In the first of a weekly series, The National's foreign editor offers a guide through the maze that is menswear. Today: what not to wear.
The clothes that do not make the man
Men's fashion is a living, breathing beast. Say what you will, but the clothing choices a man makes reflect on him perhaps more than any other decision made during the course of his day. The suit dictates first impressions, and if worn well helps us project more of ourselves just by our presence. Fads come and go, styles replace looks, ideas give way to trends, and whims fill in where icons once stood. But the daily attire of the modern man says much about who we are and who we want to be. Unfortunately, not all our choices are wise ones.
A fashionable man will embrace many changes, but there are a few stylistic elements that should never be sported, certain wardrobe eyesores that do nothing but highlight our lack of cognitive thinking. Take the cravat. Only one man remains who can wear it. The rest of his wardrobe consists of a silk robe, slippers and a pipe, and he lives in the Playboy Mansion. For us mere mortals, the cravat must stay in the past. It must stay associated with Dirk Bogarde and other stylish folks of a bygone era.
I thought my father dressed well, if not flashily. During the work week he was clean-shaven and always wore a suit. On the weekends his tie gave way to a cravat and the suit sometimes to a blazer and slacks. He grew up in not the best neighbourhood of Montreal in the 1940s and 1950s and was a bit of a troublemaker, but the cravat is something he associated with sophistication and elegance. In the early 1970s, when I can still remember being punished for various misdeeds, I can also recall my father wearing a cravat to church on Sundays or out with my mother for summer parties. Although my father was a flirt and a tremendous drinker, he had (and I am pleased to say still has) a way about him that I think of as stylish.
Although much of what my father wore nearly 40 years ago can still be sported today, sadly the cravat cannot. As creatures of habit, we men must be forced out of our comfort zones by something dramatic, such as a stinging comment from a spouse or a friend, a public rebuff from a woman or an offhand remark from our teenage daughter ("OK, if we are going to the mall together, can you at least walk behind me so no one will think we are related?").
Another equally effective but less traumatic rebuke is a fashion column. So, consider this your slap in the face, men. Top 10 items that must be eliminated from the male wardrobe. 10. Tassels on dress shoes Elvis should never have worn them in Vegas and you should not be wearing them today. Thank ya, thank ya very much. 9. Jeans with running shoes If I ruled the world, this would be first on my "I now decree the following to be illegal" list.
8. Short-sleeved dress shirts This is akin to an Emirati wearing his khandoura with short sleeves. But hey, if you want to be ridiculed, then go for it. 7. Faux bow ties This is possibly the greatest lie perpetrated on humankind. Forget Saddam's purported weapons of mass destruction, the lies that Colin Powell delivered to the UN or the lack of ethics by previously reputable news organisations in failing to uncover said lies. This is the one that makes me think young men around the world are still being lied to by authority figures. How can a pre-wrapped anything beat the real thing? Do you want James Bond untying a real bow tie and letting it hang around his neck or do you want him unfastening one end and putting the thing in his pocket?
6. Button-down shirts with a tie Come on down, John Bolton! The former US ambassador to the UN amazed me, but not because he once said it would not make one bit of difference if the 38-storey UN headquarters overlooking the East River lost 10 floors. No, it was the disgusting muffin fat that his collar would create when he wore his button-down dress shirt with a tie. It is almost as bad as his moustache.
5. Monogram shirts Guess what? You are wearing it so I am pretty sure I know whose shirt it is. Putting your initials on it only tells me you are not very smart. 4. Sans jacket A guy will put on a nice pair of trousers, a clean, white dress shirt, a tie and nice shoes and think he is ready to go. One word: no. The work day does not begin until you put on the suit jacket (or the blazer, if you are mixing and matching). The jacket is what sets us apart. You want to be impressive? Start dressing like it and wear the jacket.
3. Velcro shoes Need I say more? 2. Jewellery Men can wear two pieces of jewellery: a watch and a wedding ring. If you are older than 21, it is time to take the earrings out. Unseen piercings, well, let's keep them that way. Bracelets? Please, we are men, not Liberace. School rings? Sorry, but you have graduated. Necklaces? See note about Liberace. Pinky rings? Only one man could wear a pinky ring and he is dead - Liberace.
1. Speedos and briefs Anything that can fit in your back pocket is not appropriate attire to cover yourself.