What makes a well-dressed man? Tengku Sofiah Aishah finds out from an expert on the art of dressing
FASHION is constantly evolving, but the appeal of the well-dressed man remains constant. Nothing looks better on a man than a suit that sits well on his shoulders and pressed trousers that break right on his footwear.
For those who think of dressing up as “anything goes”, well, first impressions last and we only have one chance to make it count.
Today, wearing clothes is about being smart and comfortable while expressing your personality. Being stylish is not about trends. The aim is to dress elegantly. Think of the street as your runway, and dress accordingly.
So here’s a guide to dressing well from English premium business wear T.M. Lewin, whose international director Mark Dunhill was in Kuala Lumpur recently.
• Material is the most important factor to consider when picking out a shirt. As a general rule, the best fabrics for tropical climates are natural materials. “Always opt for pure cotton. They are very soft, comfortable to wear and durable. Cotton is also very breathable,” says Dunhill.
• Natural fabrics such as cotton, silk and linen are more breathable than synthetics such as polyester. Cotton shirts can be quickly and easily washed and dried in the machine.
• For fit and comfort, there are three points to check for the right size: The sleeves, the front and across the arms. “At least an inch of cuff should appear at the bottom of your jacket sleeves.”
• There must not be too much material around your chest with enough room to move. The same thing applies to the arms. Ill-fitted clothes will look worse when you sweat.
• Too many folds and creases in front is an indicator that you are wearing the wrong size or the wrong fit, or both. Some shops offer different cuts for different body types. “The traditional floating collars are smoother and the split at the back of T.M. Lewin shirts are for ease of movement,” Dunhill adds.
• Every man should have several white shirts because they work with everything. “They can be both formal and casual. Depending on how you style it, white can be very stylish and elegant. When in doubt, go for white,” he says. Just avoid having meals with sauce or gravy when you wear this pristine colour.
• If you work in the creative line, perhaps you’d want to go for brighter colours to express originality. Dunhill says: “There has to be coherence between the clothes you choose to wear, the environment you’re wearing them in and your personality. If any of those are out of sync, then it is a wrong combination.”
• If you have fair skin, most colours will work on you but if you are of darker tone, avoid bright and shocking colours at all cost. Dunhill says pink shirts are popular in England. In Malaysia, it’s green.
• Floral shirt? Not unless you are an advertising director. “I have a great collection of floral shirts but I wouldn’t wear them to the office. For me, floral shirts are all about being relaxed. They say that I’m having fun, I’m having a party,” says Dunhill.
• Folding sleeves is acceptable — after all, it’s warm here. T.M. Lewin even makes special half-sleeved shirts for Malaysia and Singapore markets.
• Whatever you wear, just wear it with confidence. It will add points to your look.
• A jacket is what we commonly call a coat — the other piece of a suit. Choose a jacket with floating lining instead of one that is stuck to the material. “Floating lining allows your jacket to adjust to the shape of your body and is more comfortable.” It lasts longer too. Over time, the glue that sticks the lining to the material may cause the jacket to become bubbly due to hot weather.
• A man’s jacket should not completely cover his behind. It should end slightly below his waist. “The English style is more of a chiselled silhouette, it is therefore more angular whereas the Italian look is more boxy and relaxed. It is more casual with softer shoulder,” adds Dunhill.
Think James Bond for English style and The Godfather for Italian.
• The two-button suit is the most common jacket. When standing up, the top button should be done up and when sitting down, open it up to have more space to move.
• If it’s the three-button suit — which suits tall and slim men — just have the middle button done up, says Dunhill.
• A three-piece suit, that is one with a waistcoat, should only be worn in winter or for formal dinners. Admittedly, it is very stylish so you can wear it to an air-conditioned function at night, if you must.
• Men in ill-fitting trousers — those that hang loosely from their backsides — are a sorry sight. Baggy clothes had their moment in the 1990s, so let’s leave them where they belong.
• Trousers should follow the contours of your thighs like a straight leg and break right on the front of your shoes without showing the socks.
• “Pleated trousers were very much in fashion until the mid 1990s. Although still preferred by some, the flat-fronted trousers are more akin to the English tailoring style. They look smart and follow the line of the body without being too baggy,” says Dunhill. The next time you are out shopping, look for flat-fronted instead of pleated trousers.
• Take note: Following your contours does not equal skinny leg.
• High-waisted skirts and trousers are currently fashionable for women. Not men. “High-rise trousers now are more of an eccentric, older English gentlemen look. Some English aristocrats still wear high-rise trousers. It is a very traditional country style,” he says.
• Please leave the low-rise to the rappers and Beliebers (fans of Justin Bieber).
• Wear dark-coloured socks. Leave whites for the gym. “The colour of your socks must blend with your suit. If I wear a grey suit, I wear grey socks and black shoes,” says Dunhill.
• When a man sits down and crosses his legs, his socks must ensure that skin cannot be seen.
• Men’s dress shoes come in many styles and each has its place. Nonetheless, there are a few rules: generally, the sleeker the shoe, the more formal they are. For example, black is more formal than brown and lace-ups rank ahead of slip-ons.
• The most common types of dress shoes are Oxfords, Derbies and monk shoes. Considered the gold standard of dress shoes, Oxfords are the most formal option for business wear.
• Derbies are similar to Oxfords but they have open lacing and are therefore considered less formal.
• Monk shoes are loafers with a buckle enclosure.
• For work, belt buckles should be more subdued in silver or bronze colour to go with grey or dark suits. Dunhill recommends nickle-plated brass belt buckle as one of the better choices.
• But why not wear a big buckle and make a statement on weekends? “If you are at a party or a special occasion, then maybe you’d want to wear a special belt made of crocodile skin,” he adds.
• Even a simple touch as a handkerchief can make a perceptive difference. “If I have a red handkerchief coming out of my pocket, it says that I am a dandy and that I take pride in the details,” says Dunhill.
• Skinny ties are better suited for the young.
• While floral and polka dot shirts may be too fancy for work, a floral or polka dot tie adds just the right zest to your outfit.
• Cufflinks — especially with your initials on them — can add a fantastic touch to your individuality. Dunhill thinks cufflinks are particularly symbolic, and it is a great way for men to indulge in jewellery.
• But cufflinks can be inconvenient when you are in a hurry. There is a possibility that you may forget or drop them and it will be very inelegant to be seen with missing cufflinks.
SUITS in hand
CUSTOM-MADE suits will fit perfectly but typically, they will take time and are much more expensive. T.M. Lewin offers the same standard of business wear with the convenience of picking up your suit instantly and at a far better price.
Try to tailor your shirt and trousers to your frame. Specialised business wear boutiques such as T.M. Lewin normally offer alteration service.
Like jeans, dress shirts also have different fits. T.M. Lewin offers three fits — fully fitted, slim and regular. The regular fit will have more material in front for the more generous proportioned gentlemen.
Shirts at T.M. Lewin are made of two-fold high quality cotton and all trousers are flat-fronted. The jackets are made in a traditional semi-canvas construction with floating lining that makes it more comfortable. Measurements will be taken to determine the right fit for the sleeves, collar and waist.
The best way to tuck in your shirt is with the fly open. Pull your shirt through your fly and it will remove all the creases and then buckle up your belt.
The price for one suit (jacket and trousers) starts from RM1,000.