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5 Tips To Cultivate Your Style

two men, one white, one black, posing fashionably in nice jackets

Being stylish and being fashionable ultimately refer to a single goal: to look and to feel good. It’s a common and very natural desire for us humans; who wouldn’t want to feel confident in their own skin? But for guys, this tends to be harder to achieve. Growing up, masculine culture tended to discourage any liking for clothing or self-appearance. Traditional masculinity had an aversion to “peacocking” or being meticulous with one’s clothes or physical appearance.

But it’s 2018, and things have certainly changed as traditional social norms and cultural boundaries continue to interact and merge. Menswear has become a whole lot more accessible. Dress codes continue to relax and streetwear — now synonymous with the part-sportswear, part-workwear and part-skate wear aesthetics of brands like Supreme and modern trendsetters like Kanye West — have redefined the standards for men’s style.

“In my mind, it was never an argument between my masculinity and fashion. But in a lot of peoples’ minds, it once was. (But,) it’s now slowly shifting away from that,” fashion merchandising senior Nick Walacavage said.

While it helps to be fashionable when developing one’s style, there’s no need to drop hundreds of dollars or to religiously follow the latest fashion trends to stay stylish. Style is about self-understanding and risk-taking, but a few techniques and tips can go a long way helping project one’s ideal image. Here are five tips to help develop your style.

two men, one white, one black, posing fashionably in nice jackets
Photo by: Davis Bonner

1. Take stock of your inspirations. 

Style requires care, cultivation and time to develop. But once developed, it becomes a deeply personal and powerful storytelling medium. Find out what inspires you and find ways to incorporate it with your look. Often, the first steps towards style inspiration are rooted in family and upbringing. Who have been the most influential people in your life? What did they wear that stood out to you? How can you borrow that same element of style as them? The goal isn’t to totally assume their style, but to borrow the bits, pieces and quirks that made those people unique.

“The only way I can describe (my style) is ‘Black Opulence,’” junior journalism major Ave Martin said. Drawing aesthetic inspirations from hip-hop, jazz, soul and funk music scenes, Martin also incorporates style lessons learned from his family during his childhood, who opted to dress him in button-up shirts and plaid pants as a baby.

“’Black Opulence’ is watching someone who came from not much still hold root to that humility,” Martin said. “That was my grandfather. He had his roots in Texas from his father and Pasadena (California) from his mother, but was also in Fort Collins when he was one of very few Black people and was walking in stores saying, “Yeah, that’s me, rocking Polo all the time.’ That was super inspirational for me.”

(Davis Bonner | College Avenue)

2. Rely on the basics. 

Some of the best outfits I’ve seen on campus were nothing more than just a well-fitting shirt and simple, dark jeans. Style doesn’t have to be fancy. It just needs to look effortless but well-planned at the same time. This is where basics come to mind.

Much of one’s wardrobe will inevitably consist of basics: t-shirts, jeans, chinos, button-ups and sweaters, to name a few. Thus, knowing how to wear basics effectively is a fundamental tenet of style.

  • Neutral-colored basics are your new best friends. Neutral shades (think blacks, grays and whites) are among the easiest color palettes to use effectively because they pair well with many colors within and outside their spectrum. Earthier looking colors like brown or tan are also worthwhile additions to a wardrobe, though they don’t pair as well with other neutral shades. Brown works wonders when worn in accessories and leather shoes, adding rich pops of color and luxury to blue-shaded pieces. Nothing looks as effortlessly elegant as brown leather shoes paired with a vivid indigo pair of jeans.
  • A good rule of thumb is to keep colors contained to three shades. In my experience, having more than three shades of color tends to create a clashing effect, preventing the eyes from focusing on your silhouette.
  • Martin and Walacavage agreed that tapered black jeans and white, low-profile sneakers form the backbones of a basic wardrobe. “You’re pretty much on your way to a solid wardrobe if you have some neutral kicks that look good, and some black jeans. You can wear any color (of) top with that and still look good,” Walacavage said.
(Davis Bonner | College Avenue)

3. Nail your fit. 

Fit, referring to how well clothes mold to your body’s shape, is ultimately subjective. Looser, baggier fitting clothes appear more casual and relaxed, while slim, tapered fits appear more sophisticated and dressed-up. Thus, how exactly you want your clothes to fit depends on your preferences. Ideally, the fit should still be able to compliment your body’s shape, regardless of whether you prefer a relaxed or refined silhouette.

  • A pair of well-fitting jeans in a dark wash is always good to have in a wardrobe. Dark-washed jeans can easily be dressed up or down, in addition to complimenting different aesthetics. Good-fitting jeans should fit snugly around the waist without needing a belt but also shouldn’t feel too restrictive when moving around. Length, in my opinion, is also up to your preferences, especially if you like the look of cuffed jeans.
  • For guys with larger thighs, I’d recommend tapered jeans. “Tapered” usually refers to a gradual slimming from the knees and downward, leaving enough comfortable room for the thighs while still maintaining a tailored appearance.

Ultimately, the best way to find the right fit for any piece is to visit a store and try it for yourself. Be warned: Brand sizes will differ from another brand. A size-small on ASOS won’t always equate to size-small on H&M. When online shopping, make sure to consult the brand’s size guides and have your measurements taken.

(Davis Bonner | College Avenue)

4. Don’t be afraid of accessories.

Walacavage was particularly adamant that “men should stop being afraid of accessories.” Admittedly, accessorizing still stumps me from time to time. Accessories are often associated with jewelry, which I’ve noticed to be something of an acquired taste for most guys. Jeweled or not, effective accessorizing can instantly refresh an aesthetic.

  • Scarves, hats, watches and belts are great for contrasting an outfit’s color palette and aren’t as hard to wear as jewelry.
  • Generally, shoes should roughly match the color of one’s belt. This is especially true for leather shoes and formal events. For more casual looks, feel free to ditch the belt.
  • Try wearing a scarf or hat which directly contrasts the color scheme of your outfit. Consider pairing an all-black ensemble with a deeply shaded red scarf for an unexpected pop of color.

While jewelry can be costly and intimidating to pull off, Walacavage pointed out that jewelry doesn’t have to be expensive. “There’s, like, $8 chains and they’re stainless steel,” Walacavage said. “You don’t have to ball out to look good. Simple accessories are cheap, and you can thrift for those too.”

Accessories are particularly eye-catching when used to contrast an ensemble. “Contrasting basic t-shirts with jewelry is so dope,” Martin said. “Throw on some old Levi’s, (half-tucked) black t-shirt with a chain … It’s such a simple outfit, but you feel so good.”

(Davis Bonner | College Avenue)

5. Don’t let the clothes wear the human. 

The path to style is paved with bad jeans, buyer’s remorse and serendipity. It takes time to refine an aesthetic, and many lessons will be learned by trial-and-error. But, there’s one quality that determines if an outfit of the day succeeds or fails: confidence.

It’s a cliché to say that the key to success lies in confidence. When it comes to style, however, the adage is true. The way you carry your clothes matters more than brand, trendiness or quality. Style is supposed to broadcast your personality. Your personal aesthetic shouldn’t ever have to feel forced, nor should it have to be propped up by the price tags or brand names of your ensemble.

Style comes out naturally, though it requires nurture and experimenting. Find comfort and creativity in the pieces, outfits and risk-taking you’ve learned to rely on and experiment with trends from there.

“Comfort breeds confidence … The extrinsic reveals the intrinsic,” Martin said. “When you rock something, you’re wearing you. You can tell.”

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