I have a super awesome treat for you today! Instead of looking at more pictures of me with my hand on my hip and one by my side (you know it's true), I have invited one of my super dapper counterparts to write a guest post for my Ten Things Tuesdays!
Ten things a male teacher should own.
What up, internets, bpr here. Whitney asked me if I would be interested in contributing to her “Ten Things Tuesdays,” specifically a response to last week’s list. I was, naturally, flattered. Whitney’s blog has recently been nominated in the Most Fascinating Teaching Blog category by online-phd-degree.com, which is quite an accolade (so get over there and vote her up!). Anyways, at our place of employment, the men are required to don a tie each day, and the women something appropriately matching in formality. I won’t get into a diatribe on someone else’s blog, but suffice it to say that I believe situations like this are highly incongruous. Whitney, always looking beautiful, wears sundresses and light cardigans, yet the males wear long-sleeves, pants and ties. This is Alabama; it gets hot. My point is that women are afforded more freedom in their outfits, allowing for more drastic variation. This does not mean, however, that men cannot be creative, but they must do so on a more subtle scale. These tips are for men who must dress up to the point semi-formal: shirt, tie, but no dress shirt or jacket necessary (as you might notice, I do love sport coats). Additionally, I tend to focus on things that can be worn in different situations, as I would prefer to buy one versatile shirt than two shirts that can only be worn in rather specified situations. (Note: Pictures were intended to follow each of these points, however, my camera decided not to work. As soon as I can get at least a few pictures taken, I will add them to fully illustrate certain points.)
1) A bunch of nice looking, comfortable, well-fitting button-down shirts. This is really the cornerstone of any man’s wardrobe anyway, so it shouldn’t be difficult. The key here is a good fit and a balance of style. Too dressy, ie, pointed or spread collars or excessively large cuffs, and a shirt will look awkward in a bar. Conversely, if too casual, the shirt will look inappropriate with a tie. Call me too Americana, but I am partial to the Ralph Lauren Classic Oxford; the broadcloth is sharp-looking, they come in every color of the rainbow, and the patterns – if you opt for patterns – are not gaudy or distracting. Especially since Polo now makes a “Custom Fit” option in their sizing, it has never been as simple to look good in a versatile shirt. I firmly believe that 90% of the places that you spend 90% of your time, a clean, well-fitting oxford will not look out of place at all. Though I am partial to the classic RL, I highly approve of J. Crew’s Thomas Mason line. A white one with a wide-striped tie and you get the classic preppy look that will take you to all but formal occasions. No undershirt, unbuttoned a third of the way, with a pair of shorts and flip flops, you’ll look good on the boardwalk without looking like you’re trying. Again, fit is crucial: the seams of your shirt should hit your shoulders and should follow the shape of the body. Nothing bothers me more than a fit man in a poorly fitting shirt.
2) Second: Shirts that fit on either side of these on the continuum of formality. By this, I mean a few sport shirts with fun prints and a few dress shirts. Luckily, these are actually quite simple. For a dress shirt, fit is most important. This is 2012; your dress shirt should fit to your body, the sleeves should hit the base of your thumb and the shoulder seams should hit your shoulders. At any price point, it is possible to find a decent dress shirt, but do please try them on, unless you know your size at that company. For true dress shirts, I like Brooks Brothers for their range of sizes and a more old-school, traditional look, and Thomas Pink for simply beautiful clothes. Thomas Pink is colorful, yet classic, reverent and cool. Dress shirts should be worn for occasions when meeting parents, graduation, formal dinners, etc., so they should be interesting, but, most of all, inoffensive. These are the tenets of dress shirts; they should not look shiny or poly-anything, just sharp and stylish.
Sport shirts are on the other end of spectrum: button downs that aren’t really designed to be worn with a tie. Now, I do wear sport shirts with a tie sometimes, but that is because a) I look young and it ups the boyish-cuteness quotient, b) because this is Alabama and it’s hot as hell, and c) it can be a fun combination for situations that require a tie but not much formality. As you can see, some of these shirts have patterns that are subtle enough so that they can be worn with a tie, while others are so color- and pattern-intensive that any addition would cause sensory overload. Finally, the challenge of the sport shirt (for me, at least) is the balance of length. Being able to tuck the shirt in is a must, but this is the shirt designed to be half-undone with a pair of summer-weight pants at an outdoor bar on a hot, humid night.
3) Comfortable shoes. As a teacher, one is the difficult position of wearing very white-collar outfits, yet having to be on one’s feet all day. For the years I worked for a carpenter, I would wear the most comfortable running shoes that were past their prime. Sadly, those days are past and now formality is key. Luckily, semi-formal still allows plenty of choices for men. (Full disclosure: I hate laces. I almost exclusively wear slip-on shoes. I find the lines to be much cleaner, plus they’re easier to kick off under my desk.) The number one recommended footwear for men in any situation that has some flexibility in dress is a good pair of dress loafers. Brown is key here, as for men, brown goes with just about every color. (Yes! It is even becoming acceptable to wear brown with dark grey!) As you can see, I usually chose a part of medium brown, deerskin Brassboot tassel loafers I purchased on sale for just shy of $100. They have broken in wonderfully and have now become comfortable enough so that I do not fear them being my only shoes for the day (ie, going to school, kickin’ it after school, going out in the evening). Tassel loafers are wonderful for their diversity; they can dress up khakis and a sport-coat, or they can be worn with shorts (though again, be wary of the overly-preppy look). Runners up for shoes are a dead tie: dark boat shoes and black dress shoes. With these three pairs of shoes, there is really nowhere a man can’t go. The dark brown boat shoes draw zero attention to themselves: this means they can be worn with a tie on those days when comfort is of the utmost importance. The black, lace-up dress shoes are simply a must for anyone who has ever wanted a job that requires an interview. (I hate laces and I hate black, but sometimes one must make sacrifices.)
4) A diverse selection of ties. Note, this does not say “lots of ties.” Instead, I mean that one must have enough different ties to fit any shirt and any occasion. Now, I am not a huge fan of solid ties, though I do wear skinnier solid-color ties from time to time, but they are invaluable in some instances. It is difficult for me to think of a shirt that would look wrong with a nice, narrow, solid dark blue tie. I generally opt for broad striped ties. If the stripe is broad enough, it can be worn with a striped shirt without sensory overload. The classic example here would be an alternating diagonal stripe with a vertically striped shirt. As you can see, there are two very different patterns running in two different directions, yet they compliment each other. Stripes are also an excellent way to compliment one of the more subtle colors in a shirt, too. Say your shirt (or suit) has a faint or very narrow green stripe to it. Throw on a matching green tie, and suddenly that stripe pops off the fabric without ever venturing into the realm of gaudy. Ties are a place where a man makes or breaks his outfit (after the fit of his shirt). An interesting tie paired well with a complimentary shirt signals a man who cares about his outfit as a whole, yet is subtle enough so that he doesn’t call attention to himself. A shiny, multi-striped tie against a semi-matching dress shirt says “I bought this in a shit/tie combo pack.” Choose wisely.
5) Khakis. A rule I live by is that unless specified as formal, khakis are appropriate. I have pairs of khakis that are more comfortable than my most comfortable jeans and pairs of khakis that look better than most dress pants. Firstly, make sure that, just like shirts, the pants fit you well. Fit extends beyond Waist x Length; look at the cut of the pants. I have short, skinny legs. For pants to look good on me (and for me not to look like I have 2ft legs), I choose more tailored pants, especially for a more casual look. Dockers (believe it or not!) last year released a whole bunch of pants that are sturdy chino material and a very modern cut, plus they come in a bunch of colors. I rarely make the focal point of my outfit my pants, but I do love the warmer, drier months when pure white or pastel colored pants become safe to wear once again.
6) Sport coats/blazers. This is really the closest approximation men have to the cardigan. (Yeah, yeah, there are cardigans for men, but either you look like you stepped right out of LATFH or you’re a 70 year-old Swedish man.) Thus, when one needs a nice looking, button down option to keep one warm, turn to the sport coat. Personally, as a teacher, I take full advantage of tweed. It’s quintessential academic gear and it will never go out of style (or never be in style, depending on your feelings on tweed). My personal favorite tweed is this unlined jacket that I got for a steal on Black Friday this year at RL. Peep the elbow patches; that’s the truth right there. My personal favorite sport coat, however, is this greenish-grey corduroy blazer I picked up years ago at Benneton. The thing feels like second skin, looks casual enough so that it isn’t out of place with jeans, but can even be worn with a dress shirt in a pinch.
7) Sweaters. This isn’t as much an issue here in Alabama, as it simply doesn’t get as cold here as it does in New England, but some sweaters are always a good choice. I tend to keep my sweaters solid in color and v-neck. Sweaters are something that can go anywhere: a decent wool sweater keeps you warm, churches up a t-shirt or dresses down a shirt and tie. I generally disapprove of crew-neck sweaters with a tie. It just looks uncomfortable.
8) Vests. Be careful with vests: on the one hand, a vest can be a unique choice that adds some personal style to an outfit; conversely, a vest can say, “Desperately trying to be different,” or, worse, “Look how ironic I can be.” There’s nothing ironic about a well-worn vest. Sweater vests are a perfect way to balance out an outfit: bright green cotton will add some color to an otherwise drab day, whereas grey wool or dark argyle will add a touch of the demure when a shirt might border on too-bright. After the basic sweater vest has been mastered, more fun pieces (such as this tweed vest) can be added. Remember: own the vest. If you have any hesitation about your ability to pull it off, it won’t look right.
9) A trenchcoat. It doesn’t get cold enough here to need a peacoat, so this is the crucial piece. A tenchcoat that fits over a sportcoat but can also be worn with only a sweater is a must. It keeps you warm and dry, plus it’s a classic piece that will never go out of style. I chose a very plan style, RL again, that is all smooth lines. The more belts and buttons the jacket has, the more unique it can look, but there is a point when all the accessories begin to get a bit distracting and draw attention from the piece. Typically, these styles will be double-breasted, but since I am rather short in stature, I shy away from double-breasted anything (except for my peacoat, which I love), as the style is really suited for larger people than myself.
10) Sunglasses. I can’t even begin to speak on sunglasses here, as I could keep my own blog solely on sunglasses [Whitney here: you have no idea how true this is]. About four years ago, I became completely obsessed with sunglasses, and have since forced myself to curb the obsession. At some point I own a couple dozen pairs of vintage, designer, collectable or rare sunglasses. I have had to sell off a couple of the less-loved pairs, but I still hold on to a bunch. My number one recommendation for sunglasses is starting with a pair of Wayfarer-styled tortoise print. The Wayfarer is the most iconic style in sunglasses and looks good on nearly everyone, but that doesn’t mean you have to pick up a pair of Ray Bans (and unless you’re going pre-2000 vintage, you shouldn’t go RB). Nearly every company makes a pair of Wayfarer-esque shades that will add a classic look but individual touch to your look. I have a special place in my heart for Oakley Frogskins, both new and vintage, and I think Persol makes simply the most elegant glasses in the world. My favorite pair is a tie between a pair of Persol 649s with custom blue lenses and an early-90s vintage pair of Ray Ban Style B aviators, both in tortoise. They’re both reverent enough not to draw looks, but unique enough so that you won’t see many others wearing them.
Well, there it is. Those are the ten things I would recommend any male teacher to focus on for his wardrobe. I would like to thank Whitney for asking me to write a guest post and to thank all of you for taking the time to read it. Disclaimer: any statements made by bpr are solely the opinions of bpr and not endorsed by wherever they might be posted. If you take any issue with any remarks made in the above post, do not hold Whitney responsible, but you can instead contact me directly by clicking your heels three times, looking at yourself in the mirror and saying, “I need to lighten up” three times.
Thanks, Brad! That last part cracked me up like whoa.