“You don't have to cut your ear off to get noticed, but it can't hurt,” a New York gallery owner once told a young exhibitor.
Fashion has changed but the rules haven't — creative artists who want to make it big need to balance looking good with looking different.
Ripped jeans and black T-shirts will only get you so far before people start to dismiss it as the uniform of the dilettante amateur.
Whether you're a novelist, a painter, a musician, or something so ground-breaking, there isn't even a word for it yet, we recommend you borrow a few pages from the classic menswear book and play with them to make a style that's unique and still sharp-looking:
Mix & Match Aggressively
Don't feel like you've sold out to The Man if you keep a couple suits tucked away in the closet. You can wear the jackets with jeans, the trousers with turtlenecks, the coat from one with the pants from the other, or any other combination that leaps out as different but dressy.
Versatile pieces obviously serve your wardrobe best, so we'd recommend staying away form single-purpose items like a double-breasted suit jacket. A looser fit means you can layer more, but be careful of anything that makes you look slumped or saggy.
Dress Down, Not Lazy
There's a world of difference between a man who dressed down for an occasion and a man who didn't dress up for i. A creative artist who didn't take the time to be creative with his clothes isn't going to look like an artist worth investing in — that's just the harsh reality of an image-driven industry.
Having an aggressively casual style is fine as long as it's clearly affected, but it can't look like you're just wearing the same clothes you've thrown on every morning since undergrad. If you're going to wear jeans and an untucked dress shirt, wear a shirt with an unusual pattern or color.
If you're tucking a shirt into a pair of light-colored slacks, slip on a decoratively-tooled belt with a fancy buckle to set yourself apart from the cubicle dwellers. Overall just be sure that every outfit includes at least one detail which has to be deliberate, and not just a product of what was clean that morning.
Stand Out When You Dress Up
Ideally you're going to make it so big that you're getting invited to gala openings, charity dinners, what have you. Don't worry too much about blending in at these.
Wealthy patrons invite artists to show them off, so you want to stand out in the crowd. At an event listed as black tie you'll want to follow the basic black tie guidelines, but dress it up with a personalized touch like a colored boutonniere or pocket square (only one colored accent, though — the rest should be black and white).
For less formal events when the majority of the crowd is wearing business suits, you can safely assume that most of them will be in either dark gray or navy. Choose another color to stand out.
Dark brown or dark green are both relaxed, approachable-looking colors that don't appear all that often, so either one is a good choice for your go-to suit. Some minimal patterning is acceptable, but overdoing it risks making you look like someone that doesn't understand dress rather than someone who wants to stand out.
A great deal of an artist's fashion is going to be dictated by the local scene, and there's nothing wrong with that. The key is to remember that blending in with your fellow artists is just as uninspiring as blending in with the rat race, and following the counter-culture trends will achieve exactly that.
Rely on a good fit and interesting combinations to make you stand out in a crowd and you should have no trouble convincing everyone you meet that you have the eye and the taste of an artist — all without cutting your ear off.
Need tips on how to follow a certain dress code?
Check out our article on 7 Levels Of Dress Code Etiquette | Black Tie | Business Casual | Ultra-Casual Menswear Chart