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Looking like a Lawyer, Part 2c: Men’s Accessories.

July 30, 2012

This is the fourth installment in a series on cultivating a lawyerly image. The first discussed sartorial fundamentals for female lawyers; the second considered men’s suits; and the third examined men’s shirts. Today, we review how to choose appropriate accessories to complete your professional ensemble.

Your suit’s on the hanger, your shirt’s freshly pressed, and you’re just about ready to head out the door, right?

Nope.

You’re not completely dressed until you’ve completed the ensemble. You’ll need at least a tie, and maybe a tie clip to go with it. Depending on your shirt cuffs, you may need cufflinks. While you’re at it, that breast pocket is looking pretty empty — maybe consider a pocket square.

Bottom line, there are some additional items to consider when getting yourself together in the morning. Let’s run through some basics to pull together your look: ties, cufflinks, and pocket squares.

Image courtesy “Die, Workwear, Die.”


Ties.
More than anything else, an awful tie can ruin an otherwise professional outfit. You’ll find countless ties in the typical men’s store, and most of them are atrocious. Here are some quick tips on picking out a serviceable, versatile tie.

Material.
There are three acceptable materials for ties: 1) silk; 2) linen; and 3) wool. You’ll note that polyester is not in this list, because polyester ties are abominations.

Silk ties are generally the most formal and should make up the majority of your tie collection. You can find them in a wide variety of textures — whether satin, knit, grenadine, or shauntung — and in any color of the rainbow. Silk’s a resilient fabric that tends not to wrinkle. Good silk ties last a long time; I have some in my closet that date from the 60s and look brand new.

Linen’s a less formal option to silk, generally more appropriate for warmer weather, or when you want to add a little bit of texture to your outfit.

Wool ties are arguably informal, but can also be a great addition to a cool-weather ensemble. Their textured appearance pairs well with a flannel suit. If you’re feeling experimental, try a knit wool tie, or a donegal tweed.

Width.
Your tie’s width should be relatively proportional to the width of your lapels. If you have a slim-lappelled suit, wear a slimmer tie. If your lapels are a more traditional width, stick with ties 3.5”-4” across the widest part of the blade.

If you wear a slim tie with a traditional width lapelled jacket (or vice versa), you will look silly.

Color.
Just like shirts, there are more tie colors than in a box of crayons. My advice? Keep it sedate.

While that black tie with neon stripes your girlfriend got you might be ok for a nightclub, it’s probably not the best option for a professional office.

Think simple: navy, burgundy, green, yellow, and combinations of these colors. Sure, you can have a “power-tie” or two, just be judicious.

Patterns.
You’ll see a lot of ugly tie patterns out there. Modern designers often sell over-complicated new designs in an attempt to look “hip” and “modern.” Really, they just look ugly, and will be dated in a year.

If you’re building a wardrobe to last, you want to keep it traditional — solids, regimental stripes, pindots, and checks. I’d even begrudge you a critter tie. But that cartoon character novelty tie? Burn it. There’s no excuse.

Price.
Just like many things in life, you often get what you pay for. Yes, you can pick up that bargain basement tie in the local clearance bin, but understand that it won’t last.

As I see it, you’re better off having 5 great ties than 10 awful ties. You don’t have to buy them all at once, but as your older ties begin to reach the end of their useful lives, level up.

A well-constructed tie, made of quality silk and interlining, will cost you upwards of $50.00. If you clicked on the links above, you’ll see that $80-$150 for hand-sewn ties made by haberdashers here in the States is pretty common. But you don’t have to break the bank right now to get serviceable ties. Wait until you get than first multi-million dollar case.

For now, if $50+ is too rich for your blood (it certainly is for mine), I’ve found that TieBar’s offerings are a great deal for the price. While they’re not high-end, as workhorse ties they beat almost any other tie you’d find in a department store. Brooks Brothers’ ties are also excellent, especially when you can find them on sale. And don’t forget that the Pennsylvania Bar association has an affiliate program with Brooks that give you 15% off most purchases.

Finally, you’d be surprised at the excellent ties you can find in thrift stores — they often look brand new, and cost a fraction of the original price. I have several vintage ties that I picked up for pennies on the dollar.

Yes, this is me in a bow tie.


Bowties — Proceed with Caution.
I’m a fan of bow-ties, but the choice to wear one is your call — while they’re a traditional menswear item, especially among the professions, understand you’re venturing into the sartorial fringes if you decide to wear a bow tie. But if you can deal with occasional heckling (and your colleagues will heckle you), go for it.

Apply the same principles to bow tie selection that you would to a long tie. And if you’re going to venture into bow tie territory, make sure you learn how to tie one (hint: it’s the same knot as your shoe laces). Pre-tied bow-ties are an embarrassment and will make you look like Pee-Wee Herman.

Co-ordinating with a suit and shirt.
It you have a classic suit and shirt wardrobe, coordinating a tie should be a relatively straightforward exercise. You can’t really go wrong so long as you remember these three rules:

  • Two Solids, One Pattern is a good rule of thumb. If you’re wearing a solid suit and a solid shirt, wear a patterned tie. If you’re wearing a glen plaid suit, it might be best to wear a solid shirt and tie. If your shirt’s striped, you may wish to wear a solid suit and solid tie.
  • Complement Colors. You don’t necessarily want to be wearing all one color. Find an overcheck in your suit or shirt and complement that with a colored tie to accent.
  • Don’t Overdo It. Let one item be the attention grabber. If you’re wearing a brightly patterned shirt, keep the suit and tie sedate. If it’s a seersucker sort of day, you might want to tone down your shirt and tie. And if you’re intent on wearing a pink cashmere tie, keep your shirt and suit boring.

Finally, that dark-shirt/light-tie combo that you see a lot of in mafia movies, awards shoes, and high school prom

Rolled ties in stored an Ikea wardrobe box.

pictures? Stop doing that. It looks stupid.

Storing Ties.
There are three main methods: hanging, rolling, or laying flat. You’ll find many tie hangers in stores and on the internet. Hanging ties, however, has the tendency to stretch them out and warp the fabric, which is why I prefer to roll them. If you have the closet or wardrobe space, you can pick up some clothing boxes for cheap from Ikea. Or, if you have an unlimited budget, build a custom closet with drawers to display your whole collection.


Tie Clips.

Silver tie Clip by Kent Wang. $45.00.

Tie clips are one of the few pieces of jewelry acceptable in menswear. I personally prefer a simple metal clip without any fancy adornments or engravings.

Tie Pins.
Just don’t. Tie pins ruin ties by poking holes through the blades. If you go to the lengths of buying and maintaining nice ties, why ruin them with a pin?

Cufflinks.
As I discussed in last post, I generally prefer button-cuff for their no-hassle, no-nonsense simplicity. But even I have a few french-cuff shirts, and they’re not going to fasten without some help. In fact, I’m wearing one right now while I type this.

If you have any french-cuff shirts, you will need a way to fasten them. And to fasten them, you will need cufflinks.

Image courtesy “A Southern Gentleman.”

Cufflinks range from understated functional cuff-fastener to ostentatious “look at me” young lawyer cries for attention. Here are some options to consider when building your collection.

Silk Knots.
I love silk knots. They’re cheap, you can get them in any color, and they’re classically understated. Initially, they’re a bit difficult to use, but once you’re used to threading them through the button-holes, you’ll revel in their simplicity.


Toggle-Back Links.

I’d bet that most reading this who have cufflinks use toggle-back links — you flip a little doohickey, push the link through, then turn the doohickey perpendicular to your wrist. Simple.

This is the most common link style out there today. And as I am sure you know, you can get all sorts of different shapes and colors of links. Go buck wild.

I prefer to keep my links a plain metal color, or have a simple stone (like smoky quartz). By keeping the colors simple though, I indulged myself with some novelty shapes: ranging from fish, to 1911s, to turtles, to the scales of justice.

Double-sided Links.
Double-sided links are the pinnacle of elegance. Two studs, connected by a chain, double-sided links are by far the best links you can find. While they’re also the most expensive, generally speaking, you can find some magnificent handmade links at Kent Wang, a haberdasher based in Texas. You’d not go wrong wearing any of the links he offers.

Image Courtesy “PutThisOn.”

Pocket Squares.
One final thing to consider is whether you should wear a pocket square. Quality squares are generally made of silk, linen, or cotton. Poor squares are made of polyester. Don’t waste your money.

In many men’s stores, you’ll see matching tie and square sets — ignore them. The purpose of a square is not to match your tie, but to add some additional flair to your outfit.

Squares come in innumerable colors and designs, but if you’re just starting with the idea of wearing one, start with a crisp white linen in a TV fold (think Don Draper). Once you’re comfortable with that, you can begin to expand into different fabrics and colors. Silk is generally best for a puff-fold, while linen and cotton are better for TV folds.

The goal of a colored pocket square is to complement or accent your ensemble, not overpower it. Apply the same color-complementing principals to your selection of pocket squares that you would to your ties.

Finally, Don’t Overdo It.
Remember that first impressions are formed in an instant, and many form their first impressions of you based on your appearance. If you’re considering trying any other more ecentric accessories (collar pins, pinky rings, unconventional facial hair or hair styles), consider the consequences for your client. It might not make a difference at all if you’re in the trenches at the CJC (heck, it might even benefit you); but if you’re meeting with an institutional corporate client, it might not be the right day to go Andre 3000 on them.

That’s the quick run down on men’s accessories. For more on the subject, I highly recommend you check out Put This On by Jesse Thorn (of NPR’s Bullseye f.k.a The Sound of Young America). It’s a comprehensive blog and web series that discusses the finer aspects of men’s professional dress.

Next post, we’ll talk about why your shoes are the most important item in your wardrobe, and why it might be time for you to upgrade.

Submit your questions and hatemail in the meantime to Leo@FishtownLaw.com

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