Photo by Salt Water New England

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Changing Styles?

A reader question:

Dear Muffy,

I am a regular reader and I enjoy your website tremendously.  In today's modern life, at least where I live dressing smartly is seldom seen, especially being in my early twenties. I haven't been exposed to the notion of dressing smartly when growing up. When I first stumbled across your website, I underwent a complete wardrobe renaissance, buying wool jumpers, trousers and oxford shirts, I had only ever worn oversized t-shirts. I have now accumulated items which I find to be "smart" and traditional - exactly what I find pleasing to the eye.

Problem is, my friends and peers dress similarly to how I dressed, hoodies, sneakers and graphic tees and I have yet to come across anyone in my age range that does wear traditional smart clothing, even when out shopping or in the daily running's of day-to-day life, seldom if ever is it seen. It feels very odd, especially considering such a drastic jump from what I wear to my newly acquired wardrobe that I have yet to wear it! Do you, or the readers have any words of wisdom or advice on how to overcome this?

Many thanks!

Before and after photographs sent by reader and used with permission:



28 comments:

  1. Two sayings come to mind: "A lion doesn't lose sleep over the opinions of sheep" and "one can never be overdressed or overeducated" I wouldn't care what your friends or peers think. And it might just move them to try to dress in a more traditional style. You might just prove to be a trendsetter!

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  2. Well, congratulation and commiseration!
    It is quite different from the 'normal' contemporary fashion and it can be seen as trying too hard, being snobby and sometimes you will stand out like a sore thumb.
    Though I would say that while your second picture is certainly a step up from tees and sneakers, it's dressed down already if you compare it to something like the Cordings ad for example.

    So don't worry too much, enjoy and especially wear the clothes if they make you happy!
    You can also try and go 'window shopping' of sorts in places where people would wear similar clothes if that helps you build confidence in your second skin.

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  3. I am in my late 20s and had similar concerns when I started dressing traditionally. I've actually found that leaning harder into our style is the best way to remedy this dynamic. If you wear what you want day in and day out, people will simply begin to accept it as a part of who you are.

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  4. Agree with the above. Dress for yourself, not for others.

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  5. There are many parts to any look, including what items you put together, how you wear them, and how they make you feel. I live in an extremely casual town, but I wear very traditional clothing. However, I wear it very casually much of the time: rumpled khakis and OCBDS and ancient Quoddys. When someone remarks that I seem dressed up, I say with utter truthfulness that my clothing is old, will last ages, and is more comfortable than the jeans they are wearing. Now and then I see a twinkle in their eyes that hints they might become converts. Those same rumpled clothes are made ready for activities with my contemporaries (I turned 73 today) with a washing, a hanging out to dry (they dry much more quickly than Levi's), and an iron. As for the shoes, a simple brushing and a pair of argyles works wonders. Also, style does cycle, and here in Austin I see more and more exceedingly casual young people wearing Shetlands and Fair Isles. If you are comfortable in your clothing, I am confident you will succeed beyond your expectations.

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  6. I think it's important to dress well in public, no matter if you're running to the deli or out to work. You never know who you will meet! But more importantly, dressing well shows a respect for yourself that is often lacking today.

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  7. The second photo is how many young people in Northern Italy tend to dress from fall to spring. In the US, average style is becoming more casual with time, and with too many colors worn together with strange patterns.

    I think the person in the photos will feel more confident and comfortable with time, and once into his 30s will seem like a man among boys.

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  8. I can sympathize. My wife and I once went out to dinner on an evening that happened to be Halloween, and because I was wearing a suit and she was wearing a dress, everyone kept trying to figure out who we "were." Just be who you are and who you want to be. You clearly aspire to being a person of quality. Walk it, talk it, and rest assured that people of similar inclination do notice and appreciate your comportment.

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  9. I am in my early 20s as well and this hits close to home for me. My current group of friends came to know me best hen I dressed my best, which was actually in my later high school and early college years. However, as time went on, I actually began to influence how my friend group dressed, with them influencing me to an extent in return. Combining the two styles when with your friends is never a bad look if you don't want to worry about sticking out or being hassled by them. Take a classic staple like a lambs 'wool crewneck sweater and pair it with jeans and/or a pair of sneakers (Adidas Samba or Nike Killshots are never a bad choice for a classic look). While it may not be as "smart" as wearing it with chinos and loafers, it still brings a sense of elevation to the overall outfit while remaining youthful. The right pair of jeans can have a way of dressing down an outfit without it losing its integrity. However, if you don't want to compromise, by all means don't. Chances are, your friends will likely be influenced by you with time, and if not, congratulations! You will typically be the best dressed man in the room, and that is never a bad thing.

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  10. You will be able to wear those new things 20 or 30 years from now, thus escaping the current "fast fashion" trend. So you are actually contributing to a sustainable environment.

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  11. Be yourself, everyone else is taken already...

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  12. I dress modestly. I believe you can look nice without every body part falling out of your clothes or super tight, as is the fashion with the young women.
    My friends tell me I dress like a teacher. I think that is a lovely compliment.

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  13. Give it time. As sure as the sun rises people will rediscover self-respectability. Consider yourself the vanguard for this infinite iteration.

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  14. The person in the second photo is the one I would take seriously and consider more mature, educated and affluent than the one in the first. But I know what you mean about out dressing your peers. People will become accustomed to your manner of dress and will soon accept it. If they don't, that's on them. Actually, decades ago, I had a friend who dressed more smartly than I did and I ended up upping my game. Who knows, you may eventually be a positive influence on others.

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  15. You’ve come of age my dear fellow! Consider yourself a man, days of teenage dress is behind you my friend! Enjoy!

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  16. The classics will out!

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    1. Always. You can't beat classic style; it wins every time.

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  17. Quite an interesting question OP. I too often felt the same way and here’s what I did. While I agree with the lovely people from this corner of the internet that you should dress for yourself and that the garments featured in these website are some of the most classic and empowering pieces of clothing one can own, sometimes dressing full Salt Water New England when you’re in your 20s and don’t have the proper background or context feels almost like putting on a costume (a quite expensive one). The fact that you posted this comment already shows you feel this in some degree. Since you already like clothes, I think it is worth it exploring other garments with a similar ethos of hard work, timelessness and dignity. Vintage workwear and outdoor related clothes are a good place to start. Japanese interpretation of Ivy as seen in publications such as Popeye is also very cool. Then, with time, you can dress more conservative without feeling out of place among your peers. By the way, you look great in both your pictures!

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    1. I think the advice in the above reply is fantastic. I'll add my two cents just in case it's useful. Salt Water New England is one of my favorite destinations on the internet, and the site masterfully illustrates a version of what you call "dressing smartly." (I love that expression.) But there are many versions. I view dressing smartly as primarily a matter of fit, material, and quality rather than 'style'. To give you a simple example, you can indeed dress smartly by wearing Quoddy loafers, Jack Donnelly trousers, Mercer shirts, and Cordings coats, assuming the fit and colors are chosen carefully. Alternatively, you can dress smartly by wearing Alden boots, Buck Mason jeans, Everlane t-shirts, and Filson work jackets. Yet, you will not find the second set of items on SWNE. One way to bridge the gap between your admirable desire to dress smartly and your equally admirable desire to fit in with your community is to focus less on the style of SWNE and more on this site's materials, fit, and general aura of quality and craftsmanship. You can then apply those standards to the style of clothing that is common among your friends. Best of luck on your journey!

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  18. What a great question and great post. Thank you both! The best advice I know about men's clothing comes from a letter by Lord Chesterfield to his son. In case it's useful, I'll quote it here.

    "All affectation in dress implies a flaw in the understanding. Men of sense carefully avoid any particular character in their dress [...] A man should dress as well, and in the same manner, as the people of sense and fashion of the place where he is: if he dresses more than they, he is a fop: if he dresses less, he is unpardonably negligent [...] Great care should be taken to be always dressed like the reasonable people of our own age in the place where we are, whose dress is never spoken of one way or another."

    My take: To build trust and social standing, it's important to dress more or less like the people around you. With that said, if the thought of dressing like your peers is painful to you, it may mean that your subconscious is calling out for a new set of friends or a different social setting.

    I'll add that it's always possible to class-up casual clothing. If your friends are wearing jeans, hoodies, and sneakers, you could wear (for example) a pair of dark 5-pocket cotton pants (such as in the photo), a slim-fit non-graphic cotton t-shirt, a cashmere zip-up hoodie, and a pair of quality white leather sneakers (such as Allen Edmonds' Courtside). "I fit in, but I do it with style" is always a welcome look.

    I was taught, and I believe, that the point of dressing well and having good manners is to show other people that you care about them and to help them feel comfortable in social situations. Thank you again for the great post.

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    1. Well said, Matt. OP looks much better in the second picture for sure. I would take him more seriously. However, if you compared the second photo to a smarter version of picture 1, it could go either way. Plus, you need to consider what you'll be wearing in warmer months because it won't be pic 2.

      For example, you can very easily fix picture 1 like this: Get a plain grey fitted t shirt. Buy slim fit, dark jeans or just-above-the-knee shorts (blue or khaki. NO cargo). Wear a nice sneaker, like Adidas NMD or Onizuka Tigers for easy brand names.

      There's a time and place for both as Lord Chesterfield alludes to.

      Best,
      Adam

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  19. If you are looking for practical advice, I'd integrate your new stuff with your old stuff slowly. Try wearing your new jumper over your old tee with your old pants and new boots. Wear your new oxford over your tee with your new pants and old sneakers, etc.

    Nothing will draw more attention to the change than you feeling uncomfortable around your friends.

    Then, find a partner who will give away your old stuff when you're not paying attention ;)

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    1. Patsy...that last line made me laugh, as it is so true. \

      My husband sometimes asks "where's my..." and I say that's been gone for years, honey. He shrugs and goes in the closet for something else.

      It seems to work for us.

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  20. There is a lot of great advice here. I really agree with Patsy's comment above. The main thing is feeling comfortable. I don't dress like most of my peers and I've got 20 years on you. My suggestion is to wear your new stuff A LOT: Your friends will start to associate those things with you.
    Feeling self-conscious in new clothes is no fun, but it's inevitable. It's something I still experience from time to time. Rest assured you look great, and strive to feel as good as your style looks and wears. Carrying yourself with confidence and lightness comes with familiarity and comfort, which, unfortunately for most of us, takes time. But you and your style are certainly worth it.

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  21. Nothing much to add that hasn't been said already. As my mother always said, better to be overdressed than under dressed.

    It take a person of solid character and personal strength to be an individual rather than a sheep. I applaud your personal strength.

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  22. So many good thoughts...

    I'd add that the second photo (sweater and boots) seems to me much more ready to take on anything--from a walk in the woods to a first date. The first (sneakers and tee) looks like the wearer is expecting to wash the car or play Xbox.

    It's an interesting contrast that I always feel like a pretender when I wear sneakers: as though I want the world to think I'm about to break into a sprint at any moment and just want to be prepared!

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  23. This website is one of the last I visit regularly outside the rotation of a few, dominating sites of modernity like Twitter and Reddit. Like the original poster, I am young and am a disciple of SWNE despite being a native Southern Californian.

    I'll say this: my friends know me to have dressed well since I made the thing an endeavor in my high school days. I take great pride in having bought or thrifted Barbour jackets, Land's End Drifter sweaters, J. Press ties, a Brooks Brothers suit or two, and some Allen Edmonds and Bass Weejuns. I have, from what I hear, become a distinctive dresser and am always classified as a "smart" or "dapper" (though I hate the term) dresser by friends, partners, and coworkers. It has been one of the most enduring and most beneficial decisions of my young life to pick this style of authenticity and to stick to it. I suggest you take courage and do the same! Remember it's not at all supposed to be stuffy! It's supposed to be natural and well-worn in many occasions. And don't forget to make compromises for whatever you see fit - your comfort in all things you wear is paramount.

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