Subtle vs showy: A way to think about casual clothing
There is an important factor in how we dress that I don't think we’ve ever discussed explicitly on Permanent Style, which is how subtle or showy an outfit is.
When we talked almost entirely about tailoring, worn largely in offices, it was clear that dressing in a showy way was bad. In those narrower, professional environments, the aim was obviously to dress simply - with understated colour combinations, a subtle silhouette.
When we talk about casual clothing, the choice is less clear. The range of clothing multiplies 10 even 100 times.; the situations vary hugely; and our aims - what we want to say about ourselves - are often different too.
But there are still factors we can use to consider what looks good. One is execution; another is style paradigms. The most important of all might be how subtle or showy we want to be.
On Permanent Style we often discuss particular outfits, such as a jacket with jeans. I might comment that I prefer a soft-shouldered jacket for that kind of combination. That it’s easier with a rougher jacket material, and a smarter jean.
But underlying that is an assumption that our aim is subtlety - a look where, as we often say, you simply appear well dressed.
That might not be the case. Someone might also look great in a cashmere square-shouldered jacket and faded jeans. The difference is mostly what kind of look we want. When I say I wouldn’t wear my A&S jacket with jeans, it’s because there’s an implicit aim of greater subtlety.
I posted an image recently wearing jeans with a black T-shirt and Whitcomb jacket. A reader questioned whether I now thought English jackets with jeans ‘worked’.
The answer is no, not for how I normally dress. But I was playing around with something different, something more showy.
Importantly, whether an outfit is subtle or showy, we can often agree on whether it has been put together well - there is something objective in how it has been executed.
I wouldn’t want to dress with as much clash and contrast as the gentleman from Ralph Lauren above, for example. But he and I would probably agree that the look is better with loafers than with chunky trainers. Equally, if it were worn with trainers he might want red and I might prefer ecru, but we would probably both agree that a canvas tennis-shoe style would look better than Air Jordans.
When more showy looks like the one above are shown on PS, people often describe them as ‘fashion’. But they’re not necessarily transient, as that term implies. Rather, they’re aiming at something different, a showier look.
Examples often come up on PS in discussions of 'high/low', because there’s a deliberate attempt there to be unusual, to create contrast. Whether Ralph Lauren looks good in a dinner jacket with jeans (top image) is meaningless without an acknowledgement that he is being contrary. Whether you like that approach and whether you think it’s done well are different things.
Let’s take some examples. If you’re selecting a piece of headwear to wear with a tailored overcoat, you could go for the most anonymous, a beanie; you could pick something a little more contrasty, like a baseball cap; or you could don a downright unusual piece, such as a beret.
That’s me above in all three. If I had a photo, I could also include something even more showy, like a cowboy hat.
Each of these, I would argue, could be executed better or worse. A big, bulky beanie wouldn’t suit the clean lines of the coat as well as that PS Watch Cap. A beret in a bright colour would look cheap compared to that black one. But the three choices above, I think, work well.
Accessories are an easy way to show this. With glasses, for example, you can wear a subtle tortoiseshell panto, a wire-rimmed aviator, or a slightly odd shape like small frame with a cut-off top (below). Other men might be even more extreme than this, choosing chunky black frames or primary colours.
But all the styles could be executed well or not. Most obviously in whether the size of the frame suits your face, but also whether it goes well with the rest of your clothes.
Readers sometimes ask questions like, ‘But why would I want to subvert tailoring?’ or ‘Why would I wear a chore coat if a blazer is more flattering?’
The answer usually is, because people want to achieve different things with their clothing. One is physical flattery, certainly, and it’s one that too many men ignore. I would still maintain, as I did many years ago, that fit is the most important factor of all.
But it’s not the only one, and those others include things like your environment (office, social group) and what you feel expresses your personality.
A navy blazer may suit more men and more skin types than a black one, but if someone wants a different look, one that (in their locale) feels less corporate, then black may be a better choice.
A blue oxford shirt with jeans is a subtle choice. A denim shirt with jeans is less subtle. A full-on western shirt with its bells and whistles is pretty showy.
This kind of spectrum is not hard to understand, but it’s good to be able to separate it from other factors, such as associations. I’m unlikely to wear jeans and a western shirt in the same denim not because someone might think I look like a cowboy, but because it would be too showy for me. Kenji of Bryceland’s does it and it looks great.
This idea of subtle or showy has been implicit in many discussions on PS over the years. It’s why we call something more of ‘a look’. It’s what I mean when I say something is ‘easier to wear’.
I think it will become increasingly important as we discuss casual clothing more. I always tend towards the subtle end of this spectrum, I know most readers do, and it's the kind of style we will always push. But defining our terms makes our preferences, and discussions of them, clearer.
For a related discussion of subtle and showy, see this previous article on the double-brown outfit above. Although hardly outrageous, another colour of knit - grey, fawn, navy - would have been that bit more normal.
I think I missed that picture with the jeans, the black t shirt and the English jacket- was it on instagram?
A story, yes. I’ll dig it out and put it here
Here you go
That’s the softer, more casually tailored W&S jacket, isn’t it? I seem to recall you saying that it wasn’t a style you’d wear with jeans. Have you changed your mind in that now? Just curious about it, because I’m interested in a jacket in this style for my next W&S commission. I don’t tend to wear jeans with a jacket, but that’s probably because the jackets I own aren’t quite casual enough in either cut or cloth. I was wondering if this style might work (though probably in a very casual herringbone tweed or something similar).
Have you read the mention of this jacket in the article? I answer your question there.
Ok, got it. Thanks.
Thanks! I must say I quite like how it looks
I think the avalanche of men’s style advice on social media comes with the message of fitting in ‘accept the new normal’We should keep pushing the boundaries .
With style and quality.
A really thoughtful and well written piece. Agree with everything, you nailed it!
Deep down, I often have a desire for flashier clothes. However, once I have them I almost never wear them. Those were rather expensive bad purchases. But I guess I’m not the only one…
Not at all, we all have that impulse because, I think, flashier things are more exciting. But in the long run, usually less satisfying, and as find our style most guys (not all) trend in the direction of more subtle
I think Derek Guy (of dieworkwear fame) wrote really well about the risk flashy clothes, shoes in this case. Lots of people see the product picture of fairly flashy footwear like tan oxfords with painted patina, possibly in a dramatic last (wholecut, fiddleback waist).
They pop. They gleam. They look sleek and shiny and cool… until you wear them, and then they make your feet look like shiny carrots. They draw attention away from your face and towards your feet. They go with nothing you own. They don’t “elevate” an outfit. They don’t make it “pop”. They disrupt. They unbalance.
That is the risk of flashy clothing; individually, the pieces often look cool. But wearing them don’t make YOU look cool. They make you look like a shoe guy. Or a hat guy. Or a brand guy. I think many of us secretly wish we were the people who could pull off flashy clothing and make it look natural. For better or worse, most of us can’t.
Excellent point, Sams.
There is the same issue (that Simon and others have written about) with people making their first bespoke orders. There’s a tendency tor people to add extra bells and whistles just because they can. Unusual cloth, patch pockets, peak lapels, epaulettes!
The way these terms are used here seems problematic. In contrast to terms like high/low or urban/rural, which lack colloquial definition in the context of dress and so can be more readily used to delineate categories of a particular aesthetic, the notion of subtle/showy seems to necessarily depend on the other’s gaze. That is, what is subtle/showy cannot be determined without first identifying who is making the determination.
The examples given here, in contrast, seem to define as showy simply outfits that break the rules of #classicmenswear. Many of my friends wouldn’t be able to tell you whether a navy worsted or a caramel tweed is the more showy pairing with denim; in their world, both outfits are pretty darn showy. That relativism shouldn’t be overlooked.
It’s a good point Ben, and it would be good if there were less obviously subjective language. But I disagree with the implication that there isn’t then any commonly agreed difference. I’m not surprised that your friends see any jacket as showy, but I think there would still be subtleties there that a navy worsted could seem less so, even if it’s not the first thing they would say. Equally, a plain blue shirt vs a brightly striped one, dark brown shoes vs tan brown ones, all would come across as less showy with smart clothing. Just because there is some subjectivity, doesn’t mean there isn’t some objectivity too
I suppose Casual clothing has to be functional and the functions it must deal with could be
– the rough and tumble of the commute
– withstand weather
– lifting things (boxes) , moving things at work
– walking around during the day at varying speeds .
Of all the outfits I would guess only the second photo ticks all the boxes .
the collar on that white shirt (10th photo) … Whooah!
Compliments to the photographer for catching it so well .
That’s often true, yes, and for people that like classic menswear, functional casual clothing will usually be a good route to go – not just workwear, but western wear that’s usually in hard-wearing materials.
Not all casual clothing is like that though, most obviously from fashion brands
At my age, 62 … I no longer put any emphasis on being showy or not. This piece of advice is one that resonates with me …
“An average build just needs clean lines and a good personal style to look sharp.”
I suppose that’s why I enjoy Noboru Kukata’s approach. He knows what looks good on him and never, ever deviates from it. Nothing showy … just nice execution.
Both subtle and showy will always be somewhat subjective of course.
A white square folded with the points up like the third picture from the bottom, is plenty showy if you’re someone very conventional, for instance. The other day I was wearing brown covert trousers, a pale blue shirt and a subtle brown and black herringbone jacket. This was apparently showy for some of my co-workers by the mere fact I was wearing a jacket, which they acknowledged. Ironically wearing something like a coral linen shirt or red vans in the summer doesn’t raise an eyebrow.
Yes very true, always dependent on context
I would agree with Robin and Ben’s earlier comment that echo your response – Context is everything.
I was at an Elton John concert 6 months ago and it would have been impossible to be too showy at that concert as the dress styles were all over the place, which was invited and expected because of Elton John’s default wild style. Even people walking around the city in wild costumes that night didn’t look out of place because everyone knew they were concert goers.
It’s true that interpretation and personal preference play a big part in this and whilst I would celebrate each individual having their own motivations and preferences I still apply my own sensibility and taste when viewing others. Kenji and Ethan for example I find far too showy to the point where it appears (to me) to be contrived or fancy dress. I quite often find that the opinion of my wife or other members of the opposite sex are a good reference point here. She seems very attuned to spotting those who are perhaps over considered or ‘showy’ where as perhaps to those within the menswear echo chamber it is less obvious.
It’s a good point Jim, others outside the world are often very useful for that.
Just to play devil’s advocate for a moment, I’d add that we shouldn’t assume everyone outside of it, or all women, have the same views. A good example was at our talk with Jamie on Monday night, where he talked about his wife who doesn’t care much about clothes, contrasted with three women in the audience who said they had only seen a group of men as well dressed as our audience once before – in the queue for a Drake’s sample sale
For sure, for many people its a non issue. I mean, why should it matter what someone’s wearing? Ultimately it doesn’t and we can be guilty of putting to much emphasis on it just because its where our interests and values lie. We all want to think that something we are interested and passionate about is in someway important but ultimately it comes fairly low down on the list of things that truly matter. I would say its redeeming aspects are limited and somewhat trivial when compared to other cultural fields such as music, literature or art which i would consider to be far more profound. Indeed some of the most terrific people i know don’t dress well at all or care to consider it. My wife works in fashion so is very aware of the nuances and indeed is probably showy in some aspects of the way she dresses. However i think the concern is that showy can sometimes edge into the neurotic or self conscious and can sometimes read as superficial. At least to me anyway. I dont mean to call out names here and i really wouldnt want this to be missread as i am sure they are all lovely people but i do find the styles of Kenji, Ethan and Tony Syvelster to be somewhat overdone in a manner i find superficial and lacking in any true character beyond being that guy who dresses in a showy manner. This may be contravercial as im sure many would consider them to be the most characterful but to me its all surface level. I want to see past the hyper styled looks to the man inside.
I’m not sure you would think that if you met them Jim, to be honest. They certainly don’t lack either character or authenticity.
On the importance of clothing, I agree. I’ve always said it’s more on a par with cooking – something that you have to do pretty much, and so it’s worth knowing how to do it well. But it doesn’t compare to music, art of literature.
Yes, point taken. I’m judging those three purely on aesthetic and some minor understanding based upon what I’ve listened to and read. I stand by my point from a visual perspective though and maintain my viewpoint. That’s not to say however I wish them to change. You do you and I’ll do me etc.
I would say though that my point is that it’s
NOT necessarily worth doing it well. It’s only worth doing well if it’s something you care about. The assumption that everyone should strive to do it well is a prejudice held by those who care about it. Those who don’t do it we’ll lead no less a fulfilling, happy, productive, meaningful and ironic lives than those who do.
Thanks Jim. I’d mildly disagree. The analogy of cooking is a good one, because I’m no cook – I’m terrible. My wife looks after the children and has always done the cooking. Now and again I’ve tried to get into it, but it’s hard with so little time. However, it’s something I know I will enjoy, and I think will enrich my life, and at some point (probably when the kids are a little bigger) I will get into. I don’t have to do it, but I do think I will find that aspect of my life (food) more fulfilling when I do
Possibly, but that doesnt mean its true for everyone. My cooking is OK but i dont especially enjoy it. Therefor im not interested in striving to be better at it and my life is no worse off for that fact. I just place my enjoyment in somethign else. The same can go for clothes.
We might have to agree to disagree. As you have no choice but to eat, I personally think it’s something that would also enrich your life if you appreciated, in the consumption and the creation, and clothing is the same.
I think the necessity element is a bit of a red herring.
I could write a blog about the joys of trainspotting and insist, as you do here, that everyone’s lives would be enriched by appreciating trainspotting and proactively pursuing it. But this would be crazy to many, myself included – and i would imagine you to – because its not something that appeals to me. I can perhaps see why someone might get some enjoyment from it but its not for me personally.
As I said Jim, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I see a difference between taking an interest in something that doesn’t appeal to me and will not do as part of my life, like trainspotting, and something I have to do every day.
Hi Simon and Jim, sorry to jump in on this late I was travelling for work today. Cooking (and food more broadly) is probably the only hobby of mine that gets as much of time and attention as clothes. I do agree that cooking does not have the depth and universality of art of music (both of which I love), but I think the power of food is different. Cooking and food for me is all about sharing, conviviality and respect for nature. While perhaps not super deep (perhaps like fashion), I think these are quite important as well.
Why get a haircut? Why make the bed? Why even iron a shirt? Unless you are the artist, art, music, literature require nothing more than turning up. Cooking and dressing do. Eating well is good for you, whereas you could just eat anything.
I am surprised to read this here. The fact that you even know about this site, let alone read an article and post a comment, makes me think that you care about clothes more than 9 out of 10 people I know.
Maybe there’s another analogy to cooking here. You can work hard at mastering the simple basics – cooking the perfect omelette or getting the perfect cut of a grey SB suit. Or you can try something flashier. Which you may or may not be able to carry off.
It’s interesting that you would compare clothes negatively to art. We can’t objectively decide what cultural product is of higher value. I myself have relatively little interest in art (painting, sculpture, etc). I have compared my interest in clothes (not just how they look but textiles, craft, materials, history) to others’ interest in art. For me learning about clothes is far more exciting than going to an art gallery. Clothes even have a practical aspect as well. So I would disagree that they’re less (or more) important than other cultural artifacts. It depends what one is interested in.
Thanks Noel. Everyone can of course find different things interesting, but I certainly think art has more depth, variety, creativity and cultural and historical significance. Fashion has all that too, but never to the same degree. The arts, for me, are among the highest achievements of mankind. I don’t think anyone would make that argument about clothing!
Perhaps not. Obviously art in general terms is a very broad category (which can include music, theatre, dance, etc). I guess what I was referring to primarily is the snobbish attitude that this or that art form is superior and worthy of attention.
Ha! Wouldn’t you agree though that wearing well made clothing, particularly hand-made tailored clothing, is wearing art?
I think depth lies in the eyes of the viewer with the potential to be found anywhere. Art, therefore, is potentially everywhere and is in everything!
There is certainly art in clothing, absolutely. It exists most at the top end, with couture, but there is art in all aspects of it.
However, it doesn’t have the same depth, innovation etc and everything else as fine art. Clothing is a beautiful aesthetic, but it’s not on a par with those higher arts, I don’t think.
Im talking more generally, to society and humanity as a whole. On an individual level you may be correct but more generally that is not the case. The prevalence of museums and institutions dedicated to the arts is an example of this.You rarely see the same level of dedication to clothing. I appreciate that the V&A and similar institutions do house clothes but its more from a design and historical persective rather than and artistic or philosophical stance. I suppose you could argue that Westfield is exactly this also but i would argue that the contents of the Tate is more profound.
hi Jim, your points about Kenji/Ethan and the opinion of women opinion of women made me think and I would like to share some random thoughts.
It is rare that I find the way that people who work in the menswear industry dress to be very inspirational. I am not specifically referring to Kenji/Ethan here (I had to look them up to see how they dress) but people who own brands or run shops in general. (Leading menswear journalists are an exception 🙂 ) The topic of subtle vs showy made me think harder about why that is. My impression is that most people who work in the industry are dressing to impress other people who work in the industry and to gain a following on IG. That seems to usually imply pushing the boundaries of what they wear and how they wear it into the territory of trying too hard, which is rarely a look I want to replicate. Even if they are wearing clothes that aren’t showy on their own, often the way they are worn is showy (e.g., too many buttons of a shirt open, too many layers under a jacket, etc) and that I tend not to like. So, subtle clothes worn in a showy way is not a way that I tend to like to dress.
On the other hand, some of the best style advice I have received lately has come from two women whose taste I respect: my tailor and my wife. Both have pushed me to take more risks with what I wear and in particular to wear more color. I think women are less constrained than men by the “rules” and having to wear blue/grey/brown all the time, and are more focused on the whole of an outfit and the man wearing it. Items that have become favorites of mine, like my DB solaro suit and my Russell check jacket (the check is fairly large), were suggested by them. I was initially opposed to both because I thought they would be too much, but I took their advice and I am happy I did. I find that items such as these that are possibly a bit more showy because of the uncommon color, the texture or the larger check can be really nice if worn in a subtle way.
Thanks for those thoughts Andrew, I like the latter half in particular.
On the point of brand owners, I think sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that designers want people to dress exactly like them. Ethan made the point on PS in the past that he would never expect most customers to dress like him – but rather to pick up one or two pieces that they like. Eg with me, things like the westerner shirts or jeans from them, but not a lot of other pieces.
There is an argument there as to whether this is in fact the best way to sell clothing, and it could be made more relatable, but that’s a separate topic.
I must have missed that interview with Ethan. I am not sure that pushing boundaries like this is that helpful, as least from my perspective, for selling clothes. I feel like it is a bit like trying to improve your tennis game by watching Roger Federer play tennis. Watching Federer play is an amazing experience and lots of fun, but he was fundamentally playing a different game than anyone who doesn’t play tennis for a living (and many who do) and not much of what I saw ever carried over to my mundane recreational game.
It’s here Andrew, some great points in there.
I know a lot of people take inspiration from what Ethan wears, myself included, but nearly always by taking points from the whole, not by adopting it all at once.
Hi Andrew, (sorry Simon your getting multiple comments for moderation from me
here) thanks for your thoughts. I think we are talking along similar lines. I agree that often the industry guys are less inspirational and I guess that was kind of my point. Very often these guys can just look like an extension of a look book. A look book personified if you will. The most inspiring style is almost always from outside the industry when a guy has put something together with some character but then gone on to go about his day without giving it a seconds thought and without his every move being about or relating to clothing. These guys might wear something specific to their job or a physical activity that has no bearing or relation to the current menswear tastes. Often the industry guys -when all dressed up – then go and sit in their shop surrounded by clothes, talking to others wearing said clothes, interacting with social media entirely around clothes etc etc. It is painfully obvious that the clothing occupys most if not all of their thoughts and to me this is unattractive. It’s the opposite to the adage that a man should think about what he wears when he is getting dressed in the morning and then forget about it entirely.
When I say I want to see the man inside what I mean to say is to see something revealed that would indicate it’s not just all about the clothes and nothin else. I’m sure you can argue that all these chaps having other interest and lots going on etc but the truth is the showy aesthetic gives of this impression irrespective of the truth behind the facade.
Thank you Jim, yes entirely agree
Have you worn the black brycelands denim yet? How are you finding it and what clothes are you pairing it with?
I’ve been eyeing it for a while but it will be my first black denim so I dont know how to tackle pairing it with the current clothes I have….
Full article coming soon Andy!
Do you happen to have a timeframe on that? I’m wondering if I should wait for that article to come out before purchasing.
But if its too long of a wait, I might just buy it in the meantime.
If you have a timeframe, pls let me know
I’d estimate three weeks
Every now and then, I’m drawn to showy clothing because to me it’s something special that no one else is wearing and it’s exciting.
However, usually these purchases were not reasonable for me in hindsight. I find it less problematic that I don’t like the outfit I bought, which I usually do, but that you can only wear it a few times. For example, I have a beautiful red cardigan. But if I would wear this more often, I would be the guy with the red cardigan. On the other hand, I can wear a navy or gray crewneck sweater almost every day, in different combinations, without anyone noticing.
That’s the real advantage of subtle classical menswear for me.
I’d like to think that some of the desire to dress showy or subtle has to do with age, and knowledge level. When I wanted corduroys at 18, it was an emerald green pair embroidered with hunters and flying ducks. Today I’m instead looking for a certain fabric mill, weight and wale count, factors I wouldn’t have been conscious of in my younger days when I was just paying for the pizazz.
An extremely well made set of points. People conflate references, facts, effects, aspirations, etc.
“defining our terms makes our preferences, and discussions of them, clearer” is an excellent summary.
One example is the fairly strong split within ‘classic’/traditional menswear enthusiasts, for instance, is between those who wear a lot of items that were particularly popular several decades ago and ones that would not wear any item that, within CM at least, is not currently common or recently common (say: spectator shoes, homburgs, etc. but even silk scarves, pocket squares, etc. in extreme examples of ‘presentism’).
That difference is strongly linked, I think, to the subtlety – demonstrativeness intent.
Providing a framework for thinking about context and desires outcome is really helpful.
Separately, one of your other articles which suggested to dress one level above everyone else at work has served me really well in a professional environment. Thanks!
Oh good. Today, writing that piece, I would put it in the terms of this article, and say you wanted to be one step along this spectrum from everyone else, rather than at the extreme end
I used that today. We were travelling to a small family gathering and I went one down(after thinking about the article) replacing a rather racy argyll with a finer blue wool knit.
My mum gave me her approval ….which I suppose is the highest praise.
I always find myself in the market for a new article of clothing, and when I get hold of one I tend to wear it as much as I can for a week or so to fully enjoy its many qualities.
As a result, I am very guilty of wearing a dinner jacket with a pair of Selvedge Jeans, or a tie to a beach party.
Therefore I am rather “showy”, or “peacocking” as I call it, in my casual dress. To me, it is more of a result of enjoying my new purchases and being challenged to wear a certain piece.
Your writing, however, has sparked an interest in me to stay within the spectrum of subtlety. I look forward to re-reading this article to real in my showy inclinations.
Let’s see how it goes.
Let us know too Nils
Hi Simon – I really enjoy it when you put up a thought provoking article like this. It particularly struck a chord as I recently listened to Jeremy Kirkland talking to American children’s author Mac Barnett. They discussed the notion that by understanding the language of clothing you then use clothing to help better tell your story. Some days I really fancy showy ( ish ) when I’m in the mood or when the circumstances suit / require. You can pull it off then too. Subtle is also what you want sometimes.
As office / professional wear has evolved over the past few years we have more choices. As you say you discuss more casual options a lot more which is great. For sure it does not make dressing easier but it is certainly more fun!
Best wishes N
Excellent discussion Simon. Might be interesting to ponder over how subtletly and versatility overlap (a whole lot I’d say). And to take this a bit further and play the devils’ advocate, the overlap between subtlety and blandness. Wearing tonal outfits is certainly subtle, but it’s also not too exciting either. Then again, when I meet with a client I’m wearing my navy blazer and not my dark red one (which is certainly showy and exciting, but not very appropriate in that setting).
True, subtlety could go too far, perhaps that’s one extreme of the spectrum.
Versatility is an interesting one. Perhaps in terms of situations you could wear things in, but not things that you can wear with lots of other clothing necessarily. For example, I can imagine someone wearing very big, exaggerated trousers in more of a streetwear style, but they might be in a colour, like black, that goes with lots of other things they own
Hi Simon, I don’t know if you or anyone else considers this showy, but I do rather enjoy a Milanese button hole on a more traditional navy suit. It may be showy in menswear circles, but in day to day life, it’s quite subtle. A way of being showy whilst still maintaining subtlety, if that makes any sense?
It does Marc, though I’d say it’s just not that showy really, as showiness depends on context and so few people would notice. They’re much more likely to notice, say, a gurkha waistband on trousers, or high-rise trousers with braces. They it becomes a little more showy
Interesting thoughts Simon.
I would add another dimension, how unusual an attire is, which can be confused with showiness. For example, navy on navy isn’t very common outside #menswear, so whilst it isn’t showy, it’s more likely to be noticed and commented on.
In other words, unusual but subdued attire could have a similar effect to showy dress: bring attention to the clothes and the person who wears them.
True Noel. For the purpose of my definition here, I would put showiness and being unusual as the same thing, because it’s that subjective
Another intriguing post. After reading this, I consider the photo of Ralph Lauren’s black tie and jeans ensemble differently. I think it looks silly, but I wonder what he is trying to communicate. Private club upstairs, honkytonk in the basement? Cary Grant goes to a dude ranch? I’m so cool and rich I can wear whatever I want, wherever I am, convention be damned? Maybe at the next fashion awards gala Ralph could rock a dhoti instead of jeans with his dinner jacket. If he does, I’d love to know why.
What a great article, Simon.
Many years ago a friend of mine came back from a maiden voyage to Japan. I’ll never forget the way he related to me the incredible diversity in the personal looks of young Japanese people – despite being in his early twenties he was stunned by how strongly they expressed their own individual senses of personal style, whether through hair styles, or clothing choices, drawing on influences from all over. He came back to Britain thinking how dull their counterparts at home were by contrast.
I have sadly never visited Japan, so I can’t tell you how accurate this is or whether it rings true today, but the image along with the photos he showed me has always stayed with me. Perhaps in the UK we have homogenised around commoditised high street offerings after the explosion of sub-cultures in the late seventies and early eighties.
I never, ever judge or criticise anyone for how they choose to express themselves – hair, facial hair, clothing, tattoos, makeup, piercings, whatever. I also find it disrespectful when people highlight Pitti peacocks or high-profile menswear figures as ‘wearing fancy dress’. Not all looks are right for all people, but to dismiss how others choose to express themselves tells us more about the ego and attitude of the person seeking to apply a label than the people they are referencing.
So I say this: if you want to be casual then do it. If you want to be smart then do it. If you want to mix high and low then do it. If you want to be subtle and minimalist then do it. If you want to be flamboyant and even outrageous do it. But don’t spare a single second thinking about what others think (with the obvious exception of stipulated dress codes, upstaging a host or your boss and so on).
The late, great Cary Grant said that simplicity was the essence of good taste and how right he was. Mr. Grant’s observation applies to both tailored and casual clothing in my opinion. A friend of mine told me recently that on a flight from Rome he saw an Italian man who was simply dressed in a dark green crew neck sweater, navy trousers, dark brown suede boots, and well designed glasses that looked fantastic. The original idea of PS was to teach men to be simply well dressed, if I understand it correctly. Well that idea was appropriate then and even more relevant today. Casual clothing can quickly devolve into an affectation or a peacock look if one isn’t careful. So just dress simply with quality casual clothing that’s well designed with clean lines and muted colors. Leave the bright shades and garish over the top designs to the Pitti and peacock crew. Some brands that can help a lot in this regard are Private White, John Smedley, Sunspel, and Luca Faloni. Thanks to PS articles about these firms, I now own garments from all of these makers and have been very pleased and my fellow readers you will be too.
Good write up Simon! I think it all depends on the goals. One might want to “show of” his newest wardrobe addition or his exquisit taste for striking clothes and someone else just wants to blend in. At both ends of the spectrum there is a huge playground of doing things, experimenting and enjoying the journey and process. Personally I like to be subtle. People should not notice how I dress, but that I dress well. In that sense I try to blend in but take get an edge. One of my favorite ways to do something interesting but still be able to fly under the radar is a monochromatic color palette. Only shades of blue, only shades of grey or only earthy tones. Or a full navy outfit. It’s blending in but still a little bit unusual in a way that one might notice by a second look.
Greetings from germany, keep up the good work!
I do think there’s a time and place in my life for the more rock star look in casual clothing. It’s tricky to pick something to wear to nip out to a bar in the evening. I don’t want the cocktail wear that you’ve mentioned in the past as it’s still too formal, I’d be the only person wearing tailoring. Although maybe a thin black turtleneck under a dark and also thin jacket would work.
To solve this problem I’m sort of transfixed on the idea of some perfectly chosen graphic tee to wear under a black blazer. It’s a common enough “rock star” look that I believe ties into what you’ve mentioned here with tailoring and jeans. Keanu Reeves is my idol in this
Thing is I can’t find the right tee. I didn’t buy band tees when I was a teenager and it feels in-authentic to start now. And my favourite music acts are selling tees for £15 or so without listing what they’re made of. The best made graphic tees I can find have logos to do with the American Military and that has nothing to do with me.
Surely a Matrix tee would be perfect?
Try Empire magazine for a recent review of film tees. My daughter regularly rocks classic DC tees under her leather jacket.
I hate seeing denim jeans with a dinner jacket, blazer or sports jacket. It’s just as easy to wear a smart pair of trousers. The poseur in the blazer and slippers is just an attention-seeker like the “Pitti Peacocks” who deserve nothing but our ridicule and scorn.
Lauren is effectively saying “I’m a big hitter so I don’t have to dress properly like the rest of you plebs”. It is, to me, a form egotistical snobbery. It’s not surprising that real Ivy Leaguers dismiss him and his brand as fakes, the “phoney Pony” indeed!
I think you might be missing the point Gary. Of course it’s just as easy to wear a smart pair of trousers. The reason RL does it is to be contrary, to do something that isn’t done by anyone else, and even to rile people. It’s deliberately unusual and not something he expects anyone to imitate.
The class presumptions are also something you read into it. Most subcultures deliberately do the same with clothing, punk being an obvious example.
For anyone still going to an office, it is quite obvious that the majority of males was looking much better wearing suits and ties 10 years ago than some of the awful casual outfits worn by 80% of the population today. And one of the main reason is because it was quite difficult to look really bad in a decent navy or charcoal suit with a white or light blue shirt, black or dark brown shoes and a decent tie. And if you push me, I would also say that an average suit with an average shirt wide opened and no tie can be pretty bad looking too those days. But now that suits are not allowed anymore in a lot of trendy locations and ties are only worn by Charles III, you need to adapt. And subtle tonal outfits offer a strong option to those who do not want to spend too much time trying (most of the time too hard) every day to reinvent the wheel…
I’m curious as to where are these trendy locations, would you be denied entrance for showing up in a suit.
Regarding the Ralph Lauren navy blazer with distressed jeans, you write
“But he and I would probably agree that the look is better with loafers than with chunky trainers.”
Add an orange fright wig and a big red rubber nose and it will realize its full sartorial splendor.
That’s not just any baseball cap; it’s Cal baseball cap. That’s probably why it works so well.
What is that beret in the photos? Looks nice!
It’s from AWMS, Tony Sylvester’s brand
Interesting take on the unspoken assumptions behind dressing, I like it! I’m wondering what shirt you are wearing in the picture that shows you wearing a white shirt, navy jacket and white handkerchief. Am I correct in assuming this shirt has no top button? Also, what is that style of collar called? Many thanks in advance for your reply!
It’s a one-piece collar – see here for the original article containing it, and here for another example
Much appreciated, thank you!
Hi Simon, a little confused by your restock email today… you listed products by month but that included January (we’re now Feb). The Tapered T that’s under January says “by the end of the month”.
Was that end of Jan therefore they are delayed or end of Feb given you sent the mail in Feb
Ah, sorry. Yes it was written right at the end of Jan! The T-shirts should be with us next week
Love how you framed this article and the different dimensions of how we choose to dress.
I have a strong recollection that this subject has been discussed before but now I can’t find the article.
anyway, always nice to read and look at your work Simon!
We did talk about flashy v fuddy – which was about different styles, with both extremes being showy in different ways. The other time we talked about it was in that article about double brown that’s linked to at the end of the article