Usually when talking about hard and soft dressing, I’m talking about tailoring styles. Here I’m not. There are two types of garments, hard and soft, and striking a balance will go a long way to making you well dressed.
Broadly speaking, we can divide everything in our closets and dressing boxes into two categories: hard and soft. Hard garments are things like crisp white shirts, polished calf shoes, and any metal jewelry. The soft stuff is easier to figure out – flannels, oxford shirts, challis ties, and pretty much anything you find yourself wanting to touch all day.
If you wear too much of the soft stuff you just end up looking sloppy. Wrinkles and drape are good things, but in excess they go from looking effortless to looking slovenly. There are exceptions, like putting a tweed jacket, rumpled oxford shirt, wool tie, flannel trousers, and suede shoes together. But you had better know what you’re doing or you’ll look like a freshman circa 1960 who can’t find his 9am lecture. Christian Chensvold of Ivy Style knows how to do prep without the shlep.
Pulling off the all-hard look is easier, but I think less elegant. Worsted suit, precisely-ironed white shirt, sharp twill tie, and gleaming brogues. Cufflinks catching the light at every opportunity. It seems so formulaic and conventional if over-done. Again, I’ll give myself an out, saying that a few city-centric gents I know look more dashing than boring when dressed this way, but they’re the exceptions not the rules. Most live in London.
The best strategy for most of us is to mix the two. There are the basics – soft jacket, crisp shirt. And there are the more quirky combinations – flannel trousers, glossy alligator belt. I’m writing this in a pair of grey flannel trousers and a cashmere v-neck sweater; only my white broadcloth shirt is keeping me from looking like a giant fuzz-ball.
If you’re prone to dressing one way, punctuate it elements of the other. I for one tend to dress softly, so using a pressed, double-cuff shirt with metal links as a base for an Ancient Madder tie, wool/silk pocket square, and brown suede loafers keeps me in balance. If you’re inclined the other way, using accessories like softer ties, pochettes, and knits to balance your more foundational pieces is an easy way to tip the scales back the other way without investing in anything huge.
This isn’t a commandment or a rule. Just the recommendation that a little balance goes a long way.
Photographs Courtesy of Rose Callahan at Dandy Portraits.