For some, the morning ritual is a careful routine, a well-worn path from bed, to shower, to closet (or closets and rolling racks, if you’re one of those), where thoughtfully purchased items hang, any combination of which will result in a cultivated, signature look. Maybe they’re devotees of sprezzatura, where minute details like the arrangement of a pocket square is given the same amount of attention as someone else might give to their tax returns. Maybe they’re a dropcrotched goth ninja, swathing on layers like the lost Bedouin tribe of Nolita. Maybe they’re preppy or a sneakerhead or a grungy gentleman or a gentleman with good hygiene. Whatever the look, they’ve got one and they’re running with it.
For me, the process is somewhat less involved. Bed (sometimes couch) to shower (most of the time) to closet or more frequently, to pile on the floor where I’ve dumped the laundry I can’t be bothered to put away 75% of the time. The pile is the great equalizer of my wardrobe, where APC is given the same prominence as Uniqlo, where YMC and Remi Relief intermingle freely with American Apparel and 1998 J. Crew holdovers. And from that pile, my “look” is born—a hodgepodge of whatever isn’t too wrinkled, a mix of patterns and fabrics that I think seems passable on any given day. But it’s nowhere near controlled enough to form any semblance of a look. At least not an intentional one.
If the much talked about street style revolution has taught us anything, it’s that dressing in a particular, consistent way will get you some attention and maybe a certain level of respect and approval from the fashion community. Some of the most photographed figures in the Tommy Ton Era have easily identifiable, distinct looks. You know Nick Wooster is going to show up in some iteration of an impeccably tailored, slightly off-kilter suit. Menswear editors like Eugene Tong can masterfully blend streetwear elements with more buttoned-up styling. GQ’s Justin Doss is going to wear a hat and glasses combination that will be often imitated, but never duplicated. Kate Lanphear can give even the most feminine pieces an androgynous, rock edge. Each of these examples—and there are many more—are people who have found what works for them and know how to make it come together in a signature way. It’s an admirable feat, one that I’ve often thought of creating for myself, to varying levels of almost-success.
In the past, I have declared I was going to start dressing in specific ways. Eagle Eye Cherry as Butcher Shop Employee in the “Save Tonight” video was one look I felt strong about for roughly three hours. The Proclaimers were a constant source of inspiration for Fall 2011. And recently I debuted what I called the Polish Teenager—crewneck sweatshirts over a buttoned up white Oxford, Adidas track pants and low profile Dr. Martens. It got some nods of approval in Greenpoint, but otherwise proved unsustainable.
I already have self-esteem in abundance, probably too much to be honest. Does that mean that maybe I already have a look and just don’t know it yet?
So where should someone like me even start? I Googled “developing a signature style” to see what the Internet had to say about it. eHow tells me that a signature look will help me declare who I am, and provides 4 simple steps to achieve that, one of which expounds upon the novelty of wearing a straw hat with a conservative suit. (NOTE TO SELF: Add Wall Street Johnny Appleseed as a contender for Spring/Summer 2013.) Most of the other top results were centered upon the self-esteem building value of dressing as who you really are.
I already have self-esteem in abundance, probably too much to be honest. Does that mean that maybe I already have a look and just don’t know it yet? Am I living amongst my look in the way that unassuming neighbors live next door to serial murderers for years without ever suspecting there are decapitated heads in the basement freezer?
I asked some friends—coworkers, fashion editors, my older brother and normal everyday people I know—to describe the way I dress. The results were…inconclusive:
“Young Mormon widower.”
“Swedish lottery winner gone wrong.”
“Unpopular Japanese man who was touched as a school boy.”
“Unwashed, yet appealing.”
“Straight gay guy. Or gay straight guy.”
“Harry Potter goes to the Bowery.”
“Off-duty Downton Abbey footman.”
Aside from the fact that all my friends think they’re REALLY FUCKING FUNNY (do they even have Amish people in Canada?), that doesn’t tell me much.
So, I guess I’ll just keep on trucking. Having a look would be great and if for no other reason than cutting down my morning prep time. It will be something that I’ll keep thinking about working toward. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll take some time to go through my wardrobe and follow eHow’s advice: Pick a look I like, duplicate it, throw on a goddamn straw hat and call it a day.
For now, you can catch me in the streets looking like unwashed lesbian off-duty Harry Potter. And a damn stylish unwashed lesbian off-duty Harry Potter, at that.
Steve Dool is a writer based in New York City. Follow him on Twitter.