Behind every great man is a great … wardrobe. Yes, it’s true — at least when it comes to the handsomely clad, professionally accomplished chaps in our new series, Dress for the Job You Want, which profiles more than a few good men who have proven that success is an equation of both substance and style.
They’ve cut their teeth in the fashion industry, climbed the corporate ladder, created their own companies, and conjured plenty of new ideas — and have looked damn good doing it. For these guys, dressing for the occasion is simply part of the gig.
But you don’t have to be a fully suited, buttoned-up show-off to stake your claim in the game, as suave subtlety often wins in the end. And, with our apologies to Mark Twain, it takes a lot more than just clothes to make the man. However, a good sartorial statement can go a long way when it comes to charting your career course.
Kirby Allison, founder of The Hanger Project, couldn’t be a more perfect fit for our next installment of the Dress for the Job You Want series. His grandfather’s mantra was always “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”
And we’ll just cut to the chase — for Allison, when it comes to dressing for the job, custom is the key word. But, in addition to precisely fitting, high-quality suits and apparel, he knows the power of properly caring for your wardrobe. In fact, he’s built his business around it with his luxury wooden hangers and other garment accessories.
You could say the seed was “sewn” when this finance and economics guy took a sharp left turn into a costume design class at the University of Texas at Austin. At the end of the course, he had successfully hand-made a suit jacket while acquiring a profound appreciation for the art of tailoring. When he could not find a single suitable hanger for his college graduation gift to himself — a custom suit — The Hanger Project was born.
Here’s what the impeccably outfitted entrepreneur had to say about dressing for the job.
The Cheat Sheet: What is your background and what led you to your current profession?
Kirby Allison: I have always had an obscure interest in quality and craftsmanship and have been fascinated by the nostalgia and tradition of bespoke tailoring and shoemaking. The fact that someone can have a relationship with a tailor or shoemaker that literally hand-crafts their garments the same way they did 100 years ago has always fascinated me — especially in this world of ready-made, low-quality garments that have no authenticity behind them.
CS: What do you love most about your job?
KA: I love the opportunity to travel throughout Europe meeting incredible, passionate artisans who are creating beautiful clothing. The Hanger Project is an opportunity for me to share this passion with my customers and to educate that proper care for clothing ensures that you can afford to invest in quality!
CS: Favorite part of your 9-to-5 day?
KA: Tough question! In addition to travel, of course, I love working at our office in Dallas, Texas and speaking directly to customers (I’m often learning something from them!). Helping with product photography is also very rewarding because it allows me to interact with our product. I also really enjoy filming our shoe care tutorials using our brand of Saphir Shoe Polish.
CS: Workday essentials?
KA: One of the greatest breakthroughs for me was when I started having my jeans custom made at 3×1 in New York. Dallas is so casual and I have two young children, so when I am working in the office here I’m normally dressed in a smart pair of “dress jeans” (as I call them), a custom shirt, maybe a sweater or jacket, and always a nice pair of dress shoes.
CS: How do you define your personal style?
KA: Understated elegance with a focus on tailored quality. Most everything I wear is either bespoke or custom—I would always prefer to have fewer pieces of a higher quality than more things of lower quality. I never try to dress in a flashy manner; subtlety is the key to being well-dressed. You want others to subconsciously notice your style without being distracting or standing out for the wrong reasons.
When in Dallas, I am rarely wearing a suit. Instead, I usually wear those “dress jeans” for a look that’s well put-together without being formal, which I like. When I am traveling, especially in New York, London, or Paris, I am always in a suit and tie. It’s one of the few opportunities I have to really break out the better pieces in my wardrobe.
CS: Why should all guys care about their personal style?
KA: Like it or not, and whether you know or agree with it or not, how you dress affects your identity. A man who dresses well is a man who respects not only himself but also those with whom he does business. When you are well-dressed, not only do you take yourself more seriously, but those that work with you take you more seriously.
CS: How do you view the relationship between your clothes and your career?
KA: In my industry, my wardrobe couldn’t possibly be more important to my career. I would not have any credibility with the people I work with — including some of the best bespoke tailors and shoemakers in the world — if I walked into a meeting with a suit that was poorly made or didn’t fit. My wardrobe isn’t what keeps people working with me — integrity and good character does this — but it is certainly gives me the upper hand when meeting someone for the first time.
CS: Do you believe that success and style go hand-in-hand?
KA: You can certainly be successful and have no style. After all, we all know plenty of people like this. However, I do think dressing well is an essential component of professional dignity and power. If two people are standing in the same boardroom, the better-dressed of the two — and I mean elegance, not fashion — will be the one who is taken more seriously from the beginning.
CS: Best career advice you’ve received?
KA: A career is built through relationships, not networking.
CS: Best style advice you’ve received?
KA: If you buy one pair of bespoke shoes every year in your 30s, by the time you are 40 you’ll never need to buy another pair of shoes for the rest of your life… think about it!
CS: What are your “style cheats”?
KA: Your shoes and watch are two of the most important components of your wardrobe and what people notice first. If you can’t afford a bunch of shoes, invest in one pair of really nice shoes — Allen Edmonds or better—and polish them regularly.
Next, figure out the lowest-common denominator of your wardrobe and invest in this. For me, these are my shirts. I can get away with wearing the same pair of jeans and shoes every day of the week if I am wearing a different, nice shirt.
Finally, it is critical to take care of your clothing. Invest in quality and take care of it. That means minimizing how many times you wash something or send it to the dry cleaners, polishing your shoes, and ensuring that your clothes are properly hung on a luxury wooden hanger!