How to not dress like a grad student?
May 17, 2009 6:35 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to learn to dress well and look sharp... but I've got no natural talent for it. Can anybody help me figure out how/where to start? (more inside)

I'm a 29-year-old man, and a year away from my PhD in computer science. My adult years have been spent either in school or in pretty casual jobs, and my wardrobe is pretty grad school: mostly jeans and a polo/t-shirts. I own one black suit that kinda-sorta fits, and I've got two ties that stay permanently tied (I don't even know how to tie one). In short, I really don't know much about style or looking good.

All this works OK for a schlubby grad student, but it seems pretty embarrassing for an adult. I'd like to seriously upgrade my wardrobe. I'll be on the job market within a year (either academic or an industry job), and I'll need to dress better for that. Also, my girlfriend is a pretty stylish dresser, and while she never complains about the way I look, I think she'd appreciate an upgrade as well. And I think I'd enjoy being someone who looks sharp in any given situation.

So, what I'm looking for: I don't really know much about style, but I'd like something classy that (if such a thing exists) doesn't go immediately out of date. I don't need anything out there. I'm 6'3" and 220 (although I'm slowly getting in better shape, so I anticipate being 200 before too long). If it matters, I'm in the midwest USA right now but that'll probably change when I graduate. And for now, at least, I need to do all this on a grad student's budget... so incremental changes would work well.

Oh, and before someone suggests it, the girlfriend doesn't know anything about men's fashion, so she's not a lot of help. And my friends are also slobby grad student-types. So I'm kind of on my own here. I've looked around for stuff on AskMe and the 'net at large, but the stuff I found mostly presupposes more fashion sense than I have... so I'd be grateful for any pointers. Thanks much!
posted by captainawesome to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (39 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
Start with the basics.

If you feel totally clueless, go to a place like Banana Republic and pick out an outfit or two. Their stuff is not very exciting but will get the job done. Although you say that your girlfriend does not know anything about men's fashion, see if she will come along to give thumbs up or thumbs down votes to the outfits you pick out. Perhaps a dinner on you will motivate her.

Once you get to the level where you feel confident that you can pick out reasonable outfits for yourself, then it's time to get creative. But don't feel pressured to show up looking like Kanye from the get-go. Start simple. Keep it simple.
posted by rachelpapers at 6:54 PM on May 17, 2009

Tip #1: never buy clothes for the weight/waistline you hope/expect to be. Buy for size you currently are.

Although I never buy any of their stuff, I love keeping tabs on Blackbird.
posted by furtive at 6:56 PM on May 17, 2009

A key factor in looking sharp is to have clothes that fit you perfectly. Which means getting clothes tailored to fit your body.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:56 PM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Start with a navy or camel sport coat that really fits. (It should feel almost too small.) You don’t have to spend more than $150 to get a decent one, and it will be one of the most versatile pieces of your wardrobe. Just adding the coat to your standard jeans and t-shirt or polo will instantly class you up. Of course you’ll also wear it with trousers and an oxford shirt. (Just be sure to wear a belt and tuck in the shirt.)

Next buy some nice shoes. From there, just watch for examples of stylish men you can imitate. I shop at Banana Republic and Gap a lot, because I find that their stuff fits me well. As a tall guy, you might have more trouble finding a good fit, but once you’ve found a store that has your size and style, stick with it.

(I’m also betting your girlfriend can help you more than you think.)
posted by ijoshua at 6:59 PM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

A few thoughts based on my experience shopping with the fashion-neutral men in my life:

Take your suit (and yourself) to a tailor and have it tailored to really fit, not just kinda-sorta.

Learn how to tie a tie. Either go to a men's clothing store and ask a sales person to teach you (seriously, this is fine--they're used to it) or get a friend to teach you.

Depends on what you mean by grad student budget, but prepare to invest a fair amount of money in a few key pieces: dress shirts (forward point collars, not button-down collars), a sport coat, two or three pairs of slacks, decent shoes. Stay simple: white shirt, blue shirt, blue windowpane pattern if you want to get fancy; navy sport coat; khaki pants, gray pants. Be prepared to have the jacket and pants tailored (most stores offer this on-site). Eventually, get a new suit--charcoal gray, or dark navy--but your first priority should be rounding out your wardrobe with the above pieces.

If you're in the Chicago area, try Suits 20/20 or try to find whatever the local wholesale-price menswear store is (someone among your fellow grad students must know of such a place). Men's Wearhouse can have decent sales (buy one, get one free on ties, etc.), and will certainly be cheaper than Brooks Brothers, but you'll still be paying $100 for a pair of pants. This is normal. Be aware that anything significantly cheaper than that is likely to look significantly cheaper as well. For now, I'd stick with professional-type menswear stores--stores where anything casual looks like what a huge dork would wear on his sailboat (seersucker shorts and pink polo shirts, that sort of thing). Those will be the stores for these basics, then you can branch out later.

If she's willing to tag along, take your girlfriend shopping with you--she may not know much about men's fashion, but she can steer you clear of anything obviously bad that an over-enthusiastic sales person might try to sell you, and in general it's just good to have a second opinion.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:02 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Start by buying yourself six good business shirts you can iron nicely and continue into learning to tie ties. As a CS student you'll no doubt find getting your head around the patterns a great deal easier than the rest of us did. It took me a full day to work out the windsor knot.

Keep your shoes clean. Lots of people notice scuffed shoes.

It doesn't matter if you pick up clothes cheaply or if they're a bit unfashionable. As long as they fit you well and you keep them in good shape, you're going to look better as a clean, tidy jobseeker than a slob in a $1000 suit.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:02 PM on May 17, 2009

If your girlfriend can't do it for you, solicit the advice of a store sales rep with a personal shopping appointment. Macy's, J.Crew, and Nordstrom (varying levels of expense) all offer free personal shoppers, and I've had friends who've had a lot of luck with both the J.Crew and Nordstrom services. There's no reason you can't ask someone at the store who's an "expert" in fashion to help you out in figuring out what fits you best. Hopefully there's not a lot of pressure to buy lots of clothes afterward, but if you do schedule a shopping appointment, be prepared to buy *some* stuff.
posted by olinerd at 7:03 PM on May 17, 2009

Take all the above advice about jackets, suits, etc. Definitely. But you might start by upgrading your jeans, shoes, and glasses if you wear them. The resulting look -- "I'm not a stockbroker or an insurance agent, but I got some class & style" -- is one that's probably going to feel a lot more natural for day-to-day use than, say, buying a fancy suit. And nice jeans and shoes with a decent shirt or sweater will cover a LOT of territory.

By "upgrading jeans" I mean -- move past Levi's (though I love them and wear them all the time) to stuff with better lines, better denim. By "upgrading shoes" I mean anything from moving from schlumpy Nikes to a cooler pair of tennis shoes (whatever is the Puma of 2009) to getting a serious pair of black leather somethings. By "upgrading glasses" I mean.... um.... I don't know; just go to an eyeglass store that's a tick up from, say, Pearlevision. All of these things will probably be more expensive than you're used to paying... keep an eye out for sales, and look at clearance racks.

Anyway, Banana Republic is a good start -- definitely for those "decent shirts and sweaters" I mentioned above. . Also try Kenneth Cole, Seven For all Mankind jeans, and Bluefly for whatever they happen to have at the moment. Zappos is SUCH an easy way to buy shoes -- free shipping and free returns, so I sometimes buy 6 pairs and send 5 back. They intend you to do that (how else could they sell shoes online?) Read GQ, Esquire, Men's Health.

I wish I could give you more precise tips, but...
posted by kestrel251 at 7:08 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are some neat men's style blogs out there. They often feature more expensive stuff but it might be good for inspiration. Examples (maybe too much on preppy side but maybe still interesting) are secret forts, all plaidout, and hyr collective. I think a lot of men's style magazines are a little to much on the feminine style, so you might have better luck with these blogs anyway. You don't exactly have to look like Kanye West every day! If you really want to see some super-stylish men, though, look at The Sartorialist's photos of "Men of Milan".

You could certainly look at videos on you tube to learn how to tie a tie. I can't imagine it would take long to learn this, and you'll feel better once you practice a little and get good at it. See if you can teach your girlfriend, too. It's one of those "life skills" of the modern world.

There obviously aren't as many books on men's style as there are for women's, but you could always take a look at a book such as the Details Book. Most books like this would suggest several basic pieces of clothing that you'd want to buy and have on hand. These books would probably also suggest how to judge if something fits right or not.

Last thing I'd say is to learn how to iron a dress shirt, or buy "non-iron" shirts (like these from Brooks Brothers - I have the women's version and I love them!). In my experience (women's clothing) the sales people at Brooks Brothers often have an intuitive sense for fit and style. You don't even need to buy anything - you could just go and try stuff on.

Good luck, and don't spend too much money! Just a few nice things can go a long way... men can really get away with wearing almost the same thing each day as long as it's clean and in good repair. If you find a nice, simple and well made dress shirt that fits you well, don't be afraid to buy five or more as long as you like the colors and patterns. No need to worry much about trends or weird colors - just go with the classic stuff.
posted by belau at 7:10 PM on May 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

I should note, by "fair amount of money" above, I just mean that dressing like a professional adult man costs more than dressing in tee shirts and jeans from Target. When I leave a store with my SO after buying him a new suit or whatever else, I'm always thinking "What a deal! Two blazers for the price of one!" and he says "Wow, that was pricey." So, you do kind of have to wrap your brain around a new range of prices and probably end up spending several hundred dollars all-told, but you don't need to spend thousands.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:12 PM on May 17, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody - this is good stuff! So I'm getting that simple is the way to go? Solid color dress shirts and a sport coat or two, some nice pants and shoes? The store suggestions are great, too... I never know where to go to get "real" clothing.

And I never realized Kanye West was something of a style icon. Common knowledge? Told you this wasn't my area. :-)
posted by captainawesome at 7:19 PM on May 17, 2009

Mr. Txvt, who is an impeccable dresser, swears by The Gentleman's Guide to Grooming and Style. It is classic, not trendy or Esquire-ish, and covers everything from tuxedos to jeans and shorts and everything in between. Our local Barnes and Noble usually carries it in the bargain books section.

He says the only thing it doesn't cover is regional variances; for example, in Dallas it's generally more acceptable to wear loafers and button downs in a "formal" business setting than in New York. The book is somewhat British/anglo-centric. It also illustrates how to tie both windsor and four-in-hand knots. And tells you how ties are made, the origins of silk, etc. It has tons of photos and is a really interesting book even just to browse through.
posted by txvtchick at 7:22 PM on May 17, 2009

Find a copy of Color for Men and figure out your colors.

I promise and assure you it will make a HUGE difference.
posted by jgirl at 7:28 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Are you looking for clothes to interview in, or clothes to wear to a future job?

If the former, buy one good-looking navy blue suit and a nice shirt and tie which go together. Buy one pair of cap-toe oxfords (ideally like this). This will be your interview outfit which can double as a suit to wear to weddings and formal functions. Having one outfit which you are 100% sure you look good in is better than worrying about what sort of shirt or tie to wear to interviews.

If the latter, it seems that everybody these days wears an oxford shirt, slacks, and dress shoes of some sort. I rarely see anybody wearing ties, let alone blazers. This might even be considered overdressed for a software development company or other place where CS grads might work. If you wear a non-blousy dress shirt that actually fits you, nice pants (not chinos) and good-looking shoes you'll look better than 95% of the working world.

If you're looking for streetwear recommendations none of the above applies unless you're going for the preppy look. I would second kestrel251 and suggest you to look at nicer jeans, casual shirts, outerwear, etc.
posted by pravit at 7:29 PM on May 17, 2009

Oh, and in the long run, using "your" colors has a huge positive benefit on your clothing budget!
posted by jgirl at 7:30 PM on May 17, 2009

OK, for work, you need to dress like you're not trying to dress. There's a reason that wearing a suit and tie is a uniform. A suit that fits (get measured and buy those sizes, not approximations). Ditto an ironed shirt with a collar that is not loose and sleeves that hit your wrists. You'll be uncomfortable at first as fits doesn't feel right for a baggy grad student. There's no point on spending any cash on something that is expensive but looks like it was meant for your older / younger brother. But, equally, don't buy something overly fitted and tailored (eg random stitching and embellishment).

Clean shoes. Don't have to be too shiny. Socks and a belt that match.

A properly tied tie. Learn. Don't be flashy with this or with cuff links.
posted by TrashyRambo at 7:35 PM on May 17, 2009

Some great advice above.
If you find someone with a similar body type and a good fashion sense, it's okay to look up to them. I use people for inspiration all the time. If you find yourself on the metro or on the streets and catch yourself admiring the way someone is dressed, make a mental note so you can pick out a similar outfit the next time you go shopping.
posted by nikkorizz at 7:43 PM on May 17, 2009

Academic dress can be a kind of shabby chic, and the charity shop can sometimes provide tweedy / cordy things, though it helps if you know what you're looking for. A good upgrade for jeans can be narrow corduroy or cotton moleskin. While I'm usually sceptical of such things, the seasons model works for me when working out which colours to choose in a more casual setting.

nthing "buy for what fits you": a properly cut suit that respects your frame can work around extra pounds, and a good tailor can adapt it to fluctuations.

Roving tailors who do fittings in hotel suites and then have the work done in SE Asia can be a bit of a minefield, but what they do offer is a degree of custom tailoring and the chance to get decent package deals: if you buy a suit, buying a matching pair of trousers will increase its life and ensure that you're not rendered suitless by an accident. (Certain off-the-peg retailers give you that option, not all of them do.)

On a similar note: buy two good pairs of shoes, alternate them, and you'll get the same use out of them than three pairs bought consecutively.
posted by holgate at 7:48 PM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

If all you do is upgrade the formality of your wardrobe from casual to business formal and just switch from shopping at Old Navy to shopping at Gap or Banana Republic (which, by the way, all belong to the same company,) you're not going to "look sharp." You will definitely look more presentable, because more formal clothing tends to be more concealing of the less attractive parts of an average person's body, but it will almost certainly not make you look good (unless you think that middle managers, investment bankers, or IT professionals are the height of fashion.)

I think this should make sense, though. Do you remember the movie Office Space? Weren't all the characters dressed business formal? How many of them would you say looked sharp? If you watch television news interviews, just think about how many government officials, journalists, and analysts dress in expensive, full suits and how many of them you think look "dashing" instead of just formal and "schlubby."

I think if you want to look good, there are two things you need to do:
1. get into better shape so that it is easier to find low-cost, good-fitting, machine-made clothes
2. learn what parts of your body look good and how to buy clothes that fit you and flatter these areas

(Absolutely do not throw a few hundred dollars at replacing your wardrobe at Banana Republic until you've done the latter. You will not look good if you are just buying on the theory that an outfit should look nice.)

Now, I think you've already started on the first item, and that's fantastic! Keep at it! - you should notice it becoming easier and easier for you to find clothes that fit you nicely, because you will be closer to the model that the designers used when imagining the outfit.

Doing the second is a little more difficult, but you can start by looking at people around you and noting when someone looks "sharp" and when they don't. Try to figure out what it is exactly that is giving you this impression, and see if you can figure out what their clothing is doing. Pay attention to the cut of the clothing as well as the fit.

I think you will soon learn that the type of clothing (jeans vs suits) doesn't make nearly as much of a difference as you thought - someone can look dashing in the right set of semi-formal jeans and look miserable in the wrong suit (e.g., in my personal opinion, any American-cut, pleated-trouser, saggy-posterior two-piece waste of fabric.)

Once you start getting a good feel for this, go to a couple of clothing stores and grab every item off the rack that looks even remotely interesting to you. Every ten items you collect, go to the dressing room and try them all on, and think about how you look in them compared to how you thought you would look in them and how you imagine other people would look in them. Slowly, you will be able to get an idea for what makes you look really dashing, and you will be develop the skills to show up snotty SAP consultants in their badly-fitting, $4000 suits with a carefully picked and tailored but cheap number from the Men's Warehouse.

Good luck!
posted by Sangermaine at 7:55 PM on May 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

Get a tailor. It's what I did. At least, he was a proper, hardcore tailor, but now focuses on the lighter side of things and his eye for colors, cuts, and so forth has rubbed off on me after many hours of going through shirts, ties, and what not. It's amazing what you can pick up after a few hours with someone who knows what they're talking about, even if you're paying double the price for the clothes you buy.
posted by wackybrit at 8:28 PM on May 17, 2009

I think the first step is to define what you think is sharp. Start cutting out pictures from magazines that have styles you like. Amass a collection of them. Then take them to a department store that has personal shoppers. Most in big cities do have this. You could also pay someone who does this freelance if you have to. Generally, the in-store kind don't cost. This shopper will help you find clothes that are similar in style to what you cut out that also is a good fit for your body type and color type needs. Just going to the Banana Republic and getting basics will simply upgrade you from grad student to recent grad student looking to upgrade status.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:56 PM on May 17, 2009

Believe it or not, and it rather pains me to say this, but magazines like GQ are not that bad when it comes to classic style advice.

Just stay away from the R&B and skate-boarding mags.
posted by Mephisto at 9:00 PM on May 17, 2009

If you are 6'3" and built anything like me (very comparable weight, but I'm just an inch taller) one of your challenges is truly going to be finding long sleeve shirts that fit. The sleeves are never long enough. I'm afraid that I don't have a solution for you but I wanted to give you a heads up. I don't have the budget to get things tailored and I've never found off the rack shirts that fit. Let me know if you discover the solution. Pants, I have never had as much of a problem with. Best of luck.
posted by fieldtrip at 10:06 PM on May 17, 2009

I'm 34 and have been ever so slowly upgrading my wardrobe for the past 15 years (ever since my working class background entered corporate America I've been in a bit of culture shock & I'm finally at a place where I understand how I should dress).

1. Always start at the more expensive stores and work your way down - you can get a better feel for quality & style that way.

2. The mannequins are dressed a certain way on purpose, especially in Men's stores.

3. I love Banana Republic, but their button shirts are horrible on me, so I buy my button shirts at J. Crew, where the soft cotton (doesn't wrinkle much) and cut fit me well.

Your needs may be different, but you won't know that until you've shopped around.

(note to JohnnyGunn: Banana Republic (and similar stores) has (have) personal shoppers - they just seem like salesmen, but they are personal shoppers & will get stuff for you & make recommendations.)

(belau: I may have to try Brooks Brothers shirts too now!)

4. Get a decent tailor. I'm not as hardcore as the other people on the list, but someone who can hem your pants or tuck your shirt sleeves is invaluable. If you find someone good, you can have them make whole outfits for you, or make clothes from selected fabrics (find a decent fabric store near you) patterned on your favorite duds.

5. Go shopping regularly. I try to go at least once a month (and typically end my day at the place I know where I always find good stuff - Banana Republic, J. Crew). Shopping is a skill, plus by going regularly you find more of the off-season stuff on sale. (and a lot of stuff is on sale during the recession)

6. MesoFilter's rules of shopping, all born from personal experience.

* Don't buy it because it's cheap.
* Don't buy it because it looks good on the mannequin.
* A few strong, but pricey piece are much better than many cheap, ugly pieces.
* Its not about whether the piece looks amazing, it's about whether or not you look amazing in it.

7. Men spend a lot less on clothes than women, that's just a fact of life, and it's good news for you - it means that more places cater to classic pieces that won't go out of style any time soon.

8. Boutique shops (little shops owned & operated by the same people) exist to have the essentials & advise you on what to wear.

9. Avoid kakhis like the plague.

10. Dress your best when you go shopping - how else can you audition individual pieces?

11. Essentials.

Pants: Black or slate gray. You can find these at most discount places (Loehmans, Filene's, Syms etc., look for names you recognize, should run you $20-30.

Shirts: Long-sleeve button. White. Blue. White & Blue (gingham, stripe, "grid paper"). Anything else, have someone advise you. I don't buy from the discount places personally because I'm not a standard size - in general, don't buy anything if you can't try it on first. It's okay if the collar doesn't completely close as long as you're not planning on wearing a tie, but you will want to upgrade to proper fitting shirts when your budget allows for it. (Should run you $60-80)

Accessories: Socks (Gold Toe is best for me), Belt, Shoes all black.

Blazer: Black or slate gray. Solid or pinstripe. 2 buttons or 3 (and never button the bottom button). You can skip the blazer until you're comfortable with your new image, or you can get one first to instantly upgrade your jeans + tee wardrobe (provided the jeans actually fit & the tee is appropriate). (Should run you $150-250)

Vest: Are for bankers & magicians, skip it until you know what you're doing.
posted by MesoFilter at 11:20 PM on May 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

You sound like you are planning on spending quite a lot on clothes - but not like you are in a massive hurry to do so. You are aiming to loose 20 pounds at which point you will have a BMI of 25 - top of the "normal" band - and it will be easier to find clothes off the peg which fit you well. If you could manage to loose 1 pound per week you could reach this point by about October. It might make sense to delay the bulk of your shopping until then.
posted by rongorongo at 1:29 AM on May 18, 2009

First: someone panned no button-down collars and they're kind of wrong. The collar ultimately should match the person, but spread collars can get sloppy over time. Button-downs keep ties in place and maintain their shape over time.

Also MesoFilter gives some good advice but I have some objections:

White & Blue (gingham, stripe, "grid paper").

I like the gingham look but this is a recent trend (it's "the" Spring/Summer 2009 look). It's not as timeless as a basic white or blue button-up.

Accessories: Socks (Gold Toe is best for me), Belt, Shoes all black.

Black shoes may be an accepted standard but it's a lazy color to work with. Try some brown shoes and matching belt instead--you won't be breaking any "dress code" rules unless you're attending a funeral, and you might find that a shade of brown works better for you (as it does for me).

You can skip the blazer until you're comfortable with your new image, or you can get one first to instantly upgrade your jeans + tee wardrobe (provided the jeans actually fit & the tee is appropriate). (Should run you $150-250)

Tee + blazer and jeans is a schlubby look left over from the college frat parties of all our pasts, and there's nothing "stylish" about it. Please don't pair your blazers with anything other than dress shirts.

His #6 (among others) is spot-on, though: take the damn clothes and try them on! Have some fun with it!
posted by achompas at 4:33 AM on May 18, 2009

Oh, also: I heartily disagree with "no khakis," as a slim, flat-front pair of beige chinos can look awesome. "No khakis" rises from the tons of people who wear pleated khakis with parachute legs.
posted by achompas at 4:49 AM on May 18, 2009

What are you talking about? Banana Republic The Gap? he said Stylish - I thought that was the Uniform du Jour of US grad students already? That stuff is rubbish and looks like shit.

Buy a few copies of GQ magazine or a style/fashion centered mens mag and then just find the stuff in it you like.
posted by mary8nne at 4:55 AM on May 18, 2009

I'm going to skip personal color and suggest some rules and places to look depending on your style. Some suggestions have a higher budget but I'll try to give you variety in price.

1. When it comes to dress shoes you get what you pay for. Stay away from Kenneth Cole (ugly square toes, glued soles) and Cole Haan (also poorly constructed), and look towards places like Alden, Clarks or Allen-Edmonds. $400 is a lot for a pair of men's dress shoes until you realize they will last you 10-15 years if you take care of them properly.

2. Some manufacturers use glue in their construction of suit jackets, and most have been mentioned in this thread already (BR and Men's Warehouse come to mind). If you're on a budget you can wear these but remember these won't last as long as a high quality suit (Ralph Lauren immediately comes to mind, and there's also Brioni or Kiton but all three are pricey) if you wear them frequently. If you're in the LA area let me suggest Thick as Thieves LA for some made-to-order suits of high quality and decent price point.

2. If something looks "cool," it's probably a recent trend or fad. There are some formal staples (navy or charcoal suit, black and brown dress shoes, white and blue shirts) every man should have; focus on these first. Your personal style will evolve from these and you can branch out into traditional style or more modern styles as you see fit.

3. For the traditional or preppy look, shop at J.Press, Brooks Brothers, or Ralph Lauren. I really don't like Banana Republic (quality isn't worth the price IMO) but some swear by it. For a modern, higher budget take on traditional clothing, consider Band of Outsiders or Acne to start.

4. If you're not interested in preppy or traditional looks, walk into your nearest Barney's Co-Op and browse the tons of modern designers available. Wait for sales as some items ($100 Ts? $300 button-ups?) are absurdly priced. Cheaper modern brands include Zara, H&M and Topman (to name a few).

5. For basics on a budget (chinos, tees, plain button-ups, socks, jackets, etc.) look to Uniqlo, J. Crew, Gap, or even Old Navy. You can't beat the $8 Hanes packs at Target for basic gray, white, or black shirts.
posted by achompas at 4:59 AM on May 18, 2009

mary8nne: a woman after my own heart! I really don't get the concept of "BR and Gap = stylish..."

If my responses are too long just grab the latest Esquire, GQ, or Details and read. You'll pick it up through osmosis.
posted by achompas at 5:01 AM on May 18, 2009

Buy a few copies of GQ magazine or a style/fashion centered mens mag and then just find the stuff in it you like.

I just want to add on to this a little.

I am in a similar camp, OP - I have no natural style, and had to study a bit to learn how to dress well. One of the things I stumbled a lot with was the concept above, buying things I liked. I spent a lot of money on clothes I really adored, but that did not necessarily suit my colouring or my bodyshape, or work cohesively together as a wardrobe.

So it is a good idea to buy magazines and try and nail down what you really like in clothes, but follow up on that by trying said styles on in stores. And be honest with yourself, and prepared to let them go, if they just don't work for you.
posted by pseudonymph at 5:53 AM on May 18, 2009

"grid paper"

It's called "tattersall." :-) No offense to that answerer; I'm just letting you know so that you can ask for it (or not) by name.
posted by jgirl at 6:26 AM on May 18, 2009

Just a couple of more things as all the advice above is good:
- wear your dress shoes when trying on pants as the tailor needs to know where to hem them and nothing looks good with sneakers

- put on pants, do deep knee bend, sit on a chair; how does it feel/look? This is to check that the zipper and waistband sit correctly when you do and that the knees/thighs don't grab you when bending/sitting. Some things fit when standing still in front of a mirror, but are a disaster otherwise.

- put on jacket/shirt, cross arms over chest in front with right hand to left upper arm & reverse. Can you do this without popping thread? Do the upper arms grab you?

- since you're tall, check the jacket and sleeve lengths carefully. I think the correct jacket sleeve length is still the hem touches the palm of your hand when arm at side, fingers curled towards palm, but check this with those who know, and sleeve hem to bottom of wrist bone.

- you should be able to put two fingers inside your waistband without strain and one inside your collar. Never wear a collar that's too tight. Some studies say it can lead to strokes in middle aged men. That's not you now, but good to get into the habit.

- always check the fit of the back of jacket/pants in the 3-way mirror or take someone you trust with you.

- shop the good stores, try on things, and wait for sales.

- my personal bugaboo: don't wear pastel green/peach/pink/weird pinkbeige shirts unless you're absolutely sure of your taste and you have all the basics.

- have fun. You're young, so you can dress with a little extra flair. Nthing the checking the magazines, mannequins, etc. You have to learn to match the style of shoes to the style of suit, i.e., formal with formal, casual with casual.

- shoes: nthing the stay away from glued shoes as some glues dissolve in the rain and you're left with a flapping sole (ask me about my expensive but cheaply made Italian loafers.) Leather soles and heels are repairable; synthetics are not.
posted by x46 at 7:58 AM on May 18, 2009

Russell Smith's Men's Style is a good introduction to dressing well and -- more importantly -- to looking sharp doing it.
posted by spindle at 8:26 AM on May 18, 2009

Tee + blazer and jeans is a schlubby look left over from the college frat parties of all our pasts, and there's nothing "stylish" about it. Please don't pair your blazers with anything other than dress shirts.

I'd like to second this statement. "Try a blazer with a graphic tee and jeans!" is one of those fashion tips which constantly keeps being recycled, yet in the past year I've seen maybe 1 or 2 guys actually wearing it and they looked horrible.

Chinos can look good if worn correctly; the problem is that so many people who wear them in a "business casual" outfit end up looking like they work at Best Buy (think engineering/CS students going to job fairs or giving presentations). I'd recommend wool slacks in darker colors for wearing in the office.
posted by pravit at 11:33 AM on May 18, 2009

It looks like you have plenty of material to work with in the replies so far, but I just saw this article on sfgate today and it sounds like it was written to answer this very question.

Guides to help you find your style
posted by csw at 6:39 PM on May 18, 2009

I'm 30, and a software engineer. If something looks really cool, it's going to look really dated next year. If you want lasting upgrades to an adult professional's fashion budget, understated is the way to go.

Decent khakhis and polo shirts in a medium cut in solid colors rarely go out of style before they wear out. Eddie Bauer, the Gap, and Nordstroms are all good at this. Eddie Bauer and Nordstroms will have things that fit your height/build very well. Avoid trendier stuff; again, that's going to go out of style in three months, when the season changes.

You dont need fashion jeans, but clean, well fitting Levis go a long way. A nice pair of black leather shoes go a long way (; I'm fond of Clarks, which start around $50 and last well. Match the belt to the shoes. Get a width of belt that works with multiple outfits; 1.5" works well. Replace sneakers before they look like a hobo lives in them, as well.

Dear God, never wear a blazer. You're not a lawyer, fratboy, or senior citizen.

Try the outlet malls, sale racks, and online site clearance/sales. Never pay full price for clothes if you can help it.
posted by talldean at 5:42 AM on May 20, 2009

Please leave aside the polo shirts; instead, say yes to patterned, untucked well-fitted oxford shirts (esp. w/ rolled up sleeves hitting just below the elbow--seriously hot on all and sundry menfolk). Actually, unless it's united with a snappy suit, I pretty much don't find myself swooning all that often when encountering the tucked-in shirt look in its usual habitat.

Same with the notion of "slacks" and "sport coats" or "blazers". Maybe it's only the words I'm reacting to, but as a lady in my early-ish 30s, those items call to mind vestments graciously reserved for the mossback brigade, not for a fashionable modern guy. Case in point: I nearly choked when I saw my twentysomething brother wearing a navy sportcoat wielding brass buttons along with a pair of pleated, cuffed beige chinos. I'm not even bringing up his pointy walnut brown dress shoes. So I entreat you to consider veering toward the sexy old Hollywood version of classic, staying far afield from the stodgy gramps version of classic.

Furthermore, think luxe fabrics, even for the simpler everyday stuff. You don't have to be dressing fancy, but if your fabrics are predominantly of natural fibers (cotton, linen, silk, wool, bamboo, blends with a high cotton content), you won't fall prey to the shiny polyester dress shirt problem where plastic-y threads make zippy sounds when you move. Check out well-maintained vintage items in thrift stores to save $. And it may be only my pet peeve, but why are the buttons on some very nice men's shirts so cheap-looking? I'm thinking of yellowed or otherwise icky glossy plastic buttons, specifically. Such a shame when the tailoring is otherwise so spot on and yummy.

I'll shut up soon, but first, check out this guy. He's wearing classic pieces, but it doesn't look like he raided his dad's closet. Maybe his scarf is a bit much, but, otherwise, I think he looks pretty suave, no? Or, what about this guy? This guy looks great, and a different colored shirt could be subbed in just as easily, right? This man is superfine, too. Confident, stylish looks, all of these gentlemen. And I think none of them are trendying it up too much; to me, they seem distinctly modern and like their clothes are expressions of themselves, rather than the store(s) the individual items came from.
posted by blisskite triplicate at 2:33 AM on May 22, 2009

First, I cannot emphasize enough the value of quality clothing over a quantity of Target-esque clothing. You will feel and look fantastic in quality pieces, even if you only start with a few.

Second, instead of shopping at a particular store to define your style, I suggest browsing through the websites of all the stores mentioned above. See what pops out that you're attracted to. What do YOU feel looks sharp, professional, and comfortable? I went through a similar phase when leaving college, and in defining my own style I felt totally out of place when I simply bought what I thought would look great to other people. It has to come from inside.

Finally, go to a store a try on some of the 'looks' you were attracted to online. Go all out and spend a day or two simply previewing yourself in the mirror wearing what felt the best to you. If you bring your partner, listen to her advice, but always let your feeling be the final word. Don't let her convince you to buy something that you don't feel comfortable in. It may feel foreign on your body to wear new kinds of clothing, but you will KNOW when you find what works for you. Don't let our culture define your style, be willing to go out on a limb and discover it for yourself.
posted by Merlin144 at 1:02 PM on May 22, 2009

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