When you get dressed in the morning, what inspires you? Who do you see as a stylish icon, who do you emulate? Do you turn to certain books or magazines for a creative shot in the arm? I’m not only talking about clothes; it could be ideas on pens or bags, watches or shoes, or organizing your closet or library. Even ideas on etiquette or decorum can come from different sources; and most women will tell you that a guy who is a true gentleman is way ahead of the pack. These are what I call the building blocks of individual style.
Building up a pool of style resources is an important and personal endeavor. Luckily for men, more than ever before information and resources are available on dressing well and finding your own style.
One of the first things I always suggest is to create a personal reference library. It can be as compact as a spare bookcase or as grand as a dedicated home office. It should be a place where you can store all your reference materials and the things that make up your personal style guide. Your reference library can include books, favorite pieces of clothing, magazine ads, cigar boxes or anything else that catches your attention. I turned a spare room into my study. It is filled with all the things that I find inspirational: lots of books, family pictures and art; boxes of magazine clippings, and old pens and watches. Everything in the room represents a part of who I am and what I find interesting in life.
Here are some classic men’s clothing and lifestyle books that you can use to start your own reference library. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but this selection is chock full of good information, advice and suggestions. Have your own favorites that you want to share? Let me know: OfftheCuffDC@comcast.net.
Elegance, by G. Bruce Boyer
Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion, by Alan Flusser (Author of several excellent guides, he is a leading authority on classic men’s style)
Gentleman’s guide to grooming and style, by Bernhard Roetzel (This encyclopedic behemoth covers every category you could ever imagine)
The Official Preppy Handbook, by Lisa Birnbach (Humorous satire? You bet; but there is a lot of fun and very true information in here.)
A Well-Dressed Gentleman’s Pocket Guide, by Oscar Lenius (A great little guide)
Off the Cuff: The Guy’s Guide to Looking Good, by Carson Kressley (He’s a little over the top, but Kressley worked for Ralph Lauren and could probably teach a class on individual style.)
Maximum Style: Look Sharp and Feel Confident in Every Situation (Men’s Health Life Improvement Guides), by Perry Garfinkel, Brian Chichester
Chic Simple Dress Smart Men: Wardrobes That Win in the New Workplace (Chic Simple), by Kim Johnson Gross and Jeff Stone (In fact, most of their books and mini-tomes are very useful.)
As for magazines, a particular favorite of mine is Men’s Vogue. Menswear, a larger format magazine is a great option and also gives industry insight. Fantastic Man is an avant-garde option, a little more edgy than classic. For really classic style, take a look at Classic Style Magazine magazine. GQ and Esquire are must-have style standards.
Last year, Esquire came out with “The Big Black Book;” sort of a cross between a book and a magazine. It has an excellent style guide and highlights all sorts of classics every guy should have in his closet. The Esquire’s Big Black Book ’07 just hit the stands and I’ll be reviewing it on my blog shortly.
Figuring out who you really want to be and finding sources of inspiration to help you get there are important steps in creating your own true style. From my viewpoint, men’s style follows an architectural pattern. Imagine that personal style is like designing a building. First, you have the foundation – good shoes. Then there is the support structure – pants. The main façade – jackets, sweaters and shirts; and the decorative elements – ties, cufflinks, gloves, hats, glasses. Finally there is the streetscape, those elements that put you into a context. They are things like bearing, attitude, etiquette, and an overall sense of who you are.
By breaking this all into smaller pieces, the whole process of self-evaluation feels less overwhelming. It captures your layers of style and the different elements that come together to tell everyone who you are. That way, when you see a shirt, understand why you like it and how it fits into your personal style, you’re actually seeing the whole building.