The Man or The Clothes Part II

Check out Part 1 here.

Last time I covered how to dress when you want the focus of other people to be on you and not your clothes, so today I’ll be talking about the opposite – when you want the attention more focused on your clothes and less on you.

The main takeaway I want you to get from this is that it’s a matter of shifting the balance. If you go too far towards people seeing your clothing and not you, you’ll look like you’re wearing a costume. There are plenty of men who advocate this as a way to stand out from the crowd and make it so people can’t help but pay attention to you (i.e. PUA gurus like Mystery) but I’m of the opinion that a costume’s risk nor its payoff are worth the reward.

“Hey, that’s a great shirt”

I love this compliment as much as the next guy – provided I receive it in the correct context. If its counter point (Hey, you look great today) is what you want to hear in business, professional, and somber environments, this is exactly what you want to hear in social situations.

The ideal setting in which you want to dress to stand out are things like nightclubs, sporting events, a music festival, or any other situation in which you will be competing with other men for the envy of other men and attention of other women.

In all of the above scenarios you hamstring your ability to achieve your desired social goals by appearing non-descript or adopting the uniform of everyone else around you. A man in a suit won’t stand out on Wall Street, but he will at Burning Man. In these social situations you are among hundreds or thousands of people and your clothing and grooming are the first, and often the only, means you have of distinguishing yourself from the rest of the pack. It’s arguable that even negative attention is better than no attention, but positive attention is ideal.

Barney Stinson 1 The Man or The Clothes Part 2

Sid+Vicious+ boat trip The Man or The Clothes Part 2

For examples of the two extremes check out Barney Stinson and Syd Vicious. Barney is always in a suit. He even has suit pajamas and he uses his style to his advantage with both men and women. Syd Vicious on the other hand was intentionally and perpetually as ratty as possible. He used his clothes as a way to further communicate his Anarchy-in-the-UK ethos and demonstrate just how much contempt he had for society.

The tips to accomplish this look are the opposite of those from the previous post.

Wear bold and large patterns. If you’re on Wall Street and you want to appear larger than life, your clothing has to appear that way. Bold butcher stripes in loud colors with contrast cuffs and collars, plenty of accessories, and perfectly tailored suits will communicate that you’re comfortable with all eyes on you. Madras plaids, rugby stripes, buffalo plaids, and window pane patterns are so far removed from every-day wear that they immediately get attention. If these patterns are worn on clothing that fits you well, no one will be able to think anything other than, “Damn, that looks good.”

Wear colors that are contrasting. Colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel have the strongest contrast. By pairing your navy suit with an orange tie or shirt you’re immediately making a bold statement. Same goes with wearing a purple shirt with yellow pants. Again, fit is key to pulling this off without it looking tacky. If you want to be bold without completely limiting your color choices, you can also choose to pair colors that form a Y shape on the color wheel. These are more stark than those right next to each other, while still opening up more possibilities than opposites.

Choose colors that are less associated with the business world. Navy, grey, charcoal, black, and white are all fairly common for suits, shirts, ties, and even T-shirts. If you want to stand apart while still wearing something that can be considered a uniform, choose the same items of clothing in bolder colors. Bright chinos, a burgundy suit, orange sneakers, or any other iteration you can come up with, is going to be attention seeking by its very nature.

Accessories are your best friend. Large watches, necklaces, rings, cuff links, bright shoelaces, and bracelets are all ways to appear different than most Western men. You’ll still want to look for accessories that are sufficiently masculine, but having a few extra items on will show you’re not afraid of a scrutinizing eye.

Dress a level up or down from the event you’re attending. I’m of the opinion that dressing like you have somewhere better to be afterwards is the best approach. But the disrespect for social decorum that comes from dressing down a step can be equally effective.

The point of this is that you should always be dressing intentionally. Once you get the basics down, it takes very little effort to know what is appropriate – whether you’re making a quick run to the grocery store or giving an acceptance speech. You clothing is ALWAYS a means to an end and knowing how different approaches can help you accomplish your desired ends simply makes the process easier.

If you liked this series and are interested in learning about a third element in this discussion, I suggest reading Sartorialism vs Style.