Fashion has a lot less rules than most people think.
Many things we talk about here at Real Men Real Style are good ideas, but they’re not absolutes. You have some flexibility in most things.
Today we’re talking about five basic rules that are just plain rules. You can’t break them, you shouldn’t break them; if you do break them you look like a goober.
No one, no matter how good looking he is, can get around these basic faux pas.
There are many more bad ideas than these, of course — we’re just laying out a few of the absolutes that will always be an error no matter what.
Wearing Suspenders and a Belt
Suspenders hold your pants up. So do belts. Therefore, you don’t need both. More importantly, you don’t want to wear both — not only is it an obvious fashion error, it creates three sides of a square around the middle of your body. Your overall image has become a rectangle. Rectangles are not a shape we like to see people in, no matter what LEGO would like you to believe.
But even if you think rectangles are pretty, understand that wearing both suspenders and a belt is always a faux pas. People will notice, and they will think less of you.
Mismatched Socks and Trousers
This may be the most common error made by well-meaning but clueless men. The temptation to match your socks to your shoes is an obvious one, but it’s the wrong idea. Socks are mostly an undergarment, and aren’t generally supposed to be visible.
When they are visible, you want it to be as easy as possible for people to pretend that they aren’t. That means matching the color of your trousers as closely as possible.
Men with broad taste in colors are therefore going to need a pretty varied sock drawer, but them’s the breaks — a drawer full of black dress socks is only useful if all your pants are black. Otherwise, you’re looking clueless again.
Popped and Protruding Collars
Two errors kind of rolled into one here, because they’re related and they’re both awful. Your shirt collar should never be “popped” — the points should point downward, and the whole thing should be folded over evenly. Wearing two collared shirts, one popped and one unpopped, doesn’t even bear thinking on. One collared shirt at a time, properly folded over.
The second thing to watch for is overlap with lapels if you wear a jacket — the points of the collar should never protrude beyond the edge of the jacket lapel. If you have little points of shirt collar poking beyond the edge of your jacket, you need a smaller collar or a wider V on the front of the jacket.
Vest, Shirt, and Suit Buttons
Buttons are an easy place to make an error because the rules are different for different garments. Know the basics for all your options:
Jackets are never fully buttoned unless they are double-breasted. Two-button jackets usually button at the top button, and three-button jackets button in the middle.
You may occasionally see flamboyant dressers experimenting with buttoning the lowest button and folding the jacket into a super-long lapel, and if you do you’ll notice that they look bizarre. Don’t do that. Button your jacket where it’s supposed to be.
Vests traditionally leave the lowest button undone. The origins of the tradition are a little silly (King Edward VII of England started leaving his open for comfort and the aristocracy obediently followed the new “fashion”), but it’s been around long enough that not doing it makes you look ignorant.
If you’re a sharp enough dresser to wear a waistcoat confidently, you really ought to know enough to leave the lowest button undone.
Shirts button at all points. That includes the cuffs, collar in the case of button-downs, and the small buttons midway up the forearm (called the gauntlet or placket button). If you roll the sleeves up, undo both the cuff button and the gauntlet button.
Shoe and Belt Colors
If you’re dressing nicely, your shoes match your belt. They don’t have to be made of the same leather or anything, but no brown shoes and black belts, or vice versa!
Obviously, this leaves bright or multi-colored belts out of the question for dressier outfits; in more casual ensembles you should still be looking for items from the same color family or same general brightness.
The more casual you get the more flexible it becomes, but mixing black and brown is always going to be a beginner’s mistake.