Mastering the College Professor Look

I’ve been growing a beard recently. Not a mountain man beard, just a nice trim one to see how it looks. There have been a number of very nice comments that fall in the “wow, you look pretty good with a beard” category.

One that caught me off guard – in a good way – was when a friend said, “Nice, you look like a college professor”. In addition to the evolving beard, I had on khakis, an oxford, saddle bucks, and yes, a corduroy sport coat. In fact, I did sort of look like a college professor.

That got me thinking; what exactly is the “college professor” look and why is it so interesting? First off, this classic Ivy League look can be more accurately described as a 1930s prep school teacher look. It combines two unique elements: a timeless, idealized version of the privileged life and the intellectualness of an exclusive liberal arts education. Though it may sound a little esoteric, this is a very emotional and evocative style of dress. Just saying “tweed” or “leather dispatch case” does not capture the unique connection many people have to this look.

Think of the outfits worn in such films as “Dead Poets Society,” “A Beautiful Mind,” and any “Harry Potter” movie. The clothes themselves provide an emotional touchstone that quickly defines where you are and who you are. It is a sort of intellectual uniform, a symbol of belonging that is timeless and appealing.

Ralph Lauren in particular has captured the college professor look, completed with leather bags, horn rim glasses and appropriately Oxbrige inspired backgrounds.

A key element to achieving this wonderful look is to not overdo it. The college professor look is at its best when you appear to have not thought a great deal about it. Tweed or corduroy coats, chunky sweaters layered over old button down shirts and school ties, grey flannels, corduroy pants, or heavy khakis. They are simple and classic components that, when combined, create an instantly recognizable image.

Accessories are also important. Try a leather folio or full scale gusseted legal briefcase. Classic pens and watches work best here, as does traditional footwear. Suede shoes, heavy brogues, and dressy boots are good choices. For cooler days, wear a scarf in a nice tartan or your school colors. A hat may appear a little too affected, but try and pull it off if you wish.

The overall effect should be of a natty intellectual.  If you are ever in doubt, just think of the ultimate stylish college professor, Indiana Jones.

The Belts and Braces Approach

Of all the items populating the gentleman’s accessories drawer, the belt and the braces (suspenders) are two of the most overlooked in terms of importance both aesthetically and in terms of quality. Of course, there are those chaps, anxious to impersonate a billboard, who select their belts very carefully and order them by size: size of designer logo. And naturally, due to their appearance on the slick runways of Paris on the malnourished figures of Dior Homme models, there are the fashionistas who have, temporarily of course, taken braces quite seriously. However, the man of style needs to consider such items as seriously as his walnut-toned Oxfords or his herringbone blazer, for you understand, nothing is amusing or frivolous when it comes to style. No indeed, for even though Fashion dances through materials and design wantonly and quite irresponsibly, laughing hysterically, Style stands quite still, like a sentry on duty; with silence and old-world permissiveness, Style allows Fashion to create a drunken mess and then, dutifully, cleans up after it.

Braces


Braces to the Brits, suspenders to the Americans, the practice of securing the trousers to the shoulders has faded with time. It is considered that braces are now unnecessary and outdated; clothes have come a long way and hoisting trousers with elastic now belongs, largely, to circus characters.

It’s such a pity as although they were introduced, quite humbly, to be merely functional and concealed, they became eye-catching and rather charming. They were the acceptable image of the jacket and waistcoat-less man; the exhausted yet svelte investment banker, the powerful and shrewd lawyer: braces may be associated with clowns, but they were never seen on fools.

Bright red on mid-blue shirts, gold on white, bright blue on pink; braces shout loudly, they do not whisper timidly. Noted wearers of braces include chat show impresario Larry King (pictured), who boasts a fine collection in many colours. Patterns are wisely avoided, and illustrated braces (Donald Duck figures and the like), are the very end. Keep them simple, grosgrain but colour is up to you: the more daring the better. For evening wear, try something like white moiré silk as seen on Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. The silk is an upgrade from the normal material and the moiré effect, necessary for tone on tone, is appealing.

Belts


It is unlikely that any of the valued readership is inexperienced in the cause and purpose of the belt. Belts are ubiquitous and, like braces, they are often worn for ornamentation rather than practicality. I use them superficially, but I often wear them simply to keep my bally trousers from falling to my ankles. Not that I wear excessively baggy clothing, far from it. It’s basically because I have a tiny waist that no high street store ever had in their imagination when creating their ‘smaller’ sizes. It’s not tiny per se, only very small for a 24 year old man, and though it’s useful when it comes to the discount sales, it’s frightfully frustrating most of the time.

I have belts of different uses and types, and generally separate them into ‘soft’ and ‘formal’ categories. The ‘soft’ belts are, unsurprisingly, of a softer construction. They are sportier, more colourful belts more likely to be worn in the spring and summer months, with more casual outfits. ‘Formal’ belts are leather and darker in colours like brown, black, and the odd patent white; they’re for wearing with smarter outfits all year round. It’s useful to obtain a decent mix of belts as complementing belts are ever so recherché; stand out with stripes in summer, and keep different widths and types of belt for different uses. Wider belts look better with less ceremonial clothing; boots, jeans and casual items. Thinner belts are more subtle and should be worn, discreetly, with smarter outfits. Also, to smarten up a favourite pair of denim jeans, there’s nothing quite like a great belt and a decent pair of shoes in a complementary tone.

“Black is the New Black”

Black has always been the most iconic color in terms of classic sophistication and so it’s of little surprise that the hue of choice for brooding intellectuals is once again back in fashion. Living in New York means that at least half of my wardrobe is either black or gray. It is a given that in the case that in most cities and professional settings, the de rigueur color is black. Beyond this though, black is also the vehicle for many fashion statements as well as the patron color for creative types.

Samuel Beckett, the acclaimed expatriated writer, most exemplifies the essence of what the color black is supposed to convey. Spending his time in cafés, writing and pondering the philosophical questions of his day, he was a man of ideas and his dark clothes helped to create a tangible identity that complimented his literary persona.

The problem with black comes in its abuse, too much will have you looking like a stage-hand and inappropriate, disjointed pieces will send the message either that you are going through a period of angst or are in mourning. If neither of these describes your situation, it is always safe to add some other neutral colors to the mix, principally white or gray to avoid the probable confusion.

Wearing black pants with a black dress shirt and then a different colored sweater is a look that is basically fail-safe and easy adaptable for just about any social milieu. This solves the problem of black over-kill and can be either casual when worn without a tie or dressier with one, either being likely appropriate for the office. The other completely viable option is to wear a white dress shirt with a black sweater overtop.
Sweater and jeans from Dolce and Gabbana.

Mixing black with gray and white tailored pieces is a refined look that is appropriate in any setting. In this example, the black serves a more formal purpose rather than being a fashion statement. When wearing elements of black such as a cardigan or sweater, you will most likely also need to wear black shoes to make the outfit cohesive.
Cardigan and pants from Armani Collezioni.

A black turtleneck is a great piece that expresses sophistication and intelligence. It is easy to imagine Beckett receiving guests in the bar-lobby of a Parisian hotel after having finished an espresso and a carton of Camels. As opposed to the other outfits, which incorporate several other elements such as shirts and ties, you don’t run the risk of black overkill. Corduroy pants have an old-world feel that compliment and complete an intellectual writer look in a way that jeans absolutely could not. Pairing the sweater with gray trousers and black shoes is a possibility that will make the outfit less brooding and more trendy.
Cable Knit Sweater from Alexander McQueen.

Creating a Stylish & Personal Study

When I think about the various elements of personal style, my thoughts do not stop at the wardrobe door.  As I have said many times before and will continue to say, style is not just about clothes.  Anyone can buy nice clothes and walk down the street.  That’s not necessarily style – it’s fashion.  Personal style encompasses your entire personality; what do you value, what interests you, where have you been and where do you want to go? One place where that all comes together is your study or library.

I have always wanted my own study.  Growing up in a large family, I didn’t really have much personal space.  So what I craved from a young age was my own room laid out the way I wanted; not a bedroom – a study.  I would have all my stuff in there – books, pictures, collections, etc.  It would be my personal place.

I think every man should have a study of some sort, be it a room to yourself or just an empty corner ready for a desk and bookcase.  Equally important is how you fit it out.  When we moved into our house several years ago, I claimed a spare bedroom as my study and slowly transformed it into the place I always wanted.  I have a wall of bookshelves, an antique desk, and a wall filled with family pictures and art ranging from classic hunt scenes to modern abstract.

If you have the space, I suggest you think about creating your own study.  One of the first tasks at hand is to gather all the things you have that are inspiring to you.  This is a great way to actually see all the books, magazines, pictures, collections, and ephemera that make you feel at home.

When all these special and personal items are in one place, a mere room begins to transform itself into a sanctuary.  Design the room so that it matches your personality; are you a modernist, clean and sparse, or anglophile, with lots of Persian rugs and mahogany?  Truth be told, if I had a big budget and enough room, my ideal study would look very much like a Rugby store.  I’m a sucker for classic Anglo/American style though, so that should come as no surprise.

In addition to your books, magazines, and newspapers, I think all studies should include a nice collection of pens, good writing paper (engraved with your monogram if you can afford it), Moleskine notebooks, and several lamps.  To me, indirect lighting makes a big difference when it comes to the general feel of a room; creates better atmosphere.  A nice leather lounge chair, or better yet an old leather sofa, provides a place to work or read.

If you are so inclined, a little table stocked with a good selection of scotches and bourbons is an indulgent touch.  Add a humidor and a bowl of match books collected from your travels and you, sir, are in heaven (or at least my version).

Out With the Old, In With the New

Something I really enjoy about the month of December is that within a week of nostalgic reminiscences of the previous twelve months, gorging on goose, turkey, fruit puddings, wines, and all sorts of extravagant comestibles, a shiny new year is being welcomed in and the portly merriment of Christmas becomes a joyful espousal of the coming year. Vows for personal betterment are made, and though old acquaintances be not forgot, the 31st of December is very much about the future; a positive and hopeful future.

And there is hope, hope that the coming year brings happiness and prosperity; friends yet unmade and love yet unspoken. All symbolic action, even the unwrapping of a calendar, feels right and good after the contemplative feast of Christmas, and even man’s wardrobe should not be shy of an annual renewal and upgrade.

Psychologically, it is an excellent time to pluck up the courage to discard rarely worn or damaged items; creating space for future purchases may sound like a bad idea, but keeping what you enjoy wearing and discarding what you do not will give you a pretty good indication of what you need, and what you desire. Hoarding is not practical and not attractive; keeping clothing wrapped up for posterity will become a nuisance the longer it continues, so begin the New Year with a good deed and donate items to charity shops.
If you can’t quite bring yourself to simply give things away, but you can’t bring yourself to wear them either, EBay is useful for creating a little revenue for the new wardrobe.

If you’re interested in trends, 2008 is promising to be a good year for grey. With diverse designers like Dior, Ralph Lauren, Burberry Prorsum and Gucci offering a good number of grey options, the style seems to be schoolboy preppy with a dash of sixties Martini-swilling-bachelor panache. Darker greys have a cocktail-lounge sheen to them, whereas the lighter greys are flannel-like in texture.

Patterned trousers and suits are making more headway, so expect to see window checks, Prince of Wales checks and country checks aplenty.

Feverish anticipation of spring also seems to have designers covered in a rash: a rash of brightly coloured accessorising garments. Bright greens, reds and yellows dominate.

For those more interested in evergreen style, there are some safe and sensible purchases to make at the start of 2008.

Firstly, for a New Year, buy yourself a new white shirt. It doesn’t have to be a fantastically expensive one, decent white shirts are widely available. Make sure it’s versatile; not button down and not double cuff, and importantly make sure it’s the right fit for you. White shirts, even when washed, can look tired soon enough, and it’s another of those psychological boosts to gaze upon the crisp whiteness of a new shirt in your bedroom mirror.

Secondly, a good cricket jumper will serve you well for spring, summer and even autumn. The simpler the better; keep crests and stripes to a more subtle minimum. It’s youthful, sporty and yet utterly timeless.

Finally, take your favourite black shoes to the cobbler for a fresh sole and heel. Or if your current shoes are looking like they’ve seen better days, keep the poor things off the pavement and make a visit to a good shoe store for a classic Oxford shoe. Black shoes are indispensable, but they are common, and they are also commonly ugly. Choosing a good shoe, and taking good care of it, will make you stand out from the crowd.