Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summer Essentials: the Male Aesthetic

It goes without saying that summer is here; if you are alive, the heat almost everywhere is inescapable. The two seasons of fashion we have here in Jamaica, Style Week from Saint International and Caribbean Fashion Week hosted by Pulse Limited are now over with many designers (local and international) having shown between the two. The two companies are glowing in their achievements, but as a fashion enthusiast (and patron of the two events), i'm now left to sieve through the many collections in trying to identify what the male aesthetic is for this summer. I'm often asked what is the trend for the summer. My answer every year: hygiene, and colours. So, for this post, while I will highlight some pieces and accessories that your wardrobe just cannot be without, whatever the season is, I will also make sure to mention how this hygienic, colourful look can be achieved.

If like me, you don't have perfect vision and have to resort to prescription lens, now is maybe the time to try contacts. During the day, my glasses coupled with sun glare, can cause serious headaches, but i've found that contacts correct that. Ditch the frames for cool black shades during the day; not only will you look suave, but you will be doing your eyes a world of good. When going out at nights, wear the prescription lens to change your look up. Simple black frames will go with anything.

Remember: When buying shades, consult with the sales agent at the store to make sure that the shape of the frame fits your the shape of your face.

Shower gels, facial cleansers, chapstick, sun-block, antiperspirant, water, lotion and colognes It's hot. Very. Venture out of a building, and up to even 6 p.m. there's sun everywhere. Simply, this means that your skin is more at risk to sun-burn, bad news for your skin cells. (Ever heard of skin cancer?)
It doesn't matter what shade your skin is or ethnicity you are, the bottom-line is: over-exposure to sun is not good for your skin. Keep moisturized when in-doors with lotions rich in vitamins A and E (good for the skin) and when going outside of your home, apply sunscreen with SPF 20 if expected to spend more than an hour in the sun, to areas that will be exposed (hands, arms, neck, face, ears). Make sure chap-sticks have SPF, too, as the skin of your lips is thin. Keep hydrated through-out the day by drinking a glass of water every hour.
For antiperspirants, I personally choose Suave, but for a more masculine smell, Gilette is great and works all day.
The face needs special washing, regular soap just will not do. For deep-cleaning facial cleansing, I personally choose anything from St. Ives, but I find that in summer, my face gets very oily, and sometimes St. Ives just will not do and I may need something a bit more stronger. Spend the time to find a good facial cleanser for you, one that will work with your skin type.
I swear by Axe body sprays and shower gels. They are cheap and come in a variety of great scents. Also, the packaging is carry-friendly, and can be stuffed in the corner of a gym bag, tote or messenger. For day time, the body-sprays are excellent, as they are attention-grabbing and crisp, providing all day coverage, which is great, as guys naturally sweat a lot. If you're a gym junkie, the shower gels are ideal, especially if you have an active night life and need an extra oomph from your cleaning agent after a strenuous work-out; one wouldn't even need to wear cologne after lathering in them. Shower at the beginning and end of day, and wash hair regularly, you sweat on top of your head too, and use shampoos, not soap. Soap tends to dry out hair follicles, causing those pesky white flakes. T-Gel shampoos are great for dry scalp, while Head & Shoulders 2-in-1 shampoos are excellent at fighting and minimizing visible dandruff.
Colognes are an important part of my wardrobe, and I very rarely go out without wearing any. I like strong scents, but they shouldn't be too imposing or pesky. The more unique I smell, the better. With that said, my favourite scent is Booster by Lacoste- it's one of the best colognes i've ever had and i've gotten compliments practically every time I wear it. Other great colognes to try include- L'eau D'issey by Issey Miyake, Kenneth Cole Signature, Joop!, Bvlgari Aqua and Marc Jacobs by Marc Jacobs.

Remember: We're in a stagnant economy; colognes are more pricey than body sprays. To get more out of them, wear the more expensive colognes at night, and the body sprays during sunlight hours (when you need more protection from sweat and body odour).

Hair and nails

I personally keep my hair and nails short and groomed, no matter the weather, but if you have locks, braids or hair of considerable length, grooming goes a long way. As stated above, wash hair regularly. Facial hair can also be groomed, if you are not into a very shaved look, and do not rule out a visit to the mani-pedicurist at least once a month, it does a world of good.
Again, spend some time finding a good hair oil/moisturizer. I've spent weeks searching in the past, and from time-to-time, even as my own hair goes through different changes, I still have to go back and search for hair product that will work for me. Doing this does not mean that you have now transformed into a high-maintenance diva, but think about this for a second- your hair is on top of your head. That should be reason enough to take a vested interest in it.

Ties, tie pins and cufflinks
For a lot of persons, the work place has become a bit more relaxed, with a tie not being mandatory, depending on your occupation. Still, ties add a nice element to a look, and can often determine if you know how to dress yourself.
The purpose of your wearing one is not to match with your suit; it is to complement it. Do not wear ties that are the same colour as your shirts. Wear the broader ties to work, and the skinny ties for partying, dining out etc.
I tend to stay away from patterned ties, some just look too gaudy for my use; you can do yourself a world of good if you do that, too. Stick to stripes, solid colours, silk or polyester when in doubt. Make sure that they do not hang below your waist when wearing them, short guys will appear shorter, and for others, it will make you look sloppy.
A tie pin and cuff links can add quirk or class to your look, depending on what the design is. Keep them simple and small.

Jackets, jacket suits, vests, blazers, cardigans, hoodies pull-overs
A jacket may be a impractical during the day, but depending on where you are going, one may be needed, trust though, attention has to be paid to how they fit the body. A jacket that does not fit you well will make you look silly. And gentlemen, do not take out the one jacket suit that you have in your wardrobe, the one you last wore one year ago, slap it on and think that that's ok. I'm not urging you to buy new suits each time you go out, but take the time to see how the thing fits you first. No matter how old you are, your body is constantly changing. Find a tailor who can fit the jacket suit for you, and allow him to assess if the thing needs alteration. I find that a well-tailored tweed or cotton jacket suit will make anyone look dapper. Invest in one and take care of it- hang it up in a closed suit bag when not wearing it, and dry-clean it.
A blazer or a vest can funk up any look. If you are not into bright colours, a white one is ideal. Worn over a simple cotton tee and jeans, can be a simple statement; remember, clean is the look we are trying to achieve. Seersucker is a natural fabric and a jacket made from it requires zero ironing, looks masculine and is the epitome of the desired clean look.
Cotton cardigans, hoodies and pull-overs are less itch-y than wool, and definitely cooler. As the top piece of an outfit, a solid colour is important in keeping the look together. Try colours like blue, purple, cream, even grey and black.

Sleeves can be pulled up to add an edge to the over-all look, but do not roll the sleeve up if you are at a formal event like a wedding.

Tees, polos and shirts
I personally prefer a striped polo to a tee, as they make me look more grown up. If you are brave enough and wanting to attract attention, a fitted pink polo will the trick. If not, stick to softer colours and horizontal stripes- blues, greens, white, purple... Again, stick to cotton, all other fabrics in this heat will make you itch like crazy.
For tees, keep designs, writings, logos and prints to a minimum. Also, keep them right at or above the waist. V-necks never go out of style, also, tees made from jersey are great- they fit very nicely and the texture is ideal for hot climates.
Regular shirts for work and such should also be fitted, and again, can be rolled up to add edge, as well as to stay cool. Stripes and gingham add very nice touches, be very careful to wear solid colours with them. Be sure to have that one fitted cotton long-sleeve in your closet, as it can be worn over-and-over again.
Fitted short-sleeve button-downs are good to have too. Again, make sure they stop at or above the waist.

Belts, jewelry and watches
I tend not to wear a lot of gold and silver jewelry (too flashy), opting for more leather and stainless steel pieces (more durable, less expensive). If you have a normal 9-5 job, keep jewelry at a minimum- a watch and a ring is enough. Ear-rings at work look tacky, no matter what you do. Steel, gold or silver watches should be customized to fit your hand and are ideal for nights; opt for leather bands for daytime.
Belts can either be leather, wool or canvas. For leather, stick to tan and black; canvas and wool can be worn in colours- white, green, orange, yellow, red; be bold. Black and tan/brown leather belts should be worn to work or formal events, and if the belt is black, keep the shoe black, likewise for brown. Big buckles and certain studded belts do not work, and are very ghetto-fab depending on the type. To stay in the clear, do not wear a belt if it has too many designs or is just too loud.

Shorts, pants, jeans
Shorts used to be worn only to the beach, but in recent years, men in Jamaica have willingly embraced the trend. With recent international collections from the likes of Armani, Dolce & Gabbana and Nana Boateng, the male shorts have gotten shorter, with the cut now above the knee. Personally, i've not fully warmed to the trend, but i've not exactly ruled it out. Shorts in madras, cotton or denim can be cuffed, and should fit well.
Pleated pants have been out for a while, so no need to dwell on that. Instead, go for pants with no pleats (flat-front), and again, make sure they fit well (slim leg; waist not too big, not too small). A tailor can be consulted to make them fall right at the ankle, adding preppiness to your look. A black pant of course is a necessary item, however, tan and khaki are just as important. Stick to fabrics like cotton and tweed.
For jeans, I swear by True Religion and Levi's. For me, I have to be able to wear my jeans for days and they remain unchanged from how I bought them despite many washes, unless of course if I deconstruct them. Boot-cut, baggy jeans are out, and have been out for a while now. Instead, opt for slim-fit jeans. I personally prefer low-rise skinnies, but they don't have to be. I also don't like very light or white jeans, and indeed, they don't look good on everybody, so here's another area you will have to spend time. Fit the jeans before you purchase, making sure the crotch is not too low and the legs are not too long.

Remember: Pay special care to how the jean is stitched. If there are too many visible threads hanging, chances are the jean will start to unravel the more you wear them. These days, any shopping should be done with extra care; you want pieces you can get mileage out of.

Socks, sandals, shoes, wallets and bags
I don't do sandals, but depending on where you are going, they may be sensible. Make sure toes and feet are well manicured and moisturized before wearing them. Leather sandals are masculine and durable (stay away from rubber and plastic), and to look even stylish, gladiators add a very nice touch.
Unless working out, avoid sneakers. Instead, choose coloured trainers or high-tops and always wear socks.
For work and formal events, leather shoes are best. Do not wear tube, ankle or white socks with leather shoes, and certainly do not wear black socks with brown shoes/brown shoes with black socks. Leather shoes with laces (not canvas) add a very nice, manly touch.
I've never had a pair of Timbs but a black one, paired with the right jean and tee, even a jacket, can really make a very strong, very masculine statement for night-wear.
I love bags, but I find that most males aren't very particular about them one way or the other. The bottom-line is, we use and have to carry around a lot of stuff- iPods, laptops, Blackberrys, PDA's, books, gym clothes etc. A bag is almost always necessary. For an executive, dependent on his laptop, a leather laptop bag is ideal. Choose one with space enough to carry cologne/body-spray, pens, note-pad, and things needed for the day of work. I don't need to carry my laptop with me all the time, but usually, I don't leave my house without certain things. For me, a messenger is perfect. Invest in a leather messenger, they are more durable, and they will go with whatever you may wear.
If you go to the gym after work or on a regular basis, invest in a canvas duffel, one big enough to carry a change of clothes, gym wear, toiletries and other things needed for that day. For the more fashion-forward male, a tote (worn under the arm) is a fashionable choice.
I don't use wallets, but to keep your ID's, business cards, ABM cards, cash and credit cards in one place, choose a slim leather wallet.

In essence, if you are not fashion-oriented or -forward, shy away from trends; the nerd glasses and checkered scarf do not work for everyone. Instead, focus on a clean look, and try to acquire quality, sensible items that will survive any economy and fad.

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