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A touch of class – what should a man wear to get elegant, stylish look?

September 30, 2006

Fashion for Men

We exist in a visual world. Clothes, looks, expression, gestures and tone create an impact which can last a very long time. We unconsciously associate certain clothes and mannerisms with certain personality traits. This is hardly a question of right or wrong…its reality. When a man is better dressed he is noticed, receives more respect and gets better service. Perhaps that is why corporate dress codes are flourishing and dressing well has become almost a job requirement. Picking the right clothes and accessories has evolved into a skill, an art if you will. And looking good is no longer the matter of picking up the right trouser and matching shirt and tie. It means selecting the right watch, belt, socks, shoes and even accessories like sun-glasses, jewellery and perhaps the right brand of cell-phone. All of these are becoming an intrinsic part of a man’s lifestyle statement. A man is becoming what he wears.

‘If a man is wearing an Armani suit and Prada shoes you’ll know he’s not an ordinary man,’ says Sanyogita Chadda, General Manager, Design, at Raymond Apparel. One automatically assumes that he is the kind of man who has a mansion tucked away in the heart of the city, several farmhouses in exotic locations, a fleet of cars, a yacht and an airplane and holidays in Europe. Armani may not be Indian, but there are plenty of Indian brands that impart a touch of class. Whether its Allen Solly, Arrow, Raymonds, Van Heusen or a myriad of smaller brands, you’ll see them everywhere – in exclusive showrooms, in malls, in your next door clothes store and yes, on pavements as well! The masses out there are being drawn in hordes to the fakes.

If a man wants that coveted promotion he needs to dress well and the best thing he can do is to watch his seniors. ‘You should not dress for the job you are in but for the job you want,’ says Rajendra Grewal, CEO and Founder of The Wardrobe Engineer. So better think twice about sneering at that advertisement in which the well dressed man wins the all-important contract or gets his boss’s job! It’s a bitter pill for the nonchalant dresser to swallow but clothes can make you or break you. ‘Clothes tells you about a person…about how particular he is, how much attention he gives to detail. I would not hire a man who is sloppily dressed,’ says Rahul Bhajekar, businessman. Sanjay, Regional Manager in a multi-national firm agrees. ‘Though I would not judge a man’s ability by the clothes he wears, at the same time I would not hire someone who is not neatly or appropriately dressed. After all, the way a man dresses tell you something about him…at least about how well-organized he is.’

Its not as if Rahul and Sanjay are natty dressers. Though Rahul is fond of wearing branded clothes he does not wear a tie to office (because of the weather) and sometimes wears half sleeves. However when meeting clients he is in long sleeves and dark trousers. ‘My clients are mostly foreigners who do not wear suits and ties because of the weather here and so there is no pressure on me to do so,’ he explains. Sanjay does not dress formally either although he is working in an organization which lays some emphasis on appearance. ‘Friday dressing which was unheard of earlier is becoming common in our company now. The new breed is young and are less in awe of the company culture, and are less likely to be clones of their seniors,’ says Sanjay.

Some Infotech companies however maintain a strict dress code whether it’s a Friday or a Saturday and executives who come to work in jeans are frowned upon. ‘They are trying to prevent people coming in jeans,’ says Grewal. Casual clothes worn to office are not supposed to be jeans, T-shirts and sandals or sneakers. ‘What is casual are crisp cotton shirts and trousers and that too in muted colours and patterns,’ adds Grewal.

Formals can be dark trousers with a sharp crease, a full-sleeved shirt and a tie. But again the pattern matters. ‘A bright printed shirt even if its full sleeves is casual,’ says Sanyogita. For a strict formal look cotton trousers will not do, however well-cut. ‘Its polywool trousers with a sharp crease but ofcourse the fall and the look is very important.’ Unless they are meeting outsiders, Indian executives tend to avoid suits and jackets. Formal business wear means dark colours but black is rather stark and should be avoided.

Shirts should be long sleeved and preferably be in a light colour like white or pale blue, perhaps with pin stripes or just plain. White is a good, safe colour. Ties should not match with the jacket but should contrast with it, but beware of wearing too bright a tie. While navy blues or dark reds can be the back-ground, the pattern should be subtle. A matching handkerchief is an absolute no-no. Shirts can be a hundred per cent cotton but it goes without saying that ties should be silk. Silk ties can last a life-time if properly cared for.

Accessories like tie pins are not in vogue these days but cuff links are. They should have a matt finish to be considered elegant. As for jewellery, too many rings do not give a good impression and can look ‘loud’. The watch should preferably be steel or silver, although a gold watch can also look classy. A tan, burgundy or black belt is fine but a large bright buckle will be considered tacky. The belt colour should not contrast with the shoes (burgundy and tan is a good combination). Socks should match with the trousers. When it comes to the shirt, trouser and tie, it is best to go in for one solid colour and two patterns or two solid colours and one pattern instead of three patterns although this combination can look good if correctly done.

Finally its the man’s personal style which dictates what he wears and reveals his taste. While a select few get the right combination of clothes and accessories almost instinctively – most have to work hard at it. ‘Ninety per cent of urban Indian men don’t know how to dress,’ says Grewal. He feels that this is because they do not have references…the advantage of a public school background or a role model’. But Grewal believes that dressing is based on scientific principles and can be learnt. However, he warns against becoming a fashion victim. ‘In the IT industry employees have become victims of Chinos,’ he says. Then there are companies where the classical way of dressing is followed. Dark blue trousers, white shirt and black shoes and as a result executives become clones of each other. He finds the combination of black pants and white shirt particularly irksome as only ‘waiters and undertakers wear such combinations.’ What one needs to do is to develop an individual style.

What about when style goes a little over the edge and becomes rather too individualistic? Unless they work in a work environment which welcomes it, they might have to pay a price. Erin Brocovich swore at work, wore colourful, revealing clothes and the result was that her colleagues and boss mistrusted her and doubted her ability. It can become important to blend in.

While blending in or standing out may be one reasons a corporate executive decides to dress in a particular way, many youngsters today dress to impress the opposite sex. Brands definitely matter more to the generation next, even if the objective may be more frivolous. ‘What a boy wears is more important than what he looks like. The right brand in clothes, shoes and watch can give him a cool look,’ says Madhuri, a first year college student. Throw in a fancy cell-phone and snazzy bike and the teenager is telling the world that he has what it takes.
Though clothes and accessories are becoming an intrinsic part of our personalites, its important not to let them take over our lives. ‘Lets not become victims of fashion,’ says Grewal. Our clothes are not who we are and they should be made to work for us, not the other way round. Following some ground rules helps. Before selecting clothes, one should keep in mind one’s body shape, the existing climate, corporate culture and the cost factor. A quote from Mark Twain is worth mulling over.

Our clothes…are on us to expose us…to advertise what we wear them to conceal. They are a sign; a sign of insincerity; a sign of suppressed vanity; a pretense…and we put them on to propagate that lie and back it up.

(This article, written by me, was published in The Economic Times (end 2004). However the information given here on dressing is timeless. Photograph is copyrighted to me)

Related Reading: Does it matter what an air hostess wears?
Is the saree an immodest garment?
Dressing for TV News
All posts on Fashion and Clothing

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Vinod permalink
    September 11, 2008 10:17 am

    Never thought I’d come across a post that didn’t have comments on it. 🙂

  2. Ravi permalink
    September 18, 2008 5:05 am

    I m also surprised not to see any comments! apparently no takers for this

    I had hardly any readers when I typed out this here. I had just started my blog 10 days earlier. 🙂 And that too I was at blogspot! I switched to wp a month later, and imported all of this. – nita.

  3. September 19, 2008 8:26 pm

    Hey, this is brilliant. I just go with dark trousers light shirt and vice versa combo. Seems pretty primitive having read your post.

    Thanks for the info.

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