6 Style Mistakes That Are Easy (and Cheap) to Avoid

style mistakes
6 Style Mistakes That Are Easy (and Cheap) to Avoid
Improve your style instantly with these 6 easily fixable mistakes.

If you’re reading Primer Magazine, you’re probably the type of person who wants to put their best foot forward every single day. You’re interested in living a full, rich life and becoming the best man that you can be.

Maybe you already put a lot of effort into dressing and grooming and personal presentation. Or maybe it’s still a weak point in your life.

The truth is, whether you like it or not, the way you look is a huge part of your development. It influences your relationshipscareers and self-esteem.

Sometimes the thought of stepping up your style is a little overwhelming. You see all of these style blogs and forums critiquing the smallest details of how a suit should fit. You see people tweeting pictures from fashion shows and dropping names of Italian designers whose brands you can’t pronounce and whose clothing you can’t afford.

It seems confusing and expensive, and it feels exclusive. So where do you even start? The good news is, you can take action to improve your style today with these six simple tips.

1. Wearing Solid White or Black Socks

Compared to the rest of your getup, socks are often an afterthought. Conventional wisdom says that your socks should match your trousers, although stylish men often coordinate their socks with the rest of their outfit.

Either of these methods is fine, but you should avoid two common mistakes: Wearing plain white or black socks. White socks (especially crew, tube or ankle socks) should be reserved for sneakers and athletic scenarios, like playing pickup basketball or doing crossfit.

Black socks should only be worn with dark trousers (think charcoal or black suits) and black shoes. Don’t wear black socks with khaki pants or light brown shoes.

If you want to upgrade your dark socks, go with dark grey, purple, or a pattern.

2. Wearing Flip Flops With Jeans/Chinos

This rule ends up on almost every menswear “style sins” list out there, so it’s kind of surprising that so many men are still violating it. You see it all the time, especially in the warmer months:

Throwing on your trusty brown leather flip flops  will ruin an otherwise acceptable getup. Some argue that flip flops are never acceptable for men, but I think they’re kosher for a few different occasions, such as the beach, the pool or the shower at your gym.

Basically, if you’re wearing shorts or, well, nothing at all, then flip fops are okay. If you’re wearing pants or nice shorts, step it up a notch by swapping your flip flops for any of these alternatives:

  • Boat shoes (my personal favorite)
  • Loafers
  • Espadrilles
  • Sandals

I promise if you follow this rule, you will instantly be more stylish than most other guys at the boardwalk.

3. Black Dress Shoes With Khakis

black shoes

Black dress shoes are inherently more formal than their brown counterparts, and they are really meant to be worn with dark trousers and suits (i.e., a black suit or tuxedo).

This isn’t to say that it’s a “rule” not to wear black shoes with non-black pants, but lighter colored shoes will usually work better, especially in the daytime.

When in doubt, go with medium to dark brown Oxfords, ankle boots and loafers. Most guys can get away with only owning one pair of black dress shoes.

4. Oversized, Casual Belts With Dressy Outfits

Many non-dress belts are too wide for business casual and formal outfits. Unless you are bigger-than-average, stay away from any belts that are wider than 1.25”. Shoot for 1”. If you’re on the shorter side, look for extra thin belts (less than 1” thick).

You can find these belts at most stores and online shops. Or, you can make one yourself. Just don’t settle for the extra wide, thick leather belts that you see most men wearing. They’re really only appropriate for casual outfits with jeans and chinos. And even then, they work much better for bigger, taller guys.

If your trousers fit well around the waist, you may not need a belt to hold them up. You can simply ask your tailor to remove the belt loops and go beltless. this is an elegant look, especially for shorter gents who want to streamline their figure by eliminating horizontal lines.

5. Wearing a Backpack (When You’re Not a Student)

You probably see this everyday – the guy on his way to work with a huge, sea turtle-shell size backpack hanging off his back. Straps digging into his shoulders, he’s hunched forward just to balance out its weight.

Or, just as bad is the man with the oversized 19” laptop bag hanging down by his butt, bouncing around with every step.

These unfortunate (and often unnecessary) accessories can ruin an otherwise perfect getup. Don’t be a victim of this look, lest you be mistaken for a college freshman.

Stick with a reasonably-sized cross body bag, like a messenger or day bag. If you don’t carry a laptop, don’t be afraid to carry a smaller brief (8-11” wide/tall) for your other things – keys, pen, water bottle, etc.

Make sure to shorten the strap so the bag isn’t hanging down by your butt. And if you’re a smaller guy, don’t buy some huge 17-incher. It will look oversized.

Alternatively, if it suits your style, you can carry a brief case. There are plenty of stylishsleek briefcases for sale these days, so you can definitely find one that you love without breaking the bank.

6. Wearing Boat Shoes With Dress Pants

Boat shoes may look like loafers, but they’re meant to worn casually and shouldn’t be paired with dressy trousers or slacks.

Ditch the boat shoes, and get into some loafers.

How can you tell the difference? Well, boat shoes and loafers have distinct details that allow you to tell them apart:

  • Loafers may be dressed up or down. For example, you could go sockless and wear them with shorts, or you could wear them with trousers and a jacket.
  • Boat shoes, on the other hand, may only be worn with casual outfits and should be worn without socks in most situations.


Remember: style isn’t fashion. It doesn’t have to be expensive or trendy. It isn’t about a brand or what’s going on in NYC or LA or anywhere else. Style is what you have when you decide that you respect your fellow man enough to dress well everyday, every time you leave your house.

Sure, it manifests as clothing, but it’s really an attitude. And it doesn’t have to be hard.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. But it’s more about avoiding mistakes than getting everything right. If you follow these six pieces of advice, you’ll never be mistaken for a style noob, and you can focus on the next steps in your style journey, like nailing fit and color.

Brock runs The Modest Man, a blog for short men who want to dress better. Check out his free guide: How to Dress Taller: 11 Crucial Style Tips for Short Men.


  • Reply May 7, 2014


    This article should be distributed to every single male in college. As a college student I catch so many classmates and fraternity brothers breaking a lot of these rules when engaging in business casual or semi formal types of situations (especially the boat shoes with dress pants). This really is a great list and it definitely hits close to home.

    • Reply May 7, 2014


      Most college guys don’t care about style, so giving them the list won’t make a difference. If you’re interested, follow these, look better, and have a leg up on the rest of the field.

    • Reply May 7, 2014


      Thanks! I sure wish I had this list in college. These are little things that many guys never think about.

      • Reply May 7, 2014


        I’ve been out of college for a couple years now, but am still guilty of solid black socks. In my defense I own plenty of colorful dress socks for occasions, but promised myself I won’t wear these on a daily basis until my mountain of black socks become unwearable. I also can’t bring myself to toss ~15 pairs of perfectly fine socks, but the smallest hole or pull now relegates the sock to the trash.

        • Reply May 7, 2014


          I hear ya on that. I have a bunch of really nice black dress socks that I seem to acquire every year around Christmas… they make great shoe polishers.

          • May 7, 2014


            Already have old t-shirts relegated for that duty.

  • Reply May 7, 2014


    • Reply May 7, 2014


      Those are both flip flops (thong-style sandals). Doesn’t really matter if they’re rubber or plastic or leather. If they go “flip flop” when you walk, they’re flip flops. Examples of sandals would be:




      Flip flops are good for the beach, pool, gym shower. Sandals are more dressy (as much as that kind of footwear can be, at least).

      Hope that helps.


  • Reply May 7, 2014


    The backpack may be a regional thing. In Chicago, it’s acceptable to wear one, unless you’re in a suit or wearing a blazer/sport coat. The waxed cotton and canvas ones look, to me, stylish. I personally don’t wear a backpack [I use a soft briefcase, with strap] but I have no problem with people wearing backpacks, as long as it doesn’t have velcro: someone walks in late for a meeting and you hear RRRRRIP.

    • Reply May 7, 2014


      I think it’s determining between appearance and functionality – a rucksack for a day trip? Go for it. A rucksack for a trip to the office? Think again. It may be shallow, but people are judgmental, and as you’ve already mentioned by the back you use, you can get a bag with a strap if carrying a bag in your hand is an issue. Get a canvas one if a leather bag is too stuffy.

      • Reply May 7, 2014


        Yeah, it’s also where you work and how you look. I look young, so a backpack (even a nice one) doesn’t help my overall appearance. If you work in a “smart casual” or casual environment, a backpack may be fine. I still think, in general, shoulder bags look more professional.

  • Reply May 7, 2014

    Phil S.

    I understand the backpack thing, but what if it’s something more stylish, like a Herschel backpack?

    • Reply May 7, 2014


      If you’re a student or on a trip, I don’t think there’s an issue with a backpack – it’s practical. If you work in an environment where appearance matters or if you wish to be regarded in a different light than a boy or student by others, maybe try a messenger bag, canvas bag with a shoulder strap, or a leather briefcase along with other advice in this post and others to look the part.

      • Reply May 7, 2014

        David Belyea

        There’s more than just work though. If I’m going downtown then over to a friends house I want a backpack, I don’t want to be holding onto a messenger bag that won’t fit everything I want to bring.

        • Reply May 7, 2014


          Not sure if your situation is the same, but I’m I’m going over a friend’s after work I have a duffel bag for after work and a leather bag for work. Obviously commuting by car helps with this. Another option, and I’m not trying to be rude, is if you aren’t spending the night, what do you absolutely need to bring that won’t fit? Again, I’m curious and not trying to insult.

          • May 7, 2014

            David Belyea

            No worries. I’m speaking for not spending the night. I know there are times that I’ve been going places, and others that I have coming up where I need more than a messenger bag. I’ll be going to the DC Mall in a few weeks and will be bringing a frisbee, Apples to Apples/CaH, some food, water, and a book. That would be clunky in a messenger bag but in a backpack, especially riding the metro, its exactly what is needed.

            As long as the backpack isn’t tacky or childish its fine. I would say that Herschel backpacks are a great choice too. Check out Nordstrom Rack online (https://www.nordstromrack.com/shop/Men/Accessories/Bags%20%26%20Travel) for some good ones. Cheapest is $20 for a Herschel.

          • May 7, 2014


            go for a weekender bag! Herschel makes nice one’s if you’re not looking to spend much.

  • Reply May 7, 2014


    Have you commuted either by foot or bike with a laptop, notebooks, etc… in a messenger bag? The strap digs into your side and you are constantly shifting it to balance yourself out. Using a backpack is much easier and way more practical. The good news is that now days you don’t have to sling a JanSport. You can look good carrying a Herschel Supply Co backpack like this one – http://bit.ly/1noWHNY

    • Reply May 7, 2014


      Commuting by bike I can see the need for a backpack. By foot though? If you’re close enough to walk, what’s wrong with a shoulder strap bag that looks 100x’s better (personal multiplication comparison)? To each their own.

    • Reply May 7, 2014


      Point taken. I don’t commute by bike, but I can see how that would be uncomfortable and maybe dangerous. You’re right to at least get a nice backpack like the ones Herschel makes.

      On foot? I’ll take a messenger bag or briefcase over a backpack any day. Get a wide strap with padding if it hurts. I’ve never had that experience, but I don’t carry much in my bag.

  • Reply May 7, 2014


    No flip-flops with jeans or chinos? Even in a casual setting? You’ve obviously never lived in a coastal California city.

    • Reply May 7, 2014


      Nope, I have not. But I go for canvas sneakers, boat shoes, loafers or sandals with jeans and chinos (especially jeans). You’re right that it’s different in different areas, but at least where I’ve lived, jeans and flip flops is never flattering.

      • Reply May 7, 2014


        I agree with you Brock. Yes, flip flops are very convenient (I live in Florida), but up your game with a simple brown penny loafer.

    • Reply May 8, 2014


      Second. Flip flops with chinos and jeans are great, and the combination seems to be very popular in my area.

    • Reply May 18, 2014


      Sandals with jeans is definitely a lot more acceptable in California coastal. Speaking for SoCal, I see it a lot and it looks fine if it’s nice enough a sandal. Usually subdued leather sandals do it.

  • Reply May 7, 2014

    Donna Neumann

    Oh brother – you nailed it! Attention to these details instantly ups your game. And I agree with Branden….although I suspect distributing it to graduates who are embarking on a job search or new career would be the better target group.

  • Reply May 7, 2014


    I personally think black should never be in your wardrobe.

  • Reply May 8, 2014


    “And if you’re a smaller guy, don’t buy some huge 17-incher. It will look oversized.”

    So wait– you’re suggesting that I should buy a laptop not based on my productivity needs, movie-watching preferences, or budget– but on the shape and size of my body?! Get a load of this cat. Form over function I suppose.

    • Reply May 9, 2014


      I was referring to the size of your bag, not your laptop. Speaking of bags: “if you don’t carry a laptop, don’t be afraid to carry a smaller brief…”. Comfort over style, but why not have both?

  • […] Are you still making the same style mistakes you were making when you were in college? Back then, you had an excuse. Today? Not so much. But Primer Magazine makes it easy for you to shape up. […]

  • Reply May 14, 2014

    Kevin Espiritu

    I’ve made 3/6 of these mistakes in the past, and probably would have made the other 3 had I not read this article. Would love to know more about when to wear what kinds of socks – when can you spice it up, when should you play it down, etc.

  • Reply May 19, 2014


    Hi Brock,

    Just curious, are there any tricks to losing about half an inch of the pant length, without a tailor, so they don’t cover my shoes as much?


    • Reply May 20, 2014


      Hi Marv,

      Depending on the pants, you can roll them up or just make a quick non-sewn cuff. This works for chinos and jeans, but not trousers.

      I have several pairs of pants that look nice rolled, so I don’t get them hemmed.

      All trousers and dress pants, though, should be hemmed to the perfect length.


  • Reply May 21, 2014


    Flip flops or, as they are called here, thongs, are disgusting and I agree should only be seen at the beach or a camp ground shower block or around the house. But here in the land Down Under they are worn everywhere. And I mean everywhere and with everything. And by both men and women. They are even acceptable attire in many restaurants! They are worn to church, to parties and pretty much every social occasion. I’ve seen them worn to work (I kid you not and that was in an office!). I’ve never seen them worn to a wedding or to a funeral but that’s not to say that has never been done.

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