The debate of style vs. fashion has been going on for years and years. It came up on our radar once again after seeing a Facebook post from The Business Of Fashion in which graduates of Central Saint Martin’s (London’s answer to the Fashion institute of Technology) showed their pieces on the runway.
There were some fashion items for sure. Stylish ones, though? We don’t think so.
Click here to see what we’re talking about.
It’s easy to confuse being stylish with wearing whatever is current and edgy. The romper for men comes to mind. You might be fashionable if you wear such an item, but are you stylish in doing so? We’re not so sure.
Let’s define the terms we’re using.
What Is Style?
Style is a way of dressing and carrying oneself that’s both permanent and personal. It’s an understanding of history, color, proportion, and good taste. When we think about men with style – Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Jackie Gleason, and others – we see all of these timeless elements coming together, but each person manipulates them in his own way.
Each of these men were considered well-dressed in their own time, and each of these men would be considered well-dressed today. They were permanently stylish.
To be stylish is to be yourself. We think that the manifestation of one’s personality through one’s clothing is true style. It’s in wearing a tie that makes your eyes bright, tilting your hat at a jaunty angle, or folding your pocket square in a devil-may-care sort of way.
Stylish men know the rules and bend them to their will.
What Is Fashion?
We think Oscar Wilde put it best when he said, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”
Fashion is what everyone else is doing and wearing at any given time. In other words, it’s trend-driven.
Unlike style, there’s no individuality in fashion. Adhering to the whims of fashion will mean that you don’t dress for yourself, but rather just wear whatever XYZ designer wants you to wear. This is damaging for two reasons:
- You aren’t dressing for your body type or coloring. Hot pink zoot suits for men might be fashionable in 2021, but the might not be great for your skin tone.
- You can’t build a high-functioning wardrobe based on the changing sartorial mores from season to season. Fashion only cares about what came before it insofar as it wants to drastically swing away from it, so you can’t take items from fall of 2012 and pair them with items from fall of 2013 because nothing will work together.
They call it a fashion “industry” because that’s just what it is: an industry. Without something new every few months, the money faucet gets turned off and millions of people are out of a job.
A perfect example of menswear succumbing to the whims of fashion is the Thom Browne suit. The pendulum has started to swing back a bit, but this was the era of the “shrunken” suit. Sleeves and trousers were too short. Jacket lengths were comically short. Pants rode too low. It’s atrocious because the proportions are totally off. Here’s a current example, which runs for about $2600 USD:
The whole look has no staying power. A man who spent good money on those suits a few years ago is kicking himself now, wishing he’d made a smarter sartorial investment.
Combining Style & Fashion: Can It Be Done?
We understand that menswear, like anything, changes over time. We don’t wear frock coats as we once did, and the “no brown in town” rule for shoes has since fallen by the wayside. You’ve got to change with the times.
Generally we think it’s best to dress in a way that’s permanently stylish. If you’re going to incorporate trend into your looks, do so in a subtle way that doesn’t cost much money: think a tie or pocket square. Lapel pins have seen a resurgence in the past few years, and Paul wears not one, but two to great effect below:
Another way to inject some modernity into otherwise classic dressing is to understand alterations and proportions. If, for example, you like the look of trousers that have no break, try them out. In a few years, when the look falls out of fashion, you can easily let them down and be fashionable once again.
It makes much more sense to be a man of style than it does to be a man of fashion.
From a nuts and bolts perspective, it’s easier to build a wardrobe. You’ll look better because your clothes will sync well with your frame and coloring. Your bank account will appreciate you because you won’t be rushing to redo your entire wardrobe every six months.
Philosophically, finding your own style means learning who you are as a person and letting that show through your clothing. It doesn’t have to be staid or boring, it just has to be you. Being overly concerned with fashion, however, denotes a certain lack of grounding that we feel makes for a lack of style.