfit color is desirable but avoiding clash should take priority. The tie permits us to adjust tone by selecting subdued solids to suite somber occasions and vibrant solids or stripes, if self expression is appropriate. Patterns other than diagonal stripes are acceptable but less flattering. Woven silk delivers an evident touch of luxury. Slim ties work best in subdued solid colors. Their width of 2.25" compliments narrow jacket lapels, which flatter a very slender build. Tie widths of 3.25" flatter standard lapels, which accentuate the natural 'V' of a developed male torso. The four-in-hand knot is our default. The wider Windsor knot consumes the expanse of a spread collar. The necktie should terminate at the belt line.
4: The suit
Single breasted, two button, notch lapel suits are timeless. Side vents are typical and make waist alterations simple. A center vent may gape if taken in at the waist. Tropical weaves and lower wool 'S' ratings are cooler. It's better to be shivering at a winter funeral than hiding sweat patches at a summer wedding. Linen suits are even cooler and well suited to beach weddings but crease too easily for other occasions. Linen blends are more practical. Silk blends are suited to sport coats but lack durability in a full suit. They look great in movies and music videos.
Shoulder fit is the most important attribute in suit sizing. Other alterations are relatively straightforward. The jacket shoulders must terminate where our shoulders end. Move your arms to check for binding, bunching or slop in the jacket shoulders. The seat takes priority in pant sizing. A trim fit has a tighter seat and less rise, encouraging wear on the hips. A classic fit is worn on the waist with more slack in the seat. Don't be alarmed by extra long sleeves and pant legs. They enable alteration to custom fit. It's easier to remove material than add it. Jacket sleeves should be altered to expose half an inch of shirt cuff when standing straight. Trouser legs should be altered to half break and no cuff. Trouser waist may be altered for comfort and jacket waist cinched to promote an hour glass figure. The bottom jacket button should remain undone to attain proper drape and freedom of movement.
Over coats protect our suits from snags, dirt and liquids while out and about. Three quarter length coats are the most practical. Full length coats present a dated, stuffy image. Double breasted mackintosh and trench coats, single breasted wool top coats and waxed cotton rain coats are the traditional styles. Developed for officers in WW I, trench coats appear scruffy in colors other than black or cream. Cream will look very dapper when worn over dark colored suits but black coats have greater longevity. Contemporary trench coats will withstand light showers but they aren't rain coats. Wear a navy Beaufort when the rain is pelting down.
Wool coats provide warmth but are a pretty standard affair. Camel is a lively traditional wool color that compliments navy suits. Black leather great coats coats are a debonair alternative to nylon raincoats. Tying the leather belt in a knot is traditional but may be construed as effeminate. Leather will block wind and rain but doesn't have much insulation. Make extended cold weather periods comfortable by adding a 300 weight fleece underneath. Request black hardware instead of silver.
5: Dinner Suit
Black tie is traditional for diplomatic engagements and industry ceremonies. This dress code emphasizes conformity and understatement. If you are representing your employer at a black tie dinner, being conspicuous is most undesirable. Events such as opening night at the theatre or evening dinner on a cruise are less critical. Contemporary Tuxedo styling is little more than a black wool business suit with satin detail on the notch lapel and breast pocket. This is more flattering than a peak or shawl lapel. Satisfy convention by wearing a French cuff shirt with lay down collar, black silk bow tie, and black formal cufflinks. Black patent oxfords are traditional but high polished, plain toe, uniform shoes are more durable and comfortable. Patent leather scuffs easily and can be very stiff. Waistcoats and cummerbunds are optional but dated. Outerwear consists of an unbuttoned black wool top coat and ivory evening scarf.
Skills for success.
There are two groups of general skills required for success, thinking skills and communication skills. Most of this section will cover the latter because it has the greatest impact on our success. All of these skills are based upon empirical experience and proven scientific principles. The material is actionable step by step technique, which needs to be practiced, maintained and referenced. It requires hard work to develop these valuable skills. However, the material was developed to be accessible for operational staff. You won't be grabbing the dictionary to decipher academic terminology. These manuals will be regularly referenced. I recommend using a physical format, preferably hardcover.
In respect to thinking skills, our brains have three modes of operation 'automatic', 'methodical' and 'fight or flight'. Fight or flight is extraneous to this discussion but it could also be described as super-automatic thinking. Our brain dumps adrenalin into our bloodstream and races to find a solution to danger. This increased brain activity is responsible for the perception of time slowing down. Automatic thinking is our default decision process, often drawing conclusions based on unsupported assumptions and beliefs. The failure of this approach spawned the idiom "assumption is the mother of all screw ups".
Critical thinking utilizes our methodical thought process as an alternative to automatic thinking. Its objective is to provide a successful means of making decisions and solving problems. Critical thinking is essentially the practical application of logic theory. The core skill is statement (premise) evaluation, preventing unsupported assumptions and beliefs being presented as facts during decision making. Think Smarter is a concise critical thinking action plan, intended to support anybody that needs to make decisions. It's accessible, practical and not business specific. It employs a four stage process of clarity, conclusions, innovate and decide.
Communication skills group into two sets. Conveying presence, confidence and warmth makes the sale. That sale may take the form of a successful job interview, first date or lucrative business contract. If stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions run strong, conveying empathy and respect secures compliance and co-operation. Examples of such circumstances would be negotiating a divorce settlement or addressing an employee's delinquency. It's human nature to mask our emotional state as a form of protection. Most body language manuals are light entertainment rather than formal instruction. However, Dr Paul Ekman's Emotions Revealed enables us to gain feedback as we apply the communication skills detailed below.
The Charisma Myth is a peculiar little book that is a broad collection of actionable tips, tricks and techniques supporting our first group of communication skills. I recommend using this title first because of its ease of execution. Physical techniques covering focus, nodding, handshakes, speech tempo, speech intonation, speech tone, body language and clothing promptly deliver results. Conveying gratitude, compassion and warmth are mastered by training to emote from stored memories, just like an actor. Confidence is generated by positive visualization and positive internal chatter. Other topics include selecting the style of charisma that is most suitable, dealing with physical discomfort, difficult people, public presentations and delivering constructive criticism.
Developing charisma is essentially creating a persona and letting it take root. Some of the book's other techniques might be dismissed as parlor tricks but can achieve a profound improvement in quality of life. However, I need to point out that it's difficult to get our mind right without looking after our bodies. Some generic public speaking techniques may obstruct full engagement with an audience. Be Heard Now guides us in developing a natural public speaking style, particularly useful for impromtu events. Certain job interviewers like to cull the heard with an etiquette ambush. Business Class is a practical guide developed to help us side step these social bobby traps and banana skins.
Verbal Judo introduces our second group of communication skills. Originally developed for police officers, it enables us to interrupt emotional people, calm them and affect compliance through, respect, acknowledgement, interruptive questions and coercive empathy. George Thomson's simple formulaic approach replaces the natural language of automatic thinking that often escalates matters. Illustrated in Thomson's video lecture, a friendly tone of speech is critical to success. The speech exercises in Charisma Myth provide valuable assistance. Verbal Judo's techniques excel at de-escalation but the subsequent compliance narrative is somewhat sparse. Crucial Conversations amply compensates with a host of prescribed tactics and dialog designed to obtain co-operation under tense circumstances.
Questions & Feedback.
Well, that's about it guys. I hope you found this guide useful. If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to contact me through the welcome page. Before you leave, check the navigation bar for other gear that may be of interest.
Ian ST John.
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