Looking for Style

I know next to nothing about clothing or style, but I'm learning. I have lived my entire life blissfully unaware that a conversation has been taking place around me that involves clothes. I don't mean conversations about clothes, but with clothes. People have been telling me things about themselves through their clothes and I've been completely oblivious. Through a series of odd events I'm finally starting to pay attention to this conversation.

I'm not a very social person and that's probably why I gravitated to computers. For my work I'm always hunched over a keyboard and monitor at home or in some back room far, far away from the normals. I didn't ever need to learn the difference between business and casual dress because I didn't need anything more than casual. Any time I was required to dress up I felt uncomfortably self conscious. If my own clothing choices even entered my mind they didn't rise above the level of thinking, "I like things from REI." In fact, my personal pinnacle of style has always been a shirt with buttons from REI.

Sometime last May there was a question at Ask MetaFilter (where I work, hunched) that resonated with me: I'd like to learn to dress well and look sharp... but I've got no natural talent for it. Can anybody help me figure out how/where to start? I felt like I could have written that question, or a variation of it, and I enjoyed all of the answers from the more fashion-literate members of the hive mind. I filed that conversation away in the back of my mind and didn't think much more about it.

Around that time I got serious about dropping weight and managed to lose 20 pounds by August. One day I was hunched over my keyboard coding away when Matt said, "You need new clothes." As usual, I hadn't even thought about my clothes or how they were fitting. He was right.

I was all set for a trip to REI when I remembered that Ask MeFi thread and went back to reread. In it, someone recommended a book called Men's Style so I figured it was as good a place as any to start. I picked up a copy thinking it would go directly in the trash. I found myself on a plane with the book in hand but like dressing up, I was embarrassed to read it. I needed a fake Mastering Emacs dust jacket so I could read it without feeling out of place. Men's Style was not perfectly aimed at me, but at least it gave me a sense of how much I don't know. I was fascinated by the history of standard clothing detail that I hadn't noticed before. That's when I got the sense that clothing is an ancient, continuous conversation that I have been missing.

In October, as if tapped into my consciousness, podcast personalities Jesse Thorn and Adam Lisagor started their project Put This On—A Web Series About Dressing Like a Grownup. I finally entered the target market for something style-related. Since then, following their lead, I started tuning into other daily style reads such as A Continuous Lean, Urban Weeds, The Sartorialist, Nerd Boyfriend, Sartorially Inclined, and the impossible cool.

I started 2010 with a new respect for style and I'm starting to make conscious decisions about what to wear. There's nothing wrong with my REI safe-zone, but now I realize there's a world beyond casual hiking clothes. I'm not taking part in the style conversation yet, but at least I'm slowly learning the grammar.

Comments

Go buy some stuff at Zara. Or, if you don't want to depart quite so far from REI, check out Martin + Osa.
Thanks for the recommendations pwb. I feel like the "trust a store" method is a good stop gap solution. (http://www.instantrimshot.com/) But eventually I'd like to able to look anywhere and understand why I'm making particular choices.
Thanks for the shoutout!

Cheers,
Lawrence
charming story
I went through a similar transition and a learning of style grammar. I too picked up that same book thinking it was a great spot to start (it was). And dove into blogs like on the daily (http://www.inventorymagazine.com/updates/), and valet mag (http://valetmag.com/), and several of the ones you mentioned. It was a bit overwhelming. For me, I felt uncomfortable in most styles, all in fact other than my tshirts and jeans. After a time, I started noticing styles around me and slowly started trying things I liked and read about out. One of the things that perplexed me was how could so many ppl have such a knack for it, seemingly knowing how to dress with out any work when I had spent hours and hours reading and learning and trying. One thing I realized was that most people, do utilize the "trust a store" method and for good reason. Stores employ dozens of designers to pick up on whats stylish. I encourage you to begin there- J crew is an excellent starting point. Classic, modern, and affordable. Once you cover your bases, then begin to branch out and shop at specialty stores etc. Best of luck!
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