Every now and again I get an interesting email from a reader. Quite often, rather than directly reply, I want to share these more widely. Especially when it comes to demystifying style.
A few months ago, a lovely chap asked me to give a bit of basic advice on how to do Wellington’s men’s style. It’s rare I get asked something which is focused on men, because the majority of my readership are women. But the truth is that in my life I have to deal with the reality of dressing a 6ft 4 ginger, which can be quite the challenge. I also have a brother who is an IT geek and I after reading ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ I got him to agree to let me Marie Kondo his wardrobe, with positive results. I was keen to give my two cents worth so I decided to publish my response on The Residents in the hope it will help other men build their wardrobes with confidence.
Here’s the email:
“A bit of background: I am a 30 something IT geek from the UK who moved to Wellington with my wife 5 years ago. Fell in love with the place and decided to stay and start a family. For a hobby I started shooting street photography around Wellington 3 years ago and have enjoyed it so much I have pretty much shot everyday for all of those 3 years. Originally under the wellington_streets handle.
Now, I have been debating with myself for sometime that I want to improve/change my personal style. But where to start?
Being your typical geek I have no idea how to shop or pick a style and have had the same style for a long time. Typically on a work day I wear a work shirt and trousers combo and on a non-work day a geeky shirt and jeans/trousers. I'm sure you can picture it.
So fundamental my question is how do you choose what to wear and how do you start to explore that on a budget? I love the look of stuff in Barkers but I'm not in a position to drop several hundred dollars on an outfit.”
Thank you so much for your amazing email and having the courage to ask for help. It is super tricky and also as a bloke there isn’t much out there by way of accessible style advice. You might not want to swallow the whole ‘Queer Eye’ pill - a show which mainly from my experience is loved by women (I could be wrong though! Male Queer Eye fans stake your claim).
As a lady, I’ve been primed by teen magazines and tons of Trinny and Susannah Books (remember them off ‘What Not To Wear’ to know whether I am an apple, a column or a brick (I’m a Brick)). But guys simply aren’t given the 411 on what to do to make themselves look above average, especially if they need to on a budget.
I’ve also been involved with the excellent Project Fashion for almost 3 years now as a mentor - so I must know something about fashion. This Wellington programme is a platform for local designers to evolve and the images today to illustrate the kinds of style I like are from 2018 alumni, Denis Jackson and his designs from Project Fashion. Shout out to Denis!
I can’t profess to have all the answers but here is what, in my experience, cuts the mustard with boys. Matt is not a fashionista, so he asks for my opinion and I think that this gives me some kind of gravitas through which I can answer your question.
How do you choose what new clothes to try and what will look right?
Whether you’re a man or a woman, certain basic rules apply when it comes to style and although fashion people will try and have you believe otherwise, they don’t change much ever. It’s all designed to make you part with your cash. One male blogger I like is Man For Himself.
Start with dressing the body you have. We’re all different shapes and sizes. That’s exciting! How dull would like be if we all were the same standard size. Also, go simple with your clothes and add your personality and humour in your accessories: watches, socks, glasses etc can be a more appropriate place to throw out Geek-to-Geek references. This blog here also gives you an idea of how to dress for your body type.
We’re going to begin with the building blocks of your wardrobe: tees, shirts, sweaters, jeans, trousers and jackets. Unless you frequently get asked to balls, you really don’t need much else. Suits are expensive, and unless your work requires you to have one, I don’t see the point. Better off to buy a nice sports jacket and wear a crisp shirt and trousers to any weddings.
As a quick aside, invest in good socks and underwear. It feels amazing when you have crisp white socks on and is a feeling I can’t rate highly enough. If you like to show your personality, you can buy cool socks from Happy Socks or Barkers which have a bit of pizzaz. Matt just got some for his birthday with pineapples on them.
I like plain tee shirts in white, grey, black and navy for men and women. They’re classic staples which don’t change depending on the trends of the day. You always will need them. If you feel like you’re uncomfortable in something tight, buy a tee the size up. I learnt this trick from my friend Alice.
If you have broad shoulders and a wide chest, go for classic cut tees, rather than the trendy ones which scoop down. AS Colour make great ones for men which are affordable and come in a wide range of colours. They’re also Tearfund Ethical Fashion Guide approved. At $20 or so, try doing ‘The Deal’ they often have on which is 3 tees and a pair of trousers or something for around $110.
Personally for me, I’d skip any fast fashion brands. I just don’t think the quality is there and you’ll end up buying more, and probably not wearing half of it. Plus, the human cost isn’t worth it. As a man, I can’t stress enough that you need to look for high quality materials because chances are you won’t change your wardrobe much and your pieces should therefore last you years and years.
Shirts are nice to have but consider whether you actually wear them. If you do, get a white Fred Perry-esque canvasy style, from somewhere like Rod & Gun. If you don’t, you could probably skip it. Country Road also do nice shirts. Stick with preppy prints like checks. Avoid big bold patterns. You’re not in a Quentin Tarantino movie as a minor villain. When in doubt, stick with block colours like blue, pink, olive or white.
Jeans are hard, no matter what. I would again avoid super trendy styles and go for a classic dark navy slim cut or drainpipe style. Avoid anything with too many charms or chains and studs on it. Light denim tends to look more informal so leave it for the weekends. If you find a pair you love, buy two pairs. Personally, I just wear Glassons myself (so for you, try Hallensteins).
If you have a pair of jeans that you like but find you’ve worn through the crotch because your thighs chaff (it happens to us all) take them to get patched at a tailor like Topline Tailor. They also sell great shirts. High quality denim is worth investing in and fixing over and over. Get them tailored (i.e. take up the trouser length if it is too long); they’ll look great. Tailoring prolongs the life of your clothes. It is also better for the planet to get items fixed rather than to go out and buy a new one.
A classic pair of trousers will take you far. You can probably buy one slightly more expensive pair and wear them over and over. Try semi-sporty labels like GANT or Rod & Gun. It’s worth getting something that is good.
You can pick up good knits in the sales at a fraction of the cost. Look out for Merino or other wools and natural fibres.
Jackets wise, you can look out for something in the sales, or maybe here go to a vintage store like Thrift, Hunters and Collectors or Ziggurat. Op shops can be perfect too, if you have the patience to look around. One of my favourite coats was $50 from an op-shop. Don’t be afraid to get something cool and retro but again, anything that screams Matrix is out.
I also love Allbirds shoes for geeky guys. Cool but nerdy. Not super pricey but still maybe save up.
Can you develop a new style without breaking the bank?
Vintage stores are great to shop through, especially for things like exciting jackets and vintage tees. Buy anything that needs to be crisp and white from a high-street or boutique shop. Also, look out for the sales. Men’s clothes often get discounted heavily because stores over-order. If you want to get to understand what suits you more and your body.
How would you deal with buyers remorse if an item you purchased just doesn't work?
If it was expensive, try selling it at Recycle Boutique. If not, donate it. You’re better off having a smaller wardrobe with pieces which actually flatter you and work.
Where is good in Wellington to shop for clothes for men?
My hit list:
David Jones for sales
Hunters and Collectors
Country Road (belts, shirts, etc)
Area 51 Sales
Rod & Gun
AS Colour (all year around)
Outlet Stores like Outlet City (Tawa)
St Vincent De Paul
Shoe Connection (often have great deals)
Stirling Sport or Snkr or Platypus (ditto)
Bendon Outlet in Otaki (undies)
Supermarket Socks (no-one will know).
Finally, support small Wellington designers wherever possible. You’ll love that you’ve bought something unique, and you’re helping the community.