Guys: Upgrade Your Style Without Buying New Clothes

Guys, smarter style doesn’t have to mean bigger bucks. If you have a basic wardrobe with good casual and dress options, there are some simple and inexpensive ways to bump up the style of what you already own. Since most guys get lost in the details of dressing well — not understanding the proper fit, care, or pairing of clothes — just refining what’s already in your closet can make all the difference. (See also: Wardrobe Staples Every Man Should Own)

1. Pant Length

I mention pant length first because it may be the singularly greatest drag on good style today. Who decided men’s pants should compete with the Swiffer™? Pant length is not a detail that can be skipped if the waist fits right. Unless you’re the star of a reality show on the “Shore” of the East Coast, don’t let your pants drag the floor. Though there’s room for some variation for personal preference, pants are usually cut with either a full break or short break:

Full Break

The full break creates a deep horizontal crease along the front the pant and is usually reserved for taller men. With a full break, the bottom hem of the pants should land midway at shoe’s heel when you’re standing.

Short Break

With no crease in the pant leg, short break pants are best on slimmer guys. Your tailor will achieve this look by altering the bottom hem to land just above the top of the shoe.

Shortening pants is a quick and relatively inexpensive endeavor. Toss those floor dusters in a bag and head to a tailor — a fast fit-and-fix will have you looking more stylish in no time. Just remember two things: First, bring along the shoes you plan on wearing with each pair of pants you’re having altered — it will help the tailor gauge the proper length. Second, if you’re having jeans shortened, make sure your tailor will use matching-colored thread on the bottom hem so the alteration will not be obvious.

2. Blazers and Coats

For blazers, coats, and jackets, make sure you’ve got a proper fit through the shoulders and in the sleeve length. Though coats can have a bit more room, generally speaking, shoulder seams should hit right at the outer edge of the shoulder and the bottom hem of the sleeve should hit just slightly below the wrist. Again, a trip to the tailor can fix these very common issues. Even the sleeves of leather coats can be adjusted.

3. Tie Length

Ties come in two sizes — regular and extra long. Regular-sized ties are usually 54-57” long. Extra long ties are typically around 62”. Unless you’re a bigger guy and have trouble getting your necktie to hang long enough to touch the top of your belt buckle, a standard-length should work. Again, the bottom point of a properly tied tie should brush the top of your belt buckle — and tucking a tie into your waistband is never okay.

4. Socks

Maybe I travel in odd social circles, but I’m seeing more and more guys wearing white tube socks with casual and dress pants. But beyond this obvious faux-pas, what are rules for socks?

  1. Dress shoes require dress socks. There’s just no getting around it. Those black sport socks aren’t fooling anybody either.
  2. Match your socks to your pants, not to your shoes — it will make your legs look longer when you sit.
  3. Novelty socks or holiday socks are great — at home.

5. Shoe Polish

What’s happened to all the shoe shine kits? Men of just a generation ago had enough cans of colored polish, mink oil, rags, and brushes that they could remake any shoe. Maybe proper shoe care has become a casualty of our disposable culture or our hyper-busy lives. Whatever the reason, let’s bring back the humble shoe shine kit. My dad would always add just a bit of water to the rag he used to shine his shoes — it helped the paste spread and be absorbed more easily. Then, he’d rub off the excess and polish vigorously with a soft-bristled horsehair brush. You’ll be amazed how a 10 minute shine can turn a bad shoe into a rad shoe.

6. Bleach

As long as we’re talking about details, remember — good style doesn’t stop at the first layer. Guys, grab a bottle of bleach (it’s cheap) and learn how to use it. Bleaching can revitalize underclothes and sports attire and keep your whites crisp and clean. Bleach should always be diluted with water (use hot water for best results) and never poured directly on clothes. A good rule of thumb is one cup bleach for every quart of water.

That’s it — GQ style without all the G’s. What are some other ways you optimize what’s already in your closet? What are the simple secrets to good style you’ve learned over the years and would like to pass along to others?

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Meg Favreau's picture

I think a lot of these apply to ladies, too -- properly hemmed pants (including jeans) are key.

Guest's picture

Is that amount of bleach correct? Sounds like too much to me.

Guest's picture

Especially for shoes worn to a job interview or to the office, spending time on a little spit and polish will go a long way! Lack of attention to detail in one's appearance can send messages to others that you have a lack of attention to detail in your work ethic. Not the message you want to be sending to your future boss!

Guest's picture

On the bleach: My guess is that the cup to the quart rule is about diluting the bleach. Maybe he dilutes the bleach, then pours the dilute solution into a washer full of water and soap. One cup of bleach to a washing machine full is the rule I'm familiar with (and our washer has a bleach dispenser).