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.
Please send your men’s dress and grooming questions to MALE CALL: