Fellow Travelers: I am Alpha M

The Internet is full of frauds.

It doesn’t matter in what corner a man finds himself, the ease of use of social media and blogs is prime breeding ground for fakes and snake-oil salesman. On scales large and small, we’ve all seen it. It may be that friend from high school who’s always posting on Facebook about how hard they work – yet their labors never bear any fruit, or the self-professed ladies man who clams up like the bass player of a high-school emo band when in the vicinity of an attractive woman, or the scrawny guy who criticizes the form of men deadlifting three times their own body weight.

This isn’t to say that any man who is less than perfect has no business being online. Far from it. I enjoy those who catalog their growth processes because it can make aspirations seem more tangible and attainable. Rather, it’s to comment on the fact that anyone can be an “expert” in their field.

I know a man is an expert not by the number of comments his blog gets, or how many followers he has on Instagram, or even by a government-backed certificate saying he’s passed the right tests. I know a man is expert when he walks his talk.

The world of style blogging isn’t any more or any less immune to keyboard jockeying and frauds than any other interest group. Rather than pointing out the fakes, I want to hi-light one (in the future there will be others) of the men who is what he claims to be.

Aaron Marino

If you haven’t heard of Aaron Marino over at iamalpham.com, I suggest you check him out right away. Aaron’s worn different hats in the style world since clear back in 2006. He’s worked as an image consultant, written blog posts, and his bread and butter now is his popular YouTube channel.

Aaron covers all things aesthetic – from style, to grooming, to fitness, and even body language. Because he does it on the fly and in front of a camera, there’s not a whole lot of room for him to fake who he is. His confidence, physique, and style are all apparent in any one of his videos and it makes him more enjoyable to watch and also easier to trust as a valid resource. After having an enjoyable phone conversation with him last week I can say he’s the same one-on-one as he is in front of a camera.

And I’m not the only one who think so. He’s been consistently in Real Men Real Style’s annual list of top ten style bloggers and has received a air amount of both local and national press. To cap it all off, Aaron’s doing this as a full-time job. It’s not some pipe dream, or even just a side hustle; the man makes a living on the Internet helping men improve their appearance and their lives.

Check out his intro video, and then dive into his site.

Camo

If you spend any time perusing sites like Tumblr, Reddit, and menswear blogs, you’re probably well aware of the current trend of wearing camo. I had an individual request for how to pull it off and decided a post would be better than just an email response because there might be others who are interested in doing so.

The first thing to understand about wearing camo is that it’s a trend – which is kind of ironic, considering it is a method of visual communication that has been in the animal kingdom since the beginning of time. However, as universal as it is in the predator/prey world, in the realm of men’s clothing it falls into the same category as other things like stacked bracelets, no socks, high button stances on jackets, and others. They take a man out of the realm of timeless style and into the world of fashion. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but something that should be understood before it is taken on. Wearing a camo tie to the office on Friday is very different than sporting one at your wedding. Trends and fashion can be used to a man’s advantage but only when embraced appropriately.

The next thing to understand is that camo is not for beginners. There are some serious levels of contrast going on, making it something that should be worn deliberately and conscientiously. The trick is to find the correct balance between consistency and contrast.

Duck Dynasty Camo

If worn too consistently, it becomes the uniform of the militia man, those who stock up and pray for the impending zombie apocalypse so they can go back to living off the land and defending their tribe. Other subsets of these men are rednecks, hunters, and other Rugged types.

Camo Redneck Mudjug

What too much consistent camo communicates is a removal from modern society and the inability to function within its parameters. Some men will claim this as a vice while others will tout it as a virtue. Either way, it can become a costume and make it difficult to work effectively with other men who don’t feel the same way about modernity.

men's camo shorts

On the other end of the spectrum is too strong of a contrast. Camo is rooted in war and violence. It’s a way for us to hide ourselves so we can hurt and kill other animals and people. On a subconscious level, we all understand that and associate camouflage with toughness, strength, and violence.

Camo Sweater

When it’s worn by men who, through their physique, body language, tone of voice, mannerisms, and overall aesthetics, communicate no ability to do violence the contrast is too strong. It takes any aspect of effeminacy or frailty and brings it to the forefront. Younger, skinny guys may like what’s communicated, but most men have no interest in handicapping themselves to this extent.

From the perspective of the three style archetypes, camo is all Rake. Trying to wear it with a Rugged aesthetic falls too far into the above-mentioned consistency trap. Because of its rugged and violence-based origins, there’s no way to wear it as part of a Refined, subtle aesthetic either. Its ability to nod to some aspects of raw masculinity while still keeping everything in check falls in line perfectly with the Rakish man.

Once a man understands the implications of camo (and whether or not it meets his goals), he can start to learn how to wear it.

Camo Tie

Camo Portfolio Bag

The easiest and safest approach is to start small. Items like socks, ties, bags, watch straps, wallets, suit linings, and other small or seldom-seen items allow for a peek of the pattern without drawing too much attention.

Camo Layering

Camo Slip-ons

From there it can be worn in larger chunks but either as layers or in more casual environments. An old military shirt under a jacket, a pair of chinos, or casual field jacket are all good ways of keeping it casual while still announcing an embrace of the trend.

Nick Wooster Camo

Streetstyle Camo

Lastly, it is found on men who written about on style blogs, and forums, those who have their photos taken in cities like New York and Florence, men whose style is defined by their ability to wear fashions and trends to their extremes. In these scenarios is can be worn in almost any way possible, from the dandies of Pitti Uomo to the Supreme/Jordan-wearing street styles of inner cities. Items like suits, coats, blazers, dress shoes, flat-brimmed caps, and other high-contrast pieces will get attention, but it will be positive.

Just as it is with any other aspect of style, the man debating wearing camo should evaluate whether or not it will help him meet his goals, regardless of whether or not he likes it. A camo tie may be the coolest thing in the world, but wearing one to a performance review at a white-collar job is probably not the best idea. However, if he’s looking for a way to stand out from the crowd of well-dressed men, it’s an attention getter that can pay off.

Aesthetic and Social Congruence

Last week I got an email from a client with whom I started working more than a year ago. He’s seen some significant changes in his life and attributes many of them to his efforts in dressing better. Some of the differences were a direct result and others were more indirect.

vintage kiss

While he was happy to list off all of the great new things (dating a more attractive woman, getting better responses from sales people, increased credibility with his boss, etc.), he also sent me a list of some of his challenges. There’s a lot of insight in what he’s experienced and I’ll be creating posts out of a few of his comments.

For today, let’s start with this:

The hardest part is upgrading your confidence and personality and social skills to be congruent with your style. If you are one of the most dressed up guys in the room, people will also expect you to act at a higher caliber, and like it or not you will be on display. This is difficult because it puts me under pressure and limits my social freedom. And if you don’t bring the charm, energy and personality to match your style, you might end up worse off than if you just dressed sloppy.

Whether it’s transitioning from a student to a working man, getting over a divorce or bad breakup, getting a promotion, or any of the other catalysts, most men find themselves at a stage in their lives where they need to make an active effort to improve. Hopefully this is a part of who we are on a constant basis, but many men struggle with the transition of being a guy who goes with the flow to living deliberately.

Many of us want to be able to improve at our own pace. We believe it will be easier on us if we can transition slowly from who we are to who we want to be. There are entire industries and products built around gradual, controlled adjustments. Things like nicotine patches, training wheels, and rehabilitation centers are all geared around the idea of transitional improvement. It’s why proper training means lifting an increased weight with proper form as a man gets stronger, as opposed to starting with the target weight and slowly increasing the range of motion over time.

However, the merits of a transitional improvement are not universal. Some people are better served by quitting smoking cold turkey, others can only get over a bad breakup or divorce by moving and starting over from scratch. Often the option of a gradual transition doesn’t even exist. We may take new jobs in new cities, lose a family member in an accident, or find out we’re about to have a child.

In these situations we can either capitalize on the primary change and use the momentum to make other improvements, or we can develop ourselves in complementary areas as a way to make the primary adjustment more smooth.

For example:

My friend Mike just got a new job. He’s gone from working as an artist with video game and illustration companies to something a bit more corporate. As a result, his band shirts, black jeans, and skate shoes are no longer an appropriate work wardrobe. Mike could just head to Wal Mart and pick up work-appropriate shirts and slacks. However, even though these clothes would be appropriate for his new job, their cut, fit, feel, and aesthetic would diminish the way he feels about his new position and also subtly work against him in regard to establishing credibility and respect with his new boss and co-workers. Instead, Mike is better off spending a bit more time and effort in building a work-appropriate wardrobe that looks, feels, and fits great. His confidence will rise, as will the respect he commands from those around him.

Another friend, Greg, is getting back into the dating market after a two-year relationship with a girl. He’s a successful man who makes a solid income and keeps in great shape. He recently sent me an email asking for advice on some clothing because he realized one day that his cargo shorts make him look like a 17-year-old boy. While he’s confident, charismatic, successful, intelligent, and funny, the women he seeks out will only see a man-boy who’s still trying to hold onto his glory days of high school and college. By improving his wardrobe, he’ll have an easier time transitioning back into the dating market and will attract more attractive women who have more and better options in the dating pool.

Obviously both of my friends’ lives can be improved by improving their style, but their self-improvement (just like all of ours) will demand more than that.

To my client’s point, sometimes the change in a man’s style is the catalyst that demands change in other aspects of his life. Rather than having a wardrobe improvement be a reaction to existing changes, improving his style can be a change that forces a man to better himself in other areas. Over and over again we’ve hammered home the idea that a man’s style is the first method he uses to communicate who he is to the rest of the world. If his aesthetic tells the people around him that he’s a successful, confident, competent man, and his attitude, accomplishments, sociability, and body language say otherwise, the people around him will resent the inconsistency.

Weak men will use this demand for consistency as an excuse  to maintain their aesthetic inertia. They’ll tell themselves they’re being true to who they are and it’s fake or try-hard to up their style game. However, men who are serious about making the most of their lives will use it as a protective tool and even a bumper.

One of the most common comments I get from my custom suit clients is that a well-fitting suit is a new incentive for them to stay in shape. They recognize how expensive and wasteful it would be to invest money in a garment that was made for them, only to have their body change and negate the effects of the suit or their ability to wear it altogether. The suit becomes a yardstick by which they can measure and maintain their physical shape.

The same can be said of a man’s style in general. One of the reasons the unmotivated dress like complete bums is because it’s congruent with their aspirations and work ethic. It’s much more difficult for a man to allow himself to slack in other areas when he maintains the self discipline to dress well.