As a graduate student at MIT, I am consistently amazed at the insight and intelligence of my classmates. Sadly, not a day goes by that I’m not simultaneously shocked by the cluelessness that my fellow males seem to have regarding basic fashion.
Now, I realize this is MIT, and I’m not expecting anyone here to be recruited to revive Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. But a basic knowledge of how to look good will do wonders to improve all aspects of your life: academic, professional, and social. So as a service to my colleagues, I’ve penned a short series of articles for a crash-course on fashion. Think of me as your TA for FASH.101.
Like any good syllabus, this piece starts with the basics. This series is written with no assumptions about prior knowledge, so if you already subscribe to GQ or own more pairs of shoes than you do pants, these articles probably aren’t for you. Likewise, most of my advice will be aimed at graduate students. That’s not to say that undergrads can’t use the tips here, but I’m not going to break into Simmons Hall and steal your MATLAB/Simulink t-shirts. Sidney-Pacific, on the other hand, is a different story. Older undergrads that are closer to the career world will likely find these beneficial, as well. If you’re unsure if this series is for you, check out my handy guide (inset).
The flow of this “course” is very straightforward. Today’s column will serve as a brief introduction to fashion in general and a list of the essentials that every man should own. Afterward, you’ll see me every other Tuesday for an in-depth study of shoes, pants, shirts, outerwear, and accessories. Finally, we’ll tie everything together with a shopping and outfit assembly guide.
Sound good? Then let’s dive in!
Why should you care about fashion? Because other people do, and those people very often fall into the category of “potentials”: potential employers, potential advisers, potential significant others, etc. Now I’m not going to tell you that you’ll become an auto-include for every lab on campus just because you look fabulous; if that were true, I’d already have a research adviser. I will tell you that the social scientists (see, they have their uses!) tell us that first impressions are formed in roughly 30 seconds, and appearance is a significant percentage of that impression. Who doesn’t like starting out on top?
Now we know that you should care about fashion, let’s look at the mechanics (don’t you just love that word?). What should you be wearing? The photo in the middle of this page is a prime example of an outfit that every guy should own. Period. What makes this outfit so essential? Modularity.
As engineers, we all understand the revolution ushered in by the concept of interchangeable parts. Fashion works the same way. By buying simple, timeless pieces in classic colors, you maximize your wardrobe options without minimizing your credit score. What are those pieces? Let’s go through …
1. A good pair of sleek, genuine leather shoes, in dark brown or black, will go with every pair of pants you own. Great fashion is a bottom-up process.
2. A pair of flat-front, slim-legged slacks in a neutral color (khaki, charcoal, gray, brown, etc.) can be dressed up to a 10 or down to a 3 (see Russell’s Equation).
3. A heavy cotton button-up shirt (known as an Oxford) in a catchy color (pink, light blue, and French blue are great first options, as is a bold stripe pattern) pairs with absolutely anything.
4. A dark skinny tie with a subtle pattern or texture is the perfect bridge between clubbing (slung loose and shoddy with the top button or two undone) and conferencing (tied higher with a symmetrical knot).
5. A dark blue or gray blazer (without the faux gold buttons) pulls together any outfit with a hint of pizzazz.
6. A slim watch, a dark leather belt, and one unique piece of “flair” (an earring, a bracelet, a necklace, etc.) — it’s like your signature for your outfit.
With only three or four pieces in each category, plus some miscellaneous items like t-shirts and sweaters, you can easily assemble >20 unique outfits. Of course, in fashion just like in transport phenomena, not everything is linear, and this many options can quickly become overwhelming when you’re running late for office hours (damn ambiguous p-sets…).
So, to streamline things, I’ve developed a simple formula called “Russell’s Equation”; it’s like one of Maxwell’s Equations with less s and more sexy. Clip it out and tape it on your mirror and you’ll never go wrong.
I’m going to call that a wrap for this week folks. I realize this is new and uncharted territory for many of you, and fashion can quickly become overwhelming (firehose syndrome affects us all). In the mean time, I urge all of you to head out to the mall this weekend and assemble the essential outfit, assuming you don’t already own it. See you all next time, looking fabulous I’m sure.