After writing that whole essay explaining why I think Expression is the main metric for an outfit (at least on a personal level), I thought it would be best to dive a bit further with an explanation. After all, if we’re thinking about this whole Hobby as a personal art form, then it’s best to show off some work right?
To recap, the Expression Essay detailed how all clothing is expressive of something. Clothing can express “concrete” things like being casual or formal through Convention as well as more abstract things like slouch or somberness through Contour of silhouette, colors, or other details. When one becomes an competent and intentional dresser, a “good” outfit is not predicated on just being technically sound (“proper fit”, which is subjective) or even social reception.
“Good” then becomes about the accuracy of how you’ve used your outfit’s (and garment’s) details to be expressive of…whatever you intend to be expressive of. This obviously takes some introspection and decisiveness in your “goals”. The more competent you are (self-awareness of projected vibes, menswear history education, etc), the more accurate of your expression will be. To yourself mainly, but also to others; the best is when non-fashion people are able to get your vibe as well. All of this just takes time, because every experience helps you get new references to leverage or subvert in your expression.
That essay included a few examples from my friends as well as myself, but I thought that a more in-depth analysis (along with an interesting context) would be best to help others understand my thought process on making a “good” outfit. More specifically I thought that diving into two alternative expressions on a single theme would be an excellent example to show you how this works. Again we’re looking at this about executing a personal idea, not whether or not these are “great” fits (which I think only the greater culture can decide). I’m just concerned about executing the idea I want.
Anyway, onto my example. You guys know that I’ve been enjoying Going Out in recent years. It’s a new thing for me (like drinking in general) and I’m glad I’m finally in a place that makes sense for it, socially and financially speaking. There isn’t a specific theme for Going Out, so I often have a lot of leeway in what I wear. The term usually predicates some edgy or sexy attire, but when everything is an Occasion those two parameters don’t always apply; I could even be Esquire Man to go out (if I happened to be wearing it that day).
That’s why like was the case with Dapper Day or Jay’s Birthday, I enjoy an external prompt to help frame my outfit. Obviously, I still try to dress like me at all times, but the added guidelines are quite inspiring. They also play into the goal of my expressive actions. Unfortunately there weren’t any External Occasions on the horizon…until a friend suggested that we go to a bar in the Arts District that was Italian Disco themed. The venue, based on the Yelp photos, was begging for some 1970s attire which you guys know I’ve also been playing with for the past three years. Now we’re talkin’!
But here’s the kicker: I ended up going twice! Isabel and I had such a fun time that we decided to back there a few weeks later. . To be clear, some of the contexts also differed. The first time was a Friday night, which means I was working during the day and would have a different POV (I try my best to pick one outfit a day). The second time was a Saturday, which felt a bit more conducive for a free, Going Out Vibe. That was around the time I received my new tuxedo from Atelier Fugue, so I was itching to wear it out (which definitely impacted how I made my fit). Of course the friends and music were also different from each night, which might have also played a factor. But in both cases, my goal was to create a 1970s outfit that remained true to my own personal POV.
This makes it a prime illustration of my expression-based metric for outfits. To be clear, I think both outfits are good; the illustration is how I made them and what we can learn from in retrospect.
And yes, I know that all of those photos were posted on my IG weeks ago but you’re just going to have to deal with it. I did stop doing giant recap blogs of my hangs in favor of just posting photos when they happened. The result is me retroactively applying a newly canonized philosophy to old things (and fits) I did.
The First Visit
My first fit to that disco bar leaned a bit into the Italian 70s-ness of it. And with my classic menswear POV, that typically means something a bit Angelli-esque or perhaps what Adam Driver wore in a few scenes in House of Gucci: tonal separates, big plaids, knit ties, and maybe a slightly flared trouser. Again, I would be coming from work and with my sense of Occasion, I tend to like wearing ties during the week and keeping my bare chest for the weekend. It’s also just a bit hard to dress “sexy” while I’m at work (and I’ll repeat once more, I personally don’t like to change into multiple intentional outfits in one day).
In the end, I went with exactly what I wanted, a nice look that is sleek yet appropriate for a night at a bar that isn’t too corporate, while still wearing a sportcoat and tie. It was my brown plaid tweed Brooks Bros jacket, a reverse stripe spearpoint (that can read 70s to most people), a black knit tie, khaki flared chinos, and my black side zip boots (which honestly made the look).
In my Going Out article, I argued that a tie and jacket can still be utilized in a sexy way– it just has to be done right (at least to my eyes). I think this works. The tonal look and knit tie can be seen as a bit more on the decidedly ivy side but I also think the context of the place along with the flared trouser and black boots keeps the vibes intentionally Going Out. As in, this could be corporate attire but someone could conceivably wear this to go out. I believe this is due to the inherent “Fashiony” expression of matching tones, as well as the dramatic expression of big lapels, big collars, a flared leg, and a heeled black shoe. Husbands is another good example of a brand going after this expression.
This was good not just because I liked it, but because I felt like it was accurate to the vibes I wanted to do. Could I have gone with an open rayon shirt? Sure! But that wasn’t what I was feeling at the time, even if it would also make for a “good” outfit. No, what matters here was my intended expression. And ultimately the move makes sense when you consider my history– for a first visit to a bar, Ethan M. Wong would be wearing a tie. And I felt cool doing it!
When you look at the photos, I think it’s clear that it worked. It’s got a typical trad looks with some edge, a perfect vibe for a Friday evening at a disco-themed bar (that didn’t play disco music). Even if you don’t think so, I know I expressed what I wanted to express. I mean the look wasn’t out of place nor did it hinder my enjoyment of the evening. I also liked that everyone else got dressed up too!
James (as per usual) wore a houndstooth jacket, flared jeans, and a black polo (with a runaway collar) for his contemporary take on Husbands/70s. Isabel had a velvet jumpsuit and pink turtleneck. Paula wore a funky shirt and purple cords. Jay wore jeans, a turtle neck, and leather jacket. Youmna had a sparkly jumpsuit. James had his 1970s leather safari jacket, Donegal pants, and oxblood boots. Everyone had an expressive intent and it made for a great night.
The Second Visit
To be clear, I did not intend on going back to that bar so quickly. Don’t get me wrong– that Friday night was a fun time with slightly expensive cocktails and danceable music, but I don’t typically get a chance to go back to places. Usually, there’s a pre-existing engagement that comes up that prevents such things from happening, at least for a while. But for some reason, the stars aligned and two weeks later my friends and I were down to go again!
As I said in the intro, the circumstances were slightly different this time. We would be going on a Saturday night, which means different friends were free. We lost Jay, Paula, Youmna, and Jack but we gained Annie, Eden, and MJ. I haven’t actually gone out with Annie, Eden, and MJ in a little while so this was quite an Occasion. Isabel was also actually free to do it again! James was even going to bring along his friend from high school. It was certainly an evening I was looking forward to all week!
It’s also helpful for you guys to know that it was that week that I received my MTM tux from Atelier Fugue. It was meant for my mom’s wedding this summer, but I was obviously ready to wear it much earlier than that. Like my other DB suits from Dave, this one was cut in my typical slouchy 30s-inspired silhouette but I jumped at the challenge of making this evening suit sexy and Going Out appropriate. Also, now that I knew the vibes of the bar, I was ready to express a variation on “Ethan’s 70s-inspired attire” for this next visit. Since this was the weekend, I also felt right wearing this all day; I was ready to subject others to how excited I was Go Out.
So what did I wear? Well, the tuxedo was a given, but how could I dress it down to make it more appropriate to the context we’re given while still expressing what I wanted it to express. In the end, I paired my wide DB tuxedo with my denim sawtooth and an epic 70s neck scarf that features an abstract black and yellow geometric print; my side zips were the only ones who returned from the previous outfit. And you know what? I fuckin’ loved it.
I think it’s funny that I seem to always have neckwear whenever I go out. I just appreciate how dramatic and louche it can be, especially when compared to just a regular open-collar shirt (which expresses a sterile aesthetic and bizcaz to me). I will say that this neck scarf is the new GOAT for Going Out/70s looks. It’s longer and more delicate (in a good way) than my Kapital bandana but certainly not as long my other scarves, making it unfussy and easy to wear. You see what I mean about looking at the expressive details of my garments?
On that note, you might have thought that I could have swapped out the tux with my other DB suits I was just planning on “dressing down”. You might be right as it would have certainly been more respective of classic menswear rules. But that’s not what I wanted to express. I wanted to express edge but to my own competency and sensibilities. This “rig” was the only way forward. The scarf plays to the elegance of the tux (silk on satin is fun) while the denim shirt brings a rugged demeanor (especially when it ran away later that night); the side zip boots bring us back to a sexy attitude. And of course, a tux being black and not navy or brown is entirely the appeal. Overall, this whole thing is crazy since it’s something I’ve never done before, but definitely successful in the aesthetic goals I set out to achieve. It’s simultaneously relaxed and edgy, because I knew what to expect while being ready to have fun again.
Everyone else looked great again (obviously) though the vibes were different. Annie and Eden definitely played into their version of the Going Out look which wasn’t predicated on the 1970s. James also got in something new-to-him, which was a navy hopsack jacket from Spier. I did wonder if he “echoed” my black tie “dress code” by pairing his navy jacket with a simple white shirt; it was a small move, but definitely a contrast to what he wore the last time. Isabel looked lovely in a 70s bookcore look (thanks to her quilted skirt). I also really liked MJ’s look, which was definitely 70s inspired but more in a trad way. He put together a yellow cord sack jacket with a striped tie, sweater vest, and flared grey Levis. I love that he had his own clear expression of the 70s.
I think its safe to say that both outfits were good! Why? Because they both achieved their respective goals when I wore them. The idea isn’t that one outfit is better than the other. The point is that they each have their own expressive merit and can’t be compared for a definitive ranked answer. Both were great and completely appropriate to what I wore them to (which was nearly the same type of event).
The only way I can evaluate them at is by how accurate they were to the vision I had for both looks. They would only be bad if I wore them aware that they were lacking in some regard, but thankfully both of them passed! And even if impressing other people wasn’t my top priority, I’m sure other people would think these are good (especially if you regularly read the blog, are my friend, or are both),
It’s important to note that neither of the outfits were “amateur” or meant for beginners. To clarify, I mean both were very specific/intentional looks built on years of honing my expression; it would be tough to stumble into these looks. They’re also a move that a regular person may not do either because the pieces are niche or simply because there are other outfits that would be perfectly serviceable. But for me, that’s not why I get dressed. The fun in this hobby lies in using my closet to create the accurate expression for my intended “goals” that remains authentic to me and my mood.
In short, this case study serves as one isolated example of how I utilize expression as a metric for making a good outfit. It’s always important fo me to take stock of my aesthetic goals (and sometimes context) and dive deep into the different expressive features and vibes of each garment in order to find what works to accurately express that intention. Presumably, this is why I don’t consider straight-up outfit repeating; I genuinely don’t think of outfits as better than the other, only in how good they were at representing the mood or goal I had at that time.
Hopefully, analyzing these two outfits was helpful in showing how I emphasize expression and how it factors into making a good outfit! It’s all about being aware of all the details and leveraging them to look the way you want. I could do this for nearly every outfit I wear because I honestly think that my fits are different attempts to hone specific vibes. The only thing is that I don’t do them back-to-back, so it just seems like I never repeat.
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