Over the past year, I have had the fortunate opportunity to visit Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea on separate occasions for leisure. During each of my trips to these east Asian countries, I not only experienced a wholly different culture, complete with unique languages, customs, and foods, but also the distinct styles expressed by the people in each country.
I really did not know what to expect to see. I only knew what I had seen from music videos, film, and other entertainment sources, and we know what that can lead to. (A lot of assumptions and stereotypes) So, I went on these trips with an open mind, as it was my first time visiting Hong Kong and Japan, and I hadn't been to Korea since 1998.
In short, my mind was blown. The cities that I visited in these three countries were even more metropolitan than NYC and I picked up several tips on how to improve my own style, three of which I'll be sharing with you today.
#1. Tailor your style and your clothes - I noticed this trend in all 3 countries, but Hong Kong definitely was the most well known for their tailors that would custom design your suits, pants, dress shirts, and etc. for a super low price and in a record amount of time. Walking in the financial district, I saw so many well tailored business suits paired with a variety of dress shirts, ties, and dress shoes. I felt like I was in a scene from Mad Men, but in Hong Kong. If you ever go to Hong Kong, go to James Tailor and get your dress suits and shirts made there. They will measure you on the spot, let you pick out all of the colors and fabrics for your clothes and have it ready for you in one day, if necessary. I came home with 2 suits and 9 dress shirts for about $600 total.
The takeaway is that every single person just looked so well put together by eliminating any cases of ill fitting clothing, helping the already slim built folks look even leaner and taller than they already were. It really put out a powerful and confident image for these guys, and you can do the same.
#2. Kaizen - This is the Japanese word for "continuous improvement" or "change for the better". This is a philosophy that became popular after World War II in Japan and is still being used in many successful Japanese businesses such as Toyota. Until recently, Toyota production was known for their incredible attention to detail and the efficiency of their operations. They used the concept of Kaizen to monitor and evaluate every minuscule part of their operations to see what they could improve. However, this concept is not limited to just business practices in Japan. It is a way of life, if you will, that is even applied to one's own style. Some of the best people watching can be done in the several different neighborhoods of Tokyo, especially at night when the alter egos come out. In other words, the people of Tokyo seem to celebrate Halloween every night. During the day, everyone is sharply dressed for work in corporate business attire, but at night, their true fashion and style preferences come out like a katana out its sheath.
Guys were either dressed super metro, urban, or in j-rock (that's Japanese rock, Google some images and you'll be shocked and maybe even tempted to laugh, but over in that country, these guys score a TON with the ladies) all in one neighborhood on the same street. Not inside some special club or lounge that caters to a specific style or lifestyle. These guys were just walking around with their buddies or their girls dressed to the nines and they were in the clothing stores spending just as much, if not more time and money than their girlfriends, on picking the next best item for their wardrobe.
To truly become a sensei of your own style, you must continue to seek improvement. Otherwise, you'll become stale like an open bag of potato chips.
#3. Be Casual Chic with Layering - I arrived in Seoul, South Korea at the end of September, just as the weather turned from a scorching, humid summer to the brisk season of fall. I assumed it would still be warm so I made the dire mistake of not bringing a jacket with me. It was 40 degrees at night, so I immediately made my way to a department store to find not only a jacket to keep me warm, but also to check out the local fashion scene.
Now, in the female Asian community, Korean men are considered the hot commodity. Supposedly, they are taller, well-built, sensitive/romantic, and also the most masculine in terms of attitude and behavior. Thousands of women all over the world idolize Korean male movie, music, and soap opera stars for their looks and personas that they portray on the screen. They have even been dubbed as the 'Italians' of Asia by a Washington Post article that I read a few years ago. (link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/30/AR2006083002985.html)
I wanted to see if these guys lived up to the hype and to measure myself, a Korean-American, to their standards. Would it be an apples to apples comparison? Or more like an American pear versus Asian pear? In short, they lived up to the hype. When I was there over 10 years ago, I had not been impressed with the fashion as I felt that they were merely copying what the West was already doing. However, I believe now that they are way ahead of the game. They are the epitome of looking like they just came from a shoot for GQ or Esquire without being in a formal outfit. They are casual chic, if you will, by putting together a few pieces of clothing that are not only complementary to one another but also serve a practical purpose by being multi-layered. For example, one guy was wearing dark jeans, red high top sneakers, a matching belt, a black v-neck shirt as the first layer, a white cardigan that made his entire outfit pop, a silver grey military style jacket with red trim detail, a white and black houndstooth pattern scarf, and a red drivers cap to top it off. This was during the middle of the week at a coffee shop to meet up with some friends. His friends were just as casually decked out as he was. I had to ask myself if I was in the middle of a shoot for a scene from Zoolander. Now, if the weather had turned warmer, he would still have a great casual chic outfit after removing the hat, scarf, and jacket.
The key takeaway is this. You don't have to be wearing a tuxedo or a suit or any formal wear to look your best. Now that the hot summer weather has passed, take advantage of the cold weather to create even more versatile and diverse outfits by using some of your casual pieces for layering. You will look confident, relaxed, approachable, and fly like a G6.