Fashion Simplified? Forget the Frills, Get a Guy Guide

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What’s good for women to know about clothes is not really all that different from what men ought to know. First, of course, *wear* some! Unless you’re in a nudist colony. That’s a different topic for a different day, no?

Never has anyone suggested I was especially stylish, let alone a fashion maven. I wear dresses or skirts, and have even been known to kick up a pair of high heels from time to time voluntarily. In fact, I’ll admit to being so stereotypically girly as to like jewelry and shoes just a little more than it strictly healthy for my wallet.

Frilly, however, I am not. I feel ridiculous, conspicuous even trying on stuff with too much twinkle and ruffle, and am compelled to do a quick Coco Chanel obeisance and remove an item or two from my ensemble if I feel over-decorated. Sometimes, in truth, nothing beats slipping into the most user-friendly jeans, those worked almost to death and not pre-aged by some corporate design slave, until they are softer than bunnies’ ears and they conform precisely to my every nook and cranny, however unflattering that may be. By the time any clothes achieve this magical status, of course, they are generally worn so thin despite any and all repairs that even a ghost would put her knees and elbows right through them. Pity, that.

In any case, I suppose for the most part what would best serve me as style advice is what would do for most men. The males I know are more willing to admit, most of them, that the primary goal is comfort and all else had best conform to it. But even the least conformist among my male compatriots also recognize a need to appear appropriate for business and social occasions, if only to get along smoothly.

My solutions, for the guys and me both, are simple and few. Stay unfussy. Basic, classic shapes, relatively few or subtle patterns, and not too much extravagantly showy stuff. Strong, comfortable, easy care materials. For me, and for lots of people, it’s great to have clothes that are wonderfully packable, so it’s as easy to travel as to hang at home.

Though I love heels and feminine looking shoes, I’ve gotten older–and, I hope, smarter–enough to prioritize health and comfort very highly and now am willing to save up longer and invest more to get better quality low heels and, hurray, flats that will still please my taste preferences. This, it turns out, is becoming a larger theme in my wardrobe: comfort still reigns, and I’m still a determined bargain hunter who is never happier than in finding a good item of clothing for under ten US dollars, but certain things are absolutely worth the extra effort and expense of genuine investment.

That category, for me, includes staple or foundation clothes like shoes and other most often worn items. My grandfather, the most serious clotheshorse in my lineage, said that you could read a lot of a person’s character in his or her shoes and the care given them. I’m not entirely focused on shoes, despite my love of them, but I tend to agree with the sentiment that well-tended classic clothes of the sort best suited (no pun intended) to the occasion make a good impression. Good shoes. Just a couple of pairs of slacks and/or skirts (or a Utilikilt!) and/or a dress or two. Pieces that are sturdily made and perfectly fitted to form will flatter your best features and cover your sins, and they won’t need to be replaced often for either getting too worn out or dated. You’re good to go for work and generally common events without worry about making the correct choice and getting by with both comfort and class.

Accessories–socks, vests, scarves, hats and watches and all of that sort of thing–can certainly change the character of a strong basic outfit and personalize it as little or much as one likes. And sometimes, these are the easiest wardrobe items to find at spectacular bargain prices, so it’s easier to vary an outfit with them than to have multiple expensive, high maintenance ensembles cluttering choice and storage.

The foundational elements of design give plenty of clues how to make the most of what clothes you have, whatever they are and whatever your personal style. On a person, monochromatic sets of pants, socks and shoes give the appearance of longer legs than the broken-line look of wearing those three in different colors. Skin toned (whatever your skin tone) shoes on a woman in a skirt or shorts make the shoes look like an extension of her legs rather than an eye stopping different color, and again, they create ‘longer’ legs. A fitted torso (shirt, dress or jacket) is narrower in proportion to its top-to-hem length and so will tend to make the man or woman wearing it seem slimmer than a loose, baggy garment. And so it goes. All of the design basics in the world, however, will not guarantee you feel comfortable or that your clothes express your personality, so while I think it’s both practical and attractive to pay attention to smart details–and ask for help if you’re not so knowledgeable about them–clothes onlyΒ indicate the man, they don’tΒ make him.

Since I long ago conceded that my philosophy of housekeeping is to make everything as easy as possible for an inveterate lazy-pants, no-iron shirts are a gift from the gods, and packable knits the virtual equivalent of wearing jammies to work. So I’m likely to break rules, if there are any, in favor of what pleases me. But you know, sometimes it really is enjoyable, if not de rigueur, to wear something tailored and crisp and beautifully fitted.

This, my friends, is one of those places where I have actually learned a few useful items over time. Behold, in this my era of crepitation, I can still learn a thing or two. Thing One: professional tailoring can make the ordinary extraordinary for less than buying custom. Wearing extraordinary things doesn’t hurt your image, unless you’re cultivating a scuzzy vibe. I won’t judge you. Thing two (and also not recommended for those polishing their grunge-meister cred): dry cleaning. While it can be pricy and is pretty ecologically objectionable, is the only way to make some tailored clothes look, and stay, the way they should. Invest in these two and, more significant even than that you will love your clothes more, your clothes will love you more, and for a longer time. That is a good investment.

But enough of this. I’m going off to find my jeans and T-shirt. My work here is done.

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Multiplication tables.

9 thoughts on “Fashion Simplified? Forget the Frills, Get a Guy Guide

  1. I grew up with my mom making all my clothes, she even made me tailored suits for when I was in the corporate industry. Buying clothes off the rack is so not a fun thing for me; besides I have one of those bodies where everything has to be adjusted – urgh – jewellery, well that’s different! πŸ˜‰ I used to do the high heel thing but haven’t for well over a decade and being at home I permanently walk around in my slippers – sad I know but oh so comfy!
    Lovely post Kath!
    Have a beautiful day.
    πŸ˜‰ Mandy xo

    • Ahhhhh, slippers. I tend to wear them or the slightest, lightest of flat sandals much of the time here myself. Or go barefoot on our nice Saltillo tile floors, which feel cool and comfy underfoot in the hot weather.

      My mom was a wonderful seamstress, too. I was pretty mediocre unless just messing about and doing things that didn’t require patterns! But Mom was patient and generous with her skills, so I got some lovely handmade clothes from her as well, not least of all my beautiful emerald green wedding dress, which I cut out and also did the freehand soutache bodice panels for but Mom did all of the dress assembling for me. (

      And yes, I always have a beautiful day when you stop by here! I wish you the same, my dear Mandy!

  2. Too funny – I happen to be heading out for my yearly I-Have-Nothing-To-Wear shopping trip in a few hours…only this year, it’s actually true, as I somehow seem to have lost 2 pant sizes since tucking the cool-weather things into storage. πŸ™‚
    My dad sold men’s suits for decades, and taught me the same rules you have – pay good money for solid foundation pieces, and bargain-shop for the trendy (i.e. only lasts one season) stuff. It works!

  3. Superb advice. High heels are lovely to look at but not so lovely to wear. I occasionally wear not-so-high heels but prefer to have my feet closer to the ground. It makes it less likely that I’ll be struck by lightning. πŸ™‚

    • Why, I’m so grateful you warned me! I do suspect that high heels were invented by the earliest barbers and leeches [orthopedic surgeons and podiatrists], hence their thriving industries today.

  4. Great post, Kathryn! I used to dress up when I was younger and wear heels, but those days are gone. I’m in a very casual phase right now, even for work. I work in a private home so jeans, capris, whatever is my wardrobe! It’s very nice. I’m into jeans and tennies or sandals/flip flops. If I dress up, I wear either sandals or flats. Needless to say, dry cleaning doesn’t happen often because of my uniform! πŸ™‚

    • Lauren, you had me at ‘tennies’!!! I haven’t heard anyone outside my family use that in eons! In our family, there is an iconic story that can be referenced merely by mentioning The Purple Tenny-runners. It’s about some deck shoes Dad got that went from a cool and studly dark burgundy to light purple, almost lavender, the first time they got wet. Gosh, you’re getting me all reminiscent today! There may be some Lauren-inspired posts coming up soon. I’ll be sure to give you full credit. πŸ˜€

      As for your work uniform, in a word: brilliant. I have a fairly similar one. In my advancing years I’ve gotten into the habit of wearing the same outfit for days on end until either I am going to an event with the same people (who might begin to suspect that I never bathe if I show up identically garbed several times in a week) or the clothes get too dirty for comfort. Which, in the case of my jeans, might mean they could stand up in a corner overnight, since I use them for gardening and fix-its and DIY stuff equally with sitting at the desk. But as you can see, comfort is paramount, and I’ve come to think that comfort is one of the telltale qualities that mean something probably both fits and suits a person, since good fit leads to better comfort, and we all generally like to wear things that flatter us and garner the most compliments.

      You, of course, would look gorgeous even if you were wearing a paper grocery bag, so you have lots of options!

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