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IT'S ALL ABOUT STYLE

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Whether on the basketball court, in the boardroom, or at a casual affair, knowing what to wear is an important part of dressing for any occasion.

Some men can pull it together well and look like they have just stepped out of GQ.

Popular culture calls them metrosexuals or ubersexuals -- men who are preoccupied with the aesthetics of their appearance.

Whatever the label, these are men who like to distinguish themselves from the pack.

And what's wrong with that?

We found some fashionable Baltimore area men willing to share their zeal for fashion. They talk about where they shop and tell how they use color and accessories to set off a suit, sportswear, casualwear or formal attire.

It all started when they became preoccupied with developing their own style.

Eclectic style

Russell Clark was known as one of the fastest runners in the Marble Hill section of Baltimore. But that was before he met Judson Kerr.

"I came around and I beat him," Kerr says.

But their rivalry didn't stop there. Even back then, they tried to outdo each other in style.

"I remember I saw him at the bus stop and he had on these tan cowboy boots -- this is 1985, they weren't in style," Kerr recalls. "And he had this huge blowout Afro. It was just crazy."

Clark was equally dismissive of Kerr's style.

"He was this skinny kid, Izod shirts, a straight prep, maybe like 100 pounds," Clark says. "I was thinking, 'Who is this kid?' "

Kerr, 36, and Clark, 35, eventually became friends. Today, they still are close and still have distinct fashion tastes.

Both say they learned their fashion sense from male role models in their respective families.

Kerr says his grandfather, who taught tailoring in Baltimorepublic schools, and an uncle influenced his fashion sense.

"My uncle was on the flashy side, very colorful outfits," Kerr says. "It would not be uncommon to see him with a yellow sports jacket or a red sports jacket, but always very well-made silks, silk-wool blends and different herringbones."

"My uncle was more casual and conservative," Clark says. "He bought really high-quality items. When we were growing up, major stores like Nordstrom would educate you about how to wear a jacket or how to tie a full Windsor [knot]."

Their styles are eye-catching to many admirers.

"When a woman sees that you pay attention to accessories, she now has the opinion that you pay attention to details," Kerr says.

Clark, who owns a technology consulting business, says, "I have to be cutting edge. I am delivering them [clients] new knowledge about a business."

Kerr, a property manager at a downtown apartment community, sees dressing for success as a must as well.

"As a black man in corporate America, you can't blend in necessarily," he says.

Hip-hop international

Brian "Johnell" Wright, 24, works as an office supervisor for the University of Maryland. But in his "other life" he is an R&B; singer who has opened for acts in Baltimore such as Al Green, Teena Marie, Brian McKnight and Erykah Badu.

When he was 6 years old, he started singing in the choir at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, near where he grew up. After winning an open-mike contest at the African American Heritage Festival in 2000, and subsequently opening for big-name acts, he decided to take his singing seriously and is planning an album release soon.

His style -- music and clothes -- is definitively R&B; with a little hip-hop and a polished appeal. He says he's not sloppy and you won't see his pants dragging off of his behind.

"One lady says she comes in to work just to see what I am going to wear," he says. "I don't come to work in just the typical suit and tie. I'll wear maybe some tennis shoes with suit pants and a suit jacket and maybe a polo shirt and a shirt under it and a tie. I can get away with it -- I am the boss."

Wright shops for custom-made items online, particularly styles from Japan. He has several hoodies and sneakers from Japan, including a pair of Nike Matrix sneakers, one of 10 pairs in the United States, he says. He also shops at a newly opened store called Shop Gentei ("Gentei" is Japanese for limited edition) on Charles Street in Mount Vernon.

Not without my hat

Danny Macas, 28 wears a lot of hats. Really, he does. About 250, to be exact.

And not just in his job as a music producer and consultant to people learning how to get into the music and entertainment business. He wears bucket hats and wool and skully Kangols -- in various colors. His fashion style is quintessential hip-hop -- a must because he has to dress casually to be comfortable sitting in a studio all day.

He shops mostly in New York, but when in Baltimore he will go to Hecht's or a mall. His style is usually T-shirts, jeans or sweat suits and tennis shoes or Timberlands.

His accessories include a Jesus chain, his iPod, his check card, and, of course, a hat. "The hat is what I start off with," Macas says. "If I figure out what hat I am going to wear that day, the outfit just falls underneath it."

The athletic style

LaRian Finney, 40, says his saving grace as a youth was Patapsco Recreation Center in Cherry Hill and the director, Nathaniel Brown. He would play basketball at the center and it kept him out of trouble. He still plays basketball every Sunday there.

"There were a lot of mentors here when I was growing up and people who set me on the right track," he says.

He owns and operates a Baltimore-based marketing, promotions and event-planning company.

Though he generally dresses in more formal attire when he's working, off the job he sports a lot of athletic wear. He often receives a lot of freebies through his job, such as sweat suits, and sneakers that have swelled to a collection of 50 pairs. But mostly his athletic-wear habit supports local businesses, such as Xquizit, a store at Baltimore and Gilmor streets, and Acoustics at Eutaw and Franklin streets.

Suited up

Troy Johnson, 36, an on-air personality for 92Q's WERQ-FM radio show, "The Big Phat Morning Show," is known to sport a perfectly folded pocket square with his suits, though no one can see him behind the microphone. He learned about stylish details from his father, Jay Johnson, who wore custom shirts, cuff links and initials on his cuff, and from reading GQ.

Johnson has been in the radio business for 17 years and started out working for his dad, who was the program director for a station in Indianapolis.

"My dad made me wear a shirt and tie to work every day. He was trying to make a point as my dad and my boss, and I hated it. I wasn't comfortable," Johnson says. "I was 18 wearing a shirt and tie to work every day. I couldn't wait to get home."

But his father did prove a point, and though most days Johnson dresses casually at the radio station, he gets a kick out of people's reactions when they see him in formal attire at events.

"People have a certain image of you being a radio guy," Johnson says, "and when I wear suits, people have a totally different idea. I love that because it speaks to how people try to put you in a box. I am a chameleon."

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What Kerr is wearing: A white dress shirt with purple stripes by Bachrach. A black T-shirt with a silver-colored Bob Marley print. A black velvet sports coat with silver-colored pinstripes. Purple striped quilted cuff links by Bachrach. Distressed Gap blue jeans. Black Via Spiga shoes.

Accessories: Watch -- simple black leather Bend watch with a polished silver face.

Favorite unique business outfit: A simple, two-button gray suit with a pewter-colored lining and orange accent border around the lining by Michael Kors.

Where he starts his outfit: "A lot of times for me, it's a hot tie. You can kind of build around that," he says.

What Clark is wearing:

An off-base white dress shirt with pink and light maroon stripes outlined in paisley. Vest from designer Vintage. Blue jeans by Seven. Light brown square-toed shoes by Coach.

Accessories: A solid-gold bracelet with a pyramid design by Avalon Gold West. Gucci brown leather watch with cream highlights in the band. A square-faced Egyptian pinky ring.

Favorite business outfit: A black four-button suit with a white dress shirt that has a thin checkered pattern with orange, blue and light lime colors. Rectangular orange cuff links by Hugo Boss. No tie.

Where he starts his outfits: "For me, it's the shoes and cuff links. Because it is really difficult to find men's shoes that really stand out. I have some casual Hugo Boss shoes that I like. They are almost like a sneaker.."

Best bargain store: Filene's in Towson, Donald J. Pliner outlet in Leesburg, Va., and Nordstrom. He bought his Coach shoes at a Saks Fifth Avenue outlet in Florida.

What Macas is wearing: Hat by Kangol, Adidas shirt, North Face vest, Levi's jeans and Adidas shoes.

His favorite outfit: A pair of Levi's blue jeans, a blue fitted New York Yankees hat, a white T-shirt, a blue felt Sean John baseball jacket and dark blue Adidas Daroga soccer shoes.

What is the biggest fashion mistake that men make:

Wearing jerseys that are four times too big. "I like a little bit of bagginess to my clothes, but it is hard going to a place and they only have like 4X jerseys," he says.

What he plans to buy on his next shopping trip:

"I need a few more fitted hats," he says. He usually wears the hats for the first week that he buys them and puts them on top of the pile of hats he has accumulated in his walk-in closet.

What Wright is wearing: Mavi jeans, a Lacoste polo shirt, multicolor splash Nike Air Force Ones, a white hoodie and a Calvin Klein blazer.

Wright's addiction:

Hoodies. He gets all of his hoodies custom-made, and they all have unique styles, such as patches on the elbows or zippers that come around his shoulder.

About Baltimore style: "Baltimore is getting more diverse every year," Wright says. "You could never see a shop like Gentei when I was growing up -- it was all jeans, T-shirts and Timbs [Timberlands]. I am seeing more blazers here. But they won't just do the normal blazer and jeans, they may rock it with a button-up shirt with a T-shirt over it."

Accessories: Hats: fedoras, Kangols and newspaper- boy. A Fossil watch that writes out the time, instead of showing the numbers. Dog tags with a silhouette of his face.

TROY JOHNSON

His favorite suit:

A Jones New York suit that he bought from K&G; in Baltimore. He sometimes dresses it up (as pictured) with a cutaway collar shirt with French cuffs by Modena and yellow striped tie by Nauitca.

"It is a navy- blue pinstripe suit," Johnson says. "I wear it with a red Tommy Hilfiger tie and black, lace-up Kenneth Cole shoes."

Favorite styles:

"I like things that are unique, like widespread collars, cutaway collars. But I am not trying to look like Deion Sanders with 50 million patterns and stripes or collars. I like some of the bolder cuts, but conservative colors. It kind of balances out."

What he won't wear: Olive or cream suits or any light-colored or white suit that's not a tuxedo.

LARIAN FINNEY

The biggest fashion mistake men make:

"Trying to match everything. Or they will see a look in the store and take it right from the mannequin. There's no creativity."

What decade has the best fashion?:

"I think 2000, because it has a little bit of the '90s, '80s, a little bit of the '70s."

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