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Dear Circa-2003 Frank: Some Style Advice to Our Younger Selves

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Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

You know Frank—he's been writing about menswear, sales, television, new shops, the recession, Lisa Loeb, the Golden Girls and getting blasted for Racked for over a year. Well, we think it's time you got to know him and his quirky-irreverent views on life and fashion even better with his brand new column: Love, Frank. Taking the form of an open letter and always signed with love, Frank will rant about whatever style-related conundrum he encounters in a given week. So buckle your two-toned leather Moschino belts, folks, it's going to be ? Something.


Image via Le Pics

Dear Frank Circa 2003, Also: The Fashion-curious Male Youngs of Now,

Excuse us for addressing our previous selves—there's a lot going on right now, flooding us with foresight and memories and maybe some regrets. New friends, old friends, Fashion Week, Facebook, the Barneys Warehouse Sale, street style snaps of ourselves and of others, the fact that it was 60 degrees on Friday and now it's probably about 25 (at most), and the stunning, embarrassing fact that we have high-end dress shoes in periwinkle and olive and red and navy and mouse gray and turquoise and tomato red, but not a single pair in brown.

We're mulling over what to wear now and what to wear tomorrow; what we should've worn last week; what we should've bought four years ago.

Don't get us wrong: If we had to start our closets—our very style personas—from scratch, we probably wouldn't change more than a few things. We're pretty proud of the fact that most of the evolutionary stop gaps in our personal style biography avoided the overly-trendy; and that with the exception of some early thrifting-experimentation, designer denim madness and the churning cycles of how everyone's pants are supposed to fit, we'd pretty much still wear most of the things we've ever been pretty psyched on wearing.

Nonetheless, some advice—in case we ever get to do it all over again; or, more likely, for those of you who are doing all of it for the first time now—bless your youthful little hearts.

First, don't overdo it. We're not referring to looking a little crazy every now and then—we fully support that. Rather, if you're having a pique polo shirt moment, realize it's a mere moment. Sure, a red or navy or kelly or carnation Lacoste polo will never really be out of style and chances are these are pieces you'll go back to for years to come. That said, no-one needs those, plus turquoise and magenta and chocolate brown and orange and god knows what other colors, from not only Lacoste but Ralph Lauren and Fred Perry and Original Penguin, too. Further, you don't need a pair of canvas sneakers to match each and every said polo. One day you'll wake up and realize you haven't worn a single polo from your three crates of polos for about five seasons and they're taking up a ton space and all that money would've been better invested in an heirloom piece of some sort.

Which brings us to one white, spring-weight canvas-twill trench coat by Balenciaga that we didn't buy in 2006. It was marked down to $110. We thought it was impractical, we thought we couldn't afford it. And yes, a white trench coat is probably impractical. But we couldn't afford $110? What? That's two fewer polos or pairs of Vans. What we're saying is: Prioritize. You're never not going to be able to walk into a store and pick up an $80 polo shirt in any color ever; but a $110 Balenciaga trench? That's one in a million.

(Likewise the zebra-print ponyhair belt at Paul Smith—we think of these two items probably daily.)

Basically, if you see something you love, and it's not something you'll be able to pick up next month or next year, and it's of relatively negligible cost, just buy it. On the other hand: Don't buy it just because it's on super-sale. Especially if you're deluding yourself into thinking something almost-fits or almost-flatters. Whenever you're using "almost" as a modifier in a clothing store situation you should probably step back.

Finally: Aim to lead rather than follow—but don't over-lead, then it's costume (and chances are you'll see yourself in photos in five or ten years and you'll want to die). Just don't do anything that doesn't make you happy or inspire you or flatter you or complement you. Clothes should do all of those things! Clothes are fun! What better way do you have to express your you-ness than your clothes?

Sorry, Pollyanna moment ?

Just remember, you're wearing the clothes; it isn't the other way around. On the other end of the spectrum: You're not a kid or some business-casual office-dolt. No-one old enough to buy their own anything should be collecting things that don't flatter. Know if you can't wear orange; if crewnecks make you look like a pigeon; if shrunken suits make you look like Lurch; if you should be dressing to distract from gangly legs or big feet or a thick waist or narrow shoulders. How a person approaching 30 doesn't know that a certain color (personally, that would be tan, beige, most yellows, sky blue) makes them look like a cancer patient is absolutely beyond us.

And if you're really attracted to trying something that seems a little too crazy—florals, jewelry, anything from Pendleton, plaid pants, short-alls, tank tops, flip-glasses—just try it. A few years ago we gave up the ghost on ever looking normal, or truly on-trend. We embraced purple, we got into all-over embroidery, we determined that for us, maroon is a neutral. It's been a relief—we should've just let that fashion freak flag fly a whole lot sooner.

Anyway, there are two main archetypes of man-on-the-street fashion these days: The crepey, drapey, willowy fashion-goths who tell everyone what they're wearing is Rick Owens when more often than not it's probably just fast fashion womenswear with holes in it; and the urban woodsman—rustic Americana fetishists who wield iPads, small-batch espresso and locally-tanned leather belts like axes they don't need for the wood they never chop. Is it fashion? Meh, we don't really think so—seems a little canned to us, a little uninspired, a little taken at face value. We say do your own thing and do what makes you happy and you'll be fine (if that is indeed fashion-goth or rustic Americana, well, at least you'll have a really easy time shopping these days).

And to whoever ended up with our trench coat, well, we hope you're enjoying it and we're totally not jealous at all and it's obviously fine. We just hope it went to a good home.


· Love, Frank [RNA]