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MALE CALL: Small accessories can make inexpensive clothes look good

Q I’m early in my career, and my work generally requires jackets and ties. My funds are limited and I’m hoping I can create something of a personal style by adding pocket squares and French cuff shirts with cuff links. Would they work with and without expensive suits?

A This is definitely very solid thinking. For a man, there are indeed a few smaller, less expensive items, that can help develop a sense of his own style. These do include pocket squares, cuff links, and others, such as tie bars and interesting socks, even when you are not wearing a $1,000 suit. To be effective, they need to be carefully selected to provide a “pop” of color that coordinates with the rest of what you are wearing. These make a subtle fashion statement — one that neither screams for attention nor fades out of sight.

To give you some specifics:

Pocket squares: The least expensive way a man can elevate his style and add polish to his look, adding a pocket square can be a wise decision. It provides an opportunity to show a bit of personality. With a suit, a blazer or a sport coat, it should just peek out of the breast pocket with about an inch or inch-and-a-half showing (not so much that it looks like a flower). Do not arrange the points so precisely that they look like a picket fence. A jaunty, slightly casual air is the effect you are trying to achieve, whether you wear it “points up” or with the middle “puffed.”

Your aim with a colored square is to complement (but not to match exactly) something else that you are wearing — usually the tie. Or, it can echo the basic color of the jacket or the shirt, maybe even a subtly colorful pair of socks. Here’s an example: consider a tan suit, blue shirt, blue-and-brown striped tie and a silk pocket square in a dark-brown-and-light-blue small pattern or dot. Today, for men who choose to skip the tie, they can still opt to wear a handkerchief in a pocket as an accent. It can be plain white linen or cotton with a colored border. In my opinion, there is really no reason to spend a lot on any of these. The look is the same, whether expensive or simple.

Cuff links: With French-cuff shirts, cuff links are a required accessory. They are a great way to make a statement (and a welcome refined addition when wearing a suit without a tie). For those who have not inherited a vintage pair from Dad or Granddad, check out any gently used clothing store for some handsome bargains. Or you might like the far less expensive colored silk-knot links that come in a variety of colors. Available in better men’s clothing shops for about $12 a pair, they are a different, chic look and they are never too large (My rule for what is “too large” in cuff links is not much larger than a dime.)

Tie bars: Small, smart looking and once-again current, tie bars should be silver- or gold-toned metal and simple in design. As with all men’s jewelry, the most important point is to avoid anything large or showy.

Colorful socks: Again, I urge you to be discrete in your choices. Today’s new “fun” socks are brighter and more look-at-me than men’s socks worn in the past. Sometimes, too much so. They definitely say that a man is clothing-aware. Even so, use good judgment. If the design is rather loud and eye-catching, choose a color that is somewhat quiet. And be logical: this trend works with blazers, sport coats and not-too-dressy medium-dark suits, but not with conservative board-room striped suits.

Hats and sweaters: Since both of these elements are quickly noticed and can be memorable, they are a wise place to invest. For a mere fraction of the cost of, say, an impressive watch, a flattering hat and a few great-looking sweaters are well worth owning.

Keep in mind that a sharp-looking wardrobe does not just appear in a man’s closet. It requires a bit of thought, more than a bit of time and a good bit of caring. No one who is really well dressed comes by such an impression effortlessly. Especially when you are not able to spend a lot of money, you must be willing to invest more effort. You seem to be headed in the right direction.

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