Comedy director Paul Feig still remembers his first suit, a three-piece tan and gray plaid Pierre Cardin with a trés '70s wide lapel. "I looked like a million bucks in that suit," Feig beams, even if it was a bit much for a 9-year-old in Michigan. "I would just wear it into stores with my mom and people would laugh and I'd be like, 'Fuck you guys.'"
Feig's father owned a military surplus shop, which is why when he created the TV show Freaks & Geeks, he stuck star Linda Cardellini in an Army jacket. But though he grew up surrounded by camo, he refused to wear it. Instead, he laid back and dreamed of England, a place where men like John Cleese goofed around in tweed. "There's just nothing funnier than a crazy person in a conservative suit," Feig insists. "That's why so many comedians and talk show hosts wear suits and ties: you're dressed like an authority figure, yet you're doing anarchistic things."
When he met his wife, his former manager Laurie Karon, they bonded over Britain -- she loved tea and crumpets, he loved Monty Python and menswear. But he didn't fully embrace his inner fashionista until his thirties when he decided he was tired of being the schlubby writer in the studio boardroom. Now, he's the best dressed man everywhere he goes: on set directing Arrested Development, Bridesmaids and The Heat (now out on DVD), taking meetings as an executive producer on The Office, or just grabbing a cup of coffee.
Not that it's hard to out-dress many people in Los Angeles, the capital city of what Feig calls America's Tyranny of the Casual. "If you dress up, it's looked upon like you're trying too hard, or you're pretentious. You're the only one in a nice restaurant in a suit, you look like a rube," sighs Feig. "It's really sad because I just think guys look better in suits--you have to be really fit to look good in a t-shirt."
Besides, in a city of nearly four million, why waste time looking ordinary?
"Life's too short," Feig insists. "There's too many of us on the planet to go, 'Eh, I'm just going to blend in.'" Convinced? Here, in Feig's own words, are 11 Tips for how to be a British dandy in L.A. -- with no pubs allowed.
WHERE TO SPLURGE: Ralph Lauren has always been one of my favorite places, the one on Rodeo. They're American, but oddly with a British influence, too. When American fashion was a little more influenced by that in the '30s and '40s, that same world. It is a very American brand, but I'd be curious to talk to him someday -- I hope I do -- and see how much he's influenced by the British sensibility. I've never been a big Fred Segal fan -- Fred Segal never made sense to me. There was a time I'd go into their showrooms and be like, "I don't even know what these are?" There were shirts that didn't make sense. They'd have big necks and one arm was missing. You didn't know which way to wear it. Everything was like that. Was I losing my mind?
OR SHOP ON A BUDGET: There's a Brooks Brothers suit I bought -- those are very affordable suits -- in a Milano cut and it is tailored better than some of my Saville Row suits. For whatever reason, whoever they designed it on is the exact body type that I am. You have to know the cuts. They have a bunch of cuts now -- I forget the names of them -- but the one I like is the Milano cut, which is thin and the most European. Then there's the Fitzgerald, which is based on John Kennedy's suits. It's like a '60s thing, but a little earlier. Then there's a Madison cut, which is roomier still, and then there's a Cambridge, which is big. I think they made the names all sound classy. Some of their stuff is too conservative for my taste, but I do like a suit that's just a normal suit, and then you can dress it up with other things.
GET TAILORED: You have to get it right. You don't want the coat falling off the shoulders, you don't want a collar gap in the back. I'm obsessed with collar gap because it's the one thing that tailors don't catch -- it's when the suit jacket is standing away from the neck. It all has to fall forward. It's the hardest thing to solve. Vests, they try to make them roomy for when you sit down, but when you stand up, you look terrible. It's gotta be the perfect fit: just tight enough to hug you, but you can still breathe.
GRAB A TIE: I pick up ties everywhere. I love ties. The only thing is you need to make sure they're well-constructed. Cheap ties don't tie well. Look for the way it holds its shape. If it's too thin, it won't knot properly. You'll get these weird creases or one side will be wavy. It needs some heft within it. I don't know how they construct ties, but it needs some canvas or a some kind of a structure in the middle of it to keep it together. Silk will fall apart. If it's too silky, it's a mess. I actually have expensive ties I bought where later it's like, "This is a terrible tie."
THINK COLOR: I have a lot of different ways of doing it. If I find one palette, I feel like I can mix and match a bunch of different patterns that I wouldn't usually mix. But if I want some color, then maybe I'll go for a more muted look and let one thing pop: A shirt's going to pop, but the tie's going to be normal, or a shirt's going to be normal and the tie's going to pop. I experiment, though. Sometimes I do things that are a little more "Wow!" and my wife will go, "You're right on the edge." There's also colors that you can and can't wear. Lime green -- greens in general -- I can't just because of my complexion. You figure that out through experimentation, or getting the opinion of a good salesman or a good style person.
RECYCLE: I just like to have a lot of pieces. I always keep old suits and I don't like to get rid of old ties and old shirts. I drive my wife crazy, but I never know when I'll think, "You know what? This would be awesome with this." It's fun in the morning. It's like having cut-out dolls. And I'll try something and it won't work, but other things I'll think, "This might be crazy, but I dig it."
ACCESSORIZE: I'm way into wearing bowlers. I love them. In my lapel, this is just a silk knot. Normally, it's used as a cufflink -- I stole this look from a producer for the new Esquire channel. I was like, "That's the greatest idea ever." It's really fun. I have a bunch of colors and it's just an extra thing. I wish I could take credit for it. I've got my wedding ring, and then this signet ring that I always wear with my initials. The "S" is for "Samuel," my middle name. It's one of those things where if I don't have it on, I feel completely naked. Occasionally I'll forget it and it's like, "Somebody's gotta get home and get my ring!" And then there's an old Rolex that I bought in London years ago. I was never a Rolex guy, and then somebody knew a place where I could get a discount and I really just fell in love with it. James Bond always wore one. His was a Submariner, mine is a GMT II. And I like a metal band versus a leather band. Leather bands, you sweat in them and they don't sit as well because they have a natural bend to them.
STAY GROOMED: I go to a guy who I've been going to forever named Koji. He's on Sunset and Plaza Drive. I'm not a neat hair guy -- my hair's always kind of a bit of a mess -- but I've never been able to pull off the unshaved thing. I think you can do that when you're younger, but you get to a certain age when your beard starts to get splotches of gray, and then you look like a homeless guy.
KICK BACK IN STYLE: I love the Beverly Hills Hotel. To me, that's like how life should be. It's just beautiful inside and there's a good ethos there. I'm a big fan of hotel bars and that kind of thing because you can get away with more -- it's more of a melting pot. My favorite place is to go to the Polo Lounge and get the steak tartare. That's old school, like getting Oysters Rockefeller. Downtown has really cool places now. Seven Grand, that's awesome. I'll do a manhattan, and I love single malts. But if I have to pick, it's going to be a martini -- a real martini, not a vodka martini. I like that dark wood, red leather kind of thing. I live by the Smokehouse, and I love to go there for a drink. What I don't go to are, generally, British bars because they're much more about British sports. It's more guys in soccer shirts and there's always a TV -- TVs have ruined bars.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE: It's a fine line between having a style and doing something experimental, and looking like you're wearing a costume. That's the hardest thing. When we did the London premiere of The Heat this summer, I wore one of my Saville Row double-breasted, pinstripe suits and a bowler hat with one of my walking sticks. I really liked the way it looked, but one reporter was like, "Oh, you're dressing like a stereotype of an Englishman, I see." And I realized to him, he thought I was making fun of him. Like if a British man showed up to an American premiere dressed as a cowboy.
KNOW THYSELF: But at the end of the day, if you're really honest with yourself, the biggest problem is that people don't look at their head when they put on an outfit. This is where I think a lot of older guys go off the the rails because they try to dress young -- say, those poor guys with the young, hot trophy wife or girlfriend. This one guy I saw a number of years ago, he was in his fifties and he was wearing this crazy white suit that was all torn up with these white, frayed things. A guy in his twenties could barely pull that off. God bless him, he looked happy with what he was wearing. Still, it's good to get attention, but it's not good to get a laugh. It's like when I used to wear a jean jacket. I was looking at pictures of really good-looking, mid-twenties guys with scruffy beards and going, "That's cool!" But if I looked at my middle-aged head sitting on top of that, it doesn't match. A lot of times, style is ironic: "I'm dressing this way so you know that I don't mean it." The Hawaiian shirt has come and gone and come and gone. You've got to consider the entire package and think, "That looks awesome--but how would it look with me in it?"
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