Men’s Style Principles From Sartorial Guru Sean Coyle
A decade or so ago, men got their fashion information from print media. Today it’s all accessible with a few clicks on a smartphone. Now, more than ever, men have no excuse to be lax in their fashion choices. And with the constant influx of information about changing styles fueled by social media, there is also the pressure of keeping up, at least to some extent, with current trends.
Navigating the treacherous waters of style isn’t easy.
On the one hand, there are the fashion victims, slaves to adopting the latest runway looks. On the other, are the sophisticated guys who might adopt some current trend elements here and there, into personal signature styles, and carry them confidently without appearing to be overly preoccupied with what they wear.
Reaching the sweet spot requires some knowledge about color coordination, fit, and also clarity on what one hopes to achieve.
Miami-based Fashion stylist and designer Sean Coyle, who has led the creation of multiple brands at Perry Ellis International, among other projects, has distilled his sartorial savvy into three books about style–one of them being “The 25 Indisputable Laws of Style.”
He spoke to the Epoch Times about some of the tried and true principles men can use as a guide to achieve a confident personal style.
Make an Effort and Make It Fit
“Style is personal and you should develop your own. You feel better when you’re dressed better. It’s not about investing your dollars in the floral pants trend, but more about moving away from polyester and buying some really nice natural fiber pants that are made well, so that you feel great when you’re wearing them,” Coyle told the Epoch Times in a recent telephone interview.
High on the list of Coyle’s indisputable laws of style is one about fit—get the fit right and everything else will be a cinch.
“If you’re still wearing pleated pants and your suit’s all baggy, you’re way past where you need to be. Having things that fit correctly can make a world of difference,” he said adding that if the suit is fitted correctly “you’ll forget that you’re even wearing it.”
The following questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Epoch Times: Topping your list of indisputable laws of style is “Your clothing is a reflection of your desires.” Why is this so important?
Sean Coyle: “I think your clothing is a refection of your desires because if it’s not, then you’re expecting something from others that you’re not delivering yourself.”
Epoch Times: Another one of the indisputable laws of style is “A shoe can make or break more than your outfit.” Why is that?
Mr. Coyle: I think that often both women and men judge men by their shoes. A lot of times a man will make the effort to look good, but then when it comes to their footwear they make what they feel is a smart choice for comfort, and it throws off the entire ensemble. I often see a guy and when I look at his outfit and then I look at his shoes, I can see that clearly, he has no clue.
Epoch Times: Is that because unlike with clothes, when it comes to shoes, it’s harder to fake quality?
Mr. Coyle: I agree. And I know from personal choices that whenever I make an investment in the right shoes I get years and years of comfortable wear out of them. And then if I want a certain look or style but I don’t want to go the distance with a good shoe, I might wear them once or twice but they don’t feel right, so that cost of wear goes up dramatically, if you think about the cost every time you wear it.
Epoch Times: What are the current trends in men’s shoes?
Mr. Coyle: Oxblood and burgundy shoes have been trending for a few seasons, as well as the classic white sneaker for a more casual look.
A big trend in men’s footwear has been to wear a shoe with patina. Berluti for example, paints its footwear and accessories. If it’s a lighter brown and has the patina on it, that brings out the richness of the leather and the detail. The brogue has been a big trend for several years now. In menswear the navy suit has replaced the black suit so, with that, the brown shoe has replaced the black shoe.
Overseas Trends and the American Guy
Epoch Times: How are current overseas trends making an impact on street style, as well as professional everyday trends in the United States?
Mr. Coyle: When I was traveling abroad, everybody seemed to be wearing skinny jeans, a leather biker jacket, and all-white trainers. I’m seeing that trend start to trickle down. I’m even seeing the pricing on those trainers explode, as well as secondary footwear like Puma suede in colors back all of a sudden.
Epoch Times: Any particular colors?
Mr. Coyle: I think as far as colors, there’s been a darker mood with stormy blues and jewel tones that are usually reserved for a winter holiday season—we’re seeing them move into spring/summer 2016. Navy continues to dominate.
Blues are always wonderful in the summer, I think because the color is cool and soothing when the temperature starts to get hot.
Gray has been big for so long, and it continues in importance because it’s a neutral base that’s easy to build upon, whether you’re going all different shades of gray, or if you’re adding in some of those jewel tones like a turquoise or a sapphire.
Green is the color of the season, whether it’s army green or olive—green suits are pretty hot right now.
And with every trend there’s a kind of anti-trend. So if the colors are dark and stormy, on the opposite side of that are people who want primary brights.
The whole camp collar-shirt or “’50s” shirt is a big trend on the runway right now [as well as] floral shirts in micro prints. Big block stripes, nautical stripes, are always great for spring and summer, as well as white chino’s and the Macintosh jacket—the single-breasted, thigh-length raincoat.
I think that an unlined textured blazer, paired with a shirt with no tie (for smart casual), or a fine-gauge long sleeve textured sweater paired with white chino’s and white trainers, and you have a great New York smart–casual look. And to dress that up, instead of the tie and the pocket square, the newest trend is the long printed scarf underneath the blazer. It adds that extra cache and of course I’d be pairing that with a nice pair of patina’d shoes, preferably in a color matching the belt and bag.
Floral Pants and Skinny Jeans—to Wear or not to Wear
Epoch Times: How about trends that are harder to pull off, such as floral pants?
Mr. Coyle: Floral pants have been showing up on runways for about four years now, but I think that people need to be able to translate a trend for themselves. It’s important to know what the trends are, but if they’re not right for you, you shouldn’t adopt them. The true trend follower who likes to have the greatest and latest, will absolutely have the floral pant, but your stockbroker is not going to be able to go to work that way.
From a high-fashion standpoint, [designers] are trying to usher in a looser fit in jeans than the slim-fit that we’ve seen in the leg, and denim keeps trying to make a comeback with distressed denim.
Once the skinny jean came in, denim went clean—it’s great to wear with a sport coat and it looks dressy, but it isn’t comfortable.
In the past, men used to come home and change into their blue jeans after being in a suit all day because they were so comfortable. But now everybody puts on sweat pants as soon as they get home. With the rise of athleisure everybody dresses like they’re going jogging or to the gym as soon as they get home and I think, personally, as a designer, we’re not offering comfortable denim anymore. Denim used to be what you put on when you get home, now it’s what you put on when you go out.
Colors—Where Many Fear to Tread
Epoch Times: Europeans seem to be more adventurous with colors. Why is that?
Mr. Coyle: I think that European men see a lot more just in their regular media about fashion than American men do; the American man almost has to seek it out. An easy place to start with wearing color is with the driving moccasin, or loafer, which you can wear with something very neutral and safe.
Epoch Times: What are some principles to go by when color-coordinating?
Mr. Coyle: First of all, you have to feel comfortable with whatever color you’re going to wear. Everybody should do a little research on the internet about skin tones and what colors work for them.
There’s a theory out there from a jewelry perspective—that you’re either a silver jewelry person or a gold jewelry person. And if you’re cool-toned silver will complement you, and if you’re warm-toned then gold will complement you.
Cool tone, or fairer skin-toned guys look great in neutrals, and then you pop the color. If you’re more of a darker, warmer skin tone you’ll look great in colors, and I would pop with the neutral. If you have a darker skin tone, or a neutral skin tone, you can run the color gamut and get away with anything; you’re lucky. If you’re a yellow or olive skin tone, navys, blacks, and dark browns are going to look better.
You want to avoid colors that blend in with your skin because that’s not going to complement you—it’s going to make you look washed out.
Epoch Times: What about eye color?
Mr. Coyle: You really want to pull out that color and use it in your ensemble.
Epoch Times: What are some of your favorite brands that translate well into the American style?
Mr. Coyle: I’m very fond of Massimo Dutti—they put together terrific looks that stand the test of time for men. For footwear I like Berluti. For more casual I like Scotch & Soda and I think Burberry is great if you want something clean and minimalist, and Theory. For something dressier I like Zegna, Salvatore Ferragamo and pretty much anything from Tom Ford.
Advice for the Sartorially Challenged
Epoch Times: Any advice for guys who seem to be stuck in another decade (not in a good way)?
Mr. Coyle: You have to freshen up your wardrobe.
After a while, a lot of men give up and even when they buy anything new, it’s pretty much the same style as what they already have, so that they’re not really growing in their sartorial style.
A turtleneck under a sport coat is a terrific look for an aging gentleman because it can hide a ton of flaws. The reason why I like the sport coat so much is that it really hides flaws and accentuates one’s masculinity. As a gentleman ages and his shoulders are sloping more or he’s not as firm as he used to be, the jacket hides all of that.
I think that because of the recession, when a lot of men were out of work, they started to put new focus on what they were going to wear to interviews to get that new job. That’s when that suit trend and sport coat trend took off again.
If you want to be surrounded by people that look fabulous and dress great but you don’t, and you don’t make that effort yourself, you’re not going to be surrounded by those people.
Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Capsule Wardrobe Must-Haves
Coyle says a man always looks great in a collar shirt, even if you’re wearing shorts and you’ve rolled up your sleeves, you’re never going to go wrong in a white shirt. There are a couple of items that are must-haves in every wardrobe.
Shirts: a long sleeve white linen shirt looks great with shorts. If you’re wearing a polo shirt, just wear a fine gauge polo shirt and that just ups your style a little more. A nautical shirt with bold horizontal stripes across the chest looks super.
Suit: make sure it’s a three-piece suit: a two-button jacket, a vest, and flat-front trousers. You can always make multiple outfits out of the pieces—you can wear the pants, the vest and a shirt, you can wear all of the three pieces together, or leave out the vest and just wear the jacket and the pants. You can’t go wrong with navys, blues, and white grays for summer.
Dress shoes: brown patina’d shoes instead of black.
Sport coat: an unlined sport coat goes with everything and you can wear it all year long.
Shorts: if you’re wearing shorts make them flat top shorts above the knee.
Sweater: a textured light-weight V-neck sweater
Trainers: a pair of clean white trainers (not the kind that look like jogging shoes) is a great look for spring, or driving color moccasins with matching belt or Puma suedes.
Chinos: white chinos are easy for summer.
Swimwear: a vintage surf short in a shorter length with a flat front that’s a little more fitted (not the elastic waist).
Denim: for a more casual look try distressed denim but soft and broken in.