The personal uniform has its advantages. Time-starved entrepreneurs such as Mark Zuckerberg, who is known for practically living in a gray t-shirt, say having a uniform frees up brain space for more important matters. Arguably he doesn’t look great, but the wardrobe is functional. More image-conscious uniform dressers, such as Tom Wolfe in his trademark white suit or Karl Lagerfeld in, well, whatever it is Karl Lagerfeld wears, leave a lasting impression with their signature looks.
Those are extremes, but a happy medium exists that’s not boring or sloppy, nor over-the-top, and not necessarily pegged to a single outfit. See: Eugene Tong, style director at Details magazine. Widely known as one of the best-dressed and influential guys in menswear, his wardrobe is mostly comprised of dark neutrals, but he is most known for what goes on top: a gray overcoat. To anyone who keeps an eye on street style blogs, Tong in a big grey coat will be a familiar sight.
“I pretty much wear only grey, navy, black, and white,” he tells Quartz. “So I guess a big grey coat in the wintertime is always going to catch someone’s eye.”
The evidence of Tong’s stylistic influence is all over the Internet—Instagram, Pinterest inspiration boards, Tumblr, fanboy style threads on Reddit.
His advice? Focus on investment pieces, meaning those items with style and quality that will last for years, rather than a season or two. They won’t necessarily be the cheapest or trendiest items, but they’ll give your look a defined identity. They’ll also help to avoid filling your closet with clothes you like but rarely wear.
By his count, Tong owns four of those big grey coats. All are made from beautifully textured fabrics, and fall just shy of formal.
“They all serve a [different] purpose,” Tong says. Two of them, including his oldest—a Louis Vuitton with lustrous acrylic thread woven through the wool—are large enough to layer over a lighter jacket. Although they have a tailored feel, the coats are casual enough for Tong to wear with clean, minimal sneakers—another signature of his style. The look is one he repeats regularly, and photographers clamor to shoot it.
Tong keeps buying variants of these grey coats—single-breasted or double-breasted, with wide or narrow lapels—because he really uses them. He upgrades to new styles or makes, and says that’s his approach to shopping in general.
“Just classic shapes and colors and fabrications so that I can wear it four or five years later,” he says. “The worst thing is to spend a bunch of money on something and look at it a year from now and be like, ‘You know what? I would never wear this again.'”