I am interested in people who swim in the deep end. I want to have conversations about real things with people who have experienced real things. I’m tired of talking about movies and gossiping about friends.
The usual advice for how to wear bold items goes something like this: pair one or two wild items with quieter and more conservative pieces. Something like a pair of whimsical socks with a navy suit, or go-to-hell pants with a sedate sport coat. In this way, you’ll take the edge off of the louder piece and won’t risk looking like a train wreck.
Although this sometimes works, most of the time, it just makes your one conspicuous item look even more conspicuous. Dressing well and boldly often requires more than just throwing some wild thing on.
Of all the bold dressers I know, few are as stylish as Barima in London. He describes his style as a sort of flamboyant minimalism. “As a Brit, I’ll never quite escape the lure of a grey or blue suit, even if it’s houndstooth or shot silk,” he says. “The details are more stripped down nowadays, partly because I wear suits more than separates, but the colors persist.” Such grey or blue suits get paired with bolder items, such as vintage ties or unusually colored shirts. (The wearing of bold shirts is actually a very British thing, although Barima says he gets his inspiration from elsewhere. “Many of my favorite dressers are British or American, but the deeper I get into Francafrique, the more I identify with the great tailors of Paris and the dangerous dignitaries who love them.”)
The secret to Barima’s success isn’t his wild accessories, however. It’s how he combines things. The unusual shirt and tie you see in the first photo are paired with a seemingly conservative grey suit, but when you look closely, you’ll notice that the suit itself is bold (the lapels are wide and the pockets are inspired by designs typically seen on hunting coats). On the other end, the purple sport coat has slim lapels, which Barima plays up by wearing a cobalt-blue knit tie and a groovy, zigzag shirt (making this a 1970s psychedelic version of ‘60s Mod style).
This is a much more considered and intricate way to approach bold dress – something like how a florist makes a good arrangement, or an interior decorator designs a room. “If I had to reduce it, I would say it’s about relating colors to one another. Even an outlier color – say, in a tie or pocket square – should be at home with one other element, such as one’s trousers. At the same time, the shirt or trousers can be ways to ground the jacket or accessories.”
Of course, even when you’re pushing the bounds of Western men’s style, there are some things worth observing. “Fit is everything, and with quality finishing – and fine materials – almost any idea can pass as clever.”
To see more of Barima, you can check him out in Rose Callahan’s I Am Dandy. He can also be seen here talking about his final project for a diploma in interior design.
Michael Alden of The London Lounge used to say about menswear writers: “read what they write, but remember they need to write in order to eat.” So much has been written at this point about the simple act of putting on clothes, yet so much can be boiled down to some simple principles. Few people exhibit those principles better than our friend Graeme in Sydney, Australia.
Value Quality Over Quantity. You don’t need a lot of clothes to be well dressed.Back when he had to wear a suit every day to work, Graeme had seven suits that could be broken into separates. Now that he works in a more casual industry, he’s edited that down to just three – one navy, one grey, and one dinner suit. His casualwear wardrobe is just as tightly edited. Most of us wind up with more clothes than we ever really need, which is why it’s good to focus on buying the right things, rather than more things.
Prioritize Fit and Dress According to Your Eye: Graeme prioritizes fit above everything else, but if you pay attention to his clothes, he dresses according to his eyes – not rules. His suit jackets, for example, are just slightly trim and short, allowing him to give a nod to current fashion trends while still remaining classic. Think of rules more as guidelines and be honest about what looks flattering on you. As Graeme advises, it also helps to have a friend with a critical eye, as “we often get too caught up in our own interpretations."
Don’t Look Too Studied. Graeme has a strong, classic sense of style, but also has a carefree relationship with his clothes that prevents him from ever looking too studied. That kind of nonchalance is hard to learn, but we’d like to think it comes naturally over time.
Simplicity Can be Good. There are some people who dress well with bold colors and lots of patterns, but Graeme shows how you can look great with much simpler choices. His style feels sophisticated and modern because he mostly relies on navy and rarely wears more than two patterns at once.
It’s Not About Money. A lot of what Graeme wears is on the high end. His made-to-measure suits are from P. Johnson, bespoke shirts from Ascot Chang, jeans from The Armoury, and shoes from Saint Crispin’s, Edward Green, and Alden. At the same time, he also wears a lot of things from more affordable brands, such as button-up shirts from UNIQLO, chinos from J. Crew, and sneakers from Tretorn and Nike. His mix of expensive and non-expensive items shows that you can dress well on almost any budget.
Granted, it helps that Graeme is a handsome dude who’s in fantastic shape (he’s a cyclist who rides about 15 hours per week, which equates to about 15,000 kilometers a year). At the same time, his style is inspiring for all the values we champion here at Put This On: dress classically and simply, but have fun with your clothes; choose quality over quantity; and don’t think this is just about needing to buy more expensive things.