Many men try to act as if they don't care about fashion. Others will freely admit they're clueless when it comes to clothes. But there has always been a significant number of guys who get off on dressing well, who understand it as part of what makes a good buzz.
In Italy, for example, it's been observed that while a man may not be able to afford a large wardrobe, much of what he owns will be choice.
Quality, in other words, over quantity.
This is an attitude a new clothier in town, Mamadou "Ben" Diallo, wants to encourage. A Butler University graduate who comes to Indianapolis by way of his African homeland and New York City, Diallo has just opened a men's boutique, J. Benzal, on Massachusetts Avenue. "My uncle used to travel a lot for business, and every time he came home he'd be looking good," says Diallo, who was born in Guinea and also lived in Togo and Morocco. "He'd have these nice suits and I'd say he's my role model."
Diallo says that he first realized he loved clothes when he was a child. "It could be 90 degrees outside and I'd see somebody in a three-piece suit and that inspired me."
Diallo studied textiles and business in Morocco before deciding to make the leap to the fashion scene in New York City. While he was in New York, friends told him about Butler University. Diallo applied, was accepted and soon found himself in Indianapolis. He majored in telecommunications at Butler with a minor in business.
But while he enjoyed most things about his newfound home, Diallo was at a loss when it came to finding clothes he really liked. "I usually went to either New York or Chicago to do my shopping because I didn't find the right spot here to shop."
On graduating from Butler, Diallo moved back to New York. "It seemed like the right place for me. I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to do design and have my own label ... One thing I miss about New York is that when you step out, you live fashion. There are well-dressed people everywhere."
As it happened, though, Diallo found more than a college education in Indianapolis. He also met his wife here. When they had their first child, the couple decided to return to Indiana.
"I love the quietness of Indy and the family life," Diallo says. "Everything is easier in Indianapolis. People are wonderful. Everybody's interested in learning about other people and each other." Diallo notes that he's also enjoyed seeing the growth of the local African community since he first arrived here. "When I got used to Indy and found the right places to go, I didn't have much of a culture shock."
Except when it came to clothes.
"I think it's difficult for people to find the right styles in Indianapolis. That's why I decided to open this shop."
J. Benzal is the shop Diallo was hoping to find here, but didn't. "I spent a lot of time choosing the items in the store," he says. "They reflect my personal style, which I hope encourages everybody to find their own."
In Diallo's case, this means the cut and finish of Italian tailoring. Almost everything in J. Benzal is Italian made. "When I was younger I liked watching Italian movies because everybody in them was well-dressed," Diallo remembers.
"I think the Italians have a talent for choosing the right fabric and the right cut. I love suits with an Italian cut - they fit you well and have fine details. I like a detailed suit. I look for finishes. All my suits have stitching on the lapels; small details like that make a difference."
Although it can seem that American men have been becalmed in the horse latitudes of casual wear for at least a couple of generations, Diallo thinks that an increasing number of young men are sharpening their fashion sense. This can begin with scheduling that first big job interview. "If anybody's going to an interview, they wear a suit to make a first impression. But my thinking is you should look your best every day, if you can. You should love getting dressed. I'll wear a T-shirt and baseball cap, but a suit should be a staple for every man."
When it comes to choosing that suit, Diallo emphasizes quality over quantity. "You can have one nice suit that will look good on you and it will last longer than five cheap suits. You give those a few dry cleanings and you have to buy some more. A good suit, even though it's expensive, in the long run you get your money back."
Diallo thinks that, for men, looking good doesn't have to be that hard. After all, compared to women's constantly changing styles, the fundamentals of men's wear - the jackets, trousers, shirts and shoes - have remained recognizable for years. It's the details, fabrics and accessories that tend to flip from season to season. Where Diallo thinks too many men come up short, fashionwise, is in "just not thinking about it. Just putting on whatever they see. If you put some thought in what you're going to wear, how you're going to put things together, you'll be fine."
Diallo picks up a beautifully striped dress shirt. It combines soft greens and blues on a richly stitched, cream-colored field. In the hand, this garment has a serious heft, if it were a drink, it would be a big cabernet. "I love colors," Diallo says. "I believe when you wear colorful stuff it shows you want to live."