Clothes and Personal: David Coggins

Essential lessons on the art of dressing sharp and living well

April 10, 2017 9:00 am

This is Clothes and Personal, in which we sit down with one of the brightest names in menswear to talk about the articles every man should have in his closet.

If a man writes a book entitled Men and Style, and that book makes the New York Times bestseller list, we’re inclined to think he knows a thing or two about putting on clothes.

So, we asked.

For this go ‘round of Clothes and Personal, we sat down with author and well-traveled style aficionado David Coggins to tackle some of life’s big sartorial questions, from the world’s best tailor to what he wore to prom.

Here’s what he had to say on knowing the rules, breaking them and the most ridiculous thing that a man can buy.

InsideHook: Let’s start easy. You have to pick one tailor for the rest of your life. Who is it?
David Coggins: That is the hardest question. I love Rubinacci because I’m a big Italian tailoring fan. But my first love is still English tailoring. Anderson & Sheppard, Savile Row.

IH: We’re moving into spring … tips?
DC: It’s good to wear something that gives you a sense of the season and is a little bit of a celebration of that feeling. I love a bright scarf. I love some linen. I love some shoes that say “I’m happy it’s 70 degrees out and I want to get a gelato.” I think a light grey suit is really smart and white shoes are fantastic. But you don’t want to seem like you’re wearing something for 90-degree weather when it’s 50 out. I never want to see too much of your chest. I don’t want to see too much of your body too soon. And this is a very divisive topic, but I’m generally against shorts in the city.

IH: In your book you say, “A life without certain embarrassments has not been fully embraced, that’s why they take your picture at prom.” So … what did you wear to prom?
DC: I wore a tuxedo but with blue jeans. I was just not ready to pull that off at age 16. And I think that’s really the nature of prom, that you think you have all the answers but you haven’t quite figured it out yet. So I’m glad that happened before the internet existed.

IH: Has social media changed the style landscape for the worse?
DC: No, it’s better. It allows you to see really well-dressed men from around the world. I love seeing old Italian men online. I think the danger of social media is that you create this cycle where you want to get newer and newer things. If you shop trends, you’re going to be out of trend very quickly. That’s not ideal for men or the environment.

IH: If you could strike one style generation from the record …
DC: I’d get rid of the ‘80s. The shoulder pads were not ideal.

IH: Is there anything you kept from the ‘80s?
DC: My Cure concert shirts and a certain amount of a sense of play that didn’t exist in the ‘70s. There’s a certain sense of optimism that I like, but generally I don’t think that we should romanticize that decade too much.

IH: What was your first concert?
DC: The Rolling Stones Steel Wheels tour in 1989. The shirt was $20 and it seemed like all the money in the world.

IH: Do you have a style mantra?
DC: Keep true to yourself. Honor the classics. Don’t let clothes wear you. You want them to celebrate who you are and showcase the best version of yourself.

IH: What are the style rules men should be breaking?
DC: I think men can express themselves much more than they think. I feel like men are too beholden to what they think formalities should be as opposed to the comfort level that they need. So a less structured shirt with a soft collar is much better than a formal dress shirt for most men. The way Italian men dress, they’re more at ease and can express themselves. I think anything stiff, a stiff collar and a starched shirt, most men aren’t comfortable in these clothes — and it comes through.

IH: What’s a justifiable splurge?
DC: This is my specialty. I think handmade shoes and a handmade suit. Something that you’re going to have for a long time won’t seem expensive if you have it for 20 years. Also a good watch.

IH: What watch do you wear?
DC: I wear a Cartier Tank. It’s dependable, understated and it goes with everything. I have one casual army watch that I wear when I fish. And then I have a Jaeger Lecoultre Reverso, black face, that I wear for special occasions.

IH: What would you say is the most covetable style item you own?
DC: I bought some shoes that belonged to the actor Douglas Fairbanks at an auction. I didn’t know if they were going to fit me, but they do.

IH: Besides a suit, what items should a gent buy bespoke?
DC: If you have a place that can make you good shirts, you should get shirts made for you. It’s something you wear absolutely every day. It’s something that isn’t going to be an unusual expense. If you like a light blue shirt oxford shirt, get six of them and keep ‘em for a decade.

IH: Where do you get your shirts?
DC: I swear by Drake’s oxford shirts. Those you can just get off the rack. I’m a 15 ½, if you’re going to get me a present. If i’m in Italy I go to to place in Naples called Piccolo.

IH: For your book, you talked to many a stylish man. What did you learn from them?
DC: It was interesting to hear they’ve all made mistakes. We all have. And to hear that the most stylish men have had bad phases makes you feel a little more free. There’s no need to be embarrassed that you wore a Mario Lemieux jersey in high school or a bad concert T-shirt. The thing is these men wanted to get better and improve themselves. They wanted to be a better man and that’s a good place to be.

IH: Have any packing tips for us?
DC: No roller bags. No man in the history of time has looked good pulling a roller bag behind him. Pack light, light, light and only what you can carry. It will make you think really efficiently about what you need. And all you need is one sportcoat, one pair of trousers, some shirts and accessories to change how it looks. When I travel, I wear shirts with a little more substance to them, like an oxford or even a western shirt. It’s a shirt that i can wash myself as opposed to like a dress shirt that wrinkles really easily. And also i think it’s the height of civilization to wash your own shirt in a hotel room … I just made that up. I have no idea if that’s true.

IH: Where do you go to find peace?
DC: I go fly fishing. It’s the antithesis of being in New York. Sometimes I go Upstate, but I really love Montana. I like to be outside all day and not see anyone. And if I do, they don’t know who I am or what I do and I don’t know what they do. It’s a good way to have perspective about the things we do.

IH: Do you have a treasured travel souvenir?
DC: I love to buy one thing when I am traveling. My favorite place to go shopping is Isetan in Tokyo. It’s the greatest department store in the world. It’s not even close in my mind. The men’s department alone is visionary. I like to go there and buy one small piece of pottery.

IH: What’s an excellent gift?
DC: A good bottle of liquor or Champagne. Something nicer than what they’re going to drink every day. And if you’re lucky, you can share it with them. I personally like to get Laphroaig, but I don’t complain when I get a bottle of scotch from someone. And I find that very few will complain as well.

IH: Okay, favorites. Superhero?
DC: Wonder Woman.

I like a villain who you’re attracted to and scared by at the same time, so like Lee van Cleef in the Westerns is absolutely frightening. His moustache is amazing. Or Henry Fonda in Once Upon A Time In America.

Hoyo de Monterrey, Epicure Number Two.

Trouble In Paradise. It really captures how men and women behave with each other. It’s absolutely elegant.

When I’m in Paris, I’m proud to be a human being.

Lafayette in New York for breakfast and lunch. I still love Freemans and Minetta Tavern. But my favorite in the world is Le Grand Véfour in Paris. My family and I go there once a year and have a four-hour lunch. It’s the best meal of the year.

The most elegant hotel I’ve ever been is the Aman Hotel in Tokyo. It’s the perfect alignment of design and service. It’s an extraordinary place. It’s fiercely expensive.

Travel bag?
A vintage bag made by J.W. Hulme.

IH: Tell me about a person who inspires you …
DC: Luciano Barbera, an Italian textile and clothing designer. He’s a very well-dressed man and very singular — almost impossible to imitate, though he’s widely imitated. But what I like about him also is that he looks like himself and he’s always smiling. He communicates this wonderful sense of radiance and I think that’s a huge part of being an appealing person as well as a stylish man.

IH: So how does one aspire to that without imitating?
DC: I really believe that the best-dressed men can break most rules, but you really have to earn the right to do that. You can’t just set out and do whatever you want. When in doubt, follow the rules. And when you get to the point in your life where you know a little bit about what makes sense for you, then you can step across these boundary lines, which are there for a reason.

IH: What’s a well-dressed man to you?
DC: When I’m with a well-dressed man, I realize something more about him over time. You don’t see everything at once. And I also think that’s the way interesting people are. You get to know them better and they become more interesting. It’s good to not give away everything at once. It’s good to not be understood in 10 seconds. Whether it’s how you tell a story or how you dress, save a little something for later.

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