I’ve been re-watching some TV shows to give me background noise when I’m working from home. One of the ones I never really got into the first time around is Parks & Recreation. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a docu-comedy that follows around the employees of the Parks and Recreation department of the Pawnee, Indiana government. Like The Office, the humor is in the ridiculous people who make up the group and their quirks and desires that drive them. The show helped launch the careers of Nick Offerman, Rashida Jones, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Adam Scott, and Aziz Ansari. It’s Aziz that I want to talk about today, because his character, Tom Haverford, hits on something in 12 seconds that a lot of guys have tried. Rather than explain it, here’s the scene itself.

As the name suggests, the idea of peacocking comes from the animal world, where the brightest birds get the best mates[1]. In the last few decades, this mentality has spread over to the menswear world, spanning from the 70s into today. If you pay any attention to the yearly menswear gather, Pitti Uomo, you’ll see the perfect example of this in men’s suiting and formal styles.

Here’s the thing. I know some of you are out there thinking about how great some of those guys look and I agree. Unfortunately, we might not be thinking about the same guys. The biggest problem I (and a lot of other people) have with peacocking, is that it signals one of a few things. Either: you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re an idiot, or you’re just trying way too hard. None of these are things you want to be aiming for; not just in the way you dress, but in everyday life too. You want to look coolly confident, put together, and competent.

Group of men in loud colored suits at Pitti Uomo
Men at Pitti Uomo in a variety of colors and cuts. These might look great at the event, but most of them are going to look ridiculous in a boardroom or nightclub.

There are a couple of things you can do to avoid looking like a peacock in public. The first step is picking up your core essential clothing items. These are things in neutral colors and fits that are inoffensive and easy. Don’t start with any colors that are particularly loud or clothes that are overly distinctive in their cut. These pieces will help you pull together looks that are versatile and good looking, which is what you should be looking to do. 

David Beckham's style is often quite reserved and classic. He takes simple colors and makes them work.

The next step is to cut down on your accessories. There are a few different schools of thought on how to do that effectively. The first one suggests that you dress completely and then get rid of one accessory. This was advice Coco Chanel gave to women, but the rule applies as much to men. This helps keep you from going a little too far while keeping your individuality. The downside to this is if you’re wearing 15 accessories, you’re probably not going to look that much better in 14.

 Man’s chest in a blue suit and a variety of accessories
This is a great example of too many accessories. In one look, he's got 7 accessories going at once. With a tie, tie bar, and a pocket square, we're looking at 10 visible accessories all at once, and that's not including anywhere else on his body.

The second rule, one that you see from more classic and traditional outlets, is to limit yourself to 3 accessories. If you’re counting at home, on a suit that might be a pocket square, tie bar, cufflinks, collar pin, lapel pin, hat, funky socks, bracelets, rings, a watch, suspenders (or braces), an umbrella, and even a briefcase. Now, some of these are functional choices and don’t play into our count (like the umbrella or the briefcase), but they can add up all the same. My general rule of thumb is at most 3-4 visible accessories and nothing in the same area. So, anything on the chest counts as a single area so you wouldn’t want to go too far with a pocket square, lapel pin, tie bar, and collar pin.

That last picture might have been extreme, but count the accessories here. With a loud tie, you're looking at 4 different eye-catching accessories, which is a lot when you want people to be looking at your face.

Finally, consider your environment. What’s appropriate at Pitti Uomo isn’t typically appropriate for a day in court or that big meeting at head office. Similarly, what’s being worn on a red carpet or a magazine cover isn’t aimed at day to day versatility, but standing out and being noticed. Velvet slippers are a great example of this; they look wonderful under a tuxedo or a smoking jacket, but they look much sillier when you’re walking into that brand name accounting firm when everyone else is in leather shoes and conservative suits.

Consider your colors, your accessories, and your environment. Last of all, take a look in the mirror. Are your eyes drawn to the same piece over and over or are you able to focus on yourself over your clothes? Famed menswear writer G. Bruce Boyer once wrote, ‘In a world of plentiful and diverse choices, the hallmark of taste is restraint.’ The easiest way to look good is to pull yourself together in clothes that fit and follow. In short, whisper, don’t scream.

If your boss looks like this every day or you want to fit in with the people who know how to do it, peacocking is a mistake.

As always, if you’ve got any questions, comments, insights, or just want to chat, you can always reach out to me at James@StyleStandard.com or through our social media pages. I’m always around, even if it takes me a few hours to respond.

 

[1]I know, I know, it’s a massive oversimplification. Stay with me here.

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