How To Dress Well In Your 30s: A Modern Man’s Guide

We all know it – 30 is not the watershed age it used to be. For all that it might feel like it, just wait until you’re 40, or 50… Recent years have seen stalled generations: expectations of where youngish people might have expected to be have been thwarted. Income is generally low. Home ownership for many is a distant dream. Work just looks confusing. Small wonder that it would be tempting to buy into one’s situation and delay growing up a little longer.

But turning 30 is as good a moment as any to get ship-shape, at least with your wardrobe: it is, as Shakespeare had it, time to “put away childish things”. Likewise, though he didn’t say as much, it may be time to retire the board shorts (unless you’re at the beach) and the oversized skater hoodie (unless you’re dealing drugs).

Time For A Style Re-evaluation

Perhaps some projection is in order. There’s the old adage that you should dress for the job you want. It’s somewhat dated, given that career trajectories and dress codes seem to have little to do with age these days. But you could perhaps dress for the man you want to be. Take a trawl through your wardrobe: anything that fits poorly, that looks tired, that is “ironic”, that could conceivably be worn by a large seven-year-old – get rid of it. Start to think about a few replacements. Start too to think about your clothes buying in a new way: make quality the watchword of all the pieces you buy from here in. Buy less and better.

Buy less but buy better. (Image: Stitch Fix)

Your second watchword should be “classic”. Don’t panic. It doesn’t mean ignoring trends – your 30s are still a decade in which you can dress with at least one eye on fashion. But it pays – in terms of the way you’ll be perceived – to at least start moving your wardrobe over to dependable staples: dark selvedge denim (out with anything spray on or overly distressed), merino knitwear, good plain T-shirts and sweatshirts, crisp shirting, easy tailoring (a unstructured navy blazer can take you a long way), investing in proper suits and shoes (which might mean trainers in some instances, just not the kind of trainers that look as though they were designed for a sci-fi movie) and the occasional investment accessory (the likes of a good watch). Repeat this to yourself daily: basics are not boring.

You’re in half-way house territory now: buy most of your clothes in the more sober menswear shades of navy, charcoal, white – saving pops of brighter, bolder colour for the occasional accent; steer clear of excessive logos and novelty graphics – unless they’re very, very clever (only you can be the judge of this); make sure that everything fits well – that it doesn’t drown you or pull over that proto-paunch you’re working on – but still feel free to experiment with proportions occasionally and gently. Stop thinking in terms of being dressed down and dressed up. Start thinking in terms of being just dressed well.

A sober palette looks good on all men and can be mixed and matched with ease. (Image: Buck Mason)

What we’re talking about here is like the good diet for your wardrobe: get your greens (your classics) but otherwise eat everything in moderation (without the binging). It’s healthier for your bank balance too. It offers the chance of getting better value from your wardrobe – and with those serious benchmarks of adulthood possibly coming your way over your 30s, the likes of marriage and parenthood, trust us, even as your income climbs, you’re still going to feel poorer – in money and time. Each clothing purchase should add to the sum total of your wardrobe’s potential.

Define Your Personal Style

This isn’t always easy. It’s likely that over your 30s you’re still finding your own style. But this is the decade you should aim to do just that in. This is to say that onlookers will still afford you the very occasional glaring error, but that most of what you wear should be moving towards those garments that a) make the best of your actual shape (not the one you dream of having should you ever actually make it to the gym), b) that make you feel like you (that are to your taste, rather than chasing trend diktats, and that express you, rather than the coffers of some marketing campaign), and c) that make you feel good about yourself (that make you feel comfortable and presentable). Learn both what suits you and what you like, and buy this over everything else. By the middle of the decade you should have taken command of your own cool.

Don’t obsess over trends; focus on being well dressed. (Image: MR PORTER)

Giving up youthful ways is not easy, of course. But if you want to be respected – to be looked on as the peer of those older than you, rather than just looked on witheringly by those younger than you – you have to respect yourself. This may well mean keeping in shape – and, as this only gets harder the older you get, it’s a wise man who starts to watch his weight and up the ante on his fitness when his 30s come calling.

Don’t Neglect Your Grooming

What it certainly means, however, is shaping up on the grooming front too. Much as you will have come to terms with the clothes that work for you, you need to do the same with the products that work for you. If you don’t already use a moisturiser, really (really really) this is the time to start; you’ll thank us by the end of your 30s. It’s also time to start cutting your nails regularly, buffing the rough skin, adding the occasional dollop of self-tan to your pasty face, getting frequent haircuts and beard trims. It’s time, in other words, to look as though you care.

Yes, none of this is very rock ‘n’ roll. It doesn’t really stick it to the man. Your rebel spirit may feel a little, well, repressed. But welcome to growing up. It’s a new phase in your life. Time for a new you to go with it.

Josh Sims

Josh Sims is a London-based men's style writer contributing to the likes of The Times, Wallpaper and CNN. He is the author of several books on menswear, including the wildly popular Icons of Men’s Style. He is also the former executive editor of Arena HOMME+ magazine.