One of the more constant struggles when it comes to upgrading your life is the area of clothes. Fashions change so goddamned often that by the time you have a handle of what’s supposed to be “cool”, it’s already become retro and everybody’s moved on to other things.
And let me tell you, the struggle to keep up with fashion leads to some hideous mistakes. Watch a few movies from the 80s and 90s and look at what people thought was cool. How about some giant shoulder pads and unstructured jackets? Maybe a few comedically oversized suits? Ooh, how about Jams? Anyone for a Jams revival?
If you want a look that lasts beyond the constant whirlwind of change that is haute couture, you need to quit paying attention to fashion and start trying to develop your style instead.
Y’see, fashion is temporary. It changes with every passing fad.
Style is forever.
Here’s how to develop yours.
Know Who You Are
Your style sends a message to the people around you. It tells them who you are. It gives them an idea of what to expect from you and what your life is like.
For example, take Andre 3000:
This is a man who puts a lot of care into his look – and likely into his life. And yet, those playful touches tell you that he’s also a man who likes to take risks and have fun. The outfit says “I have money” without bludgeoning you over the head like Sean Combes’ sharkskin suits do. It has style but also subtlety; this is a man with confidence.
All of this from a set of clothes.
Your style outward indication of your identity. This is one of the reasons why I advocate the adoption of sexy stereotypes; people are already judging you by visual short-hand so why not take advantage of that? As much as we want people to love us for who we are on the inside, this is a process that takes time and that first impression can be made in an instant.
You want to use your personal style to maximum effect. You want people to know who – and what – you are within a split second of seeing you.
So of course, you need to know who you are and how to control the message you’re sending to others.
This means that your style needs to reflect who you are. If you’re the corporate office type who’s trying to dress like an extra from Sons of Anarchy, all you’re going to do is make people wonder who you think you’re fooling. Similarly, punk rockers don’t do well with Saville Rowe suits.
Figure out who you are at your core – that’s your building block for style.
What They’re Going To Notice
Part of style is controlling what people are going to pick up on, which is where you want to spend the majority of your attention and care. Let’s say that you’re rocking some snazzy shoes, perfectly fit designer jeans and an expensive-yet-understated vintage wristwatch. Your hair is perfect. However, for some reason you’ve decided that you’re going to compliment this with the shame-tarp1 you picked up for free at PAX East. Or maybe you decided to wear your most bro-tastic t-shirt; the one you bought because you thought it was hilarious to wear to parties in college.
Pop quiz: are they going to think “There goes a man who knows how to live life to the fullest?” Or are they going to think “Woah, dude’s a dipshit?”
Basic rule of style: the last thing you put on is the first thing that people notice. No matter how styling your pants may be, your worn-out shirt and slept-in jacket are going to be telling people that you just don’t give a damn. If you’re spending all of your attention on the wrong parts of your clothes, all you’re doing is wasting time and effort fighting the message your style is sending.
In practical terms, the heirarchy of style noticeability breaks down thusly:
- Socks and underwear
The higher on the list, the higher the priority it is for your wardrobe.
Think about it: where’s the first place we look when we see somebody, especially somebody of the opposite sex?
No, boobs are the second thing. Also: you’re an asshole.
We look at the face and work our way outward from there.
The lower on the list, the less likely people are to notice. As nice as, say, designer jeans are, most people will only notice the color and the cut unless you’re talking to dedicated label snobs, fashionistas or there’s just something so outlandish about them – painted-on tight, overly decorated rear pockets, slacks with pleats2 – that they can’t be ignored. Similarly, by the time you’re down to your underwear, unless there’s something that’s incredibly outré, nobody will care.
(That being said: guys – boxers or boxer briefs. Period. No tighty-whities. Bikini briefs are verboten. And if you’re wearing a thong, then it better be because you’re dressed like a fireman and wearing break-away pants. )
Note: If you’re a man and you’re talking to women, shoes rockets up to #2. Women always, always, always notice your shoes.
Find Your Style Anchor
So you’ve got that slick leather jacket. Great! Now maybe that silk button down shirt… and while we’re at it, how about that Psycho Bunny scarf to go with it?
Er… maybe not.
When you’re starting out on developing your style, you want to err on the side of caution. It’s entirely too easy to overdo things and end up looking like a jackass instead of stylish.
Style isn’t additive. You can’t just pile on “cool” on top of “cool” and expect “ICE COLD” as a result. You hit the point of diminishing returns incredibly quickly; it takes experience to learn how to layer a look before you start looking like you’re trying too hard.
When you’re starting out, pick one article of clothing as your show piece. This will be what you build your style around. It can be something as simple as a kick-ass jacket, vintage concert tees or those perfect shoes; whatever it is, everything else is secondary.
Make sure your show-piece is high on the list of noticeability; As a general rule, I would not recommend that your show piece be an accessory – while watches, jewelry, hats etc. make for lovely accents to a look, they don’t make the look itself and often may be overlooked by people.
So this all this means that you need to toss out all your geek clothes straight into the incinerator, right?
Actually… no. Maybe not. In fact, you may have components to your new styling wardrobe already.
One thing that many geeks underestimate is the level of power and appeal they have in pop-culture today. Geek culture is popular culture. And you can make that work for you.
Take a look at some iconic superhero costumes. Superman’s S, Batman’s oval, Captain America’s shield… these are instantly recognizable as geek images. They’ve stood the test of time and have become part of the world’s collective unconscious.
Your key words here are subtlety and fit. Most geek shirts are incredibly over-designed; they tend to look like a first-year graphic designer exploded all over them instead of something with some aesthetic appeal. If you want to rock your geek identity in your clothes, keep it simple; no fight scenes, no movie poster aesthetic, as few words as possible.
You can get away with more with a self-consciously retro shirt, but it’s a tricky move to pull off. You’re far better off going with simple and iconic and letting the power of the logo do the work for you.
Classic Geek Mistakes
Now that we’ve covered the “Do’s”, it’s time to hit some “Don’ts”.
To start with:
Novelty Is A No No
I’m glad Think Geek had a sale but if you really, really need to never wear that speaker-in-the-chest shirt again. Same with any other piece of clothing that makes noise, flashes, glows in the dark, is encrusted with jewels3 or otherwise does something besides cover your body. Similarly, trying to express your personality through the medium of “funny” socks, belt-buckles or ties just makes you look like an idiot. Nobody ever saw a guy with an eight-bit tie outside of a Comic Con (and most of the time, not even then) and thought “Yes, that is the fashion-forward individual whom I must hire/sleep with right the fuck now!”
Ladies, Acknowledge Your Femininity
So I’ll preface this by saying yes, I’m probably about to stick my foot in my mouth in a new and inventive way.
That being said: ladies – one of the most common problems I’ve seen with nerd women is the fact that they seem to ignore or even downplay the fact that they are, in fact, women. The geek girl uniform that I’ve encountered over the decades has yet to change: the roomy-yet-slightly-ratty t-shirt, jeans, Chuck Taylors and hair pulled back into a pony tail. In fact, there’ve been times when the only way to tell the girls from the boys at a quick glance during gaming night was the length of the pony tails.
It seems at times that the default setting for geek women is “the tomboy”. And, in fairness, geek guys go for that; after all, name me a geek dude who doesn’t appreciate a girl who’s just “one of the guys”.
Here’s the thing though: a lot of the dudes who want women who are just “one of the guys”? They’re intimidated by women. It’s so much easier to relate to a woman when she comes across as a nicer-smelling guy with breasts rather than one of those… alien, alluring… mysterious things with soft skin and…
(ahem) I’m sorry, where were we? Oh, right.
Look, I’m not saying you need to go super-femme and start quit wearing pants and spend all of your time at the cosmetics counter. I’m saying that you aren’t a guy and you shouldn’t act like it. Celebrate your femininity! Embrace it! Enjoy the fact that you can be a geek and have girlybits and still have the respect of your male friends.
The guys who can’t handle your female-ness are the ones with the problem, not you.
Know Your REAL Size
Look, I understand that you may be a bit above or below the socially accepted standards for weight and body mass. But the hard and fast truth is, you’re not fooling anybody by wearing clothes that don’t fit; in fact, you’re just making things worse. Too large and you send one of two messages: either you’ve deluded yourself into thinking that people really think you’re thinner or you’re playing dress-up with your older sibling’s wardrobe. Too small and you look like you’re trying to hold things in via constriction; instead you look like an over-stuffed tube of cookie dough and end up spilling out the sides.
Neither of these is an attractive look. Hey, I understand that it can suck. But when you’re honest about your actual clothing sizes, you can find clothes that not only fit properly but make you look good, no matter what size you are. Yes, they DO exist.
Men, quit hanging shit on your belt.
Look, I can appreciate that we carry a lot of crap. Smartphones, keys, cameras, notepads, wallets… I understand that pocket space can be at a premium and yes, an overstuffed pocket will completely ruin the lines of your pants. But you aren’t a plumber, an electrician or the goddamn Batman4 and that’s not a utility belt holding your pants up.
The belt clip is the modern version of the pocket protector. I don’t care how useful the tool is; if it’s hanging from your belt, all it’s doing is making vagina vanish into thin air. Either it goes in your pants, a messenger bag or briefcase or it stays the fuck home.
Now get out there and find your style!
- Shame Tarp (noun): a shirt, given away for free – usually by gaming companies – at conventions as a form of advertising. Usually, but not necessarily over-sized [↩]
- NO. Just… no. [↩]
- women have slightly more leeway here. Sorry guys, I don’t make the rules. [↩]
- obviously, if you are, feel free to disregard this. Also: sorry about your parents, man [↩]