An interview with fashion expert and former designer Robert Solis of
The Refined Gent
You might think you need to spend a lot of money to dress well and look stylish.
Fortunately for those of us who don’t have private yachts or live-in chefs, that’s not the case.
In reality, all you need is a little bit of style know-how. And with that knowledge, you can upgrade your wardrobe, stand out in the crowd, and make lasting first-impressions.
I had a chance to sit down with Robert Solis, former designer, fashion consultant, and debonaire force behind the men’s style blog, The Refined Gent. In our interview, he shares some timeless wisdom for how to look your best—without breaking the bank.
TDM: Ok, let’s start with low-hanging fruit. What is the easiest fashion upgrade guys can do?
TRG: The first upgrade a man should do is tailor their existing sport coats and suits. Most men when purchasing tailored clothing buy off the rack and have the usual alteration of adjusting the sleeve length. They should also have the tailor “shape the waist” of the jacket. Most men don’t do this, but they should. This will enhance the overall appearance of their physique giving the illusion of broader shoulders and wider chest.
TDM: After you’ve introduced guys to this, how does it change how they look at suits going forward?
TRG: Once they’re cognizant of it, then the next time when they make a purchase and get a suit tailored, it’s something they know to ask for. If you say “shape the waist” to any tailor, they’re going to know exactly what you mean.
TDM: What is the most common fashion mistake guys make?
TRG: The most common mistake men make is selecting dark shoes with dark suits. In other words, men tend to wear black shoes with black, navy and charcoal or grey suits. Men should wear lighter color shoes with these colors like cognac or cappuccino brown. The contrast will have an updated look.
TDM: So basically, you want to avoid looking like you’re wearing footie pajamas.
TRG: Exactly. You don’t want it to be so that your shoes blend into your suit.
TDM: What’s the one big ticket item I should have in my closet?
TRG: Every man should have 2 big ticket items in their wardrobe, a classic navy suit preferably with a tonal stripe and a black tuxedo.
TDM: Why those two items?
TRG: These are like staples. The navy suit can be transformed into several different outfits. And when you’re choosing items like this, always go with something that’s classic instead of trendy. A classic black tuxedo will always be timeless. I’ve had my tuxedo for over 10 years.
TDM: If I’m looking to change my wardrobe, is it something I should do gradually, or can I just do it in one fell swoop?
TRG: Updating your wardrobe in one fell swoop can be costly. I recommend gradually making the change with colorful shirts, pocket squares, ties and socks. Don’t be afraid to blend pattern together either. Wear a stripe or pattern tie with a plaid or check shirt. These changes will allow them to maximize what they currently have.
TDM: That’s great. A lot of guys think if they’re updating their wardrobe they need to throw everything out and start over. But it sounds like that’s not the case.
TRG: Right. With just a few new items, you can refresh your existing wardrobe. In other words, if you have a navy suit you can wear that same suit at least 3 times in one week. Two of the days wear the entire suit with different color shirts and squares and on the third day wear the jacket with stone or khaki flat front chinos or jeans and a colorful shirt no tie but with a square.
TDM: What do you see as truly “business casual”?
TRG: If you are referring to casual Friday attire the choices are endless. As an example I would wear a charcoal grey pinstripe suit jacket with a pink and white gingham shirt and stone or tan flat front chinos with a bright paisley pocket square that had pink in the pattern as an accent color. The socks would be a solid color (one of which would be in the pocket square).
TDM: So even when you your co-workers are dressing uber casual, you prefer to keep the sportcoat in the mix?
TRG: I think every man should wear a sportcoat. I think it defines you as a refined looking man. My philosophy is you want to stand out in a crowd. You don’t want to blend in with everyone else. When people see a well-dressed man, it breaks the ice and makes the conversation run more smoothly when you’re meeting someone for the first time. They appreciate how you’ve taken care of yourself and that you didn’t just throw your outfit together.
TDM: What’s the best outfit for a first date?
TRG: First impressions are lasting impressions. This rule of thumb goes for every day, not just a first date. The minute you get out of bed you should lay out your ensemble on your bed. Don’t just grab anything at first sight. Put some thought into it. Always look at yourself in a full length mirror before departing your dwelling. Now back to our question. You don’t want to be too dressy because that might intimidate the other person. Location of the date is also a factor. So if you are having dinner I would wear a solid white shirt, no tie, navy sport coat and either white, Nantucket red or sea foam lightweight chinos and either cognac or brown loafers no socks. Make sure to wear footies so your feet don’t sweat. Add a colorful pocket square that is worn twisted with peaks popping out of the pocket.
TDM: I heard a quote once, something to the effect of, “Always look like you belong somewhere.”
TRG: Exactly. It’s almost the same concept as, if you’re going on an interview, you’re going to wear your best outfit. You’re going to look your best, and they’re going to remember you that way. So you just take that concept and put it into your everyday life. You need to treat yourself as a brand. This is you—”This is who I am.”
TDM: What are your thoughts on wearing a suit without a tie?
TRG: I think this looks good depending on the situation. The shirt must be crisp and lightly starched since this will be the focal point. Normally the focal point is the tie so the eye will go first to the shirt. Always wear a pocket square with or without a tie. There are different ways to wear a square which you can see on previous blogs as well as post I have done.
TDM: Would you say the fewer things you wear, the more each one of them has to shine?
TRG: Correct. If you’re wearing a suit or a sportcoat and tie, people always compliment you on the tie. And the reason they do that is that’s the focal point—that’s where the eye goes. So if you don’t have a tie to look at, the next thing they’re going to look at is your shirt. And if your shirt is wrinkled or you don’t have collar stays in your collar, those things will make an impression that won’t be flattering.
TDM: What is your opinion on hats?
TRG: Men are limited when it comes to accessorizing. Therefore, I am a big fan of hats, fedoras. However, choosing the correct hat is key. I wrote a previous blog on how to make your selection. There’s a whole science to it.
TDM: Has hat etiquette changed? It used to be that you had to take your hat off indoors or when you were in church or other places. Do those rules still stand?
TRG: Certainly, if you go to church or go to dinner it’s not appropriate to wear your hat indoors. But it all depends on the environment. If I’m at an outdoor lunch, I might keep my hat on. Or if I’m at a party with a number of people, I might keep it on. But for the most part, you still stick with the old rules that have been set in place.
TDM: When can I wear my shirt untucked?
TRG: Personally I don’t think there really is anytime you can wear your shirt untucked for a couple of reasons. First, most shirts have a standard cut and are “boxy” in shape which can look disheveled. This would apply towards dress shirts. If you choose to wear a sport shirt untucked in some cases those are cut shorter in length and are more tailored. The shorter more tailored look is more appealing to the eye for any height of man. The former tends to cut the person off at the crotch and will make a shorter man look shorter. It would not cut a taller man off but it will make them look disheveled. In addition, it tends to add pounds to your physique and not in a good way either.
TDM: How do you think you see fashion differently as a designer vs just a regular person?
TRG: Coming from a man with a design background, I have a trained eye on how things should fit on your body as well as how to blend colors and patterns together effortlessly. I don’t want to come off as arrogant, but this is my trade. It would be the same if you asked a person what’s the difference between hiring an attorney to represent you or a lay person. [laughs] Pardon the analogy. I created my page on Facebook in conjunction with my blog, because I felt that there are several men that don’t know how to put colors together or what’s in fashion. Men, for the most part, don’t ask for fashion advice, so I thought why not show them with imagery from brands that they recognize? I’ve had individuals send messages and emails to me thanking me and some even saying that they save images to their devices to assist them when they go shopping.
TDM: There’s been a resurgence of people wearing loud or colorful socks recently. What are your thoughts?
TRG: Funny you should ask this question. This resurgence started years ago in Europe and it’s gradually catching on in the states. I myself am a big fan of this. Bright solid colors or patterns add that extra something to your wardrobe. Personally, I choose the color of sock to coincide with the color of tie or pocket square I am wearing. Others have their method on how they choose their color, but regardless of the method I think it’s something all men should embrace. I think it complements your outfit, even if you’re wearing jeans.
TRG: Right. I love their concept. What they do is change out your sock drawer. You receive 18 pairs of socks, and of course there are different styles to choose from. When they send you the 18 pairs, they send you a prepaid shipping sticker for you to send your sock drawer back to them. They literally recycle the yarn from your socks and make new ones.
TDM: It’s one more reason to splurge on yourself. I’m helping my wardrobe and I’m helping the environment…
TDM: What do you think about the trend of online “concierge” shopping experiences like Trunk Club and Bonobos Guideshop?
TRG: I think it’s a good business model for those men who don’t like to shop and don’t have the luxury of hiring a stylist like myself or a personal shopper. I have some friends who have used Trunk Club and for the most part have been satisfied.
TDM: What’s a new trend that you absolutely hate?
TRG: Good question. The one thing I notice that was trending at the previous runway shows earlier this year is the return of single pleat cuffed trousers. I am not a big fan of either myself. However, generally when you see pleated cuffed trousers they tend to be fuller in the leg…that will not be the case this time. Designers kept a more tailored leg, which is more flattering. I think a man looks better in flat front pants because it creates clean straight lines. Cuffs will be anywhere between 1 ¾” to 2” in height. The beauty of this trend in regards to the cuff is whenever that trend fizzles you can always take your trousers to your tailor and have them put a straight hem.
TDM: What is the worst fashion faux pas you’ve ever made?
TRG: I really can’t think of anything that I may have done that would be considered a faux pas. If I had to choose something, I remember going to Oscar DeLaRenta’s women’s runway show a year ago at his showroom in NYC during fashion week. It’s an intimate affair with primarily the who’s who in fashion attending. I wore a nicely tailored bespoke beige suit, blue and white Bengal stripe shirt with white contrast collar, solid yellow tie, yellow and blue paisley pocket square and cognac loafers with no socks. The show was in February so I thought the lighter color would lend itself to the approaching spring season. I should have known better. When I arrived, needless to say everyone was in black and I stuck out like a sore thumb. So rather than feel self-conscious I embraced it with confidence and wound up get photographed by a couple of paparazzi. So I’m not sure if that would classify itself as a faux pas or not but it was something that I will never forget.
Are there any other essential topics we missed? Leave a comment below with your tips or questions!