8 Fundamental Pieces of Fashion Advice I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Was 21

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Fashion Advice For Young Men
The shapeless brown coat: a style that literally looks like shit.

True story: when I was in college, I wore a shapeless brown wool coat all winter long (which, here in Canada, lasts forever).

It wasn’t a proper topcoat or an actual peacoat, but some weird hybrid that made me look like an amorphous blob.

As if the coat wasn’t bad enough, I didn’t know how to pair it, either.

My favorite pair of pants? Brown corduroy. My boots? You guessed it: brown leather.

Add it all up, and I spent most of the year looking like a walking piece of (literal) shit.

In hindsight, this was not only a misstep, but a missed opportunity. After all, clothes may not make the man, but they can sure as hell make him feel better.

There’s an undeniable sense of strength and self-assurance that comes from looking in the mirror and seeing a well dressed man staring back at you; seeing yourself look like Mr. Hankey, minus the Santa hat? Not so much.

While it may seem like some guys just naturally have an effortless sense of what looks good, the truth is that style isn’t something you’re born with, it’s something you learn—and in my case, those lessons were extremely hard won.

To help shorten your learning curve and keep you from making the same (embarrassingly fecal) faux pas I made, today I want to share eight of the most fundamental pieces of fashion advice for young men that I wish someone had told me.

Fashion Advice for Young Men

8 Men’s Style Tips I Wish Someone Had Told Me

1. Fit is King

Fashion Advice For Young MenI’ve seen very rich men wear suits that were very expensive, and looked like total crap.

And I’ve seen fiscally challenged men wear inexpensive suits that make them look like f@¢%ing movie stars.

The same principle holds true for every item of clothing you own. It doesn’t matter whether you’re wearing a thousand-dollar suit or a ten-dollar tee shirt: if it doesn’t fit well, it won’t look good.

To elevate your entire look, take the time to make sure your clothes fit just right. For more about how to make sure your wardrobe fits well, check out #9 on my list of ways to look more handsome.

2. Fitness is… Prince?

(This analogy is kind of breaking down, but you get the idea)
Fashion Advice for Young Men James Bond Bathing suit
As James Bond himself will tell you, a strong body makes bathing suits look better.

Fit may be king when it comes to style, but fitness comes in a close second.

Your body is the single most important element of your style because it (rather literally) underlies your entire look.

Having a strong body sends the subconscious signal that you’re a man who takes care of himself, and can take care of others.

Of course, it’s worth noting that you don’t have to be in superhero shape in order to make your clothes look good. In fact, if you’re not exactly a gym rat, the right clothes can help close the gap between you and the guys who grace the cover of fitness magazines.

However, guys who start a workout plan and regularly hit the weight room will always cut the most confident figures. Whether you’re wearing a three-piece-suit or a swimsuit, a strong body simply commands respect.

3. Certain Color Combos Convey Confidence
(as does alliteration!)

Fashion Advice for Young MenThere are few things sadder than seeing a guy who puts in the effort to get dressed up in what he thinks is a great look, only to have its impact entirely undone by the wrong color combinations. (Like, say, all brown errryting.)

Making sure your clothes fit well should be your first, most fundamental priority, but the next one is to make sure you know how to pair them for maximum impact.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert in the psychology of colors to know which ones work well together (though you can learn more about that here, if you’d like).

Instead, all you have to do is check out this post from Bright Side outlining 18 excellent color combinations for men, and use them as inspiration when putting together your own get up.

For more inspiration, check out The Getups put together by Andrew Snavely over at Primer Magazine (one of my picks for the best blogs for the thinking man). I love Andrew’s tastes, and he includes a color chart with each Getup that you can use to craft a look of your own.

4. Use the 10% Rule  to (Slightly) Out Dress the Rest

Fashion Advice For Young Men
“Huh. This button up shirt is a bigger hit than I thought!”

Oftentimes the most confident look is the one that’s ever-so-slightly dressier than it has to be.

When choosing what to wear, take a minute to consider what everyone else will likely be wearing, and what you would normally wear if you wanted to fit into that mould. Then think about how you can dress 10% better than that, and wear that instead.

Dressing just slightly better than you have to (or than people would expect you to) sends a powerful message: “I know I don’t have to dress this well – I want to.”

5. Shoes Are Your  Secret Weapon

Fashion Advice For Young MenAfter the guy who’s undone by the wrong color combination, the second saddest sight is the guy who picks the right clothes, but the wrong kicks.

Your shoes can make or break your outfit. The benefits of a great get up that fits well and pairs colors perfectly can be totally negated if you throw on the square toe “dress shoes” you’ve had since high school graduation, or the shitty old running shoes you wear around the house.

When choosing where to spend your menswear dollars, set aside a little extra to invest in a few good pairs of shoes. They’ll help you elevate every other item of your wardrobe.

6. Classic Trumps Trendy

Fashion Advice For Young Men
Timeless style icon Steve McQueen

Have you ever seen a picture of Steve McQueen? He was a big movie star in the ’60s – at one point the highest paid actor in Hollywood.

Here we are 50 years later and he’s still remembered as a style icon, in no small part because he wore classic clothes that look good in any era.

Now compare McQueen to Ashton Kutcher. (Sidebar: remember Ashton Kutcher?) In the early ’00s Kutcher hosted the show Punk’d on MTV, where he almost single handedly brought the trucker hat back into the public consciousness, spurring a sales bonanza that saw people of all ages sporting the mesh-back caps.

Fashion Advice For Young Men
Irrelevant bro Ashton Kutcher

And a decade later, where, prey tell, do you think all those trucker hats are now? Likely lining the piles of America’s garbage dumps.

It’s always tempting to jump in on the fashion fad, but don’t fall into the trap of constantly trying to keep up with trends.

Opt for a look that puts a modern spin on classic pieces like polo shirts and shawl collar sweaters to convey the sort of confidence that lasts for decades.

7. It Won’t Look Good if It Don’t Feel Good*

Fashion Advice For Young Men
Not even the nicest suit can make you look confident if you don’t feel comfortable wearing it.

For some guys, looking confident is as easy as throwing on a suit and choosing the right pocket square.

For others, it means finding the perfect sweater, or cool suspenders, or a great pair of glasses, or a cool new haircut, or…

You get the idea. Everyone has a different notion of what it means to look confident, but ultimately confidence stems from authenticity.

Sure, celebrities like Ryan Gosling look confident as hell sporting brown suits and an air tie, but ask yourself: would you feel comfortable wearing that? Just as you shouldn’t fall for every fad, neither do you have to follow anyone else’s script.

If you start dressing in a way that you think other people will perceive as “cool,” but makes you feel awkward, uncomfortable or out of place, your body language and mannerisms will almost certainly give you away.

Wear what makes you feel like yourself – or, better yet, like the man you want to be – and you’ll look a hell of a lot more confident than you would while wearing some Ryan Gosling costume. (Unless of course the man you want to be is Ryan Gosling, in which case I’m sorry to inform you that the position has been filled.)

*Note that it will still look good if you use proper grammar.

8. The (Handsome) Devil is in the Details

Fashion Advice For Young MenAnd finally, when it comes to cultivating a confident look, remember that small choices add up to a big impact.

When you nail the little things that most guys either don’t know or don’t bother to think about, you’ll find it easier to stand out from the crowd.

A few things to keep in mind include:

  • Make sure your belt and your shoes are the same color.
  • Same goes for the metal on your watchband, belt buckle and tie bar, if you’re wearing one.
  • When shaving, trim away any errant hairs on your neck, nose or ears.
  • Roll up your shirt sleeves if you’re not wearing a sweater or jacket over top.
  • Shine your shoes regularly to keep them looking new.
  • Iron your shirts and pants to make sure they’re not all wrinkled. Oh, and another thing…
  • Buy an iron.

You get the idea. It’s easy to neglect any one (or often, all) of these small steps.

But the man in who invests the time to do the little things sends a message to the world: I respect myself, and you should too.

And nothing looks more confident than that.

For more tips about how to step up your style game, sign up for my free email series below and discover nine details that have a huge impact on your overall look—and how to nail them.

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Further Reading:
Men’s Fashion Advice From Irreverent Gent:
Men’s Casual Fashion Tips From Around Ye Olde Interwebs:

About Dave Bowden

Dave Bowden

Founder, Irreverent Gent
Author, Man in Command and Stop Doubting, Start Dating
Writer, Really Wordy Author Bios

Dave Bowden is a style blogger, menswear expert and best-selling author (in Canada—but still!) whose advice on how to look good and live well has been featured in New York Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Men's Health and more.

When not obsessing over style and self-improvement, he can usually be found spending time with his wonderful wife and two amazing sons, indulging in a hoppy craft beer, or sobbing over the woeful state of Toronto's sports teams.

Check out Dave's Style Story to find out how a chance encounter with his friend's step-dad taught him the value of looking good and living well (don't worry—it's less creepy than it sounds!), or email him at [email protected] if you want to get in touch.

2 thoughts on “8 Fundamental Pieces of Fashion Advice I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Was 21”

  1. I strongly disagree with the clothes not making the man part but you really got some strong points in #5-7, especially #8 about the details. I’ve noticed that a killer watch really elevates the outfit. Awesome post overall.

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