by David Isle

The famed dandy Beau Brummell is supposed to have said that “if John Bull turns around to look at you, you are not well dressed.” Presumably this judgment holds even if the good Mr. Bull is turning around to say, “nice fit.” To have your clothing complimented is to have it noticed, which men, even men who care about their clothing, often try to avoid.

Men therefore often have fraught reactions to the compliments they receive.

The most common reaction to a compliment is the “this old thing?” routine, which can make the compliment-giver feel silly for having thought that some threadbare rag was a special jewel. Just as bad, the complimentee looks silly for disavowing his clothes even though it’s clear to anyone looking that he has taken care in selecting them.

The even more disastrous reaction is to answer not wisely, but too well. It goes something like this:

“Nice suit.”

“Actually it’s an odd jacket and trouser combination. A suit is composed of coat and trousers in the same fabric. Today, a mismatched outfit is thought to be less formal than a suit, but it was not always so. A century ago, the most formal daytime outfit was morning dress, which featured an unmatched coat and trousers. Our modern suit began as an informal alternative.”

“Oh….umm…ok. So…did you want fries with that?”

Nobody wants to be that guy. But in the heat of those rare moments when some hawk-eyed observer recognizes your subtlety of taste and mastery of detail, it can be difficult to find the right words whose charisma rises to the level of your outfit.

You can always practice at home. Jazz legend Art Pepper confessed in his memoirs that he would often look at himself in a full-length mirror and say, “oh, you handsome devil!” Although in this case the compliment was not directed at his clothes, since, again according to his telling, he performed this soliloquy in the nude.

But really there’s no need to make things complicated. “Thanks, I like it too” and a smile is all the response you need. It’s simple, unpretentious, and makes everyone involved feel good. Just like the best clothes.

Quality content, like quality clothing, ages well. This article first appeared on the No Man blog in April 2016.