Men's stylist Emmi Sorokin was walking her dogs recently when she spotted something so terrifying she quickly averted her eyes and swallowed a scream. A gentleman walking in her direction was brazenly stomping on the rules of good taste with an ensemble that resulted in a restless night of sleep for Sorokin, an image consultant who spends her days teaching men how to dress with style.
"It started off with a white athletic sneaker," she said of the unfortunately attired man. "The kind of sneakers that say 'I take a double dose of Cialis.' Then we've got white protruding socks. There's the two-sizes-too-big cargo shorts, held up by a belt meant for the office. It's topped by a tucked-in, boxy polo shirt that's too tight across the stomach, but too loose at the shoulder."
This look defied every principle of dressing found in Sorokin's new guide "The Business Casual Survival Guide: 30 Looks for Men." Sorokin, who has been helping men dress for the past six years, was inspired to write the book after realizing that many of her clients had the same basic questions. She also wrote it to help men who can't afford to hire an image consultant.
"I'm not doing this because I love fashion," said the Boston-based Sorokin. "I'm doing this because I want to change the face of casual style in America. The driving force behind the book was to make this information more accessible."
We rang up Sorokin to talk about the do's and don'ts of men's style. She was quite eager to share her thoughts.
Q. What's the most common problem you hear from clients?
A. Typically they feel like they're stuck. They feel they've been in the same cookie-cutter stuff that they don't feel good wearing. The majority of what I see stems from the fact that guys don't really have an understanding of what flatters their body and what brands are available for them. Guys have a ton of options but they have these blinders on based on what they're used to doing. The problem is compounded by the fact that most men don't enjoy shopping. I don't even enjoy shopping, so I completely understand.
Q. I've been coerced many times into helping male friends shop for clothes and they don't react well when the clothes actually fit them. Do you encounter the same thing?
A. Guys aren't used to the experience of clothing touching their skin and they say "Oh my God, what's that?" But then you can see them relaxing into the clothing. It's just these 30 seconds of adjustment and then you see them correct their posture. They start smiling and . . . having swagger. That's the other point I always drive home to them is never settle for anything that doesn't give you that feeling.
Q. I think the advent of casual Friday really threw a lot of men off their game. The term "business casual" can be daunting.
A. Absolutely, and now at most companies I would say it's casual Monday through Friday. So their fear is heightened. They think of clothing as very functional and place it in segregated categories. Like "This is my business wear. This is my hiking wear. This is what I wear on the weekend." It's a matter of opening their eyes to all of these hybrid pieces. For example, there are great pants that have the fabric of a chino, but are cut like a denim jean. And then teaching them there's this whole array of comfort footwear that are not sneakers, and not dress shoes. I find that once their eyes open, they get the hang of it. It's like "The Matrix." Once they see it, they start seeing these things everywhere and . . . making better decisions.
Q. One of my biggest peeves is the untucked shirt paired with outdated, wide-leg jeans worn to go out on a Saturday night. Are these clothes that you have to train men to extract from their closets and burn?
A. God, yes. The fit of those pieces is very dated and that look came about in the late 1990s when men really tried a new way of wearing clothes casually. But much like technology, we've made progress since the late 1990s. Men feel particularly secure when they find a look that they like, and then they just keep buying the same pieces for years after. When they first bought into this 10 years ago, they were the man. Now when I see them I think, "Honey, you need help."
The "Fall in New England done right"
Wear for: Client office visits, office hayrides, travel days, and undercover investigative work.
The "Forbes lunch interview"
Wear for: Investor meetings, business lunches, from Manhattan to the Hamptons.
The "TechStars winner"
Wear for: Client design sessions, casual networking events, casual staff meetings, networking booze cruise.
The "I'm not afraid of being an American in Italy"
Wear for: Glad-you-could-meet-on-such-short-notice meetings, weekend executive meetings, book signings, business trips.
The "Keynote at South by Southwest"
Wear for: Tech events, presentations, conventions, drinks with co-workers.