A man's guide to avoiding style remorse

Is this the picture of good taste? Journalist Angelo Flaccavento during Milan Fashion Week 2013.

Is this the picture of good taste? Journalist Angelo Flaccavento during Milan Fashion Week 2013. Photo: Elena Braghieri

Fashion can be a challenge for us blokes. But I have always believed that with a minimum of effort and expense, we can nevertheless always look – well, perhaps not stylish, but kind of OK. And if you'd like to look kind of OK, or have a gentleman friend in your life who might benefit from appearing less ridiculous, then these are the style tips for you.

No brand names

You can't always avoid brand names. But when you can, do – or at least try to keep them subtle. The problem with brand names is that they file you into one of three categories, all of which are, in my view, unpleasant.

This outfit comes with a 100% guarantee you will later regret wearing it. London Mens Fashion 2013.

This outfit comes with a 100% guarantee you will later regret wearing it. London Mens Fashion 2013. Photo: Kirstin Sinclair

Let's start with the early adopters. If you, unlike me, have some fashion gold-panning ability that lets you identify the Next Big Thing, and consequently discover the achingly cool new jeans brand that's big in Japan but no one knows about here, then you'll look like you're trying to impress people. Admittedly, you may actually impress them, but when you wear the distressed denim with the purple safety pin jammed into them instead of a brand label (I'm making this up, but is it any stranger than Ksubi's Liquid Paper logo?), you make people like me think you deliberately want us to ask where you got them. I refuse to do this.

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The second option with brand names is that you give the impression of conforming with everyone else and being unable to think for yourself. I remember when every second guy was wearing Mambo or Okanuis (this is going back a bit) or Ben Sherman or Diesel – it got terribly predictable, and made them look like sheep.

And the third option is that you stick with a brand name once the cool kids have decided that it's incredibly lame. I can illustrate the horror of this outcome with a simple scenario: imagine being the last man alive who wears Ed Hardy.

I'd call this a duffle suit or "man dressed as dog" from Milan Fashion Week 2013.

I'd call this a duffle suit or "man dressed as dog" from Milan Fashion Week 2013. Photo: Elena Braghieri

But if your clothes have no brands, then they never go out of style. Admittedly they never go into style either, but that's a trade-off I'll gladly take.

Conservatism is best

You're aiming for "timeless classic" here. A well-made pair of blue jeans or a charcoal woollen sweater is always going to look good, regardless of prevailing fashion. Whereas if you went along with the "distressed jeans" fad, what you'd have now is a pair of jeans with holes in them that you're now too embarrassed to wear – or should be.

I am frankly amazed he's able to keep a straight face. Milan Fashion Week 2013.

I am frankly amazed he's able to keep a straight face. Milan Fashion Week 2013. Photo: Elena Braghieri

Note that when I say "conservative", I don't mean "suitable for wearing at a golf club dinner". So, no boat shoes unless you're actually on a boat. And even then I'd question them, frankly.

Solid, dark colours

My wardrobe is predominantly black, navy, dark grey and occasionally brown, sometimes with a white or light blue shirt. That's about it. Well, I do have one fluorescent orange T-shirt that I bought in a moment of madness, but I try not to wear it out of the house.

With this palette, I always dress boringly and predictably, but I rarely look ridiculous. A black long-sleeved cotton shirt and a nice pair of jeans looks absolutely fine in just about any social scenario – you'll never feel overdressed, or excessively underdressed. Plus, wearing black makes you look mildly like an arts administrator, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Indifference beats excessive effort

I'm the first to doff my cap to a genuinely well-dressed fellow. I find myself doing so regularly when I visit Melbourne, a town whose menfolk somehow operate on a higher sartorial plane. In Melbourne, you will often see fellows sporting a gorgeous vintage shirt set off by the perfect waistcoat, perhaps coupled with a lovely woollen tie. Every second barman in the Victorian capital has hair Brylcreemed with dazzling precision and a painstakingly waxed moustache.

I appreciate such elegance, but then I imagine the sartorialist spending hours browsing through vintage stores and then standing at home in front of his mirror each morning, trying different combinations, and then spending forever in the bathroom, pruning his facial hair with the excessive care that OCD-fuelled retirees devote to topiary. And I think – surely it's not worth the effort. Dressing well consumes time I'd rather devote to things I care more about. Admittedly, they include Game of Thrones and trying to finish Angry Birds Space with my nephew. But I still don't think looking amazing is worth the enormous effort required.

The exception that proves the rule

Last year, I went to Hawaii, and the tropical heat got to my head, so I found myself purchasing a wide assortment of absurdly bright Hawaiian shirts. Admittedly, they were only $20 or so apiece (despite being made locally) – which some may nevertheless view as overpriced given their appearance. But I had enormous fun appalling my colleagues and friends with their extreme garishness. It was the perfect way to make them appreciate the reliable dullness of my usual wardrobe.

In conclusion

If you follow my advice and stick to the kind of conservative, boring and cheap clothes I wear, then you could look conservative, boring and cheap too!

But here's the great thing. Virtually nobody ever comments unfavourably on my wardrobe, because it's just too dull to be noteworthy. And if they do, I just ask them how much their outfit cost and roll my eyes. Because the bottom line is this: if you put considerable time and money into your wardrobe, then you will undoubtedly end up someday wearing a sarong like David Beckham. And that means I win.

27 comments

  • "Indifference beats excessive effort" - be as it may, but take some effing pride in you appearance! Australians, particularly men, are terrible at this!!

    Commenter
    SalSal
    Date and time
    May 31, 2013, 10:19AM
    • It's a generational thing. You are comparing yourself to the young ones. People in your age group more or less do what you are doing.

      Commenter
      butterball37
      Date and time
      May 31, 2013, 10:32AM
      • I'm with you on this one Dom. There is a reason why some clothes are classics, it's because they look good in lots of different situations. Sure you're never on the cutting edge of fashion but who cares?

        Commenter
        Hurrow
        Date and time
        May 31, 2013, 10:36AM
        • What is the cutting edge of fashion when we see them rehashing old styles all the time. The shape of the body and how we use it really provides the limits, how many of us really walk around (or could sit down) dressed as Issey Miyake lampshades.

          Commenter
          Joyce
          Date and time
          May 31, 2013, 11:19AM
      • Dom I totally get your angle as the 'everyman' and it's great, but don't you think you could jazz your columns up just a jot? Something a little more exhilerating than extolling the virtues of microwave cookery and a monochrome wardrobe colour scheme?

        Commenter
        Gunther
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        May 31, 2013, 10:37AM
        • I understand mentioning boat shoes in any "fashion" article is intended to raise a cheap laugh. However, as a sailor, I think the original (from the 1930s) boat shoe is fine in some situations (going to or from the sailing or yacht club and on the yacht prior to the race), although they have been given a bad rap by tossers that wouldn't know the difference between a brace and a sheet.

          I've certainly sailed in them in any number of championships, but generally prefer the more modern varieties (let's see the tossers wear some of those around with their rolled up chinos ...) and even the good old Dunlop Volleys work(ed) well.

          Commenter
          NucMed
          Location
          Ust-Kamenogorsk
          Date and time
          May 31, 2013, 10:41AM
          • I thought similar. The shoe itself is an extremely practical shoe, and definitely not the ugliest footwear going around. But as you have said, there is a time and place.
            Perhaps if wearing boating shoes instead comes with the pre-requisite of:
            - owning a boat, and;
            - being within x metres of said boat, or of a friend's boat

            Commenter
            Markus
            Location
            Canberra
            Date and time
            May 31, 2013, 11:02AM
        • So what you are advocating Dom is take no particular pride in your appearance, follow the other Lemmings into stayed and boring obscurity in a attempt to do nothing but conform to the generalised norm and blend in with everyone else.

          That's not winning, that's giving up on any spirit or sense of self you may have once had.

          Sure, sarongs and kaftans maybe a step too far, but fashion ensembles by KMart and Target are not really "winning".

          Perhaps you should look to your fashion bible "People of Walmart" before stepping out to Belconnen or Fyshwick fashion warehouse for your next black tie event...

          Commenter
          Gman
          Date and time
          May 31, 2013, 11:01AM
          • The guy in the pink frock needs to iron his knees.

            Commenter
            Joyce
            Date and time
            May 31, 2013, 11:12AM
            • "man dressed as dog" what else would a man who chooses to grow a ginger beard do?

              Commenter
              Joyce
              Date and time
              May 31, 2013, 11:20AM

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