The New World Economics Guide to Men’s Fashion
July 3, 2011
If you’ve been following along, you’ve noticed that the overarching theme of many of these weekly items is the idea of a new age of civilization, superceding the present Heroic Materialist Age which has been going on far too long already. We’ve pretty much pounded all those Heroic Materialist themes into the dirt, through endless repetition, and are ready for something new.
November 22, 2009: What Comes After Heroic Materialism?
One of my themes of this new age of civilization is a much greater focus on aesthetics, which is things like architecture, interior design, city design, crafts such as furniture and pottery, fine art, music, literature, cuisine, clothing and fashion, and so forth. We see that all civilizations in all times have had much greater accomplishments in these areas than we have today. Despite all of our successes with things like electricity, airplanes and computers, we must be the worst-dressed people of all time. We also have the shittiest architecture in the most dismal cities, fine art that has degenerated into little more than an excuse for intellectual self-abuse by the academics, music which becomes a more cynical profit-scraping exercise each year (note the debate on the “loudness wars” and dynamic compression in popular music), and food which creeps closer to that idealized factory product of a nutrition bar, or the human equivalent of dry dogfood.
November 8, 2009: The Future Stinks
Let’s see what men used to dress like:
By the way, this necklace is made from bear claws. And I didn’t buy it on eBay, if you get what I’m saying.”
“What is a ‘chino’?”
“You guys look so lame, I gotta wear shades!”
Traditional Inuit clothing.
“Yeah, I wear fur and accessorize with dogs. You wanna make something of it?”
Robert Peary, polar explorer.
“Don’t you think golf is a little … boring?”
Eagle hunter, Kyrgyzstan.
“If we do not fight now, our great-grandchildren will be shopping at Old Navy.”
I would suggest that these aesthetic things are the only thing that matters. Because, once you have the basics of life covered, adequate caloric intake and some sort of shelter, what else is there? A bigger TV? A house with more bathrooms than people?
This big picture cultural critiquing is very nice, and maybe nice cocktail chatter among a certain set, but I want to make some first, practical steps in this direction. This helps people get a feel of what I mean in real life, not just as an intellectual exercise. Plus, it’s something you can do yourself, today. And, your wife/girlfriend/future wife or girlfriend will love it.
We are going to dive right in the Heart of Darkness here, one of the most hideous aspects of our early 21st century Heroic Materialist lifestyle, men’s fashion.
In short, we want to go from this:
Ask you wife/girlfriend if she approves.
To which you might reply: “Well, I don’t look like George Clooney.”
But, maybe you could if you wanted to?
If that is not a realistic option, I think that being dressed well can add a certain gravitas and grandeur, even if you are ugly.
Another option. (Actually, this guy is in pretty good physical shape. Better than Winston Churchill!)
OK, let’s get started.
First: Get Inspired. Read Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston. It says most everything that should be said about the beneficial effects of throwing out your junk.
Buy Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui from Amazon.com
Second: Make some space. Take every scrap of clothing you own, and put it in a big pile on the floor. From this pile, pick out what you need for a week or ten days. For example, if you have a certain work wardrobe, then extract ten days’ worth of clothing from that. Presumably, the best ten days’ worth — your favorite and best clothing. This might be three suits, or five pairs of pants if you don’t wear a suit, and ten shirts. Six or seven neckties. Everything else goes in the disposal pile. For weekend/casual wear, extract a few outfits, for warm and cool weather. There are only two weekend days, so you really don’t need much. Two pairs of casual pants and one pair of shorts, and maybe five collared shirts, is plenty. You might have one pair of “utility” pants for things like yardwork and painting. Everything else goes in the disposal pile. If you have exercise wear, such as jogging shorts, then pick out as many shorts as you might use in a week, let’s say two or three, and junk the rest. Same for socks and underwear. If you have sixty or seventy t-shirts, like most people, choose about five or six and put the rest in the disposal pile. If you wear suits, then pick your best three and the rest goes in the disposal pile. Get rid of anything that is at the end of its useful life. This includes socks with holes in the heel, t-shirts that are getting thin and holey, dress shirts with stained collars or worn elbows, pants that are developing holes, etc.
Anything that you haven’t worn in a year is a good candidate for the disposal pile. However, also the things that you tend to wear all the time should maybe go there too. Time to get out of your rut. Wear something else.
At the end of this exercise, you should have all the clothing you actually need, for various situations including formal, work, casual and the like, and various seasons, but no extra.
If you find this is rather traumatic, make two piles. One is the disposal pile, and one is the “I’ll keep it for now but not in regular rotation” pile. Take the “keep it for now” pile, pack it in a cardboard box, and put it in your garage or attic. You will probably end up with something like 50% in the disposal pile, 30% in the “keep it for now” pile, and 20% remaining for regular use.
If you are still having difficulty with this: Ask your female advisor to do it. Just give her the instructions, leave the house, have a burrito, and come back 30 minutes later. She’ll have it all done.
For the disposal pile, you probably have all sorts of guilt feelings about throwing away perfectly usable clothes. Give these to Goodwill, or a local church or charity. Find someone who can use them. Don’t spend more than a couple days getting rid of it. Get it out of your house and out of your mind.
You might find that this process is, first, a lot more difficult than it seems it should be, and, also, a lot more psychologically invigorating than you might think. You will probably feel miserable when you’re doing it, and feel great once it’s done.
Third: Buy some new underwear. Most everyone could use some new underwear, so just buy a whole new set. This would be about ten days’ worth. Don’t get the cheapie 6-pack from WalMart, but there’s no need to be silly about it either. Just something nice and respectable, that won’t offend your mistress. What, no mistress? You should treat your wife at least as well as your mistress. Now junk all your old underwear. In the trash, obviously. You might want to add socks to this list, depending on their condition. It’s not a bad idea to replace all your underwear about once a year.
Fourth: Recruit your female advisor. Have you noticed that women like to shop together? This is not only to chit-chat, it helps a lot if you have someone separate to critique your ideas. Sometimes a piece of clothing will look good on a model or on a rack, but it won’t look good on you. It might not be the right style, or it’s not age-appropriate, or situation-appropriate, or it won’t fit right or look good on your body type. It might not go well with your hair or skin color, or a dozen different things. Besides, you’re doing this for the first time, and naturally you need help, and you don’t want to look like a goof. Girls know when something looks good. Normally, this would be your wife or girlfriend, but if you don’t have a wife or girlfriend handy, this is a good time to maybe talk to that girl in the office who seems like she knows about clothes, and ask her to help you out. You know the one I’m talking about, right?
Fifth: Get a new hairstyle. It doesn’t have to be particularly complicated. Just something different than what you have, especially if it has been the same for a long time. If you part on the side, then part in the middle. Try going shorter or longer. Maybe facial hair? Or, get rid of the facial hair? Dump the comb-over and embrace the bald? Look at some pictures in magazines for ideas. The main thing is to shake up your style, and get out of your rut.
Sixth: Start replacing your clothes. Pick one certain situation that you will begin to replace. Let’s take casual wear. This is your weekend stuff. First, consider the situation that you will be using it in. The weekend, and a certain season (spring/summer or fall/winter). Begin to consider the options you have within this category. I would draw a hard line and say: no shorts, of any sort, unless used specifically for beachwear or athletic activities. For now, no t-shirts or polo shirts. Jeans are passable but try to get ones with a certain style. Try to get some pants that are not jeans. Don’t repeat yourself, and get, for example, six virtually indistinguishable pairs of “cargo pants.” Get something with stripes. Get something in linen. Get something in wool. Maybe courduroy.
Now you have a specific objective. A certain season, a certain activity (casual weekend wear), a certain environment (the place you live), a certain age (yours), maybe a certain social set, and so forth. What would be appropriate and fun within this context? Start doing some research.
A lot of the shots below come from a website called The Sartorialist:
They are all ordinary people on the street, who didn’t know they would be photographed that day.
Addendum: A reader mentioned that maybe I have too many jeans-y themes here. Certainly, upgrading our casual dress to a 1950s standard is a fine idea.
Teenage party, Briarcliff, NY, 1956.
I hear that Paul Stuart is a perennial reference for tasteful WASP-y clothing.
Let me suggest that this will have a much bigger positive effect on your overall lifestyle, with far less cost and effort, than your present “guy hobby” involving machinery of some sort. Ask your wife if she would rather have you dress like David Beckham, or instead have a really great home theater, motorcycle, high-end amp upgrade, boat, wide-aperture tele zoom, or cat-back exhaust. For most women, this is like asking: “Would you like this huge pile of gold taller than your head, or a chocolate chip cookie?”
“‘Cat-back exhaust?’ I hope you aren’t talking about your kitty’s butt.
Isn’t there something else I could interest you in hmmmm?”
“So we’re talking about a pipe? Doesn’t that already come with the car?”
Yes, but it’s better if you replace the regular pipe with a slightly larger one. This can increase maximum horsepower by about 2%, which you never use during normal driving.
“That seems kind of stupid, even for a guy.”
Replacing the “cat-back” also makes the pipe that’s visible, in the rear, look a little different, and it subtly changes the “exhaust note,” or the sound the car makes when it’s running.
“Now I think I understand.”
Yes, this is men’s fashion, circa 2011, in the decrepit final years of Heroic Materialism.
You really don’t have to buy very much. It doesn’t have to be particularly expensive either. I would think about getting one complete outfit — pants, shirt/sweater, shoes, socks, belt, etc. — that go together, and create one coherent image. This way, you won’t pick things out willy nilly that don’t match. Maybe all from the same brand to start, as these usually match well. Make sure it is appropriate for what you actually do. Don’t buy clubwear or resort wear if you don’t go to clubs or resorts. Don’t be hasty about it. It might take a full day at the mall to put it all together. You want to leave a lot of time to allow the various options and combinations to percolate in your brain. Bring your female advisor. Try everything on, and show it to her. She will say things like “that’s fine — if you were 26,” or “you look like a senior citizen,” or “skinny jeans are not your thing,” or “so, are we going to Hawaii soon?” or “let’s make a rule — no pleated pants.” Or, she will get a surprised look on her face like, “wow, who’s the new guy?” This is a sign of success. Next week, buy one more complete outfit. That might be all you need for this year. Go shopping again at the season change (fall or spring), and get two more complete outfits. Repeat next year. That’s it. After three or four years, you will have a lot of quality stuff.
As you get new items, start disposing of your old stuff. After you wear the new stuff a few times, the old stuff will seem very dreary. Don’t buy new stuff and put it in a box for “special occasions” while you continue to wear the old stuff. Every day is a special occasion! Dump the crap.
A few more suggestions: if you wear a suit at work, I would highly suggest getting custom tailored shirts. You don’t have to spend a lot on it. The main thing is that it fits, and if it fits it fits, no matter what the price is. Look on the internet for various options. Off-the-rack suits work for me, but if you are a funny shape, like Winston Churchill, then look into tailored suits as well.
Especially if you are in a large city, consider wearing a suit or jacket more often.
Actually, you can do this in rural/exurban places too, more of a “country gentleman” look than an “urban gentleman” look. Ralph Lauren has made a business of this niche.
It’s not really necessary to buy this sort of big-dollar stuff, but you can get some good ideas from their ads. 90% of it is in your mind — your ability to imagine and execute certain “looks” — not the size of your budget. I bet you could go to a typical Goodwill store and put together something that is similar in mood, with a budget of $50. I will also say that, if you don’t have it together in your mind, it won’t work even if you spend five figures at Gucci.
We have a long way to go with these things before we return to anything near where Western Civilization was around 1887, the time of this painting.
Look at the sophistication in the clothing in this picture, compared to what we saw earlier. Also, look at the interior decoration, the walls, ceiling, furniture, rug and so forth. It’s not a white box.
Now take your female advisor on a date. She will appreciate it. Maybe, if you show some leadership, she will respond by dressing like Victoria Beckham? That might be nice.
(Did you know: the Beckhams have three kids with a fourth on the way.)
There used to be a television show, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, that dealt with these themes. Typically the guy in question would find that it’s not just about some clothes, it’s about your whole self-image. If you change the outside, you change the inside too. They felt they were liberated from their own self-imposed mental confinement. But you don’t have to wait until a team of poofters magically appears on your doorstep, to extricate you from your well-worn rut. You can just do it. Like a man.
We are in a kind of collective daze. We don’t only have our individual ruts, we have our collective ruts. Like Suburban Hell. Once you have this “get out of your rut” experience, you will begin to notice, more clearly, what I mean by “collective ruts,” which are, in total, the “aesthetic of Heroic Materialism.” We also want to practice the ability to change things, on a whim, experimentally, even if it is only the sofa or the color of our bedroom walls.