Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Pale Dude's All-Season Guide to Looking Good

Back in June of last year (happy anniversary insanely backlogged post) a friend of mine asked me to go shopping and basically do some image consulting with him in preparation for the first job he'd had that required business attire: teaching English via JET in Kochi, Japan.

I definitely don't consider myself a fashion maven or anything (as I sit here dressed in second-hand clothes I bought in high school), especially now that I'm relegated to a tiny Korean pseudo-closet, but I try keep up with what's going on, and I'm pretty good with colour, shapes, textures and predicting trends. But then, that's the whole point: not everyone is, and not everyone finds it interesting. A lot of guys don't even like to think about clothes or shopping for more than the three seconds it takes to grab a new pack of briefs. Black shirt, jeans, don't have a different shoe on each foot, pits don't stink, done.

While this was originally going to be a basic fashion guide specifically for pale dudes, I ended up deciding to make a more universal, all-emcompassing guide based on just a few simple rules.

First of all - and this sounds painfully obvious - buy clothes that fit. Lots of women don't even wear the right size bra, how can you be expected to understand what sort of cut best flatters your silhouette?

Figure out what sort of body shape you have and start looking for clothes accordingly, instead of just looking at everything and hoping it'll work on you. Soon it'll be intuitive and require little effort. So, just use the image below and read the conveniently short corresponding blip about your body shape! I've basically stolen and reworded the following from Style Makeover HQ, but they had already taken it from another site so it's OK:

A - Triangle Shape.

If the bottom half of your body is heavier and wider than the upper half, you have a narrow chest and shoulders and wide hips, you have a triangular body.

What you want to do is emphasise your shoulders more while drawing attention away from or adding a slimming effect to your hips, butt and legs.

B - Inverted Triangle Shape.

If you have a broad, muscular top half and slim, narrow bottom half, you've got an inverted triangular body. Try not to skip leg day at the gym, bro.

What you want to do is balance yourself out by wearing straight or wide-legged pants and fitted shirts. If your shirt hangs off your shoulders, you'll appear wide and disproportionate.

C - Rectangle Shape.

If your torso is straight and your shoulders, chest, waist and hips are all about the same width, you've got a rectangular body.

What you want to do is emphasise your shoulders and bring in your waist if possible, to give the illusion of a more trapezoidal figure.

D - Trapezoid Shape.

If you are well-proportioned with a medium or narrow waist and hips and a broad chest and shoulders, then congratulations, you probably already know that you've got a nice body! Not saying that A - C and E don't, but this is the type you usually see on models and whatnot.

What you want to do is hit the back button and keep shopping, because you'll probably look good in most things.

E - Oval Shape.

If you've got a large stomach and an overall round shape, possibly with thinner arms and legs, then you've got an oval body.

What you want to do is elongate and slim your torso as much as possible.

Now that you know your body type and what works best for it, you'll want to go to a nice department store and get measured. This will be really useful now, in the future, on weekends, holidays, any time you need to rent a suit or otherwise dress up, etc. I made my friend do it and write them all down. Keeping them on hand and converting them to centimetres (in this case, since 'Murica don't need no damn socialist metric system) will save you time and headaches and ensure that you always get a perfect fit. Don't underestimate the power of the tape. Oh, and don't worry; the shop guy probably won't cop a feel when taking your inseam. Probably.

Now, on to the actual types of clothes that will flatter your body shape. It's one thing to tell somebody how they should dress and another entirely to unleash them on the world with only a few loose parameters, a dream, and a song in their heart.

A - Triangle Shape.

Even if you're not actually fat, it can be tricky to look sleek with this body type. It's difficult to achieve an impressive, hunky look when you've got narrow, slightly downward-sloping shoulders and even a more feminine, pear-shaped bottom half. 

Firstly, you'll want to try to emphasise your shoulders and balance out your smaller top half. Don't wear anything too tight. Do wear jackets with shoulder pads, and don't be afraid to layer tops. Wearing horizontal stripes and other busy patterns and/or a light colour (such as white) on top and dark, loose-fitting (but not baggy) pants will balance you out. If your pants are too tight your already-larger bottom half will look even more so, and looseness at the lower leg and pleats will do the same.

B - Inverted Triangle Shape.

While you have a nice, slim, athletic physique, you want to avoid looking top-heavy. Guys who wear super tight shirts that are intentionally too small look kind of ridiculous. Maybe it'll reel in a couple of chicks who want to feel your arms, but at the end of the day, it's an immature way to dress.

At the same time, though, don't be afraid to show off your shoulders, chest and arms in a more subtle way. For example, tank tops in the summer are a plus, while deep V-neck tees year-round are not. Light colours and loud patterns on top will also make you look out of proportion, as will jackets with shoulder pads and big lapels. Go for dark colours, slimming vertical stripes and button-down collared shirts. Go for boot-cut or flared pants to balance our your figure. Details at the hips will make them look wider, and cuffs draw attention downward and create flattering, balanced lines in your outfit.

C - Rectangle Shape.

A rectangular shaped is supposedly not ideal, but if you're more or less fit, it can be very attractive and well-balanced. All you want to learn how to do is give said shape a bit more definition by emphasising/broadening your shoulders and wearing semi-fitted clothes to look slimmer in the waist area.

If your hips and medium to slim, don't be afraid to layer tops or wear jackets with shoulder pads to create some bulk up top. Tops with slightly exaggerated shoulder seams, chest pockets and wide necklines or collars can help you achieve this look, as can horizontal stripes and light colours. Avoid baggy pants and try to find comfortable ones that are more closely fitted at the waist and looser at the lower leg. Pockets that have a slanted rather than straight cut will also help break up your rectangular shape.

My friend, for example, is rectangular. What he wants to do is wear fitted, slim shirts and jackets and emphasise his strong shoulders while bringing his waist in. If these things have structure and diagonal lines that point in at the waist, even better.

D - Trapezoid Shape.

Congratulations! As mentioned earlier, you are quite an attractive man. Don't hide it, flaunt it! 

You want to avoid wearing baggy clothes that hide and distort your figure, instead wearing more fitted pieces to flatter it. Now, that doesn't mean that everything has to be skin-tight; that's actually kind of tacky. Snug but not strangling, structured but not boxy. 


Ok, let's move on to colour. First of all, you can't go wrong with neutrals like black, white, grey and navy. I mean, like, maybe you can if you try hard enough, but probably not. Follow this basic formula:
^ If you have dark skin...
^ If you have medium brown skin...
^ And if you have pale skin.
(Source: Bold Jack)
The first thing to remember is to avoid wearing your skin tone. You don't want to look all washed-out and freaky if you're pale or like a shadow if you're dark, do you? 'Course not. If you're super pale like my friend it's also imperative that you don't wear hot or even warm colours, because they bring out the pinks, reds and yellows in your skin tone (and probably hair) way too much, and it's just bad. In his case, I told him to stick with white, dark neutrals, a few pastels and most shades of blue. When he was first asking me about coordinating an outfit last summer, I browsed the sale section of Nordstrom.com for 15 minutes or so and came up with this (glad I still had it):

You can see that the pants and jacket aren't the same colour, but they are close. The pants are matte and a soft grey while the jacket is slightly shiny and seems to reflect reddish-blueish-purple tones. The shoes aren't exactly the same colour, either, but could easily go with almost any grey or brown outfit for spring or summer. Also, the belt pictured is reversible; it's black on the other side. Do not wear a white belt unless it's very temperate spring or summer. If you're going to get a bright colour like white, it'll save you money to do it this way so it doesn't stay shoved in the back of your drawer for 8 1/2 months of the year.

Trying to match colours exactly is often a waste of time and energy. Hold things that are similar up next to each other and see if they're complimentary, pleasing to the eye. I intentionally had my friend get a jacket that was a different colour from his pants and, as I remember, at least two guys in the store did a double-take, stopped, and complimented it.

The other reason you don't want things to match exactly is so that you can mix and match them, like the shoes above, for example. A number of publications have a chart depicting the percentage of each colour group a man should have in his wardrobe:

Source: Real Men Real Style

Having a good, solid base of those neutrals I keep talking about plus blue will keep you looking stylish most of the time. This is especially true f you put a little more effort into buying nice, soft T-shirts with flattering lengths and necklines in interesting neutrals.

If you're thinking about dressing up, realise that having a lot of grey in your outfit allows you to draw focus somewhere specific if you're wearing it, such as to a bright blue tie, new pair of glasses or cool belt. 

Avoid wearing coloured pants. This is good advice for most people in most circumstances.

So now you're like, OK, I think I can figure out monochrome, but what about everything else? Well, there are four basic types of colour harmony (from left to right): complementary, split-complementary, analogous and triadic.

Source: Tiger Color

Complementary colours are directly across from each other on the wheel, like purple and yellow. Split-complementary schemes are my personal favourite; you use two similar hues plus an opposite one. So you could do, like, a light and dark blue with a pop of orange. Analogous colours are pretty self-explanatory, but a triadic scheme is perhaps the most advanced of the bunch. Maybe don't attempt it, grasshopper, until you've got the first three down.

Once you've got this part down, conquer your fear of looking like an idiot and start mixing textures and patterns. Remember those "matte" grey pants and that "shiny" jacket? That's what I'm talking about. 

It's obvious enough that you should have light fabrics for spring and summer and heavier ones for autumn and winter, but as far as I've seen, men don't usually notice or use them much. Once you get comfortable with what's flattering on you, you might even be able to pull off a corduroy jacket with different-coloured elbow patches. Don't be afraid of thick knits, scarves and hats in winter; they can still look rugged and manly. No one knows you're thinking about the colour wheel, especially if you look like a romanticised fashion-magazine version of a Norseman battling North Sea waves for cod or crab. See, doesn't that make you think of sharp, clear blues and wool fibers? Varying textures keep your outfits interesting, and might give flirty women an excuse to touch you (wink, nudge).

As far as mixing patterns goes, well, the simplest thing to do is be bold and go solid from head to toe. The pocket square is a powerful tool, but for an extra-sleek, confident look when going out to dinner or an event, you don't necessarily need one, or it could also be black. I was so proud of my friend when he figured this one out by himself! 

Mixing ties and shirts is actually pretty easy. Personally, I really hate swirly, flashy or tribal patterns - except for maybe a classic, subtle paisley - and advised my friend to lean heavily on geometry. Just don't go too far overboard. Even if you're a famous musician or something, you'll still look like a douchey clown wearing a loud-ass tie with a bright patterned shirt and crazy jacket.

For example, here are two different ways to wear a white and lavender shirt. I hate the one on the left. I hate everything about it. There's nothing subtle about that paisley, sir, and you can't put a thick, heavy, shiny tie like that with a crisp summer shirt. The tie on the right, though, looks fantastic with the shirt and would work not only with grey and navy blue jackets and pants, but can you see that subtle hint of brown? Now there's a tie that will go with a ton of different things.

Also, this guy continues to make my point not only about the patterns, but about loudness and coloured pants. I don't care how hot he is if his name is Douchemaster Masterdouche. Stahp.

Some of your best, most basic bets are white or very light shirts with thin, not-too-obtrusive plaid, striped or checkered patterns in blues with hints of red, plus a patterned blue tie that shares one of the colours. Doing a bright red striped tie would also match well, even if you can barely see the hints of red in the shirt. If the pattern on your shirt is small and subtle like this, you'll want the tie to either be bigger and bolder or the exact same pattern in a different colour scheme.

And in case you ever wanted to know:


This last section is just about the basics every man should own.

There are things you could add or remove from this list, sure; everyone's opinion on what's important is a little different, but it's hard to mess up if you've got all the following down:

A grey suit

A navy blazer that's light enough to wear in any season

One long and one short-sleeved white button-up

At least one nice neutral sweater (e.g., a plain light grey one)

Nice, neutral tees in black, white and navy

A good leather belt, preferably a reversible one (e.g., black and brown)

Slim black dress shoes

Professional-looking messenger bag/briefcase

Some other basic items every man should have are nice black and khaki trousers, a pair of plain, fitted dark blue jeans, a couple of versatile skinny ties, and a pair of boat shoes and/or nice, sleek sneakers. If you have dirty old shoes, a dingy white shirt or khakis that don't fit right, it's like you just took the wrong brick out of Fashion Jenga and lost the game.

I'm not saying that everyone should constantly play up to the image society expects of them all the time and become vain and superficial, but if you want to look like a stylish professional, then believe me when I say that women and image-conscious men (often superiors) will notice what you're wearing. It's a fact that people react better to those who are attractive. You don't have to be the best-looking person in the world to be successful, but if you're confident, eager and a sharp dresser, you've just improved your chances exponentially.

If you're willing to spend a little time finding quality basics you really like, you also don't have to spend a fortune on them. Even though we had a very productive afternoon of shopping, my friend couldn't exactly overhaul everything he owned in one day, so we had to put back a couple of cardigans and a belt and didn't look at shoes or bags, but here are some of the phone pics he took for me wearing his swag afterward:

Not bad, right? I'd hire him.

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