How To Look Nice Without Really Trying

Whether you’re traveling to another country or simply walking to the grocery store down the street, it’s an easy and, some would say, courteous gesture to look presentable. By ‘presentable’ I mean this: if you by chance ran into someone who you wanted to date, get a referral or job from, or generally make a good first impression upon, you’d be dressed in a way that would contribute to that end more than detract from it.

Be the guy on the right.
           Be the guy on the right.

It’s not costly. It’s not time-consuming. It’s simple. And here are the simple steps involved in How To Look Nice Without Really Trying:

  1. Wear a polo shirt instead of a T-shirt. Izod, Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, LL Bean, and Lands End all make polo shirts that sell at various price points at various times of the year (read: sales).  Navy blue is the go-to color. Dark green and burgundy work. The 100% cotton fabric and solid construction of most polo shirts means you can toss them in the washer, run them through the dryer or hand them to dry, and then toss ’em on and go. Hit the polo with a quick iron if you want. They work well under a sweater or button down if it’s chilly. They represent you as a little more mature, and they’re more versatile than T-shirts.
  2. Wear cotton pants, chinos (or khakis) instead of denim jeans. Well-made khakis from Bill’s, Brooks Brothers, or Ralph Lauren are seldom inexpensive, but over the long haul, they are a value. Again, 100% cotton, washer/dryer friendly, and a quick iron gives you a crisp look. Brushed cotton pants in chocolate brown, tan, navy blue or olive offer you a variety of looks that are practical for the workplace and stylish for after-hours.
  3. Wear brown leather shoes instead of athletic shoes. Anything from Sperry Topsiders to Bass penny loafers is a big step up from sneakers (or trainers as they’re known in the UK). When you travel, brown leather shoes with rubber soles are the best of both worlds: your feet won’t hate you after walking the city for hours, and when you discover a charming cafe you want to dip into and rest for a moment, you’ll be presentable enough to do so without hesitation or embarrassment.
  4. Wear a sweater or light jacket instead of a hoodie.  Two points here: on is the general comment that this choice will present a slightly more affluent image to the general public; the second is me being the Blunt White Guy in the Room: if you’re a non-caucasian male and you’re walking down the street, ditching the hoodie and dressing a little better might help you avoid unwanted attention from law enforcement. I don’t like saying it. I don’t like that it might be true. I don’t like the implications it has for police officers who treat everyone fairly but still get painted with a broad, unfair brush. I’d like the world to be a different place. However, in the interest of offering advice that will help readers do better in today’s world, I sometimes feel compelled to say uncomfortable things.  I also rely on the readers of this blog to contribute their own well-considered opinions on the subject, as delicate as it might be.

In summary, make a little effort. Up your game. Dress better. For others. For yourself.

  • BGT

37 thoughts on “How To Look Nice Without Really Trying

  1. Basic grooming please! I can overlook jeans and athletic shoes, but basic grooming is a must. Some of my pet peeves: 1) Ladies if you want to wear nail polish then maintain the polish. Nothing says lazy like a handful of chipped polish. 2) If you are going to wear sandals make sure your feet are show worthy. At a minimum please trim your toenails. 3) Gentleman either shave daily or commit to a beard or mustache. The 1 or 2-day grizzle is not attractive. 4) Keep your eyebrows tweezed. If you don’t want to do this for yourself, it is something your barber or stylist can do easily each time you get your haircut. The unibrow has never been in style.

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  2. Agree 100%. How we dress affects how people treat us. You can dress like someone who deserves to be treated with respect or you can dress like someone who deserves to be treated with suspicion. For someone who perceives that they are sometimes treated unfairly because of the color of their skin, the effects may be even more pronounced. That’s just common sense and it applies to all of us. Thanks for another insightful, informative post.

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  3. Thanks for the signposts…Dressing decently and basic grooming are of upmost importance for sure. It shows respect for others as well as ourselves.

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  4. Agree with Byron and the comments so far 100%! My normal daily fare is an ocbd shirt (or polo in warmer weather, a pair of khakis, wool socks (I like the old Wigwams in that creamy color), Top-Siders, and one of a number of jackets and or sweaters depending on weather.

    I live in a town where most men and women are slobs and wear sweats, jeans and t-shirts, or those horrible long shorts and sandals that seem to be the uniform of overweight men. It’s a blue collar town although in a lovely area geographically speaking.

    I have noticed I’m generally treated better by service help (stores, restaurants, etc.) the my fellow community members who either are not concerned with their appearance or wear the slob look with pride.

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  5. BTW, I know that not wearing socks with loafers and some other shoes is a thing with some people but I prefer to see socks with shoes. The one exception is warm weather sailing and boat shoes. I think it’s mostly an eastern thing as it’s rarely seen out in most areas of the west save for the hidden or short socks so many wear with running shoes.

    To me, the sockless look with loafers is one of those trying to hard things.

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  6. Truly, it doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to look presentable. There are many different styles of dress, and even jeans can be worn well so long as they’re clean, fit well, not torn, and there’s a belt involved for men. I have nothing against jeans, but, as a woman, it is refreshing to look at a man who is wearing some khaki’s or something other than jeans. As stated above, it begins with basic grooming, men and women, and then moving on to clothes that fit and wear well. I wanted to say age-appropriate, but on second-thought, age has nothing to do with looking and being presentable. And yes, you will be treated better when you look and dress better. It doesn’t make it right, but that’s the way it is. The world isn’t always a fair place.

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  7. I loved this post. Though it mainly touches on men’s clothes it works equally for women. I’d also like to add…

    Gentlemen

    – Clean, short nails. Always.
    – If you must wear sandals – trimmed, fresh toenails (please).
    – Neutral colours. Rarely have I seen a man who can pull off bright, neon clothes and also be taken seriously.
    – Sunglasses on or off, never on the top of the head. Tuck them into your neckline if you must.
    – A linen or cotton shirt with top buttons undone, (maybe even untucked at the waist in very casual settings) with the sleeves rolled up and even a sweat patch of two is FAR more attractive than a topless torso in hot weather. If women can’t go topless, neither should you.
    – Nose hair trimmed. Same with ear hair! It might be hard for you to see it, but clear as day for us.
    – Jewellery. A wedding band and a simple watch is enough.

    Personally I think it is most attractive when a man is neatly groomed but not too concerned about fashion. Just conservative, well made neutral basics are all you really need. I wish my generation would take notes from pre-1960’s gentlemen rather than look to these “hip hop/hipsters’ of today. They look like boys rather than men.

    Ladies

    – Short, conservative nails in neutral colours.
    – Hair neat and not too elaborate (unless at a ball) or dyed into “fashionable” colours.
    – Fabrics not too see-through (same goes for men). It looks cheap and probably is.
    – Underwear should remain there – under!
    – Dress for other women, not for men. It’s obvious when you are dressing for male attention.
    – Workout/yoga clothes are for working out, not running errands.
    – Make Up. Applied BEFORE leaving the house, in a restroom and NEVER on public transport.
    – Jewellery. Less is more.
    – Handbags. Classics, never high/current/seasonal fashion. If you can see where the money has gone, it’s gaudy. Same goes for those shoes with red soles. Too obvious.
    – Tan. It should only ever come from the sun, and even then in very small doses.

    As a woman I sometimes ask myself this rather odd (but useful question), which is this…. If I was the gentleman I dream of having as my husband, would *I* marry me, based on what I looked like? And/or would I be welcoming/accepting of a woman who wore this if my son brings her home in 20 years time?

    I’m aware my additions sound snobbish and conservative but these are the things that I personally look out for and judge. We’re human, we do that.

    Like you say Byron, in order to get ahead and be taken seriously, you have to take care of the details. If you are serious about it then adhering to the “old money” ways of doing things, as you phrase it, comes naturally.

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  8. I must admit, through college I would dress a bit more sloppy at times, still dressed but with the jeans and hoodie look. For some reason I never saw my polos as “comfortable”. Now, as a mother, the attire of a polo dress, long cardigan and Sperry Topsiders are simple, comfortable, effortless yet shows the interest you have in both maintaining yourself and the community around you. I enjoyed this post, as I have the others thus far. Thank you Byron.

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  9. Another agreeable post. It’s so much easier this way. In public one does not stand out, and are perhaps go unnoticed by many. And for those who know what to look for, you send a strong, but subtle message. When we are with family and old friends -and particularly when summering- there can be a bit more in terms of bright colors. But here is the main value: whether it’s a photo from 1964 or a gathering from 2016, there is a familiar timelessness to it all. And that’s what we like.

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  10. A sensible and honest post. I am working class and living on a strict budget, but how I present myself to the world is important to me. Good quality clothes are available to those who know where to look (i.e., thrift and consignment shops) and also to those who can save their money for a few good pieces. I don’t own a lot of clothing, but what I do have is clean, ironed, and well maintained. Going out anywhere – grocery shopping, errands, whatever – is a chance to show respect for others and myself by how I dress. Being quietly and unobtrusively well dressed can make a big statement. Besides, being nicely dressed is enjoyable! There is so much ugliness in today’s world; let’s take the opportunity to add some beauty and civility to our daily lives.

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  11. A great post! One of the comments especially resonated with me, about growing up working class and being aware of the importance of always looking one’s best. I grew up in an Italian-American community in Cleveland, Ohio during the 1950’s and we lived in the culture of la bella figura. My mother raised six children and my father worked in a factory, but when we went to church on Sunday or attended major family functions, we all dressed up in our good clothes. I think this is ingrained in Italian culture, both in Italy and here in the States. To this day, my family enjoys dressing well to go out anywhere (yes, even grocery shopping and running errands!) It is a matter of pride and respect to present oneself in as attractive a manner as possible. Hopefully, people will read your post and the comments and begin seeing dressing nicely as something that can (and should) be done every day.

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  12. I used to be that guy with sport sneakers and hoodies. No more, thanks to the old money book. I bought a couple of used but high quality shoes through ebay (Crockett & Jones, Allen Edmonds etc). And yes, most of them brown as Byron suggested because they’re so much easier to combine with other clothes than black shoes. Add a few simple Pullovers from wool or cotton, wool pants or chinos for a more casual look. I invested in a nice wool overcoat for the winter, again from ebay. So much more refined than the ski jacket I used to wear! Topped off with a couple button-down shirts and I have a high quality wardrobe that I can dress down (casual) and dress up (business) in dozens of ways.

    Fashion fads make fashion corporations rich, but they don’t improve the way we dress. Once I learned a bit about fabrics I was shocked to see how much ‘plastic’ such as polyester or acryl is incorporated in lower quality apparel. If one sticks with the better and older brands or producers (Byron listed many of them) one sees they primarily use natural materials: leather, wool, silk, linen and cotton. Apparently natural fabrics throw less wrinkles, fit better, are much longer lasting and – I didn’t believe this but it’s true – are more resistant to body odors after a long day. Over the last year or so I have systematically gotten rid of all the ‘plastic’ in my wardrobe and it’s a fantastic feeling. If you buy smart (using discounts and/or 2nd hand) it can be a real money saver over the long haul.

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    1. David, thank you for sharing the details about your wardrobe overhaul. Good for you. I’m glad it’s working for you, both in terms of style, comfort…and value. – BGT

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  13. Great post!! And one of my pet peeves. I have no idea why people think sportswear is fit for public. And the recent craze of stretch pants. God help us. Amy hit it exactly: how you dress determines how you are treated. This has been drummed into my head from childhood. Always dress with respect for yourself and others. And I often follow the lead of my late grandmothers, who, aside from being well dressed, never left the house without wearing light pink lipstick and pearls. You don’t have to be wealthy to dress with respect.

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  14. My fantasy is that Byron and Alena expand their thought in a joint article here.

    Here’s my take:

    * If you’re male and wearing denim past the age of 16, something is wrong;

    * Polo shirts are good form. However, polo shirts can be made as a light construction or weightier version. Purchase the weightier version as it will last longer and hold its shape better. Nothing says bedraggled more than an old light weight faded polo which droops over an overweight body;

    * Joggers are for jogging. Sneakers are for, hmmm .. well, being sneaky. *smile* Very bad form to wear these for any purpose other than sport or exercise I’m afraid. The same applies for shorts. Please!

    * Mary’s experience is illustrative that the Italians are the style masters. I have Italian friends and acquaintances of all backgrounds. A Sicilian scaffold contractor now in Sydney will wear gorgeous polished leather shoes socially. A Roman PhD lawyer now in New York will wear gorgeous polished leather shoes socially. Full marks to the Italians;

    * I’m a seventh generation Australian of English heritage living in New York. I purchased a pair of oxblood shoes in Melbourne in 1996 for $126. Yesterday, they were polished in Grand Central Terminal New York and later that day I received a compliment from a stranger about them. So, these magnificent, comfortable, stylish, well-made shoes have cost me $0.50 a month over 21 years. Quality … it’s everything;

    * Bravo to Sophie. Everything about that post says dignity.

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    1. Hi anglo and all readers,

      Not so long ago some reader asked about rising and educating kids. When my older very young son read about Melbourne shoes, he stressed that this is the way kids should be taught math and values at school. He rushed to explaine this to his younger brother. The younger brother coined “Melbourne shoes formula”. They took it to school. Kids with IQ 130+ did not get it. Disappointed they came home from school and declared that one can learn important things only at home.

      Thank God the good Old Money are still here! (and The Melbourne shoes formula as well).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. omgm, that’s fascinating and thank you for sharing. And, just so readers appreciate the geographic breadth of that, in which country were they based when they coined that phrase? Very curious.

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  15. Hi anglo,
    Geography does not matter, but now we live in central Europe. What you pointed out is that people are rich in knowledge and poor in common sense. However while Old Money seek and appreciate knowledge they are governed by common sense.

    Years ago I bought many OCBD shirts that I still have. Once you put numbers on the paper, those numbers are empowering and it proves what Byron (and common sense) preaches: living well for less.

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  16. omgm

    I love your discussion of the cost per wear. It brings up another value that I have worked to impress upon my children and that is the concept of delayed gratification. The impulse buying of cheap goods (fast fashion is the worst!) is what keeps many people from ever saving up enough to buy true quality.

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    1. Thank you Janet. Delaying gratification concept works for centuries. You never buy cheap, you buy value, even for less. Just check RL OCBDs now. Is it worth to pay less for shirts that will last decades?

      Regarding “f”world – it does not appear in our dictionary. However, the other “f” word does, sometimes 😉

      You should also think of inflation and purchasing power. Since every currency depreciates buy on sale (year ago this time I was in Salo, Italy. I was shocked to see my former classmate spending 100 euros on cheese and ham instead on Italian full grain leather loafers on half-inch leather sole going south form 140 to 70 euros!!!) Once you build your wardrobe, stop and enjoy style. Saved money should be used to build wealth.

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