There are many subversive ways to tell someone that you don’t think they’re good enough. Like when a family member (who you haven’t seen in years) decides to pat your ass to tell you that you’re getting a little thick. Or when a friend goes off on her man at the dinner table (in front of all her friends) for chewing with his mouth open “like a friggin’ pig.”
Or even more subtly, when we tell a man who loves his worn sneakers and extra large jeans that he needs to dress better. That he must represent himself ‘like a man’ and find a style that will make him stand out amongst his peers. Quite often, especially in American culture, we find it important to hold each other up to the standards of the images that surrounding us. And for men in particular, that message is attached to the suggestion that no one will take him seriously until he syncs up to the hunks we we see in ads, television and the movies.
And it’s not entirely untrue; studies have shown that our fashion choices do play a large role in the success we can accumulate. Like many first impressions, it can tell a story of who you are and how you think of yourself in the larger context of society. But consistent feedback of not being good enough can also debilitating. I mean, why jump through hoops to be a part of a world who doesn’t think you are good enough as you are?
“Because who doesn’t feel good when they look good? Come on!” Says Vince Zo, a menswear accessories designer who’s hell bent on helping more men find a stylish look that works for them. His own personal style is one that’s both handcrafted and tested through hellfire. “I’ve always been true to myself – I have never drank the Kool-Aid and I want to give that message to the rest of world,” In fact, his own line started back in 2014 because he was “sick and tired of the frumpy shit that was out there!
“And I was also encountering a lot of people who were hiding behind their clothing and their careers, and let their life define them — they don’t define their own life. And I really believe you’re born a blank canvas, as cliche as that sounds. And you’re born to create this beautiful painting. Or else … what’s the point of being here.”
It’s an attitude that’s caught the attention of many celebrity clients who love Vince Zo’s bad boy sense of style. Even Ski Johnson, the world-renowned saxophonist has been spotted wearing a Vince Zo bowtie to two White House Correspondents dinners. It’s a look, the designer says that asks a man to take a risk. A risk to explore the depths of himself and invite the world to meet it — bones, scars and all.
“When you take The Great Gatsby and the Aviator, The Frank Sinatra era and The Rat Pack, all those guys were bad asses,” he says. “And that was never really shown on the surface. Like people associate being a rebel with mischief and promiscuity — but there’s still a positive message behind that. You can be rebellious and still do great things in life.”
But great things is not to be confused with conventional. One glance at his bespoke accessories collection and you can see the hand of a mind that’s both playful and a shit-stirrer at heart; black leather bow ties mix with mesh covered pocket-squares. Graffiti covered travel bags rest next to a gold sparkled neck tie. His are the accessories that can make any man, even in the most conservative circles say This is who I am, like it or not, which he swear is so important.
“I noticed, when I was interviewing,” he recalls, “if I was dressed in a way I thought didn’t feel like would be the way I wanted to be represented, those interviews, I would bomb. Not because I would fail verbally, but my body language was off. When you’re not comfortable and you’re not feeling yourself — you’re off. So, I always make it a point to make sure that I feel good and I look good.”
It’s that extra care that’s helped this New York native launch a line made from blood, sweat and pure hustle. (By day he sits in an office chair, right next to my own, earning the coins that pay his bills and let him pursue his passion for menswear on the side.)
“I started it for myself,” he recalls, when thinking of his brand’s origins. “I didn’t really think it was going to evolve into anything. And then, I just started thinking of a name — and there’s two sides to me: Vince is like this dapper, proper guy that you bring home to mom. And Zo is like this rebellious, badass that you could have the wildest night of your life with— no judgement.
So I took it upon myself and was like what do I want in life? I want to reach my full potential. I want to be the best I could be.”
A best, he argues, that needs the freedom to express himself however the hell he feels like it. “I think the evolution of menswear has helped everything guy, and every single genre of fashion achieve a polished look,” he says. “So like, for the guy who wears sweatpants — there are suits now made out of sweatpant material. Another company called Bask that makes a blazer out of terry cloth material — so if you wanna be dapper on a boat, there’s a blazer for that! There’s a lot of companies now using cotton and lycra and stretchier materials that make it more mobile for men. You don’t feel suffocated or restricted. Which is a big deal to men — especially when it comes to pants.”
It’s an evolution that’s allowed men from every background, Vince Zo insists, to find a look that makes them feel comfortable as they are, while simultaneously stepping up to the world’s great expectations of them. “I noticed that there are three types of men,” he says. “The guys who just like, nah, B. I’m not wearing a suit. Fuck that. They’re the guy who’s Men’s Wearhouse — just the masses. Those guys see something in a magazine and say I’m gonna buy that look. Their girlfriend’s dress them or they just don’t really have an opinion. They just get up and know that they have to wear a navy blue suit, with a white shirt, and a navy blue tie.
Basically politicians — politicians to me, are the worst dressed people on the planet. These campaigns — horrible!
“And then there’s the guys who take risks. Who want to explore. The Kanyes. The Versaces. The guys who are like, I’m gonna play around with this shit and I’m gonna see what happens. The guys who are like, you know, the Vince Zo’s of the world. Those guys have started this lane for the guys who are the Men’s Wearhouse or the guys that are more street or blue collar to feel more comfortable to go into that area. Because everyone sees ties, bow ties, pockets squares as a douche lifestyle, but it doesn’t have to be like that. You can look just good and presentable and feel good. You feel better when you’re dressed better — I don’t care what anybody says.”
It’s a bold assertion he follows up with some practicality. After all, defining a style that speaks to your own aesthetic and how you’d like to align yourself to certain opportunities in this lifetime… well, it can cost a shit ton of money. But Vince Zo see that as no real obstacle. In fact, his prescriptions for every man are quite clear.
“I love Old Navy and The Gap, they’re realistic brands and made for every body type. That’s another thing people forget — men have different body types. If you’re a bigger guy, there’s absolute shit out there. Zero. And you have to spend a lot of money.
“If you were a guy who shopped at Pacific Sunwear as a kid, Urban Outfitters would be a step up for them. And I think every man should shop at SuitSupply — the suits are affordable and they are amazing. They cater to every single man. If you like that boat shoe look, JCrew’s good but Zara is amazing. A bit more a european influence and a better price point.”
And he isn’t suggestions to pick only the best of the rack. In fact, for the upmost confidence, Vince Zo encourages finding clothes that fit well in a variety of styles. “Because some days you want to be this dapper don and some days you’re like, Damn! I wish I put out that album and wanna be a rapper. Or maybe you want to be hipster and wear all your buttons buttoned up and do that. And beanies are my shit in the winter time — full beard, boom! You need to be eclectic … for a variety just enriches life. Who wants to live a life that’s not been lived? And your closet should feel like a life been lived.”