My path to fashion snobbery began in ignorance. One summer during college I made daily reruns of "What Not to Wear" appointment viewing. I was disappointed so few of the show's subjects were men. And how many were caramel-colored like me? Still, the show awakened something.
I realized style is a tool we men can use to command respect from our communities. Instead of dressing for the job I wanted, I took a different tack: I decided to start dressing for the measure of man I wanted to exude.
I started putting more energy into the outfits I wore, into the image I presented to the world. I took my cues from certain brothers I spotted at the bus stop, the ones dressed for boardrooms, special events and art museums. They shined in polished shoes, cleaned and pressed button-down shirts and suits. Men like that exuded confidence, power and good looks. Exactly how I wanted to feel and be seen.
I rarely saw people who looked like me when I ventured out to the French conversation groups or film society or fashion events I liked. So I took most of my cues from TV. One of my role models was Jesse L. Martin’s character on "Law & Order," Detective Ed Green. He wore colors that embraced his brownness, plus he had a goatee like me.
Soon I was out searching for deals at the stores, like the blue Austin Reed sports jacket I spotted during one visit to Macy's, and the flat-front grey wool trousers I saw on another. And I finally had some shirts custom-made to fit my skinny frame.
Not long afterwards I went to class wearing one of my new ensembles. While waiting for the professor to show up, a classmate glanced back at me. My richly colored shirt caught his eye. “Where can I buy one?” he asked.
I smiled and assured him he couldn’t. It had been made just for me.
This summer I attended a fundraiser for The Dandies Project, a group of well-dressed black men who serve as exemplars of style and leaders in their communities. I wore my Valentino suit, my Isaac Mizrahi shirt and a Goorin Bros fedora. And people kept stopping me to ask whether I was an official dandy. It tickled me. Even though the event’s organizer, Richard Moody, hasn’t anointed me a dandy I was mistaken for one.
If he's interested, any man can do what I’ve done, to pass for a dandy and attract the admiration of others. Clothing has the power to make you the person you aspire to be.
But most of the men I meet in the Twin Cities don’t seem interested. They seem to be going for effortlessness. In truth, their looks come off as lazy.
Most Twin Cities men carry themselves as if fashion is not an f-word but the f-word. I see Twin Cities men in corporate buildings dressed for the office. They blend with their co-workers as though they were stamped from cookie-cutters.
Other times I see professional men strolling from Nicollet Mall into Macy's or the IDS Building. Their dress shoes are in sorry shape — dry, rough, scuffed or even dirty.
Even more irksome are the men who pair athletic shoes with their business suits. I’ve seen this from salesmen at Macy’s and Hubert White. I mean shiny, reflective blue sneakers holding up a charcoal suit!
Of course, dressing well requires time, effort and energy. Every dandy needs a source of inspiration. One book I like to reference is Lloyd Boston's “Men of Color: Fashion History, Fundamentals.” It helps me fight the persistent images that flash across my screen of black men as menaces to society.
Shopping is another source of inspiration. I used to frequent Macy's and Saks Off-Fifth in search of novel clothing, but I stopped a few years ago when I got bored with their stock. Now I avoid major retailers and shop instead at Via's Vintage, Restyle, Nu Look Consignment or Ragstock.
Remember that Isaac Mizrahi shirt I wore to the Dandies Project fundraiser? I found it at Marshall's. They surprise me by stocking some style steals!
Lots of men don’t care about fashion. Or they’re worried a dapper outfit could mark them as less than manly. That’s their hang-up and their choice. I just don’t get it. Neither sloppy nor slobby nor forgettable describe this man.
Will Wright is a freelance writer and reporter who values stories about culture, the media arts and politics. He has produced for local radio and written for The Christian Science Monitor. Contact him via his personal site or on Twitter: @WrightsWords.