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Mar 21, 2013

Finding One's Personal Style When Anything Goes

Readers, I'm in a quandary.

I'm trying to figure out how I want my new gray suit to look and I feel overwhelmed with options.  It seems like nowadays any style can work provided you can pull it off.  I don't even know what's in fashion any more. 

Do you ever find yourself longing for the days when fashion was dictated from on high and everyone was expected to fall in line?  It was oppressive but it sure was easier to get dressed in the morning.

Think Pink!

Part of the problem is that menswear in particular is experiencing a creative surge (at least as far as the designers are concerned; how much actually translates to the streets is anybody's guess) at the same time that commercial men's sewing patterns are few and mostly out-of-date.  So with nearly a century of commercial sewing patterns at my disposal thanks to eBay and Etsy, I could go in pretty much any direction.

It seems like every jacket style, every hem length, every color, every cut, every fabric is being shown by some designer somewhere.  If you can pull it off, you can wear it.  So many silhouettes, so little time!

There was a book written lately about the problem of having too many choices and I can't remember what it's called or who wrote it, but basically it's like when  you go to the drugstore for deodorant or toothpaste and have to choose from among hundreds of options.  It makes you wish you lived in Soviet-era Bulgaria.  In the end you buy nothing.

I'm also frustrated because, after cutting and inspecting Vogue 2616, I decided that it looks dated.  It is also likely to be too broad in the shoulder, and too square at the hip (notice there's no tapering curve beneath the center button).  I''d be better off using one of my Sixties patterns.

Friends, three questions:

1) Do you ever wish somebody else would do the deciding for you and just tell you what's in fashion, rather than to have to scrutinize your best and worst features and decide which styles are most flattering to you?

2) Where do you get your sense of what's in fashion and what isn't these days?

2) Can too many options be worse than too few?

Jump in!


  1. This post brings to mind a quote from Edina in Ab Fab "I don't want more choices, I just want nicer things."

  2. 1) NO!! I love deciding what I'm going to wear and when I'm going to wear it. If that means I stick out like a sore thumb because I dressed differently than everyone else, so be it!
    2) I look at the stores I love to shop in and the ones that compete with the ones I love. :) I generally still end up wearing and making what I like versus what someone else has declared in style.
    3) I love my options, but too many can be overwhelming if you don't have a way to whittle them down to a manageable number.

    Go with what you like and what you would like to sew and it will turn out amazing!

  3. When you plow your own course, limiting the current buzz to a dull roar, you're probably in the right style place. It's style your after, not necessarily fashion. You've got a casual edge to your style, so go with something that will look great without a tie (or lampshade/hair bands in above photos). A twist with a fabulously zingy lining would be so much fun.

    Can't wait to see what emerges from the marination chamber.

  4. The book I was thinking of was "The Paradox of Choice." Thank you reader Jean for reminding me!

  5. I'm happy that there's not a defined style any more. I remember as a small child how my mother struggled to look stylish (i.e., like everyone else) while my family struggled financially. People are much more free today to create their own style by choosing what they like, what they can afford, and what is flattering to them. The choices can be overwhelming, but I ignore most of the self-appointed style experts.

  6. Peter, you seem to me a guy who likes to be a little daring in your fashion choices. I agree that the jacket you made last year would look great made up in a full suit AND that you need more tapering. But those things are going to give you a really beautiful and conservative fit, so I think you can go a bit out there in your choice of colour or pattern. The toile looked *great* on you! I think that was partly because it was a show-stopper. It's not that you can "pull it off" it's that you genuinely get a kick out of delighting people with your fashion choices and people respond to that.

  7. Hi, Peter. I look at your pictures and I am reminded that for enough money, I would wear just about anything. I guess I'm like a model that way. But, isn't it really all about what I'd choose? And, how many of us would choose to wear what's in these pictures of "fashion". And, if nobody's wearing it, is it really fashion? Lane

  8. I'd take the Madman suit if I looked that good in it. Choice-you are right-the more choices the less happy we are. Somehow if there was only a happy median. Happy sewing.

  9. Have you considered drafting your own suit pattern from a tailors ruberic? Probably a lot easier than trying to alter this and than

    1. It's a commendable ambition, but to draft a tailored suit takes years of skill and experience. And then you have to make it up.

      Most tailoring students start with trousers.

      You also need someone to help with fitting. Some people post photos on the Cutter and Tailor forum. Professional tailors who are members will make suggestions, but you have to be serious about attaining a high level of technique.

  10. I used to read articles that said 'find a movie star who you would like to look like and copy their style'. I know this is outdated advice especially as I don't have the body of a movie star!
    I guess the answer is find a look that excites you.

  11. Wear what makes you happy. If you can't do that, then just avoid wearing things that make you unhappy.

  12. Peter,your first mistake is using the words "what's in fashion",
    Think instead, What would a gentleman wear.
    You want that suit to last a while...not just be "in fashion" this year. You're young enough to be a bit adventurous in the cut....but if it fits well, you'll look wonderful.

  13. 1) Not only do I wish someone would tell me what's in fashion and flattering on me, I wish that someone would just buy the damn things, clean 'em, hang 'em up, and then lay 'em out for me when I need to put them on. Hell, I'd be happy if I woke up and I had already been dressed.

    2) What sense of fashion?

    3) Two options are bad. One option is just ok.

    And, by the way, am I the only person who has never made anything for myself? Dresses for the girl, shirts for the little boy, shirts for the "other" guy, jeans for the dancing friend, grocery bags for the neighbors. Me… nada.

    I think I just realized I wanna be Peter. And if I was Peter, I would stick with the Vogue. Not too anything, I mean, how classic can you get.

  14. Peter,

    With your figure (trim gentleman of a certain age), you MUST find something to showcase your nipped waist (most men won't cop to a "nipped waist", but frankly most men are "gut busters" with a male muffin-top, hanging like an awning abeam their belt buckles). Broad and padded shoulders, within reason, will only accentuate your athletic physique.

    If only an "American Gigolo" Armani pattern was floating around. You certainly have the body to pull that look off - flaunt it!

    Take a look at a young Richard Gere, and see if he doesn't embody the "modern timeless" look. Then take a look in the mirror, and realize you can pull it off with all the flare and fortitude one has at 50 (or 51).

  15. I'm actually enjoying the freedom these days, it's quite hard to define this time by one particular silhouette or style, which means there are a lot more options around. I've never really been into fashion and trends myself, and my interest in clothing comes from a personal interest (I like clothes that look good on me) and an interest in the construction process (I like knowing how things are made). Right now I've sort of figured out what works for me in terms of fit and colour, and what works with my lifestyle, so I play around with the guidelines I've set for myself.

  16. I sort of see what you mean. I find that catwalk and fashion magazines are very beautiful to look at, but completely irelevent (sp) to my daily life. I am lucky to work somewhere where it doesn't matter what I wear, so long as I do the work. I am working on finding a style (jeans tee and cardigan is not a style) and I'm feeling like I'm getting there (if jeans, fancy knit top and cardigan is a style!!). I wore a uniform for years in school, and wearing a uniform doesn't bother me, but I am beginning to feel like I'm finding my own feet and my own style!!

    I'm sorry this is just a pointless ramble!!

  17. Oh, this is an interesting question. Especially in light of the fact that men's fashion is really on a change curve. Women have had to deal with this insanity for longer so maybe we're more used to it. :-) I do enjoy the style element of sewing. I like to figure out what will work on my body. I find it creative and liberating. But it doesn't always work out, which definitely sucks. Even as I learn, I am irritated by those scenarios. I think you'll look great in a variety of styles. I do think, given your proportions, the modern silhouette is going to be great on you - the slim lapels, fitted jackets, slim pants. I think the times are good for you, Peter.

  18. Go with the classic look -- if you need guidance check out Daniel Craig in 'Skyfall.' Pegged trousers, some 3-4 button jackets and a slim fit similar to the '60s but with wider lapels. You can't go wrong with British tailoring, whereas those runway shots will draw the same reaction as the Munchkins in a few years.

  19. I'd rather have options, as opposed to being shoehorned into trends that don't fit me. I makes choices in more or less the following order :

    Flattering shape
    Comfortable to wear
    Attractive and sufficiently classic to justify the time, money, and effort
    Need (Fancy dresses are lovely, but I don't attend too many red carpet events)

    I like companies like J. Crew, Ralph Lauren, and DKNY. If I see interesting clothes from the runway shows, I save the image.

  20. Go to Jeffery Diduch (sp?) Made by Hand blog and find a recent post that links to his company's blog, which in turn links to an interview with the Gentleman's Gazette. The interview features numerous photos of Diduch in suits he made for himself. I think he has good taste that's not extreme. Good for ideas, but he's an expert tailor.

  21. You could (if you can stand trying on a lot of clothes--I can't, but YMMV) take yourself off to the shops and try on some of the various styles out there in RTW land. That would give you some idea of what you liked--or at least what you hated the least. Then go from there.

  22. I don't think I want so much for someone to tell me what to wear, but sometimes a little outside input (usually from my husband) as to what I should avoid wearing is helpful to narrow down my options.

    I don't know that I worry about trying to wear trends, but there's so much media out there that it becomes pretty clear if a trend has taken off, and eventually enough clues about what isn't in fashion anymore get conveyed through some snarky comments on MSN when a celebrity wears something that is "over."

    Definitely too many options can be worse than too few. Seriously, do I need to sort through 200+ types of cereal in the aisle to find one that my kids will eat for the week? That's partly why I prefer online shopping anymore. I can use filters to try to weed out what I'm NOT looking for. It makes it easier for me to find what I am looking for.

  23. Wtth your good posture, trim figure, and flare a classic suit, with excellent tailoring will be great. Pattern tweaked for you. I love anything that looks and feels great! Those too tight black suits, of mediocre fabric, that I see on younger men, are the pits. Only emphasise the bad posture. Love the suits my Grandpa wore, custom, from the 30's to 40's, with ease and fabric to spare, yet fitting well nonetheless. Do not over-fit (ask me how I know this). Cathie in deeply snowy Quebec. Grandpa wore these suits well for years too....

  24. tailoring is like hairdressing in that the client comes with a set of features that you must work with, some things work better than others depending on face shape, hair type, etc.
    of course you can go against these conventions too, and yes there are sooooo many choices.

    I would most definitely go with a vintage 60s suit pattern over that vogue one.

  25. I think a good suit should not be "in fashion" but something that is classical and brings out your best features.
    For example - my boyfriend is short and has a teeny tiny belly. I made his suit slightly broader from the shoulders, made sure that the waist seemed as thou he had lost 7 kg and that the pants made his feet look longer ( the pants are slim, with no pleat/fold at the waist)
    So do not go with whats in but go with whats stylish and makes YOU look good!

  26. You can't go wrong with a classic well cut suit. You're slim so some waist shaping. Pants not too narrow and a jacket that doesn't button too high. Stylish and classic. Stay right away from those 'whacko fashion victim' outfits. Seriously, where would you wear something like that except to a fancy dress party. Stylish = you look good in the clothes. Weirdo trendy fashion = people are too busy laughing at what you're wearing they don't notice you. They are not flattering on anybody's body.

  27. Channel Colin Firth in 'A Single Man' ( Everything he wore (and everything in his house) in that film was divine, thanks to the director being Tom Ford.

  28. Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London (particularly Savile Row and Jermyn Street). There's so much suit inspiration in the shop windows and being worn. I see you in something early sixties. A lean silhouette would really suit you. Go for style over fashion. Your fabric says understated elegance rather than fussy or novelty. I watch with interest.


  29. Agreed. 60's cut suit men that aren't built like linebackers. High break, slim lapels, single breast, fairly straight trouser, loverly jubbly!

  30. A lot of runway stuff is to grab the editors' eyes - a LOT! So with that in mind, realize that it's passe from the moment it hits the runway. Classic lives and will be in your wardrobe for decades (yes decades). That's the real value and spending your valuable time on something like this will be far more productive and fruitful. I know the flashier styles grab our eyes and we are led down that path, but sounds to me you're sort of tired of that and looking for something that will work in your wardrobe for a longer period of time.

    The truth is all fashion (like glory) is fleeting! So classic lasts longer and yes it appears more boring at first, but not after you've worn it for a couple of years!

  31. I totally agree that you end up buying nothing when you have so many options. Also, the pop of of the Lollipop Guild is too funny.

    These days I'm limited by color. After years of being frustrated by overpowering colors available to me in RTW I went to a color analyst and now I have a plan. I haven't fabric shopped with my swatches yet, but I'm hoping that I find that it's diversity through limitations.

    For what it's worth, I think your suit would look great on you in that top image's styling. It looks very F.U.N. and it strikes me that you could pull that off with aplomb.

  32. 1. NEVER!

    2. I don't really care. I wear what I like, which usually works because I mostly like classic styles, though my choice of colors is sometimes out there.

    3. No. Often, with dozens of options, I find myself wanting even more. But maybe that's just another kind of reaction to the problem.

  33. Alex in CaliforniaMarch 22, 2013 at 1:20 PM

    I agree with Nola G. - classic well cut suit. Having a suit you have carefully crafted look dated in a season or two would be shame.

  34. OMG, some of those pictures are scary. I like the idea of shopping with your body features in mind to get a sense of what you like and what seems to work well. I agree with K-Line that your slender silhouette works well with modern cuts.

    In my case, I have so many fit issues it's best to keep it simple and stick with flattering designs.

  35. You can't go wrong with a British/French cut suit jacket, and you have the righ physique to wear it. Doesn't have to be uptight, dull. Google Bernard-Henri Levy who seems to have found his personal style 30 years ago and stuck to it. I've seen closeups when he's on a roundtable discussion. The fabrics and attention to detail in his clothes are amazing for such a casual look, and you just know his cologne is perfect. Point is: you don't have to look like a banker in a good suit.

    As for fashion: forget it. They don't take themselves seriously, so why should we.

  36. As I get older I look at clothing as a uniform. I keep things simple. I’m inspired by two stores here in SF- Union Made Goods and Taylor & Stitch. In my closet I have:

    1. 1 pair of jeans from Taylor and Stitch
    2. 2 pair of chore pants from (Taylor & Stitch brand)
    3. 1 pair of Unis New York pants
    4. 5 button-down oxfords by Beams+
    5. 2 Rag and Bone sport jackets one grey and one navy
    6. 2 cotton crew sweaters one navy and one camel by Beams+
    7. Apolis chore jacket
    8. 2 cycling shirts and 3 cycling shorts
    9. 2 pair of converse. One pair blue. One pair white.
    10. Alden oxford lace-ups (vintage)
    11. sweatshirt/sweats (made by me)
    12. 2 brown belts, socks, boxers, t-shirts

    That is all I have in my closet. I invest in clothes that fit and will last a few seasons. Boring, maybe, but it makes getting dressed in the morning so easy.

    ps. I keep thinking about your print jacket you made out of the MJ fabric. My friend just bought a crazy print jacket from Engineered Garments. You my man are ON TREND!

    love reading your blog!

    1. You need to get yourself a cardigan...NOW. ;)

      What a well-edited wardrobe; I envy you the lack of clutter!

  37. I have just started watching the BBC series Jeeves and Wooster (I know, 25 years late, but stay with me). Jeeves picks out all of Bertie Wooster's outfits and lays them out, and often gives fashion advice that flies in the face of Bertie Wooster's trendy fashion choices. It occurred to me from the first episode, I need a Jeeves in my life. Someone to pick out my outfits for the day (making sure everything is sufficiently pressed and shined), and telling me when the thing I am determined to wear in order to be a bit fashion forward is somewhat ridiculous.

  38. I have the same problem with fit - I often find it hard to tell when something is fitting "right" because there are so many different levels of fit these days. I try on a muslin, and I think, should this be fitted? Body skimming? Relaxed? Loose? It's a little overwhelming sometimes.

  39. Hi Peter,

    I've reached an age where I'm not concerned with what's "in fashion". This concern has been steadily decreasing since my pink Z Cavaricci pants went out of style after 1986.

    I'm also of an age where I started to gain weight around the middle. When I started 2013, my resolution was to sew some of my own clothes. Sadly, I was not able to face my rear in the mirror so I started with weight loss. Now I'm starting some timeless classics (an a-line skirt paired with button front blouse) and I will ask a friend for help on where to hem the skirt and the blouse to draw attention away from my "problem areas".

    1. I had never heard of Cavaricci but a Google search reminds me what they were: I remember them well!

  40. Too many options can be worse. But. I do not follow fashion, I only stumble upon it, and I don't care, and I don't want anyone to tell me what I'm expected to wear (unless it's the sort of thing one's expected to wear to a theatre etc.). I think I've only been told to be "on trend" once in my life and that was by accident. I do want someone tells me "that's a bad idea" (basically) from time to time, but I have too much of my own sense of style (even if I often fail to live up to it myself!) to care for instructions. Living in a former communist country (even if I only lived two years through it) that tends to be conformist even today, I'm glad I do not have to follow them.

    (Hello, parentheses, my old friends!)

  41. Correction: I do want someone to tell me...

    And an addition: The problem I usually run into with a wide scale of options - in this country at least - is rather that it still tends to be just more of the same.


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