A Gentleman’s Guide
How To Carry Off “Man-bling”
Whether you’re more Bauhaus or house in the Hamptons, find the perfect wristwear to complement your personal style
Adam Katz Sinding/ Getty Images
Not so long ago, for the average man to wear any jewellery beyond a simple wedding band (if married) and a classic watch (thanks, grandad) might have been considered effeminate, arty, rebellious, or in the case of a family-crested signet ring on the pinkie, a little ostentatious.
Within the past five years, that has changed. In 2012, the sale of men’s accessories skyrocketed, spearheaded by what was then a new trend for men’s bracelets, arguably the easiest piece of jewellery for the modern man to put on and successfully pull off. All of a sudden you couldn’t shake a man’s hand without seeing a “mangle” that he “picked up somewhere on holiday” shooting out of his cuffs. The more daring early adopters replaced their Livestrong bands with a veritable arm-party practically eclipsing their vintage Rolex.
What caused the tipping point? “It had a lot to do with the exploding popularity of Instagram twinned with the emergence of street-style photographers and menswear bloggers,” explains MR PORTER’s Accessories Buyer, Mr Simon Spiteri. “In the case of bracelets in particular, what had largely been the preserve of the well-put-together Milanese and the fashion-forward Japanese suddenly found global diffusion and acceptance among the men on the street. This spike was further propagated by influential celebrities such as Kanye West and Johnny Depp.”
Today, what was a trend has matured into a staple. Taken as a whole, “man-bling” encompasses not just bracelets but other forms of adornment such as rings, tie clips and lapel pins – as well as longer established accessories such as cufflinks and watches.
Whether used to add a pop of colour to an outfit, to help tie a look together or to hint at a life outside the office, each accessory is loaded with social signifiers. And there is an art to wearing them well.
No matter if you favour a bracelet made from woven leather, colourful rope, brushed metal or chunky beads, you’ll find something in the selection below to suit – as well as a helping hand on how to wear it.
Metal wristwear goes hand-in-hand with enduring masculine style. It dates back to post-WWII identity bracelets sported by screen icons Messrs James Dean, Marlon Brando and, in a framed print for sale on MR PORTER, Paul Newman. Today’s iterations from French jeweller Le Gramme are even more pared back with unfussy cuffs, such as the one shown in the street style image, above, in polished or brushed metal for a matte finish. Or try this oxidised silver style from Bottega Veneta, complete with the brand’s signature intrecciato detailing.
How to wear it
These styles are suitable year-round and can be worn with tailoring or with jeans and a T-shirt. A metal bracelet works best as a standalone solo piece – no one wants to look or sound like a manacled prisoner. And better to wear it on your free wrist rather than clank against your watch. Keep the minimalist mantra “less is more” top of mind rather than risk overkill with too many competing accessories. Those that you do choose should also be understated – perhaps unembellished steel cufflinks from Prada or Unimatic’s Modello Uno U1-D Automatic watch. A universal rule to remember: the metals of your accessories should “agree”. Stainless steel, silver, white gold and platinum are one team; while brass, copper, yellow gold and rose gold are another.
Men are already well accustomed to leather watchstraps so a leather bracelet is a comparatively straightforward step into the world of “man-bling”. If you’re afraid of anything too colourful, a classic black woven style is just the trick, and will convey an air of understated good taste. Try this one from TOM FORD with the signature T fastening, or this one from Paul Smith.
How to wear it
The conservative gentleman’s overall palette tends to focus on blues, greys, browns, black and white – which means that accessories are the place to inject colour. For summery or casual days and weekends, you can introduce a brighter bracelet, which tends to look better against tanned skin. Wear with a pair of Tod’s signature driving shoes and classic Breton T-shirt from our own brand Mr P. for a laid-back weekend look and combine with a burst of bright block colour beads such as one from Luis Morais.
While he might wear a colourful Tod’s bracelet at the weekend, the power dresser is likely to adopt a more formal and conservative palette during the working week. Bottega Veneta’s signature “intrecciato” (interlaced) leather styles work well with fine watches, elegant cufflinks and good tailoring. The brands of all accessories (but especially the watch) should be subtle but clearly luxurious so as to immediately demonstrate who has the upper hand.
How to wear it
Straighter-laced bands in browns or black are best suited to smart outfits and combine well with leather watchstraps – though as with metals, so leathers should agree. The generally accepted rule of thumb is: black leather accessories should only be combined with other black leather accessories. Brown leathers, however, need not match exactly but they should be in the same tonal ballpark (eg, chocolate and chestnut are close enough, but chocolate and light tan are not).
Beaded bracelets make a definite statement – that statement being: “I am a free-spirited traveller who likes to venture to exotic locations and bring back ethnic-inspired souvenirs.” Also: “I am comfortable arriving to the office bearing a passing resemblance to Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean.” At one end of the spectrum you can pick such things up on a market stall; at the other end there is Brazilian jeweller Mr Luis Morais, who produces elevated pieces with a trippy-hippy vibe.
How to wear it
The idea is to stack a variety of beads of different styles (including leather, rope, metal) together for a look that is your own. Alter the size, type (wooden or glass or both) and colour of bead to create individual combinations. But don’t feel the need to fill your forearms like a tattoo fetishist – three or four should be the maximum bandwidth. You’re aiming to look “elegantly dishevelled”, so combine an unfussy array of bracelets with lightweight linens and cottons for a carefree rumpled look. Think flowing Isabel Benenato scarf, a safari-inspired Tomas Maier jacket, Oliver Spencer linen trousers and espadrilles from Castañer or Rivieras.
The nautical look is a spring/ summer perennial, which means you should get plenty of wear out of a Miansai rope bracelet each year. This Miami-based brand has anchored this part of the market with colourful nylon cord styles, versatile enough for all but the most formal occasions. Luis Morais also offers strings of multi-coloured beads that will brighten up an outfit. These types of bracelets tend to suit a younger man and, when emerging from a shirt cuff, hint at an active life – even if it’s just climbing the walls of the office.
How to wear it
The maritime fastenings – hooks and anchors – can prove cumbersome to wear together or on the same wrist as your watch. Also beware of over bombing on colour. Observe the rule of thirds: at least one neutral for every two colours. So you could wear a Luis Morais bracelet on its own or with a more muted leather or beaded version. During the week they can be worn with relaxed tailoring such as a blazer and chinos, while at the weekend you can continue the laidback theme with a robust Luminox watch and a striped Armor Lux T-shirt.
Vanni Bassetti/ Getty Images
This is a very different form of identity bracelet, and it says: “I’m with the band”. This style is suggestive of a music fan and/ or someone who is fashion forward. The go-to designers in this category are Messrs Alexander Wang at Balenciaga, Maison Margiela and TOM FORD. There is a heavy sense of the Gothic about many of these leather cuffs and they’ll look particularly good next to a tattoo or two.
How to wear it
With a backstage VIP wristband, perhaps? Unless you work in a particularly creative industry, black leather cuffs should be reserved for “out-of-office” outfits that major on monochrome: biker jackets, grey or black jeans, boots or high tops and a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers. As for other accessories, a studded wallet-and-chain and an asymmetric ring would complete the look. But maybe keep the cuffs to just the one wrist not both, eh Mr Grey?
For the man who is very confident when it comes to all manner of male jewellery, there are more flamboyant and eye-catching wristbands available such as this stack of three Rubinacci silk bracelets. The style is less important than the colour which the wearer will use to draw the eye – especially that of Messrs Scott Schuman, Tommy Ton or Bill Cunningham. Here, the bracelet helps coordinate an outfit by picking out subtle tones within the look or adding another element to an already carefully layered ensemble.
How to wear it
The opposite of the minimalist, the dandy tends to “accessorise all areas” and combine as many items as he can put together in one outfit: multiple bracelets, a watch on a Nato strap, a flamboyant pocket square, tie clip, lapel pin, document holder, patterned socks, kitchen sink, etc. But like over-seasoning a dish, too many accessories ruin the overall effect. Follow Ms Coco Chanel’s lead: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off”. In a true peacock’s case, maybe two.