Guys wanna look good, too

By Mir
October 16, 2007

Last week while we were talking revamping your wardrobe, Dave popped up with with this:

Any insights for men? My wardrobe is starting to get worn, and I have neither fashion sense nor a wife to dress me.

Now, I know that the majority of Want Not readers are female, but we do have our loyal little contingent of men, and I think this is a fair question. I spend a lot of time discussing fashion for the ladies; what about the guys?

There is, as far as I’m concerned, one cardinal rule of fashion that goes for everyone (male or female), and the rest of the rules follow from the first. Listen up: Your clothes should fit.

It’s true; clothes that fit you well always look better than clothes that don’t. Duh. But this is an important rule to stress particularly for men, I find, because women tend to be far more critical of fit than men. I know plenty of men who will happily don anything handy, and then they are confused and affronted (“Dude, this is a designer shirt!”) when you point out that it’s ten sizes too big. So this should be your mantra, and following it will help you tremendously. What do I mean by clothing that fits, when we’re talking about men?

I mean:

  • Dress shirts should come in measurement sizes, not letters. I don’t want to see you dressed up in a shirt that’s size M or XL. Go someplace nice and get measured, if you need to.
  • Shoulder seams on shirts should hit you at the shoulder. This is a classic guy blunder, shoulder seams that droop down the biceps. I see it most often with men who are tall, who’ve grown accustomed to buying a hugocious (totally a word) size to garner extra length. Gentlemen? Many fine retailers carry shirts in Tall. Learn to love them.
  • Pants should come down to the tops of your shoe soles in the back. Any longer and those pants need to be tailored. Any shorter and you need to get rid of them.
  • If you need a belt, wear a belt. If you are over the age of 14 I don’t want to see your pants sagging down. Pants should hit you at the top of your hips. Any lower and I’m seeing your underwear, and any higher and I may ask if you’re Fred Mertz.
  • Grown ups do not wear elastic waist pants. If you tend towards pants with elastic, that means you’re not buying the right size. Figure out your size and then buy pants with a zipper and a fly like a big boy.

In addition to these basic fit tips, there are some “classic” style tips I’d suggest you adhere to:

  • Buy jeans in a dark or medium wash, blue or black only. A light wash looks informal at best and dated at worst, and men should not wear colored jeans. Ever. (Side note: No one on this planet should ever wear white jeans. Amen.)
  • Every man should have some khakis, and while the color khaki is your most neutral choice, keep in mind that any neutral is fine. Neutrals include: Grey, navy blue, black, brown, olive green, the entire family of tans. It is a very rare man who can get away with pants in a non-neutral color. Yes, they make red pants. No, you probably shouldn’t wear them.
  • In addition to being the right fit (length and girth) pants should have a straight (not tapered) leg and ideally be a flat front (no pleats). My husband refuses to give up his pleated pants and I’ve all but given up this battle with him, but a flat front is more flattering, honestly. You can still get away with pleats if you are very slender through the hips, but in general, a well-fitting flat front is going to look nicest.
  • Sneakers are for playing sports and mowing the lawn. If you wear sneakers as casual shoes, consider either a “fashion sneaker” (I know, it sounds girly, but I swear it’s not) or better yet, a casual loafer instead. You’d be amazed at how much more put together you’ll look—even if you’re wearing jeans—if you’re wearing real shoes. And no, men do not have to have eleventy pairs of shoes the way women do. Just a couple of nice pairs. (Here: Consider this Skechers loafer, or this Skechers oxford—both are currently half off at Endless, and will ship overnight for just $30 delivered. Either of those shoes will work with both jeans and khakis.)
  • Another note on shoes: The most common transgression I see by men in the shoe department is not taking care of their shoes. If they’re scuffed, polish them! If they’re beyond making them look good again, toss them and buy a new pair.
  • A shirt with a collar is fancier than one without. That said, you can dress down a collared shirt by wearing it with a t-shirt underneath or going without a tie. Even if you work somewhere “casual,” hopefully you’re not wearing a t-shirt every day.
  • Colors and patterns are fine, but probably not together. That is, don’t be afraid to wear a bold color or a pattern, but choose wisely. Stripes are good. Bright colors are good. Bright stripes are not going to be good on most guys. Don’t know what colors to wear? Pay attention to what items you already own that people compliment you on. (My husband is still surprised every time he wears the royal blue shirt I bought him and he gets a billion compliments. And then I lovingly tell him, “That’s because your eyes are blue and that shirt brings them out. Dummy.”)
  • Unless you are Mr. Rogers, you probably shouldn’t wear cardigans. Some men can pull off that look, but not many. Do wear crew- or v-neck sweaters in natural fibers (cotton or wool or cashmere, please—no acrylic! no polyester!) with a shirt underneath, though.
  • I know Summer’s over, but men should never wear shorts to the office (I don’t care how casual it is. I DO NOT CARE. No shorts!) and the shorts you do wear should come to your knee or nearly so unless you are exercising. Pants rules apply—neutral colors, preferably flat front, proper fit.

One quick, very general, note: You can now buy really nice pants and shirts in “wrinkle-free” fabric nearly everywhere. Unless you are an ironer, look for the wrinkle-free stuff. It only costs a little more and it absolutely worth it to look classy instead of like you slept in your clothes. Nuff said.

Okay, got all that? Heh.

As for shopping, some of this is going to depend on your own personal style, of course. For classic, casual pieces my go-to sites (meaning, the places my husband and I both agree have the best options) are LL Bean (they are shipping for free automatically through December), Lands’ End (that link will give you free shipping), Eddie Bauer and—even better—Eddie Bauer Outlet, and Kohls. (Kohls carries a nice selection of Dockers stuff, which a lot of men like, as well as having a good variety of Tall sizes if you need those.)

For dressy items, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jos. A. Bank. Their stuff is top-notch and they have sales all the time. I love them. And so does my husband.

I’m sure I’ve left some stuff out, but that should give you some ideas, anyway. Let me know if you have specific questions I didn’t cover and I’ll try to help. And then go buy yourself some new clothes, dude. You deserve it, too.


  1. Awesome. Thank you!

  2. Great advice! My hubby will also not give up the pleated pants…oh well. He shops at Jos. A. Bank and Kohl’s as well. You can find some great deals there! We have also scored on both casual and dressy shirts, dress pants, khakis, etc at the Van Heusen Outlet store in our state.

  3. But Beccy, Dave who wrote in had no help at all. If he starts with these rules, he will (a) look good (and more importantly, *presentable*) while (b) having some time and wiggle room to figure out what his own “style” might be.

    My dear friend Daniel, who was a broke musician for many years (hallelujah, he is still a musician but no longer broke!), used to come over and read my fashion mags cover to cover. The current ones – for the current month. Including the advice articles.

    Then he’d go online or to thrift stores and find similar shapes that were advertised or recommended. He found gorgeous things – and was always so pleased with the prices. “Three dollars,” he’d say, and add, amazed, “and it’s Swiss Army brand.” I thought Swiss Army only made pocketknives – but Daniel was paying attention to their sweater line.

    Now he wears gorgeous vintage suits and wool sweaters in colors that show off his eyes. With the occasional band tee-shirt – but only bands that he loves. No irony for him!

    Dave, we believe in you. (In large measure because you weren’t afraid to ask for help!) Try out these rules, and then, if something (like the yuppie loafer – sorry, lovely Mir!) makes you uncomfortable and/or brings you poor feedback, you’ll be armed with the knowledge you need to make informed, appropriate, colorful changes.

    Or, you know, Beccy, YOU could take Dave shopping……

  4. (The reference to “Beccy” was someone who posted a tacky comment about Ms. Mir’s awesome Rules for Dude Dressing. Happily, her comment went away. Sorry for the confusion.)

  5. Just a general FYI: I don’t delete comments for being tacky or rude, in general, unless someone is persistent in their nastiness. The comment referenced above was deleted for being a promotional link for something completely unrelated. If you want to buy advertising on my site you’re more than welcome to do so, but I don’t leave people’s attempts to trick folks into clicking through active.

  6. Just to clear my name 🙂 — I didn’t think I left a promotional link? The comment form does leave space for one’s website and my computer autofilled that, but if that’s what you’re referring to, I made sure the link is out! 🙂 (It’s just my tiny little not-online business, I really didn’t think I was trying to trick anyone. I hope this takes care of it – I could swear I’ve commented here before w/no problems.)

    I guess I won’t repost my comment – I disagreed w/the stringency of the suggestions, but I’m sorry my comment came across as tacky.

  7. Beccy, you (and anyone else) is welcome to disagree. I think some specific points would be more useful, of course. And as Kate pointed out, those are general rules for what will more or less flatter everyone and be classic, and are provided in response to a “help, I have no idea what to wear” query. I am not going to hunt down Dave and mock him if he varies from my suggestions. 😉

  8. This doesn’t exactly relate to guys’ clothing, but I wanted to let you know about this story, Mir. I know how you promote Zappos all the time, so this customer story is worth reading:

  9. I must say that the guidelines seem to be more for white-collar guys living in areas full of other white collar guys. It’s mostly blue-collar around here, and my husband is in a delivery job where the required wear is black sneakers, non-denim shorts or pants (“Dockers” sort of stuff), and a collared (polo-type or golf-type) shirt. Standard weekend wear is more of the same, or jeans with a tee, sweatshirt or flannel. (Of course, this DOES make for a less expensive wardrobe 😉

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