WALL STREET JOURNAL
WORDS BY JAMIE WATERS, VINCENT BOUCHER
We all matured in one way or another during lockdown. Some men became fathers, celebrated a milestone birthday or changed careers. And everyone got older. As we re-enter a world of ever-hazier dress codes, some folks are grappling with how to dress in a way that makes sense for who they are now.
Below, two writers of different generations seek solutions. Plus, find the jeans that work for any age and read about the worst style missteps older men can make.
The Guy in His 30s: Jamie Waters
I swam into the pandemic, still in my 20s, in a pool of oversize clothes. I tossed big knits over big T-shirts, billowy pants and bloated sneakers. I turned 30 during lockdown—blowing out candles in a park while dwarfed by an XXL paisley hoodie—and in the ensuing months, a seed of doubt began to germinate: Had I outgrown my youthfully baggy wardrobe?
When I turned up to a post-lockdown dinner in a T-shirt that almost skimmed my knees, I asked a friend if I resembled an “overgrown skater boy.” She blurted, “You absolutely don’t!”
her eyes darting to her menu in a way that confirmed I absolutely did. I began retiring items that felt forced now that I’d entered my fourth decade: a hoodie with awkward, jutting pockets placed high on the sleeves; an alphabet soup of logoed sweaters.
I swapped my chunky sneakers for chunky Blundstone boots, whose comfy, no-nonsense sturdiness suggests I’m getting things done. And I tried limiting myself to a sober, all-navy-blue uniform that signaled efficiency. I was a busy grown-up, I told myself, with no time for juvenile clothes. Then I got bored and, in a moment of weakness, bought a sweatshirt featuring a huge embroidered avocado with eyes. I can’t take it off.
“There’s a difference between growing up and growing old,” said Jian DeLeon, Nordstrom’s men’s fashion and editorial director. Clearly I had taken the dull minimalism thing too far, but the underlying sentiment was right. In my 20s, I had embraced the graphic prints, bold logos and slouchy silhouettes dominating much of menswear. Now, like many of my fellow millennials, it was time for my style to mature.
I have plenty of options for my rebrand: The menswear market is filled with clothes for guys who are weary of streetwear that’s notably outré.
There’s even a growing category of brands referred to as “post-streetwear.” Often their collections mix formal-ish tailoring with familiar streetwear references and crafty textiles; Mr. DeLeon cites 4SDesigns and 18 East as two standout brands.
I’m drawn to New York’s Corridor, which creates intrigue with texture, not logos. Founder Dan Snyder said he likes knitwear because it lets you play with dimensions, “almost like sculpture.” His cardigans combine yarns of different colors (pinks, greens, grays) and thicknesses to make the eye dance. They’re slyly cool—and Mr. Snyder, a 37-year-old dad living in Brooklyn, wears them as a whimsical alternative to blazers. “It’s a way of layering without being serious,” he said.
Another irreverent option: Kapital, a Japanese brand that sprinkles its jeans with raver-like smiley faces.
Have fun but also go see a tailor, said Los Angeles stylist Chris Kim. Your 30s are when you “realize that fit is crucial.” To elevate your look, he advised getting a few key pieces custom fit including a blazer and trousers.
My friend Tom Reynolds, an editor at a London magazine, has been sharpening his style since becoming a dad in lockdown. His goal: “cool dad not lame dad.”
Cue a vintage Paul Smith trench coat and a crossbody bag from Manhattan Portage, a brand that is intriguingly obscure rather than hyped, he said, so there’s no danger of his looking like a streetwear-trend victim.
In a bid to be taken more seriously, Mr. Reynolds, 35, also bought his first loafers. “I was wearing trainers (sneakers) nonstop, so I was like, ‘I’ve got to sort this out,’” he said. He chose brown, textured leather penny loafers that ooze sophistication. There’s just one problem: They hurt too much, he said. After two wince-filled outings, he’s reverted to wearing his Nikes. Growing up is tough. I’m getting him some Blundstones.
The Man in His 60s: Vincent Boucher
I was in Midtown Manhattan the other day thinking about new clothes for fall, so I ducked into Saks Fifth Avenue. I remembered the earnest young man from the Midwest who moved to New York in the 1980s and bought an Italian linen suit, right there in the men’s enclave on Saks’s sixth floor. I hadn’t yet snared my first job, but Milanese tailoring was all the rage and I needed to partake.
Today, the sixth floor is no longer wood-paneled, and it displays a sea of designer sneakers. The Italian tailors are still there, but they’re hiding in the shadows: Like other retailers, Saks doesn’t whisper the quiet language of suits and sport coats anymore but comes at you with bold luxury streetwear and dressed-down everything.
If you’re over 50, your first reaction to the creep of casualization might be to retreat to your trusty suit.
Traditional tailoring can be a safety net for older gents. But this 69-year-old believes there’s fun to be had by branching out. Look at Brad Pitt, 58, who’s having the time of his life on the “Bullet Train” press tour, wearing a skirt to one premiere and an orange outfit to another. When one reporter asked why, Mr. Pitt said: “I don’t know! We’re all going to die, so let’s mess it up.” That’s as good a style credo as I can think of, especially after being cooped up indoors for so long.
Post-lockdown, such freewheeling thinking is popular among the silver-haired set, said New York stylist Jim Moore. Many “upper-age” guys, he noted, wish to move past the quilted vests and chinos common among their peers. According to him, they’re saying, “I want to play in the new style sandbox.”
Hollywood style consultant Andrew Weitz suggests replacing a blazer with a statement shirt jacket—perhaps a gray cashmere Thom Browne take. And Los Angeles stylist Jeanne Yang recommends a Rick Owens high-top sneaker for an idiosyncratic touch. Or follow the lead of stars like Ethan Hawke (51), Hugh Jackman (53) and Bryan Cranston (66). According to their stylist, Michael Fisher, all three are telling him, “Let’s not wear a tie [or] the typical premiere suit.” Try a casual suit variation with an elasticized waist instead; I’m eyeing one by Ami Paris with a wide, swagger-inducing cut.
To up the fashion stakes, consider Dries Van Noten, Prada and Yohji Yamamoto, legendary brands whose clothes can be worn by men of any age. I recently spotted a black Dries cashmere button-down. Part-shirt, part-cardigan, it’s easy but unsloppy. I’m going to need it—but in the hot-pink alternative. Now’s the time to be seen.
The Wall Street Journal