Tag Archives: dressed casual

Introducing the high-low style…

After spending a few days in Los Angeles last week I was reminded that it is one of the few major cities that is equally as casual as Vancouver. Don’t get me wrong; it’s most definitely a fashionable city but one that finds its voice from a very laid back place.

We in Vancouver share a very similar fashion DNA – comfort more often than not takes precedence though we’re looking to be on point and maintain a put together aesthetic.  Enter the high-low style.

What is the high-low style?

The high-low style is a concept were you take a fairly dressed up look and reduce its formality by pairing it with one or two distinctly casual pieces.  The most common method is to take a suit as the base and then reduce by way of your footwear – particularly via trainers.  The second element is often more subtle as can be seen in the images below.  On the left it’s the fact that he forgoes the tie yet buttons-up.  The hat also brings the look down one notch further still.  The fellow on the right uses a short sleeved cotton dress polo (a polo shirt with a dress shirt collar) in the place of a dress shirt to the same effect.

The high-low look

The key with both of these looks is that they aren’t far off being elevated back up the formal scale.  Change out the trainers for leather lace-ups and both guys are essentially back; add a tie to the guy on the left and he’s ready for the boardroom.

The concept came to my mind years ago as a way to describe how European women effortlessly walked this line; an aesthetic that was loosely referred to as casual chic at the time.  For me it was the ultimate because while it was clear that they weren’t trying to be dressed up they were most definitely fully put together.  This is a subtle but crucial difference.

Women's high-low style

Dressed up verses put together.

With menswear when you’re dressed properly it really comes down to nailing all the details.  A crisp, perfectly fitted suit; the polished lace-ups that perfectly compliment the color of the suit;  the socks, tie and pocket square that compliment both yet add a hint of punch to the look. Each individual piece needs to sync with one another and seamlessly bring the outfit together.

The high-low turns this on its head by implementing the one or two pieces from an entirely different stylistic place.  In the end it’s the lack of syncing up that adds visual interest and personality.  It’s completely put together and thought out though the feel and the intended messaging is totally altered.

Why do we use the high-low style?

For me it was the desire in my early twenties to go against my naturally preppy appearance.  I used trainers and sportswear pieces to change the feel – the goal being to look put together and fashionable but not overly polished.  Twenty years on and its still playing the same role for me in certain situations.

The same goes for Vancouver as a city – and while we’re at it Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.  We’re not the East Coast nor are we anything close to Europe.  We’re constantly wary of being overdressed and searching for ways to reduce formality.  The high-low style fits our scenario perfectly – thoughtfully put together but with a laid back west coast sensibility.

Loose rules.

Unstructured is easier.

There is a lot of buzz right now about unstructured jackets which is odd considering the Italians have used them for decades.  With a warmer climate the idea is to reduce as much excess bulk in the jacket as possible; removing a layer of canvas, reducing or remove padding in the shoulder all together and perhaps eliminate the lining.  This instantly gives a softer look and lighter feel while maintaining a sharp silhouette.  This is more casual in nature and simply more comfortable which is crucial in achieving a successful high-low.

Remember you’re not really wearing a suit.

If you were then you’d have proper dress shoes on and we wouldn’t be talking about the high-low!   With that in mind think of it as though you are wearing the pieces of a suit as opposed to wearing a suit itself.  It’s a subtle though very important distinction.

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As such feel free to un-tuck your shirt, play with the length of your pant hem, pair it with a bowler hat – generally express yourself any way that feels right.

When wearing a tie it’s all about the fabric.

Flying in the face of convention is an element of the high-low style.  That said you need to know where you can push the rules and where you can’t.   The tie creates a dangerous scenario – look at the two images below:

suits with trainers

I won’t mention the magazines that promoted these looks but essentially they said it’s okay to wear trainers with fully put together suit and tie looks – I disagree. The above images are of suits made from smooth worsted fabrics which represent the pinnacle of formality.  Simply changing out the shoes doesn’t achieve a successful high-low – if anything it makes a bit too try hard.  Avoid at all costs.

The images below however are a different case.

high-low style with tie

The difference is in the cloth – these two suits being made from cotton.  By reducing the formality of the cloth in the base suit you’re then able to play the high-low game while choosing to go with a tie.

Play around.

In the end it’s about delicately walking the line between the two levels of formality.  How you do that comes down to your personality as well the context that you’re dressing for.   The message you’re trying to promote in the tech sector is completely different than if you’re an advertising executive which is different still if you’re in the entertainment business.  The key is that you read the level of formality required for you field and start to play with it until you find something that works for you.

No doubt the high-low style takes a bit of trial and error and is higher on the difficulty scale than a lot of other looks.  Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions – you can also set up a free appointment to talk it through and see if we might be a good fit to work together.

Take care,



How To Nail Dressed Casual In 5 Steps

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Introducing Dressed Casual.

Vancouver is unquestionably casual when it comes to attire – the result being we perpetually feel on the verge of overdressing in a way you would never feel in Europe, New York or Montreal.  Suits are a daily ritual in certain sectors and remain appropriate in specific non-work situations but much more common is a dressed casual approach: especially in industries like advertising, technology, hospitality and real estate.  It’s a fully put together look but one that is firmly casual in its roots.

Oddly though the dressed casual look is way harder to pull off.  With a suit comes certain conventions that guide and keep you focused.  With dressed casual you’re walking a line between two styles – with this comes plenty of freedom and choice but more importantly ample opportunity to make mistakes.

Here are 5 keys to nailing the dressed casual look:

1.  Wear a jacket.

An odd jacket or blazer is the key to the dressed casual look – instantly you’re appearance is elevated a level.  Three keys in this:

The first is it’s an odd jacket – meaning the pants don’t match.  There should be no confusion thus the color, texture and pattern of the two need to be clearly different.  The second is cloth selection – smoother worsted wools are the most formal, flannels and textured wools are less so and then we have tweeds, linens and lastly cotton which is the most casual.  The last key is the jacket’s structure and length – a loose rule being the more unstructured and shorter the jacket the more casual it becomes so find the balance that works for you.

2.  Get the pants right.

Whether you’re wearing wool, cotton or denim it’s crucial to sync the fit of your pant to that of your jacket.  A jacket creates a long and lean silhouette – our pants need to do the same thing.  The most common error; too loose and too long.  We need room in the seat and quads as most of us sit for the bulk of the day.  What should be lost though is the bagginess that most guys wear from the knee down and the pooling that occurs on your shoe.  Trim it up.

3.  Wear a collar.

You would think this is obvious but I see a lot of jackets worn over t-shirts out there.  Without doubt a collar elevates your look to the next level – depending on execution it can lean towards a more formal look or it can be quite casual.  A warning though – a polo shirt doesn’t always count.  There is what I refer to as a dress polo and then there are golf shirts.  If your polo is like the one below then go ahead.

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4.  Mix and match.

This refers to texture of cloth, layers and a little bit of color – notice how that is listed last.  Color is often pushed as the first way to spice up your look – I couldn’t disagree more.  When used well color can definitely add to a look but it’s the blending and layering of different textures that makes things visually appealing.  In the images above and below you see exactly that – a cashmere sweater under a textured wool, flannel paired with a smooth worsted wool, cotton with a dressed up denim.  It’s the subtlety that is so crucial – play around a bit and learn what looks best to your eye.

5.  Shoes make the man.

The saying might be a bit over the top but shoes absolutely complete the finished product.  And with trimming down your pants and removing the pooling at your ankles your shoes are now prominently on display which means they cannot be an afterthought.  Suede chukkas, classic lace-ups, loafers – the ones shown are a just few examples of the options available to you.  Look for a post next week when I’ll go over the range of shoes you need to have on hand.  At a minimum though – keep them polished and well loved.

Take care – and as always if you have any questions don’t hesitate to get in touch.



Introducing dressed casual…


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Byron Peart of Montreal’s WANT showing us dressed casual at its finest.

The take away:

It’s about nailing proportion and texture.


This fellow has a completely different feel but it’s all the same – it’s simply about how he plays with proportion and texture.


In both cases it’s a rougher cloth for the jacket with a slightly smoother one for the pant – this textural difference instantly reduces the formality of the look but makes it visually very interesting.  As for proportion they’re the exact opposite; on the top it’s a shorter jacket with a roomier trouser with a very low crotch point.  The second image is a more traditional length jacket but in this case it’s paired with a lower rise trouser.  In their own way each guy is playing with a combination of formal vs casual proportions – in doing so each are achieving great results.

Let me know if you have any thoughts or questions…