Entertainment

The Sartorial Illiteracy of the American Television Host

It’s a good bet that a lot of American men get their cues about wearing suits from television. Unfortunately, most TV personalities wear their suits poorly, spreading bad information to the masses.

Left to their own devices, male on-camera personalities would likely make even bigger sartorial mistakes than they already do. It’s not totally their fault. Their main job is to be informed, intelligent, engaging and entertaining, which is a genuinely difficult full-time job. Other than a few hosts who actually have a sense of style and a knowledge of what to wear and how to wear it, these men need help. To get dressed appropriately and look right, they retain the services of a stylist, designer or dresser whose job can range from advising and consulting to an all-out dictation of what otherwise clueless talent should wear. This is where the problem lives.

Hollywood stylists are fashion animals. The misperception about “fashion people” is that they’re fluent in everything about clothes. In reality, most of these people – especially the young ones – are clueless about proper fit, proportions and the finer details of tailoring and what is most flattering on various male shapes. The breadth of their knowledge and understanding doesn’t seem to go back further than ten years or deeper than the most recent Fashion Week. With no sense of history and why things work the way they do on certain body types, stylists are all about what’s trending right now, which results in an unfortunate disservice to the men on television who need to look like they know what they’re doing, especially men who aren’t necessarily young anymore.

So I blame ill-informed stylists and their reliance on capital-F Fashion. They lean on designer labels as if access to the prestige and fabulousness of the brand is all that matters. But if the host isn’t wearing it well, the fact that he is wearing Tom Ford, Zegna or Brioni is irrelevant. Tim Gunn correctly wears well-tailored, nicely proportioned $500 suits from Suitsupply and blows most label-addicted hack stylists out of the water. It’s not about access to designers or brands. It’s about having knowledge and using that knowledge to wear it well or to best serve your client.

Why do I care? These men are rich and influential. When someone commands a paycheck and a position that grants them access to virtually any resource they want and they still blow it, I lose patience and pull no punches. So here we go…

Who’s not wearing it well…

As I’m arguing here, most television hosts fall sartorially short for one reason or several, despite the prestige of the labels they get to wear. We don’t have time to go over everyone, so I’m looking at a few notable examples. The most common problems have to do with proportion and tailoring. Most of these guys wear ties that are too skinny, shirts with collars that are too tiny and suits that need to be slimmed down and shortened in the sleeve (which should reveal 1/4” – 1/2” of shirt cuff). The lack of attention to these details produces a mismatched look that is out of balance with the proportions of the wearer and with the rest of the outfit.

Jimmy Fallon

Yeah, I said it. And we all love Jimmy. I get it. But… a lot of Fallon’s suits are really nice, yet they don’t belong with the shirts and the ties he often wears. The combination of the skinny tie, the kid-sized shirt collar and the jacket with wider lapels is a big misfire. I don’t care who the designers are. The too-frequent mismatch is an unfortunate imbalance on one of this generation’s greatest television personalities.

fallon-1

THE QUICK FIX: New shirts with longer/bigger collars; wider ties (at least 3”); a four-in-hand tie knot instead of the half-windsor; shorter jacket sleeves so we can see some shirt cuff.

Jimmy Kimmel

While having one of my favorite senses of humor in the business, Kimmel looks like a guy who has little clue about what to wear and is dressed by someone who has sort-of a clue. The suits themselves can be cool, the shirts can be okay and the ties (again… usually too skinny) can be alright, but the fit is off, usually with Kimmel’s jacket sleeves, which completely hide the shirt cuffs. It’s as if the only trick the tailor knows is to cinch the jacket in the middle. One silver lining is that Kimmel has finally learned to not fasten the bottom jacket button, which he used to button regularly and, thus, drive me nuts.

Jimmy Kimmel

THE QUICK FIX: Sharper tailoring on the jacket, including a slight slimming and shortening of the sleeves; a longer shirt collar with a bit more of a spread; a four-in-hand tie knot instead of the half-windsor he’s wearing.

Bill Maher

I love Bill Maher. He is one of the quickest minds and certainly the funniest voice of political commentary working on television today. And I actually like the color/pattern combinations his stylist chooses for him. But, again, there is a general problem with proportion and fit. I know Maher isn’t built like Michael Phelps, but he’s no paunchy pothead, either. He’s a reasonably fit 60 year old guy whose suits and jackets betray his form. They look boxy and untailored. And he’s another victim of the skinny tie/mini shirt collar/hidden shirt cuff virus going around.

Bill Maher

THE QUICK FIX: A slimming of the jacket waist; a slimming and shortening of the jacket sleeves; wider shirt collars and ties (at least 3”) to match the width of his jacket lapels.

James Corden

Corden is a funny and irresistibly charming guy of the larger variety. Where a lot of show hosts jackets are a little too “off-the-rack” loose, his can sometimes be a little too tight. But occasionally, it’s just right, with nice tie/collar/lapel width proportions. With a man his size, skinny ties and skinny lapels are the enemy since they reveal a lot more shirt, making him look wider than he has to.

James Corden

THE QUICK FIX: An easier fit on the jacket and a wider 3.5” tie would be more slimming by reducing the bright shirt space. In Corden’s case, a half-windsor knot is a good choice, as long as it’s framed by a longer semi-spread shirt collar.

Who’s wearing it well…

There is a small handful of hosts who actually wear their tailored clothes very well. The jackets fit, the shirt collars are the right scale and the ties (and the tie knots) are balanced and proportional to the face, lapels and shirt collar of the wearer. Other than Tim Gunn, my winner is Matt Lauer.

Matt Lauer (with Savannah)

As hosts and anchors go, Lauer is the adult in the room. He’s one of the few who doesn’t slip into skinny tie/skinny lapel/skinny shirt collar syndrome. He and/or his stylist understands how this works, opting for generally perfect proportions and sober pattern and color choices with great tailoring. He looks like someone you can trust and take seriously.

Perfect in made-to-measure Zegna.
Perfect in made-to-measure Zegna.

1 Comment

  1. I mostly agree with the ones that need help George – but these modern cut suits STILL don’t work well in that they expose the top of the pants, bottom of the tie as the central jacket button is too high. Look at most stylish actors in the ’60-’64 time frame, which is evidently the Mad Men inspiration for modern cuts. Yes, the suits were slim, but they STILL covered the tops of the pants and the backside. Can’t wait for fuller, longer cuts to make their way back – I am 6’5″ +, 210 lbs, so these narrow cuts totally don’t work with my physique. Thanks for the post.

    David K.

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