About Me

My photo
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.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Look book - The Well-Dressed Men series - Semi-casual

Once upon a time, when men with office jobs wore suits to work, going from business to casual attire meant taking off one's jacket and tie. Not anymore. A lot fewer workplaces have a business formal dress code, so full suits are nowhere near as ubiquitous. On the other hand, most places still frown upon jeans, t-shirts and flip-flops at work. There are, of course, the inevitable blue button-down shirts and khakis, but those are so boring! And so we venture into the vast region of in-between style - the semi-casual.

The interesting part about semi-casual is that it does include elements of the traditional business attire: jackets, shirts, trousers, shoes. However, it takes a certain level of skill to pull together a semi-casual outfit that looks good (as opposed to - I just threw this tuxedo jacket over my t-shirt and chinos).

Where the Heart Is is a girly-girl movie with too much undue attention toward Wal Mart. People either love it or hate it, which is understandable. It does have a few unquestionably good points: Ashley Judd and Natalie Portman in short skirts and Dylan Bruno's fantastic semi-casual wardrobe. Yes, he does play a total jerk in that movie, but, once his character gets cleaned up and styled up for a brief period, he carries that classy casual vibe to perfection. So, watch the movie, or find the stills for some semi-casual ideas.

You can also just look up Dylan Bruno. Sure, he had to suffer through suits in some of his movies and series, but he is at his best when he goes semi-casual. So many of his outfits employ skilled layering of pieces to create an overall relaxed-yet-very-handsome look. The fact that Mr. Bruno is a former model doesn't hurt either, I suppose. ;-)

Here, for instance, we have a t-shirt, layered with a black shirt, with a tailored charcoal jacket and soft gray jeans. It's hard to tell from the photo, but I suspect the shirt is a dressy one too and can be worn with a traditional suit and tie. And while buttons are undone and the jacket collar is turned up, the overall effect is by no means sloppy. You can definitely go to an informal party this way.

We talked about the glamorizing power of leather jackets in the post about casual style. Just as a leather jacket elevates jeans and t-shirt from meh to cool, the same leather jacket combined with the same jeans but with a dress shirt thrown in go up into the superstar semi-casual category.

Ah, you might say, but it is easy to rock a leather jacket when you are Gerard Butler. True. However, look at the quintessential rolly polly nice guy Kevin James rocking a great jacket worn with a slick black turtleneck, as he woos the lovely Amber Valetta in Hitch. That guy gives hope to anyone ever labeled as loser the world over.

Speaking of Hitch... Not the manliest man movie by any means, it does have a great range of men's clothes - from very casual to formal. With Kevin James and Will Smith being complete opposites in every way (coloring, body type, height), you get some fantastic ideas as to what works for different guys.

Love the little details here - like the interesting striped shirt on Will Smith worn with a casual blazer and jeans, and a nice unstructured jacket with a striped shirt and understated jeans on Kevin James. He still has his tummy - he did not go for liposuction or a killer workout regime for that movie. But he looks great, because he is wearing the right clothes for his body.

Jeans - broken-in and well-worn, t-shirt, dress shirt - slightly rumpled, and a suit jacket. Recognize the formula? No? Well, how about we throw in gorgeous blue eyes and a cane with flames painted on it? Indeed.

Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House created one of the most successful signature semi-casual looks that is also endlessly versatile. You can have three pairs of jeans, five t-shirts, five shirts, and three jackets - and you can ride that look till the end of the world.

That said, you cannot (and should not) wear this look thoughtlessly. There are still some considerations that come into play, otherwise you'll look like crap. The t-shirts must be fitted and in colors that work for you. That is very easy to determine by holding up t-shirts in different colors to your face in front of a mirror in good light. If it makes your eyes sparkle and works with your skin tone and hair - keep it. If it makes you look like the Frankenstein monster or the last Halloween's drowned person costume - I don't care how much you love it, get rid of it. A white or a black t-shirt is not the universal answer. You'd be amazed how many people look like a corpse when they wear black so close to their faces.

The shirts have to be in colors that work for you and work with the t-shirts. So, once you find the t-shirts in the right colors, pair them up with the shirts and see which combinations go best together. Hang them up together so that you don't forget.

The jeans must be the right size and fit for you. When in doubt - go with a classic straight leg jean in a dark wash. And I don't care how much you hate shopping - with jeans, you have to go to the store and try them on, because sizes and fits vary so widely not only between designers, but between different categories made by the same designer.

The suit jacket has to go with the color of the shirt and t-shirt (once again, black is not the answer to everything.) Gray is a good neutral and goes with a lot more things than black, so if you can only splurge on one or two good tailored suit jackets (that was a hint, yes), go for, say, a pale gray and maybe a darker charcoal gray.

Do not, I repeat, do not ruin this cool and manly look with big bulky sneakers. House has to wear them, because his leg hurts. And even he goes for a chic loafer or a dress shoe ever once in a while. If you absolutely must have a comfortable shoe, go for a pair of Sketchers or Steve Madden casuals - but not the sneakers. If I catch you in sneakers outside of the gym, I shall borrow House's cane and personally beat you with it. Are we clear?

I keep going to The Thomas Crown Affair because it's a great vision-setting movie and because it presents such a huge variety of fabulous looks both for men and women. The semi-casual category is no exception - it is very well-represented in the movie, and Pierce Brosnan certainly carries it off with panache (like everything else).

Remember I said that simply taking off your tie does not a semi-casual look make? However, a tie-less suit look can work - if and only if it is meant to be worn that way. And that means having the right shirt to pull it off. Here we have Mr. Brosnan in a shirt that is not supposed to be worn with a tie. The collar is prominent and is meant to be worn undone. A small, but important detail that brings the whole look down the formal scale a bit more is a very casual watch.

You think a watch is not important? Think again. It is a status symbol as well as an accessory. Wearing a diamond-studded Rolex with a t-shirt and cargo shorts is just as twisted as wearing a sports watch with a tuxedo. If you can't afford more than one watch, then make it a good one and get interchangeable bands for it to serve you for both day and evening looks (by "evening looks" I don't mean pajamas - I mean formal suits or tuxedos).

It took me a while to realize that one of my favorite looks in The Thomas Crown Affair is not exactly what it seems. It is very simple: a crisp white shirt, jeans, nice shoes and what I thought was an unstructured suede jacket. I was wrong. While this outfit can certainly be worn with a jacket, what Pierce Brosnan wears is actually another shirt - a more generously cut, suede shirt in a very nice shade of medium brown.

"Why would I wear a shirt over another shirt?" you may ask. Well, sometimes the weather is just on-the-fence enough - too cool for shirtsleeves and too warm for a jacket. So, a shirt worn instead of a jacket works. This also comes into play if, for example, you've been exercising lately and lost some weight. You have some shirts that look good and still fall beautifully but are too baggy for your new svelte self to be worn just as shirts. You can keep them and wear them in that shirt-over-shirt look. I would suggest trying it before actually wearing it out - to make sure it works.

Happy dressing, gents!

No comments: