Speak as you might to a young child, or a golden retriever.
It wasn’t brains that got me here, I can assure you of that.
– John Tuld (Jeremy Irons), Margin Call
Like many a refreshing alcoholic beverage, self-deprecation is best served cool and in moderation. Any man who deliberately undersells his brains is to be taken with utmost caution. Few character traits are more annoying than the accidental genius. We’ve all grown up with them: the kid in third grade who cried that he’d flunked that exam, only to miraculously ace it when the results came in (you, of course, did flunk said exam spectacularly). And then later in life, the colleague who laments the fact that he’ll never get promoted before suddenly being granted that coveted VP position, and then firing you as his first executive act.
Striking a balance between bragging beef and humble pie is one of the great character contortions of our time. I personally prefer the gentleman who proudly displays his Harvard law degree on the mantelpiece to the individual who hangs it up in the toilet in a humorless fit of irony, only proving that understatement is merely a more subtle from of boastfulness.
It is no different in the sartorial world. We look our best when we’re not trying to be more – or less – than we actually are. Very few people leave their house without considering what to wear. And even those who swear that they don’t typically spin that air of nonchalance into faux intellectualism. A Swatch watch on a millionaire’s wrist is as carefully curated an act as a gold Hermès belt buckle on a real-estate agent. Why should we pity the latter but admire the former?
Why feel compelled to monogram a bespoke shirt? Might there truly be any doubt who the rightful owner of said garment is? The last time I wore a piece of monogrammed clothing, I was eight and headed for boy-scout camp with my initials carefully stitched into my underpants by my mother.
Trying too hard isn’t an attractive look, in either direction, because the intent shines through in garish colors. For some reason, there’s a type of German gentleman who likes to out-Brit the British: purple corduroys hovering neatly over a pair of Tricker’s, and loud tweed wrapped in carefully distressed Barbour wax – a cry for help masquerading as landed gentry.
Mind you, the British have also perfect the act of overstated understatement. The frazzled aristo-boho look, with shirt collars so threadbare they look like they came off the set of Pirates of the Caribbean.
There exists an old photo of Colin Firth sporting disheveled hair and a woolen jumper monumentally pockmarked by moths. You can imagine which version of the man I prefer: resplendent in full Huntsman pin-stripe regalia. And with age, Firth, too, appears to have found enlightenment and made the useful acquaintance of a certain Tom Ford, so we shall forgive him for his youthful stylistic sins.
Just like humble brag, clothing and carefully picked accessories – if done right – amplify a person’s character. Done wrong, you’re just a wannabe actor in an shaggy sweater. But unlike Colin, without a chance of ever winning an Oscar. DDD