I want to talk about style, in a nerdy sort of way. Style is not often a word associated with nerds, but I don’t see why that should stop us. I’ve always been conscious of the need to have a personal style.
I’m what is kindly referred to as a big guy. Not once have I walked out of a Banana Republic with an outfit worn by the mannequin. My personal style went through phases where I attempted to hide my size, telling myself I wanted to be comfortable. It took me a while before I understood how to dress appropriately for my size.
My own style has evolved over time. Since I would never be a medium, I decided to look good as an extra-large. Looking good is a comfort on its own. Maybe you catch a glimpse at yourself passing a mirror, or its the way your pant leg drapes over your shoes—whatever it is—feeling good in your clothes is a joy I want everyone to experience.
To be clear, I’m not talking about fashion. Fashion is fleeting. What everyone needs is a personal style—a framework—for everyday dress that suits their personality and day-to-day life.
You’re probably thinking, “I don’t want to think about how I dress.” Before you stop reading, hear me out. Just like you, I want to roll out of bed and dress myself without thinking. That is exactly what a personal style can give—only you won’t look like you just rolled out of bed.
Later this week, I’ll go over the basics, then talk about how I like to dress them up. Below are a few of my rules, to set the stage:
Clothes that fit. Baggy, loose, and relaxed are three adjectives that should not describe your wardrobe. Replace them with tailored, and fitted. It may sound counter-intuitive, but fitted clothes are slimming1.
Clothing that drapes off your body can draw awkward lines and create volume in your silhouette where it doesn’t exist. Gravitate towards straight pant legs, and tailored shirts. Try a size smaller than you would normally buy. Bring a friend to the store and ask them if it looks too small. You might be surprised by their answer2.
Natural fibers. Cotton, linen, jersey, silk, and denim are your friends. They breathe easier than synthetic fibers and feel more comfortable on your skin. Consider your phone or computer—we find them more appealing when they are made of natural materials. Shouldn’t it be the same for clothing?
Save the fancy synthetic cloth for your workout gear, which you should never, ever wear in public unless you’re working out. Sweat pants are for walking the dog and mowing the lawn.
Neutrals. Bold color and pattern introduce the subjective calculus of what matches, and what can be mixed. You can avoid this by only wearing one pattern (typically a shirt3, scarf, or neck-tie). This means that the rest of your outfit should be a neutral.
When in doubt, look for a neutral color such as black, navy blue, brown, gray, or white. Avoid colored denim. Avoid pattern. This will leave you with more versatility and less trouble in the morning when you figure out what to wear.
Try on, before you buy. Clothing sizes are more marketing than science. I cannot button an extra-large oxford from J Crew, but can fit a friend inside of an XL from Nordstrom. European designers tend to size small, and Japanese designers size even smaller. Go into a store and try them on in a fitting room.
I avoid online shopping for anything but my basics. With those, I already know my size and I own enough to understand the variance. Oh yes, garments can vary even if they are the same size, from the same designer. Clothing is not rocket science and tolerances are larger than you expect.
If you remember nothing else, try everything on.
People may ask you if you’ve lost weight, too. This is my favorite compliment—why can’t people just say “You look great.” Assholes. ↩
Patterned pants should never be worn, unless your Great Uncle invites you to play golf or someone loads you into a cannon, then shoots you across a row of cars. ↩