A conversation with my friend PG at mostexerent.tumblr.com led us to discussing what he refers to as Grown Men Style. This is my take on it…
From our earliest experiences we dress in costumes, preparing for the world we hope to tackle. From the cowboy at 5 to the skater at 15, we don the costume and feel the strength to play the role. We affiliate with our tribes though the badges we wear, be it a nike swoosh or a bespoke Oxford, and learning which of these are someone else’s costume and which are our own is the essence of dressing well. For many the first business suit is much the same. A costume to wear from nine till five, until the Friday bell sounds and the costume of weekend comes out. The one pair of black shoes, the two charcoal suits. A dreary garb for that aspect of life we endure, waiting for a time when we can dress as ourselves.
But more often than not our non work garb is as much a costume, a uniform, as the business suit. The porsche owners ball cap or the yachting jacket, the monogrammed loafer and the designer underwear that proclaims style through association, but not necessarily style in and of itself. The most confident dressers I have met are those that are able to eschew these badges and dress in a way appropriate to each facet, each endeavour in their lives.
A suit and tie is as much a costume as a pair of overalls and red wings, depending on who is wearing them, where and when. In the correct context garments regain their utilitarian aspect, and what is more masculine, more grown man than that? To drop the costume, the badges, the associations that come with a certain brand or team, is a frightening prospect for many. While for our grandfathers classic dress was a learnt skill, part of the essential lore passed down from father to son along with manners, etiquette, how to shake a hand and how to meet an eye, for many my age that is a verbal history that has been severed. The rise of street wear and youth culture means that many people that were youths in the sixties had no interest in dressing like their fathers. The rules were abandoned and clothing was liberated. By the seventies and eighties, the rules were back, but being rewritten each season by designers trying to sell a new look.
When progress is dictated by obsolescence and change, both the good and the bad are abandoned, to the detriment of the man trying to dress well. It’s little wonder that many men approach shopping and classic dress with as much enthusiasm as a chore. But an increasing number of men are rejecting the lack of individuality in mass market clothing. Men want to know the rules. Not to be bound by them, but to be empowered by them. To know what works and why takes the power away from the designer or the retailer and places it squarely in the hands of the everyday man.
I’ve often suspected that the first bespoke suit a man makes is like learning the magicians secrets - that moment when a man understands that he can dress himself more aptly as himself with much better results than any designer can. A man who has dressed himself and understood why it works, rather than following the advice of his spouse or partner, has one more weapon to face the world with. Literally he has gained his suit of armour. So to make it simple, how you dress depends on you.
Grown men style is literally that - the style of a confident, self aware man. Dictated only by where you are, what you are doing, and who you are with. A dinner suit is a tool, perfectly adapted for the formality of a black tie event. As inappropriate at a breakfast as jeans in a board room. To respect the occasion and the people you are with by the formality, or lack of, in your appearance is truly grown man style.