True style, at least in relation to clothing, is to know who you are and dress accordingly. If style has an opposing force, it’s not laziness or disinterest, but affectation. It’s one of the most unappealing attributes a man can have and it’s often the hallmark of men who are either deeply insecure or who would call themselves stylish or well dressed while missing the mark entirely.
Affectation is, effectively, dressing for effect, for attention, for ego and everyone but the individual in question can spot it from a mile away.
In many ways, though not all, it’s not so much the clothes or accessories being worn, but the way in which they’re worn; carried with an air of superiority or arrogance. It’s common in young men who have found an interest in clothing for the first time (I was guilty of this in my early 20’s) and to paraphrase the great Bruce Boyer “see dressing well as some kind of blood-sport” where only the most fabulous man wins.
It’s entirely possible to see two men wearing the same outfit, where one looks desperate or arrogant and the other looks completely at home. The man who looks at home is the one wearing clothes he feels at peace with, clothes which, to him, feel like an accurate external representation of who he is on the inside. This can be as true of someone wearing jeans and a t-shirt as it is for some in black-tie (and they’re often the same person, only in a different setting).
A large part of what makes a man attractive, both physically and intellectually is a quiet confidence which comes from a well-placed belief in himself that he can handle anything which comes his way or any situation in which he may find himself. Dressing in a way in which you feel comfortable with yourself goes a long way to achieving that so desired quiet confidence. To dress affectedly is to project your insecurities into your clothes and to overcompensate. Take one look at the “wall” at Pitti Uomo and see the insecurities in full display. Those who’ve spent months agonosing over attention seeking outfits, so they can be photographed and validated on Instagram. As I’ve said before, it’s usually the men who are on the inside of Pitti who are the most stylish and the most comfortable with themselves.
To question whether something is affected is to ask if it looks like it was put on in a way designed exclusively to gather attention. i.e. a pocket square ballooning out of a chest pocket, tight (as opposed to well fitted) clothing, excesses of bling (which include tie bars, lapel pins, pocket watches or branded clothing i.e. the blatant “H” on an Hermes belt). It often reeks of insecurity and a need for validation.
Simone Righi, who owns the beautiful Florentine store “Frasi” is someone I admire for his self awareness and willingness to wear what he likes. I couldn’t get away with half the things he wears (often bright scarves, strong patterns, not to mention a shaved head and goatee) but he’s clearly entirely at home the whole time.
At the end of the day, clothes don’t really matter beyond covering ourselves for decency or the weather. They don’t define us, make us better people or help others, they are simply a way of expressing who we are to the outside world. I say that without a hint of irony as someone who has an will continue to spend £4,000 on a pair of shoes or a sport coat. I do this because value I cherish the craftsmanship and the craftspeople who have dedicated their lives to making something exceptional, the superb fit of good bespoke and the history which each item builds over time. The things that really matter are how we treat others, friendships and family and what we do with our days while we’re here. Clothes are just a way to make those experiences less naked.
In essence, try not to be the Vain Man (below) from Antione de Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince” (my favourite book and the most unexpectedly philosophical read you’ll ever find).
The world of affected dressing walks a fine line and where most men look desperate with a voluminous pocket square, tie bar, lapel pin and pocket watch, on the right man, it can look completely appropriate. How do you make sure you’re on the right side of that line? Know yourself and dress accordingly.