Five Small Style Details That Make a Big Difference

Give some thought to these minor style notes, and your outfit will go from good to great.

There’s a secret society out there in the world of men’s style.

There are no clandestine handshakes, winks, or nods, and members aren’t doing anything particularly nefarious, but they are looking damn good. This is the cabal of dudes that always look on point because they pay attention to the little details that elevate an ensemble.

Nothing too showy, mind you (the goal isn't to look like a peacock), but just noticeable enough so that a trained eye can recognize – and envy – the finer points of what makes an outfit special. And the good news is that it isn’t difficult to join this army of sartorial soldiers. It just calls for a few small wardrobe upgrades.

Functioning Cuffs

To the eagle-eyed connoisseur of clothing, working cuff buttons on a suit jacket are a key indicator of the jacket’s quality. You'll sometimes see them referred to as a "surgeon’s cuff," since the working buttons were pioneered for battlefield medics in the 1800s who needed to be able to roll back the sleeves of their tunic to ensure they didn’t get spattered in gore. They were quickly adopted by Saville Row tailors, catering to the off-duty specs of medical men in the area, and spread from there into the standard for high-end suit making.

When you're commissioning a bespoke suit, where the entire thing is made completely custom to your specifications, or you're putting the finishing touches on a higher-end jacket at the tailor, it's a nice touch to ask for working cuffs and then leave one unbuttoned when you wear it as a sly-nod to other detail orientated dudes. No, they don't really have any use, but they do look extra sharp.

Also, a tip: if you're buying a lower-end suit jacket off the rack, always go with non-functioning cuffs. Some retailers pre-cut functioning buttons into their jackets as an attempt to mimic the quality of a custom number, but it's a short sighted move – it may impress you when you're trying the thing on, but it'll also make the cuffs very difficult to alter. Which means you'll spend a boatload at the tailor if you need to shorten, lengthen, or slim down the sleeves.

Shell Cordovan Leather

The type of leather you choose for your shoes, belts, and wallets can really make a difference. And there are all kinds of different grades, dying processes, and other factors at play to separate the good stuff from the great stuff. And at the very, very top of the "great" side is shell cordovan leather.

Made from a very small section of horsehide and named after the Spanish city of Cordoba, cordovan leather has been around since 711, when the Moors brought the technique with them upon invading Spain. The "shell" of cordovan shell leather is found when splitting the softer underside of the skin from the hair side, and typically the softest sections come from near the tail end of a horse.

The cordovan produced by the Horween tannery in Chicago, one of the country's oldest and most respected, is subjected to intense tanning treatments (including "hot stuffing," or the reintroduction of fats, greases, and oils to nourish the skin fibres) and is widely considered the world’s best. Beautifully smooth and soft, and typically with a reddish oxblood hue, this stuff is prized both for its lustrous beauty and its exceptional resistance to creasing. That means a good pair of shell cordovan derbys will stay dapper for decades, and can turn an everyday navy suit into nothing short of show stopping.

Of course, top quality means top dollar – and this stuff does not come cheap – but look after the leather, and you can enjoy your items for a lifetime.

Selvedge Denim

Ever noticed the little red line on certain jeans when guys flip the cuffs up? That’s the selvedge line, indicating that the jeans are made from selvedge denim.

Simply put, it serves as an indication that the denim has been woven on an old-school shuttle loom. Since the resulting fabric doesn’t have to have its edges overlocked to secure fraying, the selvedge line is added as a reinforcement. Jeans made from mass production projectile looms, on the other hand, don't have that line since the weaving technique is adjusted for a more quickly manufactured fabric.

It doesn't necessarily equal quality – you could weave low-quality fibers in a shuttle loom for the same result – but it generally indicates that a greater degree care went into a given pair's construction, and is mostly seen in jeans from smaller, quality-driven brands.

A red doted line along a white strip is the most common kind, but there are all kinds of color and style variations to the selvedge line, since a manufacturer can customize the look however they'd like. Flashing it by giving your cuffs a roll or two just so happens to look cool, while quietly showing that you care about how your denim was manufactured.

A Proper Watch Strap

In his 1964 book ABC Of Men’s Fashion, Hardy Amies suggests that a gentleman should always match the leather of his shoes with that of his belt, but if he’s "very natty," should also match the leather of his wristband. And while we tend to favor the newer, looser rules of matching your belt, shoes, watch strap, and whatever else, the man has a point. Consistency looks sharp.

The easiest way to achieve that is to set your watch up for a slip-through NATO or ZULU strap, and swap in a leather one of the proper color according to your outfit for that day. But if you want to buck that tradition, go bold with a nylon strap. Because they're so inexpensive, you can grab a bunch and swap them out at will, pairing your wrist with colored accents elsewhere in your outfit, or just offering a bright contrast to an otherwise low-key getup.

If you've got a two-piece or bracelet strap on your watch, you'll just need a spring bar tool to remove your existing strap. Once it's off, add the spring bars back onto your watch and it'll be ready for a slip-through band.

The Right Tie Bar

It's a simple, unfussy, but head-turningly stylish way to show you’re paying attention when it comes to suiting up. There are just two key rules you need to follow:

  1. The bar should go in between the third and fourth button of your shirt.

  2. Keep the tie bar’s size in conjunction with the tie. The slimmer your tie, the shorter the tie bar needs to be.

It'll hold your tie securely in place, obviously, which is good for when you're running to catch your commuter train or walking to lunch on an especially windy day. But more importantly, it adds a touch of panache to any shirt and tie combo, whether you're doing the full-on suit or something more casual, like a tie and an oxford underneath a denim jacket or shawl neck cardigan.

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