A big part of this blog is being intentional about the menswear aesthetic you want. My issue early on was that I didn’t know what aesthetic I wanted. In short, I didn’t even know what being “Ethan” meant.
Read on and enjoy the podcast episode about how long and anxiety-inducing this path was for me (and Spencer).
And if you’re wondering, yes, that first picture is supposed to be cringe.
If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ll know that I occasionally share pictures of “Old Ethan”, or rather Ethan before 2017 (which is when the blog and my style got good). I think it provides a great learning exercise, showing how important it is to expand upon classic menswear and execute ideas well, while also poking fun of my self, which is something I love to do often. It’s fun to change it up and debase myself, especially since you guys know I don’t want to be an overly curated influencer. Or at least try my best not to be.
Occasionally I’ll get comments when I share these old pictures, wondering why I like to make fun of myself or call an outfit “bad” (yet another argument stemming from how I like to talk). Obviously, they’re not glaringly bad when compared to the mainstream, but from where I am now, it’s bad in the sense that I didn’t have confidence or mastery in my style; you know how much emphasis I make in having an intentional style!
Looking back at these old pictures, I can already tell the problems I have with “Old Ethan”. Most of the time, the bad outfits come from a lack of context and self awareness for the occasion. Other times, it’s simply due to relying too heavily on “modern” styles or going all in on period accurate vintage attire- basically not knowing what I wanted to look like. These are shortcomings that are common for a guy just getting into menswear, which is why I like to use myself as an example of what not to do!
A while back, I was able to summarize this journey on a thread in MFA, where other users shared their style evolution over the years. It was fun to actually compile all my old pictures from Tumblr, the Fedora Lounge, and my early Instagram, the latter of which were how I got my first audience. I also hinted at this story a bit during my Birthday piece, but as the podcast has hit it’s 50th episode, I thought it would be a great occasion to share the full journey, diving deep into the critiques and how I became the Ethan you all [hopefully] love today.
Spoiler alert- I think he was here all along.
The Tumblr Era
I know that I’ve routinely stated that Gatsby and Gangster Squad were one of my first inspirations for menswear, but in reality, they were what got me into vintage clothing and putting a unique spin on menswear. When I look at these old pictures (especially those old birthday pictures), I already had some sort of affinity for dressing up. It probably stems from my upbringing as a Christian in a rather conservative/fundamental denomination, where wearing suits or “formal” clothing to worship is a custom. As a kid, I liked it (since it was like dressing up as a Tintin character), but I did have a few years where I hated dressing up and resorted to nerd/fandom/Hot Topic style, especially during my late middle school and early high school years.
Tumblr was when it began to change. I started my blog (theteenagegentleman) to mainly reblog fandom stuff and artwork, but I eventually started to notice some menswear start to creep in. It wasn’t exactly due to #menswear, but rather seeing girls just reblog guys in suits; the amount of suits on my feed was probably because of how popular HIMYM was or how anime characters wear suits; we also can’t forget the intense fandom for for Doctor Who and Sherlock (with his purple shirt of sex) either. As a self-proclaimed nerd who had spent most of his time wearing uniform for school and graphic tees (with plaid shorts), it was time to stand out a bit. Swag was for boys and class is for me, don’t you know.
So as you could assume, a lot of my style based around simply wearing a suit, a solid colored shirt, and tie. I definitely fell into that early menswear trap of dressing like I was going to prom! Other times, I wore cardigans, jeans, and ties, a bit like what I saw on Classic Schmosby, Big Bang Theory, or 500 Days of Summer. I always knew that it felt a bit off but I didn’t know what else to do, mainly because I lacked the resources and inspiration. As you could expect, the pictures I saw on Tumblr and early Instagram weren’t exactly the best. Just goes to show how important curated images are!
Eventually, once I started college, I started to see people reblog #menswear (though it wasn’t time for the Armoury yet), so I began to get a feeling of what else I could incorporate- watching Parks and Rec and seeing Ben Wyatt’s “J.Crew-core” outfits (as well as being friends with Raj) also helped. It was definitely sensory overload, as you could see me around campus wearing gingham shirts and skinny ties to even tweed jackets and bowties. Despite that, it did feel a bit better than wearing my black worsted suits and solid colored shirts; I started to learn that some pieces could still evoke “classy” clothing while still being appropriate for everyday wear.
I’d like to say that this was the direct connection to my approach to classic menswear, but I actually took a step back. It eventually became even more directionless, as I got into this #menswear-wannabe style at nearly the same time I got into vintage style. And no, I didn’t start collecting true vintage just yet.
After first getting into Gatsby and starting to attend Dapper Day, I decided that on weekends (when only my friends would see me at church), I would dress like the 1920s-1940s, at least with what I could. It was a great way to have a distinct aesthetic other than just “dressing nicely”). During the regular school week, I dresssed like the preppy-ish outfits shown above for the week, though eventually that Ethan would under go a small transformation.
Some of these early “vintage” outfits was inspired directly by Gatsby and Gangster Squad, as you will soon see, as I didn’t really do much research into what people actually wore back then; it was all just me creating outfits based on what I thought was vintage. And like many other people, I missed the market entirely. In the beginning of this vintage love affair, my outfits were simple approximations with interesting pieces from the mall (and later, SuitSupply) with vintage ties and hats; I also used a collar bar/pin to make the outfits a bit more interesting.
On a positive note, many people loved these outfits, despite how overly dandy they were. I was definitely trying to overcorrect on my earlier “prom” attire (though some of these are also quite prom-esque, just with more details) and to even distinguish myself from what I wore to college, though it definitely contributed to some identity issues, which you’ll see later on.
It wasn’t until I started getting into the vintage world that I started to buy period accurate clothing. I distinctly remember making a few friends at Dapper Day (because I thought their fits were fire) and asking them where they got their wide legged, double breasted suits. To my surprise, they said that vintage clothing was alive and well- you either buy on eBay or hang out with them and meet vintage sellers. It was through conversations with these vintage dealers and enthusiasts hat I began to learn the basics of menswear, from things like fit/alterations and pattern mixing, to utilizing textures and colors. Admittedly, it took me a while to do it effectively, as you can see.
At first, I mixed the pieces with my existing closet full of H&M and other mall brands. However, I soon noticed that certain cuts and details were better served when you wear it with other vintage. Paying attention to these details made it very clear that I couldn’t use the mall to find the garments that worked. Oddly enough, I never even considered reproductions or even using 80s-90s RL as replacements.
Once I built a modest collection of vintage that could work together well, the outfits got drastically better, as you can see in the following pictures. Like I said, I learned quite a bit during this stage, including how important it was to know your measurements, as my collection was purchased both in person and online.
It was also what first got me going to the tailor for alterations and pay attention to proper fit or even hem length. I didn’t want to spend money on clothes that didn’t fit- might as well make them work! At a certain point, I even started commissioning spearpoint collars in order to fully commit to the look (since most modern collars are too short); that was my first time getting anything custom made!
What you may notice is that many of the style moves I do today and write were starting to take formation. It goes to show that I did know how I wanted to express myself, at least in terms of tailoring- I just didn’t have the confidence to apply it into regular everyday attire. I just couldn’t see how high rise trousers, checked jackets, striped shirts, and patterned ties could be worn in the modern day. Not only was this because I was a student, but it also was because I lacked proper inspiration outside of vintage photographs and other enthusiasts.
Obviously, I was aware that vintage clothing wasn’t cool in college (especially since I was already known as the tie guy for those early preppy-ish fits), so I kept the two worlds separate: I wore vintage/vintage inspired on weekends or to special events and I wore #menswear-wannabe to class (true casual style had yet to be found). This distinction was important, in order to prove to people I wasn’t vintage all the time to my regular friends and that I wasn’t modern all the time to my vintage friends. The idea behind me separating my two “sides” came from being featured on Articles of Style years ago, where a lot of the comments (and even Dan himself) derisively asked if I even dressed up or had a style outside of vintage menswear.
Despite me practically yelling “hey, I’m neither one nor the other”, a lot of people still referred to me as the vintage suit guy, especially since I posted vintage outfits frequently on my Tumblr, the Fedora Lounge Facebook group, and on Instagram (which was named theteenagegentleman). With all my posting and desperate need for a community (and friends honestly), I had already made a small, niche name for myself online and was starting to get traction.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mind the social presence (especially as it gave way to the blog), but like I said earlier, it just gave me even more anxiety. Becoming a vintage collector didn’t give me direction, but instead, created another fork down my path that I went down simultaneously as the others I was already on.
#Menswear and Starting the Blog
Some of you may remember the early days of the blog, where it was positioned to capitalize on #menswear and influencer culture, two things I currently dislike. Nevertheless, it proved to be my biggest creative endeavor, despite my friend Tim (who was supposed to blog on the streetwear side) never really joining in completely. There’s an old podcast episode where I talk about the origins of the blog.
The blog finally gave me purpose behind my outfits, allowing me to explain certain concepts in a way that I felt had never been done before (or so I thought) and some self awareness, gained by how often I shot my outfits (shout to my faithful friends for being human tripods) and having to write about them in depth. As I was struggling with my style identity, writing about it was quite therapeutic. It also provided a way for others to get into menswear and help me create my own community, as I never felt at home with the other groups I had been apart of; for my own friends, they were able to understand my POV instead of be forced to hang out with a guy in a blazer.
Obviously it started quite
basic inoffensively, following the plethora of bloggers talking about tapering pants/getting them hemmed, wearing floral shirts, dressing down suit separates, and other banal content. As a result, my everyday outfits were also pretty lame. Better than the tumblr days, but still not quite the right vibe. If you can’t already tell, my early blog and outfits were heavily inspired by Articles of Style and a bit of the Instagram explore page.
Again, some of it isn’t bad (some outfits could simply be improved will alternative pieces), but I think you could probably tell that there was something lacking in those early essays. It doesn’t have the same ease in it’s execution. To me, as I look back, it was just another case of Old Ethan, distancing himself from his other styles and was searching for some affirmation and community, this time from Instagram influencers and #menswear accounts on Tumblr.
Let me emphasize it again: these outfits aren’t epic-ly bad. In fact, they even got better over time, especially as I followed more people and expanded my sources of vintage clothing. However, my vintage style also got better.
Looking back at these old pictures, it’s pretty damn clear that vintage style was important to me. As you can see in these pictures, I was pretty dead set on wearing high rise trousers, wide lapels, and striped shirts with foulard ties back then, just as I am today. Despite how attached I was to this style, I still felt like it wasn’t “Ethan” enough, especially as a socially awkward nerd in his early 20s. The college student still needed tight spread collar shirts and slim pants to fit in and get Tinder matches!
Despite the dissonance and necessity of looking like a “normal” #menswear guy, I still wrote about vintage heavily, mainly in covering my excursions with Dapper Day or hanging out with other vintage enthusiasts. This eventually became more prominent as I collected more menswear, followed more people, and began to break out of my shell. I can’t emphasize how important it was for me to meet new people like Spencer; if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have expanded my mind as much as I have now.
Finally, as my closest was filled to capacity from H&M/Zara suits and vintage belt backs, I knew I had to make decision. Surely there was some way of approaching menswear that could blend the two together or at least be classic/vintage in the contemporary world! There had to be a reason why guys young and old still fawned over those iconic Laurence Fellows illustrations: a method of dress that made high rise and fun foulard ties feel at home, without having to wear skin tight pieces that as a thicc boy, just never felt comfortable (or looked good).
I was having a major identity crisis with my clothes. I just wanted to dress like the “Ethan” I envisioned in my head but could never fully exude. Even this video interview with the Gentleman’s Gazette shows that I was still struggling to find what my true style was.
Classic Menswear & MFA
I can’t recall when I first saw the first post from The Armoury, Drake’s, or B&Tailor (I even made a big post about Chad back in the day), but it was life changing; I’m pretty sure the repost account I came across was named “Zarvlad”. Anyway, through those posts, I was not only able to see classic garments that in my eyes, exuded the 1930s-1940s quite well, but also that this approach to tailoring was being worn by relatively young guys!
The fact that the photographs were somber and silly, unlike a lot of tryhard #menswear influencer/explore page, was also formative in who I am today. Eventually my photos became much more relaxed; I also began to study what exactly comprised a good photograph and put it into practice. Kinda.
This is why you can see quite a shift from the 2015 (when I first started the blog) into 2016. Slowly I began to incorporate a bit of what I knew I wanted and even got back into love for vintage, this time now looking for vintage jackets and ties that weren’t as bold as the 1930s-1940s, but still had an old school vibe.
This mainly in the form of trousers: pleats, turn ups, and a higher rise (or me just hiking it up) were making regular appearances outside of my vintage clothing, though they were still rather slim (or at least I tapered them that way). I was still hesitant about going full force into it (as I was scared of what others would think), but it was also because I lacked the proper inspiration. Still, I experimented which involved many trips to the tailor and getting first hand knowledge on fitting and adjusting measurements.
As I studied deeper into what “worked” within classic menswear, I began to move away from wearing my 1930s-1940s vintage jackets, which mainly had bold, padded shoulders. It seemed that soft shoulders not only were en vogue for contemporary menswear, but were also just comfortable, adding to the slouchy looks I had seen done by my inspirations and in vintage photographs. I didn’t have many soft shouldered jackets, but luckily there were a few pieces at the mall that did their best to approximate what I liked from classic menswear.
As a whole, my “modern” style mellowed out quite a bit. I stopped wearing my boldly printed polo shirts and wild, fun socks, instead opting for more solid pieces that were accessorized by striped shirts and fun ties. It’s still much more interesting than say something you’d see on He Spoke Style or Teaching Men’s Fashion, but trust me when I say that I felt like I was finally getting “mature” with my approach to menswear.
The more I got comfortable with adding in these “old school” ideas done by The Armoury, Drake’s, and B&Tailor, the better I got about adding in pieces from my vintage wardrobe. At first it was just ties and sweaters, but it later got more inclusive, adding in my spearpoint collars, as wearing modern spread collars or tiny button down collars (both from the mall) just weren’t cutting it. It still felt like I was trying to be someone else, which you can probably see in these pictures.
One of the most important discoveries made during this time was experimenting with ivy-trad. As you can tell from some of the pictures above, I jut couldn’t shake my love of vintage; I wanted the personality and details that you just couldn’t get from mall brands! So while my 30s-40s drape cut suits might not have jived as an MBA student, a soft shouldered 3-roll-2 sack jacket was just interesting and classic enough to be “Ethan”; the fact that they were relatively common to find in thrift stores and eBay meant that I could build a great vintage-contemporary wardrobe with relative ease.
I even wore them with my striped shirts and foulard ties, as a way to bring 1930s-1940s style into a more contemporary setting. That blog post was basically 2016 Ethan describing my entire approach to menswear, with many of the tenets being active today. The confidence in being fully “Ethan” was slowly being formed.
Obviously some of these outfits aren’t straightforward ivy, but they incorporated many of it’s ideas in conjunction with what I saw from The Armoury, Drake’s, and B&Tailor. It also was a great nod to 1930s-1940s ivy, which was different in execution than the 50s-60s we all know, mainly in terms of the spearpoint collars and foulard ties.
The other aspect of this transformation and intentional combination of all my inspirations was simply opening my eyes and taking part in the community. It was during this time that I started posting on Styleforum (where I later became a contributor to their Journal) and following more of my peers. I made sure to even follow the staff of brands like Drake’s or The Armoury, as seeing the garments worn by regular people in their everyday life was extremely important; it was similar to how I compiled a plethora of film photos from the 1930s-1940s, just for the modern day! However, the real inspiration came from joining r/MaleFashionAdvice.
I had never really used Reddit before (Tumblr-stans where you at), but I was recommended to join it after my AoS interview back in mid 2015, when the article was posted in MFA. As you could expect, the comments were not nice to me, as it can be difficult to imagine a 20-year-old guy wearing period vintage so openly (even though it wasn’t everyday wear). It put me off on fully joining until mid 2016, where I was finally starting to get a hold of my style (and a thicker skin to boot). I knew I didn’t need the basics, but boy, I needed to get more knowledge and inspiration under my belt.
It was (and still is) a great community, probably the only public one I completely enjoy. There was so much inspiration to be found, as articles, inspo albums, and discussion topics are posted everyday. I posted on the WAYWT threads as much as I could and while the feedback wasn’t great every time, I still made a name for myself, not just as as the vintage guy but as a suit guy. Despite that, I still made sure to learn as much as I can, especially from the main users who seemed to have so much mastery over their aesthetic. I remember a guy on MFA who worked in the garment industry and seamlessly went from tailored Neapolitan suits to slouchy minimal casual wear with ease! That was what I’ve always wanted for myself, just with my own tastes.
The more I got involved in the discussion and the more feedback I received, the more self awareness I gained about my style and how I presented myself. It also allowed me to open my eyes to the variety of brands and styles out there! The Armoury and Drake’s were still my favorites (and still are to an extent), but I at least had bigger vocabulary and understanding of the wider menswear world. As a result, my photographs got better, my style was honed (both in tailoring and casual), and I felt like I started to have a real community with diverse inspirations.
Working Retail & Getting in the Industry
The last component in my menswear journey was actually working retail, a job that everyone should do at least once in their life. Not only was it formative for me to break out of my shell and gain some selling experience, but in terms of clothing, it offered a new sense of self awareness, one that can’t be gained from simply posting on a 2.5m sub community on Reddit.
My first retail job was at a Banana Republic in a luxury mall in SoCal. The latter point was important to me since I wanted to be around luxury goods and consumers, even if I wasn’t hired at anywhere big (like RL or Canali). It was nice to be able to talk turkey with more discerning customers while helping beginner guys to think about menswear more holistically; my MFA experience was coming through! Talking to these customers (along with my MFA interactions) also allowed me to gauge just how the mainstream world viewed classic menswear. These interactions helped form the basis of the long form essays you guys enjoy today.
I don’t have many pictures to post for this part, as I actually started my retail job in mid 2015, about half a year after I started the blog. There’s also quite a bit of overlap between this period and the one for The Armoury and MFA, though the retail component was just as formative in my journey.
Being around in public also provided a way for me to hone my style in a way that I wasn’t able to before. If you thought standing out in a university was bad, just imagine being around even more people judging you! Dressing up in my attire in a mall retail job not only forced me to have a thicker skin but to also remind myself that I live in the contemporary world. Also at a certain point, your uncomfortably with your clothing just means that you should refine what your “message” is; either change it up or own your look!
While it did make me cast away my some of my wide leg pants (until very recently), it allowed me to embrace my inner slouch. I adopted ivy much more openly, since it was able to look dressed up for work and easy going at the same time; this was also when I started to wear loafers and white socks, as a way to subvert how “formal” I appeared to be. As you saw in some of the other outfits above, I even brought in spearpoint collars and patterned ties in order to exude my vintage interests, but the overall approach was much more contemporary and appropriate compared to just wearing full vintage. I wasn’t an influencer wanna-be nor was a I period reenactor- I was Ethan!
Of course, mellowing out my style still left a lot of room for improvement and refinement. I knew at the end of the day, I didn’t want to only rely on sack jackets and vintage ties; pieces from Ring Jacket or bespoke makers still intrigued me, though only now I had the confidence to wear them and still be me. And shortly after leaving Banana Republic, I finally had the opportunity to be much more involved in the menswear world I was dreaming of: I became the social media manager for Ascot Chang. There’s a reason why I always say my style (and the blog) got good in 2017, because I started at AC in February of that year.
Obviously my interactions with the menswear world became more common as I wrote about my journey on this blog, but it didn’t officially come to fruition until I was able to work in it. I also expect that I wasn’t taken seriously before obtaining this position, simply because I was just some guy who worked at the mall who vaguely approximated classic menswear with tailored thrifted/vintage goods. Now, I worked for one of the best bespoke makers in the world and the guys I looked up to became colleagues, at least to a certain extent.
Now the conversations and inspiration became more natural. I got to met different people both virtually and in person, gaining their menswear knowledge and taking in their approach to personal style. I shortly realized I had to improve once more, but it wasn’t as simple as buying bespoke or other high end brands. No, this meant that I had to dive deep inside and find out what truly made my style my own.
It’s also important to note that a full time income, being free from school, and only working on weekdays was just great overall. I had security (at least until quarantine) and could really focus on myself, experiment with style, and learn from other people. I think you’ll see that in these pictures, not just in the outfits, but how they are posed and edited. If not for everything that came before, culminating in getting to work in the menswear industry, I wouldn’t be the guy before you today.
In the end, it all resulted in a blend of vintage and tailored clothing, which is what I’ve truly wanted to be this entire time. I just lacked the “vocabulary” (and the pieces) to express it, which was only gained by everything that came before. Obtaining this ownership of my entire look finally allowed me the freedom to be who who I wanted to be and even the sight of the “common thread” to experiment in ways that were cohesive to what I liked. I was dead set on removing all the different versions of Ethan that characterized my past.
Now, it was all me, baby. I still underwent some refinements, as you’ll see in these pictures, but it was pretty damn clear that I was becoming my own person by the end of it.
So here we are now, a little over five years since the blog first started and 50 episodes into the only menswear podcast without the stuffiness. There’s quite a bit of bad “Old Ethan” fits, but hopefully now you understand what I’m getting at. It’s not that it’s bad per se, but bad in that it wasn’t what I wanted to look like. I don’t think it’s right to walk out the door and be dressed like someone you’re not; at the very least, you should have ownership and the confidence over every outfit you have, even if it’s pajamas or workout clothes.
The biggest advice I always try to tell people is always to get as much inspiration as possible and to open your eyes to the wider menswear world. Fashion is never static, even within classic menswear, and it’s important to find out what you like before you go all in on one thing. Doing so, and being cognizant of all the details therein, will allow you the confidence to present the style you want or even experiment at will.
If there’s anything you guys learn from Old Ethan, it’s that one of the worst thing you can do in menswear is not communicate your style effectively. It involves everything from the details on the pieces you cop to their fit and silhouette.
Obviously Old Ethan wasn’t bad, but he just wasn’t effectively the Ethan you’ve come to know now. Some of it is just due to growing older and expanding my horizons with time, but think of how much you could learn by being aware of that journey and getting started as soon as you can? It certainly helps to be proactive and pragmatic in order to dress (and be) the person you’ve always envisioned for yourself.
Always a pleasure,