Man Grooming Q&A: Personal Style
Mikey writes: "This question maybe a bit weird but well…
"I am set to go on a book tour. My first. The book (humor) is for children age 13 + yet I am a man in my early thirties. How can I dress with a sense of style that isn’t too stupid but is also unique. Some writers wear black, black and black. Some wear hats or bow ties etc. — what would you suggest for different with a twist?"
Style is not something I advocate one picks up from someone else. That may seem like a silly statement coming from me, a guy who writes about what’s best for men in fashion and self-preservation (gentlemen, moisturize!) in a more or less regular manner, but style is what one defines for oneself in myriad small ways, from the sort of socks one favors to the choice of eyeglasses to how one comports oneself in public.
The essence of personal style is on the first word in that phrase. Copying someone else’s style decisions is fraught with peril, particularly in cases where that someone else appears on MTV with any regularity. And you may feel that you don’t have your own style, but I would suggest that that’s just not so, and perhaps all you need is a little polish to bring out the shine.
Let’s look at your examples first off and allow me, please to shoot them down.
As I’ve said before, black is never a bad choice, but it should not be the only color (or non-color) in one’s wardrobe unless one is Johnny Cash, for whom it was a personal style and fit his personality and personna to a tee. Dressing in black once in a while lends one an air of elegance and subtlety, and black as an accent to other patterns or solids brings out those other pieces that much more, giving them a pedestal on which to stand. But all-black-all-the-time should be saved for those of a funereal nature, such as goth-damaged Siouxsie wannabes and members of the cast of Six Feet Under. Tim Burton may also get away with it, of course, but neither you nor I are Tim Burton and unless your books are for suicidal children, let’s use black sparingly.
In the same vein, going the Tom Wolfe route and looking like an ice cream vendor in all-white also yields dire style consequences, not the least of which is one’s dry cleaning bill.
Hats fell out of favor on gentlemen long ago, except on the occasional Hip-Hop star or your favorite great uncle from Toledo who also smokes a pipe. I have nothing against hats, myself, and have often felt a deep warmth when considering a John Steed bowler, with its smart, small brim and simple globe of a crown. But they tend, again, to signal ‘oddity’ more than ‘audacity’ and unless you regularly favor wearing hats, I wouldn’t go this route. And by no means should you be wearing a baseball cap unless you are playing a baseball game. Call me elitist if you like (because, let’s face it, I am) but I believe the world would be a better place with much less baseball caps and much more credible haircuts.
Come to think of it, the rest of the world, stylishly speaking and sans baseball caps, is a better place.
Bow ties are making one of their regular little comeback tours, appearing on The Apprentice candidates and MSNBC conservative commentator necks with frequency, but don’t count on them making in-roads anywhere else. A bow tie, through no fault of its own, has taken on something of a bad rap that links to its wearer, and it says you’re out-of-touch and given to flights of fantasy, but not in a good way.
What it comes down to, your question, is “How do I make a memorable mark when I enter a room, and what will they remember about me after I leave?” It’s a bit of personal branding, as it were, your own personal registered trademark like always carrying an umbrella or wearing some horrifying assemblage of facial hair. Your dilemma is also linked monetarily to your appearences, I assume, so that even if people don’t remember your name or the title of your book, they’ll remember “that guy with the oversized pale pink rose in his lapel buttonhole” or “the author I saw at a reading who looked like a pirate, what with the huge gold earrings and all,” and that may jog a memory about the quality of your writing in some sideways fashion so that they recommend your book to others, regardless of your dubious style choice.
Mikey, my advice is to be yourself and add no superfluous bangles, beads, tassles, jewelry, hats, scarves, walking canes, monocles, tribal tattoos, Clockwork Orange eyeliner, mismatched footwear, nipple clamps or what have you — unless these or other accessories are part of your daily personal presentation. Appealing to your audience of surly, opinionated, self-satisfied teenagers is going to be hard enough without trying to appear to be cool and weird and bow-tied.
Rather than attach some stylistic outward accessory to your person, my advice is to relax and enjoy the ride while you’re out there among the heathen, AKA “the audience.” From what I know of book tours, they tend to be hurried, badly organized, frenzied affairs where authors have a hard time just remembering what city they’re currently in, let alone whether they remembered to bring their special feathered cowboy hat with them. Dress for comfort and don’t wear anything that, when checking your reflection in the mirror, looks like you just pasted a paper flower onto the Mona Lisa.
Always dress in clothes that compliment your body, reflect your personal tastes (unless, again, that involves baseball caps worn in any fashion) and allow you to feel comfortable and at ease with yourself. Don’t be afraid to try new things, of course, and remember that a freshly ironed shirt is a traveling man’s best friend.
And if you need to feel a little special on occasion, trying going out without any underwear on. You’ll be amazed how that simple change can alter one’s perceptions.
November 22, 2005