Add Style to Substance
Recently, while traveling via airplane, I came across a film I hadn’t seen in a while. Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011) It’s an amusing, and inappropriate film, where Steve Carrell plays a Dad who’s wife decides to divorce him after admitting she had an affair. This sends Carrell into a slump, making his already schluby appearance even worse.
He is rescued by Ryan Gosling, who plays a ladies man extraordinaire. He takes Carrell under his wing and teaches him not just how to speak to women, but also how to exude the same confidence and style he does.
It’s a very amusing watch, but hits a few cords of reality all too well. Most of us can readily admit we aren’t the “cool kids.” If you are an introvert with bookish tendencies, it is easy to become trapped in the script people expect from you. You wear shirts displaying comic book characters or polos with all the buttons buttoned (never really something which could be considered, “stylish”).
Rejecting the outside world out of hand, you exhibit disdain for the social elements which appear to come so naturally to others. Isolating within your niche interests you either become an outcast or incredibly uncomfortable in the company of others. I was this person, in many ways, I still am.
Substance over style was my general opinion. Knowledge is power. If I know more than others, I can be secure in my superiority over them. However, knowledge isn’t usually visible at a glance and butting into every conversation by flexing your intellectual prowess is considered condescending and arrogant. Eventually, it can begin to feel incredibly self-defeating.
Throughout my early teens, I consigned myself to being “uncool,” and allowed myself to be considered “uninteresting,” by most people. This changed the day I learned it didn’t matter if I wasn’t born looking like Cary Grant. The truth is style, charm, and sophistication are qualities which can be learned.
Plunging into research, I learned a few simple strategies which would allow me to mix more easily in the company of others. I don’t know if others would consider me “cool,” today, but I have heard I have “swag.” More importantly, I can enter a room without being an outcast. Instead, I enter almost any room with near complete confidence.
My personal goal for 2020 has been to get in great shape (think Daniel Craig as James Bond in Casino Royale). This is to the great amusement of my friends, because for most of my life I’ve avoided carrying anything heavier than a dictionary. It has been challenging, but just as enjoyable and essential.
When Theodore Roosevelt was a young boy, he was intelligent, asthmatic and frail. He studied birds and natural sciences intensely, a small frame supporting a wide grin and coke bottle glasses. His father approached him with weights and said, “You have built your mind, now you must build your body.” Advising the boy to put as much energy into his fitness as his intellectual pursuits. The result created a President who boxed with heavyweights while still in office.
Physical fitness is a value signal to other people around you, demonstrating by your posture and movement how you feel about yourself and your place in the world. The majority of people are insecure about their bodies. If you can walk into a room without that base insecurity, you are already ahead of everyone around you.
It’s also an opportunity to sink your teeth into the topic as an untapped well of knowledge you haven’t studied. Through learning the actual cause and effect of particular exercises, you can build a base understanding which makes the process more interesting and stimulating intellectually.
It is easy to fall into one of two categories: frail and skinny, or wide and fluffy. Either can be rectified with diet and exercise. There are ample videos, programs and educators on the internet sharing the basics with you for free, all it takes is a little effort and consistency.
Remember you can’t expect to go from schlub to bodybuilder in a week, or even a month. Even Chris Hemsworth didn’t even look like that right away. Building an aesthetic body, if that’s your goal, will take time. It’s also not the only goal.
Exercise causes the body to produce happy hormones like dopamine, which increase your confidence and stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain. The mere act of exercise will increase your confidence, potentially even making a marked difference when you interact with other people.
Learn to Articulate
Having something worthwhile to say means nothing, unless you can share it with other people. Being smart is fine, dandy, and completely useless when you cannot form sentences. The ability to communicate intelligently is becoming a rarer quality in life, regardless of IQ or interest.
Although hesitant to lay the entire blame at a modern age of texting, emoji’s, and short form communication, it does play an inevitable factor. If you spend your entire friendship communicating with small sentences filled with capitalized letters and tiny pictures, how well do you think real life conversation will work?
Conversation is a dying medium, and few there be who are still capable of being adequate in its essential function.
Becoming more articulate does not require going to an Ivy League school, or to studying under an ancient Athenian orator. It can be learned simply through a couple of quick tips:
- Build a robust vocabulary — Words are the building blocks of sentences, sentences the framework of conversations. The more familiar you are with a variety of different words and their nuances, the better and more artistic you can be in how you speak to others.
- Think before you speak — A relatively simple principle, but not often employed, even by those who think they are articulate. Don’t launch into a sentence without having a conclusion. If you speak, make sure there is a point and get to it.
- Be clear — Instead of being ambiguous in what you say, be direct. Use the words which focus your thesis pointedly, and say as little extra as possible.
If you have ideas worth sharing (and I hope you do), they are worth making an effort to share intelligently. You would be amazed at how shocked the common person is when they speak with someone who can present an idea thoroughly and clearly. Learning this alone will separate you from the babbling. Remember, you can be a genius, but unless your ideas are shared intelligently, no one cares.
Charm is a Matter of Attention
The word charm carries many connotations, many of them the erroneous impressions we get from people who use charm like oil to lubricate their flimflam machines. Charm is a quality every man and woman should attempt to cultivate in their day to day lives, and ignore at their own risk.
We are not born with or without charm, much like style, it can be learned and cultivated with a little time and attention. The first key is to forget charm as anything more than creating a positive impression on others with your presence and attention.
The people we find most charming are often those who make use feel like the smartest in the world. In his book, The Art of Seduction, Robert Greene illustrates the difference charm makes with an anecdote about Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone, both intelligent men who were once Prime Minster of England. “As one English Princess remarked, ‘When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.’”
It is through the quality of charm we can curtail the flexing of our intellectual muscles. Ignoring your intellect or knowledge is not the point, you should certainly feel free to use it, but not the point where it makes you a bore. In polite conversation, the goal should never be to appear the smartest person in the room, let others make their own judgements. Your goal should be to engage with others and let them feel smart in their own way.
Listening is the greatest gift anyone can give their fellow man. Everyone feels shortchanged by the attention spans of those around them, prove to them you are different by listening attentively and engaging in their interests. The key to being charming is really that simple.
Your presence can be found charming by patience, attentiveness, and at least an appearance of being without ego.
Style (the Fashionable Kind)
Unless I am mistaken, you probably have no sense of fashion or sartorial style (and you’re googling the word sartorial). That’s alright, I didn’t (and some argue still don’t). An easy way to start is to copy the fashion of the people, actors, or characters you respect or identify most with.
As a young man, I identified with Indiana Jones. Most of my wardrobe evolved into khaki, slacks, and leather jackets. It is a timeless look. Since I left my fedora at home most days, people didn’t immediately catch on I was aping Dr. Jones. Now, I still occasionally look like an archeologist after an ancient relic, but my personal style has grown from that point organically based on my own character.
Using a fictional character or actor you identify with to base your style on is a starting point, not the finish line. As time goes on, you learn what clothes or accessories suit you and your temper best. Which particular colors bring out the brightness in your eyes, or emphasize your better physical characteristics.
YouTube is an invaluable resource to learn more about fashion and style, for both men and women. Watching less than an hours worth of videos, you can upgrade your sense of fashion by leaps and bounds. Fashion can be compared to learning a language, once you know the words and rules of grammar, you can form sentences in the form of an appearance.
More Than Fashion
Let me break the bad news first. Wearing a suit, or even a tuxedo, will not instantly make you like James Bond. Wearing a leather jacket doesn’t instantly make you like the Fonz. Neither are out of your reach, but the clothes are not the key to reaching those heights, they are merely parts to the formula.
Clothes are essential in forming the appearance of style, but serve as an external indicator of internal qualities. Jeremy Black wrote in his book, James Bond and Politics, “Style meant competence, competence ensured style. Competence was enhanced by presence, the presence reinforced by the accoutrements and accessories of the Bond persona.”
If you meet James Bond dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, he’s no less James Bond than when he’s wearing a white tuxedo with a red carnation. The skills, abilities, and charisma haven’t changed despite the different wardrobe. This is because what makes Bond’s style is not only the clothes on his back, it is the result of his presence and persona which make Bond, James Bond.
Clothes and physical accoutrements can reinforce the external presence you want to project, but are nothing more than the dust jacket on a book. The right dust jacket will catch your eye and make you want to read, the words the book contains are what keep your attention.
Style is every bit how you behave and act as much as you dress. Which is why before we even mentioned clothes, we pointed to articulation and fitness. With those two elements as cornerstones of your character, the clothes and fashion become literal window dressing.
People who can walk into a room with complete confidence are often self-delusional or extroverts (not mutually exclusive qualities). When you’re introverted and bookish, it’s easy to feel sidelined by this expectation from others. Ignore the expectations and lean into your best qualities.
Your strength comes from a sense of knowledge and competency. When you enter a room take confidence from an assurance of articulation. You can talk to anyone about almost anything, listening is half the conversation anyway. Instead of being the weakest, you know you’ve made an effort to improve yourself through exercise in ways very few people try.
Here’s the million dollar secret to it all: don’t over think it.
I say that, with the express confession I over-think everything too often. The times when I am at the height of my charm, style and charisma is when I ignore the voices in the back of my head and I simply act. This isn’t a situation where the world rests on my shoulders. There are little to no consequences for my actions or words (providing I do nothing terribly insulting). No one will remember any of this tomorrow.
Adding style to your substance is worthwhile. Substance is a rare commodity in the world and it is a pity how much style exists without it. If you want to be like Frank Sinatra, or James Bond, the coolest person to walk into the room, you’ve already got the first step if you have the substance. Real style means the clothes come last, they are the wrapping paper for your attitude and approach.
If you enjoyed this article, check out my Podcast Suit Up Philosophy available wherever Podcasts are enjoyed. https://suit-up-philosophy-becoming-fit-for-every-opportunity.simplecast.com/