n (sartorial) retrospect, Matt Bomer’s rakish turn as suave con-man turned F.B.I. criminal informant Neal Caffrey in USA’s (criminally) underrated White Collar (2009-2014) not only cemented his leading man status but also helped usher into existence a bonafide style icon — a contemporary challenger to the likes of Harvey Spectre and Don Draper — whose characteristic penchant for classic Rat Pack-inspired aesthetics and fine bespoke tailoring has proven to be a noteworthy source of inspiration time-and-again for those drawn to his unique stance on classic 1950s’ and 60s’ formal elegance done up with a modern sensibility.
Now as for Mr. Caffrey in and of himself as a (fictional) gentleman and style icon, you could say that he is a man of truly aspiring sartorial fortitude whose complete ease and comfort in his own skin is at once immediately apparent, enviable and highly commendable (especially when you take into account that he is master to his wardrobe rather then slave to it as a result). Moreover, as an infamous con-man — and international art thief, racketeer and forger — it stands to reason that he is also a naturally gifted crowd pleaser whose chameleon-esque wardrobe, unwavering level of self-belief and characteristic charm, charisma, and social intelligence (i.e. disarming smile, craft, cunning, and tact) make for the type of well-rounded, romantically tinged Renaissance-man persona that I imagine many a gent (secretly) wishes they could call their own.
In such a manner having been cut from that rarified cloth of individuals who immediately draw attention (and turn heads) no matter where life takes them (for Neal that is his home base in Manhattan, New York right through to the Cape Verde Islands), Neal’s polished style is reflective of his social standing and arrives courtesy of an inspired mid 20th-century through-the-looking-glass view of the world whose residual effects become quickly apparent within the context of his ‘mid-century gone modern’ classic manner of dress.
That having been said, Neal’s refined sartorial persona is anything but boring, an empty carbon copy of one of his icons — who, as it were, range from Cary Grant and Alain Delon through James Dean and the Rat Pack (amongst many other sartorial luminaries from the 40s’, 50s’ and 60’s) — or a superficial facade in which he has erected to disguise a lack of personality or characteristic substance; On the contrary, what Neal wears, and how he carries himself, each speak uniquely to who he is as a man and came to be as a direct result of costume designer Stephanie Maslansky understanding the character and his tastes to a tee and subsequently taking to the task of marrying the wardrobe staples from those eras in which she imagined would best suit him (i.e. his suits, fedora, footwear) with that of his aspirational outlook on life (i.e. his luxury lifestyle) and his distinctive modern tastes in style on route to crafting a completely authentic and endearing look that is an honest reflection of the man underneath the attire — worldly, confident, romantic, rakish…and flawed (as we all are).
Neal is, after all and underneath the con-man veneer, a gentleman of style and substance who always puts his best foot forward, wears his heart on his sleeve, and keeps his best laid plans close to his (finely tailored) vest — an enticing characteristic proposition to any discerning eye to be sure.
Be that as it may, it should go without saying that at the end of the day what he seemingly lacks in scruples he more then makes up with his incredible dress sense, his glowing personality, and his true sense of occasion (the latter being somewhat of a dying art as we speak).
He understands, after all, that the way we dress, as well as the way others tend to judge and take account of how we present ourselves, has profound effects in both altering perceptions and (often) changing the course of our professional, private and social lives.
Insofar as such, Neal and Peter’s (his FBI handler) high-stakes exploits make as much for an enticing character study in both the life-altering powers of personal style and individual perception as they do for an engrossing viewing pleasure that simply delights and entertains.
All that having been said, and in taking full stock of his glamorous Manhattan townhouse existence, his engaging cat-and-mouse subterfuge with Peter, and his intoxicating lifestyle and treasure hunting exploits, it is, without a shadow doubt, Neal’s wardrobe that ultimately proves the star of the show when all the dust settles (even if ever so slightly).
And, what can Neal teach the average gent — those without his incredible good fortune (meeting June), good looks, infamous skill set (purportedly scamming well north of $1 billion in stolen Nazi war loot) and resourcefulness — about making a lasting first impression, the power of signature pieces, and the critical importance of personal style?
Well, for starters here’s a succinct dossier on the highly covetable styling habits of the man himself, four inspired looks of his to channel today, and (to top it all off) a variety of sartorial musings and lessons from the series that illustrate what he can teach a modern gentleman about style…
VII (Club Monaco or H&M) | VIII (Thomas Pink) | IX (Suitsupply or Tie Bar) | X (Reiss) | XI (Santoni)
8. The dressing robe is a quintessential piece of gentlemanly leisurewear (i.e. being off the clock needn’t mean letting your style slip)
9. The Rat Pack are (and will likely forevermore remain) enduring style icons
10. The dress shirt is, unlike the suit, the best place to experiment with prints and checks (i.e. to inject character into a classic look)
11. Your style (and wardrobe) should play off as an honest reflection of the man you are (or fancy being) in that it instantly conveys to the world (i.e.makes the first impression) who you are as an individual, what your values and tastes are, and often the level of confidence, ease in your own skin, self-respect and pride you have in your appearance.
12. An attention (or lack thereof) to detail can make or break any look (i.e. the devil is in the details)
13. Every gentleman should have one signature (whether statement-making or subdued) accoutrement to call his own that people can immediately identify him by
14. A fine-gauge turtleneck (i.e. rollneck) works (and looks smashing) year-round
15. Dressing the proper part (i.e. always following dress codes and opting for appropriate attire) can open up unexpected doors & get you into most anywhere (it helps bring success in life)
16. Learning how to dress for the season at hand (or rather the climate in your locale) by means of rotating your wardrobe and investing in fabrics that befit the season (i.e. linen in summer; wool in winter) is an essential (and critical) skill that will allow you to comfortably cut a dash from January right through December with panache (much alike Neal)
17. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your accessories (within reason) as they are what will give an average outfit the lift it needs to reach the next level (or simply help get you out of a style rut)
18. And last, but certainly not least, a gentleman always wears his clothes, they never wear him (i.e. Style is all about comfort, fit and compatibility not flashiness and wearing designer labels)
An immediately identifiable, completely relatable, utterly adaptable state of classic dress that he effortlessly pulls off with aplomb while imbuing with charm and distinctively marking with refined panache.
Inasmuch, the best way to describe his style would be mid-century gone modern seeing as it marries his contemporary styling sensibilities and the classic 50s’ euro flair of Messrs Cary Grant, Marcello Mastrioanni and Alain Delon (seasonal tailoring, knit polos, etc.) to that of the rugged yet refined (Preppy-Americana) leanings of icons the likes of James Dean, Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman (think cable-knit cardigans, denim, etc.).
As such, you could say Neal’s unique style finds its characteristic balance — as well as its enduring strength and draw — not solely in its richness of quality or cost but rather in its traditionally neutral tonal harmony (i.e. universally flattering grey/charcoal with reds, tonal blues, browns with white, all-blacks, stripes on solids, etc.), flattering fit, professional uniformity, and subtle statement-making discourse (i.e. his hats and accessories do most of the talking).
Purposefully devoid of anything loud (i.e. bright oranges, yellows, etc.), graphic (i.e. trendy prints; animals), gaudy (i.e. logos) or overly ostentatious (i.e. gold chains or oversized watches), his wardrobe is consequently one more-or-less defined by its fine rotation of fitted classic (two and three-piece) suits, retro knit polos, vintage skinny ties and rakish fedoras — the latter of which is his characteristic signature.
Be that as it may, and granted you don’t have a life-altering, serendipitous meeting alike Neal’s yourself that lands you a bespoke wardrobe in one fell swoop, Neal’s rich tastes and style can indeed still function as a sartorial reference point for any and every sort of gent no matter his budget seeing as there are realistic (i.e. considerably more affordable) alternatives to his bespoke staples available everywhere in this day and age — including those provided/illustrated above (with accompanying shopping links).
Everything from variations on his dressing robes through his suits (made-to-measure is a sound alternative to stand in for his bespoke creations) can be had from a variety of brands — from both those, like Thomas Pink, who outfitted Neal in the show to many like-for-like alternatives — who each offer a take of his everyday core staples in an enterprising range of price vantages that will benefit most any budget.
Inasmuch, Neal’s style is, much like the timeless icons of the sleek 50s’ and 60s’ aesthetic that inspired his wardrobe and characterization, aspirating yet attainable as well as luxe yet wearable — so proceed accordingly.
All that having been said, my final piece of advice would be, should you choose to take up cultivated arms in a sartorial manner alike Neal’s that is, to seek out the signature staples in his wardrobe that not only best reflect your tastes but that you could comfortably say would play off as a seamless extension of who you are as a man and simply make them your own.
For you see, and if there were but one takeaway style lesson to glean from Neal, (it is that) you can wear most anything (i.e. even a bolo-tie if so inclined) given you have the confidence to do so and feel both natural and comfortable in your own skin in due process.
Neal’s style is, after all, as much about balancing comfort, taste and compatibility as it is about having a charming characteristic joie de vivre and real sense of occasion attached to it that together help elevate it to being (subjectively) timeless and unassailable in both its enduring sartorial merit and universal appeal.
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