Fashion change
December 29, 2012 9:26 AM   Subscribe

What sort of clothes to wear to project an image primarily of trust and secondarily of mystique/mystery? In seeking to improve myself, I want to upgrade my wardrobe. At work I can wear and usually do, wear T shirts and jeans. I'm tired of that. As part of my self-improvement, a book (Fascinate) shows that I'm viewed as trustworthy and mysterious. I'd like to dress for that.. I'm mid 40's male and have always been a T shirt and jeans guy. This is just one area that I just am not fully understanding
posted by badger11 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (27 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
You can specifically select clothes to try and accentuate this, but at that point, you're wearing a costume rather than clothing. My suggestion would be to roll towards a more conservative wardrobe. (Mefi's own) Jesse Thorn runs Put This On, which is a good starting point. You may also like A Suitable Wardrobe.

You need to find a happy medium between wearing a three piece suit straight out of Inception and a casual work environment. Well tailored slacks and tailored shirts are a good starting point. All of this, again, goes towards trustworthy.

Mysterious is going to be hard to add without looking like an affectation. My suggestion, rather than focusing on mysterious as a goal, would be to focus on a) subtlety, and b) uniqueness, with an emphasis on (a). Find a cologne that is you, find a watch that is you, have a few details that are just you that you add to complete the package.
posted by bfranklin at 9:41 AM on December 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

Not sure how scientific this is, but I think it was Dress for Success that said blue is the color that most people perceive as trustworthy. So you could try working more blue into your wardrobe.

Guys who wear eyeliner are often perceived as mysterious, especially if you don't dress flambouyantly in other ways.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:45 AM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hehe... Trustworthy and mysterious? I have never decided that someone is trustworthy and mysterious based on what they are wearing. Mysterious maybe if they were wearing a cape and a monocle, but that would cancel out the trustworthy, no question.

What about doing things to show you are a trustworthy person, while wearing jeans and a tshirt? Like being nice and not spreading rumors while dressed normally? I don't really have any pointers for mysterious. It somehow seems less mysterious if someone is trying deliberately to be that way.
posted by mermily at 9:45 AM on December 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

For 'mysterious', you could have some T-shirts printed with cryptic in-jokes or esoteric references that most people won't get, but they might wonder. Stuff like your friends' bands or obscure poetry or high level math or whatever you're into.
posted by steinwald at 9:48 AM on December 29, 2012

Mysterious makes me think of those pickup artist guys in quirky hats and black nail polish. However, you might take a gander at the (usually) Euro-gents on The Sartorialist. Accessories have a lot to do with flair and dash, and I guess mystery. Great sunglasses could be considered mysterious, if not taken to extremes. Scarves instead of ties, anything but Dockers.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:48 AM on December 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yeah, trustworthy and mysterious almost seem at odds. I think this is more about attitude than clothing.
posted by windykites at 9:49 AM on December 29, 2012

I cannot imagine any clothing that would project either of these traits. Trustworthiness is built by doing what you say you will do, over time, not by fabric. Mysterious people exist in books and movies, but not really so much in daily life -- and certainly not because of their clothes.

A friend suggests that pants might be trustworthy, however.
posted by ellF at 9:51 AM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think maybe intrigue is probably closer to what you could communicate by dressing well. I would never find a man wearing a t-shirt "intriguing;" however, I would find a well-dressed, confident man intriguing. And yeah, I don't know if you can convey trustworthiness through your clothing.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:57 AM on December 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

So, wearing more formal clothes (wool trousers rather than jeans, collared shirts with buttons rather than t-shirts, shoes rather than sneakers, dress socks rather than athletic socks) is going to reinforce the trustworthy image you want to present.

Mysterious is going to be harder. What says "mysterious" rather than "costumey and pretentious" to me in men's clothing are tiny details that the observer gets just a flash of: contrasting interlinings at a jacket collar, an antique watch that's a family heirloom, a belt with a small but marvelously detailed silver buckle from Mexico or Cambodia, hand-lasted shoes, an old and elegant umbrella with a carved handle. The J. Peterman catalogue is back online, and it's not a terrible place to start for ideas.

Things many people think will convey an air of mystery in their clothing, but about which I firmly believe they are mistaken: hats (good for keeping heads warm and/or dry and/or sheltered from sun, but not great as a fashion statement and never to be worn indoors except for religious reasons); capes (can be carried off by very advanced sartorialists as a fashion statement, otherwise skip unless it makes sense for convenience); long coats of the sort worn by wizards and bounty hunters and interdimensional Resistance fighters in movies; fur or faux fur coats (for super advanced sartorialists only).
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:08 AM on December 29, 2012 [12 favorites]

Yeah, trustworthy and mysterious almost seem at odds.
Yeah, I'm not getting this at all. I think I subconsciously would trust someone in uniform, like a firefighter, but not if I found him even mysterious. And I agree that mystery/mystique is not something that exists so much in daily life, but when it does, it's usually negative. Would it be appropriate for you to dress more formally at work? (At my job, it would not, and it would probably convey mystery/untrustworthiness, as in "where else is sm1tten interviewing?" but YMMV.)

I'm wondering if it might be more helpful to focus on a goal rather than a projection -- why do you want to appear more trustworthy and mysterious?
posted by sm1tten at 10:13 AM on December 29, 2012

Mysterious used to be something you got with tattoos, but that's too common now, I suppose. It's more of an attitude; not talking about yourself a lot, having "a past" that includes hinted-at adventures, giving few details when asked about what you're up to.

And I don't get that trustworthy=nice clothes, myself; I usually think of honest-looking guys who call you "ma'am" and stop to change your tire for you, or give you back change that you dropped, that sort of thing. It's more about the face/actions than the clothes. I suppose it could be "not seedy" and clean that does it too.

*Are* you, in fact, trustworthy and mysterious? Or do you just want to dress more nicely/uniquely?
posted by emjaybee at 10:33 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Getting a good haircut helps reinforce a "trustworthy" image; getting a slightly avant-garde version of same helps convey "sophistication" if not "mystery" per se.

Having eyebrows professionally groomed and getting tips from the stylist on how to maintain them at home can be a cornerstone in many men's fashion makeovers. Similarly with facial hair if you wear it.

If you wear eyeglasses, there are makers that combine classic frame styles ("trustworthy") with quirky details like lining the inside of the temples in a contrasting color ("mysterious" and maybe "mischievous"). Having several pairs of glasses and choosing the one that best accents your day's outfit is pretty rad---I remember taking a course with Simon Schama and wondering which pair of glasses he would be wearing each day; he had many pairs in the same style, but different colors, and that just seemed like the pinnacle of cool to 18-year-old me.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:38 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think wearing well-cared for clothing that is on the formalish side evokes trustworthiness in that it requires attention and diligence. You can throw t-shirt and jeans into the washer and dryer; wool trousers have to be cleaned more carefully, or if they're machine washable you usually need to press them. Dress shirts need to be pressed. Dress shoes need to be polished. Someone who's taking the time to do those things correctly has shown they can take time to do at least one kind of task properly.

Not that I think people who wear jeans and a t-shirt aren't trustworthy; I wear jeans and a t-shirt pretty much every day myself. I don't think they convey trustworthiness or its opposite, but I don't think they convey much of anything, as the default US casual wear. If the OP is attempting to send messages about how he wishes to be perceived through his clothing, he has to differentiate himself a bit.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:45 AM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hey I think you're asking a totally reasonable and very interesting question.

I'm going to assume you know that the best way to convey trustworthiness is to be trustworthy over a period of time. The choice of dress is more to cover first impressions, right?

Conveying trustworthiness is rather hard to do in a first impression, and is very context dependent. If you worked in a bank or stuffy financial-services industry, a way of doing that would be to dress in a classic suit that didn't draw attention to itself. A good suit makes you look wealthy (therefore good at making money) and lack of flashiness means that when people interact with you they're not quite even consciously registering the suit, you just look like a service droid for the finance company, not likely to take the customers' money and spend it on suits, not likely to take a wacky idiosyncratic decision and bet the customers' money on junk bonds. Being well groomed would be an essential part of this - you would need to seem like someone who cares about details and doesn't ever let a hair get out of place, and by extension doesn't let a penny get out of place.

Now take that suit and walk into a den of code monkeys. Oh look, see the code monkeys fling poo at the suit! I think you see what I mean about context dependence here, right? Now, as a coder, you might want to convey trustworthiness with an XML t-shirt and okay-looking jeans and nice-looking casual shoes. If you wore an offensive t-shirt, or were unnecessarily scruffy (ie you don't crawl around under desks every day but you look like you do) that could convey that you were socially unskilled and geeky in all the wrong ways, not necessarily to other coders (although possibly that too, but they'd be unlikely to say so) but to any non-geeks you had to interact with.
And women, geek or non-geek. An offensive t-shirt, to me, announces "no chance of mating" and is nature's way of warning me off.

So it depends where you go if you want to look trustworthy, or at least, not give a first impression of untrustworthiness.

To look mysterious, for men, I do think it is very much about the briefly glimpsed details. That said, the J Peterman catalogue would be a good read to get you into the mindset. But if you start off looking totally costumed, especially on a man that can easily backfire.

What I would recommend is some kind of discreet charm jewellery made of symbols that have real meaning for you, say, three charms perhaps in gold or silver (not both) on a leather cord, perhaps on a bracelet, worn on your opposite-of-watch wrist. Take your time and choose carefully.

Trustworthiness has a lot to do with disclosure, mysteriousness is more about saying less than necessary. This latter is very difficult to pull off because if you do it wrong, you end up leaving people hanging and turn into an uncommunicative pain in the ass and that is a very efficient way to become untrustworthy. It's more important to have a history of being transparent about things that affect other people and letting them know where they stand. The good news is that it's always advisable not to talk about your personal life at work or to discuss anything more consequential than the weather with your colleagues. You can do mysterious that way. I guess in your personal life, you could reverse the polarities and act like your work, it is so secret, you have already said too much. Just be careful that doesn't backfire when they find out that actually you work at the Donut Hut and your uniform includes a propellor beanie with a revolving hot dog on top.
posted by tel3path at 10:58 AM on December 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure if I can recommend something for trustworthy and mysterious but I can speak to making a change.

I, too, work in a place where I can wear jeans and a t-shirt and I have for almost 3 years but no more! I started out by buying 3 or 4 shirts that fit really well and that I love. That, coupled with the clothes in the back of my closet have helped me start to reverse the trend.

I'm a rule maker so I'm also saying no more tennis shoes at work. That right there makes me step it up a little.

And, finally, I happen to have a best friend who is very fashion conscious. On the days I know I'm going to see her, I try my best to look good and put-together. Now I just dress as if I'm going to see her everyday.
posted by dawkins_7 at 11:23 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you a hat guy? Maybe you should find out.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:27 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

You should watch the Dead Like Me episode "Reaping Havoc"—there's a character in it who takes a photo of everyone she meets and categorizes them. One category is "mysterious and reassuring." Maybe you'll get some ideas from that!
posted by limeonaire at 11:27 AM on December 29, 2012

Develop a set of principles oriented towards keeping your behaviour exemplary. Trustworthiness will follow. Over the years your absolutely impeccable trustworthiness will develop a mysterious aura. People you are acquainted with will default, subconsciously, to seeing t-shirts and jeans as the uniform that conveys mysterious trustworthiness.

I mean, I'm not really sure how else you could play that out, for all the reasons already mentioned.

Books can be valuable for basic guidelines on how to choose clothing -- look for XYZ as markers of quality, try this cut if you have fit issues here, that sort of thing -- but trying to develop a personal style based on contrivances and stuff you read about is absolutely not going to work; that's a costume, not a personal style. If you just want a self-upgrade, work on being a trustworthy guy and buy nice-looking jeans and tees; don't lose yourself.
posted by kmennie at 11:41 AM on December 29, 2012

For a bit of mystery, maybe some kind of blazer or sports jacket(s)? You could even go to some thrift stores and find some relatively neutral colors (black, brown, charcoal, navy), just slightly outdated or with some subtle but interesting details, and a perfect fit. To wear over your jeans and t-shirt.

Of course, if a jacket is just going to make you hot all the time, some kind of interesting pendant would be an easy addition (Examples: nautical, Lithuanian Coat of Arms, Celtic knot, carved wood or leather and stone)?
posted by Glinn at 11:52 AM on December 29, 2012

One way to project mystery is to indicate that you have an active, complex life offscreen. Offer glimpses of interesting objects that give hints of tradition, travel, culture, or education.

Never explain in detail, make an off-handed comment which lifts the curtain, but drops it quickly as if you want to preserve your privacy.

A dictionary for an esoteric language-- "I was translating a poem and found a word I didn't know."

Battered objects of great antiquity and value which are used for their original purpose everyday.

A strangely shaped drinking vessel-- a pocket knife-- socks with clocks in the back-- handmade British shoes
posted by ohshenandoah at 11:57 AM on December 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Some of my dearest friends are guys who are both mysterious and trustworthy. Granted, I have known them for a long time and already have a sense of who they really are, but they seem to give off the trustworthy-mysterious vibe to people in general; they do this through a combination of looking like they can take care of themselves and through the judicious use of interesting wardrobe pieces.

Looking like they can take care of themselves involves wearing some clothing that requires a bit of care beyond a toss in the washer and run through the dryer. Think things that need to be ironed, bleached, polished, or dry cleaned. And they don't necessarily wear these things all the time, nor do they necessarily wear them head-to-toe. For instance, they might wear jeans and a t-shirt with a jacket made of something besides say, fleece. Looking like they can take care of themselves also involves making sure that holes in clothing are mended, shoes are polished, hair is trimmed. If you look like you can adequately care for yourself, it goes a long way toward appearing trustworthy.

Being mysterious is all about having a story. My trustworthy-mysterious friends will choose one or perhaps two items from the following list and add them to an otherwise ordinary outfit: handmade necklace or bracelet, interesting jacket (think "Capt. Von Trapp" rather than "circus ringmaster"), black nail polish, hand-tooled belt, antique watch, waistcoat, unusual tie, walking stick, eyeliner, hat, interesting get the idea. Depending on what your business is, one item that looks like it has a story of some kind can provide all the mystery you need in an ordinary business setting. (If you are a professional illusionist, all bets are off.) Make it an item you genuinely enjoy!
posted by corey flood at 12:20 PM on December 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

This guy seems to me to be both trustworthy and mysterious. I think it's the coat and hat (mysterious) paired with the rumpled pants, worn boots, neutral socks and beard (trustworthy).

Also trustworthy and mysterious:

these dudes, especially the dude on the left

this guy

But this is next-level fashion shit and hardly a starting place for uninitiated.
posted by greta simone at 3:23 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd go for trustworthy clothing with slightly eclectic touches for the mysterious part. A guy I worked with pulled this off very well with nicely made smart casual clothing with some amazing accessories. He had cufflinks made from old fashioned hot and cold tap porcelain labels. A tie pin that looked steampunky before steam punk was trendy, he had ever so slightly the air of a time traveling Victorian gentleman/Doctor Who but without the over the top full on steampunk vibe.

He tended to wear just one interesting piece, that looked like it had a story behind it at a time as less is more, and also more mysterious. An interesting watch one day, cuff links another, a beautiful pen that was almost a work of art. My friend and I at the job had a theory he was actually an international spy as he would never really talk about the pieces or the stories behind them, it was never check out my cool new thing with him, he just liked this stuff and picked it up on his travels and boy did we want to know more about where he had been. Even if it was just to the local museum shop to find that interesting fossil on his desk.
posted by wwax at 3:25 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

be authentic and wear what you personally like rather than trying to "project an image". if you need help with shopping then ask your local department store if they have complimentary personal shoppers, hire a personal shopper or drag a female with a good sense of style along with you shopping.
posted by wildflower at 3:43 PM on December 29, 2012

be authentic and wear what you personally like rather than trying to "project an image". if you need help with shopping then ask your local department store if they have complimentary personal shoppers, hire a personal shopper or drag a female with a good sense of style along with you shopping.

Well, maybe bring along someone who understands men's style in particular. Many stylish women don't really know much about men's clothing and wouldn't be much help.
posted by atrazine at 4:00 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think something slightly old-fashioned would fit the bill. Like a cardigan sweater or a tweed jacket. The sort of clothing somebody's grandfather would have worn as a young man in 1942 (but NO FEDORA). Not a costume... just something that looks like it could plausibly have been worn in a previous decade.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:57 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

From your question, I'm betting you're talking about this book: Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion & Captivation. Associated website:

So, first, as far as I know, this is just one person's system for personal & corporate marketing - it's not any kind of universally acknowledged approach. Like, you're not going to see anyone pop up and say, "Oh yeah, GQ runs an issue every March about "How to Dress To Match Your Triggers."" Which is why you're getting some wildly varying answers - not that any of those answers are necessarily bad, they're just not versed in the specific terminology of the "Fascination" book and program. I'm making an edumacated guess here that if the book didn't give you ideas about how to dress, you're supposed to buy supplemental materials for further details. Make of that what you will.

Second, looking at the info available on the website (Trust and Mystique), the author seems to be more interested in behavior and attitude rather than appearances. For example, the first characteristic of "Mystique" is:

"Understated: A MYSTIQUE personality often stays in the background, away from the center of attention, which allows them to observe and plan before acting. Unlike PASSION personalities who tend to seek the spotlight, they are less likely to volunteer to present, but will do so with thoughtful deliberation."

So by the standards of the book, you're already dressing "mysteriously" - you don't stand out from the crowd in an easily recognizable way; you're kind of invisible; you're not easily pegged as "the guy with the goofy ties" or "the guy who wears heavy metal band T-shirts." You have "mystique" because your actions speak louder than your words and your dress.

Having said all that, if you'd like to change up your style a little bit, go for it. It's also very possible to stay in the jeans and T-shirt realm, but move to clothes that are more expensive/higher quality/better fitting. Shoes can make a big difference here - you'll want leather rather than sneakers, if you're not already wearing some kind of work boot or work shoe as part of your job. If you've gotta do sneakers, go with some of the understated styles, like some of the black New Balances or classic Adidas. Stay away from poofy neon-striped marshmallows on your feet.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:16 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

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