Menswear Books: Daniel Peres, The Details Men’s Style Manual

July 16, 2012

I confess to not quite knowing Detailsplace on the landscape of gentlemen’s magazines. While glancing at its issues reveals a more deliberately tasteful publication than blunter, intensively airbrushed “lad’s mags” like Maxim (or its countless late imitators), it also lacks the pedigree of comparatively venerable midcentury-man staples like GQ or Esquire. Yet Details must harbor comparable aspirations to style authority, since it, like those two older brothers, has a whole book out on the subject: the Details Men’s Style Manual, by the magazine’s editor-in-chief Dan Peres. “In a world of skinny suits and pointy shoes, I was rather content dressing down,” he writes of recently bygone days. “I had adopted a uniform of jeans, sweaters, and tattered Chucks — and the occasional button-down shirt, untucked, of course. I even wore a fleece to a Versace fashion show once.” So we’re working from square one, then.

The unaddressed question of how someone who inspired an entire New York Times trend piece rose so high in the first place does shake one’s confidence in the Details imprimatur. But combine his history of willful disregard with the presumably high caliber of stylistic consultancy at his fingertips, and Peres looks ideal to write a beginner-level manual on men’s dress. Having undergone a Damascene conversion on the road between European fashion shows, he decided to set his own house — or rather, closet — in order, and what he learned from his magazine’s specialized style editors he organizes into this book’s thirteen chapters. All this he explains in the introduction, which spreads fewer than 700 words across four pages in two colors and three different large fonts. It gets noisier: the two-page spread immediately following presents a list of “rules of style” in a flurry of bolding, boxing, unconventional capitalization, and other formatting tricks.

Classics,” reads the text inside a box in the middle of all this, “are classics for a reason. Men’s style has changed little over the past one hundred years. You shouldn’t be the person who tries to break the mold.” Sound advice, or at least you eventually recognize it as such after looking past the way the book sets it entirely in capital letters. While none of the design choices in the remaining 262 pages come off quite as aggressively bothersome as these, the book still leaves you with the impression that, like a jaded schoolteacher, it doesn’t quite trust you to pay attention. But beneath this attitude, I see it as a version of Bernhard Roetzel’s well-respected Gentlemen’s Guide to Grooming and style (which I previously wrote up on my own site)You may consider the Details manual a welcome simplification and colloquialization of that earlier guide, and Peres’ English, though plain, does go down smoother than the translation of Roetzel’s German. Alternatively, you may just consider it a dumbing-down.

This does, however, produce a certain accessibility. Any man, no matter how low he sits on the scale of stylistic awareness, can immediately understand much of the book’s advice, and he can implement it almost as quickly. This goes especially for the “Don’ts” pages presented for each category of garment, which draw lessons from photographs of tragic red-carpet moments: “Don’t wear flip-flops with suits.” “Don’t wear leather blazers.” “Don’t wear square-toe shoes.” These images appear cropped below the neck, presumably to protect the sartorially guilty, though one pair of visible briefs emblazoned with the words “KID ROCK” would seem to give the game away. Half the book’s cultural references are of similar vintage — Jack Black, The Strokes, John Kerry, “Vote For Pedro” — though perhaps only as a means of planned obsolescence to ensure future sales of updated editions with the Timberlakes swapped out for Biebers.

Make no mistake; we’re dealing here with a deliberately fluffy book. But as with those aforementioned warnings, some of its lightest material still delivers basic information worth knowing. Other nonessential sections, like the lists of “rules of style” provided by various celebrity designers and designing celebrities like Sean Combs, Michael Kors, and Donatella Versace, at least carry some entertainment value, although I found most of it in their tendency to contradict the main text as well as each other. (Kenneth Cole’s endorsement of rubber soles comes mere pages before Peres’ claim that, outside the realm of sneakers, only leather soles will do. Proof that, in dress, there are no truly correct answers — or perhaps further proof still that you should take the suggestions of Kenneth Cole with a grain of salt.) Certain pages, like the not-particularly-informative lists of “Three Degrees of the Well-Dressed Man” and “Movies That Shaped Men’s Style,” don’t pretend to offer more than filler. But sometimes these bits of frivolity hit right on: as as Angeleno, I can tell you that the map of American dress standards by city indicts Los Angeles’ worst tendency: “$500 sweatshirt over $300 jeans.”

These may run the risk of distracting you from the book’s diagrammatic pages on fit, cut, color, and material, which — and this comes as no surprise to those who have spent any time learning about menswear — contain the Details Men’s Style Manual’s core value. While they lack the detail and refinement of older, denser, or less contemporary America-centric menswear books, they get their points across: no bowing lapels, spread collars need a larger knot, show a quarter-inch of shirt cuff, etc. Alas, that last point comes on a page facing a photograph of a fellow showing no cuff at all, an oversight I class with the book’s inclusion of convertible cargo pants as a viable option in any setting. Sloppy though they may seem, these mistakes are easy to identify and ignore. Once you’ve done so, simply learn from the rest of the examples, chuckle at the jokes, tune out the noise, and remember the handful of facts that seem important. Read it, in other words, the same way you would a magazine.

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter @colinmarshall. To buy the Details Men’s Style Manual, you can find the best prices at DealOz.