One of the most espoused menswear-isms on the net is the "style pyramid," comprised of three all important tenets: fit, fabric, and function. For those of us who learned how to dress through the internet, it is these commandments that we've tried to follow. And even to this day, I see that "holy trinity" proliferated. Unfortunately, the style pyramid doesn't hold up to scrutiny and can actually lead men astray.
But fear not, the style pyramid can be saved with its alliteration in-tact!
The old must be cleared to make way for the new, so let's start by debunking the previous style pyramid.
Fit, Fabric, Function. Are these the most important components of style?
Fit is important. Some even hail it as king. That's alas untrue, but it's still a crucial element of style and belongs in the pyramid.
Fabric. Yes, fabric matters. Worsted wool is dressier than fresco, linen is not for the winter, tweed is sturdier than cashmere. Understanding and properly implementing fabric is the difference between a novice and intermediate dresser, but it's hardly a critical branch of style and is difficult to justify placing in the pyramid.
Function. "Does this garment suit it's intended purpose? Does it send the message that you're trying to send?" Function in that sense is absolutely crucial, so it should remain in the amended style pyramid. Let's just rename it to better address the facet of style pertaining to contextual appropriateness and messaging.
And finally, a note on pyramid charts: they signify a hierarchy of foundational structure. The bottom rung serves as a base for the others; the top of the pyramid represents flourish made possible by support from the layers beneath it. Ranking is an intrinsic aspect of this format and each element must be correctly ordered by its importance.
At the end of the day, the iteration of the style pyramid we are most familiar with has its priorities out of order and is missing some key components. It is for that reason it must be renovated to best serve men just beginning their style journeys, in need of a framework to understand the massive heap of information thrust upon them.
To do that we must first understand that style is visual language. It is scripting a message with clothing and appearance. While there are exceptions, in most cases, the goal is to describe ourselves in a positive light. Style is art, style is expression, but style is also a tool for influencing how we are perceived by others.
As a consultancy, Dapper Dangerous LLC is committed to that lattermost application of style, as that is the one that most tangibly improves people's lives.
With that in mind, effective style is comprised of 4 core elements: context, contours, color, and composition.
Context is the first and foremost consideration for the stylish man. If you want your message to be received, you have to tailor it for your intended audience. Aesthetics considerations are secondary to this: even a beautifully fitted suit that's impeccably color-coordinated with your shirt, shoes, and accessories is the wrong move for a weekend brunch date. Your swankiest resort attire doesn't belong at a funeral.
In most cases, you're better off looking bad but appropriate rather than sharp and inappropriate. There may be times when it works with your goals to defy convention, but doing so effectively requires an understanding of how your messaging fits into the context of your environment. Without this, you will be perceived as socially awkward and out of touch.
To truly be well-dressed, you must understand the context you are dressing for, how you fit into it, and what you want to say while you are there.
Context is king.
In terms of aesthetics, contours are largely responsible for making you look good or bad. We often think about clothes in terms of whether or not they fit, while ultimately, it's more about the contours they create. Which is to say that most people can't perceive the finer details of proper fit, nor will they inspect your appearance long enough to notice. It is the sum of these details that create your overall contour and silhouette. And it is that by which you are judged, even if subconsciously.
Finding the contours that are most flattering to your physique and align with your messaging is integral to looking your best. Nearly any positive trait you wish to communicate about yourself will be conveyed foremost by the shape your clothes create on your body. Authority, competence, and fastidiousness are subconsciously attributed to men in well-fitted clothes.
Color coordination is another crucial element of style deserving a spot on the pyramid. Colors play a large role in the aura you project: they can make you seem exuberant or somber; creative or meticulous. Color coordinating clothes to compliment your natural palette, synergize with other garments, and remain in keeping with your surroundings is key to achieving an effective style.
The basics are simple enough to get a handle on, which is requisite to looking respectable. Yet there is such depth and intricacy to color coordination that gaining true expertise demands considerable practice and consideration. The payoff elevates one's style from good to great.
Composition is the icing on the cake and consequently sits atop the pyramid. Layering, accessorizing, and pattern play fall under the umbrella of composition. This discipline is less critical than an understanding of context, contours, and colors but skillful composition allows you to personalize your style. It is through the arrangement of your pieces that you can inject tastes and personality into your appearance.
Deft composition elevates a well-dressed man to an impeccable one. This flourish is useless without foundational support from the other tenets of style, and ironically, appeals to beginners at the expense of all else. Many are drawn to bright colors, bold patterns, and flashy accessories early in their style journeys -- mistakenly attributing stylishness to standing out.
It is only after building a strong foundation on the pillars of context, contours, and color that you can get the full use from fussing about composition. Yet that is surely the most joyous and expressive aspect of style and it is rightfully the most celebrated.
The original style pyramid, though flawed, has helped men along their style journeys by giving them a framework through which to understand the information they encounter, and this amended edition will offer even greater clarity. Even for experienced dressers, a reminder to prioritize context over aesthetics will garner even more impressive results on the impression management front.
As technical and nuanced as style can be, the outline for success is simple:
Dress for the context, occasion, and your place in it.
Select and tailor your clothes to create flattering contours.
Coordinate your colors in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and contextually appropriate.
Compose your garments to suit your tastes and convey your message.
And there you have it -- the style pyramid amended!
*As an aside, part of the problem is that the original style pyramid is often misinterpreted and misunderstood. Though it is often thought of as a guideline for style overall, it was originally intended as a buyers guide: "thank about whether something fits, if the fabric is a nice quality, and if it will suit the function you intended it for."
In that sense, it's actually pretty solid, but under the prestigious title of "style pyramid" it was only a matter of time before it was mistook as guidelines for style as a whole on a massive scale. And by that metric -- by which it is most often seen as today -- it crumbles under such a massive pressure.