Time for the biggest try hard in the world to tell you the “right” way to think about effort. Are ya ready?
I’ve been thinking about effort and how it applies to my menswear hobby.
To me, putting in “effort” just means to be intentional, to put directed energy into something in order to get a result that you want. With that definition in mind, I’ve always seen effort as a good thing and should applied to anything you have an interest in. It could be an outfit, a composition, a heated game of Battlefield 1, or even curating a Star Wars Black Series collection— it should all be intentional and therefore should involve effort!
I’ve never understood why avoid effort (or the perception of it) like the plague. Perhaps this is because effort is looked at negatively. I guess to some, effort of any kind is similar to work and since no one really dreams of labor, we should be conditioned to avoid effort. This calls to mind optimization culture, where people are so focused on the end result and want to put in the least amount of effort for the maximum benefit (whatever that means). While this can make sense for things like body building and tech jobs (I could be wrong as I do neither of those things), it doesn’t make sense for hobbies that relies more on personal creativity than a specific or quantifiable benefit. Fashion is a great example, as my goal is always to “look like myself”, which is obviously vague while being deeply personal.
There is no shortcut to expressing your POV, especially if your POV is nuanced and takes in a world of references (maybe the real way to win is to be a minimalist lol). You have to put in time and effort to get there, but you also might as well enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong; the journey can seem arduous with all the inspo gathering, vintage collecting, and getting comfortable with being bold, but it was still a lot of fun. Every piece of effort was essential to where I am today.
I’m now at place where creating outfits across different formalities and menswear subgenres is like second nature and comprised of micro-decisions; making an Esquire Man fit with a striped shirt, foulard tie, and checked jacket takes less than five minutes to put together. In fact, at this stage, it’s almost too easy based on the years curation of my wardrobe and the plethora of inspiration I’ve kept in my head; everything just feels so familiar and easy. I’ve definitely told you guys how creating one outfit can lead to a plethora of others, resulting in backlog of outfits just waiting to be worn. I actually have to stop myself from creating outfits into oblivion! [I was in a similar situation in high school/college but in regards to music. I kept writing original music! Maybe there’s something there about having idle hands?]
Even though the process (and certainly the execution) is much easier than it was when I was first starting out, I still don’t shy away from effort. Everything I do still takes some kind of effort, whether its as specific as picking the “right” tie for a sportcoat look or as big as figuring out the balance between Esquire Man and Going Out when hanging out with my friends. It all involves intention, which therefore involves effort (and that’s a good thing). I don’t think of things in terms of “too little” or “too much” effort, unless it results in being overly fidgety and second guessing myself. It seldom comes down to it, but I’m honestly okay if an outfit takes me more than five minutes or a few variations to get right because “right” just means “an outfit I like“. Why would I walk out the door wearing something I don’t like? Enjoyment of the fit is the goal of menswear; time spent (whether large or small) is not worth obsessing over.
The concept of sprezzatura definitely throws a wrench in conversations about effort, as it provides a goal that may appeal to those min-max guys: effortlessness. At first it was a cool concept to try and get dressed without looking like you’re over-calculating every move, like the difference between someone playing the piano and playing the piano. But just like most hobbies, sprezzatura (or rather the perception of effort) became a way to criticize people, especially in a no-context world where formality, dress codes, or even brand names don’t matter as much as they used to.
I just think its so funny when the pursuit of effortlessness is applied to menswear, as it’s adherents seem want the same IDGAF/”this was easy” attitude that you could get from just a tee shirt and jeans but instead choose to wear a suit and tie. No amount of tailoring can beat the true effortlessness of wearing a tee shirt from the tech company that employees you with mall jeans and Allbirds; NPC ease right there! Being better dressed is no longer about being more formal or even about taste, but seemingly is now about who looks like they spent the least amount of time thinking about their outfit and how much stock they put in other people (whatever that means). This is all because they see effort as work and can’t fathom people who would enjoy it or intentionally do it. I wonder if fintech’s rallying cry against decision fatigue and push to always be productive (whatever that means) is to blame, though even anti-fintech hipsters also seem to spew the same talking points, just with a focus on arbitrary authenticity. It’s almost like these types of people want everything to be a struggle and can’t comprehend ease or enjoyment.
I’m probably straw-manning at this point, but it seems that adherents to this seemingly arbitrary (yet also strict) effortlessness means that you should seemingly pick random clothes from your wardrobe without a care in how it comes together or what aesthetic you’re presenting. But even that level of wardrobe requires effort in curation so that you can blindly trust whatever you pull out! It’s almost as if effortlessness is relative and personal! And I definitely think effort of some kind is always applied, even if you think you’re on autopilot.
Just like I mentioned in cool, people will like what they like. When the criticisms of outfits or even whole fashion subgenres comes down to calling someone a “try hard”, you really start to see how silly this all is. Just imagine if you told a speed runner, a jazz musician, an illustrator, or a photographer that they were putting in “too much effort” into what they produce. They’d probably tell you to go fuck yourself! When it comes down to something you enjoy, trying to quantify the “right” amount of effort doesn’t make any sense. The end result is what actually matters.
I don’t think I’d even know what “true” effortlessness is or if it’s even possible, especially when everything requires some type of effort and knowledge. Again, nothing beats the effortlessness of plain tee shirt and pants (or even pajamas), but I don’t think menswear wants to wear those things.
I’m not going to lie and say that appearing effortless isn’t a nice goal to have, but I definitely think that I look upon it differently than some of the hardliners out there, at least in recent years (especially during the pandemic). For me, the definition is closer to “feeling natural”. It’s not that these things don’t take effort/work to make, but the feeling is right. It’s cohesive. Jazz solos or a good book are built on years of practice, edits, and revisions, all of which could be seen as effort. But when you listen to the notes played or read the words written they make sense, almost as if they were always meant to appear together. That’s how I want my outfits to feel like, whether they involve a plethora of pieces or just a few. The effortlessness comes not in the labor behind the product but how the components of the product relate to each other.
Obviously not everyone will agree my definitions because perceptions of effort will always be different from person to person. The goals and intention behind choices are also varied (you might even say its a question of taste). It’s easy to use accusations of “try hard” to bag on trad menswear (meaning full tailoring and ties), as maximalism will always been as requiring effort (and therefore “work”) to coordinate.
With that said, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a minimalist friend, where due to the constraints he places on his closet (he aspires to live out of a single suitcase forever), each addition and outfit requires a lot intention in order to justify it to be worn; he’s an outfit repeater, so there’s even more of an effort to create something he is comfortable wearing more than once. This is in complete contrast to me, where a lot of my outfits are comprised of a bunch of pieces, but it’s so easy for me to pair things together (and different ones each time at that). In the end it seems even styles that require less physical pieces are still accompanied with effort.
When I think of “trying too hard”, it usually comes in being overly fussy or concerned with your clothes after they are put on. Like trying to preserve the perfect tie dimple, meticulously calculating cost-per-wear (a dumb concept) or by constantly thinking how people at the restaurant will perceive you. Over-editing yourself in the moment or even simply putting your own voice on the back burner in favor of strangers (or even for monetary gain) is effort I would not want to take.
I guess it depends on what benefits you’re looking for when dressing up, like internet points on reddit or trying to get laid. I can’t imagine dressing solely for those things as those seem like a waste of effort (and doesn’t provide much benefit). But of course everyone has different perceptions and context for their lives, so perhaps fitting in (at least in that way) is what really makes them happy (and it may not even take much effort at all). I’d rather just do my own thing and let life self-edit what is meant to happen.
I definitely think that social media has had an effect on how we view effort. With influencers trying to turn everything into a brand opportunity or an info-product, it’s hard not to see everything from a lens of “social media best practices”. It just doesn’t seem worth the effort. But again, that’s always relative! And the more I meet people (at least in menswear), the more I see intuitive skill and savviness. People can put together awesome fits with ease; photographic documentation of it takes no time at all (and it doesn’t even have to be a mirror selfie). This could be a generational divide but the theme that I’ve been seeing is that the people who enjoy this little menswear hobby actually like the effort that goes into participation, which each person defining “effort” and “participation” in their own way that feels true to them. In short, effort just means intention and enjoyment. Not work.
That’s why I think it’s best to look positively and personally when it comes to effort. Hell it might even make sense to keep the term and its definition intentionally muddy, since it’s infinitely difficult to quantify what exactly it means. I mean, does effort involve attempts to put together ties and shirts in a way that excites me? Does it involve archiving illustrations and photos that I randomly come across? Or does it mean heading out to thrift stores to check out the wares, having discussions with friends, or listening to podcasts? I think it’s all effort! But it also just feels like…well, doing the hobby. It doesn’t feel like work in the slightest. It’s all apart of the fun, like going through a dungeon in an RPG or trying to analyze film scores in order to get better at composing.
To be quite fair, I haven’t always had this mindset on effort. If you look back through old blog posts before the pandemic, I’m sure you could find instances of snobbery/pretentiousness as well as being too self conscious peppered in. I was always struggling with defining what was “too much” effort. I thought there was merit it finding some degree of separation between my philosophy and the “others”. The pandemic honestly changed that for me.
When we’ve become relegated to being at home and then made to move into careers where human interaction is not needed, all attempts to quantify effort get thrown out the window. Nothing truly matters. But instead of letting that defeat us and fall into an apathetic mood about the death of the tie (or suit), effort is what saves us! And we are free to define effort however we like, because now these “functional” garments are now a hobby, for us to enjoy while remaining at home (at least for the lucky ones who get to work remotely). We all now take steps to enjoy our hobby, with only our personal taste and execution to differentiate us. And you know what I’ve learned? Minimalist guys take a lot of effort to make outfits. And people who wear stiff detachable collars find them easy to put on. It’s like the fit pic: if you really enjoy it, then the effort feels enjoyable unlike work in the slightest.
That’s why I think that the goal of your efforts should always be to create something that you’re proud of. It doesn’t matter if it took you an hour to create an outfit or less than a minute. If you can walk out the door in something that feels like you and wear it like a second skin, then you’ve made it. Don’t get caught up in trying to quantify effort or focus on min-maxing some external benefit. Menswear is a hobby and like any hobby, it should done for you. Be happy with the effort you put into it!
The goal is to feel comfortable and proud of the outfit. If it makes sense to you, then you’ve got it!
Anyway, the guys and I discuss effort (more specifically the Perceptions of Effort and critiques against try-hards) on the podcast. If just you love arm chair psychiatry and philosophy about menswear, you can listen to it below! Spencer even has a great section where he talks about how important references and knowledge are. As with taste, knowledge isn’t meant to lord over people but to provide a framework for your own execution of creativity, to pull things together and create a POV. In other words, it goes hand in hand with effort! And plus, we’re all try hards anyway. We clearly enjoy this hobby enough to put work into taking regular outfit photos and recording us talking about it. Who cares!
The episode is a fun discussion that really gets at our frustration with the holier than thou menswear dudes who try to paint effort as something to be looked down upon instead of an essential part of the hobby. It begins to make you wonder if these guys even enjoy menswear at all!
But perhaps that’s it— they just see menswear not as a fun pastime, but instead as another thing to min-max. Like those alpha male NFT/finance bros. Ew!
Overall, it seems that most of the conversation about effort really isn’t about the work you put into making something you’re proud of, but it’s about perceptions of what your goals are for making that outfit and whether the effort was “worth” it. But that’s a topic for another time.
- 05:33 – Topic Start/Effort and Effortlessness
- 13:42 – How do people define effort
- 37:13 – When did outfits take more effort
- 42:15 – Do you put effort into looking effortless
- 58:22 – Social media talk
- 1:05:06 – Wrap-up
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