The Friday Read: Memorial Day, Summer Polos and Dark Denim

So how’s your week been? It’s another week that’s gone by fast here at The Style Guide HQ (need to think up a better name for this place, I think?). With Memorial Day on the way, here’s wishing everyone safe travels, whether you’re trekking across the country or just up the road. Wondering what to wear? Look here. Wondering what to pack? Got you covered there as well. Wondering what to read? As you hit the road, look no further than right here in this very post for some prime reading material. Without further ado…

That’s it for this week’s reading roundup — hungry for more style writing?

The Watchery



Starter Style Review: Club Monaco

Editor’s note: Building great style on a budget can be difficult and expensive. This is the seventh part in an occasional series chronicling great locations to start a wardrobe and buy affordable, good-looking style staples. Past entries have chronicled places like Banana Republic, Target and Express. Check out the full set of six posts in the series here .

When starting out reinventing your personal style, there are certain incremental steps along the way. And even for those of us who’ve worked at our style for a while (doing things like embracing fit, paying attention to small details, and reaching for timeless style essentials), there’s always opportunity to improve and mix things up. One of the easiest ways to do this in a relatively quick manner is turning toward a new brand. While some brands offer tried-and-true basics for almost everyone, the great thing about the world of men’s style is the amount of versatility and limitless variety out there, both from domestic and international brands.

Owned by Polo Ralph Lauren, yet decidedly different.

Owned by Polo Ralph Lauren, yet decidedly different.

In that regard, Club Monaco is a brand that shakes up the traditional #menswear fornula just enough, providing the ideal opportunity to explore new styles and items at decent prices (for the most part). They have a more continental vibe than J. Crew, they have more variety than a basics outpost like Old Navy, and although some styles are zany, they don’t stray into full-on Urban Outfitters territory. They’ve been owned by Polo Ralph Lauren for about 15 years, but the brand seems to occupy its own space, something reflected in its clothing offerings. The brand itself is a hybrid of sorts  — a mix of tailored wear with unique touches, and casual stylings that are just different enough from typical tried-and-true offerings.

Some of the brand's washed casual shirt offerings.

Some of the brand’s washed casual shirt offerings.

The first noticeable thing about any Club Monaco outpost is the variety — spread throughout the store and within each individual section. Think heathered T-shirts next to sneakers, with casual washed blazers just a few steps away. It’s arranged in a pleasing manner that flows naturally, something that could be disastrous if done wrong.

Stripes, small prints and casual washes -- the Club Monaco basics formula.

Stripes, small prints and casual washes — the Club Monaco basics formula.

Club Monaco seems to emphasize  variety in color as well, but again, in a pleasing manner. Its T-shirts, shorts and polos aren’t highlighter-bright and plastered in logos (looking at you, Express). Instead, there’s a nice mix of washed shirts, pocket tees and striped long-sleeve and short-sleeve offerings in neutral colors, none of which would look of place on its own or layered in mostly any season. Again, a basic grey T-shirt suddenly doesn’t look so basic when combined with a heathered wash, for example. The one area where certain casual offerings don’t jump out that prominently would be denim — the jean selection in-store (at least in this particular shop) isn’t extensive when compared to other brands. On the other hand, chinos receive slightly more prominent displays (a good choice considering the continental aura with many of their styles).

Peak lapels help this suit stand out from other, more plain suiting options.

Peak lapels help this suit stand out from other, more plain suiting options.

And the brand’s tailored wear is a strong point, too. The fits and stylings are more conservative than ultra-tight offerings from H&M or another retailer, yet they’re still trim and polished. The requisite variety in the suiting game is there too — heightened blues, glenplaids and checks, mixed in with peak and notch lapels. The suit above is  a nice example of the typical variety taken in  an approach by Club Monaco — changing up the traditional navy suit by adding peak lapels and a ticket pocket to the jacket. The price point is where some might find issue, however. $525 for a cotton suit jacket seems a bit steep when compared to a jacket from J. Crew’s famed Ludlow suit ($358). And while there’s no denying the quality of the Ludlow suit, Club Monaco doesn’t seem to get as much play when it comes to well-dressed guys suiting up.

A deep (and artfully-arranged) array of shoes from menswear favorites.

A deep (and artfully-arranged) array of shoes from menswear favorites.

But, moving through Club Monaco yields some high-quality finds in the shoe department. The brand has partnerships with noted #menswear favorites Wolverine, Grenson, Clarks, and Tretorn. That’s a pretty hefty lineup of heavy-hitters, which brings great variety to the brand’s lineup, especially in-store. The quality of the shoes is just as good as going through the brand directly (take these Tretorn sneakers, for example) And the prices via Club Monaco for some shoes, like a pair of Grenson brogues, are significantly lower than the UK site itself ($380 vs. $450). The brand’s ties are, like the rest of the store, just different enough — neither too silky-smooth or plain, there’s a nice mix of current lightweight summer fabrics, like cotton and chambray, next to toned-down silk offerings (seen below).

A mix of ties in woven knit and summerweight ties, along with traditional silk.

A mix of ties in woven knit and summerweight ties, along with traditional silk.

The standout attribute about Club Monaco is the way in which the brand takes traditional favorites, like a standard T-shirt, and slims down the fit, changes up the wash and injects it with some new life. The same applies to their suits (with features like peak lapels and slight textural differences) and shoes (sneakers with some variety versus traditional low-tops, for example). While their prices are above that of J. Crew in some respects (as high as some of us might go when paying full-price), the return on the investment, particularly when it comes to sharp footwear and quality basics, appears to be worth it.

Spring Style Suggestion: The Denim Jacket

Denim on denim. Floral short-sleeve shirt by Express. Jacket by American Apparel. Loafers by Bass. Jeans by J. Crew (484 fit).

Denim on denim. Floral short-sleeve shirt by Express. Jacket by American Apparel. Loafers by Bass. Jeans by J. Crew (484 fit).

Spring is one of the more difficult times of the year to find the right balance between what to wear outside and inside. There aren’t necessarily any one-size-fits-all solutions, particularly in terms of outerwear. In the winter, that navy peacoat can pull duty nearly every day of the week, similar to how a lighter-weight military jacket could work on top of other layers in the chill of fall. In the spring though, you might see a slight chill in one part of the day, and then the heat of the sun in the afternoon, for example. A standard Harrington jacket could work tremendously of course in the rain, but the denim jacket is a particularly underrated style accessory, in that it works outside and inside in multiple types of weather.

It’s gotten more play over time in the #menswear community, especially in recent years, and rightfully so. Some don’t particularly like the look, but It’s definitely got a sort of rugged appeal to it that brings to mind modern-day style icons like Daniel Craig and Ryan Gosling. Of course, no mention of the denim jacket is complete with bringing up this stylish singer here. A big debate comes into play, however, on the feasibility of rocking double denim. The most important thing to keep in mind is texture and wash — keep those washes separate if you dive into this look, like the photos seen here (dark jacket, light jeans and vice versa).

Rocking double denim. Jeans by J. Crew (484 fit). Jacket by American Apparel. Henley by Mossimo. Loafers by Bass.

Rocking double denim. Jeans by J. Crew (484 fit). Jacket by American Apparel. Henley by Mossimo. Loafers by Bass.

And although Daniel Craig rocks a lightwash number, the most versatile denim jacket is just like your favorite pair of blue jeans — dark blue with a modern, slimmer fit. It should hit above the waist (or about at the waist), with slimmer sleeves and a more fitted body (like this American Apparel jacket).

In addition to a slim cut, the denim jacket (like the one seen from American Apparel) is a great transitional outerwear piece because it’s heavy enough to wear over a plain henley in a slight chill, yet could also work when worn over something like a collared shirt. And it works with chinos or trousers — as well as denim — because it’s a dark, clean slate from which to build in other colors or textures.

Glasses by Burberry. Watch by Timex, strap by The Knottery.

Glasses by Burberry. Watch by Timex, strap by The Knottery. Belt by Mossimo.

It’s the rugged man’s answer to the navy blazer in these modern times — because (ideally) the jacket is dark blue and fitted, it can function just like the blazer while lending more functionality in terms of an outer layer. Unlike the navy blazer however, it can definitely take a beating, and it doesn’t need to be treated with the same sort of reserve as a blazer. It can stand up to a slight rain and some chill, which actually might give it more character. And a medium or lightwash number is yet another piece to consider adding when you need to mix and match types of outerwear.

Another denim-on-denim shot. Mix up the casual nature of that jacket by pairing it with a printed shirt.

Another denim-on-denim shot. Mix up the casual nature of that jacket by pairing it with a printed shirt.

Like so much of American style nowadays, it also brings to mind Western and workwear-inspired vibes (a personal style favorite). And over time, a denim jacket can break in like your favorite jeans, telling a uniquely personal story that reflects who you are and the way you dress — a lot of mileage out of one jacket, right?

Spring Style Suggestion: Lightwash Denim

Now that it’s officially March on our collective #menswear calendars, it’s high time to at least start thinking about spring (if you haven’t already been following trends and early pieces of collections). While runway looks can, of course, get a little dicey to follow at times, there are some pretty simple spring-ready looks the rest of us can take on to freshen up our wardrobes and inject a sense of warmer-weather style into outfits.

A Trip to Florida — Spring Style

Lightwash denim in the Florida sun. Jeans by J. Crew (484 fit). Henley by Mossimo. Desert boots by Steve Madden. Sunglasses by Ralph Lauren.

Lightwash denim in the Florida sun. Jeans by J. Crew (484 fit). Henley by Mossimo. Desert boots by Steve Madden. Sunglasses by Ralph Lauren.

Case in point — this can be done fairly easily below the waist. Although classic, slim dark denim gets a lot of play on this site and many others (here’s an Effortless Gent post on the topic by yours truly), warmer months call for a change (most of the time) in what we wear on our legs. That’s not to say that a pair of crisp blue denim won’t work across all seasons — because it certainly will — but spring and summer can be an ideal time to shake up the denim spectrum. This can be done in a few different ways, but reaching for a slimmer pair of lightwash jeans is a great way to get the ball rolling. The key here, as with all denim, is to look for a pair that fits well, not baggy (on a personal note, J. Crew’s 484 jean as pictured above fits almost exactly like a slim-straight jean from Levi’s). And keep in mind these aren’t the stonewashed varieties of years past — with a lower rise and slimmer, edgier fit, they’re entirely modern.

Lightwash jeans work perfectly in the sunnier months of the year simply because their color, fit and feel are light, airy and relaxed — all the ideal trends and feelings of the warmer parts of the year. Whereas inky black denim and a sharp pair of black boots could become standard uniform in the severe cold of Michigan, a nicer pair of lighter-wash jeans practically scream spring and summer fun once it warms up.

On vacation time. Watch by Invicta Pro Diver.

On vacation time. Watch by Invicta Pro Diver.

And just because dark denim is practically the king of versatility among anything outside a suit doesn’t mean lightwash denim can’t be worn in just as many ways. Eschewing many of the top-heavy layers of winter, however, is the first step to making these jeans work for you. Several stores sell nice variations on the piece, from J. Crew (as pictured above) to a slightly slouchier fit by Gap to a straight-fit lighter wash by Old Navy. Another place that’s certainly worth checking out both for price point and versatility of looks is 20jeans. An addition to the market earlier last year, the company has jeans available in slim, skinny and straight fits. They’re also offering about three or four skinny and slim washes of light denim for $35, definitely a great price point for most us. Without personal experience, it’s tough to note quality, but others have told me very good things. As always, be sure to peruse the digital (or brick-and-mortar) shelves of Levi’s for a nice pair of 511’s or 513’s at a nice, low price if you’re so inclined.

Putting together outfits with light denim is inherently less complicated than dressing for the fall and winter, too. That’s because the first step (starting with a base denim) isn’t followed with piling on four different top layers to brave the Midwestern chill. Because lightwash jeans exude a more casual, lived-in vibe, simple things like a white henley (as seen above) or a crewneck t-shirt can work for running errands or even hopping down the hallway to a class. A mean-cut pair of desert boots (like the Steve Madden boots shown above) anchor the outfit in a more rugged way than a simple pair of sneakers might — however, some slim canvas kicks work well too, as we also see below.

It’s important to note, too, that accessories will go a long way in making the outfit summer-appropriate. Siblings With Style will have more on sunglasses later, but in the interim, look for a crisp, classic, relatively inexpensive pair of aviators (like the ones above from Ralph Lauren) or some Wayfarers (another relatively fail-safe classic that’s also decidedly on-trend). Because of the casual nature of many of these outfits, many types of watches will work, everything from a canvas Timex Weekender to a sleeker, decently priced dive watch.

A slightly more unique take on light denim. Floral shirt by Express. Jeans by J. Crew. (484 fit). Canvas sneakers by Urban Outfitters.

A slightly more unique take on light denim. Floral shirt by Express. Jeans by J. Crew. (484 fit). Canvas sneakers by Urban Outfitters.

And when the situation calls for something slightly more dressier, lightwash jeans work just as well with a collared shirt while leaving wiggle-room for experimentation Some are against short-sleeve shirts, but there are a few keys to follow. These short sleeve shirts (a variation of which is worn above) aren’t the ill-fitting Hawaiian prints of days gone by. Short sleeve shirts now have leaner, meaner fits and more eye-catching patterns (the brand The Critical Slide Society sells some eye-catching short-sleeve shirts with patterns through online retailer ASOS). In the outfit pictured above, a less obvious version of hi-lo styling comes into play with the canvas sneakers and slightly cuffed jeans. Another alternative revolves around the popover shirt, a retro classic that’s making another well-deserved turn (in both short-sleeve and long-sleeve variations) in the spotlight. The best seem to be sold at J. Crew right now in a variety of soft washes and stripes for summer. Consider it a more eye-catching update to the polo, and don’t think twice about wearing it with lightwash jeans.

Now, dressing up lightwash denim is a little more difficult, especially since it’s worn primarily casually to begin with, but it can be done (look at the photo under the ‘Adopt A Personal Uniform’ section for how to do up some distressed denim here) The key with trying to spruce up lightwash jeans would be to start with smaller pieces in combos (like a lighter-weight striped sweater or long-sleeve shirt over an OCBD) and then move on to bigger pieces like v-neck sweaters in appropriate colors.

Use a dive watch and floral shirt to contrast with the more casual nature of the lightwash jeans and sneakers.  Sunglasses by Ralph Lauren.

Use a dive watch and floral shirt to contrast with the more casual nature of the lightwash jeans and sneakers. Sunglasses by Ralph Lauren.

Footwear is the cap on any outfit, especially one with lightwash denim. A slick pair of desert boots could work with a more casual henley or crewneck tee, whereas a slim, low-profile pair of canvas kicks could create a hi-lo vibe between a popover or collared short-sleeve shirt. The same follows vice versa, too. This pair of sneakers from Urban Outfitters, while inexpensive, could be perfect for kicking around town with a pair of slightly cuffed lightwash jeans. And because it’s going to be spring (followed by summer), leave the darker denim, heavier layers and socks at home, at least for a while. One pair of good lightwash jeans could work wonders for injecting some fresh spring and summer style into your wardrobe.

Personal Style: Denim Circle Skirt Part 1/2

I’ve been on the lookout for a denim circle skirt for months.  I really love this one from American Apparel, but for a denim skirt the price is a bit high for me.  I was browsing Forever21 the other day and found a very similar one for only $13.50. Obviously, I bought it immediately.  Although this skirt is a light wash, I still find it very versatile and a great transition piece!

I went to brunch in Winter Park, Florida, one of my favorite locations in Orlando, and paired this skirt with a long-sleeved floral crop top and two different pairs of shoes for two different looks.


First, I wore my hair pulled into a sleek ponytail and my pink low-top Converse sneakers for a very sporty look. This was casual and comfortable for exploring the area.  The denim skirt is lightweight, but still a great material for descending temperatures.1233109_10201957283641815_581511355_o

Then I switched into my magenta heels from Target and let my hair down to dress up this look a little.  The denim and heels play together well to be slightly dressed up, but still casual enough to wear during daytime.  1263885_10201956860351233_370506050_o

The skirt has great movement while still keeping its structure! 1278920_10201957400564738_1916005285_o

I can’t wait to play around pairing more crop tops with this skirt for more casual looks.

Check back soon for Part 2/2 where I style my denim circle skirt for fall!

Thanks to Teresa for the pictures!

Men’s Style Essentials: On Your Torso

Putting together outfits is a complicated dance between coordinating what you have on your feet, to what you’re wearing on your legs, to what you’re wearing up top — all while keeping fit and situational awareness in mind. If you abide by the idea of a personal uniform, an outfit that you love to wear (and one that looks great on you), it makes picking out what to wear a breeze…almost. Sticking with well-fitting classics can be a great way to develop said uniform — this look, whatever that might be, is something you would feel comfortable throwing on day after day, with different variations of color and in different settings, ideally. Starting that process out with a clean, simple white polo can be a terrific foundation from which to build outfits and eventually experiment with more color. As it’s primarily a warm-weather option, it may not work for as many months of the year as it would for those of us in different, more temperate climates. But when it does warm up, here’s yet another option for casual wear.

The 'Classic Polo' in white from Old Navy. About as inexpensive & simple as it gets.

The ‘Classic Polo’ in white from Old Navy. About as inexpensive & simple as it gets.

If you’re in college, a white polo (or really, any polo) can be a nice, simple step to take away from the typical graphic t-shirt or plain shirt it seems so many guys wear. And many options are available at outstanding prices; Old Navy, for one, offers tremendous deals. But in terms of color, white is only a starting point; other color polos (when paired with neutral shorts, for example), achieve the same effect as a white polo. When it comes to versatility (and if you’d like to experiment with ‘loud’ shorts or an eye-catching watch strap), white is definitely one way to go. Navy is a great starting point, too, as it pairs with several different outfits and works in nearly identical settings as a white polo.

Putting on a collared shirt where you would typically wear a t-shirt (say, to the grocery store, for example) is more crisp and put-together looking; it can easily turn into something you do on a daily basis. And for the day-to-day college student, a polo is easy and simple; it dresses you up just enough without going into full-on suit territory. The right white polo would pair with jeans off-duty, with rolled chinos and loafers for casual wear, or with shorts for a hot trek across campus. And with desert boots and dark jeans, you have a solid foundation to throw in some pops of color with crazy socks or a bright watch strap. The perfect template for a casual outfit, if there ever was one.

A white polo lets show mix in other colors without overdoing it. Shorts by J. Crew.

A white polo lets you mix in other colors without overdoing it. Shorts by J. Crew.

On another note, a polo is polished without going too far over the ‘over-dressed’ line. If you’re looking to make small, easy upgrades, swapping that graphic t-shirt out for a polo makes a lot of sense.  Wearing better clothing, clothing that fits, helps you feel better, too; increased confidence translates to better grades, better work performance…you name it, well-fitting clothing can help you achieve it.

Outside of the classroom, even in a business casual setting, nailing the fit of the polo is something that can help you stand out in the right way. The ideal polo should fit trim through the body, with sleeves that hit about mid-bicep. Some polos, like the option pictured from Old Navy, have a bit of a longer back tail, which makes it tougher to wear untucked. Ideally, the polo should be fitted enough to wear either tucked in or untucked. J. Crew’s slub polos seem to hit the sweet spot on a personal note, as do options from Sunspel (although those are a bit on the pricey side; be warned). When it comes to fabric, the slub fabric and its texture are less dressy than a pique polo’s closer weave, but either option would do fine in a college campus or business casual setting, especially in a crisp, white color.

Using the white polo as a blank palette to build in other colors is a tremendous way to upgrade an outfit, too. White polo with red shorts? Sure, that works. As do blue shorts. And just about any other color you can think of. Dialing down the loudness of your shoes by wearing a clean, simple plimsoll or canvas sneaker accentuates your shorts or other colors in your outfit.

For versatility, a white polo hits the nail on the head. It can be matched with any other color, it can pair with jeans, chinos or shorts, and it can dress you up the right way for class, a date or a casual day at the office. It can be layered under a v-neck sweater during the cold months just as you would layer an OCBD, too (check out option #5 on this post for ways to wear a polo in cold weather). It may be basic, but by combining a simple polo with other colors, you can get more wear out of one garment than any other in your closet.


Men’s Style Essentials: From the Ground Up

Shoes are absolutely a foundation of any outfit. The entire tone of an ensemble can be set by what you wear on your feet. A nice pair of shoes can elevate a look from casual to dressy, or (with the wrong pair), serve to undermine the work you put into the rest of your look. In an ideal situation, they can provide an extremely solid starting point from which to build multiple outfits or looks. A good pair naturally lends itself to versatility — the right one can go with chinos and jeans, as well as dress trousers. Remember dark denim? Well, those jeans (along with chinos and some trousers) have met their match.

In that arena, there are few pairs more classically timeless (yet current) as the desert boot. A rather non-descript shoe with no-fuss eyelets and open chukka lacing, the desert boot has served as a style staple for decades, but has been enjoying a resurgence of sorts for the past few years. That’s partly because of their understated look, as well as their versatility and variety of of color options. However, typical desert boots are available in muted colors, and a good amount of time they come waxed, with a crepe sole. Although the sole isn’t the most durable with frequent wear on city streets (hence the term desert boot), the style should serve well in a weekly shoe rotation. For starters, Clarks makes some of the best desert boots on the market at relatively affordable price points. In fact, the brand is one of the few that’s become synonymous with offering a single product, and offering it at consistently high levels of quality, for years on end. If you’re starting out with a pair of desert boots, you can’t beat Clarks.

Old reliable tan suede desert boots by Clarks. Beat-up, but durable.

Old reliable tan suede desert boots by Clarks. Beat-up, but durable.

Dress-style desert or chukka boots are now widely available, too. Ideal for sprinting around a city or adding some visual interest to a well-tailored suit, boots with that type of open lacing are inherently more casual, but can definitely be dressed up. There are other benefits, too. The boot’s higher-ankle cut can help create a clean line between the break of your pants or suit trousers and the tops of your shoes; paired with a Levi’s 511, 513 or 514 jean or chino, the desert boot creates a slim silhouette that honestly flatters a good deal of body types.

Dress-style boot option by Steve Madden. Paired with Levi's 511 tan twill chinos.

Dress-style boot option by Steve Madden. With Levi’s 511 tan twill chinos.

And the desert boot pairs extremely, extremely well with the right pair of dark denim, or with tan twill chinos (as shown above — that subtle burnishing contrasts nicely with the faded, dusty-looking chino). With denim, take a selvedge pair for a spin with some Clarks; the two seem tailor-made for each other. When it comes to pairing other layers atop those two, brown leather or tan suede desert boots wouldn’t look out of place with some dark denim, a navy blazer, and an Oxford shirt. Rotating out the blazer for a v-neck sweater dresses down the outfit while still keeping the look cold-weather ready. For other options, it’s hard to beat a pocket tee or short-sleeve henley, still building off  that “desert boots and dark denim” base. Throwing in a pop of color in the form of a slim polo or T-shirt does the job nicely, too.

A closer look at cuffed pair of denim atop the classic desert boot.

A closer look at cuffed pair of denim atop the classic desert boot.

Once you wear those shoes, though, (and even before that), keeping them fresh out of the box is huge to prolonging their life. For just under $10, Kiwi Suede Protector goes a long way toward keeping those shoes safe from Mother Nature.  And as with any item, care is one of the biggest keys to ensuring you look your best. And keeping the pair clean actually expands the number of outfits you can wear them with; a cleaner boot works with everything from dressier, navy chinos to jeans.

So, going from the ground up, jeans and desert boots are about as versatile as you can get. Keeping everything affordable by using websites like Amazon  and keeping things clean using a nice suede protector ties the entire ensemble together in terms of affordability and flexibility. Pairing desert boots with other, classic items (like a slim polo or Oxford shirt) only adds to their appeal — finding pieces you love after a long search can be just as rewarding, something you’ll be reminded of every time you slip them on.


Men’s Style Essentials: Start With Your Pants

Most guys would probably do just about anything besides shop. You name it, it probably trumps shopping. So naturally, this first post is about shopping, or rather, what should be hanging in your closet. And on your legs. There are actually a myriad of reasons why guys should take an active interest in clothing. From improved confidence to better overall attentiveness and performance (particularly in college), the benefits are certainly noticeable. Plenty already adhere to that thinking, but for everyone else, it’s become a lot easier to improve the way you dress just by using the Internet. The explosion of the Web has made #menswear more accessible than ever. It’s also made it more confusing to follow rules and stick to fundamentals in a barrage of trends. The biggest key with trends is to know what works for you, in what situation. That’s another matter entirely. First things first, though.

It helps that there are items that can help ease the confusion of shopping. Items that most anyone can turn to, in nearly any situation, and dress up (or down) with relative ease. These items, one might say, are Style Essentials. Every guy should own them, every guy should wear them. Most of the time, they’ll work wherever you want to go, in nearly any situation. And the little details or improvements that come from changing one individual piece at a time (or simply wearing more of an item that you already have) add up to a much better overall picture. These aren’t expert tips or rules by any means, just a take on what can probably help most guys improve (or change) about their style. There’s a good chance many already have mastered these fundamentals. If so, good for you … and maybe you need a refresher? Either way, let’s start with your pants. Specifically, something that could help you wear better pants. Or just more of the same type of pant. Ultimately, these are only guidelines or suggestions to be followed … if you feel like it, that is.

Style Essential #1: Dark denim

Standard Cloth jeans by Urban Outfitters.

Standard Cloth jeans by Urban Outfitters. Distressing by Michigan fall and winter.

If I had to pick one item from my own closet that I couldn’t live without, it would be a pair of dark jeans from Standard Cloth. Available at Urban Outfitters, they’re a pretty solid template for a basic jean. They’re slim (just like the ideal pair of jeans), they have a tapered cut to the ankle (a matter of personal preference), and at purchase, they were a perfect, inky blue color. The inky blue creates a uniform visual appearance throughout, although these have since been beat-up quite a bit. Jeans in a darker color, overall, look much more polished and are much more versatile than the average pre-distressed pair. That doesn’t mean lighter-wash jeans are bad, because you probably need a pair of those too. And plenty of people love light-wash jeans — I have a pair in the closet, myself. However, they’re just not as versatile or polished (well-suited in terms of color and weight for the warmer months in particular, to be sure, but not as versatile).  Dark jeans, on the other hand, can be dressed up with a slim polo or a v-neck sweater, and stand out from a standard pair of pre-distressed denim in all the right ways. Unlike pre-distressed denim, dark jeans pair more closely with desert boots or clean, canvas sneakers. They work with a slim dress shirt, knit tie and desert boots or brogues as well as a pocket T-shirt. They can be worn in virtually all seasons, every day. Besides a nice pair of suit trousers or some casual chinos in a season-specific color, nothing can beat slim, dark denim. Heck, even James Bond wears denim. (Situationally appropriate handgun not included).

Any day wearing dark denim (here, by Scotch & Soda) is indeed a good day.

Any day wearing dark denim (here, by Scotch & Soda) is indeed a good day.

If you’ve got the right pair in mind, at the right price (Macy’s and JC Penney sell classic, dark Levi’s jeans for low, low prices) , the right cut — either a slim or slim-straight cut — is key. It can make or break the jeans. A slimmer cut creates a much more flattering silhouette than a baggy relaxed fit, or even a baggy or regular straight cut-jean. Try it sometime; there’s  few people who will look bad with less fabric hanging around the ankles. A jean with a slight bootcut can work if you’re taller and larger because it evens out body proportions, but the fact that these jeans are still available off the rack at most major retailers doesn’t mean they’re necessarily “in,” and it doesn’t mean you should buy them if you’re particularly slim — they just won’t look as  flattering as a leaner silhouette.

And once you have those jeans, there’s little they won’t go with. Charcoal polo? Wear those jeans. Pocket tee? Throw ’em on. Long-sleeve t-shirt on a casual day? Yes, of course. They could turn into the most important item you own, because the foundation of a guy’s wardrobe starts at the bottom (more on shoes later).

Most importantly, there’s nothing too outrageous-looking about a simple pair of jeans. Black-tie ready? No. Groundbreaking or fashion-forward? Certainly not. But there’s little that can be said against pairing those jeans with something simple, day after day. There’s also something to be said for creating a personal uniform, and jeans can be a great way to start. In fact, one could say owning a good pair of jeans is… essential.