Sartorial Style Rules: Obey Them, Bend Them or Break Them?

Ed Ruiz

5 June 2017

No doubt you have read or heard about them.

Those sartorial style rules by which every self-proclaimed gentleman must abide.

Some of them you can get behind, while some of them might not even make much sense to you and lastly (and honestly), some of them can sound ridiculously fastidious.

So what are you supposed to do when it comes to sartorial and suit rules?

Sartorial RulesThere are hundreds, if not thousands of articles online telling us all about an endless number of rules that we are supposed to follow closely if we really want to look our best when wearing a suit or any type of formal clothing.

And I mean, they are really everywhere you look. Pretty much every other menswear blog has covered this topic at one point in time.

Hell, I am just as guilty as I’ve written about some of these rules on more than one occasion.

Oh, the lucky ones who don’t care too much about style, right? Maybe I oversimplify, but I’m quite sure there are no rules to wearing cargo shorts and sandals appropriately, but what do I know? They might get it just as bad.

But back to us, the classy ones (ha!) and the rules that dictate what we should and shouldn’t do when dressing well. It can get crazy:

  • Never button the bottom button of any jacket (learn more about suit buttoning rules).
  • The tip of your tie should sit as close as possible to where your belt buckle starts.
  • Never, ever wear any pre-tied version of ties or bow ties unless you want to be ridiculed.
  • The width of your tie should be the same width of your jacket’s lapel.
  • Your jacket sleeves length should be perfect down to millimetrical precision.
  • Wearing matching sets of ties and pocket squares is pretty much considered the 8th deadly sin.

…and an overwhelming et cetera…

I’m finding it hard to believe some of us even manage wear a suit with confidence on a regular basis. There are just so many things that could easily go wrong and many rules that could easily be broken.

So, what’s up with all these rules?

Who Came Up With This Idea Of “Sartorial Rules” Anyway?

I guess it’s safe to say no one did.

For one, they were just a natural progression of some older set of rules, which in turn, I believe, were derived from even more ancient rules.

Maybe it’s an endless cycle of updates and changes on what’s deemed appropriate in terms of sartorial rules.

But I do believe any of these rules, regardless if they are current, old, or antique, had their origins in one single and primordial premise:

Enhance the perceived image of the masculine body by the use of shape and proportions, while simultaneously preserving a certain degree of elegance and class.

Ultimately, as bull crap as many of these rules sound, I will declare myself a believer that there are sensible reasons why these rules exist and that, at the very least, we should become familiarized with them.

Suit Rules Do Make Sense (To A Certain Extent)

Some detractors will argue all these sartorial rules sound like they were created out of thin air.

I actually don’t believe that to be the case.

All these existing rules are considered ehm, well…. rules for a real reason.

There is a reason why your tie shouldn’t go longer than your belt buckle: to keep it proportioned to your torso, to keep the waistline clean, to cover the length of your shirt buttons…

There is a reason why the tail of your tie shouldn’t be longer than the blade of your tie: to keep the look of your tie clean and tight.

There is a reason why there is an ideal suit pants rise: to elongate your legs and actually make you look a bit taller while enhancing the male body proportions.

There is a reason why the bottom button of a jacket or vest is not supposed to be fastened: to make the jacket drape appropriately around your body by the way the jackets are cut.

And yes, there is a reason why you’re not supposed to wear belts and suspenders at the same time: so you don’t look like a total fool.

My friend, as random as any of these sartorial rules could sound to you, their existence is more than lightly justified. They’re meant to serve as solid pointers to make sure that wearing a suit yields the actual results you expect: to look like a million bucks!

Whether you’re a style rebel or a style conservative, knowledge of the basic rules is always important

Does This Mean You Should Religiously Follow All These Suit Rules?

No, that’s not necessarily what I promote.

Following every single damn rule to the letter would easily turn into a sort of uniform that wouldn’t allow any freedom of expression from the wearer.

There would simply be no thrill in actually using our creativity to come up with personal and interesting sartorial ensembles. Why take something that is inherently exciting and turn into a lame, uninspiring and tiresome labor?

The result of religiously following every single rule would be quite the opposite of what personal style should be about, fun and a conduit for personal creativity.

It would just be excrutiatingly boring.

I am not saying you should go crazy and pursue whatever wild style idea comes to your mind at any certain time. That would be just wrong.

There is definitely a small group of solid rules you definitely should follow. No questions asked. No complaining, No whining. You just follow them.

And then there are the other ones, the flexible ones, the fun ones, if you will… the ones that you can bend, or even break.

Which Elegance Rules To Obey, Which To Bend and Which To Break

Giving you an exhaustive list of rules to obey, bend or break would be well… exhausting.

But I can give you some umbrella classifications to help you come to your own conclusions:

  • Sartorial rules you should obey: the most basic and also the ones that serve as an aid to enhance your proportions and preserve the lowest minimum accepted level of elegance: anything related to fit, dimensions and proportions of your shirts, suits and accessories, polished shoes, clean and properly pressed garments, etc. These rules require you to practice restraint and good judgment. Never, ever meant to be broken.
  • Sartorial rules you could bend: those that will allow more freedom for self-expression. The dwellers of the sprezzatura realm, as I would call them. Most personal choices in style would fall here: colors, patterns, accessories, textures, etc. I would encourage every gentleman out there to bend any rules you read concerning these specific sartorial details and express your own, authentic identity. Also those that for personal circumstances just need to be bent like wearing clip-on ties in lieu of self-tie ties if you suffer from a specific medical condition. Bend them, bend them hard, make them beg you not to bend them no more.
  • Sartorial rules you can break: those that don’t seem to serve any real purpose at all or those that are frankly absurd. A good example would be that rules that dictates you should only wear a specific type of collar according to the shape of your face. Same with tie knots that supposedly need to complement your face. I say: if you put it on and it looks good, then damned be these rules… you go ahead and break them, sir. Even the old rule “no brown in town”, that attempts to command that no brown suits (or anything brown for that matter) should be worn in any urban surroundings, rings laughable to my ears.

I know a list of rules could be easily get out of control and end up being endless, so I’ll leave it at that. Maybe my broad descriptions of these categories are missing specific rules you have heard and are still unsure if you should respect them or break them.

If that’s the case, feel free to leave a comment below, let me know the rule that is giving you a hard time and I’ll try my best to give you a satisfactory response.

Moving on…

Let Controlled Sartorial Chaos Be Your Only Rule

controlled sartorial chaosControlled Sartorial Chaos… sounds just beautiful, doesn’t it?

I might need to trademark it.

But anyway, let me get to what I actually mean by this and why it should be your only rule from now on.

The easiest way for me to define controlled sartorial chaos is to carefully follow those rules that are not meant to be broken while allowing as much free thought as you can possibly allow yourself when approaching the rules you can bend and of course, those that you can safely break.

Never compromise on fit, cut and legitimate guidelines. At the same time, go wild with colors, textures and patterns.

Am I saying that the controlled sartorial chaos approach will make you the best dressed every single time?

No, I would be stupid and a lie to make such a claim. There will be still a lot of room for things to go wrong and errors to be committed. Sometimes these errors could even be cringeworthy.

And you’ll make these mistakes at times. I know I do them more often than I would like to admit.

But that’s what’s fun about it. Having open doors to try different things any time you feel like it, while making sure you are not crossing any yellow barricade tape.

Let your poignant creativity be the tall stairs you’ll climb to jump off a platform while putting your life on the hands of timeless elegance to be your safety net.

So my advice: make CSC (yeah, I am even abbreviating it now) your only rule from now on, practice it and see where it takes you style wise. You might be surprised!

Over to you… what’s your opinion on sartorial rules? Do you allow yourself to get wild and creative with your style or you do stick to the hard rules? Leave a comment below and let me know what’s your position on this topic.

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