Sunday, December 13, 2009

Random Style Notes and New Musical Improvisation...

I thought I'd write up a few things regarding style. Most of these are common sense, but enough people fail to notice that it is worth mentioning in one place, I think. Amongst other things, following these tips will likely improve the chances your outfit will work. They may also prevent certain homeschooler cliches that may have embarrassing consequences. My goal isn't to be legalistic, but to lay out my opinions as to what seems to me to generally work best.

Oh... another thing, this is not a guide to dressing casually... if you want that, you will have to go elsewhere.

Anyhow... let's start... first with things applicable to both men and women...

1. No tennis/athletic shoes, except for exercise, yardwork, and hiking/sports. One of the easiest ways to ruin an outfit is to wear these sorts of shoes. Instead, find yourself a pair of proper leather shoes.

2. If you must wear denim, it's generally better to wear dark colors. However, I would advise, to the consternation of most of the entire world, not to wear denim. Denim is appropriate for yard work, construction, gold mining, and anything that might require additional protection. However, based on the origins of the material and the association thereof, those who wish to preserve their dignity will generally avoid denim in all professional settings and whenever else they can possibly manage. I personally find denim uncomfortable, but I'm told that most people disagree with me here.

3. Never wear t-shirts out of doors. T-shirts were originally meant to be underwear... and the discerning dresser today will still recognize them as such. Anytime you refuse to wear a t-shirt and either wear something different or use it like it is supposed to be used (as an undershirt) and place a proper shirt over it... you instantly give yourself additional respectability.

4. Ironing... matters. Either get yourself non-iron clothing, which comes out crisp from the dryer if removed promptly and hung up, or learn to iron. Excessively wrinkled clothes are inexcusable. I will mention that Brooks Brothers makes an amazing non-iron dress shirt, which I have found is virtually unwrinkled even after being worn for a whole day. (The only thing I have found to wrinkle these, is sleeping with one on) Many people I know use these and have been able to reduce their expenses by no longer having to send their shirts to the dry cleaners. (if you know how to time the sales, you can get a really great value and save in the long run)

5. Eliminate silly winter clothes. I have found it generally unnecessary to wear feather coats or nylon in general. Proper trench coats and wool/cashmere topcoats will quite suit a gentleman. For ladies there are similar things available. In addition to the general style points, there is the additional advantage of not having feathers arrive on everything in sight. It is true these solutions are generally not as warm, but by layering and not loitering in the cold, generally this is not too much of an issue. Besides, people have worn these for decades, even centuries.

6. No elastics. Trousers and skirts should *never* have elastic hems or waists. The only way to get around this are the 'comfort waists' which layer two waists (one inside the other) and hide the elastic such that the waist is flat (as the two layers slide in and out from each other) and the elastic is not perceived. The real evil is when the elastic is obvious and scrunches up the waist or hem. This is generally used when someone is making a 'one-size-fits-all' garment or is too lazy to properly tailor/alter the garment... and that is exactly the message sent by it. Avoid whenever possible.

7. Simple elegance is always classy. Gaudiness is to be avoided at all costs. The whole idea of bling and excessive jewelry should always be guarded against by true gentlemen and ladies of taste and discernment. The point is not to show off everything in your closet, but rather to gain respect from the restraint and good sense in putting together an outfit that has all the necessary elements in their proper places and dimensions. For example, large earrings on ladies or any sort of piercings on a man generally distract from a clean crisp image. However, a nice necklace and discreet earrings on a lady or a nice pair of cufflinks on a gentleman will do much to personalize an outfit and not get in the way.

For men:

1. Always tie your neckwear. I know this seems obvious, but it's not. Most guys will not wear a pre-tied necktie, (although many leave their ties partially tied out of laziness) but what is forgotten are the bow ties. The only proper neckwear for a present-day formal or semi-formal occasion is a bow tie. I realize it is now considered the 'in thing' to wear a necktie. However, for the classically minded gentleman, this is a clear violation of decorum and tradition. Most men opt for the pre-tied bow tie, which is extremely tacky and generally obvious to the informed eye. (There are better ones that really do look much like a properly tied one, but that's still cheating) A proper gentleman knows how to tie his own bow tie, and will not attempt to take shortcuts in doing it properly. For those who don't know how to tie these, you should try the guide at The Bowtie Club, it is probably the easiest to follow as they use different color halves for the bow tie, making it easy to follow the directions. Brooks Brothers has another set of directions, although they are basically the same steps.

2. Whenever possible, a gentleman wears leather-soled shoes. Not only do they look better, wear evenly (cheap rubber ones often start looking like the hulls of boats), but when you leave the office they also work great for dancing. It is true that rubber soles may last longer and that they keep drier in the rain... but as long as you wear overshoes rain should not be much of an issue with leather.

3. Black and blue do *not* go together. Which is to say, that navy blazer of yours, should be matched with grey, tan, or even green trousers... but *never* black trousers. Also in this, remember to match blacks... don't wear a non-matching set of trousers and coat.

4. Historically, a gentleman's outfit has been constructed of trousers/breeches, a shirt, waistcoat/vest/sweater/sweater vest, coat, and a piece of neckwear. Depending on the weather, a combination of these will yield the best look. Today, dress shirts are designed such that the wearer may combine them with any of the above, or omit that which they may choose. The note here is balance. Particularly with bow ties, it is my opinion, that unless a man be a waiter, a bow tie does not work optimally alone on a dress shirt. For the sake of keeping the outfit from looking awkward, I advise trying to pair a bow tie with at least one of the following: a coat/blazer, sweater/sweater vest, vest, or suspenders/braces. This will balance the attention the bow tie draws to your neck across the entire outfit. Clearly the weather and other factors may prevent these from being the case, but as a rule, I try to follow this principle.

For women (as I am not a woman, these are to be used as suggestions, and not necessarily infallible hard-fast rules):

1. I personally would suggest that trousers are not the most flattering for a woman's figure. To this, I would apply to history, tradition, and general observation. Very often I find that beyond just my personal preference, a woman wearing trousers does not do herself full justice. I think I would be hard pressed to find a woman who did not appear more feminine or elegantly dressed when wearing a tasteful alternative to trousers. Frequently I have found that there is not much common ground between modesty and femininity in the cut of trousers... often a pair will be designed such that it truly looks as if it were for a man... or it will be cut to be so close to the woman's figure as to be serious trouble to the thoughts of those in their vicinity. (And no, I don't think trousers will send you to hell... so don't even try that one...)

2. Not all skirts and dresses are created equally. Yes, I know, this is obvious. But... unfortunately, many conservative women are quite satisfied with anything that falls in these categories, and appear to have assumed that it is therefore becoming and proper. This is a mistake. The classic example is the denim jumper + athletic shoes look that pervades the jokes about homeschoolers. This is to be avoided at all costs.

3. It's not wrong to let people know you're a woman by your dress. This goes back to t-shirts and baggy clothing some will wear for fear of overly tight clothing. Modesty should always be paired with good taste and femininity. It's one matter to be concerned about exposed cleavage and miniskirts and another to allow for a tastefully cut neck and bodice within the boundaries of reason. Being beautiful and feminine is not a sin... in fact, it displays the glory of God's design. Yes, guys will notice the way you look... but it is up to you to not make displays of flesh be your attraction. Let your heart and soul permeate and carry the notice that your good taste has brought you into more perfect love and proper admiration. Your outward adornment should be an expression of your inner worth rather than your sole recommendation for notice. (1 Peter 3, has good notes on this)

4. Both flats and heels are nice... but... when picking out heels, in my personal opinion, it is more becoming and proper to keep the height of the heels to no more than an inch or so. (My real goal is to advise against extremely tall heels, and I have arbitrarily chosen an inch... you can probably get away with more, depending on the thickness of the heels) Less is probably better, but the ladies reading this will be quite capable, I'm sure of exercising their own judgment. Additionally, not only will the lower height probably be better to your health, but it will also send the right message of simple elegance and restraint.

All right... I think I have pontificated sufficiently here... please comment and offer suggestions or thoughts. I've probably heard everything under the sun, so don't be afraid to say what is on your mind! I will probably follow this up with more articles like this, perhaps focusing in detail on one thing or other too... perhaps I may also add pictures to reinforce my points or provide better explanation... :)

New improvisation on the keyboard...

And lastly, I should share the improv I just made today on the keyboard. It's not quite so polished, but for something made in about 5 minute's time... I think it not entirely horrible. I layered 2 tracks together for effect. :D Click here to listen to It's Sunnier Inside. (goofy name, but it was raining today)


  1. Justin,
    I was wondering about your thoughts on bandanas and bolo ties. I know that many politicians in Texas wear bolo ties and I was wondering what your take was.

  2. Hey Michael, thanks for posting!

    I believe they're mostly a regional phenomenon. I think they are very appropriate in Texas, but unless one is living in or from that area, they may seem out of place. Personally, I would never wear a bolo tie, as I think it's a bit on the casual side and way too cowboy for me. That said, if you own horses and some land, you can probably get away with it, even out here. You may want to pair it with cowboy boots and a nice hat for the full effect, though. :)

    Honestly, I never thought too much about them. :D

  3. Justin... two things.

    1. You make me laugh.

    2. I agree with most of what you said.


  4. I've always wondered how bowties are tied, and after viewing the bowtie site, I am now totally confused...LOL.. This video was a bit more helpful for someone visual like myself: