Myths and stereotypes about men’s style (that have been around for decades) die hard. When these myths become popular wisdom, they need to be exposed to avoid style-pitfalls and poor buying decisions; and, debunking these misconceptions is especially useful for newcomers to the realm of menswear.
To put it another way, folk wisdom is fine and dandy – but it should never be blindly accepted as common knowledge, and should never preclude anyone from thinking deeper on an issue.
However many accepted “facts” are so ingrained in society that some perceptions are difficult to shake—even the most blatant infractions. So let’s try our hand at a few of them …
Even if the majority of the following list may seem painfully obvious to regular readers, it’s our hope newcomers that find their way onto our site will find the information useful.
MYTH N°1 : A BLACK SUIT IS A GREAT CHOICE FOR A FIRST SUIT BECAUSE BLACK GOES WITH EVERYTHING
This belief is wrong beyond any reasonable doubt and likely the most erroneous misconception here—and the most tragically widespread.
A black suit is NOT a good first buy because it’s the least versatile color possible. A black suit is usually linked with two kinds of occasions : funerals and formal events. In the first case, a black suit is indeed proper. In the latter case, the black suit is not even a “suit”, but rather a tuxedo or a smoking jacket.
Forget the Blues Brothers and Men in Black – these references have had a disastrous effect on men’s style (together with Heidi Slimane at Dior). It’s high time we put the black suit myth to rest. DO NOT get a black suit as your first suit, unless, of course, you are buying it for a funeral. Rather choose a blue or a grey suit, like for example the beautiful double-breasted dark grey suit shown above.
MYTH N°2 : WEAR BLACK OR GREY SOCKS ONLY AND MAKE SURE YOUR SOCKS MATCH YOUR PANTS
Though an erroneous assumption today, this belief is not without foundation, since men have more recently discovered how creativity with sock choices can amp up overall appearance.
Don’t hesitate to take risks with pairing different colors and patterns of socks to coordinate with suit color, ties, shirts or pocket squares. It’s a pretty safe area to experiment with, and the result can bring a little bit of oomph to most any attire.
There was a time when finding proper socks with interesting and original patterns and colors was difficult, but that time is thankfully long past. Take a look at Mes Chaussettes Rouges or William Abraham if you need convincing. A creatively coordinated pair of socks is an easy and (almost) risk-free way of bringing color to your outfits for a (fairly) low cost.
MYTH N°3 : DOUBLE-BREASTED SUITS MAKE YOU LOOK OLD
I must confess : I’m a double-breasted activist and I have nothing but righteous indignation for people who spread this awful and misguided belief. The myth that double-breasted suits and jackets are for mature people is hard to fight, because it is deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness.
Double-breasted suits can be worn by everyone; the perennial image of the portly and balding executive stroking his belly while pushing the buttons through the buttonholes of his large pinstripe, double-breasted suit is a relic of thought from the 1980s. Please, popular culture, get over it.
As anyone who owns and frequently wears a double-breasted suit will tell you : there are few things that can beat the double-breasted suit in terms of presence, charisma and elegance, whether you are 20 years old or four times that age.
The double-breasted suit represents for many people quintessential elegance and is always a winning bet for whoever dares to wear it. Contrary to what many may say, you don’t need to be fit as a fiddle to sport a dashing double-breasted coat – unless perhaps if you teeter on the stoutest part of the spectrum.
The only problem is that a double-breasted suit must be well cut and fitted, since it’s unforgiving in terms of looseness. A mediocre double-breasted jacket will almost certainly look worst on you than a mediocre single-breasted jacket. However, in today’s market, it has become increasingly easier to find a properly cut double-breasted, even off the rack.
If you’ve decided to work seriously on improving your personal style and elegance, not buying a beautiful 6×2 or even 6×1 double-breasted suit would be almost criminal.
MYTH N°4 : WORKING BUTTONHOLES ON SLEEVES IS THE TELLTALE SIGN OF A HANDMADE SUIT
With the comeback of classic men’s style front-and-center stage, marketing professionals have been on the prowl searching for any detail that mimics traditional tailoring, in order to give their industrial suits a more “handcrafted” look.
One such detail is the functional buttonhole on your suit sleeves – that is to say, buttonholes that you can button or unbutton to your heart’s content (hurray !)
Historically speaking, this “detail” wasn’t optional : it allowed gentleman, at a time when ready-to-wear didn’t exist, to wash their hands without having to remove their jackets (by simply rolling up their sleeves).
Of course, making working buttonholes takes more time and costs much more to produce than skipping the process entirely – so at the beginning of the RTW era, working buttonholes on sleeves started to disappear.
Until more recently, few men even thought about why sleeve buttons were “only ornamental”, because let’s be honest, you can live without this feature on your jacket sleeves.
Yet today, a great deal of men ask their alteration tailor to open their fake buttonholes and make them functional.
I won’t pass judgment on the relevance of such an endeavor, because it can be useful from time-to-time to have working buttonholes, to roll up your jacket’s sleeves, or to leave some space to show your cufflinks. You might also find it somewhat “chic” or sophisticated to nonchalantly leave one or two buttons open.
But as anyone who’s ever owned a bespoke suit will tell you : they rarely open the buttonholes on their sleeves because it goes without saying that their buttonholes are functional. It’s an evidence – no need to show it off.
What you need to remember from all this is that having working sleeve buttonholes is not a sign of a handmade suit, but rather … a sign of a handmade buttonhole.
Which, you can agree, is very different.
MYTH N°5 : MATCHING YOUR TIE TO YOUR POCKET SQUARE IS ELEGANT
Let’s not mince words : this is a catastrophic practice more widespread than we care to admit among newcomers, despite the fact it’s quite easy to notice that matching exactly your handkerchief and your tie directly proclaims ‘bad taste’.
Matching your tie to your pocket square is the example of what NOT to do if you seek to dress elegantly, because instead of attracting attention to yourself, it attracts attention to the efforts you are making to try to dress well.
This addresses the key principle of the famous Italian Sprezzatura which many men seek to attain. Sprezzatura should communicate nonchalance and a natural look, and avoid ridiculously obvious efforts to appear elegant. You don’t want people to look at you and have them wonder how long you spent in front of the mirror getting ready.
Matching your pocket square and your tie should be avoided, yet it’s still practiced and promoted, especially on wedding websites (i.e., for men who suit-up once-a-year or even once-a-lifetime, which is, you will admit, somewhat tragic).
Don’t match your pocket square and your tie. Period.
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Even if everything in this article seems obvious to you, as the famous French politician and diplomat Talleyrand once said: If it goes well without saying, it can often go better saying it.
To be continued.