In Conversation with Nick Wooster

The godfather of men’s style.

Nick Wooster

With his upswept pompadour and full-sleeve tattoos, Kansas-born fashion consultant and Instagram idol Nickelson (Nick) Wooster is the consummate contemporary silver fox. Wooster, 56, is likely the most frequently photographed men’s style icon of his generation, but to call him simply “Instagram famous” would be reductive. Wooster’s fashion sense has been honed through a lifetime in the fashion business, working as a buyer at leading luxury department stores like Barneys New York and Bergdorf Goodman, in merchandising for Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, and never fearing to speak his mind—a habit that prompted GQ to ordain him “the alpha male of American street style”. Having recently launched a collection with Italian menswear label Lardini at Canada’s Holt Renfrew, Wooster takes a moment to reflect on his career and personal style, offering insight into how all men can navigate their wardrobes with deftness and grace.

On his career so far. I started working in a clothing store when I was 16 years old and I feel like, with the exception of production, meaning the people who actually make clothes, I’ve done virtually every job in the business. I have started as a person on the floor, then I was a manager and graduated to buyer, from buyer made the hubristic decision that, “oh, I can design clothes, too!” and got the opportunity to do that by working at Ralph Lauren in design. And then realized what I really loved was stores so came back to retail and now have these last three years done a little bit of everything, which for me is amazing. I do anywhere from two to five collaborations a year, depending on the partner. Lardini is a tailored clothing manufacture, a family-run business, they’ve been around since the year I graduated from high school, 1978, and they make tailored clothing—jackets and outerwear for brands like Burberry, Etro, Ferragamo—parts of Giorgio Armani, parts of Dolce and Gabbana. And then they branded their own company, Lardini, in the eighties. So I helped them initially to make Lardini mean something to the western hemisphere. And they asked me to do a collaboration with them as a capsule collection. So this is the first collection I have ever done. And, I don’t have my own brand, I do branded collaborations with people and this was the most comprehensive—meaning jackets, outerwear, shirts, pants, that kind of thing.

On his personal style transformations. The thing that has always been the same about me is the passion and devotion to clothes. But the clothes themselves have absolutely changed. We talk about how menswear doesn’t change much, but obviously how I looked in the seventies was way different than how we look today. So menswear does change, just at more of a glacial pace—it’s evolutionary, not revolutionary. But of course, our perceptions of masculine-feminine have evolved over time. In the eighties, people like Jean-Paul Gautier put men in kilts and sarongs… I do think for the first time now that idea has taken hold where guys really can kind of wear whatever they want, it doesn’t have quite the stigma. Most men are not going to wear dresses but if you are a guy and you want to wear something like that it’s not going to be as shocking as it was 20 years ago. There’s two things that are always true for me. One is there is probably a tailored element—the other is unexpected details like raw edges, or unpressed elements. Things like drop-crotch pants or wide shorts that kind of give an illusion to skirts, or something like that.

“The thing that has always been the same about me is the passion and devotion to clothes.”

On designing collections. Usually there is a mood or a story—I’m not that clever. I just think about clothes. What clothes do I like to wear? What do I not have in my wardrobe I would like to have? The stopping point is when the clock is up. I think, what’s a bunch of stuff that would look cool together? If a kimono and a blazer had a child it would look like one of the jackets I designed for Lardini Spring. Another piece is basically a sweatpant, but in wool jersey, so a fabric they would usually use to make a travel blazer. There’s Linton Tweeds—those are the people who make tweed for Chanel—so that’s not traditionally a men’s fabric source, but that’s what we did. However, the more limitations you have the more creative you are forced to be. I found that when I worked at J. C. Penney [as senior vice president from 2012 to 2013]—you could only make a shirt for $25, which was the retail point. When you’re forced to make decisions in a very small box, it’s more creative.

On how to look good. I think at the end of the day, men have been robbed of the uniform that was their armour against the world, being a suit and tie. I think that’s probably the biggest disservice we did to men was giving them the freedom of dressing however they wanted. It probably fucked them up more than anything else because they didn’t know what to do. And stores weren’t prepared to tell them, publications didn’t tell them very well, because if you see what people look like at most places where there is no dress code, they look like shit. And really, at the end of the day that thing we were supposed to be freed from became an albatross—like, “oh shit, now I have to figure out how to look right”, when it was right there for them. Now, when I had to wear a tie all the time, I couldn’t wait to wear not a tie, but I have the privilege of working in the fashion business, so I could figure it out very quickly. Most men don’t prioritize getting dressed. And they shouldn’t. There are many other important things in the world. But for the average person a huge problem has been created. So what I can do now is help pave the way—like, when I talk about wearing one color. If you wear head-to-toe navy, you’ll always look good. You’ll look good at night, you’ll look good during the day, you’ll look good in a professional setting. And that could be a navy t-shirt and a pair of dark denim jeans. It could also be a navy blue woven shirt with a pair of wool gabardine pants. That uniform could take you through a variety of situations and you’ll always look good. Or charcoal grey, or black. Head-to-toe colour is probably the single easiest thing a guy could do.

On Instagram fame. Some people other than me have said being famous on Instagram is like being rich in Monopoly money. Which is true… but it has infiltrated my life, and yes, unlikely people like me are now asked for a picture, and there’s not a person on the planet I would ever ask, “can I take a picture with you?” but I understand it happens and I’m grateful somebody cares, but it’s intrusive, I’m not going to lie and say it’s fine. But I do understand that’s why I’m here—though I do agree with that school of thought that when someone takes your picture you lose a bit of your soul.


Never miss a story. Sign up for NUVO’s weekly newsletter.