Small accessories can make cheap clothes look great

Q I’m early in my career and my job usually requires jackets and ties. My funds are limited and I’m hoping to create something of a personal style by adding pocket squares and French cuff shirts with cufflinks. Would they work with and without expensive costumes?

A That’s certainly a very solid thought. For a man, there are indeed a few smaller and cheaper items, which can help develop a sense of his own style. These include pocket squares, cufflinks, and more, such as tie clips and socks that are interesting even when you’re not wearing a $1,000 suit. To be effective, they need to be carefully selected to provide a “hit” of color that coordinates with the rest of what you’re wearing. These make a subtle fashion statement – one that doesn’t scream for attention or disappear from sight.

To give you some details:

Pocket squares: The cheapest way for a man to elevate his style and polish his look, adding a pocket square can be a wise move. This is an opportunity to show some personality. With a suit, blazer, or sports coat, it should just pop out of the breast pocket with about an inch or an inch and a half of visibility (not so much that it looks like a flower). Don’t arrange the dots so neatly that they look like a picket fence. A flippant, slightly laid-back look is the effect you’re trying to achieve, whether you wear it “point up” or with the middle “puffed out.”

Your goal with a colored square is to complement (but not exactly match) something else you’re wearing – usually the tie. Or, it can echo the base color of the jacket or shirt, maybe even a subtly colored pair of socks. Here’s an example: consider a beige suit, a blue shirt, a blue and brown striped tie, and a silk pocket square with a small dark brown and light blue pattern or polka dot. Today, for men who choose to skip the tie, they can still choose to carry a handkerchief in a pocket as an accent. It can be plain white linen or cotton with a colored border. In my opinion, there’s really no reason to spend a lot on one of these. The look is the same whether expensive or simple.

Cufflinks: With French cuff shirts, cufflinks are a mandatory accessory. They’re a great way to make a statement (and a welcome polished addition when you’re wearing a suit without a tie). For those who haven’t inherited a vintage pair from dad or grandpa, check out any gently used clothing store for some great deals. Or you might like the much cheaper colored silk knot ties that come in a variety of colors. Available at the best men’s clothing stores for around $12 a pair, they look different and classy and they’re never too big (my rule for what’s “too big” in cufflinks is not much larger than a penny.)

Tie bars: Small, sleek and current again, tie bars should be silver or gold plated and simple in design. As with all jewelry for men, the most important point is to avoid anything big or flashy.

Colored socks: Once again, I urge you to be discreet in your choices. Today’s new “fun” socks are brighter and more attractive than men’s socks worn in the past. Sometimes too much. They definitely say a man is clothes conscious. Even so, use common sense. If the design is rather loud and catchy, choose a rather calm color. And be logical: this trend works with medium-dark blazers, sports coats and not too dressy suits, but not with conservative boardroom pinstripe suits.

Hats and sweaters: Since these two items are quickly noticed and can be memorable, they are a smart place to invest. For a fraction of the price of, say, an impressive watch, a flattering hat and a few nice sweaters are worth owning.

Keep in mind that a stylish wardrobe doesn’t just show up in a man’s closet. It takes a little thought, more than a little time and a good dose of attention. Nobody who is really well dressed gets such an effortless impression. Especially when you are not in a position to spend a lot of money, you must be ready to invest more effort. You seem to be going in the right direction.

Please send your questions about men’s dress and grooming to MALE CALL:

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Dora W. Clawson