For a lot of men, talking about clothes makes them uncomfortable. While just about every guy wants to look good, few admit it, and even fewer want to discuss what “looking good” entails. There is this perception that conversations about style are somehow “not manly” or “something that women do.” That, of course, is preposterous. Caring about the way one is perceived in the world is a part of human nature that is not limited to a specific gender, and clothes play an important role in those perceptions.
Fortunately, for guys the taboos around certain topics recede once the ice is broken by other men, particularly respected and admired ones. That is part of the service that David Coggins’s new book Men And Style provides. It feels like an invitation into a conversation filled with cool guys, who just happen to be talking about style. It’s a safe space where men discuss not only their style successes, but also their failures and eccentricities. The result is that a reader feels at ease admitting his own wins, losses, and draws both to himself and those around him. More importantly, it’s a fantastically entertaining read.
Coggins spoke with tastemakers, ranging from J.Crew menswear designer Frank Muytjens to restauranteur Taavo Somer to Bright Lights, Big City author Jay McInerney, about the role clothes and other ephemera played in their maturation as men. To coincide with the book’s launch, Coggins also went beyond writing about clothes to designing them, launching a capsule collection with Drake’s. We spoke with Coggins about how a man’s style should evolve over time, his thoughts on the “athleisure” movement, and why he included a chapter on Playboy.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was about to turn 40, and wanted to bring together a lot of the ideas and themes that I’d written about over the years in a book that addressed the style and sensibilities of the men I admired.
You spoke with a diverse group of people, were there any areas where you noticed a surprising convergence of opinion?
Well, everybody seemed very particular about clothes when they were a boy. They had very strong opinions even then. Some didn’t like a color or stripes because of some unknown personal impulse. Others were attracted to things they liked—a certain pair of sneakers or a hat that they simply had to have.
Men And Style is as much about men as it is about style. What are the ways in which the former influences the latter?
A well-dressed man has a certain amount of self-knowledge. Clothes express how they think, how they fit into the world. So if you look at the style, you’ll learn about the man.
What pieces define your personal style?
Oh, interesting question. I’m on the formal side. I wear a sportcoat when I’m in the city—any city. I like texture—so I like fabrics like herringbone and tweed. I love knit ties. Oxford shirts with large soft collars left unbuttoned. Overall, an easy going formality.
What was it like going from consumer to designer for your collection with Drake’s? What piece are you most proud of?
They’re a company I’ve admired for a long time. They understand how men think and how they want to dress. They also love dressing and tradition, but they’re not fussy. It was really fun to work with them. Personally, I’m thrilled with the indoor scarf. It’s a shorter scarf that looks great under a sportcoat so you can wear it inside. I’ve been dreaming of this for years and finally found friends who were as eccentric as I am!
As someone who dresses more formally, what are your thoughts on the growing spread of casual attire in men’s wardrobes?
[Laughs] Between you and me: It’s not good. You don’t have to wear a double-breasted suit every day, but it’s nice when men show some effort. Also: Men look better when they’re dressed up, there’s no way around that fact.
One of the chapters of your book focuses on how men discovered Playboy. Why was that important for you to include?
That was one of my favorite parts of the book. The men I interviewed—straight, gay, of every age—had such strong recollections of Playboy. Every man does. When you’re young, you’re in awe of what’s inside it. It’s sophisticated but illicit, very much of the adult world. When you’re a teenager, you spend more time calculating how to find it than just about any other thing you do. Of course, the internet changed all that. Access to everything became much easier. But I wanted to capture a time when boys couldn’t find all their fantasies with just one click.
When you are getting dressed for the day, what garment do you build your outfit around?
I think about just how put together I want to feel. Monday morning I do not like wearing a suit. In the evening, I do like that. In any case, it all comes down to the jacket. But once I like a jacket then I’ll wear it a lot. I like to see what sort of variations I can express with just a few changes. And also, like most men I don’t want to make too many decisions before noon.
A lot of people talk about the difference between fashion and style, but how do you think a man’s style should evolve as he gets older?
This is an interesting issue. Almost all men will dress better as they get older. That’s only natural. You’re wiser; you’ve seen more; you’ve made your mistakes and learned from them. You’ve also tried things and know what suits your temperament and your body. You also usually know where to find what you want. That means you know when to spend on an indulgence and when to go to a thrift shop. That’s a good balance to have. Of course, as you get really old then you get eccentric while caring a little less about the public. That’s why old timers start wearing caftans and sarongs and things like that. I like that, but you don’t want to be too far from your apartment in your bathrobe.
What are some of the shops, both in the U.S. and around the world, that you find yourself frequenting? Well Isetan in Tokyo is such a superior department store that it’s almost impossible to discuss it rationally. The Japanese understand retail in an amazing way. If you care about clothing, design and service you should visit Tokyo. I like to shop where men really like to dress. If you’re in Naples you can visit Marinella, the legendary tie store on your way to work at 8 in the morning. Now that’s fantastic! Closer to home, I love Freemans Sporting Club, who are my friends, who I used to work with. I love to visit the Ralph Lauren mansion, how can you not? In L.A. I love to go to Mohawk General Store and Mister Freedom. You want different things from different places. And of course I love to visit Drake’s. I look at every one of their ties online—there are hundreds of them. But you really need to see them in person to appreciate just how great they are.
Did you have style idols growing up?
Well of course Sean Connery as James Bond is about the best thing ever. His style in those films is outstanding, but it’s his personality that makes it really sing. Now it’s amazing when he’s at the US Open covered in a blanket drinking red wine out of a plastic cup. Outstanding! He just does what he wants. I’ve always liked older Italian men, like Luciano Barbera. He’s just so sophisticated and singular. Young Robert Evans is just ridiculously great. He’s one who, as he got older, had some new ideas that maybe he shouldn’t have been experimented with. I must say, since we’re talking about Playboy, Hugh Hefner was and is amazing. Photos of the early years are incredible. The suits, the pipe. So sharp. Again somebody whose personality always comes through and carries the day. That’s really what it’s about.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to a man who feels absolutely clueless when it comes to figuring out what look suits him best?
I think it’s important to be comfortable with the classics. If Fred Astaire wore it, it was good. A blue blazer, grey flannels, oxford shirts, these things have lasted for a reason. Don’t try to do everything at once. It will come to you the way everything does. All of a sudden you’ll realize you know what makes sense for you and it will be hard to believe it was ever any other way. Of course you may go back and regret some old photos on the internet. But that’s how you know that you’ve learned something.