The way I present myself usually lends a bit of understandable confusion. There is often a presumption that a guy like me – a guy who likes tailored clothes and puts some care into his appearance – is on the luxury spectrum and prepared to talk about or even relate to matters of luxury, designer clothes and other expensive things. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, it would be more accurate to say that I’m probably more anti-luxury in terms of the common notions of “luxury,” particularly when the word and the concept of it have been so relentlessly shoved down our throats. Luxury is everywhere now. It’s become so ubiquitous that it is no longer special. Commonplace, almost.
We’ve gotten so wrapped up in the idea that if something is expensive or “designer,” it’s better. With a handful of exceptions, it’s nothing more than hype, which one can choose to believe, get wrapped up in and pay for or not.
I look at it like The Matrix: you can take the red pill or the blue pill. Taking the red pill meant accepting reality and seeing through the illusion. Taking the blue pill was to blithely ignore reality and live in the illusion. When it came to looking good and living well, I made a decision several years ago to take the red pill.
So what does that mean? I don’t buy into the notion that more expensive stuff is necessarily better, and I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that luxury goods grant me “look what I have and what you don’t” status (which is what the pursuit of luxury is about).
Tim Gunn, one of my heroes on this, is a wearer and fan of suits from Suitsupply, a fantastic resource for handsome, well-made and affordable suits. Gunn is a huge proponent of shopping on a budget, advocating the idea of buying the best you can afford. As a popular television star, best-selling author and a revered fashion authority, he’s rich now. But just because he’s got money, he’s not ditching the less expensive stuff and running over to Bergdorf-Goodman. Gunn is sticking to his guns, and I love him for that. He took the red pill.
I don’t have any problem with people of means buying luxury goods when they can easily afford it. If you can easily afford Savile Row or a Tom Ford suit, by all means go get one. They’re gorgeous, exquisitely crafted garments. Can you afford an Hermés wallet or bag? Then get one! Not only are they beautiful, but their handmade quality is uncompromising, with rigorous craftsmanship standards that produce goods that last a lifetime.
During a period when I was making a little more money, I treated myself to a couple of pairs of Alden chukka boots. Alden isn’t a loud “look at my label” brand of footwear, but it is one of those quiet, low-on-the-radar heritage brands worn by discerning men in the know. Handcrafted in Massachusetts with prices ranging from $300 to $800, Aldens are expensive by some standards, with my chukka boots costing me $700 per pair. But they were investments. I loved and admired them from afar for a long time, and I promised I’d buy them when I could afford them. So I did, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the choice. I treat them right (cedar shoe trees, regular shines and well-tended heels and soles), just like I treat my $200 Florsheim Kenmoor Imperials. They’ll last a lifetime. (I also think that “affordability” can also include the occasional splurge or oneself.)
Maybe I’m a bit of a contradiction: a non-rich guy who looks – to some – like a rich guy. But it’s not about looking rich or “luxury” for me, and it never has been. It’s just about looking like something. Looking nice. Remember that idea?
Maybe I am a snob. But I’m a snob about things that are within reach for most people, not just for the rich. For me, it’s about having standards, it’s about appreciating beauty and detail, it’s about giving a damn and taking pride and ownership in how things look and work. Such concerns are not the exclusive privilege of the wealthy.
We’re all designers. We’re designers of our own lives, and each of us – consciously or subconsciously – creates a design for living for ourselves. It’s a level of sophistication that separates us from creatures on four legs. And every time we step outside our homes, we make a contribution to the greater design of the world around us. I am of the mind that we owe it to ourselves and to everyone else to make that contribution a positive one. It makes life better and – bonus – it feels good.
I cannot stress enough that this is not about spending a lot of money. With the relentless bludgeoning from the luxury sector, there is a lot of pressure to spend beyond one’s means in order to feel validated. Stop. You can drop $240 on a great suit from CombatGent or $5,000 on a great suit at Barneys (which was originally a resource of affordable suits for regular men), or anything in between. A little tailoring, regardless of where it’s from, and you’re unstoppable.
There are a lot of ugly Rolexes, hideous oversized McMansions, obnoxious Escalade car-buildings and other ridiculous displays of wealth, all designed to signal to the world that you’re something. “Get a load of me,” it all seems to say. Look at Donald Trump. The signals are off the chart. To me, the perceived need for such trimmings are clear signs of insecurity and feelings of crippling inferiority. Or maybe it fulfills a need in someone to get noticed by his parents, helps someone get laid who couldn’t otherwise, or offer some petty revenge on the kids who were mean in high school. I can only speculate. Whatever the cause, I remain unimpressed by the display.
Here’s the thing: Anyone with money can acquire. Boring. Things get far more interesting when someone does something fabulous with limited resources, or even when someone has the resources and exercises restraint, like Tim Gunn. And the kind of people who make something happen with constraints are really more my crowd.
So go forward, be bold and look good and live well. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Designer labels and expensive things won’t save you or make you more interesting. Trust me. I’ve done the research.