When it comes to clothes shopping, like most 40-something British blokes, I’m challenged. My wardrobe is comfortable. I wear my favourite Diesel jeans until they are threadbare. When I’m in the States, I bulk-buy white Calvin Klein T-shirts and boxers, which quickly become a sad shade of grey. In short, I’m fashion-phobic. But I’ve come to Los Angeles, the land of retail. This city is loaded with celebrities dressing up and down in high style, trying to out-rank each other with the season’s latest look. Much of the city is one sprawling mall and with so much choice, where do you begin?
I’m lucky. I’ve been offered help from Ugly Betty stylist Tom Broecker. Tom’s credentials are stellar. He’s dressed every A-list celebrity in Hollywood from Ashton Kutcher and Jake Gyllenhaal to Halle Berry and Paris Hilton. As well as working on Ugly Betty, Tom was costume designer on the latest hit US import 30 Rock, starring Alec Baldwin. Heck, he’s even got five Emmy award nominations for styling under his belt, so there must be help for me.
Tom suggests meeting at Fred Segal in Santa Monica. Quaking at the thought of meeting an uber-stylist, I pull on my Diesel jeans and the stripey shirt I wear for best. I arrive early but can’t even windowshop – this joint is so hip the windows are blacked out. I end up pacing anxiously. Tom arrives looking the epitome of cool, casually wearing jeans and a grey and black polo shirt. Even his trainers, sorry, sneakers, are scuffed in just the right way.
He looks at me with dismay. What you have to understand about fashion is that it makes a statement, Tom explains. You have to be selective. Clearly I’m not. We head into the store. It’s a maze of boutiques, designer concessions, a wide range of vintage and even couture. Seeing the overwhelmed look on my face, Tom says, he wanted to show me this store because when you know what suits you, this sort of place can become fun. It’s where Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney shop.
For those lacking in fashion confidence, Tom thinks the best plan, at first, is to stick to department stores, and Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys and Neiman Marcus, are all situated within three blocks in Beverly Hills. If you only have time for two, then Saks and Barneys are best, says Tom. ‘They’re vast, never busy during the week especially during your lunch hour and if you get stuck, they all offer free personal shopping.’
We begin in Saks. Tom whisks up the escalator to the first floor where we hit the business suits. ‘The look is dark, so we can go navy, black or grey,’ he points out. ‘Don’t even think about brown – it’s just so last year.’
We walk past labels like Brioni, Brunello Cucinelli and Kiton but Tom reckons the best classic business suits on the market for men over 40 are currently by Ermenegildo Zegna. ‘Zegna suits are well-made and have excellent tailoring that hide a lot,’ he confides. ‘Always opt for a jacket with a vent at the back – this can conceal a big butt. And if your middle is spreading, a pleated front can disguise too many working lunches.’
I try on a navy blue suit, which Tom teams with a pale blue shirt and dark blue tie. ‘What’s great about Zegna is that you can dress it up with a tie or wear it casually with an open-neck like Daniel Meade in Ugly Betty. Navy is better than black or grey for disguising. And brown shoes are a perfect contrast.’ I thought brown was out? ‘No. Brown shoes, belts and other accessories are fine, just don’t wear it as a block of colour.’
Next we head to suits by Gucci, Jil Sander and D&G. ‘This is the younger end of suits and also where you find the widest range of denim,’ says Tom. ‘Forget Diesel – there are far hipper labels such as Acne, Ksubi, Earnest Sewn and True Religion that still offer comfort yet look stylish, even if you’re not stick thin.’
Next up is Barneys and a department store called Men’s Furnishings. This turns out to be cuff links, ties, umbrellas and hats. Tom says scarves are going to be the big thing for men this summer. Really? ‘They add colour to any outfit and are really hip. But if that feels too scary, a good alternative is a brightly-coloured polo shirt to give your summer wardrobe a shot of oomph – try ones by Tim Hamilton or Marc Jacobs.’
The summer trend this year is white. ‘White denim, white suits – especially linen,’ he muses. ‘Anything goes really.’ Now if you don’t want to go the whole way, try wearing light-coloured shoes – something in two-tone brown and white.’ I’m not bold enough for white so we move swiftly on.
Tom decides it’s time for Maxfield on Melrose Avenue. ‘This is where you can buy rock-chic LA style and is a favourite of Elton John, Madonna and Seal.’ Maxfield resembles an art gallery from the outside, with large concrete sculptures. The interior contains a mix of colourful items by Gucci, Marni and Dior, with customised vintage pieces that are eye-catching to say the least.