“There is no self from the shelf.” ‒ Ignatious Joseph

When writing an article about “personal style”, there inevitably comes a moment when you start typing the phrase in Google. Personal style seems to be a “thing” for women because, on the first few pages of hits, there is not a single one referring to a page that helps men with this subject. One search result was about finding a personal style as an artist, while all the others all had tips for women to help them find a style of their own. (And yes, I run a tracker killer so Google’ has little chance to figure out whether I am male or female.)

Aren’t men concerned with style somehow? Is this bulk of search results representative of the amount of attention that men give to clothes and overall appearance as compared to women? Do the fashion and beauty industries regard men as too “unemancipated” to spend the time to help us find our way in the apparel jungle?

Men are concerned with style. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this article. I think that being in our little “men-niche” within the enormous fashion industry could also be a good thing. We can learn a lot from women’s fashion and avoid the maddening crazes that seem an integral part of it.

To be steadfast and decisive in one’s appearance is certainly a reflection of one’s character and as such, worthy of praise.

As a fashion illustrator, I’m intrigued by certain gentlemen who dress in a distinctive way, with such a strong, visual presentation that it feels almost like a personal brand. They’re taking their style game a step further. You can spot a gentleman of this breed from a mile away and immediately recognise him. As trends and fashions pass by, they seem to be unaffected by them. Personal style becomes signature style.

The Benefits of a Signature Style

I think there should be more of these men. To be steadfast and decisive in one’s appearance is certainly a reflection of one’s character and as such, worthy of praise. It is also ideal for wardrobe management. Each morning, you can pick any set of items from your wardrobe and know that you’re likely to have made a great combination, just because you built your wardrobe with a greater plan in mind. This well-conceived plan actually saves you time on deciding what to put together each day.

To have a signature style is also very cost-efficient. Since your style changes very little over time, the product half-life is likely to increase significantly. After a while, your shopping list will be down to just socks, shirts and underwear. You’ll only spend big on items that make you say, “Hell yeah!”

Wardrobe planning —even without having style in mind— has great benefits. You just need figure out what you need; how many white shirts, how many brown or black shoes, pants, cardigans, sweaters, jackets, suits, overcoats do you need to look fresh every day?

Moreover, signature style is often the result of a clever choice of accessories. While writing this, Iris Apfel immediately comes to mind—a rare old bird of paradise and undisputed style icon. When you know how to accessorize, you’ll be able to save on key pieces, which in turn allows you to make better choices regarding those same key pieces. All of a sudden, you can buy better.

The Journey towards a Signature Style

Oftentimes, signature styles revolve around a single item: a bow tie, a specific pair of shoes, a distinctive model of trousers. It’s probably when your friends say, “There he is again with his lapel pin,” that you know you’ve got a signature piece. However, what I am most interested in is how a particular sense of style was developed rather than what it actually looks like. So I decided to ask a few stylish gentlemen about their dressing habits.

“The difference between style and misbehaviour lies in one’s ability to gain or retain acceptance despite a certain deviance.”

A while back, I met with Ignatious Joseph who happened to be in my neighbourhood on a business trip for his shirt company. He is a gentleman with years of experience in the men’s fashion game and he has a remarkable style that deserves a closer look.

For Joseph, “Style is that which a person does that is neither necessary nor common. The difference between style and misbehaviour lies in one’s ability to gain or retain acceptance despite a certain deviance.” In other words, you could say that style is that little bit of crazy that you can get away with and that makes you stand out.

Joseph told me about his childhood in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and how he moved to Western Europe:

“I was born and raised in the British Empire, in particular its tropical part,” Joseph says. “Hence, I started life surrounded by the attire favoured by the colonial civil service. I played cricket at school when anything besides white flannel was inconceivable. Sri Lanka is independent and I have been living in Europe for many decades so my present mode of dress is literally the product of a journey—one made by many since its decolonisation. My journey was particular if not unique but the person I have become finds expression in all those sartorial experiences between Colombo and Lake Como.”

Therefore, style is likely to be the product of a journey, even if it is not as literal as Joseph’s. Another important insight I got from Joseph is that personal style is not an idée fixe. Style, as an expression of one’s experience, remains dynamic. Sometimes it is not even a conscious process. In Joseph’s way of dressing, cuts and types of fabric are deliberately chosen, but often the colours are just accidents of nature and passion.

Personal style with regard to social context

Developing your personal style is largely about playing the hand that you’re dealt. We dress to certain sartorial conventions that may be particular to the region we live in, our workplace or our social circle. Some items of clothing are worn just because of a certain idea of manhood

I then spoke with Johannes Ucan from Jucan Tailors in Switzerland. He is a particularly sharp dresser with that classic, dapper look but with a very modern finish. He really likes to combine what he calls “old fashions with the new” to create a distinctive and innovative look, trying not to lose his identity in the process. “Being able to make new combinations with classic forms of fashion is inspiring me everyday,” he says.

Ucan confirms that his work dictates what he wears since he is simply his “company in the flesh” and a living example for his customers. About his journey to his present personal style he says:

“Before I dressed like this, I lived through all sorts of style variations. From Punk to Rave, switching back and forth from tight-fitting to oversized, but all rather casual. I was always searching and it left me unsatisfied. Now, my development is far from finished but I think that I have found my personal style. That doesn’t mean that there is no room for improvement, perfectionism and little changes. You have to keep dreaming and living those dreams.”

Ucan has no ready definition of style because he likes to think that real style encompasses more than clothes alone and that it is also a matter of how you carry yourself. Nevertheless, he says, “An outfit should never be the result of some dress-up party, but rather be a second skin for the wearer.”

Does it feel like one has to make sacrifices in maintaining personal style?

“Life is full of sacrifices,” Joseph says, “but I have never seen myself as a martyr. Not to anything.”

“Maybe in my bank account,” says Ucan, “but otherwise, I consider myself very privileged to live the way I do without having to make any sacrifices.”

As I said before, there should be more men with an outspoken attitude towards style. Men in general need to be more aware of the impact they can make with their wardrobes, not only on a personal level but to be noticed in society as well. I hope the practical aspects to personal style that I mentioned and the stories of Joseph and Ucan did at least spark your interest. Now, your journey to develop your signature style starts here.