Lance’s Guide to Man Grooming, Part 4: Clothing Optionals

Part B: Looking the Part

Can you believe it’s been a year since we last spoke about your personal habits, you and I?
In case you missed it, in our last episode (when you weren’t paying attention) we covered how to shop for shopophobes who tremble and shake when faced with the task of picking up a new pair of pants. We also discussed having more underwear than those sad, shabby, moth-eaten things you’re currently wearing and how to use socks to add some spark to your otherwise drab and lackluster wardrobe.
For this, the final entry in my long diatribe about taking better care of how you look—and I can hear the sigh of relief all the way over here in fagland—you and me, Mister, are going into the clothing racks and figuring out exactly what it is you need hanging in your closet besides skeletons and homophobia, and I’ll attempt to tackle and wrestle into submission your silly, pointless, weird and soul-killing aversion to looking stylish.
Just to get this out of the way right now: What you wear doesn’t make you gay. Being gay makes you gay. If you aren’t gay, you aren’t gay. I know perfectly well that there are probably among the readers a few men who have that strong aversion to even a whiff of being mistaken for liking the cut of another man’s jib. This is all about liking yourself better, not about liking anyone else. So get over yourself and try on that Paul Smith shirt with the floral design that you saw (and liked) in the window.

There are formal shirts (“business” shirts) and informal shirts (“sports” shirts) but in today’s culture, with few exceptions, the line about what to wear when is becoming increasingly blurred. If you have a dress code at your place of business, then by all means adhere to it. The key there is to find clothes you like to wear that still fit those parameters so you look great and don’t whine about having to wear a tie every day. Today, you can wear a clean, white fitted T-shirt with a business suit, or dress up a pair of jeans with a Ted Baker stripe and French cuffs. Hell, designer jeans sometimes cost more than an entire suit, anyway, so have some fun and explore what’s available.
When you’re buying any shirt, fit is important. The billowing tents that Brooks Brothers still foists on unwitting clients are out. You do not want the shirt to suddenly explode out of the pants all balloonlike. You want a nice, clean line.
Obviously, spending the extra bucks for tailored shirts will deliver the best fit, but this is an option either unavailable or unattractive to the vast majority of us. Finding a shirt tailor outside of London, New York or Hong Kong is a challenge in itself, and custom tailored shirts start at around $120 and go up from there, averaging $150 per shirt. It’s up to you to decide if you’re worth that price.
Yes, there are online custom shirt tailors available, but I am seriously doubtful that the end product will be any better than simply buying off the rack. The reason you’re considering a custom shirt is so it fits your own body perfectly, and that requires you meeting the tailor in person and the tailor measuring you in person and you trying on the result in person so he or she can make any final adjustments to deliver the perfect fit. Expecting the same thing online is like ordering a Big Mac and expecting a Porterhouse. You’re going to get a Big Mac.
Having said that, and assuming you’re not going for a custom shirt, know your measurements before you buy. If you visit almost any department store worth its salt, someone there in the men’s department will have a measuring tape. If you aren’t sure what your neck and sleeve sizes are, be up front about it and have someone measure you properly.
Once you dive into the shirts, you’re faced with a lot of new options. Spread collar, button-down, hidden plackets, pocket or no pocket, French cuffs, tapered, and so on. I don’t think there’s one correct shirt for everyone, and I also believe that you should have a variety of styles to choose from. Don’t buy just button-down collars, mix it up a bit. If you go in for French cuffs (like I do) then invest in a decent pair of cuff links to show them off.
So the style and cut isn’t as important as the fabric and color or design. 100% cotton is a must. Never buy cotton-poly blends. They aren’t as comfortable, they don’t iron as crisply (yes, you need to iron your shirts unless you take the to the cleaners and have them professionally done) and they tend to pill around the collar. “Pill” means they get those little balls of material from rubbing against your skin. Blecch!
I don’t care what else you purchase, you absolutely must own a white dress shirt. It goes with anything, it’s never out of style and you will inevitably need it for a wedding or a funeral or a job interview. Make sure it fits and the sleeves don’t ride up and when it gets pit stains from your antiperspirant, replace it immediately.
As long as we’re visiting the pits, always wear an undershirt with your dress shirt. Always, always, always. No matter how hot it gets where you are, the undershirt protects your shirt from, well, you and your stains and it’s usually a lot cheaper to get a new T-shirt than a new dress shirt.
I’d recommend also having at least one blue shirt, something medium blue tending toward lighter rather than darker, no patterns. Once you have your white shirt and blue shirt, crazy go nuts. Honestly, buy whatever you think looks good. Stripes, polka dots, florals, paisleys, solids in bright colors. There are those who hate paisley on principal and those who think florals are only for summer dresses and those who consider polka dots too cutesy for anything other than Chihuahua sweaters.
Don’t believe any of it. If a shirt catches your eye, and you try it on, and you look in the mirror, and your first reaction is not a horrid retching noise but rather a wide smile and a flash in your eye because, dammit, you look sexy—buy the damned thing. Don’t think, just buy.
Everyone is wearing jeans nowadays for a couple of reasons: They’re comfortable, and they come in so many styles from so many designers that you’re bound to find a pair that’s completely perfect for you. Also, the new “casual” work environment seems to welcome almost any corporate uniform, and if you couple a pair of fashionable jeans with a nice blazer over a long-sleeved shirt and add a pricey pair of sports-dress shoes, you’re mighty stylish.
How much should you spend on jeans? This is a question only you can answer. You can honestly spend up to $500 or more on some pairs of designer jeans. These tend to be made of “vintage denim” and include details that have been hand-applied to the garment like whiskering or discoloring or even paint and solid gold rivets. Jeans aficionados look for things like what color the thread is, how the back pockets are attached and arranged, use of alternate material in the pocket linings and along the legs, and the design and manufacture of the denim material itself.
The most I have (so far) spent on a single pair of blue jeans is around $200 for some low-wasted Yanük 6-pocket jeans with a splash of spandex for just enough stretch and cling to make them feel great and look good on my rather odd assortment of limbs (shortish legs, tall trunk, big ass, thick thighs). There are dozens of brands of jeans in hundreds if not thousands of combinations of wash, material and design out there, now, and shopping by label is somewhat pointless. Just because someone else only buys G-Star or Ernest Sewn or Adriano Goldschmied doesn’t mean you have to fall in line with them. Try on lots and lots and lots of jeans and find the perfect pair. I guaranty you, they’re out there somewhere.
Dispensing with the subject of blue jeans for now, there’s a whole world of pants out there to pull on one leg at a time. I follow just a few rules of thumb when I am trying on pants.

  1. Avoid pleats. Pleats on pants make the waist blossom outward from the waist unless you are pencil thin and they manage to drape. Unless you simply cannot live without some perfect pair of pleated pants you happen across, avoid pleats of any sort on any pants.
  2. The perfect inseam length allows the front of the pantleg to fall across the face of your shoe, and the back to fall just above the top of the shoe’s heel. Unless you are wearing 3-inch heels, in which case your pantleg should drop nearly to the ground but not so far down that you’re apt to keep stepping on it. The exception to this rule is jeans, and you can buy them very long and turn up the leg.
  3. Do not wear pants so tight that you cannot fit your flat hand under the waist while sitting down. You’re allowed to suck in your gut to do so, but if your hand has to push your gut back—that’s too tight.
  4. Have someone else check your butt for you. Because God is such a kidder, he put the one most attractive feature in the place where the owner cannot see it. Everyone else will be checking out your ass soon enough, so take a few spare moments and have it checked out first by someone you know and trust.

One Good Suit
You must own one good suit, at least. I own two, one is black and one is brown. Cumulatively, I spent around $2,000 for both, but not $1,000 each. The black one, which will always get more wear and will show up for formal occasions, cost more than the brown one, which is for more informal occasions like important business meetings, job interviews and “jacket required” restaurants.
Picking a suit is somewhat daunting, though it needn’t be. Again, take along a few rules about what makes a good suit and you’ll narrow the field of available options down to a few. Remember, though, that if you’re a “Suit Guy,” meaning you need or wear a lot of suits, these rules can be ignored. One assumes that when one has a lot of suits—like a lot of shirts or a lot of socks or a lot of potato chips—variety is the spice of the closet. You don’t need two black suits. So grab a gray, a brown, a navy… hell, get that pink one if you really want it. The following rules are for those of us who rarely wear suits, but need one for weddings, funerals and assorted tie affairs.

  1. If you pick out a double-breasted suit, put it back immediately. Double breasted suits make everyone who wears them look huge in some way. They’re outlandish and you can’t unbutton the jacket for a little bit of casual flair. Avoid them at all costs.
  2. These are the only base colors acceptible for your One Good Suit: Black, navy blue, brown, and gray. Dark shades are preferred over light shades, and if you can’t decide—get a black suit. It will go with everything.
  3. Don’t worry if the pants fit, pay closer attention to the jacket. Pants are easy to take in, take up, cuff, let out, etc. Jackets are much trickier because of the way they’re constructed, and a good suit’s construction is half its value.
  4. When you don the jacket, stand up straight, shoulders back, head high. Now cup your hand. The jacket’s hem should fall just inside your cupped hand for the correct length.
  5. A jacket should be vented in back. Single vent is best, but double vents are currently in vogue. The problem with a double vent (slits on either side of your butt) is that the suit looks boxy from behind rather than tapered. A single vent allows the suit to drape on your torso better.
  6. Reach your arms out. The sleeves of the jacket should ride up, but when you lower your arm they should fall back into place effortlessly. No shoving of the material should be required.
  7. Make sure the shoulders aren’t so wide or padded that you end up with dimples at the tops of your arms.
  8. Your jacket needs two hip pockets, one breast pocket, and at least one (but preferably two) inside breast pockets. The hip pockets should have flaps that may be tucked into the pockets and disappear for a more casual look.
  9. 100% wool. Accept no substitutes.
  10. No vests! Vests belong with tuxedos or armor plating, not with a suit.

A good pair of suit pants may be fully lined in nylon or some similar slinky material, though that’s not at all necessary. The pants should drape as before (falling across the front of the shoe, falling to just near the ground in back) and have a distinct and razor-sharp crease down the exact front and back of the leg. Pockets should be off-seam so things don’t fall out of them when you sit down. Your wallet will always go in the inside breast pocket of your jacket so you don’t ruin the line of your slacks.
I am a shoe whore. I love shoes. I didn’t used to love shoes, but now I love shoes for a couple of simple reasons. First of all, feet never get fat! You’ll never outgrow or shrink out of your shoes. If you own a lot of shoes, you’ll always be able to wear them, and that’s good.
Secondly, there are now so many choices for men—not nearly as many as women have, but we’re gaining—that finding a great pair isn’t a challenge, plus the variety of styles and colors means you can splurge on that strange pair of Fluevogs you’ll only wear occasionally and go buy a pair of Pumas and some Mediums and you’re covered for just about every occasion.
My first dictum to you is to not be afraid of shoes. You really must give shoes a chance. Try them on. Don’t just pick out another pair of black lace-ups and be done with it, really take a look around and check out what’s available. Go to Nordstrom’s as well as Niketown. Check out your local shoe stores, the little boutiques that specialize in Italian sports shoes or funky German boots with spikes and chrome on them. Please don’t settle on “the usual.”
My second dictum, because I just want to keep saying “dictum,” is something I think is probably obvious, but if you, too, are shoe whorish, it needs to be said. Buy shoes that fit. Try on every pair (and that means both shoes) before you buy them. There is hardly a more wretched torture than ill-fitting shoes. If they pinch your feet, or scrunch your toes, or cut off the circulation and you can avoid ending up having to undergo some very painful operation later to remove both your feet because blood no longer flows through them, you’ll thank me. I often buy shoes off the Web at various shopping sites because, as I mentioned, I know I am a size 10½ and that if I buy size 10½ shoes, they’re likely to fit.
Where I run into trouble is buying European shoes, because suddenly we’re up in size 42 or 43 or 116 or something absurd and metric and who the hell knows what the hell I’m putting on my feet at that point? I’ve purchased shoes that were a little off because, you know, they were a steal and way too sexy to allow just anyone (other than me) to wear them, but inevitably they languish in the closet because I take them out and sigh and pout and put them back because I know that wearing them for a period any longer than an hour will result in a huge headache as all the blood in my body backs up into my head because it cannot go into my feet, or they end up rubbing against my heels because they’re too big and then I hate all my shoes because of the blister I developed from my way-too-sexy pair that don’t actually fit.
Lastly, always wear socks! Please! Always wear socks! Not wearing socks is icky and disgusting and terribly 80’s, but not in a good Duran Duran way, more in a bad Kajagoogoo way. All that foot sweat happening and nowhere for it to go except soaking into your shoes and you just know they’re going to stink to high heaven and then you’ll wonder why your feet stink and it’s because you didn’t wear any socks, you idiot!
Things You Should Never Wear
Bow ties: Frankly, you’re not weird enough to wear a bow tie. Bow ties may be worn with tuxedos, but how often are you going to wear a tuxedo? Bow ties say something about the wearer, and what they say is, “This guy is a Loser with a capital L and having sex with him would be about as exciting as watching paint dry.”
V-neck T-shirts: I’ve been asked about this on a number of occasions, specifically “What is your big concern about V-neck T-shirts? I wear them and I like them.” I guess I have nothing against them or you for wearing them, per se, but I just do not understand the point of them. If you want someone to see your neck, don’t wear a T-shirt. What’s the use of showing an extra 2 inch V-shaped piece of your neck? And wearing a V-neck T-shirt under a V-neck sweater (of which I own a few and often wear with and without crew neck T-shirts) is just plain odd, to me. I can’t even justify my feelings in this regard, it just feels wrong, like wearing your T-shirt backwards or discovering you put the wrong lids on the wrong jars even though they fit, but they’re the wrong lids. Wear crew necks.
Nehru jackets: Unless you are an evil genius.
Any open-toed footwear with socks: Yes, I just told you to always wear socks! But that was under the shoe section, and I’m not sure sandals, flip-flops, Birkenstocks and any other assorted leather-strap based footwear count as shoes. Do I really need to explain why? I mean, c’mon, you must already be nodding your head vigorously in agreement with this one or you wouldn’t have even read this article. If you need an explanation, email me, we’ll talk.
A Final Word
As this is likely my last posting about taking care of yourself, head to toe, I’m sure I’ve overlooked something or ignored it or anything I’ve already said the last two or three years is already outdated and/or just plain wrong. So, ladies and gentlemen, please feel free to write me and ask for clarifications, or corrections, or updates, or ask me about something I’ve yet to answer for you.
I’ll answer your email questions whether or not I know the correct answer (since an opinion never has to qualify as a correct answer, does it?) and if I think others would also like to know the answer, I’ll post it publicly with your permission.

July 28, 2005

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