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How a Bad Economy Killed Office Casual

Matt Jacobson, Facebook's Los Angeles-based head of market development, says Hollywood's male execs suddenly are dressing more sharply, as no one can afford anymore to look like he doesn't care.

This story original appears in the March 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

Men's fashion in Hollywood went all sideways when studio execs and agents started aping the style of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs during the first Internet go-round of the late '90s. While the Ovitzian Armani slouch suits that had come before weren't my thing, they were far better than the Jobsian mock turtles and jeans that ended up taking their place.

Today, a complicated and contracting movie marketplace, a dearth of scripted series and tough economics at the box office and in the world writ large have accelerated a move back to grown-man style, a trend that started with the advent of Mad Men and has made tailored clothing seem right again. Serious times and serious business require a look that isn't built around sneakers and ball caps. In working with studio marketers in my role at Facebook, I'm seeing formerly brooding enfants terribles ditching the Maxfield look for what one would see at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

PHOTOS: Matt Jacobson's Top 10 Red Carpet Essentials for Men

Whether you're at Soho House, the Coffee Bean on the Sony lot or commissaries on either side of the hill, you see more execs, producers and reps dressing like they mean it. Brooks Brothers suits and shell cordovan wingtips are cool again. Blame it on barely double-digit film slates, reality rehash or agency mergers. "When the ground is shifting under your feet, you tend to take things more seriously. It's hard to look cool when you're facing a mushroom cloud," says Oren Aviv, chief marketing officer at 20th Century Fox.

Adds DreamWorks Animation chief creative officer Bill Damaschke, "I've noticed a trend toward young professionals entering the job market dressing better at work -- even at DreamWorks, which is a very casual environment."

The last style frontier, though, is the necktie (which I wear religiously, along with bespoke suits, a retro watch and often a pocket square; I'm perpetually overdressed for most L.A. occasions). For years, many execs have foregone a tie with their suits, almost as a way of apologizing for caring about what they wear. Thankfully, I think the tieless suit is on its way to becoming the mullet of the new millennium. I've had more than one studio friend tell me how lame they've felt being underdressed in the presence of tie-wearing senior management, and simple, clean neckwear is an easy upgrade most can adopt without a full wardrobe redo.

In the entertainment business, sharp personal style was always the provenance of certain agents and execs whose prep school/Ivy League background made anything less than being dressed right just wrong. Their look has inspired the new-school studio leaders, who are taking their roles and style seriously. For these guys, it isn't about being a dandy, just dressing like they care.

PHOTOS: Gary Cooper's Enduring Style

Breaking this all down to the individual pieces means shirts that fit, suits with ties (a black-silk knit from J. Press should be a staple) and real shoes. Accessories should have a casual nonchalance. Think the unexpected string bracelets under the sleeve of the perfectly tailored bespoke suit on Sony Television chief Steve Mosko. Or the cool-tool watch (50th-anniversary Rolex Submariner) on UTA agent Steve Rabineau. Although he's a surfer and has a short board in the back of his diesel wagon, he's always immaculate in Paul Smith and English bluchers. Or, for a creative exec, it could be sockless Edward Green monk straps with the right pair of tapered moleskins or dark denim.

While it's not a paradigm shift or sea change, the redefined and stylish executive exudes a sense of leadership in a much more authentic way than he could in faux-distressed jeans and a retro T-shirt.

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HOW TO DRESS LIKE A GROWN MAN: Jacobson suggests these L.A. resources as exec requisites.

Shoes: Owner Tom Park and store manager Bryan Yamashita have what might be the world's best-curated collection of high-end men's shoes at Beverly Hills' Leather Soul (9513 Santa Monica Blvd.). The store carries everything from shell cordovan shoes and boots made by Boston-based Alden to the finest that Northampton, England, has to offer (John Lobb, Edward Green). Many styles are exclusives (as are prices, up to $6,100 for bespoke).

Shoe and Leather Repair: Pasquale Shoe Repair (5616 San Vicente Blvd.) has bailed me out when a shine was in order, my vintage Hermes briefcase needed fixing and my TSA-tweaked luggage mandated a tuneup.

Custom Shirts: Belgian artisan Freddy Vandecasteele (13263 Ventura Blvd., Studio City) has a keen eye for detail and fit unmatched in L.A. His selection of fabrics is outstanding. I've been wearing Freddy's shirts for years and have yet to toss one for wear (starting at $200).

Tailoring: It's always about fit, and I have been working with Paul Kaloustian of Wilshire Tailor (6329 Wilshire Blvd.) since my college days. Fast, friendly and reasonable, he's still doing  the best work in L.A.

Monogramming: Shirt monograms are only cool if incredibly discreet, preferably just above the waist or inside the collar, and only passable if done by hand. Rudy's Professional Tailoring (8710A Sunset Blvd.) does them in a font of your choosing ($15).

 

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