Decently dressed, but in a rut: Guys, it’s time to respond to ‘image demand’

By Wendy Donahue

Chicago Tribune

There’s a new abnormal in men’s style.

“For a long time, you were this, or you were that - a polished guy or a rough-hewn guy,” said celebrity stylist Robert Verdi.

Then personal expression sauntered in, wearing a biker jacket one day and a velvet blazer the next.

“A man no longer has to be one of the archetypes that we’ve gotten used to seeing,” Verdi said.

But with choice comes confusion. To simplify, even decently dressed men still typecast themselves.

Middle ground trips them up, said Brian Spaly, founder of Trunk Club, a national wardrobe service for men.

“They know how to do formal and informal, but in general guys really struggle with sophisticated casual. If a guy has a reservation at a great restaurant, he doesn’t know how to look like a sexy 40-year-old guy, in dark denim and a cool blazer that’s not navy or black and shoes that aren’t black. The fact is, the world is moving toward center ground, and more coordination and skill is required.”

Finessing one’s look pays off in any demographic.

“If you stay on trend and are constantly evolving — not in a dramatic way, but if you’re current — you move up,” Verdi said.

Five ways to update your look

1. Substitute a pocket square for a tie. Start with a white square, with a suit or a jacket and dark jeans, said Nish de Gruiter, market maker for Suitsupply, with stores in New York, Chicago and Washington. Advance to colors and patterns that never exactly match the shirt or tie. Fold into a simple “television fold,” named for anchors in the ’50s and ’60s who didn’t want a fluffy or flowery square to distract from their face, de Gruiter said.

2. Ban black shoes. A loden green boot from OakStreetBootmakers.com has been popular with Trunk Club clients. Double monk strap shoes in browns have sold well at Suitsupply.com, as have desert boots that come with brown as well as dark green laces. “It’s a very subtle detail, but the lace can change the shoe completely,” de Gruiter said. Going into spring, he likes brown suede shoes with a suit.

3. Darken the denim. “A classic denim blue color can age you. What looks modern and clean and sharp is an indigo denim, no decorated pockets, but deep blue,” Verdi said. “A straight leg, not a skinny leg, looks the best and it’s the most versatile.”

4. Switch stylists. There are guys with great hair who have stuck with barber-shop crew cuts for years. Grow it out and see a real stylist, even just once, for a fresh perspective.

5. Whiten, but not too much. Whiter teeth look younger. “But you can get that unnatural toilet-bowl-white look at the dentist,” Verdi said. He finds Crest’s two-hour White Strips do the job subtly.

Buy the right size

Guys tend to buy clothes, in every category, that are comfortable but don’t fit them, Verdi said. “They say ‘I wear a large,’ and really they’re like a medium or small,” he said. “Clothes that fit make you feel younger and look slimmer. Even if you’re in bad shape, you’ll look in better shape.”

Suitsupply, which is slated to open an Atlanta location in the Shops Around Lenox shopping center in April, performs 80 percent of its suit alterations on the spot, in the middle of its stores — partly to deliver instant gratification, but also so other male shoppers can observe how clothes should fit.

“Nobody really knows what their real size is,” de Gruiter said. The company’s website, suitsupply.com, shows men how to measure themselves, which is a starting point. The next is a tailor, “who then has to convince the guy for 10 minutes that that is his right size,” de Gruiter said. “Then the guy goes home and puts on something two sizes too big and comes back two weeks later to buy a whole new wardrobe.”