I am not an adult man.
What I am is an adult female who’s been interested in style since her preschool years.
I’ll admit, women’s fashion is typically more in my purview.
However, thanks to a well-dressed dad and dapper older brother (if it helps to paint a picture, let me share that he almost always wears a suit to travel…that’s right, a suit on an airplane), I learned pretty early on about fit, fabric, and dress code when it came to menswear.
I’ve also developed opinions of my own on this subject matter along the way.
Call them preferences or call them lessons, after taking a minute, or, honestly, a day, to pluck these thoughts from the recesses of my mind, I’ve found myself with a style guide of sorts to men’s fashion.
A list of “whats”, 38 to be exact, with some “whys”, when it comes to what women want men to wear.
Let me add a disclaimer to this before we get too far ahead. I realize that I don’t speak for all women. I am only one woman on a planet filled with them.
My penchant for beards and V-neck t-shirts on men, for example, might seem completely unappealing to many (if not most) of my fellow sisters across the globe. But one woman is not an island.
The lion’s share of the below items come from conversations over the years with other ladies in my life—whether in high school hallways or at college parties, over meals, watching TV, or even when it came to planning my own wedding—so what you see here isn’t really the ranting and raving of just one broad, but my whole crew of females, past and present.
Here are 38 Lessons: The Ultimate Guide to Men’s Fashion From a Female Perspective. Enjoy:
Most of us wear jeans more than any other piece of clothing in our closets. So this wardrobe workhorse oughta be good.
Ditch the dad jeans and find yourself some nice-fitting denim. A dark wash is the most versatile—it can be easily dressed up or down and that deep indigo is awfully slimming.
Choose a pair that’s slim (not so tight they look like jeggings), and straight-legged. A cuff can look cool at the bottom but can also make you look shorter, so buyer beware.
2 The tuxedo
Ahh, the tuxedo. Wearing a tux is like being a granted a superpower.
It instantly makes you more than “Average Man”—you look wealthy, deadly, mysterious, powerful. A tuxedo is nothing short of transformative. Try to somehow find a reason to wear one at least every once in a while to experience its effect.
Just like accents, many of us females are suckers for a man in a tux.
The tailored suit made its way onto the list of 50 Things Every Man Should Own Before His 30th Birthday with good reason, and it bears repeating here.
Just like many women are weak-kneed in the presence of a tuxedoed man, a fella in a crisp suit deserves a wolf whistle. A nicely tailored suit projects confidence—it makes you look together, capable, and successful.
In a suit you look clean and grown up, like a man who is familiar with dry cleaning. All of that is attractive.
4 The leather jacket
While the whole James Dean/Marlon Brando/leather jacket is a cliché at this point, it’s no accident that some combination of those three things has been cited again and again in anything having to do with men’s fashion.
Let Dean and Brando show you how reckless and sexy this can look if you need further convincing to bite the bullet on this one.
5 Shoes: Dress
Though, admittedly, my husband breaks these fashion commandments from time to time (his “wallet” is a binder clip and many of his shirts have worn out into holes at the elbow), he is on top of his game when it comes to dress shoes.
And what I love most about his dress shoes are that they stay true to his style—you don’t have to speed right from college flip-flops to corporate lawyer/old man territory. He opts for worn-in dress boots, rather than oxfords—they look great and suit him well (and look just as good with jeans, if not better, than with dress pants).
Tip 1: Chestnut-colored leather looks awesome with a blue or navy suit (this was my husband’s wedding look—in my opinion he looked better than I did that day).
Tip 2: Don’t go too pointy—I think the pointy dress shoe trend is unflattering and over-the-top.
6 Shoes: Sneakers
Sneakerheads, this one’s for you.
I think a cool, well-kept pair of sneakers can be super stylish and a nice leather pair can even sub for dress shoes on many occasions (dinners, work, dates, etc.).
Whether they’re vintage Jordans or Rick Owens, they’re going to look cool, and women notice cool shoes.
In my mind, a flannel shirt is masculinity in fabric form.
Maybe it’s growing up with all those Brawny paper towel commercials. Or maybe it’s because I hit my pre-teen years in the 1990s at the height of grunge. Either way, a man in a flannel shirt always looks good to me.
They’re also durable and warm, so flannel is a practical thing to purchase, my ‘90s adolescent fantasies aside.
8 “Humor” T-Shirts
Shirts with derogatory messages towards women are not okay to purchase (except if they say “FBI: Female Bikini Inspector.” That one’s just funny).
Buying underwear is a drag.
Even though receiving it from our grandparents at Christmas was the biggest letdown of the year, it was kind of nice having someone just get that done. Now that we’re adults, we need to go buy our own. So go do that.
Clean, grownup underwear on a man is always a nice surprise to see, whether on someone you’re seeing scantily clad for the first time or on a significant other shuffling to the kitchen to make coffee on a weekday morning.
Personally, boxers or boxer briefs top my list—I think briefs give off too much of a little boy vibe (particularly if adorned with any type of superhero design).
10 Plain tees
There is nothing better than a man in a white t-shirt.
It’s such a clean, classic look. Throw on an old pair of jeans and some cool kicks (see #6 on this list) and you are perfection.
My husband looks his best in a plain, white V-neck, some dark, button-fly jeans, and his aforementioned worn-in boots. It’s probably safe to say most of you readers look your best in some variation of that style, too.
While I understand the appeal of wraparound sunglasses in a sporting situation, they are a little too Guy Fieri for me otherwise.
You can never go wrong, however, with Ray-Bans: the Wayfairer, the Clubmaster, the Aviator—these styles have been around forever and suit just about every face. They somehow manage to suit any situation, too: they look equally appropriate at a formal outdoor wedding or at a public pool.
You can buy whatever other brand you prefer, just keep these classic styles and shapes in mind.
12 The camel coat
A nice wool dress coat cleans up literally any outfit you have on underneath.
Ratty t-shirt, sweatpants, and old sneakers? Throw on a camel coat (or any nice wool coat) and you instantly look like a million bucks. It’s like a magic trick.
Like the tuxedo, this is another one of those transformative garments. Invest in a nice one and you’ll have it forever. It will never go out of style. If you don’t want to splurge, places like H&M, Zara, and Uniqlo usually have some good options.
Men, it’s okay to wear a scarf.
This sentiment has been quicker to adapt elsewhere than in the United States. I think the common opinion is that scarves are too feminine. They’re not. You look good and scarves help keep you warm when it’s cold. Frank Sinatra wore scarves. You’ll be fine.
This is similar to the underwear thing (see #9). Not always so exciting to shop for, but clean, matching socks send a nice message.
Slip on some fancy socks and you look like you have somewhere important to go. A nice pair of navy or black dress socks without holes gives you a little gravitas.
I also like when you see a little color or pattern peeking out from in between the top of a man’s shoe and the hem of his pants. It shows character, attention to detail, and humor—some very appealing traits.
15 The cashmere sweater
Wear a cashmere sweater and two things will happen: we will think you have a great taste and we’ll also start touching you more.
To explain the first part, cashmere is luxurious and if we see you wearing it we’ll think you have a respect for and understanding of quality. That bodes well for you (and us).
As for the second part, cashmere is super soft, so we’ll be getting very close to you when you’ve got that sweater on. That seems like a win-win, right?
16 The cardigan
Speaking of sweaters, I happen to like a man in a cardigan or shawl collar – if you raise an eyebrow to this, do an image search of Paul Newman or Steve McQueen cardigan, and you’ll see what I mean.
17 Hats: Dont’s
I take a hard line when it comes to hats.
Silly bike messenger-style hats with that teeny brim or any other goofy headgear – fedoras, Cat in the Hat-style hats…they just don’t do it for me. They seem like are just desperate cries for attention. It’s all too forced.
18 Hats: Dos
That last one was kind of harsh. And maybe made me seem too anti-hat. I don’t hate all hats. I think a simple wool beanie or a snapback cap are both great options. Less is more.
19 Shorts: Don’ts:
Retire the cargo shorts – unless you’re fixing something and need all those pockets for tools, nails, etc.
Also, no man capris. Please.
20 Shorts: Dos
By all means, wear shorts when it’s hot. Just keep it simple – classic, plain front; no pleats.
Aim for silk, wool, or knit styles. Avoid polyester. Plain, striped, or dotted styles are usually the best bets, but just as with socks, a whimsical print can be a nice way of showing off your personally and good humor.
Just make sure the situation is appropriate and that that aforementioned humor is in good taste.
This is a polarizing one.
Many women might find this a turn-off, but I think a man in a bow tie can look pretty darn sharp. I’d recommend keeping the rest of your look simple and slightly modern so the whole look doesn’t get too costume-y.
23 Henley shirts
There’s something about a Henley shirt.
This probably dates back to the days when Jared Leto was Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life (he could wear the hell out of a Henley).
These shirts have a ‘90s appeal—by the end of this list, my strong affinity for the era will be made abundantly clear—and recall the masculinity of #7 on this list: the flannel shirt. I think there is something sexy, too, about those few buttons left unbuttoned.
It’s not so much skin where it’s sleazy or feels clubby; just a glimpse.
24 Thermal wear
I’m doubling up on 1990s fashion here, between the Henley and waffle knit shirt.
Putting daydreams about musicians and actors of that decade to the side for a minute, I think the texture of these are really enticing. And wearing things that are touchable leads to getting touched, which, unless done by a stranger on the subway, is a good thing.
25 The briefcase
Let’s step away from grunge-era style for a moment and onto something more professional.
This entry on the list goes hand-in-hand with the well-tailored suit (#3). Both immediately radiate success and style. And a buttery leather workbag only gets better with age: each scuff is like a ring found inside a tree, marking time and experience.
Like the camel dress coat, this is another investment piece. Waxed canvas styles are slightly more rugged and casual, but still have work-appropriate polish.
As I mentioned, my husband uses a binder clip in place of a wallet/money clip. Just pinched right from the supply closet at work. But it works for him.
In lieu of repurposing office supplies, I’d suggest a simple leather wallet. Good leather is strong and sturdy and will improve with age, just like that nice briefcase you just bought.
A man with a classic, wood-handled umbrella seems like he has his act together. This man seems prepared for anything.
These aren’t the types of umbrellas you buy during a rainstorm from the drugstore after you’ve already gotten soaked. These are think-ahead umbrellas. This type of forethought makes us feel like we are in good hands.
Your watch shouldn’t be the size of your palm. This looks insane. Less is more.
29 Other accessories
Accessories can be great, but proceed with caution.
Just like the gargantuan watches mentioned above, beware of going overboard. A nice cotton or linen pocket square, simple tie clip, or classic cufflinks will do. Remember this one word: understatement.
30 Facial hair
I love a beard.
Not all women will agree with this. But I think most of us would agree that if you’re going to go for the full beard, don’t live everyday like you’re in the World Beard and Moustache Championships. This falls into the same category as silly hats: it all seems a little insecure and desperate.
Further, if you’re in the bathroom waxing your mustache for the better part of an hour, well, that just seems like time we could’ve been spending catching up on TV or out getting food instead.
31 Hawaiian shirts
Unless you live in Honolulu or own a surf shack in some other tropical locale, Hawaiian shirts just don’t make sense. Or maybe I need to drink more margaritas.
32 Cut and fit
This harkens back to #3 on this list: suits.
But is also applies in a broader sense to whatever else you put on your body.
Tailoring clothing to fit your body perfectly makes the whole look seem more expensive. If going to a tailor seems like a waste of time and money to you, when you’re out shopping, pay particular attention to the waist and general crotch area of whatever pants you try on, looking for a balance between a vise-like grip and droopy.
Length is also important: an ankle-length pant is experiencing some popularity now and can look pretty sharp on the right guy (and is a great way to show off a colored or patterned sock), but a longer cut with a traditional full or medium break above the cuff is universally flattering—it makes you look taller.
Watch out, too, for sleeve length. Suit jackets/sport coats/blazers should reveal about an inch of your shirt’s cuff—if you go longer, your coat will look too large; any shorter, and can look like you pulled it from your nephew’s closet.
The whole wearing jewelry thing is tricky – I wear jewelry (although not a lot), so it’s hypocritical for me to say men shouldn’t.
But not every man can pull it off, just like I can’t pull off red hair or tube tops. Professional athletes or musicians look great in jewelry. Accountants might have a harder time making this work.
Unless you are Michael Phelps or have the physique of a professional athlete, I’d prefer you stick to swim trunks.
While the style pictured here are not your classic PJs, you know how I feel about waffle knits (see #24)…
36 The jean jacket
If you sprinkle in a little bit of The Outsiders, some early Elvis, and James Dean (it all goes back to James Dean) you get the perennially cool jean jacket.
Throw on a plain white tee underneath and some jeans—with the right fit and right shades of denim, a Canadian tuxedo looks classic and cool.
37 The trench coat
The trench coat = tried and true.
While I prefer the trench in iconic tan cotton—think Bogart in Casablanca—navy or black also get the job done. Like the camel dress coat, this is another piece that cleans up any look, but make sure the fit is right: if it’s too big, you’re going to look like you’re playing dress-up.
38 Shiny suits / shirts
Last but certainly not least on the lesson spectrum. No shiny shirts. Or suits.
I can see you just fine without that extra coat of gloss and glitter.
So that’s the list, guys—everything that’s been swirling around in my mind when it comes to what you’re wearing.
Hopefully it’s shed a little light on why that girl gave you that look the last time you were wearing those dad jeans. And you know just the pair we’re talking about: those high-waist, shapeless offenders.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments, gentleman (or my fellow ladies—did I get it right?). Sorry in advance, fedora wearers. It’s nothing personal.
For more tips, be sure to check out the 50 Things Every Man Should Own Before His 30th Birthday.
Over and out.