Special Guest Post – Matt Smith on the Evolution of Personal Style

For as much as I love such things, I think it’s only right to recognize that, no one ever came out of their mother’s womb wearing double monks and a DB blazer, that’s just a fact of life.  We all started out with this blank canvas and embarked on a similar journey.  Some of us were taught things by our father or grandfather, others were fortunate enough to learn things first hand in an heirloom family-owned store, but the majority of us (at least most of the people I know in my general age range) found our way through the same channels. We came up before the mass appeal of the internet, before the invention of a “blog” and before the world was at our fingertips.

Growing up in a small Southern town wasn’t the best hand I could’ve been dealt, but there are very few things that I would change about the way I came of age. The south had then, and always will have a unique, laidback style, but not everyone you see is walking around in seersucker and spectators looking like Colonel Sanders. The fact is, outside of church on Sunday, I rarely saw men who actually put effort into the way they looked other than donning a basic pocket tee and occasionally running a comb through their coarse hair.  But somehow, a few things struck a chord with me through those slovenly times.The first encounter I had with “style” was that moment I found the Ramones, Nirvana, and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

Realizing that there is an entire world out there, unbeknownst to me, was a magical experience.  It wasn’t only about the passion and energy of the music (which was obviously there) but the truth was these dudes looked rad. Each band very different, each member dissimilar and unique, but everyone coming together to make, not only the music, but the experience something to witness, and therein lied so much of the appeal in ska and punk for me.  Soon I was trading in my $80 Jordan’s for a pair of Chuck’s my mom bought me at JC Penney’s (on mega-sale of course.) Then, of course, I began rocking my flannel shirt and jeans while begging my dad to undershave my hair so I could pull off my best Kurt Cobain impression. Looking back on those good ol’ days, I must confess, I looked like a jackass, but at the time, I felt like I was cooler than everyone else on Earth. Listening to mixtapes I ripped from my favorite alt-rock station on my Walkman and naively professing an undying love for this style.

High school brought slimmed down Dickies, skinny black ties, Tartan sportcoats and Doc’s. Of course, I again felt like I was cooler than everyone else. In actuality this was one of the first major steps towards finding myself. It wasn’t even really about dressing a certain way or figuring out what music I was insanely passionate about, it was about evolving. In so many ways, our formative years stick with us through the rest of our lives. And that’s something that no one should ever forget.

My entire life I’ve been a frequent shopper at thrift stores and secondhand shops. Through these I discovered a varied knowledge and interest in clothing and, the word that strikes fear into the heart of every red-blooded father of a son in the Bible Belt: fashion. Being a weird kid into punk rock and clothing in a town of under 30K people wasn’t all that easy. I was always that kid with green or blue hair and a band tee on. Which I’ve been throughout a good portion of my adult life as well (sans green hair, obviously), but my passion for these classic pieces never wavered. It was an addiction, and a fulfilling one at that, as the more I found, the more I dove into the history and heritage of each garment. Where it was made, how it was made, every minute detail mattered more and more. It all began to take shape, not only what I wore, but who I was as a person.

As I eased into my mid-20s it was still a learning process. Soaking up all the information I could and finally meeting likeminded people, I began to slowly build up my knowledge base.  All the while I kept remembering things from my past that I really appreciated aesthetically and tried to incorporate them into the amalgam of the man I was becoming. As I read and became immersed in different styles and interests, I recognized just how much I wanted to become like these guys that I idolized. Aside from the admiration, I desired to take these things and make them my own.

Two crucial people I met during this period would push me and influence me in more ways than I could ever count, both stylistically and personally. They were two of the most caring and comfortable people I’d ever known. And, somehow, they always looked killer. Always very relaxed and carefree on the surface, but none-the-less more well-put together then just about anyone else I’d ever known. It reminded me of the simple, free and easy Southern gentleman I’d encountered as a child. Except they weren’t dressing for church on Sunday, this was how they were day to day and how they lived their lives. As I got to know them, I realized that we were cut from the same cloth so to speak. We came from similar places,had spent our time with similar pursuits and aspirations, and, when it came down to it, saw things in eerily similar ways. They’ve taught me so much over the past few years and have pushed me the way no one ever has before.

What I learned most from them is that caring about whether a jacket is full or half-canvassed doesn’t make you stylish or better than the average, flip flop wearing dude next to you on the subway. Style is a process, you drew influence from a multitude of places. It’s about your passions, where you come from, how you see yourself, and how you want to see yourself.  It’s as much about the things that made you feel like you were cooler than everyone else in fifth grade, as it is about the things that make you happy right now.

It’s about evolving and finding new influences and interesting ways of expressing what you love. It doesn’t matter if you can tell someone exactly how many stitches per inch their shirt has or how that amazing Neapolitan shoulder was made. That doesn’t make you more stylish, it just means you know about the clothes, not how to wear them, and let me tell you that’s much more important. If only people in the mainstream world approached things with the level of care and respect that we nerdier menswear types have for our clothing, society would be a much better place.

So, next time you’re gazing into your closet and gearing up for your day, all preoccupied about being as steezy as possible, you better just go put on “Born to Run” and think about that rare pair of Jordan’s your parents bought you in sixth grade.You’ll probably realize how far you’ve come and how much you appreciate the influences you gained along the way.

Matt Smith is a writer and clothing nerd living in Brooklyn, you can follow him on Twitter and Tumblr for more of his work.

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  1. Israel said:

    Real insightful post, as a southerner myself I understand growing up around a heavily laid-back style. I think my love of movies and fascination with 70s icons (cliche I know) helped form my style.

  2. Reblogged this on How to be Swell and commented:
    Here is a great guest post from one of the blogs I follow, I think you will like it too.

  3. Nadia said:

    Thanks for this interesting and honest post. I don’t often read about people (fashion bloggers in particular) that admit their style, or what they consider to be style, is something that has evolved, has been influenced and is not something they were born with. I’ve read too many posts of menswear bloggers who ridicule the style of strangers because they don’t meet a particular aesthetic. I think these bloggers should consider that these supposedly “style-less” strangers might be going through a process of finding themselves, or they are in fact comfortable with their style, even if most don’t like it. But I think you put it nicely when you said, “It’s about your passions, where you come from, how you see yourself, and how you want to see yourself. ” It’s great to see variety in the fashion world and I just hope everyone is happy with how they look :)

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