Style Is What You Wear When No One’s Watching

Over Thanksgiving, while most of you were gleefully enjoying turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, and that cranberry sauce you've been lead to believe you like, I was washing down Percocets with Schwepps because I had just gotten all four of my wisdom teeth out the previous day. Now, I know what you're going to ask, "Why the fuck would you get your wisdom teeth out the day before the best meal of the year, you idiot?" Well, aside from answering your own question (I'm an idiot), it's because they were impacted (something I'm told is bad) and were causing me an extraordinary amount of pain. As a result, I had no choice but to utilize the nearest five day vacation allotted to me by Parsons The New School for Design (#educationflex).

Needless to say, I didn't do much of anything over the course of those five days, unless you count re-watching the entire Arrested Development series as a form of productivity. But days like these, especially post-op, do nothing if not teach a man a great deal about himself. And I'm really not saying that to get all spiritual on you. I'm merely saying it teaches you how much of your own "style" you will let erode away over the course of a few short days, ultimately reverting to that person you vowed to never again be—that person you were before you discovered your first bible-like GQ or your current Jesus, Nick Wooster.

The exact moment is unclear (Percoset will do that to you), but after days of pajama pants, fleece zip-ups and a nap schedule that would rival any dog, I remembered what a Pop Warner football coach used to always tell me, "Character is what you do when no one's watching". And yeah, I know he didn't invent that shit, but let me finish. He would say this when I would bitch out during sprints at times when I thought the coaches weren't looking and then give 150% when I assumed they were. The phrase may be cliche, and many, many people have made successful careers and lives operating in exactly the opposite way, but with that said, it was strangely clear how applicable of a statement this was to menswear. The idea is simple: if so many men love to justify their nice clothes as reflections and/or representations of their genuine individual character, personality, etc—"This 15 oz denim is so 'me', bro"—then isn't style in some sense what you wear when no one's watching?

By accepting this statement as truth, you draw a distinct line between "style" and "a guy wearing nice clothes." Any schmuck can pick up a menswear magazine or study Tumblr for an hour and end up looking decent, perhaps even well-dressed. More commonly, I see this by men who pull out their favorite #menswear pieces during fashion week, hang around Milk Studios and, who knows, even end up on some street style blogs. But that certainly doesn't make them stylish. As Glenn O'Brien once said, "Style permeates every aspect of ones life." That means then that style, real style, is not only what you wear when there is some sense of occasion (dates, job interviews, meetings, weddings, Fashion Week, etc.), but what you wear when there is absolutely no occasion at all.

Ultimately, I guess, what I am referring to is a form of self-respect. Having style isn't about how many "oohs" and "ahhs" you can draw from the crowd, but how happy you make yourself though thoughtful choices with your wardrobe. If you revert to thoughtlessness simply because of a few days away from the city or a lack of peasants to "stunt on", you are, if only momentarily, admitting that your clothing, your interest in fashion and perhaps even your career in menswear, are all just an act—a cause you only pretend to believe in when there is someone to impress.

Jake Woolf is a writer living in New York City. You can read his blog here and follow him on Twitter here.

  • SmezMan

    Real talk, you cut deep.

  • Madsonovich

    Care to share your self discovery? Are you being or acting? Something in between?

  • Tjay

    To a 17-year old kid who’s still developing his own personal style, this shit hit hard. Deep stuff, man.

  • David

    Good lord thank you. I know it’s fun to be caught up in the menswear game and the rush that comes with being super well dressed about town in the hype-iest gear, but there aren’t secret cameras in your closet uploading all of your TV dinner making and couch sitting to Tommy Ton’s laptop. Even though I always “dress well” when I leave the house I still lounge in old sweat pants, my university sweat shirt, a robe and slippers. Sure I might throw on a smoking jacket and my velvet slips if I’m sipping on 18 year old scotch and a nice cigar (especially if I had a really good or really bad week), but most of the time when no one’s around I’m just looking to get super comfy and forget about the outside world for a bit.

  • Jake Woolf

    @David the point is to not let the outside world dictate what you wear at all. It’s not that I think Tommy Ton should be in your house to document your double-monks while you watch Boardwalk Empire, it’s that you should dress well KNOWING no one is there to see or even care. Dressing well, and style, are about please #1 first.

  • shut_up_1

    Damn, you had to go with Bangladesh? Too soon, man. Too soon.