Building your own personal style may be a tricky endeavor, but is far from being a superficial pursuit.
As in all areas of life, presenting yourself to your best advantage can have a positive impact in many meaningful ways. A while back, we wrote a piece that addressed the subject of how a good sartorial education can change your life.
But as more and more of us are realizing the importance of defining a personal style in the way we dress and behave, we're still fighting an uphill battle.
Picture a corporate executive wearing a suit that is two times too large for him with shiny, cracked, faux leather shoes on his feet, not to mention his novelty tie with cartoon characters, that was gifted to him by his children last Christmas. This man is at work, toiling away at his umpteenth powerpoint presentation, painstakingly working on each slide to deliver the most impactful presentation possible.
This situation begs a simple interrogation : how much more powerful would the executive's presentation be if he decided to spend a fraction of his powerpoint time and effort on developing his own image ? Wouldn't a little sartorial education further the cause of making his presentation more memorable and impactful than any snazzy slide show alone could hope to deliver?
Compare the two examples below. Which do you prefer?
1. A jazzed-up slide that reads "Hello everyone", illustrated with a formulaic teamwork themed .gif
2. A soberly dressed man wearing a suit that fits well, a freshly pressed white shirt with a solid colored tie, along with a pair of well maintained shoes, who is saying "Hello!" to his audience, with a simple smile.
Isn't it time that we elevate the significance of the way we present ourselves to others as being just as important as a redundant slideshow that in the end, bores everyone to tears ?
The answer seems obvious, yet even though many men have taken sartorial matters into their own hands over the past few years, many others still believe that the importance of a powerpoint slideshow trumps the importance of developing a strong personal image !
This kind of thinking that dismisses the importance of a person's image and personality in favor of audio-visual content, is a quite unfortunate attitude with far-reaching consequences that include stunting the way we interact with others, a loss of charisma, and a numbing effect on our natural behaviors.
Conversely, a speaker who is stylish, both with his words and with his clothing, will have little need for props and can create a hush among his audience, with nods of approval and plenty of applause for being spared yet another rote presentation.
A disregard for one's personal image is indeed a problem, though a problem whose progression has been mitigated by the so-called men's style revolution (more of a revival, actually) at work since a few years.
There is much cause for rejoicing in the simple fact that a sartorial revival is on the rise – but we at PG still receive a lot of email telling us that becoming sartorially aware (perhaps a corporate euphemism) is not an easy task, especially in a world where pocket squares, patinas and properly knotted ties are all too often mocked by colleagues, with the typical one-liners that you may know all too well: "Are you going to a wedding / job interview / funeral / church" ?
These kinds of unimaginative jabs are unfortunately a sad, sad reality for many.
Yet as with (almost) everything in life, there exists a solution---the Holy Trinity: Patience, Perseverance, and Experience.
Realizing how important personal style can be in your life can make you feel impatient. You might want to change everything overnight, and go a little bit overboard as a result. I'm no stranger to such a pitfall – as in the past I have found myself overdressed on occasion.
It's a rookie's mistake, and one that is never more glaring than when money is not an issue. No matter the size of your wallet, never blindly and thoughtlessly buy just anything (even if it's been reviewed by PG) without taking some time to consider the entire process.
Think everything through and stop to ask yourself: Is my purchase coherent with my own personal style ? Take your time, try a few things, and read about some fundamental rules on the PG academy or elsewhere.
Whether you like it or not, patience is a requirement, no matter how much money you can or cannot afford to spend.
Based on my own personal experience and daily observations of others, here are a few pieces of hard-earned wisdom that should serve you well :
1- Take the time to try out a few different jacket styles, to see which is the most complimentary to your body type: I discovered that double-breasted jackets and coats fit me best. It does not mean that I never wear single-breasted suits, but it does mean that when I really need to feel at the top of my game, I always choose to wear a double-breasted jacket or coat.
I then discovered that since I'm of average height (1m78 / about 5ft10"), peak lapels make my silhouette look better, since peaks tend to make me look taller. I also wear jackets with notch lapels, taking care to make sure that the notches on the lapels are positioned high enough (more upwards towards the shoulder) for the same reason.
It took me at least two years to realize these two simple things about myself and the development of my silhouette.
2- If you're not sure which colors look best on you, and don't want to take the risk of making a mistake, then invest in five well fitted white shirts. You really can't go wrong with the decision to buy a few good white shirts (more about the power of the white shirt in Sonya's article "The White Shirt : Telling the Men from the Boys").
Once you feel ready to try different colors, experiment with many different shades to find the ones that work best for you. Never fear or underestimate the less common colors. For example, I recently discovered after six years at Parisian Gentleman, that pink is an excellent color for me.
Once you're settled on your second favorite color, try to find your third, and establish a color hierarchy, and then decide which colors are best suited for different areas of your life (some colors will feel more formal / business / casual than others).You don't need to spend a fortune to discover your best colors. There are a lot of shirt makers and tie brokers from all around the world that offer affordable prices that will allow you to make mistakes without emptying your wallet. You have every right to be wrong once in a while, so learn from your mistakes and don't spend needlessly without freely experimenting in order to learn a thing or two along the way.
3- Be careful with patterns. Try different patterns on first using less expensive shirts and ties for experimentation. If you're afraid of going overboard, start with muted patterns and don't go straight for bold stripes and ridiculously oversized motifs.
4- When you start, it's best to keep accessories to a minimum. As a rule of thumb, at the beginning of your sartorial journey, you should use only one accessory with your ensemble, whether a handkerchief, a tie clip/pin, or a subtle lapel ornament (whatever strikes your fancy), but try not to overdo it. It took me three years to feel comfortable with wearing both a tie bar and a handkerchief, and I'm still very careful with jewelry and lapel ornaments.
5 - Particularly for handkerchiefs, please always try the handkerchief on before you buy it, and never rely on your first impression without actually wearing the pocket square for a minute or two ! This point CANNOT be stressed enough.
Dirnelli wrote a delightful article on the Ten Commandments of the Pocket Square which I strongly recommend that you read. The handkerchief is definitely one of those accessories that you cannot form an educated opinion about without physically trying it first.
A handkerchief that pops out of the display window quite nicely can end up looking like a train wreck on your suit, while a seemingly unremarkable and plain handkerchief can light up your whole outfit when spontaneously placed in your chest pocket.From my experience, it took nearly five years to finally discover that a rust colored handkerchief suits me best. It might seem like a trivial discovery, but finding that one specific pocket square that I prefer over all the others has served me especially well during my personal sartorial journey.
I could keep going with a variety of subjects and examples to illustrate the point that finding your personal style takes a lot of time and experience, but I think the point has been adequately made.
Sartorial education, as with any other endeavor that has an impact on your existence, is a path that takes a little attention and a lot of patience in order to bear beautiful fruit.Of course, if your bank account allows it, a trip to a bespoke salon in Paris, London, Milan or Naples is the perfect school that will most definitely teach you the meaning of patience. In this case, there is no question that you will have to wait for your suit, even if it seems like an eternity, and even if you just paid thousands of dollars or euros for the bespoke experience.
But if you cannot afford bespoke tailoring yet, then follow the advices above, and never forget, as Molière once wrote in Le Malade Imaginaire:
"Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruits".