The New Rules of Dressing Well for Men

Who are this season’s hot designers? “Who cares?” would be the response from many men. But even men who have no interest in knowing what’s being worn on the runways of Paris would be well-served to pay some attention to style trends.

Men’s fashion has changed in subtle yet important ways in the past five to 10 years, and men who ignore those changes risk appearing sloppy and out of touch. That is especially dangerous for men in their 50s or beyond—for these men, especially those still in the workforce, appearing out of touch increases the odds that they will be dismissed as old and irrelevant.

Six new rules all men need to know about dressing well…

• The baggy look is out. Garments that provide a roomy fit definitely do not work with today’s styles. Shirts and jackets should be relatively snug in the shoulders, arms and torso, not loose and blousy. Pants should be fitted through the legs—pants labeled “narrow fit” or “slim fit” are a better choice than those labeled “casual fit” or “relaxed fit.” Avoid pleated pants—flat-front pants create a slimmer look.

Men who are carrying a few extra pounds might assume that this slim-fit look won’t work for them, but that’s not necessarily true. Slim fit does not mean you must squeeze into garments made for thin people—merely that you should choose clothes that do not hang loosely off your body, whatever shape your body is. (This does make it more important than ever to try on clothes before buying—a step some men have been known to skip.)

Examples: A very narrow shirt or jacket might not fit a large man, but he still can seek out garments that are not baggy around his shoulders and arms. Narrow-fit pants have less room in the legs than relaxed-fit pants, but they do not have any less room at the waist—a size 38 waist is 38 inches around regardless of the cut—so even larger men can wear them. Men used to wearing pleated pants might initially find flat-front pants too fitted in the seat, but most soon adjust to the feel.

• Narrow ties are in. Necktie width is the element of men’s fashion most prone to change. And because ties are front-and-center on the body, it is obvious to everyone if your tie is out of date. Right now, the style is for relatively narrow ties, though not the ultra-narrow ties of the 1950s. Select ties that are roughly three inches wide at their widest point, give or take a half inch.

Favor ties that feature solid colors or strong, classic, basic patterns, such as a conventional stripe. Ties with busy patterns or prints designed to look like artwork have gone out of style. Navy and silver ties are particularly fashionable these days.

• Thin wire-frame glasses are out. Thin might be in when it comes to coats, pants and ties, but think thick when it comes to eyeglass frames. The familiar, understated wire-frame look currently is considered out of date. Plastic frames are the better choice, though wider metal frames are fine, too.

Helpful: When it comes to eyeglass lens shape and eyeglass frame color, what matters most is not current style trends but finding frames that flatter the shape and color of your face. If you’re not good at gauging what frames look good on you, bring a stylish friend along when you choose new glasses.

Pink shirts now mainstream fashion for men.

• Pink and purple shirts have entered the mainstream. These colors would have been unconventional choices for men’s shirts not long ago. Now, like blue and white, they are considered appropriate in almost any situation—even with dress shirts.

What’s more, pink and purple shirts send a subtle message of happiness and openness, qualities associated with the young. That makes them a savvy choice for men over age 50 who want to be viewed as vibrant and contemporary.

• Accessories matter. It’s challenging enough to get some men to pay attention to the clothes they put on in the morning. Asking them to think through the accessories they add to their outfits might seem to be asking too much. But attention to detail is among the current trends in men’s fashion. For men to seem in style, they must put at least a little thought into things like their shoes and belts. The good news is, this does not have to be difficult.

On the weekends or on casual Fridays at the office, skip the sneakers and instead choose shoes that provide the comfort of sneakers but the styling of dressier footwear. Cole Haan’s Vartan Hand-Stained Sport Oxfords…Original Grand Wingtip Oxfords…and ZerØGrand Wing Oxfords are excellent choices ($178 to $268 Calvin Klein and Rockport also offer good options. Ankle-height “chukka” or “desert” boots are stylish as well. ­Example: Clark’s desert boots (most $130,

Select a belt that harmonizes with your shoes and that has an understated buckle. Big, clunky belt buckles have gone out of style.

Cuff links.When wearing a suit or sport coat, a pocket square is a simple detail that adds a lot of class. If you don’t want to match your pocket square to your tie or socks, a white or neutral-color pocket square that peeks just slightly out of the pocket always is perfectly fine. (To learn how to fold a pocket square, put “fold a pocket square” into an online search engine.)

Use brass collar stays rather than plastic—brass will do a much better job of maintaining your collar’s shape.

Cuff links or a lapel pin can be a nice added touch, though not a necessity. Feel free to show personality with these—whimsical cuff links and lapel pins are in fashion and can be wonderful conversation starters.

• There are better bets than sweats when your goal is ultra-casual comfort. Sweatpants are baggy, unflattering and in no way stylish. They send the message “I’ve given up” when worn to do anything other than clean out the garage.

For equal comfort with more style, wear “athleisure” pants such as Under Armour jogger or fleece-lined pants ($35 to $80 depending on style, rather than sweatpants. Lululemon, Bonobos and H&M offer stylish options, too.

Avoid any brand of casual pants that have front pleats or that are heavily ­tapered at the bottom. Those looks are out of style.

Wear a pullover sweatshirt or fleece that has a quarter zipper rather than a conventional sweatshirt with no zipper or a full zipper. Under Armour’s ColdGear Infrared Fleece ¼ Zip is a good example ($69.99).

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