Men’s Fashion Versus Men’s Style – What’s The Difference?
– By Professional model Bryce Buell.
So, what is fashion? What is style? Why do I care? Why should you care?
I care because every day I see men deprive themselves of the golden opportunity to make a great first impression. Judged before they utter their first syllable, they lose instant respect by ignoring the one thing they have absolute control over – their style.
It wasn’t until I entered the field of modeling that I realized how poorly most men dress. I don’t blame anyone for not knowing the standards – most are simply oblivious to matters of style and don’t realize the life-changing possibilities it offers. Every image consultant will extol the virtues of dressing for success, the impact that first impression will make when done right – with properly fit clothes that are appropriate for the individual’s build and complexion, with attention to the details (let’s not forget the shoes), in creating an aura of respectability and confidence.
More than twenty years in the industry as a fashion and fit model have given me a comprehensive understanding of the style rules and standards, along with myriad tips and tricks I picked up or developed along the way. Over ninety-five percent of clothing catalogs showcase garments and style shots in a consistent way. Why? Because the experts behind them know what works to sell. What I offer is a way for you to sell yourself – your own personal branding.
Since the early 1990s, I’ve participated in hundreds of photo shoots and ad campaigns, not simply as a model, but also as a style consultant. These experiences offer a unique lens that I use to filter the immense amount of knowledge I have acquired through analyzing highly regarded books on classic style, and the numerous conversations and debates I’ve had with designers, tailors and men’s style gurus over the years.
For most men, the thought of learning about style and fashion can be overwhelming. Fortunately, I’ve done the heavy lifting already and love talking about it and know I can make a difference.
Fashion vs. Style
Fashion is the trend. Fashion is all about the clothes and how they’re being influenced that particular season. For example, here in July 2014 narrow lapels on men’s suit jackets are fashionable. Those of you old enough to remember the 1970’s recall the time when lapels couldn’t get wide enough. Anyone who watched Mad Men over the past seven seasons has seen many changes in fashion take place – from the conservative, classically-styled suits of the early 1960’s, to the rebellious fashion extremes that started to take place towards the end of that decade and into the 1970’s.
Style, on the other hand, I define two ways. First, style to me represents historic standards that serve as a baseline from which fashion then deviates, often through the influence of media and pop culture. Second, style is your own personal take on clothing – what you choose to wear, and how you choose to wear it.
Let’s chart out these basic concepts with a simple graph.
White line: a historically-based, classic style standard that provides a baseline for understanding other elements.
Green line: a fashion trend, or deviation from the standard.
Blue line: my personal style.
As a general rule, the more extreme a fashion trend deviates from the classic style standard, the faster that fashion will disappear. While young people are no longer wearing clocks around their necks like in 1989, certain styles, like a fine pair of black, round toe, leather Oxford lace-up shoes, will always be in fashion.
Fashion is constantly changing, at times lasting as long as a decade (who can forget shoulder pads for the ladies throughout the 1980’s), a year, or even just a season. Fashion crosses over both sides of the style line – very wide lapels are “in" for a while, then very thin, then wide, then thin again. This is why fashion is often referred to as cyclical. It is also why I hang on to my four-button suit, which looks much more out of place today than fifteen years ago. Rest assured, its time will come again.
The blue line above represents my personal style. This line will be different for everyone. Unlike Justin Beiber, my personal style never strays too far from the classic style line but I have been known to dabble within current fashion from time to time.
While my four-button suit hangs in my closet in suspended animation, I also have a well-tailored, two-button, single-breasted suit, in charcoal gray that I have had for years. It is a classic style, a timeless piece of sartorial business elegance and respectability that would work in any decade.
RULE #1: IF YOU ARE ON A BUDGET, ALWAYS PURCHASE FOR STYLE OVER FASHION – or else you too may have a closet full of clock necklaces and four-button suits.
Personal style is where you decide what works best for you. Elements of my personal style include: only wearing dress shirts without a chest pocket, a preference for spread collars and never wearing button-down (Oxford) collars, wearing a rather obnoxiously heavy Omega dive watch, even with a tuxedo, only wearing silver-colored metals (watch, cuff links, belt buckles, wedding ring) and never gold, accenting with pocket squares but never a tie clip. There’s nothing wrong with Oxford collars or tie clips – they certainly have their place – they’re just not part of my personal style.
While no two style experts will ever agree on everything, if four of my go-to style experts say one thing and a fifth disagrees, I tend to favor the side of the four. Even so, I make my own decisions when it comes to personal style. While most experts would consider wearing a dive watch to be a fashion faux pas while in formal attire, I still choose to do it. I consciously chose to break a style guideline in favor of my personal style (After all, if 007 can get away with it…).
The cool part is once you know the style standards, you can pick up a copy of any men’s magazine and be able to quickly ascertain the current trends, and then smartly decide how to set yourself apart from the flock. In future posts we will discuss many classic style elements and what to consider in developing your own personal style. Enjoy!
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