Ethan Giffin doesn't let working in a business setting prevent him from showing off his sense of style.
Giffin, CEO of the Little Italy-based Groove: Creative Marketing, Design & Development, is known for his extensive collection of accessories — hundreds of patterned pocket squares, lapel flowers, designer cuff links, colorful socks and dress shoes.
"Many of my friends' wives and girlfriends say 'I wish you can dress more like Ethan,'" Giffin, 44, said. "It's definitely something that I take a lot of pride in. I feel naked if I don't wear a pocket square or if I'm going somewhere and I forget the right cuff links."
Giffin has company in the menswear store. More men are expressing themselves at work with flashy, colorful accessories, say retailers and analysts. Younger consumers, especially, may be following the example set by nattily attired athletes and celebrities. Small accessories can pack a big punch and allow fashion-conscious men to add hints of personality to the traditionally stodgy business setting.
Overall sales for men's accessories grew 9 percent to $13.6 billion in 2014, according to The NPD Group, a global information company.
"Today, more men are looking to stand out in a crowd, and accessories are a way to make a bold statement without having to overhaul their wardrobes," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD. He sees a link to growth in men's apparel sales, generally.
"Overall, men are becoming more interested in fashion, and retailers are building upon this trend by catering to them specifically."
Many men are taking their style cues from media figures.
Buzz surrounds the NBA's Russell Westbrook and his flashy post-game attire. NBA All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire and rapper Jay-Z wear brooches with their tuxedos. And who could forget those yellow-black-and-white animal-print Versace pants NFL MVP Cam Newton wore leading up to the Super Bowl in February?
The brands capitalize on those moments with photos and credit information on social media platforms — such as Instagram — frequented by millennials, who are not as beholden to calcified notions of masculinity and stereotypically male attire.
"Social media has grown increasingly relevant to millennials, and many males are drawing inspiration from their favorite sports stars and celebrities that are sponsored by major brands," said Britanny Carter, a retail analyst for the market research company IBISWorld. "For example, David Beckham has millions in sponsorship deals that pay him to advertise accessories and unique items through his social media platforms. Accessories are a simple way for males to differentiate and express themselves."
Retail stores devoted to men's clothing bring in $10.3 billion a year, according to the IBISWorld report "Men's Clothing Stores in the US." This year, accessories are expected to account for 7.5 percent of that revenue. Over the past five years, the U.S. men's clothing stores industry has grown an annualized 1.8 percent, IBISWorld industry data estimates, and revenue is expected to grow at an annualized 2.0 percent over the next five years.
Gian Marco Menswear was ahead of the trend when it opened in 1990 and immediately started stocking colorful accessories from London and Milan.
"It's our belief that the world needs brightening up," said Marc Sklar, president, CEO and managing partner of the Mount Vernon boutique. "It's never in bad taste and too garish. The world is replete with boring clothes. There's no need to be another one of those purveyors."
Sklar said it's encouraging to see more men and stores incorporating brighter, bolder accessories.
"For a long time people wouldn't have the [courage] to go for something that wasn't red or navy," he said. "We were putting out acid green, melons, persimmon, stone gray and cobalt blue. … We're always pushing for our vendors to expand their fashion palette and their fashion horizons."
Giffin estimates that he has at least 100 pocket squares, 100 pairs of colorful socks, 60 cuff links, 20 lapel flowers and 20 pairs of dress shoes (he prefers Salvatore Ferragamo).
"I've struggled to find out how to store them," he said. "I'm pretty bad."
"I'm a huge pocket square fan," said Giffin, whose collection spans from vintage finds to Tom Ford, Versace and Hermes. "Great accessories can set off a standard business suit. When I was younger, and had less blazers and suits, [accessories] allowed me to set things off and give me another look."
Giffin has amassed his accessories during his travels, from Etsy and eBay (vintage pieces such as the black and gold Yves Saint Laurent cuff links he purchased for his wedding) and at local boutiques — he gets his lapel flowers from The QG in downtown Baltimore.
"A lot of guys just don't think about that. To me it's part of how I dress," Giffin said.
Flashier accessories have been an advantage in the workplace, Giffin believes.
"I've always stepped out of the box," Giffin said. "It made me memorable in the business world."
Accessories "make the outfit," according to Nick J. Mosby, the former Baltimore mayoral candidate and current city councilman.
"The suit and the shirt is the foundation. But it's a tie, tie clips, socks that make it unique to you," he said.
Mosby, 37, estimates that he has 200 ties in his collection, five tie clips and about 40 pocket squares.
"I'm a huge fan of colorful patterns," he said.
Bold socks are a particular favorite.
"It's kind of like a treat," Mosby said. "You don't know it's there until you're sitting down and then it splashes out.
"It shows that you have really thought about what you're going to wear."
Seth Schafer, 22, vice president of Christopher Schafer Clothier, the Harbor East-based men's custom clothing boutique, started noticing an increase a year ago in his customers asking for bolder accessories to offset their suits.
Schafer estimates that three out of 10 of his customers purchase or own the $25 flower lapel pins he sells. Made of gloss resin, they come in shades such as light blue, lavender, green, red and pink.
"That trend has picked up. During spring and summer it's a big hit," he said. "They're the size of dimes and nickels. It adds a little flash."
Customers come in requesting ties in paisley or bright, electric hues reminiscent of the late '80s and early '90s, according to Schafer.
"Ties should be the most colorful thing on your wardrobe," he said. "The tie should be your main focal point of the color."
Flashy socks are also popular with Schafer.
"I'm a young guy, and I like to have a little more fun," said Schafer, who was wearing purple, pink and bluish-gray argyle socks — along with his custom, gray bird's eye suit, white shirt and light-pink, psychedelic-pattern tie. He completed the ensemble with an aqua-colored lapel flower. "Having a little more fun or color at the bottom shows that you have put in more effort. It's an accessory to complete your look."
For style beginners
Use a solid shirt: Ground the look of flashy accessories with a solid shirt. (White works.) Save the complex clashing patterns on top of patterns for the more advanced fashion mavens. Take baby steps.
Don't go overboard: Try using a pocket square and a tie. There's no need to add every single accessory under the sun if you're new to the style game.
Opposites attract: The pocket square and tie do not have to match. Opposing patterns and colors can work.
Go crazy with socks: They usually don't show that much, so you can be adventurous without fear of being shunned.
Shop the clearance rack: Stock up on your flashier accessories with a trip to the menswear clearance rack. You'll find some gems at Nordstrom Rack, Marshall's, TJ Maxx or Neiman Marcus Last Call.