Letter From the Editor

Confident Wardrobe: Separating Style From Substance

Can’t we all just get along?

By Megan Collins | Last Updated: Jan 24 2018

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about class. Where it divides, and along what lines.

And I’m clearly not alone. With this Friday’s transition of power in our executive branch, the idea of ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ has been on many people’s minds, and lips. At the rate we’re going, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the U.S. Mint ditch the dollar bill’s motto of “Annuit coeptis” (“He favors our undertaking”) for something closer to “What, so you think you’re better than me, huh?”

Last weekend, that boiling undercurrent of division finally spilled over into my life where I could no longer hide from it.

On my Instagram.

As part of our No Jeans January challenge, we’ve been putting up pictures of stylish friends wearing all different kinds of denim alternatives on the aforementioned social channel—a little sartorial inspiration to help keep followers from automatically reaching for jeans in the morning. Accompanying the pictures: words of wisdom from our subjects on the topic of wardrobe.

So when a reporter pal we featured made a quip about how pulling off chinos can be tricky if you don’t want to be mistaken for a fast food worker or a Best Buy sales associate, I didn’t think much of it.

Seemed like a reasonable point to me. My first job was at a bagel shop, and to this day, I won’t wear a white button-up with black pants – the uniform of choice for this particular chain. I posted the picture and quote, then headed to the gym

I was surprised when, an hour later, I took my phone off airplane mode and saw negative comments racking up on the post, calling out this small part of my friend’s larger point about the importance of finding clothes that fit, and accenting them with statement pieces (at any price) that make you feel comfortable and confident.

Commenters decried the point as “out of touch,” “insensitive,” and that we should “maybe consider yourself lucky you have the kind of job that offers choice in wardrobe.”

My first thought was to let it lie. If my friend wants to respond here, he can. Because I honestly felt like the quote stood for itself. I’ve lost count of the number of reader emails and comments I’ve seen over the years from guys who want to know how to wear chinos “without looking like a Best Buy employee.” Literally namechecking Best Buy.

Why? Not because guys don’t want to be asked where the printers are should they wander into a BB, but because pleated chinos and a bright blue polo aren’t getting you on the cover of GQ anytime soon.

These angry commenters (nearly all whose accounts were private, interestingly, and who I’d never noticed in Style Girlfriend’s feed before) were arguing that to want to distance oneself – sartorially or otherwise – from hourly employment is elitist. Awful, really.

This kind of reverse snobbery strikes me as stifling. To harbor a hatred of distinction seems horribly claustrophobic to a creative, diverse population who can and ought to dress as they will.

The point my friend was making—and the one we try to make daily on Style Girlfriend—is that while clothes don’t make the man, wearing clothes that fit your frame and that complement you sure can make you look and feel a whole lot better. Why be down on that?

We must learn to separate the desire to raise ourselves up from the desire to push others down. My friend has worked very hard in his life and to not want to be confused with a fry cook seems perfectly acceptable to me. That said, can you dress with impeccable style on a minimum wage worker’s wages? Absolutely. Some of my best dressed friends dress almost exclusively in expertly thrifted (and exactingly tailored) clothing. Do you think any of them would hit the club or head out on a date in their work uniform? Doubtful. And if they do, hey, more power to them.

TELL ME: 

WHAT DO YOU DO TO FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE AND CONFIDENT?