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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Look Book - The Well-Dressed Men Series - Older Men

Considering how little men's clothes changed in the last 100 years (especially compared to women's clothes), it is rather astonishing that so many men have trouble dressing themselves in the morning. Things turn particularly ghastly in the summer, when out come the hideous cargo shorts and baggy t-shirts with college and sports team logos. The latter look particularly pathetic on men who clearly have been out of college for a number of years and who haven't participated in sports beyond watching them on TV for just as many years.

There are menswear catalogs, of course, as well as books that might help (I will provide a list of both later). However, the catalog photos and book illustrations are stationary. You can't see how the clothes fit and look when you move around in them. Ah, but fear not, my fair gentlemen! There is an answer to this - let's go to the movies! Men in movies have to move (otherwise they wouldn't be movies - they would be standees) - and rather more than in normal life, because it has to be exciting. So, they run, they jump, they fall, they blow stuff up, and unless it's the opening scene of The Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis, there are usually clothes involved in all that action.

When I started thinking of how to structure this series, I intended to start with younger guys first. But then, I could just hear the cry of outrage from my older gentlemen friends, "Why, Maria! Why do you give preference to the hunks?! What about us? Must we be trapped in sartorial hell for a longer period of time just because of our age?" Fair enough, guys, fair enough. In our youth-obsessed culture, young men get all the attention anyway. So, I will start the series with the older men's fashions.

The two movies you must put on your watchlist are Space Cowboys (2000) and Red (2010). Both of them are chock-full of older guys - balding heads, wrinkles, bellies and all - doing all kinds of stuff and wearing all kinds of clothes. Space Cowboys is more on the casual side, while Red covers a full range - from jeans and t-shirts to black tie.

"But Maria," you might say, "these guys are actors. They have personal stylists and fitness couches and all that." Actually, if you look at them - especially in these two movies - there are no attempts to hide their age. Just look at the paunch on Tommy Lee Jones! And look at ALL of Brian Cox! I mean talk about the guy who is definitely going along with the whole aging thing. He is not a particularly good looking guy to begin with. In Red he plays a totally off-the-charts character - a Russian mafia boss in love with a British assassin (played with great panache by Helen Mirren). Think about it, people! Brian Cox, who is 66 and rolly-polly has to hold his own against one of the queens of cinema! And he does. Brilliantly. Even when he has to wear a purple jacket. In fact, he is so adorable in that movie, that I totally forgive him for playing the bad guy in the Bourne series and in X-Men 2.

While we are on the subject of formal, if you want to see an older guy rock a tuxedo - and I mean seriously rock it - pull up photos of Morgan Freeman. Black tuxedos, white tuxedos, in movies, premieres, promo appearances - he owns that look. And, once again, he is clearly supremely comfortable with his age.

How does he get away with it? It's the fit. While we are on the subject of Morgan Freedom, look at the mileage he gets out of the classic business formal look in Wanted. Yes, a star of his caliber can afford to have a tailored wardrobe. However, there are small, inexpensive alterations to a regular, off-the-rack suit that can make you look and feel loads better. The rule of thumb is that American suits are cut larger and more "rectangular" (thus, the term "American sack suit" - no base comments, please) and European suits are cut smaller and are more fitted around the waist.

So, if you are a bigger guy, buy American, find a tailor (small alterations are often available at your friendly dry cleaner's), and have him put two tiny darts in the back of the jacket to give you a more pronounced waist. Do not wear pants with pleats in the front - they make you look pregnant. Tapered pants with pleats are the root of old evil and must be burned. Immediately. I mean it.

If you are a smaller-framed guy, buy European. If you are a tall athletic guy with broad shoulders, buy American and have the same alteration done as I recommended for the bigger gentlemen, but the darts will have to be deeper.

We can't run around in tuxedos all the time. So, let's turn it down a notch. Let's look at semi-casual, which is a very broad category. With the exception of very traditional work places with strict dress codes, semi-casual has replaced business attire all around the world. Do not, however, make a mistake of thinking that just because you no longer have to wear a three-piece suit and a tie you can throw the good sartorial sense to the wind and look sloppy.

The two guys who do semi-casual very well for their age and stature are Anthony Hopkins and, once again, Brian Cox. Sir Anthony frequently opts for monochromatic black, tailored to look neat and trim. When he goes for color, more often than not he sticks with reliable neutrals - a crisp striped shirt and a blazer. Notice that even when going with this simplest of all combinations, he introduces a little bit of texture - like a pinstripe on his shirt or a subtle tone-on-tone stripe on the jacket. Perfect! Watch him in Meet Joe Black for oodles of semi-casual older men wardrobe fabulousness.

Brian Cox keeps the jacket basic, but plays a little bit more with the shirt pattern. Incidentally, the fact that a smaller pattern hides all manner of bodily sins applies to both men and women. Do you want to look nice but are feeling self-conscious about that beer belly? Find a shirt with interesting pin stripes or a smaller pattern.

I was just wrapping up selecting images for the semi-casual section, when I saw this really interesting look on Harrison Ford. Now, we know that despite being 70, Indiana Jones is still in great shape and does his own stunts. So, he can still afford to wear patterns that have a broadening effect. In this particular case, Mr. Ford is wearing a dark jacket with a very subtle window-pane pattern. It's no more than a thin latticework of white lines, but it elevates the jacket from basic and blocky to interesting and sophisticated. I also must applaud Mr. Ford for not being afraid to wear a colorful scarf - an accessory thought to be reserved exclusively for women. Not at all! Look how awesomely it works here!

Speaking of Harrison Ford... While we know he can do a suit and a full tux just fine, I think American public generally prefers him casual and scruffy. That's the way we love him. He just never looks quite at home in that prim suit and bow tie in the Indiana Jones movies - he appears to be much more at ease with jeans or khakis and a leather jacket, not to mention that incomparable hat.

Once again, however, casual and comfortable does not mean sloppy. Burn this into your brain, or else I shall come to haunt you with my seam ripper and my measuring tape. Here is a classic Harrison Ford - the jeans, the t-shirt, the leather jacket. Does he look comfy? Yes. But sloppy? Not at all. Why? Because the clothes fit him. The t-shirt is not skin-clawing-tight, but fitted - there is a difference. The former makes you look like a very uncomfortable shrink-wrapped pork loin. The latter makes you look neat and, therefore, trim. Please, gentlemen, I beg you, throw away all those cheap stretched-out t-shirts or give them to your wife as dust rags and invest in a few quality ones - a set to wear under your shirts (no, you may not wear an undershirt as a t-shirt - see the seam ripper and measuring tape warning above), and a set to wear as t-shirt in a nice knit. Silk and bamboo knit t-shirts are more expensive, but they wear better, are supremely comfortable, fit beautifully, and keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

A word on jeans. The waistband of your jeans should rest just a little bit below your natural waist. Not under your armpits and not around your knees. Opt for a classic, dark-wash straight leg jean - no whiskering, no acid wash, no rips, no rivets, no tapering, no skin-tight. Are we clear on this? Leave the fads to the teenagers. Although, some of these "features" don't look good on anyone.

Even the most basic casual look can be ruined by the enormous sneakers. For the love of Steve Madden, people, get yourself some nice casual shoes. They do exist. Steve Madden makes some awesome ones, so does Sketchers. Clinton Kelly of the US What Not to Wear says that you can be dressed to the nines, but the shoe always sets the tone and can make a break an outfit. I completely agree with him. Sneakers belong in a gym.

Another guy who really rocks the casual look is Bruce Willis. We are back to the movie Red , which he starts off in pajamas and spends most of in casual duds (although, he does appear in a suit and even in a full military uniform). He and Morgan Freeman seriously give each other a run for the money as to who wears a leather jacket better.

Here they both are sporting a very similar look - monochromatic black - with slightly different components. For Bruce, it's a black t-shirt, layered with an unstructured, but close-fitting black zippered jacket and jeans. For Mr. Freeman it's a snap-closure black shirt with a black leather jacket and jeans. They both have to do a lot of movement in these clothes - it is an adventure flick after all. And they are both clearly very comfortable. Not bad for a couple of old guys, eh?

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