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Perfect Imperfection: How To Achieve The Look Without Really Trying

Originally Posted: March 25, 2009

Colin M. Graham

You donít always have to be neatly dressed and pressed to exude stylish flair. Jake Gyllenhall and James Franco are seen here giving examples of how you can look a little rumpled and still pull off the look. Photos courtesy of Patrick McMullan

Southampton - We all know those guys who always manage to look good even though it seems as if they just rolled out of bed. A couple of strategically frayed edges here, a rumpled, fitted button down shirt that looks like it's seen several hundred washes worn untucked, some well worn canvas sneakers or scuffed top siders, and a close fitting suit jacket or military-style utility coat topped off with perfectly tousled hair and a two-day growth of facial hair conveys the image that you have more important things to do than worry about whether or not what you're wearing is fashionable - after all, looking like you don't care about how you look is the first step in being 'unconsciously chic.'

It's a look that fits in perfectly whether you're scribbling away in a Moleskin at a coffee house in SoHo or walking the streets of Southampton in the spring. Despite the fact you appear indifferent about your look, cultivating a distinctly dishabille style does take a little thought and the right clothes.

If you're going to wear a button down shirt
untucked, it's important that the cut of the
shirt tails is short enough to be worn out.
The goal is to look casual, not sloppy.

Make no mistake, the look is cultivated; it takes some practice to walk the fine line between appearing nonchalant about what you wear and looking like a complete slob. Being aware of your appearance is not the same as being superficial once you realize that no matter how indifferent a person may seem about the way that they look, caring about how others view you is hardwired into the human psyche.

With a little guidance, you'll find that looking good while still maintaining that tough guy street cred really doesn't take a lot of effort, but it helps to know where to start. First, two of the most important things to consider when in comes to clothes are fit and fabric. Fit is absolutely key and it tends to be one area where guys need some help. It's important to choose clothes that are close fitting as it will give you an overall cleaner look (even if they are slightly distressed) that conveys maturity, confidence and good fashion sense whereas baggy or overly loose fitting clothes make you look self-conscious, immature and that you really don't care about how you look (again, there is a difference between "not caring" and really just not caring).

To be clear on this, close fitting does not mean tight or uncomfortable, and you don't need to hit the gym five times a week to still look good in clothes that reveal that underneath you are not in fact a shapeless blob (if you are, then maybe consider hitting the gym just a little bit). This is especially true when it comes to suit jackets, pants and button down shirts; if they're too big, you'll look like a kid wearing his father's clothes, and what kind of rugged, plays-by-his-own-rules kind of guy would do that.

Fit is important no matter what look you're
going for. Your clothes shouldn't be tight
or uncomfortable, but wearing clothes that
fit properly does wonders for your look.

Button down shirts deserve a special mention in this category. If you're going to wear them untucked, you need a shirt that was designed to be worn that way with the shirt tails falling just above the waist. For semi-dress/casual shirts, try to find a middle ground where you won't look like you're wearing a mini muumuu but can still tuck it in without constantly having it come untucked at the sides. If you don't understand why this is important, refer to the previous paragraph. Also when it comes to shirts, don't be afraid of patterns and bright colors; ginghams, checks, stripes, and plaids are all fair game and should be used often. This year, brightly colored 'retro' plaid shirts with pinks, purples, blues and greens might seem a bit risky to wear in public, but paired with the right colors, (darker jeans provide a good contrast) you'll stand out from the crowd with confidence and style.

When it comes to fabrics, there are many considerations, but we'll just stick to a few basics here. This time of year and especially in the summer, linens are king. Not only are they incredibly comfortable in hot weather (remember, comfort is key, if you sacrifice comfort for fashion you're missing the point of the article), but linens lend themselves well to that rumpled appearance, in fact, they almost look better if they've been lying in a pile on the floor, so run with it. J. Crew has a great line of Irish linen oxfords that are great looking, as does Brooks Brothers in Southampton. Remember linen isn't just good for shirts, once Memorial Day hits, any guy will get his money's worth out of a good pair of white linen pants. (Note: although linen is a great summer fabric, it certainly isn't the be all and end all; there are some great, lightweight cotton twill fabrics, like the corded lightweight cotton "Caulfield" pant at J. Crew, and of course, a good pair of nice jeans will always do the trick).

Accessories are important to round out the package. Sanuk, available at Flying Point Surf and Sport in Southampton, makes a great line of shoes and sandals made from eco-friendly materials that look great and add a casual, beachy feel to almost any ensemble, but a nice pair of loafers or even dress shoes work nicely since an important part of the dishabille look comes from mixing and matching dressier pieces with more casual ones (i.e., pinstriped suit jacket and jeans, or seersucker pants and a vintage tee-shirt). Likewise, a good ribbon belt with a spring or summer pattern - skulls and crossbones made a big splash last summer - or a more upscale, traditional leather belt contribute to the look by implying that not every article of clothing you own is strictly beach, bar, or bonfire appropriate.

Live the style: There are no hard and fast rules for achieving the unconsciously chic look, but as long as you're conscious of what you wear, you'll be able to pull off the look without a ton of effort. Photo by Kelly Carroll

Lastly, grooming is paramount for any look you might be trying to achieve. Depending on how your facial hair grows, two to five days of growth is usually optimal, but remember that even though you're going for a more 'unkempt' appearance, trimming and neatening around the neck line will do wonders.

As far as your hair goes, it really depends on your personal style, but for short to medium length hair, using some product is usually the way to go. When it comes to hair products, don't be afraid to ask around and experiment, but since we're not going for the sleek and wet look here, stay away from pomades, mousses and waxes. Application is also important and the 'less is more' adage is crucial to avoid the helmet head look. Take a small amount and work it through your hair starting from back to front, gradually working it deeper towards the scalp. If you need more, you can always add some to certain areas, but if you glob it on, you can't take it out without shampooing and starting from scratch. While there are times when hair products are important, sometimes the best option is really just salt water and sun (for the true shabby chic aesthetic), and don't be afraid to skip the shampoo every other day when you spend enough time in the ocean.

So there you go. Attaining this look is anything but a science so don't be afraid to try new things and even (God forbid) ask sales associates and fashionable friends for advice. Remember, despite what you may think, nobody was born with an innate sense of style; it's all about finding what works best for you and as anyone will tell you, you'll rarely find anything without taking a look first.

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