Be your own man, with your own style.

GQ (Australia) - - INSIDE GQ - Char­lie Pick­er­ing

The bulk of what I know about fash­ion I learnt from a book – and not a book about fash­ion. When I was in high school, I read Walden by Henry Thoreau. For the most part, it’s one man’s ac­count of leav­ing the city and so­ci­ety be­hind, and liv­ing alone in the back­woods of New Eng­land in a tim­ber hut he built with his own hands. It serves as a handy, how-to guide for any­one who’s al­ways wanted to live in a hand-built lean-to in the woods. Which is to say it’s a work in the ad­ven­tur­ous genre of fic­tional non­fic­tion. That isn’t to say that it wasn’t use­ful, how­ever. Sec­tions on how to build a shanty and which wild for­est weeds are ed­i­ble were rel­a­tively short, but the rest of the book turned to earnest con­tem­pla­tion. And it turns out that when you live alone in a shed in the wilder­ness, you have a lot of think­ing time on your hands. In be­tween bouts of in­evitable di­ges­tive weird­ness and won­der­ing if one could do­mes­ti­cate a wild squir­rel for com­pany, Thoreau man­aged to pen some use­ful philoso­phies for sur­viv­ing the pres­sures of the mod­ern world. On the topic of the fash­ion in­dus­try, he said, “Every gen­er­a­tion laughs at the old fash­ions, but re­li­giously fol­lows the new.” This struck a chord with me. Maybe it was the sim­plic­ity of the idea. Maybe it was the way it felt as rel­e­vant in 1994 as it did when it was writ­ten in the 1840s. Or maybe it was what I was wear­ing at the time. At­tempt­ing to si­mul­ta­ne­ously look like an ac­tor from Bev­erly Hills, 90210 and a mem­ber of Nir­vana, I sported a look I call ‘The Gilded Dump­ster’, in which a happy mid­dle-class white boy at­tempts to look home­less and de­pressed. In the end, I just looked lost. Fur­ther failed at­tempts to fit in would oc­cur be­fore Thoreau’s words re­ally sank in. There was the year at univer­sity when I wore loose-fit­ting linen suits al­most ex­clu­sively, my Se­in­feld phase of jeans with crisp white sneak­ers, or my early years on tele­vi­sion when I whole­heart­edly adopted the Chan­nel Ten ‘Early 2000s Style Guide’ of vests be­ing worn with ev­ery­thing, par­tic­u­larly things that shouldn’t be worn with vests. Fi­nally, the penny dropped that Thoreau was right. I was look­ing back on pho­tos no more than two years old and feel­ing ashamed. Keep­ing up with trends was a fu­tile ex­er­cise, a game that would never be won. Still, it’s im­por­tant to look good – we can­not de­part from wardrobe main­te­nance al­to­gether and spend our days in the woods. We have meet­ings, par­ties and dates to care about. Even for­get­ting all that, we owe it to our­selves to feel good in what we wear. Then I fig­ured it out. Time­less­ness. That’s it. That is lit­er­ally all you need. Ev­ery­one went crazy over how Don Draper looked in Mad Men when all he was wear­ing was a nice suit that you could still wear to­day. A sim­ple two-piece al­ways looks good, pro­vided you fol­low a cou­ple of rules: don’t vary the num­ber of breasts just be­cause of what’s on trend, and never wear a tie wider than your hand. Do those things, and the pho­tos will show your kids you were part of the Rat Pack. In the ca­sual realm, things are even eas­ier. For the life of me, I’ve never known any­thing bet­ter than jeans and a T-shirt. It was per­fect when James Dean wore it, the CEOS of cool start-ups sel­dom wear any­thing else, and it’s dif­fi­cult to screw up. The rules here are also pretty sim­ple. Don’t wear a T-shirt that ad­ver­tises the brand that made the T-shirt; don’t get a T-shirt that’s been printed to look old and faded – ev­ery­body knows it’s not. Oh, and don’t add Nana’s cardi­gan just to try and look like Kurt Cobain. And fi­nally, shoes – never buy re­ally pointy shoes just be­cause the shop as­sis­tant says they’re ‘in’. The mo­ment will pass and you’ll be stuck with a $300 re­minder of that time you thought you were the hip of­fice elf. Of course, if you are a hip of­fice elf, go for your life. I once read an in­ter­view with Barack Obama where he said he only had six pairs of shoes. If the leader of the free world can get by with six, then maybe that’s about right. Spend money on well­made shoes and wear ’em un­til they wear out. The real ge­nius of Thoreau’s sar­to­rial advice is the con­text in which he wrote it. He was alone in a log cabin, not car­ing about any­one else in the world. That’s the mind­set we should all take in choos­ing what we wear. If we all stopped car­ing about what ev­ery­one else thought was cool, then we could just pick what we like. In the end, we all have to look our­selves in the mir­ror – wouldn’t it be nice to see some­thing we chose for our­selves?


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