Dressing for success
July 14, 2008 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Help me learn to dress my husband! Tips/tricks/resources on developing a good eye for men's business attire?

Over a few decades as a girl, I've acquired tons of specialized knowledge about how to dress women in general and myself in particular-- I know, for instance, that pencil skirts make me look thick-waisted, that certain prints look elegant while others scream "Wal-mart!", etc., etc. Having recently acquired a male second half (who's begged me to look after his wardrobe), I'm looking for ways to gather the same sort of information about men's clothing, and business attire in particular.

Areas of special concern are:

Body shape/tailoring. Suits all look the same to me-- kind of absurd and stubby-legged-- so I'd love to find out which lines/proportions will make suits look "right", and what specific adjustments to the garment can help make the most of my husband's adorable, but not 100% modelesque, body proportions. I'm looking to go beyond the basics here: something like this , with a discussion of specific waist/shoulder/arm/leg proportions, would be ideal, not just the standard "heavier gentlemen should wear double-breasted suits" or whatever. Hubby is 6'2, 200lbs, broad shoulders, short legs, small pot-belly, if that helps at all.

Colors. I have a decent eye for matching women's clothing, but men's shirt/tie/suit combos seem to follow subtly different norms. Exactly what shirt colors can one wear with navy, for instance? Is the shirt meant to be the accent color, or the tie? Are there any general rules to help one figure this out?

Ties. Once we move past the novelty-Simpsons-tie range, these all seem to be some variation of geometric print/stripe, more or less bright-colored, 100% silk. Whence, then, all the jokes about "that hideous tie"? What exactly distinguishes a cool, expensive-looking tie from a $10 Sears special?

None of the research avenues I've tried so far-- Google, salespeople, menswear catalogues, What Not To Wear, this, this-- has yielded much in the way of specific, comprehensive and ~scientific info on these issues. Would love any combination of direct advice/resource referrals to help me understand what looks good on real men!
posted by Bardolph to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Tip #1: pleats on the front of pants is a good way of showing you've been out of tune with fashions for a good ten years. (note: pleats != creases)
posted by furtive at 8:31 AM on July 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

Dressing the Man, by Flusser talks a little about what you want.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:41 AM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tip #2: Shoes and belt should be the same colour leather (brown & brown, black & black, white & white, etc.).
posted by onshi at 8:43 AM on July 14, 2008

Ties - simple is almost invariably more tasteful than busy (a rule that can be broken but only by somebody who knows exactly what they're doing). Cheap ties don't lay right, so that's always a dead giveaway - they're too lightweight, they flop around and get twisted. That said, there's still a world of difference between a $10 tie and a $30 tie; if you want something nice you don't have to get a loan and go to Brooks Brothers.

W.r.t. suits, the best person to talk to would be a tailor who can measure your husband. Find a good one, and then trust him.
posted by contessa at 8:44 AM on July 14, 2008

One sharp dresser I know says GQ.com is a good source. If you look at the left hand side there are several links to many of these questions. Also they have a guide to the best men's stores in America.
posted by i_love_squirrels at 8:45 AM on July 14, 2008

Well, let me clarify -- Dressing the Man talks a bit about what various body types should wear, though I don't recall if it goes into quite that much detail re 'broad shoulders, short legs, small pot-belly'. It talks a LOT about fit and colors and that sort of thing. If you want to read a lot about suits, I strongly suggest this book.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:49 AM on July 14, 2008

6'2" and 200 pounds are basically ideal proportions in terms of standard business attire (if not for overstyled euro slimsuits), and a longer torso is one of the two basic fitting issues (the other being sloping or narrow shoulders) for height-weight proportionate men, which any competent suit salesperson and his tailor can address for you.

That said, probably the most important rule is that when it comes to men's business attire: there's no shabby chic and there is no trendy.

You will find zero % acceptable business attire at other than an established upscale menswear store filled with stocky men in their 40s and 50s, upscale department stores, or outlets that sources from the same. (Some outlets have amazing bargains on good stuff, some not.) All trousers will require tailoring and most jackets will, too. Outlets often lack on-site tailoring, so if you go that way you need a good tailor.

Since you ask, hints for the quality of tie: heaviness of silk, pattern of the tie woven into the silk in relief (i.e., texture), the entire tie is made of one piece of silk folded over on itself many times and stitched into shape, as opposed to a single piece of patterned/colored silk sewn or glued to a piece of cheaper black silk or even non-silk backing. Unless at an outlet or deep clearance the price of good tie will be at least $75. It's rare that a well-constructed tie with good materials will be truly hideous (but not impossible!).
posted by MattD at 9:10 AM on July 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

On fit:

Shoulders first on suits. If the shoulders do not fit properly, the jacket is a lost cause. The rest can be tailored, within reason. You should be able to press the shoulder of the jacket against your shoulders while wearing it and not feel any excess bunching up. Also watch for any pulling at the back of the jacket below the neck, this is a sign that the shoulders are too tight. Shoulders come in various degrees of paddedness, from soft shoulders with no padding to mobster-looking heavily padded shoulders. I tend to find the latter excessive. Pay attention to this as it will affect the way the suit drapes.

For a trimmer look, look for jackets with higher armholes and more waist suppression. By high armholes I mean the spot where the fabric at the side of the jacket meets the sleeve, under the armpit. In many suits this is cut very low and the sleeves end up looking baggy and ill-fitting. A tailor can repair this to some degree. Waist suppression is the amount of difference between the width of the jacket at the chest and waist. This is something of a stylistic choice. British cuts tend to have less waist suppression and hang straighter, while Italian cuts are more V-shaped. I prefer the Italian cut, but if you overdo it or it's not appropriate for your body type the bottom of the jacket will flare out and look weird. On a bigger but not rotund guy a medium amount is probably going to look right, but really you just have to try on some suits and see what cuts work.

On color:

Colors should complement, not match. Do not wear a solid blue tie with a solid blue shirt. You've got 3 fabrics to play with between shirt, jacket and tie (4 if you go with a pocket square). One of them should be a pattern of some type. The other items should pick up secondary colors in the pattern. With a solid navy jacket, you might wear, say, a shirt with gold and black stripes, and a tie with gold accents but in a different base color, like purple. Practically anything goes with navy, so build your combinations around your second pattern, whether that's the shirt or tie. Busier jackets might require a little more thinking. If you mix two patterns, be sure that the patterns have different scale. Stripes that are a half inch apart paired with a check that's a half inch wide will look odd, so it's not as simple as not repeating the same pattern.

On ties:

The quality of material is the main difference between very cheap ties and nicer ones. Cheap Sears ties are usually polyester and do not tie good knots or drape well. Once you're into silks, it's primarily about patterns. Avoid ultra-loud ties. If a tie tries to incorporate too many colors, or extremely busy patterns, it's going to be hard to pull off. Think classic but not boring.
posted by shadow vector at 9:17 AM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

@furtive: It depends. Depending on your proportions single- or double-pleats add functionality in addition to aesthetics. It can loosen up the seat and rise area to allow for more mobility. Unless you are super judicious or get a good tailoring job, it is easy to end up with off-the-rack plain-front trousers that look too tight in this area. Also, plain-front is a bit more casual to my eye, despite what you may say.

Dressing the Man is O.K., but it can get pretty general in some points. Some of it is more historical overview. The book by Bernhard Roetzel has been mentioned here before.

It's true, there is an endless amount of little "tricks" that can help, e.g. realizing that a cut-away collar is intended for a thicker tie knot, side-vented jackets are nicer than back-vent because they don't reveal your butt when they split apart, etc., but by and large a good understanding of color and form will help you more than anything, just as in interior decorating, architecture, women's fashion, etc. And it sounds like you have that.

My best (albeit unhelpful) advice is to pay attention to movies, books, advertisements, read some of the resources discussed here, speak to a tailor, and slowly familiarize yourself with what works and what doesn't on an intuitive basis. Learning through osmosis works best here, just as there is no magic bullet for developing a good eye for interior decor.

Some things work on some men and not on others (owing to proportions), so a little bit of trial and error is going to have to be involved. If you do one thing, focus on body shape and the fit. Looking nice is about dressing up and hiding one's imperfections - the arm longer than the other, the paunch, bow legs, whatever - to suggest a handsome silhouette, and this is especially true of suits and trousers, where the room for error is greater as compared to a T-shirt. Suits probably look the same to you because most people wear them as if wearing a burlap sack.

And mind the shoes. All of your efforts will be for naught if you neglect the feet and dress him in something like black Reeboks to go with that nicely-fitting suit.
posted by softsantear at 9:33 AM on July 14, 2008

Another thing: here today, gone tomorrow - if in doubt, err on the side of conservative attire. Most trends are flash-in-the-pan and do not good business attire (or any attire) make.

Don't wear a striped tie with a striped shirt.
Think about what various stylistic choices connote, too.
posted by softsantear at 9:39 AM on July 14, 2008

Good shoes can make or break the man.

Find a pair of shoes that works for him, conservatively constructed dress Oxfords. Black, leather. Not suede, please. These will cost a bit more (i.e., Kenneth Cole New York Grand Toe-Tal, $149), but they will last forever and a day if he takes care of them. And they will provide a literal and figurative foundation upon which can be built an impressive look. The great thing about a good pair of Oxfords is that he can dress down, wear them with jeans, a casual shirt and a sport coat and still look pretty damned smooth.
posted by grabbingsand at 11:02 AM on July 14, 2008

a quick book recommendation
posted by krautland at 11:08 AM on July 14, 2008

If you're ready to disappear into a black-hole-vortex-message-board to help you look at combinations and read more about mens fashion than you ever need to care about, check out: Ask Andy About Clothes - Forum. There's a page called "What are you wearing today?" where, apparently, well dressed (or ?!!?) stock brokers and other suit wearing dudes post daily pictures of their ensembles. Yes, it's weird and very very fashion nerdy (there are discussions about shirt brands I have never even heard of, seen in a store, or read about). It's also awesome.
posted by zpousman at 11:26 AM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm not a man, nor do I have one, but I enjoy reading Manolo for the Men just for the lolz and tips on how men are (apparently) supposed to be dressed.
posted by srah at 11:57 AM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't know what your budget is, but you get what you pay for.

Choose a suit like Hickey-Freeman over something from Macy's or Bloomingdale's and you will get better use out of your suits.

Choose Allen Edmonds over Kenneth Cole or Florshiem and your shoes will look and feel better and last longer.

You will also get better service and people who know to pick out shirts and ties.

If you want the quality but less stodgy, try Paul Smith.
posted by Zambrano at 12:00 PM on July 14, 2008

GQ's fashion section has some great primers with lots of picture slideshows.

Body shape/tailoring - Try the Suit Your Shape slideshow. It shows 4 different body types and then shows the ideal type of suit along with tips and accessories to help enhance the look. By your description of your husband, he fits the Athletic Man body type (exemplified by Chuck Liddell).

Colors - Building Your Perfect Business Wardrobe shows the various suit colors (charcoal/gray, navy, black, pinstriped navy, and khaki) along with suit-shirt-tie combinations, shoes, and accessories. It also goes into rules and tips for how to do the full look.

Ties - 10 Ties x 10 Shirts is a slideshow of how 10 basic ties can be combined with 10 different shirts for a huge amount of tie-shirt combinations. For someone just starting a tie collection, I recommend going with classic ties that will pair with crisp whites, blues, and pinestripe shirts. A well-dressed man doesn't need flashy ties to get attention - in fact, flashy ties do the opposite and distract from the overall clean, sharp look.

Other tips - 10 Commandments of Style, 25 Style Secrets

Build a reference photo database

Save photos of everything you and your husband like into iPhoto or Picasa. Then add specific tags/keywords to the photos, ie. white shirt, blue shirt, pink shirt, navy suit, charcoal suit, brown shoes, black shoes, trenchcoat, peacoat. Pretty soon you'll have a reference style database and any time you're unsure of how something looks or need inspiration, just open the photo program, select the tags/keywords, and then browse the photos.

When I first started out, I referred to it constantly but now I've built up the confidence to just pick out what I want out of the closet. And when I feel like shopping for some new items, it's easy to browse the database to see what I'm missing that would add the most versatility to my wardrobe.
posted by junesix at 12:19 PM on July 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

I had a boss who always looked absolutely put together. He was so put together that his male clients even commented on how great his suits looked. He bought everything at Brook's Brothers. The suits are pricey, but they'll last. They have a tailor on hand and they can help you with all your questions re ties, colors etc.
posted by bananafish at 12:42 PM on July 14, 2008

I learned a lot about men's fashion from AskMen.com presents the Style Bible, including lots of basic wardrobe information and how to compensate for various body types.
posted by cadge at 1:13 PM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

pleats on the front of pants is a good way of showing you've been out of tune with fashions for a good ten years.

I suggest walking into a Kiton or Brioni boutique and telling the impeccably-dressed older Italian gentleman who is running the store that much of his merchandise is ten years out of fashion.

Otherwise, shadow vector gives good advice.
posted by Kwantsar at 1:21 PM on July 14, 2008

Honestly the title of your post says it all:

Dress for Success

This is pretty much the classic book, and a mildly entertaining read. Molloy peppers in tons of research and surveys in order to arrive at his conclusions. It comes across as thought out and deliberate rather than some style guru just telling you what to wear. I know a number of professionals who swear by it, especially as a starting point for someone getting into business. i.e. they make new hires read it to get up to speed on what is professional.

Also my new favorite thing are metal collar stays.
posted by sorindome at 8:09 PM on July 14, 2008

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