You don’t have to be fashionable to look well-dressed. You just have to care.
I know your budget is shoestring. Mine is too. 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. But aim for better than presentable — dress to impress. It’s a hackneyed phrase, but it’s true. Looking good gets you attention, and college is practice for the real world in which ironing your clothes is mandatory.
When you can, flip through magazines like GQ, Details, and Esquire, even if you’re broke and will never be able to afford Mark McNairy clothes. Nobody buys his stuff. But having an idea of current style and fit is important.
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. We’d be at football practice and all the guys’ baseball caps would be 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.
If you’re going to splurge on something, spend money on good cologne. Old Spice doesn’t cut it. If you already use cologne, use less. A little goes a long way. Two squirts on either side of the neck, on the wrists, or on the shirt collar is plenty. Take it from the guy who notices when you’re wearing too much: let your cologne accent your body, not overpower it.
If you don’t use any hair product, start. If you do, use half the amount you’ve been using. Guys put way 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.
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 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 you own, with pseudo-Christian 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 whenever he leans in the doorway of his oaken bedroom, naked. It smells clean and is very versatile. I bought my last bottle in London for about £90, so I’m guessing it’s around $120.
I live on the cheap. You don’t have to spend a ton of money. Drink less, go to the gym, and try to get enough sleep. It’s not hard to make an effort. 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. People don’t hire slobs and professors don’t notice them.
Don’t be upset if you’re not the best at style. Not every guy is a GQ guy, and not every guy needs to be. There’s a popular image now 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 unrealistic. We can’t all be the chic, modern man. Be you — elevated in such a way that tells people you take yourself seriously where it matters. It’s OK to be a goofball or a nerd, but be one who can walk into a room with confidence. You’re valuable. You’re smart. Dress like it.
Wear clothes that fit from shops that are higher-tier than Target and Wal-Mart but lower than Prada. Topman offers great clothes that are fairly affordable. And while J. Crew runs a bit pricey, it’s a good place to get dressier essentials. If you’re trying to save, go to H&M, although their clothes won’t have the same durability and longevity you get from sturdier, slightly pricier retailers like GAP and American Apparel.
College is a prime time to explore secondhand clothes. Get comfortable hunting through Goodwill stores and thrift shops. You’ll save money and have a creative-looking wardrobe that makes a statement.
Lastly — I know this is cliché — but confidence really is the key to making any look work. You’ve probably mostly worn what your parents bought you, or what your peers were wearing, until now. College is the time to develop your own style, try new things, and take fashion risks. Be bold!
And don’t forget to brush your teeth.
Above Image: Vogue debates if it’s acceptable for men to start wearing baggy pants (the answer is yes).