There's a new abnormal in men's style.
"For a long time, you were this, or you were that -- a polished guy or a rough-hewn guy," said celebrity stylist Robert Verdi. "The polished guy was clean-shaven, starched shirts and shiny shoes. And then the rustic guy was a little unkempt and hair a little longer, clothes wrinkled and shoes worn. Those were the two experiences you could have as a dude, with slight variations."
Then personal expression sauntered in, wearing a biker jacket one day and a velvet blazer the next. TV reflects the new abnormal. Athletes no longer are the default endorsers of men's grooming products. Now men with unique appeal -- actor Adrien Brody or singer Andre 3000 -- are equally probable pitchmen.
"A man no longer has to be one of the archetypes that we've gotten used to seeing," Verdi said.
But with choice comes confusion. To simplify, even decently dressed men still typecast themselves.
Middle ground trips them up, said Brian Spaly, founder of Trunk Club, a national wardrobe service for men.
"They know how to do formal and informal but, in general, guys really struggle with sophisticated casual. If a guy has a reservation at a great restaurant, he doesn't know how to look like a sexy 40-year-old guy, in dark denim and a cool blazer that's not navy or black and shoes that aren't black. The fact is, the world is moving toward center ground, and more coordination and skill is required."
It isn't just midlife men whose style needs a periodic performance review. Men moving out of entry-level jobs in their 20s, or who want to, also need a shake-up.
"When you get promoted and all of a sudden you're flying all over the country, and you're going to dinners with clients, there's image demand. That's usually the catalyst: image demand."
Finessing one's look pays off in any demographic.
"If you stay on trend and are constantly evolving -- not in a dramatic way, but if you're current -- you move up," Verdi said.WHY NOT ...
Substitute a pocket square for a tie: Start with a white square, with a suit or a jacket and dark jeans, said Nish de Gruiter, of the trendy international chain Suitsupply. Advance to colors and patterns that never exactly match the shirt or tie. Fold into a simple "television fold," named for anchors in the '50s and '60s who didn't want a fluffy or flowery square to distract from their face.
Ban black shoes: Try a loden green boot or a double monk strap shoe in brown or a desert boot that comes with brown as well as dark green laces. "It's a very subtle detail, but the lace can change the shoe completely," de Gruiter said. Going into spring, he likes brown suede shoes with a suit. Verdi notes that men's shoes rise and fall out of style based largely on the visual weight. "The shoe body to have right now is a heavier tie-up brogue, not a slick, lightweight Wall Street shoe." Verdi also likes Minnesota-based Red Wing boots.
Darken the denim: "A classic denim blue color can age you. What looks modern and clean and sharp is an indigo denim, no decorated pockets, but deep blue," Verdi said. "A straight leg, not a skinny leg, looks the best and it's the most versatile."
Change your viewpoint: Whether worn for sun or for sight, eyeglasses are a visual magnet, and most men don't update them often enough. "Watch out for Oakleys, which can look a bit frat house on grown men," Verdi said.
Switch stylists: There are guys with great hair who have stuck with barber-shop crew cuts for years. Grow it out and see a real stylist, even just once, for a fresh perspective.