I’ve been looking forward to the release of Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby ever since the first trailer – even if you ignore the inevitable criticism of the excesses of the Jazz Age, it’s hard to not be swept up in the costumes, the pageantry, the Art Deco architecture and, of course, the way everybody is absolutely dripping with style.
There’s a level of style and cool that we just don’t see any more. In fact, if you get right down to it, most people don’t dress well at all. In fact, the majority of people dress rather badly. There are exceptions of course; if you hang around in certain style-conscious areas like New York’s Fashion District, Beverly Hills, parts of London or Milan, you will find stylish and dapper individuals. Even traditionally fashionable cities like Rome or Paris seem to have descended into a morass of relaxed fit jeans and oversized shirts. The stereotype of the Ugly American seems to have spread like a zombie plague, infecting the locals and convincing them that cargo pants, fanny packs and sports jerseys are acceptable fashion choices.
On the whole, it seems as though fashion and style have fallen by the wayside, replaced by convenience and laziness… and, in many cases, plain ignorance.
This, however, can actually be an advantage for someone who wants to dress to impress. It takes very little to stand out from the crowd… in the all the right ways.
Peacocking: Ur Doin’ It Wrong
One of the first things that comes to mind when trying to stand out is the concept of “peacocking.” The idea of peacocking was codified by famed PUA Mystery; the idea was that one wanted to dress differently or outrageously in order to stand out from the crowd. In theory, this was a way of emulating the peacock’s tail-feathers. Just as a peacock’s elaborate plumage signifies its superior genes (after all, the long tail feathers make it harder for the peacock to escape predators), someone who deliberately stands out from the crowd by dressing differently is advertising that he is a superior specimen. After all, why would someone dress in a feather boa and fuzzy hat unless he had something else going for him? Even better: it would make women come up and talk to you. Then, when she criticized your outfit, you could say “No, you’re really just attracted to me.”
(In fairness, this does occasionally happen. I’ve had one drunk girl follow me to three different bars, each time coming up to complain about my New Rocks. She ended up trying alternately to make out with me and to steal my boots.)
In reality, the idea was less about proving that you were an iconoclast who doesn’t care about the rigid dictates of society’s rules and fashion, and more about letting your clothes do the hard work for you. Why should you go up and try to start a conversation with a woman when instead you can hang around and wait for her to come up and ask when you joined the Rhythm Nation.
Crazily enough however, is that Mystery wasn’t entirely wrong. There is a great deal of value to be had in standing out from the crowd; making yourself more noticeable and memorable is a great way of helping build initial attraction and chemistry when you’re trying to meet someone new.
The problem is that everybody, Mystery included, missed the damned point entirely.
Bars and clubs were inundated by people who based their fashion choices on Mystery’s public persona of a professional stage magician (and one who wants to be Criss Angel in the worst goddamn way). Crazy outfits became the PUA uniform: men dressed in Affliction tees, biker jewelry, studded and embroidered sport coats, fuzzy top hats, goggles, spiked hair and four or fives rings on each hand, would flood the streets every Friday and Saturday night. Bars and night clubs started to look like an unholy union of drag shows, fetish clubs and Hot Topic overstock sales.
They got attention all right.
They also got a lot of pointing and laughing.
It doesn’t take much to stand out from the crowd. But you want to stand out in such a way that you make a positive impression, instead of convincing everyone around you that you’re auditioning to play Lord Humungous in an oddly Jersey-Shore-influenced production of Mad Max.
Dress A Little Cooler Than Everyone Else
The first step to standing out from the crowd the right way, is to dress just a little cooler than everybody else around you.
Take a look around. Most people put very little thought into their outfits. “Whatever’s clean and comfortable” tends to be the mantra for day-to-day fashion choices. Even just a little effort and care will make you stick out.
I’ve just spent the better part of a week in Las Vegas and let me tell you: this is a town where even a little thought makes a huge difference. 99.999% of the guests in the casinos, in the restaurants and especially in the bars and clubs look lost and slovenly. Many of the men who try to “dress up” for a night on the town look as though they’ve come straight from the office in their powder blue button-downs and pleated-front khaki slacks. The small minority of men who put some thought into their appearance – wearing pressed slacks and a fitted polo shirt, slim-cut suits or even just designer jeans and a well-cut shirt – get the lion’s share of attention… because they look so much better than everyone else.
To look at old, classic Vegas, look at the famous Rat Pack. Sinatra, Martin, Davis Jr. and the others were icons of cool.
Even in their “off” moments, they put care and thought into their sartorial choices – helping to ensure that they always stood out, even in a time when suits were de rigueur.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to pull a Barney Stinson and suit up at all times. In fact, all that you really need to do is just be willing to take a step beyond what everybody else is doing. If everyone is wearing gym shorts, flip-flops and ratty tees, then dark wash jeans, clean classic sneakers and a fitted v-neck will make you more noticeable… you’ll look just a little cooler and more put together than the guys around you.
If everyone’s wearing jeans and tees and tennis shoes, then selvedge jeans, a properly sized short-sleeve button down, a leather jacket, and black loafers or stylish shoes will give you that edge.
Slacks or good chinos can put you a little beyond jeans. A smart suit with a v-neck tee or a pressed shirt (no tie) can put you ahead of everyone wearing their office-drone best.
Making little changes – especially when they’re congruent with your archetype – can produce huge results. Want to dress to impress but you’re not the suit type? A motorcycle jacket (plain black), raw-denim jeans, slick button down and a knit tie can give you the edgy, fashion forward look you want… and help you stand out amongst the Brosephs and former frat-rats with the untucked shirts, baseball caps, hemp necklaces and flip-flops.
Also worth keeping in mind: quality counts when you’re trying to dress a little cooler. Fabric and cut can make a huge difference even in very basic clothes; ring-spun cotton is going to drape differently than the rough, heavier texture of a cotton/poly blend, for example. Simply having slightly better quality material will give you a subtle edge when you’re trying to look better.
Fit Is King
I talk about proper fit a lot when it comes to clothes and with good reason: it can make all the difference in how you look.
Nobody wears the right size when it comes to clothes; we’re unused to how properly-fitting clothes feel and assume that looser is better because it’s more “comfortable”. Others try to hide perceived body flaws by wearing oversized clothing, hoping to camouflage their bellies and double chins in facial hair, flowing jerseys, and wide-legged jorts.
The problem, of course, is that nobody’s fooled. In fact, wearing clothes that are too large just makes you look sloppy and lazy. When your dress shirts are sagging at your shoulders and bunched up at your wrists, your pants are pooling at your ankles and your ass has disappeared in the seat, you look like you’re a kid wearing his father’s clothes in an attempt to play “grown-up”.
Just walking around I see people who need to go a size down in their shirts and slacks; frumpy messes who look like slouching, defeated bags of misery and despair.
Clothes that fit properly – even if you’re not an Adonis with a Charles Atlas body – give you an air of confidence and self-assurance. They make you look more put-together than your peers with their baggy shirts and relaxed-fit jeans.
Part of the problem is understanding that different cuts fit different body types better. If you have a larger build, then boot-cut jeans are going to fit you better and provide a more pleasing silhouette than straight-leg, and a wider shirt collar will flatter a broader face. If you have a more athletic, v-shaped torso, straight-cut shirts are going to fall like a tent around your waist, making you look disproportionate. If you’re lanky, a slim-cut shirt will work better than a regular box cut in which you’ll be swimming.
Also important is not to try to go too small – some people use undersized clothes in order to either show off their physique or to try to squeeze everything into place. Not only will too-tight clothes cause you to bulge in unsightly places – no matter how fit you are or aren’t – but those straining buttons make you look like you’re trying to stuff 10 lbs. of sausage into a 5 lb. skin.
Plus, it makes you look like a Guido trying to show off his GTL routine… and nobody wants that.
There Are More Colors Than Black
Anyone who knows me is going to laugh at this, but: nerds, there are more colors in the spectrum than just black. Yes, black can be slimming. Black goes well with everything.
It’s also what everybody else is wearing.
Friday night, I had a table at a popular Vegas club and was astounded by the lack of style in the patrons; it was wall-to-wall monochrome. There was a veritable sea of Little Black Dresses of every cut shape and length on the dance floor and at the bar, differentiated only by the hair styles of the women wearing them (and how much cleavage or ass-cheeks they showed off).
It was absolutely boring. Every woman seemed to blend and merge with the others, the eye sliding off because there was so little to differentiate them
And then there was the One Girl who stood out from all the others. The one who was wearing a simple, 60’s-esque cut dress that drew every eye on the dance floor… simply because it had a very simple purple and white striped pattern. That burst of color made her shine like a beacon compared to everyone else around her.
The guys were a similar matter. Dark suits and sport coats as far as the eye could see, topped with white polos, black button-downs or v-necks, the monotony only interrupted by the occasional powder-blue-and-khaki-just-came-from-my-desk-job… utterly boring.
Except for One Guy. He stood out from his friends clustered in the corner with a bright blue shirt and a contrasting pink tie to go with his sport coat and dark jeans. A little splash of color in a sea of black and white attracted positive attention from the women around him. In fact, I watched him take an entire table of women down to the dance floor while his monochromatic buddies sat around wondering why nobody seemed to see them.
Small wonder – they were wearing club camouflage while their buddy dressed to be noticed.
It honestly doesn’t take very much. A small burst of color can draw the eye and help you stand out when everybody else is blending in. Simple, in fact, works best; a solid color tie, a bright pocket-square, even just a colored shirt can make you more unique and stylish than everyone around you.
Accessories are an area that guys frequently fall down in. Either they’re too afraid to go past the basics of “wrist-watch” or else they go to the other extreme and end up piling everything on in the hope that “style” is an additive process.
Accessories, when done well, can help add a subtle, almost subliminal level of style that can make you stand out more. For example: I have a custom-made ring that’s a signature piece for me; I wear it pretty much every single day and I can’t count the amount of positive attention it’s gotten me. Some people recognize it and think it’s awesome; others just admire the design and the look.
The key is restraint. Certain personality types – bikers, rock stars, etc. – can pull off lots of accessories. Everybody else needs to pick and choose carefully; it’s incredibly easy to overdo things and go from stylish to sleazy.
Jewelry, for example, can be tricky for guys; it’s a great way to work some style into your look, but it’s very easy to overdo. Necklaces and medallions, for example, can provide visual interest, but run the risk of looking like a Jersey Shore reject or a lounge lizard from the 70s.
The same with bracelets. Metallic bracelets tend to look like somebody forgot to include the watch-face and carry an “I want to be a cyberpunk in the worst way” air. Woven leather bracelets are popular at the moment; two or three together can work well, possibly even paired with small beaded ones. Woven-hemp and beads on the other hand, tend to look either hippy-holdover or bro-hemian wanna-be-surfer.
If you go with rings, it’s best to stick to one per hand. Any more – if you’re not a biker or play bass in a fusion-jazz band – and you start to look a little try-hard. And no pinkie rings unless you expect a lot of “Luca Brassi sleeps with the fishes” jokes.
The big accessory people tend to fall down on is belts. Belts can be an important part of your wardrobe… if you don’t get too extravagant with them. Belt buckles are a good way of injecting some personality into an otherwise staid outfit, but once again, restraint is the key. 99% of novelty belt-buckles are either tasteless or stupid and only drag you down. Try to keep the size of the buckle to no wider than the size of your belt-loop. Giant cowboy buckles are only appropriate if a) you’re at the Rodeo and b) you actually won the bull-riding contest. Otherwise… yeah, no.
Also: designer label logo buckles are especially obnoxious. They tend to scream “insecure label whore” rather than “stylish, fashion-forward trend-setter”. Avoid at all costs.
Shoes Make All The Difference
I know we like to insist that nobody notices guys’ shoes, but frankly: that’s bullshit. They may not consciously notice, but your shoes can completely transform an outfit… for better or for worse
Case in point:
Saturday night, I was heading downtown to meet some friends of mine for a drink at a local lounge. I was dressed fairly well – black jean-cut slacks, a cool shirt… but I’d been considering wearing sneakers instead of my boots; my boots were actually killing my feet, and the idea of wearing those all night was filling me with sheer dread.
However: wearing sneakers absolutely killed the look. Even though I was dressed stylishly, the simple fact that I was wearing sneakers brought everything down. Black Chuck Taylors: no. A pair of classic Addidas: even worse. In the end, I ended up wearing shoes that were insanely painful in the name of looking good.
Ladies: I understand everything now.
One thing I see over and over again is guys picking the wrong shoes for when they want to dress up. Either they wear low-profile, European-style sneakers like Pumas or Onitsukas or they wear chunky black no-name loafers…. and it completely kills the effect. They look sloppy and unfinished; the casual shoes actually dress the outfits down, making them seem more casual at best, incomplete at the worst.
On the other hand, the right pair of shoes – black or brown lace-up Oxfords, for example – can dress up even the most casual outfit. A pair of leather lace-ups with dark-wash jeans and a button-down is more stylish than the same outfit paired with tennis shoes.
This isn’t to say that you can’t make casual shoes work with a stylish outfit; David Tennant made pin-stripe suits and red Chucks an iconic style, after all. But it requires a very specific personality type and the understanding that it’s going to make your outfit much less “dressy” than you may want it to be.
It’s worth noting that good shoes are an investment. It’s worth shelling out top dollar for dress shoes or boots. You get what you pay for in this case; the higher price directly corresponds with a higher-quality construction and material that will last you longer and fit you better than the $60 pair you picked up from Clarks or Aldo.
It doesn’t take very much. Invest a little time and thought into your look and your clothes. Shell out for the good shoes and the stylish haircut. Put a little effort in and you’ll easily be the best-dressed guy in the room. And believe me, women will notice you… the way you want to be noticed.