The style lessons to learn from Ralph Lauren

The style lessons to learn from Ralph Lauren

We look back at the American fashion icon’s most important advice...

Ralph Lauren. After more than 50 years at the top of the fashion business there are few people unfamiliar with his name - or the impressive style empire he has created. Lines bearing his name run the gamut from socks to tuxedos and are present in practically every well dressed man’s wardrobe. It’s safe to say, then, there’s little he doesn’t know about great style - and there’s much we can all learn from him. We’ve delved into the archives and unearthed Ralph Lauren’s most important style lessons…

“I have always felt that a man’s watch was his most personal accessory”

Ralph Lauren has a famously impressive watch collection spanning platinum Cartiers, vintage Panerai Luminors and IWC pilot’s watches from World War II but, he says, his love for watches has much more humble beginnings. “The first watch that really left its mark on me was one my father wore when I was a child. It was nothing fancy, but it was always on his wrist.”

Accordingly when it came to creating his own collection he was motivated, not by investment value or mechanical complications, but by what spoke to his own tastes and personality. “There were many watches that I was drawn to and collected. Some of them were built for utility, others for pure elegance, but for me a watch, like a car, has a very specific purpose — and the craftsmanship involved was always inspiring,” he explains. “The romance comes from the wearer: the aged patina of a leather strap that has been handed down from father to son; the watches that were worn by charismatic personalities incorporating them into their personal style.” So next time you’re searching for a new watch, don’t worry too much about what you should have and invest, instead, in the piece that really speaks to you.

“Take things from different worlds”

While the Ralph Lauren brand may have become synonymous with a quintessentially American preppy style, when it comes to his own wardrobe - and designs - Lauren himself draws on a much wider pool. “I’m taking things from different worlds – military, safari, Western, English riding – they’re all romantic stories,” he explains. “When I’m working on a collection I’m thinking of different people, characters, movies, books.”

And so it should be with your own wardrobe. While there are certain timeless pieces that will always look good don’t be afraid to experiment, borrow ideas from stylish men you admire and reference looks from films and TV shows. Think of your wardrobe as something that’s constantly evolving and your style will always be fresh.

“Good taste can be boring taste”

Some things will never go out of style. It goes without saying that beige chinos, navy cashmere and white shirts will always look good - but that doesn’t mean that’s all you should ever wear. Speaking to Town & Country in 2018, Lauren advised, “Good taste alone is not going to build a company that lasts for 50 years. You know, good taste can be boring taste, and classics can be uninteresting. If all I had was good taste, people would say this is just an old man designing clothes. I try to make things that are fresh and different, even if they are inspired by classic things.”

As with most things, great style thrives on variety and diversity - no icon ever worse the same thing every day. If you’re stuck in a style rut, trying on a different fit, fabric or colour can be all it takes to breathe new life into your style.

“Nobody is impressed with elaborate clothes any more”

Speaking to the New York Times in 1974, Lauren had the foresight to predict the coming democratisation of fashion. “A man doesn’t automatically have class because he wears custom-made suits,” he explained. What Lauren was arguing for was not the removal of quality craftsmanship - his brand has produced more than a few custom made suits in its time - but for an approach to style which isn’t restricted by certain brands or price points. For Lauren, when it comes to style, comfort is important above all else and this comes from being yourself. If you feel at home in head-to-toe Savile Row then great - but jeans can look just as good too.

“Nothing that's good is ever out”

The modern fashion system may be driven by seasonal trends and a constant chase for the new and innovative but, as Ralph Lauren told Oprah Winfrey in 2002, he never throws anything away. “Nothing that's good is ever out,” he explained. “The older items look better years later. That's when someone will say, "Where did you get that?" Because it's not made anymore, it becomes more valuable. The only things you should ever give away are those that aren't flattering.”

It is inevitable that a style you love will eventually fall out of fashion. But it is just as inevitable that it will eventually come back in as well. If you’ve invested in a good quality piece which fits you well, hang on to it. Lauren isn’t advocating that you wear it year after year (it will eventually become dated) but it will be waiting for you and looking better than ever when it does become stylish again.

Become a Gentleman’s Journal member. Find out more here.