What makes one man unnervingly stylish and another dishevelled? Why is Steve McQueen often referenced for his low-key masculine look (really, just a white t-shirt and a leather jacket), and praise poured over Mick Jagger and his scatty showman chic?
If there is a magic formula for being stylish, then there's one book that might offer the secret to this elusive notion of style. Last month saw the arrival of Josh Sims', Men of Style. It charts the sartorial codes of David Bowie, Truman Capote and James Dean. But while the author admits that fashion is easy. Style is something else entirely.
There are many men 'with style', admits Sims. Most are not famous. Instead they are captured in 'street style' – a category of photography that has taken social media by storm. However, what draws the eye isn't merely an appreciation of fashion. Keeping up to date with fashion is easy, but dressing with personal style is altogether harder.
"It requires an appreciation for form, colour, texture and composition; an artist's perspective, if you like, applied to whatever one picks out of one's wardrobe each morning, quite possibly at a time when thinking clearly about the triviality of what to wear is not high on the day's agenda", says Sims.
Certainly, dressing with style doesn't have to result in a look that is 'radical'. In fact, the golden rule of style is still the one laid down by Coco Chanel – to dress in a 'timeless' fashion. According to Sims, men should also have a willingness to play with what they're wearing – with details, an accessory or a way of wearing something.
"Fred Astaire, for example, was at heart a conservative dresser: but using a tie instead of a belt, or a pin to hold the opening of his shirt in place, was all it took him to make him a man of style".
So must you obsess over clothes to be called stylish? According to Sims, a 'man of style' claims to have little interest in clothes, for he only wears what he knows suits him. Take Steve McQueen, for example, he "wasn't about to let historic accuracy stand in the way of his desire to sport trim, more form-fitting khakis in The Great Escape. For men of style, their clothes are simply what they wear; for onlookers, however, it appears as a form of branding, a sartorial signature".
In today's world, it is accepted that men embrace fashion, and that has transformed the male wardrobe as a result. There have been changes – both industrial and social – from the way the fashion business manufactures and markets its products, to the way men of all ages are now allowed to care for their appearance and dress in styles of the season.
Sims does admit it was a tad easier to be branded a fashion icon back in the day, " they belong to an age when, as far as men had anything more than a practical relationship with their dress style, was all there was. You either had it – and ideally, the public profile to make it known – or you didn't. One wasn't in competition with today's world, in which so many more men are concerned about the way they present themselves".
The most important aspect of good style, however, is confidence. Wear what you think looks good with bravado and swagger, and you can't help be stylish. Sims do offer one last piece of advice, know who you are and wear what you want, because "ultimately, this is what lasts (and, of course, it helps if you're devilishly handsome and/or overflowing with charisma, too).
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