1. Wear more colour
Black and white are eternal, grey is solid and navy is elegant. But there is no place for colour monogamy when it comes to your spring wardrobe. “Yes, men do buy colours such as turquoise and orange,” says Vishak Kumar, chief operating officer, Louis Philippe.
At Ermenegildo Zegna you can pick from fresh pink trousers and lightweight sweaters in moss and celadon (translation: green). Gucci has evening shirts with silver embroidered detailing to look forward to. Flashes of colour make formal shirts more interesting—red and white checks and stripes in red and green with white; trousers are in saturated red, yellow and green.
On the formal front, bright colours such as pinks, yellows, lemons and blues are the order of the day, says Conrad Curry, Italian suit maker Brioni’s brand manager in India. Louis Philippe’s recently launched formal line for young men, LP, offers sweaters and striped shirts in bright candy colours.
“The idea is to add colour tastefully, not to look like a dollop of confectionery,” says Bandana Tewari, Vogue India’s fashion features director. She advises breaking the colour by layering with neutral shades. “Pair a dusty pink shirt with a grey sweater and pinstriped pants,” she says.
2. Carry a bag
Man bag is a fancy way of saying briefcase, but that doesn’t mean a man bag is a briefcase. We wouldn’t advocate carrying those boxy, clunky pieces, but if you have a contemporary man bag, you get our vote.
The guys at Gucci tell us that every woman’s fetish is now a utilitarian necessity for men. They say their customers prefer bags that come with ample space and structured compartments that can accommodate their essentials. Leather is a favourite, but canvas bags are also popular. Neutrals such as black, brown and tan are always in, but colours such as green, red and even check options are making their presence felt. Their tip for buying a good piece: Pay attention to the handles and slings in a bag. Soft handles and slings that do not hurt the shoulder of the wearer are the essentials of a good bag.
Kumar of Louis Philippe says LP’s design team did not know if their sling bags would be popular with customers. But he claims the first lot sold out in a few days, and customers started demanding the ones that were on the stores’ mannequins. A bag will save you from stuffing your gadgets into your trouser pockets and creating unseemly bulges. And if you’re wearing skinny, flat-fronted trousers (wait till you get to commandment 5), there won’t be too much room for gadgets anyway.
3. Own at least three suits
Of course, more never hurt anyone. But the three mandatory suits are black, blue and grey, according to Curry from Brioni. But we think if you want to substitute a pinstripe in place of No. 2 or 3, that works as well. “These colours can not only be worn at corporate meetings, but at social events as well as occasions such as weddings,” Curry says.
Some more tips from Curry for suiting up: Light pinstripes are a classic option this season—think light blue pinstripes with a light grey suit. Lavender and pink also go great with grey suits. A black shirt with a grey suit is optimal for evening wear. Although the season spells vibrant colours, the shirts should not be too flashy, unless it is a night-time event.
4. Rethink pleated trousers
If you’re slim, make the most of the skinny trend with tapering, flat-fronted trousers. But if you think, like many other men, that trousers without pleats are extremely impractical, there is hope.
As per anthropometric surveys on Indian men, most body types are endomorphic, with body volume being more at the belly, waist and hip area (information courtesy Manzoni). The brand advocates single pleat trousers as the most suitable option. Currently, its pleated trousers are tapered and body shaped so they are comfortable and sleek.
Ermenegildo Zegna’s current Spring/Summer collection consists of 60% pleatless and 40% pleated trousers—clients above 35 consider them more formal, even though the trend for the past three seasons has been trousers without pleats.
5. Buy a pair of designer jeans
Yes, there is a difference between your Levi’s and premium or luxury denim. Premium jeans are mostly created exclusively from Japanese or Italian denim (softer, hand-finished washes).
For example, Prps—an established US-based luxury denim brand—sources core materials from Zimbabwe and processes them in Japan (the Japanese are said to be the most skilled denim workers in the world). Each pair of jeans is woven on a vintage loom. Much like wool, a good thread count and SPI (stitches per inch) are what constitute better quality.
So, pulling on your well-worn blues with a well-cut jacket for a semi-formal do is not the archetype of the casual-cool look. Tewari advises you to be choosy—“Get designer jeans that are not studded, rhinestoned, Bollywood-ized, stonewashed or tasselled. A simple, well-fitted, classic pair of jeans is for the discerning man.”
At Ermenegildo Zegna, men’s jeans have been getting narrower. For spring, the bottoms are narrow—more “drain pipe” and fitted—with a waist that is neither high nor low. The stitch detailing is done with different coloured threads, and antique, gunmetal-coloured rivets have been used. They have also introduced mobile phone pockets and a new placement for coin pockets—between the zip fly and the pocket.
Teri Agins, style columnist at The Wall Street Journal, had this to say in a recent column about premium denim: “As more people regard their $100 (around Rs4,000) and up “premium” jeans as fine trousers, they like their jeans pressed, even dry-cleaned, so they always look crisp. The centre crease down the pant leg is optional. I happen to prefer jeans ironed straight across so the crease falls on the outer seam of the pant leg.”
6. Learn to layer
Layering is a good way to dress up or dress down your look, and there is no excuse this season for landing up at a party in just a formal shirt and trousers. Start with thinner layers, such as a shirt or a tee, add a lightweight V-necked knit and a casual jacket over that. If it looks too bulky, it’s wrong.
“Layering is great if you are lean and fit. Remember, it is not about hiding flab or flaws, but about being a smart clothes juggler by throwing different items of clothing together,” says Tewari.
Layering is a key look at LP. “Our customers want multitasking clothes. They don’t want to change clothes to get from the office to the pub, they just tweak their look a bit,” says Kumar. “They want to take off their tie, roll up their sleeves and put on a bright knit to look dressed up, but not stuffy.”
Jackets are often a key element in this look. At Manzoni, the focus is on unlined or half-lined linen jackets in sand, beige, aqua, peach and mint. The brand advises cuffed jackets as well, which should be worn a little shorter and tighter than a regular jacket. Gucci offers tough boy jackets such as the biker and bomber, as well as the belted military jacket.
7. Know when to update your gadgets
Too often, and you seem like you’re trying too hard; not often enough, and you come across as démodé.
There are two types of compulsive upgraders, according to tech geek and Lounge columnist Harsh Man Rai. “There are the ones who use gadgets for the technology; they study the specs of a new piece and evaluate whether they want to spend Rs20,000 for extra features,” he says. The other category is buyers who are only driven by the gadget’s wow factor. “For them, a phone or gadget is the season’s must-have fashion accessory, which has to be bought, no matter what the price or features. They don’t want to be seen with last season’s phone,” he says.
For Man Rai, personally, last season’s phone is something he could “live with”. He says his BlackBerry doesn’t have GPS (global positioning system) or Wi-Fi, but he is waiting for 3G (third generation) services before he trades it in for a more loaded piece.
“I think replacing a phone yearly is reasonable,” he says. “Tech moves so fast that there is a much smaller cycle of obsolescence. In three years, a phone is completely obsolete,” he explains.
As for laptops, if you’re a power user, an yearly upgrade is necessary for standard issue pieces. “Basic ones are fragile, and road warriors who are constantly on the move find they need to keep updating space, memory and software,” he says.
8. Learn to accessorize
Men wearing multiple rings (for whatever purpose) are just not cool. Fashion designer and Lounge columnist Narendra Kumar says wearing several rings—be it for wealth or health—just signifies you are an insecure person. “If you have successfully passed puberty, do not over-accessorize. It is very difficult to look a man in the eye when he has four rings on one hand staring at you,” says Tewari.
A classic watch, a belt, a bag and a pair of cufflinks are all the accessories a man needs at the workplace.
9. Be a groomer
You can go your whole life without stepping into a salon (except for a haircut, that is), but that just means you will have to implement the basics at home. Etiquette expert Rukhshana Eisa, whose company Image Inc. conducts corporate grooming workshops, gives men the green signal if they want to exfoliate and minimize pores. But if that’s too much commitment, Eisa says, basic grooming and hygiene can’t be dispensed with. “Finger and toe nails should be cut and clean; you don’t have to get a manicure or pedicure,” she says. Hair should also be neat; if you’re in the media and want to sport a ponytail, that’s fine, but make sure it’s neat and not scruffy. “Beards should be trimmed and your moustache should not cover your upper lip,” she says.
“But, above all, you should smell good. It doesn’t have to be an expensive cologne, but at least you should use a fresh deodorant.”
10. Know how much is too much
It is great that you know the difference between a polo shirt and a polo sweater, and why Donegal and Harris tweed are not the same. And the fact that you’ve accepted that men’s clothes do go beyond primary and secondary colours. But obsessing constantly about the width of your tie or the length of your socks is taking it too far.
Tewari says a belt’s only job is to hold up your pants. “If by tugging on it 24 times a day, you feel it camouflages your belly, it is simply not true,” she says.
She advises against treating pointed-toe shoes as if they were the hallmark of masculinity. “Round toes are cool, casual and can make you quite the modern dapper.”
Tewari says she even knows men who worry about the size and placement of buttons on their button-down collars. “The buttons won’t be noticed even if they do fancy somersaults,” she laughs.