I write this as a senior in college, a few months shy of graduation. I know how it is. You probably have almost no money and no real sense of what fashion is. The classic college look — sweatpants and hoodie — is a no-fuss option when you have multiple assignments due. But unfortunately, on top of everything else you have to worry about, you also have to care about how you present yourself because you’ve come into the first period of your life when self-presentation actually matters.
I’m not a fashion pro, and most of my college years have been spent on a shoestring budget, but I’ve picked up tips and tricks from the fashion kids at art school, and more importantly, I’ve seen the response from professors when I wear a collar and slacks to class. So I write this from experience: it’s important to look like you give a damn, even if you don’t. You may not want to think about this now, but college is a test-drive for your career(s). How you treat yourself now will determine how others will treat you.
Unless you’re attending a very prestigious school or going into a high-demand field, you will have almost no accolades when you graduate. You will not have the years of experience so many employers ruthlessly demand. So even when you’re scarfing down ramen at late hours, getting little sleep, and barely remembering to brush your teeth, it’s important to look clean and presentable. Aim for better than presentable — dress to show style, commitment, and self-respect.
When you can, flip through magazines like GQ, Details, and Esquire, even if you’re broke and will never afford Mark McNairy clothes. Nobody buys his stuff. These magazines will give you a sense of current style trends, which you do not have to obey, but you should know them in order to effectively rebel against them (which itself is the true spirit of fashion). They will also give you an idea of how clothes are supposed to fit.
The sexiest part of men is how they smell. Maybe I just have sharp olfaction, but smell is the first thing I notice when meeting a man. Bad breath is a killer, some B.O. is OK (but not at a formal meeting or job interview), and too much cologne is bad.
In high school, I played a game with friends. At football practice, all the guys’ baseball caps were thrown in a corner. By sniffing each one, I could tell who it belonged to. They thought it was cool, but they had no idea it was a major turn-on for me. So take it from someone who notices: scent is important.
If you’re going to splurge on something, spend money on good cologne. Old Spice or whatever cheap shit you used in high school won’t cut it. If you already use cologne, use less. A little goes a long way, and the novice impulse with fragrance is to overpower the body, not accent it. Two squirts on either side of the neck, on the wrists, or on the shirt collar is plenty. (Remember: the body doesn’t smell bad. It just smells like body. Everybody has one. Keeping it clean by showering regularly — I shower once a day at the most — is more effective for smelling nice than any scented product you can buy.)
If you don’t use hair product, start. If you do, use half the amount you’ve been using. Guys put too much stuff in their hair. This is admittedly my hardest struggle. I catch myself in the morning hoping another dollop of pomade will make my hair perfect until I must face the fact that I’ve used too much and have to start over. Also, wash your hair less — you’re destroying the natural oils that make your hair look good. I wash my hair once a week and use dry shampoo every third day when it looks a teensy bit icky.
Stop using that shitty, sporty body wash that dries out your skin and has a silhouette of an athlete on the bottle. In the shower, I try to only use natural products. Humans have been caring for their bodies in nature for a long time and the current onslaught of manmade chemicals for skin is needless at best and harmful at worst.
Try Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, which comes in a variety of scents. It’ll be the strangest bottle in your shower, with pseudo-Christian, cultish messages about “all-one cleanliness” printed in micro-text around the whole thing, but it’ll clean you with no synthetic preservatives or detergents.
For my hair, I use Baxter of California Hard Cream Pomade. Hans de Fuko sponge wax is also great but has less hold. I also recently discovered Uppercut Deluxe‘s line of excellent styling products, and the line offers something for all hair types. Added bonus: these products are inexpensive.
For cologne, my current favorite is Luna Rossa by Prada. This cologne is what I imagine Daniel Craig wears when he leans in the doorway of his oaken bedroom, naked, steamed from a hot shower, his pendulous cock and balls swinging as he saunters over to the bed. This cologne smells clean and sexy and is very versatile. I bought my last bottle in London for about £90, so I estimate it costs around $120.
There are thousands of blogs dedicated to skincare, and I think the majority of the advice they offer is excessive and designed to make you spend a lot of money. Skincare regimens change from man to man, but every man must have one. You’ll find what works best for your skin through trial and error. Guys with acne should follow the advice of their dermatologist. The rest of us should probably moisturize every day and do little else.
I was recently encouraged to stop washing my face in the shower by a man with beautiful skin who explained that he never washes his face — ever. In fact, he said, he only breaks out when he washes his face. I’ve had a problem with breakouts my entire life so I was hesitant to follow this advice — I wash my face relentlessly because I used to have really bad acne — and was surprised to find that my skin adjusted nicely to not being washed. Here’s the logic: when you wash your face, you strip your skin of its natural oils, which dries it out. To compensate, your skin produces more oil, which results in breakouts. Then you’re just playing a constant game of catch-up, like a dog chasing its tail. I still wash my face a little less frequently than once a week, but I may stop completely someday. I also use a shine-reducing moisturizer from Kiehl’s — Oil Eliminator 24-Hour Anti-Shine Moisturizer for Men — every day. It makes my oily skin look matte and refreshed.
Simple lifestyle changes are the primary driver of a better appearance: drink less, go to the gym, and try to get enough sleep. Drink plenty of water. If you’re spending your days lounging in your dorm room surrounded by pizza boxes and beer bottles, you’re going to develop bad habits. Employers don’t hire slobs and professors don’t notice or refer them.
Here’s my bit on clothes: Not every guy is a GQ guy, and not every guy needs to be. There’s a popular image of a rugged, outdoorsy man who uses $400 cosmetics, wears distressed, worn-looking clothing that can’t be put in a dryer, and cleans himself with all-natural body bars that are hard to find and smell like lavender and hunting rifles. This image is stupid and unrealistic. We can’t all be him, and that’s good because he’s an asshole. Be yourself — elevated in a way that tells people you consider yourself worthy of respect. It’s OK to be a goofball or a nerd, but be a goofball or nerd who can walk into a room with confidence and make decisions. You are valuable — dress like it.
Wear clothes that fit. If you don’t feel confident in your ability to discern fashion trends enough to break them, stick to the general current guidelines — whatever they are in your part of the world — on how clothes should fit. I don’t know any college-aged people who use tailors but I’m sure they exist, and you might need to become familiar with one after you start working professionally.
Clothing is one of the few markets were price somewhat correlates to quality. Clothes from places like Topman tend to last longer than clothes at Wal-Mart, and while J. Crew runs a bit pricey, at least on a college budget, it’s a good place to get essentials for, say, a job interview. If you’re trying to save, go to H&M, although their clothes won’t have the same longevity you get from sturdier, slightly pricier retailers. You will probably never wear Haute Couture for as long as you live, but you can customize off-the-rack clothes if you so desire with some creativity and skill. I’ve shredded shirts, sewn patches onto jeans, and printed my own designs on blank t-shirts. Don’t be afraid to DIY your appearance.
College is a great time to explore secondhand clothing stores. Get comfortable hunting Goodwill and thrift shops. You’ll save money and have a creative-looking wardrobe. Lastly — I know this is cliché — but confidence really is key to making your look work. Confidence and charisma paired with ratty clothes will outperform someone with no confidence wearing Gucci. I know self-confidence is an elusive beast and we all wish we had more of it, but living healthily (exercise, eating better, and spending time outside) will boost your confidence more than any purchase, relationship, or style accessory.
But seriously, brush your teeth.