(Photos, clockwise from top left: plaid shirts, pink cardigan and green sweater, tie detail, knitted etsy scarf, Members Only jacket with corduroys and hat, Bed Stü shoes, Topman sweater, dressy pants, holographic hat, wingtip shoes, another tie detail, summer sneakers.)
There are lots of stylish men out there, but it’s not often that Nadine and I have the chance to interview one. That’s why today’s conversation with her friend Ryan feels like such a treat.
He walks into Nadine’s house wearing an off-white t-shirt, cords, a flat cap, and a truly gorgeous pair of brogues that look like they’ve been through the war, as my mother would have said—only when I say it, I mean it as a compliment.
“I like to build from the ground up,” Ryan says, looking down at his feet. “Today I just have on a plain white shirt, but the shoes are good, so I feel classy.”
Indeed: He has a retro look that looks put-together without seeming fussy. Since he appreciates old-school style, I ask if he’s a thrift store kind of guy.
“Not so much anymore,” he says. “I had a real-person job in market research in Chicago, which opened doors to things I could afford.” Sure enough, he tells us that the shoes are not, in fact, old, but are by the hip clothier Bed Stü, whose leather goods are made—and distressed to look aged—by hand.
Ryan has brought a bunch of his favorite clothes with him, things that are most representative of the way he likes to dress. He starts pulling pieces from his bag and I spot a beautiful sweater with blue intarsia done in a traditional nordic design. Since he likes to look unique, Ryan looks for limited-edition pieces from the shops and designers he likes; this sweater was only available at Topman’s UK stores.
He’s got several nice knits and cozy looking caps, so I ask if cold weather is his favorite, fashion-wise.
He nods. “Sweaters and hoodies are the best.”
There are lots of nice colors in this jumble, too. I point to a bright pink Izod cardigan, which he says he’d probably wear with a v-neck t-shirt underneath. I’m intrigued because bright colors are sometimes hard to find in men’s clothes—and they can be hard to wear, too, Ryan says.
“Wearing pink in public can be weird. When I’m with my peers I feel good, but on the way there, on the street, it’s more difficult. But I know these are petty things compared to what women go through,” he says.
The three of us then have a brief but serious conversation about street harassment and the ways in which the patriarchy hurts men, too (cuz it does, you know), but I soon manage to pull in the reins and return the conversation to fashion.
When putting together something to wear, I ask Ryan, does he have any particular person in mind who serves as an inspiration?
“Being tall is awkward. I can always have a certain awkwardness, even if I like what I’m wearing. So I think I’m inclined to admire someone who carries themselves well even if I don’t like their personal style.” That said, he adds, he’s always admired bands who perform dressed up in suits. Ryan is a musician himself, a guitarist who has recorded with different bands and is now writing music for a solo project.
While he’s telling me all this, I spy a snapback hat in a pinkish-yellowish hologram fabric and have to force myself to resist the urge to put it on.
“Isn’t that great?” he says. “It’s the hat from Back to the Future 2!” Diamond Select Toys made a replica of the hat Marty McFly wears in the movie, which Ryan saw while scrolling through Facebook one day and couldn’t resist buying. He doesn’t wear the hat too often, but it was part of the get-up he wore when he played skeeball with a league in Chicago.
We talk skeeball, which he says was as much fun as it sounds like, and then I ask about a beautiful long scarf that looks hand-knit. He confirms that it was, only by a seller on etsy, not by him. Then follows another earnest talk, initiated by me, about the value of handicrafts and the beauty of passing these skills down through a family.
“The most that was handed down to me in my family that way was when my dad taught me to tie a tie,” Ryan says. Does he do that much? Sometimes he dressed up and wore a tie for his real-person job, but other days he kept it low-key and just put on a hoodie. He always wore a tie to skeeball, though.
And he may not know how to knit—yet—but he likes to customize his clothes the DIY way. Rather than scouring every store for a sweatshirt or tee in the exact color he wants, he’ll get a white or light-colored one and dye it. The genius! For those of you seeking tips, Ryan has found that Procion dye works better than Rit. It comes in a powdered form that you mix with salt and washing soda, and you can blend the powders to create different shades. I make a mental note to try this one day soon.
As Nadine takes a photo of the shoes Ryan has on, I mention that I like his colorful socks, too.
“I actually think socks are my weakness,” he says. “You can wear any color, any print. They don’t really have to match anything else in your outfit.”
So would he say his overall look is clearly defined?
“It’s evolved slightly,” he says. “In high school I wore hoodies, Dickies and t-shirts. The only difference is now I can afford better pants. And I always loved color.”