Tell me if you heard this one before:

“Fashion is temporary. Style is permanent.”

How about this one?

“Fashion can be bought. Style one must possess.”

(What? You mean you didn’t buy that stylish suit you’re wearing?)

Every time I come across these on blogs or on Instagram, I want to chuck my iPhone out the window. (Partially because it drives me crazy, partially because I need a reason to get that new matte black iPhone)

Does “fashion” matter?

Not as much as the industry wants you to believe.

Is “fashion” irrelevant?

Not as much as the other guys who spit out these clichés want you to believe either.

I spent 10 years working and designing luxury menswear, what most people would call the “fashion world”. Since shifting to becoming a private personal stylist outside the industry, I’ve seen both sides of the coin.

Today, I want to expose the dumbest piece of style advice I’ve seen, and show you what you should do instead.

The #1 style advice I hate? “Ignore fashion, wear what you like” 

Imagine you walk into a guitar school and the instructor says “Just play what you like.”

How useful is that piece of advice to you as a beginner?

Yet, this is basically the same type of advice a ton of “style” blogs gives to guys who are interested in improving their style. And it’s drives me crazy.

I came to the realization that most of these style blogs are scared or intimidated by the word “fashion”. Instead of digging deeper and learning more about it, they choose to regurgitate these anti-fashion clichés. They talk about dressing “classic” because it’s much easier.

Here’s where these guys get it wrong: Great style is born from innovation. And the “fashion world” is where innovations are happens.

When great style is adopted by the masses, classics are born.

A great recent example:

Flip back 15 years ago – if you wore sneakers with a suit, you were either a rapper or someone with terrible style.

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COMMON PROJECT DESIGNERS FLAVIO GIROLAMI AND PETER POOPAT (PHOTO VIA THE NY TIMES)

That was until 12 years ago when Common Projects created the Achilles and birthed a new classic – the luxury minimal white sneaker. Now every brand and their mom have one copycat version of a clean, leather sneaker. 

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BRADLEY COOPER ROCKING A SUIT WITH COMMON PROJECT SNEAKERS (VIA GQ)

It took a luxury fashion brand to not only create this new classic, but make it acceptable and STYLISH to wear sneakers with a suit. It’s one of the reasons I’ve added minimal white leather sneakers to my “Essentials Must Haves” for my clients.

By the way, If you don’t already have a pair of minimal white sneakers in your wardrobe, here are three of my favorite picks right now…

So what should you focus on? Classics? Or fashion trends?

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Both!

Here’s the truth: You don’t need to obsess over fashion or know anything about trend cycles to enjoy it. You just need to do it intelligently.

Over the past year since starting The Essential Man, I’ve helped dozens of guys privately revamp their style.

The #1 most common problem with their wardrobes? Imbalance. 

They have way too many fashion/trendy items that it’s difficult to mix and put together great outfits. It’s like trying to make a sauce with really overpowering flavors like truffle, curry, lavender and cinnamon. They just don’t play well together and clash.

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That’s why I focus on balance their wardrobe using the 3:1 Principle. For every 3 “classic essential” items in your wardrobe, you can have 1 trendy fashion item. That ensures you don’t end up with a closet full of clothes that are a mess. 

What makes something a classic?

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1. Classic in design: A solid blue pair of Levis, not a ripped, painted, bedazzled pair. A crisp white 50s style t-shirt, not one that’s long with a deep neckline. We want to choose pieces as close to how they were originally designed as possible. No variations or trendy interpretations.

Classic designs have lasted 50+ years for a reason. It’s a safe bet that they’ll still be stylish in the next 50.

2. Solid, neutral colors: Neutral colors are colors that aren’t overpowering. When it comes to style, these colors make you look refined and masculine.

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Neutral colors are: Black, White, Gray, Navy/Blue, Beige, Olive, Brown

Use the 3:1 Principle to develop your personal style

The 3:1 Principle isn’t just useful for balancing your wardrobe, it also lets you develop your personal style.

This is why I always encourage clients to “go wild” after they have their essential wardrobes. It’s not really personal style if it isn’t personal. 

Just recently I was styling a client who was a big fan of Guns N Roses and Metallica, but you wouldn’t know it. He spent most of his days wearing free t-shirts from tech start-ups, yet he never felt like his style represented who he really was.

So what better way than to add a vintage concert tee into his outfits? Here’s one of the exact looks I created for him:

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The great thing is, you could swap out the concert tee for a white t-shirt or even a chambray shirt and it would be “classic”. But by throwing in a concert tee, it’s suddenly elevated it to great style that’s a lot more personal.

Think like a new chef

Something I love telling my clients – if you want to have amazing personal style, you want to think like a new chef.

New chefs learn classic recipes first before they put their own spin on it.

Your style is going to be the same. Build an essential, classic wardrobe, then slowly add your personality in to truly make it your own.

If you need some ideas on essentials to pick up for your wardrobe, I put together a program to help you build the perfect essential wardrobe.

It’s currently closed right now, but if you’d like to be notified first when it opens up again, just enter your details below and I’ll put you on the VIP waitlist.

peter@theessentialman.com'
Author

Hi, I'm Peter. I spent 11 years as a menswear designer here in NYC. Now, I help some of the most successful men look really good as a Private Personal Stylist and writer of The Essential Man. You can learn more about what I do by clicking here

  • Alexandra Pavlova

    Hey Peter, I know this is for men, but I think the advice is universal. Thanks for sharing that, I have some serious problems with my wardrobe and some difficulty finding a blog like yours for women, they are all about the “blogger” and not about the style… Keep up the good work.

    • Peter Nguyen

      Thanks Alexandra! I always tell my female friends they should write a site similar to mine, but I can understand how tough it can be! I do have quite a bit of female readers, so it’s always nice to hear from one.

      Thanks for reading.