There's a new abnormal in men's style.
"For a long time, you were this, or you were that — a polished guy or a rough-hewn guy," said celebrity stylist Robert Verdi. "The polished guy was clean-shaven, starched shirts and shiny shoes. And then the rustic guy was a little unkempt and hair a little longer, clothes wrinkled and shoes worn. Those were the two experiences you could have as a dude, with slight variations."
Then personal expression sauntered in, wearing a biker jacket one day and a velvet blazer the next. TV reflects the new abnormal. Athletes no longer are the default endorsers of men's grooming products. Now men with unique appeal — actor Adrien Brody or singer Andre 3000 — are equally probable pitchmen.
"A man no longer has to be one of the archetypes that we've gotten used to seeing," Verdi said.
But with choice comes confusion. To simplify, even decently dressed men still typecast themselves.
Middle ground trips them up, said Brian Spaly, founder of Trunk Club, a national wardrobe service for men.
"They know how to do formal and informal, but in general guys really struggle with sophisticated casual. If a guy has a reservation at a great restaurant, he doesn't know how to look like a sexy 40-year-old guy, in dark denim and a cool blazer that's not navy or black and shoes that aren't black. The fact is, the world is moving toward center ground, and more coordination and skill is required."
It's not just midlife men whose style needs a periodic performance review. Men moving out of entry-level jobs in their 20s, or who want to, also need a shake-up.
"When you get promoted and all of a sudden you're flying all over the country, and you're going to dinners with clients, there's image demand. That's usually the catalyst: image demand."
Finessing one's look pays off in any demographic.
"If you stay on trend and are constantly evolving — not in a dramatic way, but if you're current — you move up," Verdi said.
Why not ...
Substitute a pocket square for a tie. Start with a white square, with a suit or a jacket and dark jeans, said Nish de Gruiter, market maker for Suitsupply, with stores in New York, Chicago and Washington. Advance to colors and patterns that never exactly match the shirt or tie. Fold into a simple "television fold," named for anchors in the '50s and '60s who didn't want a fluffy or flowery square to distract from their face, de Gruiter said.
Ban black shoes. A loden green boot from OakStreetBootmakers.com has been popular with Trunk Club clients. Double monk strap shoes in browns have sold well at Suitsupply.com, as have desert boots that come with brown as well as dark green laces. "It's a very subtle detail, but the lace can change the shoe completely," de Gruiter said. Going into spring, he likes brown suede shoes with a suit. Verdi notes that men's shoes rise and fall out of style based largely on the visual weight. "The shoe body to have right now is a heavier tie-up brogue, not a slick, lightweight Wall Street shoe." Verdi also likes Red Wing boots.
Darken the denim. "A classic denim blue color can age you. What looks modern and clean and sharp is an indigo denim, no decorated pockets, but deep blue," Verdi said. "A straight leg, not a skinny leg, looks the best and it's the most versatile."
Change your viewpoint. Whether worn for sun or for sight, eyeglasses are a visual magnet, and most men don't update them often enough. "Watch out for Oakleys, which can look a bit frat house on grown men." Verdi said. If your glasses need an update, he recommends WarbyParker.com and Moscot.com.
Switch stylists. There are guys with great hair who have stuck with barber-shop crew cuts for years. Grow it out and see a real stylist, even just once, for a fresh perspective. The woman in a man's life can encourage change by tying it not to romance, but to sex, Verdi said. Don't: "I'd love it if we went out to dinner and you wore ... " Do: "I think you would look really hot if you ... "
Whiten, but not too much. Whiter teeth look younger. "But you can get that unnatural toilet-bowl-white look at the dentist," Verdi said. "You don't want George Hamilton teeth." He finds Crest's two-hour White Strips do the job subtly.
Guys tend to buy clothes, in every category, that are comfortable but don't fit them, Verdi said. "They say 'I wear a large,' and really they're like a medium or small," he said. "Clothes that fit make you feel younger and look slimmer. Even if you're in bad shape, you'll look in better shape."
Like a restaurant with an open kitchen, Suitsupply performs 80 percent of its suit alterations on the spot, in the middle of its stores — partly to deliver instant gratification, but also so other male shoppers can observe how clothes should fit.
"Nobody really knows what their real size is," de Gruiter said. The company's website, suitsupply.com, shows men how to measure themselves, which is a starting point. The next is a tailor, "who then has to convince the guy for 10 minutes that that is his right size," de Gruiter said. "Then the guy goes home and puts on something two sizes too big and comes back two weeks later to buy a whole new wardrobe."
De Gruiter offers a few fit and styling tips.
Pants: "Don't wear suit pants as you do your jeans, or they'll look too baggy. Suit pants need to fit right on the hips, and the length is crucial." The hem should extend to about an inch above the heel of the man's shoe, seen from the back, with a short break in front.
Ties: Widths are narrower this fall, and fabrics are less shiny, more textured. "We don't have many silks; we have nice wool cashmere knits. Your tie should never be louder than your personality."
Shirts. "It's very important, if you wear a tie, that there be no gap between the shirt collar and your neck." With arms next to the body, the cuff should end where the wrist becomes the thumb. The seam between shoulder and sleeve should be on top of the shoulder, not drooping down the arm. If the suit has a slim fit, the shirt should too.
Accessories: "Often I see a guy buying a beautiful new suit and then he puts old shoes and belts with it." Get shoes shined or repaired by the cobbler. "Those are important details."