Michael Bastian: Personal Style

Having been appointed men’s fashion director at New York department store Bergdorf Goodman chiefly on account of his impeccable personal style (“I was like, ‘Are you sure?'”), Michael Bastian succeeded in transforming it from a place he describes as “where your grandfather would buy his socks” into somewhere where Bastian himself would shop. Five years later, the American designer has come to symbolize all that is best about Stateside dressing and more recently has collaborated with GANT on a lacrosse-inspired collection. Here he tells us what every man needs in his locker, why Jaws is an unexpectedly stylish film and why you should wear a pink shirt when you’re feeling green…

When you see a guy on the street, you should see the guy first and his clothes later. The clothes really should help the guy feel better about himself, more confident. There’s a lot of work that goes into that and it’s not as easy as it sounds. But in a weird way it helps guys feel better about themselves.

The big preppy moment we’re having is half the cycle we’re in. Because everything is always a big cycle: men’s just moves a lot slower than women’s. But with the economy happening, guys are really getting into this idea of buying less but buying better. People thought luxury was dead all of sudden, because the economy fell apart. Guys that were buying expensive designer stuff didn’t decide, “Right, now I’m only going to shop at H&M.” They’re just taking their time more, they’re hunting more. Everybody opened their closet and became honest with themselves, like, “What do I really wear every day?”

I feel like I’m the least fashion-y fashion guy. I just have an idea of how I think guys look best. I think that just came from my dad and my dad’s friends. I grew up in upstate New York in Rochester and my dad was a history teacher in the local high school. Those guys, when I was growing up in the Seventies and Eighties, I just thought were so cool. They could wear old, beat-up, five-pocket cords and a flannel shirt with a knit tie and a navy blazer and they all drove jeeps that had ski racks. Everybody looked great, but they never really thought about it. Or if they did think about it, you couldn’t tell.

There were a lot of things that I always thought were so obvious that should be out there but you could just never find. Like a pair of chinos that fit you perfectly and the fabric was great, the button was great, not over-logoed. The perfect cashmere crew-neck that was a nice, skinny, sexy fit with the neck a little stretched out. You just couldn’t find it. You could find the European version which was always a little overdone or a little over-logoed. With the American designers it was always a little low, a little dodgy, the fit wasn’t so sexy. On a macro level, if you look back maybe ten years ago we were in the middle of a big European moment with the era of the Dior skinny little black suit. And the Americans walked away [acting like], “All right, you guys win.”

Most guys don’t have to wear suits to work every day. In America I’d say a good 75 per cent of guys don’t have to wear a suit any more. This changes everything. Because what used to happen, even in our short little lifetime, was that you would spend all your money and all your time on your work wardrobe: your suits, your dress shirts and your ties. Everything else you wore on the weekend or after work you didn’t pay too much attention. Well, suddenly you can wear your casual clothes to work and everyone at the same time was realising, “Wow, this these are dirty old ill-fitting chinos and bad polo shirts.” So I think sportswear had to take a step up and be elevated.

Buy a button-down, a pair of jeans, a chino, a navy blazer. Find the best one of each of those. Those are the things I know a guys needs in his wardrobe. Everybody – unless you really are a hardcore banker who wears a suit every day – you’re either wearing jeans, a chino, a five-pocket cord, that’s it.

The best piece of style advice in the world is if you have had a rough night, you drank too much, you don’t feel well, you’re late for work, put on a pink shirt. I don’t know why every father doesn’t tell their baby son this. The worst thing in the world is to wear a white shirt when you’re not feeling your best. It drains you of every drop of blood. But a pink shirt will always reflect up and you’ll look a little more well-rested, a little healthier. It looks good on every guy’s skin. Everyone should have a perfect pink shirt in their arsenal for a day you don’t feel your best. It’s the best money-in-the-bank tip.

You can go so wrong with black tie so fast and so easily. If you watch the Academy Awards or any of the awards shows, it’s almost like if you don’t know what you’re doing, if you’re not comfortable, stick with the classic: a perfect black tuxedo, white shirt, black tie. Play around but at your own risk. There’s a lot of pitfalls. I don’t mind jeans with dinner jacket. It’s a little overdone, but here’s the thing: the right guy can pull anything off. If you see a guy who’s open, smiling, happy and friendly, you really don’t notice what he’s wearing immediately. And I love that.

There can be no rules for prom because that’s going to be your most embarrassing moment for the rest of your life. So you might as well embrace that and just go with it. In America there’s this bad, bad, bad tradition of if the girl’s wearing a pink dress, the guy will have to wear a pink jacket or tie. I think prom is supposed to be the craziest moment of your life so don’t worry about it. Just know whatever you wear in 20 years you’re going to be embarrassed about it. Just do whatever you feel like it. Honestly, you don’t want to see some 16-year-old guy looking like Roger Moore. Let them make every mistake.

If I wear a suit it’ll be not because I have to but because I want to shake it up a little bit and I think this is how the world is going. There was this moment where the coolest guy in the bar would be the one wearing the untucked, stripy party shirt and jeans – all the other guys would be coming from work in their suits would be a little envious and maybe that guy got the girl. Now it’s totally different, it’s the guy in the suit that’s the cool one. The suit’s almost become the most fashion-y thing you can wear.

A good suit is all about the fit. It goes back to guys and their mentality about shopping. Guys want to get in and get out, they don’t want to take a lot of time. To get a suit perfect you really have to put in the time with the tailor. At least in America the big challenge is getting guys to wear a suit that’s the right size. I feel like they are always wearing a suit one size too big. Every guy tries on the jacket and pulls that middle button and they want to have a lot of air. Whereas the Italian guys – and the English guys – know how a suit should fit. It should have some relationship to your body. American guys are terrified of anything coming too close. Slowly, slowly, slowly this is changing.

We had one season where the influence was the movie Jaws. Now that is a strange influence. We’ve all seen that movie 100 times but you never really looked at the clothes because there were obviously other things going on on that beach. But go back and look because things fit totally differently: the bathing suits were a little shorter, the jackets were a little cooler, tighter, even the T-shirts were tighter. Our eyes have adjusted so much to this big, baggy thing. You go back and you see how things really fit. It was a mini revelation. Take a look at any movie from the mid- to late-Seventies that isn’t Saturday Night Fever. I love Ordinary People with Robert Redford which came out in 1980. Go back to that. It was just so good, that classic – I say classic American but it’s just classic dressing. This is how guys dress.

I think I got my first American GQ – I still have it, by the way – in June of 1982. All those early Eighties GQs seeped into my imagination because I was growing up way away from the city and that was my only glimpse of the outside world. Jim Moore at GQ, he is a library of information in menswear. He can call up, “Oh, I know where you got that look,” and it’ll be some 30-year-old GQ and he was there.

I haven’t made a style mistake in a long time because I’ve kind of got it boiled down to a uniform. But yeah, I had some mistakes when I was at Bergdorf. I was really feeling for a big wide pant when everything was going super-skinny. [laughs] I tried to bust a move and it didn’t work at the time. But at least I tried.

Americans could learn from you guys to be a bit more daring and to be concerned with fit. America is such a young country and so much of it is about not thinking too much. The American gift is appearing that you didn’t think too much about it. Even if you did, even if you obsessed before you left the house in the morning, it’s more about the personality and the openness and the friendliness than the actual clothes.

Guys tend to fall down with their shoes. They don’t spend enough time or money. Women have no problem spending $600-700 on a pair of shoes. Guys tend to cut a corner on the shoes and it’s actually where you should really sink your money. If you’re going to buy one pair of shoes, get that perfect pair of cordovan loafers or tasselled loafers. That’s going to set you back $600-700 but you’ll possibly have them even for the rest of your life: you just keep resoling them and putting your shoe trees in. Women always look at your shoes… and other guys look at shoes too.

My favourite outfit I’ve ever seen was on a six-year-old boy. One morning I was walking to get a coffee – I live in the middle of Greenwich village – and all these cool New York parents were walking their little kids to school. You can tell the parents are cool enough to let the kids dress themselves in the morning. One day there was this little boy and he had on beige corduroy pants, little work boots, this cool knit cap and this perfect little red down vest but his shirt was a Spider-Man costume. And I thought, “Damn, that is the best.” Like today he felt like, “You know what? I’m going to be Spider-Man today.” He’d obviously put himself together with the things he loved and couldn’t have been prouder or happier. He totally summed up how we all should feel when we leave our apartment in the morning.

(From GQ UK.)

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