Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Elements of Style, according to Paul Stuart

why are men's clothes so beautiful?
Paul Stuart is an ultra-beautiful menswear store with locations in New York and Chicago.  Years ago, they had an advertisement in the program for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which I reproduce here in it's entirety.  These people are wise:

The Elements of Style

It’s easy to say what style is not. It is not, for example, fashion. (see below)  But when a friend asked us, the other day, to say what it is, the only answer we felt sure of was: our bread and butter.  Perhaps because that answer was true, our inability to define the word rankled. So at last, prompted by some half-remembered sentences, we reached for our copy of The Elements of Style.

This useful little book was written by William Strunk, Jr., and revised by E. B. White. It was there we found style described as “what is distinguished and distinguishing”. That seemed a dandy definition to us. It certainly described what we look for in clothes. It also sent us hunting through the pages for other remarks which might shed as much light upon style in dress as they did upon style in writing. We found them. And you can find them below, together with some remarks and observations of our own.

  •   Don’t confuse style with fashion.   To recognize the difference, consider the Nehru jacket.  When it came into fashion here some years ago, the men who wore it were all, presumably, fashionable. But it rarely conferred much style.
  •   Don’t confuse style with substance.  A coat that is cashmere on the hanger continues to be cashmere when it’s worn. But style may appear or disappear with the wearer: when Nehru wore it, the Nehru jacket had style.
  •   Don’t imagine that time governs style. Time only governs fashion. If you doubt this, look at some old portraits.  Unless you are familiar with the period, you won’t know if the subject’s clothes are in fashion. But you will know at once if they had style.
  •   Choose some clothes that are not in fashion. Clothes are in fashion one year are often out the next. But clothes that are too distinctive merely to echo current dictates, provided they are not so different as to be eccentric, often anticipate fashion or remain independent of it. And, if well suited to the wearer, they will go on being distinguished and distinguishing year after year.
  •   Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, noncommittal clothes. They may seem to offer safety by promising to say nothing about the wearer. But, by being anonymous, they say that he is timid, indecisive, and without a sense of style.
  •   Avoid the pretentious and the exaggerated. These two words are tricky. Kings may wear ermine without offense. And there are men who can carry off a scarlet-lined opera cape or a ten-gallon hat. But if wearing such things makes you feel as though you are showing off or masquerading, don’t.
  •   Be sparing of the tried and true. Good serviceable clothes, like good serviceable words and phrases, become dull and ineffectual when used too often in the same way. A few familiar classics may give a friendly ease to your wardrobe. But a wardrobe built entire of classics is as tiresome as a vocabulary of clichés.
  •   Remember that style is an increment in dress.  When we speak of a writer’s style, we don’t just mean his command of the relative pronoun. When we say a man dresses with style, we don’t just mean we like the cut of his shirts.
  •   Never sacrifice comfort to style.  The result is always self-defeating. Clothes that make you fidget can not be worn with style. If the coat pinches at the waist or the armhole, or rides up at the back of the neck, don’t buy it. Or have it remedied.
  • Dress is a way that comes naturally.  But don’t be afraid to experiment. Even Fred Astaire probably felt uneasy the first time he put on tails. Every well-dressed man, by the way he dresses, reveals something of his personality and individuality. So choose the clothes you are drawn to naturally. You will wear them better, and more often, than those you talk yourself into because they seem practical or look well on someone else.

The clothes we carry reflect our spirit, our temperament, our style. We collect them, just as we collect clothes for ourselves… with considerable thought and care. If we find six sweaters of some wonderful kind, we’ll buy them, even though six are all there are.

That sort of thing can make shopping in our store something of a treasure hunt. But it also means we can make no pretense of being able to dress every stylish man.

Paul Stuart


  1. Bingo.

    He says it all. Perfectly. Thanks so much for posting this--it makes my day. Now, to figure out how to apply it to my life....

  2. Love this! Especially what he says about an entire wardrobe of classics, a trap I've fallen into in the past. I'm bookmarking.

  3. This is amazing. I'm definitely saving it so I can refer back to it as I shop.

  4. Great post. I agree with all the points. Fashion can be fickle. Style is that elusive quality that is difficult to define. You just know it when you see it.

  5. The best things are said simply - great post! Now, on to try putting it all to practice!!

  6. Great post. How interesting that they used the Elements of Style as their guide. I adore that book and refer to it reguarly.

  7. Vivienna, I was having trouble posting messages for the last couple of weeks. Hopefully, you haven't been ambushed with the same message from me over and over again.

    I'd love to see some recommendations for a casual Friday office wardrobe. My office is business casual (more business than casual) and I have to wear a suit to work at least twice a week. We are allowed to wear jeans on Fridays. My Friday uniform is a pair of jeans, a tank, a cardigan, and ballet flats. I'm getting bored of it. Any suggestions on how to mix things up? For reference, I'm the poster who had asked for the floral landscape wardrobe (blacks, berries, and turqoise). Thanks!

  8. Dear GM,
    There's no such thing as too many comments - any day I don't get a lot of comments, I worry that my post wasn't interesting, or well-received.
    I'm pondering doing a series of posts on Casual Friday - maybe start with an established wardrobe, and choose "add-ins" to leverage it into those most challenging days - what do you think?
    thanks for being here with me,

  9. I think that's a great idea. I have the basics; I just need suggestions for add-ins and/or new combinations of the things I already have. (I love the Not So Crazy Eights for this reason.)

    Also, I bought some Lands End tees under your recommendation. They are exactly what I needed. They fit perfectly under a suit and keep their color after washing. Thanks for the suggestion!

  10. The pant is similar to western style with one pleat, two pleats or without pleats. Nehru suit for men

  11. I'm confused by this part:

    Don’t confuse style with substance. A coat that is cashmere on the hanger continues to be cashmere when it’s worn. But style may appear or disappear with the wearer: when Nehru wore it, the Nehru jacket had style.

    Does he mean that cashmere (or silk or fine wool) is almost universally good?


    1. I think they're saying that you can buy really nice stuff - things that are made of the best possible substance, but that doesn't give you style. Buying the beautiful things, if they don't suit you, will just be beautiful things that are NOT your style.

      The could have worded it better, eh?