Writers on sartorial style tend to have a lovely prose style. This is certainly the case for Russell Smith, author of Men’s Style: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Dress. His book is full of interesting and entertaining anecdotes, paragraphs and turns of phrase, yet he never comes across as trying too hard. He’s able to explain the technicalities of fine dress while writing in plain English — easier said than done.
The one problem with any style guide is that, at bottom, style is a matter of personal taste, and the rules become more subjective as you gain expertise. Russell does not deny this, but he is also firm about his convictions. I’d personally much rather read a book like this–even if I disagreed with most of the author’s prescriptions and proscriptions–than a book full of wishy-washy relativism (“Leisure suits are not my thing, but wear them if you want to.” How helpful would that be?).
Rules of style are meant to make dressing less confusing, since “it is useful to know the rules, particularly if you are new to this whole game and don’t trust your own taste.” Fred Astaire may be able to pull off an outfit that would leave you or I looking like a dressed-up ape, not because he’s handsome (he isn’t) but because he’s a pro. He can break the rules because he knows them, and he knows the loopholes.
The book is a good introduction to men’s style, especially traditional and somewhat formal style. It shows you how clothes can make you feel sexy and cool. It shows you how to dress for different occasions. It’s also a fun read. But if you’re looking for advice on, say, how to pick the best color shirt for your skin tone, or how to dress for your body type, you might want something more practical and technical.
The book has wide margins, which allow quotes, illustrations and sidebars to frame the page. The illustrations, by the excellently-named Edwin Fotheringham, are a nice addition and help illustrate the author’s point: a chapter about casual dress features a man dressed in a paisley leisure suit with a gold chain. The caption: “Casual dress is probably the contemporary male’s weakest point.” Point made.
This is a great gift for a man who is interested in style, or at least in sleeping with women. (If he’s interested in sleeping with men, he’ll still find it entertaining.) If you have a spouse, brother, or friend who makes abysmal fashion choices, consider giving them this book as an introduction to style. I’ve combined this book with an old picture book of Fred Astaire or Carey Grant, just to point out how important good style can be.