With more options than ever to buy from, nailing your fit is getting even more important. Here’s why understanding the aesthetic of your favorite brands can help you wear better looking, better fitting clothing.
What is an aesthetic?
If you’ve been reading The Modest Man blog, you understand that fit is by far the most important element of how you dress: cheap clothing that fits is always better than luxury, expensive stuff that doesn’t.
But even within the scope of clothing that fits you, there are tons of different styles and twists: skinny and slim, tapered and wide, high rise and low rise, destroyed and clean, faded and solid…you get the gist.
Where do these things fit in?
The details that you prefer on top of fit are your aesthetic. They can be variations on how things fit or how they’re designed, and there’s no one-size-fits-all: your aesthetic is yours, and it often takes years to figure out exactly what it is.
What are some examples of popular aesthetics?
To help you zone in on exactly what your aesthetic is, here are a few popular ones that you might be familiar with.
The monochrome aesthetic means wearing solid, muted colors that play well together. Some popular elements of this style are:
- Faded black jeans
- Low profile white sneakers
- Solid pocket t-shirts
- An army-style watch
Monochrome is cool because it allows you to shift focus on to one element of what you’re wearing. For example, if most of your outfit is muted, wearing a flashy pair of sneakers can create a cool mix of contrasts.
Most of my personal looks are a variation on the monochrome aesthetic.
Suave is a classic, classy, and trim take on dressed up outfits. Some popular parts of a suave aesthetic:
- Crisp, slim fit blue chinos
- A small gingham button down shirt
- Tan wingtip oxfords
- Crystal rimmed glasses
Suave conveys an aura of sophistication without sacrificing comfort, but usually stays away from the sneaker arena.
Suave is a great way to dress for work while still being able to show off some flair (a vest, a polka dot shirt, etc.) If you’re feeling bold, you can try switching in a pair of clean white sneakers.
The preppy aesthetic is as popular as it is notorious: when people think about Long Island, pools, boat shoes, and boats – this is what they’re picturing.
Preppy evokes the old school vibe, inspired by university stripes and pastel color palettes. Here’s what a preppy aesthetic might manifest itself in:
- Striped shorts
- A faded, pastel pocket t-shirt
- Boat shoes
- A watch with a fabric band
If you’ve ever been inside a Brooks Brothers store, you'll notice that most of their models and mannequins evoke the suave aesthetic.
Pastel colors are generally a great way to add subtle flash to an outfit, and you might find it useful to swap in sneakers for those boat shoes for a more balanced look.
As exercise and athletics have made it further into mainstream culture, a whole new aesthetic in its vein has surfaced.
Classic apparel manufacturers like Nike and Adidas have been making cool, modern clothing that doesn’t make it obvious you just went to the gym.
Here’s what you might be wearing if you’re embodying the athletic aesthetic (I'm a poet, and I didn't even know it!):
- Black sweatpants / joggers
- A pair of non-leather sneakers
- A camo style hoodie
Let's look at some athletic fits:
Notice how these people look put together even though they're wearing athletic clothing? Yeah, it's called athleisure, and the aesthetic is getting ever more popular given the comfort and practicality it brings to the table.
You can always swap in a pair of leather sneakers or jeans for a more blended aesthetic.
Streetwear might be the most foreign to you, but it’s surging in popularity among the younger crowd. There are two main focuses: legendary brands and avante garde pairings.
The poster child for this aesthetic is Supreme, which in general is an interesting case study on how brands can grow in unique ways. Here are some pieces of a typical streetwear outfit:
- Skinny jeans stacked at the bottom
- An ironic shirt with a flashy pattern
- A pair of rare sneakers that garner respect
Here's an inspiration album with a few quintessential streetwear looks:
Now I know what you might be thinking: what the heck are these people wearing?! Don’t worry: streetwear spans the gamut from cool to crazy.
The idea is that each piece you’re wearing has a bit of personality and history, and encourages discussions among enthusiasts with mutual interests.
Streetwear is unique in that many items are legitimately scarce, and entire online communities and marketplaces exist for people to exchange goods, outfits, and opinions.
I’ll often integrate one streetwear style element (a pair of Yeezy sneakers, a statement sweatshirt) into an otherwise monochrome outfit to create some pop without too much fanfare.
Frequently referred to as Scandinavian Minimalism, this aesthetic is all about simple, unbranded fits in mostly neutral color palettes.
- Solid color crewneck sweatshirt
- Slim straight khaki or navy chinos
- White sneakers / taupe Chelsea boots
Think earth tones, greyscale, navy and the occasional pop of color (like rich yellow or red).
Experiment to find your own style.
Monochrome, suave, and streetwear are only a few examples of the hundreds of different aesthetics out there. The only way to find yours is to experiment: buy, wear, and combine different items until you find what you like.
This process takes time: I’ve cycled through a number of different aesthetics over the years until I converged on what I like, and it’s still constantly evolving.
Here are a few tips for how to get comfortable with your own aesthetic:
Pay attention to what models are wearing
When you’re shopping (either online or in person), start paying more attention to what the models are wearing, and how the pieces fit together. Over time you’ll start to recognize patterns that you can integrate into your own wardrobe.
Combine your clothes in different ways
If you already have a bunch of clothing that you like, think about new ways to combine it. What colors can you combine? Which sneakers bring out the best in the rest of your outfit? How do your preferences change across seasons?
Shop more often
Staying fiscally responsible is obviously of the utmost importance, but most men don’t shop enough for new clothing. Buying a new shirt or pair of jeans every few weeks will help you craft an aesthetic by collecting different types of pieces.
The more options you have, the more creative you can get with combining them.
Remember, your personal aesthetic is your own, and doesn’t need to fit into anyone’s box.
Find brands that fit your aesthetic.
Understanding your aesthetic and being able to recognize it will help you a ton when you’re buying clothes. Brands also have aesthetics: they sell images and goals, not just clothing.
And if you can find brands that share elements of your aesthetic, you’ll have an easier time finding the right stuff.
Developing a loyal connection with a brand is an awesome thing, and here are a few examples of brands that are often category and aesthetic defining.
Monochrome: Common Projects
Common Projects is my favorite brand: they make clean, simple, and high quality leather sneakers (and shoes). They’re a little pricey, but they bring together a monochrome outfit like nothing else.
Most monochrome outfits that you see on the web will have CPs or similar sneakers as part of them (I have five pairs!).
Suave: Banana Republic
Banana Republic is the first name in reasonably priced and high quality chinos and shirts: when you walk into the store, you feel the suave aesthetic. Peter Manning also does a great job of selling a product line that fits this look.
Their stuff is usually solid and muted, so you can show off a strong outfit while still being comfortable.
Kanye West’s collaboration with Adidas might be the most popular streetwear item out there, and many of the outfits you see online will be starring them. I’ve owned two different pairs at different times, and they look and feel super cool.
Minimal: Muji / COS
There are lots of brands that embody the spirit of Scandanavian Minimalism, at all different price points.
Of course, if you stick with unbranded, relatively neutral colors and basic wardrobe pieces, almost any brand can fit into a SM wardrobe.
What's your favorite aesthetic? Let me know in the comment down below!