A coming-of-age tale

Story by Mark Nielsen • Photography by Dustin Prickett

Most teenage guys don’t dress well. This was especially true when I was a teenager. These days it’s not much better, as young guys just don’t seem to care. Shorts, flip-flops, T-shirt, and a sweat-stained baseball cap are all it takes to be deemed ready to go out.

The problem is that when these young men enter the workforce, their bad habits stay with them. For some, the problem is resolved for them: They work in a place with a dress code (see The Lakelander Issue 7), such as in a law office where they have to wear a suit, in a garage or factory job where they have to wear a uniform, or a similar occupation with predefined clothing criteria. But a guy who works in a creative field — especially one who owns his own business — can get caught in a weird world of in-betweens and almost-theres, of does-it really-matter and I-think-I-should-be-more professional. For this man, designing logos, print ads, or websites doesn’t seem to be a career that requires anything particularly special in the way of style. However, as he gets more successful there will come a time when he’s faced with a dilemma: How do I grow up, or become mature and client-facing, without losing who I am? Without losing my creativity? I’ve been there. In fact, I face it every day when I get ready for work. It’s no easy task, and I feel for you guys. The good news is that there are options out there. And really, it’s easier nowadays than it’s ever been. We’ll walk you through some choices, some creative-guy staples, and give you a few tips along the way. Maybe growing up won’t be so hard after all.

Shoes

We have to start with the shoes. Most people can take a quick glance at your shoes and know if you’ve given it any thought. And maybe they think, if you don’t care about those old Skechers on your feet, you don’t care too much about my brand either. Seriously. Here we go.

• The easy choice? Cole Haan. Grab a pair of Cole Haans with a pop of color, like their Great Jones. Try not to get too crazy — the goal is to keep your edge, not look like a clown.
• If the Cole Haans are too expensive, or buying shoes in time for Thursday’s presentation just isn’t an option, try giving your old dress shoes a boost with a pair of colorful  shoelaces. These need to be laces meant for dress shoes: Those wide Converse laces are going to look like you put mud tires on a Cadillac, so get it right. You can order them online or pick them up next time you’re at Cole Haan or Nordstrom.
• Desert boots are a great option if dress shoes aren’t your thing. And you can find them in Lakeland. The classics are made by Clarks, and those should be your first choice (check Belk for an in-town source). But you can find other (and cheaper) versions if you look around. The color is up to you, as long as it’s neutral.

Socks

Next up are your socks. No creative guy should be wearing black dress socks or (gasp) white crew socks. Ever. You’ve got so many options. Solid colors, patterns, mismatched. You can even find them at Target. Another option is no socks at all (or no-show socks), especially for summer.

Pants

• Fit: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Slim. Maybe even skinny. But most guys should at least try slim. Those guys who say they can’t wear slim because of their age are probably trying a skinny fit instead of a slim. Try Levi’s 511 or even 514. If you feel your body’s not shaped for a slim- or skinny-fit pant, it means a regular-fit probably fits you like a slim fits other guys. The goal is just to look like your pants fit you well.

• Color: Since you started with your shoes (if you’re paying attention), you may need to use some serious discretion here. Colorful pants can be a great way to do something different and set yourself apart. However, if you’re intent on wearing a colorful pair of shoes, you may want to keep the pants neutral. Let the shoes carry that torch. Then again, if your shoes are simple — desert boots, maybe — let your pants say you’re not afraid of color. PacSun usually has some, while Dockers and Levi’s both have good options from time to time and can be found in Lakeland at Kohl’s, Dillard’s, etc. Orange, blue, green, and red are acceptable.
• Dark jeans are OK, too, and fit perfectly with everything else mentioned here.

Belt

Wear one. I don’t care what kind, but try to match your shoes. Some shoes are hard to match, so in those cases I’ll choose a cloth or web belt that goes with something else.

Shirt

You can’t go too wrong here if you’ve done the other three things right. Again, try not to look like a clown. If you’ve added color somewhere else, stick with a white or blue Oxford cloth button-down (OCBD). If you’re wearing navy or khaki chinos, you could add a little color with your shirt. But usually a loud shirt won’t look cool; it’ll just look like a loud shirt. Subtle is better, in my opinion.

Jacket

If you feel your outfit needs a little something more, maybe something to dress it up for a special client, try adding a sport coat. The only rule here is to make sure it’s tailored. For you. Take it to someone in town — Nathan’s, Helen’s, Jos. A. Bank — and get it to fit perfectly. Then you’ll be money.

Accessories

Don’t accessorize too much. I don’t really count the actual number, but I think I try to pick only two or three of the following. Any more and you look like you might open your jacket and start selling gold watches out of it.

• Pocket square. If you’re wearing a jacket, you probably should wear a pocket square.
• Tie. Try one on. See if it works for you. Keep the pattern small, or go for a repp stripe. Sometimes a solid tie is best (with a gingham shirt, for example).
• Watch. See Issue 9 of The Lakelander. This won’t count against the two- or three-item rule.
• Hat. This may count for two.
• Rings, necklaces, bracelets. You may be reading the wrong section.
Above all, keep it fun, and make sure you feel good in what you’re wearing.

We shot this article at Catapult in Lakeland with two Lakeland creatives: Designer/Author Fred Koehler (wearing tie) and Graphic Designer Daniel Barceló (wearing sport coat). If you haven’t heard of it yet, Catapult helps entrepreneurs launch their business through collaboration, mentoring, and programs. With co-working spaces, dedicated desks, or semiprivate offices, it’s the perfect kind of place for budding entrepreneurs and creative types to get their ideas off the ground. Learn more at catapultlakeland.com