How to Dress Well (Without Looking Like You’re Trying Too Hard)

By: Peter Nguyen
Last Updated: March 18, 2016

I’m going to be completely honest with you right now.

When I started my menswear line, I just wanted to an excuse to design and make my ultimate leather jacket.

It was called the “TBO” City Jacket.

Something I never revealed before: What “TBO” stood for.

It was named after a guitar John Mayer had Fender build for him as his “ultimate” main guitar.

He stripped it of lacquer and wood, and put it in a freezer to try and get the right sound. At at the end of his experiments, he was left with a guitar he dubbed “The Black One”

And I wanted a leather jacket just like that.

I used one of the most expensive lambskins I’ve never come across. Threw on details I’ve cherry picked from jackets I owned and loved. Added heavy duty, chromed RiRi zippers.

But my favorite part is the lining. I used two separate linings, one on the body, a rugged Japanese cotton twill, and a beautiful silk charmeuse for the sleeves.

Two separate linings is a detail found in more high end jackets. The more variety of fabrics you use, the more expensive it costs to make. Much easier and cheaper to just line the whole thing in one fabric, like the cotton twill.

But this was my ultimate jacket. My “Black One”.

Words can’t describe what it feels like to slip your arm into a jacket lined in a silk like this. It’s ridiculous.And so was the retail price.

(I’m not saying it was the best BUSINESS decision I’ve ever made. But it certainly was the best personal one.)

What I love most about the sleeve lining though, is that it is a “luxury” that’s for me, the person wearing the jacket.

It isn’t luxury based on the actual price of it, or based on a name brand or a label. It’s me experiencing something well made that no one else can really “see”. It’s a hidden luxury.

One of the most common questions I get from readers is this:

“How do I look better without looking too trendy, or like I’m trying to hard?”


Last night, my girlfriend and I went to celebrate her 30th Birthday a few days early. We had dinner at The Nomad Hotel (an insanely amazing truffle, foie gras and brioche stuffed chicken) and caught The Magic Show upstairs starring Dan White.

You’ve might seen him a few times on Jimmy Fallon.

We both agreed, it was one of the best dates we’ve ever been on together. We got dressed up. Took an Uber. Had an amazing dinner where they gave us free desserts. WATCHED A WOMAN LEVITATE IN THE MIDDLE OF A ROOM COMPLETELY SURROUNDED.

But when you look at the photo I shared on my Instagram, something is missing.

I’m not talking about the suit I wore.

I didn’t give people who follow me some style tip, or promote some brand I would never wear if they weren’t paying me.

I’m enjoying life.

When I think about the question, “How do I look better without looking too trendy, or like I’m trying to hard?”, I think about the sleeve lining in my leather jacket.

Great style is invisible

“A man should look as if he’s bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care and then forgotten all about them,”
– Sir Hardy Amies

Working in men’s fashion for the last 10 years, I learned life is so much more enjoyable when you take something seriously enough, that you no longer need to take it seriously.

That’s what I get from that great Sir Hardy Amies quote.

I’ve learned and put thought into my style enough to the point where it’s been woven into my life.

My style is the lining, not the jacket. It’s enhanced all parts of my life, but it’s always taken a backseat to the things that matter. The experiences. So for those who are looking to seamlessly and invisibly step up their style game, I’ve put together a few bits of advice I’ve collected over the years.

1. Dress to Impress Yourself and You’ll Dress to Impress Everyone Else

My Girlfriend and I had this really interesting conversation last night over pre-dinner drinks.

We got on the topic of self-improvement. We were talking about how I was working on something, and how she was using it as inspiration to improve herself. That she was excited to do it, even though it was a little selfish to just think about herself.

I told her I disagreed.

Because it would be selfish to recognize you can and probably should work on something – say your fitness, your career, even your social skills, and NOT do it because you don’t want to change.

She’s working on herself because she wants to be a better person for our relationship. That’s the complete opposite of selfish!

Dating experts might disagree on a lot of things. Whether or not you should use dating apps, or what to say on a first date, but there’s one thing they seem to all agree on:

The best “pickup line” is to improve yourself and become someone worth dating. Getting in shape, getting a better career, getting some hobbies you really enjoy.

All of these are things that first must be about you and for you.

And this is the biggest mistake a lot of guys make when it comes to trends. It becomes a race to see who gets the latest trend first (and Instagram about it) before it sells out. They have no real style because they’re only interested in what others will think, and not doing it for themselves.

2. A Classic Look is The Best Style Insurance Policy

Contrary to a lot of style advice out there, I don’t hate trends.

For example: I love a crazy burger. Make it out of spiced lamb with a tahini mayo. Turn it into a surf and turf and top a beef patty with some tempura fried lobster. The thing about a crazy burger is though, is that you probably couldn’t eat it all the time. Even worse, sometimes the crazy ideas just end up sucking.

Trends in fashion make it fresh and exciting.

But when it comes to style, there’s a reason the photo above of Paul Newman taken 50 years ago still looks really good. And why entertainers wearing Givenchy feels so 5 years ago.

Trends are fun on occasion, but having a great classic look as your default is the best long term style insurance policy.

Flavio Girolami, 1/2 of Common Projects, with an original, well traveled pair from 10 years ago

3. Wabi Sabi

One of the reasons I decided to focus on designing leather jackets when I started my menswear line is because I love how leather looks as it ages.

It gets wrinkled. Softer. Loses its dye.

There’s nothing more amazing that a beat up leather jacket that someone’s owned for decades. It tells a story.

The Japanese call this “wabi sabi”, or the beauty of imperfections.

In the industry, this is called “patina”.

I often see men overly concerned about keeping their clothes looking like they’re brand new. Keeping their sneakers absolutely clean. Pressing every little wrinkle out.

There are certainly times when it’s important to keep your clothes sharp and spotless. A business suit. Your wedding tuxedo.

But there’s something beautiful and effortless with caring enough to buy great, well made clothes, and then really living in them.

No doubt, it’s important to keep things you spend your hard money on in good condition. But starting with great quality goods will do most of the work for you.

So relax.

As Sir Hardy noted, buy clothes with intelligence, put them on with care and forget about them.

Because there’s nothing sexy or stylish about a man constantly adjusting his clothes, pulling out a wet cloth to wipe his shoes, or avoiding a stroll in the rain with a beautiful woman because he doesn’t want to get his leather jacket wet.

As my friend Dani said, “The clothes shouldn’t wear the man.”

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