Review – Dressing The Man (#sartorialism, #style, #masculinity, @ArticlesOfStyle, #review, #books)

Review – Dressing The Man (#sartorialism, #style, #masculinity, @ArticlesOfStyle, #review, #books)

Dressing The Man: Mastering The Art Of Permanent Fashion

by Alan Flusser, published 2002

Why do some men look debonair while others look disheveled or worse? What role do clothes play in making a handsome man look plain, and a plain man handsome? According to Alan Flusser, the secret lies in the man’s face itself– do his clothes direct the eye confidently and purposefully to the face, or do they beg the viewer to stare anywhere but there?

Dressing well rests on two pillars– color and proportion… Fashion should be accountable to a specific set of physical trademarks.

For Flusser, successful sartorial pursuits play within known boundaries of taste, structure and purpose, but within those broad confines the greatest spoils go to the most individual:

The best dressed men consistently demonstrate the greatest degree of self-knowledge… a superior understanding of their physical manner and appearance.

This self-aware approach to menswear starts and ends with a man’s face.

The face is the destination to which one’s attire should escort the beholder’s attention… the colors of any given ensemble should exhibit the same degree of contrast as that manifested by one’s skin and hair tones, a person’s two primary color signposts… highlighting each face by repeating one or more of its natural pigments in the colors worn below.

While there is infinite variance to men’s faces, all men happily fit into one of two primary categories of complexion:

If your hair is dark and your skin light, you have a contrast complexion. If your hair and skin tone are similar, your complexion would be considered muted, or tonal.

For example, Southern Europeans and Slavs, as well as Africans and Asians, are clear contrast-type complexions. Northern Europeans, Scandinavians, the Irish and other “norse” blooded peoples are classic muted/tonal complexions. Of special note is the “light, bright and blond”, for whom “at least one item in each ensemble reflects his gold toned complexion.”

For contrast complexions, contrasting colors help to brighten the face and draw attention to it. Conversely, tonal complexions are best shown against complementary, typically warm, colors as their complexion can be easily over-powered by a surfeit of dark tones. The idea is to find combinations that help the face to “pop”, almost as if one is walking around with a low-powered spotlight directing attention to one’s face.

If the man can master this one element of permanent style, he has accomplished at least 80% of the job. The rest of the book involves classic style recommendations on how to wear and match the different elements of mens’ formal clothing such as the suit, jacket, slacks, dress shirt (including collars and cuffs), ties, hosiery, shoes and accessories, as well as how to think about patterns and colors. As I found these sections immensely helpful, I am recreating the most essential advice in list form below:

Navigating the body

While style must be matched to the individual characteristics of each man to succeed, Flusser cautions against simply making up the rules.

Genuine innovation has always taken place with an awareness, rather than an ignorance, of restraints.

The primary restraints beyond complexion are the “five major intersections” of menswear: the neck, shoulder, waist, wrist and ankle. Each provides an opportunity to choose complementary lines, angles and colors which can either greatly enhance or greatly diminish the effect of drawing the viewer’s eye toward the man’s face.

The suit jacket

  • Since the jacket’s shoulders frame the head, if they are too narrow, the head will appear larger than actual size; conversely, if cut too wide, the head will appear disproportionately small
  • Length: long enough to cover the curvature of the buttocks while giving the leg as long a line as possible (relative to torso, divide in half the distance from the collar’s seam to the floor)
  • Bottom line: should line up with the thumb knuckle
  • Waist button: when fastened, should divide the body so that the torso and legs appear at maximum length; should be placed 1/2 inch below the natural waist (place your hands around the smallest part of your torso and then press down at the sides into the hollow above the hipbone)
  • Lapels: width should harmonize with the necktie; single-breasted should cover between 2/5 and 3/5 of the distance between the chest and shoulder line
  • Sleeve: full at the top and tapering down to the wrist bone; the converging lines should conform to the broad shoulder and narrowing waist of the jacket; the band of linen between the jacket sleeve and hand is yet another stylistic gesture associated with the well-turned out man
  • The sine qua non of tailoring sophisticiation is a suit that brackets the wearer’s head with gently sloped, natural-looking but defined shoulders
  • Side vents lead the observer’s eye up either side of the coat’s back, subliminally imbuing the wearer with an illusion of greater height
  • Four buttons (working!) on a suit jacket’s sleeve convery superior satorial breeding
  • The waistcoast adds gravitas to the single-breasted suit; it is a rememberance of things past and accessible only to those able to afford one custom-made

The suit trouser

  • Suit trousers should extend the line of the jacket; fuller-chested jackets require fuller-cut trousers, just as more fitted jackets mandate slimmer-fitting trousers
  • Trousers should be worn on the waist, not on the hip

The dress shirt

  • The choice of the dress shirt should be guided first and foremost by the appropriateness of its collar shape to that of the wearer’s face
  • If its collar is too small, the head will appear large; if the collar sits too low on the neck, it will make the neck look longer than it is; broadly spaced points of a spread collar will counterbalance a long and narrow face; long-pointed collars that are either pinned or buttoned down will help to countermand faces with angular features and strong lines
  • With top button closed, two fingers should be able to slide comfortably between the neck and collar of a new shirt; if it fits perfectly on first wear it may strangle after repeated washings
  • It should be cut full enough to allow the wearer to sit without concern for whether its front will gape open; lengthwise, it should be such that you can raise your arms without it pulling out of the trouser top; the collar’s points ought to be able to remain in touch with the shirt’s body
  • The shirt must fit snugly around the wrist so that the additional length required to keep the cuff from pulling back when the arm is extended does not force it down the hand; if the hand can slide through the cuff opening without first unfastening it, the cuff’s circumference is too large
  • A shirt’s formality begins at the collar, its most prominent and defining feature; stiffer collars are more formal; more open points are more dressy; the cuff also contributes to the overall effect; fabric is the next indicator of formality, smoother or more lustruous materials are dressier; finally, the amount of white in the design’s ground add to dressiness
  • While pure white has been the traditional color of choice, medium-blue flatters more men’s faces; at least half a dozen or so dress shirts in one’s wardrobe should ideally be in some shade of solid blue or in a predominantly blue pattern; the trick is to find the deepest shade of blue that highlights the face without distraction
  • A mane with strong contrast in his complexion can enjoy a larger range of colors; fair-haired men with muted complexions can balance their lighter tones with soft-hued blues such as end-on-ends, oxfords and mini-checks whose weaves use white to reduce the blue’s intensity
  • Gold is frequently used as an accent color in many patterned neckties, so if a man has flecks of blond hair, echoing it under the chin is an opportune way to illuminate the face
  • While the matching french cuff is always acceptable, a button cuff has no place at the end of a sleeve attached to a shirt with a contrasting white collar
  • To fully exploit the french cuff link’s decorative potential, each side shouldbear a design and connect with a chain or link
  • Sooner or later, every well-dressed man should acquire an antique set of studs

The necktie and neckwear

  • The necktie’s correct width has always been determined by the jacket’s lapel (not what is fashionable at the time!)
  • The knot should be compressed so that it dovetails high up into the inverted “V” of the collar’s converging sides; a dimple or inverted pleat should emerge from the middle of the knot
  • Because of the move toward business casual in the professional world, the appearance of a necktie will more than ever signify the wearer’s desire to embrace a dressier, more authoritative image
  • A necktie should be agreeable to the touch, silk is undeniably the fabric of choice
  • Some standard woven types: Macclesfield, Spitalsfield, regimental stripes (proper direction is high left to low right; these ties have a slimming effect), plaid, solid (a more sophisticated look), wool (best for cool-weather); should a man want to acquire a necktie with a reasonable probability of aesthetic longevity, the woven design tie would generally be the safer bet
  • Polka-dot ties enliven all kinds of menswear ensembles but they are on particularly friendly terms with stripes
  • Bow ties can be worn on both formal and informal occassions, day or evening, and are correct with either single- or double-breasted jackets; its width should not extend beyond the outer edge of a man’s face and definitely not beyond the breadth of his collar; the hand-tied bow’s moody loops and unpredictable swirls give you that subtle insouciance; bow ties work best for the over-fifty set
  • The manner in which a tie is knotted offers the only true means of imposing one’s individual stamp on it; over time this male rite should evolve into another manifestation of one’s personal style
  • The widest point just above the tip of the tie should coincide with the belt’s upper edge
  • The tie should arch out from the collar, the dimple extending downward, projecting a subliminal authority

The pocket handkerchief/square

  • No man can consider himself an elegante without knowing how to rig out the simple white pocket square; angle the hank outward toward the shoulder, with its point irregularly arranged
  • Without some form of pocket rigging, an outside breast pocket appears superfluous and the outfit incomplete; it is the quickest and least expensive way to lend a mediocre suit a more expensive look
  • Its deportment should appear unstudied, effortlessly contributing to the overall aplomb
  • Overtly coordinating, or worse, matching a tie and handkerchief is not only a sign of an unsure dresser but also a sure way to lead the eye across the body and away from the face; solid handkerchief with patterned necktie, and should not be of the same color as the ground shade of the necktie
  • A tie’s silken luster calls for a matte pocket square like linen or cotton; wool or linen neckties with a dulled surface requires the upbeat luster of a silk foulard
  • A solid pocket hank should echo a color in the necktie, shirt or jacket

The dress belt

  • The choice should be dictated first by the shoe’s color and then by the hue of the jacket and trouser
  • Should be an equal or darker shade than the suit; darker imparts a dressier look, the more contrast between the belt and trouser, the sportier the look
  • Long enough to finish through the trouser’s first belt loop without running past the second
  • Buckles should be simple in design, in either silver or gold, depending on the color of accompanying jewelry

The tailored ankle

  • The trouser bottom should cover about two-thirds of the shoe
  • The round or slightly-square-toed oxford, or blucher lace-up with a welt-constructed sole, ranks as the ideally proportioned shoe for suit-driven attire

Hosiery

  • By reiteraing at floor level a color or pattern found near the face, the silhouette’s upper and lower zones begin to network with each other
  • Should match the trouser rather than the shoe; when shoe and hosiery are perceived as a unit, they separate themselves from the trouser which is not desirable
  • Black hose should be avoided any time one is not engaged in formal wear or swathed head to toe in black
  • The more formal the ensemble, the finer or more sheer the hose
  • The bulkier the outfit, the more one must step up the sock’s thickness
  • After the necktie, the hose’s most frequent stage partner is none other than the dress shirt

Footwear

  • A well-made and properly looked after pair of leather dress shoes can provide several decades of fine service; uppers should be made from skins no more than twelve weeks old and have a fine grain that takes a high polish; the sole can be removed and repaired repeatedly with minimal damage to the shoe’s upper; it’s impossible to spend too much on a finely crafted, perfectly fitting pair of shoes which will improve with age
  • Top quality brown leather shoes invest all fabrices with an intangible richness
  • The plain cap-toe oxford lace-up is the basic shoe style for smart, though not strictly formal, town wear
  • The wing tip takes its name from its toe cap shaped like the spread wings of a bird, pointed in the center and eztending toward the rear with heavily perforated side seams
  • The blucher is a step down in dressiness from the oxford
  • The monk-strp shoe has intermediate formality, registering somewhere between that of a slip-on and a lace-up shoe
  • The brown suede shoe happens to be suitable for all seasons
  • Crocodile leather in a dark honey tone affords versatility
  • The Weejun-style slip-on became the year-round workhorse of many men’s casual shoe wardrobe

Suit colors and patterns

  • When it comes to starter suits, the dark grey, two-piece charcoal gets the professional’s nod; it has the highest color and function versatility
  • More enriching than stark black, more ceremonial than charcoal, whether in twill or plain weave, 12 ounces or 8, a navy suit shows off the average man to best advantage
  • Of all men’s suitings, none has ever matched the glamour and popularity of the striped suit; it’s innate appeal derives from the vertical lines which lengthen the wearer
  • The window-pane is the anti-prole
  • The classic gray flannel suit remains a paragon of cool-weather stylishness
  • The brown suit provides special charisma to the chocolate-, blond-, red-, or sandy-haired man who are continually encouraged to consider brown as one of their staple wardrobe themes; the dark brown worsted jacket and the medium-blue dress shirt attract considerable acclaim
  • In medium blue, brown or gray and white oxford stripe, single- or double-breasted, worn with a necktie or polo shirt, the seersucker suit offers a heat-beater stylishness transcending both low and high fashion
  • For business casual, the easiest way to pull together unmatched separates is through the medium of color; when harmonizing three different seperates keep two pieces in the same color family
  • Accessorizing a suit in a monotone palette imbues it with instant sleekness and modernity
  • Psychologists consider black and white the most authoritarian of all color combinations
  • Darker trousers will make sport jackets appear dressier
  • For business casual, the buttons of most sport jackets often come in a complementary contrast shade, so it’s a fair guess that trousers chosen in the same tonality will match the jacket pretty well; if the jacket and trouser are in a similar hue, the shirt can be in a contrast or tonal relationship to both, dictated by complexion and personal taste; if the shirt is multi-colored, one of its colors should echo that of the jacket and trouser

Pattern matching

  • When combining two patterns of the same design, the size of each should be as different from the other as possible
  • When matching two checks, specifically, there should be a healthy dose of contrast between the scale of each player
  • When coordinating two different patterns, such as a striped suit and a check dress shirt, or a plaid jacket and a figured necktie, the patterns should be kept close in size; when in doubt, choose a larger rather than a smaller design; placing two smaller patterns near each other, whether similar or not, will wreak havoc on the eye of the beholder
  • When mixing three patterns where two are the same, separating the two like designs in size while selecting an unlike pattern that is visually compatible with both is the trick; the odd one out should take its cue from the more prominent of the similar partners; for neckties, the open-ground, large-spaced motif affords the greatest possibilities for textural harmony
  • When mixing three patterns of the same design, graduating in size from small out to large, beginning closest to the body and going up as clothing layers outward (ie, shirt smallest, jacket medium, tie or pocket square largest)
  • When mixing four patterns, the more imagination and taste one puts into his appearance, the more subtle the results should be

Conclusion

This book is an incredible resource and fun to read, to boot. It feels like having a conversation with a thoughtful but playful personal clotheshorse. The number of synonyms for different pieces of menswear and style are unbelievable and luckily there is a thorough glossary at the back of the book. There’s so much more here than what I chose to make notes about.

4/5

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