Ian Anderson of 'From Squalor to Baller': A Conversation with The Peak Lapel
Who are you and what do you do? Where can people follow your work online?
My name is Ian Anderson, and I live in San Francisco. I’ve worked in the menswear industry for the past few years, mostly in buying, merchandising, and product development. I’ve also been running my personal style blog From Squalor to Baller for a while now — it’s about to turn six! My blog is where I put out most of my content as well as information on the projects I’m working on (new stuff coming soon!), so that’s the best place to see what I’m up to. My Instagram account is an eclectic mix of menswear, travel and outdoor photography, and whatever else catches my eye.
How did you first get into men’s style/clothing/fashion and when did you decide to turn it into something more than just a hobby?
Although I’d always been curious about clothing on a conceptual level, my interest in men’s clothing began in earnest when I was starting grad school. I was working on my Master’s degree at Stanford and suddenly realized that I would need a major wardrobe overhaul when I entered the workforce after graduation. I spent a good amount of time learning about clothes and slowly creating a professional wardrobe in order to prepare for life after college. My college-kid thriftiness made me concentrate on buying only the most versatile items that I could find. It also made me focus on quality and getting as much as I could out of every dollar I spent. Now that I’m out of college, I have a bit more flexibility in what I can purchase, but I still find myself drawn to the most basic and pared-down items.
I started my blog in 2012 because I needed a creative outlet — I was working as a structural engineer for a large international firm, and doing 50 hours of math every week was really sucking the life out of me. I wanted to give myself a place to write, and for some reason people started reading it. In 2013 that engineering firm was struggling financially and laid off a bunch of people. I was one of them, but decided to use that time to get into menswear full-time. I haven’t looked back since.
What is your hair styling routine, if any? What products do you use and why?
I’ve always preferred the natural look when it comes to hair styling, in part because it suits my hair type and style better and because I’ve just never wanted to put in the time to mess with it. I do have some habits that I follow to keep my hair healthy — I only wash it 1-2 times per week (it doesn’t really need more than that) and I only use sulfate-free shampoos (and then follow with conditioner). Sulfates are added to many popular shampoos to give them that nice lather, but they can be quite damaging to your hair.
My skin care routine tends to be a bit more regimented: I use a delicate face cleanser once or twice a week, and always moisturize with a lotion that has at least SPF 15 right after my shower. My favorite premium brand is Urth, although there are plenty of solid products at your average drugstore (I like Aveeno and Neutrogena).
What is your EDC (“Every Day Carry”), and why? Where do you keep which items? What do you never leave home without?
My favorite piece of EDC is my slim wallet from Chester Mox — it brings a smile to my face every time I pull it out. It lives in my back right pant pocket, unless I’m wearing tailored clothing (then it goes inside the right pocket in the jacket). I’m also a bit of a chapstick addict, so I always have a tube of Burt’s Bees with me. I keep my keys in a shell cordovan key case from Phil at Ashland Leather. And like any good millennial, I have a trusty iPhone that follows me wherever I go. It is constantly moving from pocket to pocket, since I’m always adjusting what I’m listening to while I walk (and I walk a lot).
For the past six years I’ve commuted by foot (if I’m not working from home), and since I often bring a laptop I’ll either have my Ernest Alexander messenger bag or my Linjer briefcase with me. And if I have any leftovers from dinner you’d best believe those are coming with me too!
How would you describe your personal style? What is your go-to outfit?
In general, I tend to prefer simple, subdued pieces — I’ve never been into dressing flashy. These days I don’t have much need to dress up, so I wear something from my two-season wardrobe just about every day — chukkas or longwings on the feet, chinos or denim above that, and finishing off with either a plaid shirt and field jacket or oxford shirt and a sportcoat. Perhaps it’s a bit boring, but I like being able to wear my favorite pieces frequently.
What is the biggest splurge style item you own and why?
Last year I bought a pair of painfully expensive shell cordovan boots from a Crockett & Jones store while vacationing in London. This was quite atypical of me because it was a bit of an impulse purchase, I paid full price, and I bought it in store — I rarely do any of those things! It mostly came down to the fact that I was able to try them on to make sure the fit was right, and the pound was very weak so the price was cheaper than it would normally be. I’d still prefer to hunt sales most of the time, but whenever I wear those boots I remember how fun that trip was.
What is your favorite style purchase of the last year and why? Least favorite?
Pants have always been my least favorite part of men’s clothing (because my bottom half is a tough fit), and so I always have a stack of “mistake pants” that didn’t work out as well as I had hoped for.
What is your morning routine? Nighttime routine?
I have always been a big advocate of getting a full eight hours of sleep — I just don’t understand how so many people regularly get six or less. I try to use my pre-sleep time as reading time, but it can be hard to put down the screens even though we all know we should.
I’ve never been a coffee or tea drinker, so I pop out of bed around 6:30 - 7:30 in the morning all amped up and ready to get things started. I’m also very pro-breakfast (again, I don’t know how so many people skip it) so I try to start my day with something filling and healthy — I make a lot of smoothies, for example, and always have a glass or two of water. Depending on the day, I’ll spend about 45 minutes either doing a kettlebell or barbell routine. After all that, I take a quick shower and it’s off to the races.
What is one style rule you think more guys should be breaking? On the flip side, what is one style mistake you see (even some otherwise well-dressed guys) commonly making?
A lot of classic menswear guys are very anti “jeans and sportcoat” and I can see why — it’s like a menswear mullet. With that said, whether we like it or not it has become part of the modern lexicon. For that reason, I think it’s worth working on doing this look well, which can work out just fine.
In my opinion, the biggest style mistake I see well-intentioned guys making (even the ones that know a lot about clothes) is ignoring the context of their situation. Although you may be “dressing for yourself” the way you present yourself in the world will affect how people think of you. Over-dressing is not infinitely better than under-dressing, in my opinion. If you work at a casual startup and wear a suit every day, you’re not well-dressed — you’re wearing a costume. It’s easy on the internet to get lost in the details and argue about the formality of one suiting fabric versus another (and I love these discussions, trust me), but if a suit’s not appropriate to begin with, you’re not dressed well.
What book have you gifted most often?
It’s probably be tied between I Will Teach You to be Rich by Ramit Sethi and The Food Lab by Kenji Lopez-Alt. The first is a no-nonsense personal finance bible, the second is a must-have for any process-driven home cook.
How often do you read, and what kind of books? What is your overall media consumption like? How do you balance all that while staying productive?
Since I walk a lot, I use that time to listen to a wide variety of podcasts. I thoroughly enjoy it because I never quite know what nuggets of knowledge I’ll learn while walking around the city.
Lately, I’ve found that most of my reading material has centered on personal development rather than fiction and non-fiction. I’m a big advocate of public libraries (it’s one of the few places you can go hang out and not spend any money!), so I try to stop in from time to time to check something out. My reading time has decreased a bit over the past couple of years, but I’m working on bringing it back up to par!
How do you keep yourself productive? What advice would you give to someone who is looking to be more productive?
Like many folks our age, I struggle with staying focused and being productive — this has become especially true since much of my work now is consulting, which lacks the regular structure of an office. I certainly don’t have a magic bullet, but my best advice is to create routines — wake up at the same time every day, take breaks at the same time, and give yourself a timeline to follow.
The other thing is to separate your work and your personal life as much as possible: don’t answer emails in your bed, have a separate web browser for work and play, and things like that. It can be hard, but it’s worth working on.