A Chat with Mr. Alton Brown

Some people only seem to know Alton Brown as a food guru, famously from the Food Network. Mr. Brown is a huge part of the Food Network’s success, as he hosts a multitude of shows and has an incredible following. Personally, I know Alton Brown for his demeanor and style — he has become my personal “Style Icon”.

Alton Brown is much more complex than his ability in the kitchen, and most people understand that. What most be people miss (well they’re missing it less…) is Alton’s impeccable taste for quality and elegance when it comes to his wardrobe.

Mr. Alton Brown, I found out, is more complex than I could have imagined and that is a wonderful thing. Find out more about Alton’s sartorial mind-set for a minute and learn about the man outside of the kitchen…

How would you describe your own style?
Elegantly shabby…or maybe shabbily elegant.

What or who inspires you the most?
I’ve always been interested in the concept of style. Not fashion per se but style. My maternal grandmother owned a dress shop in a small Georgia town and I learned a lot from her about the importance of developing a personal style…as a method of self expression. Then, when I was in the 8th grade I saw Casablanca and I discovered this whole world where guys wore dinner jackets and these fantastic double breasted suits and I thought…wow…that?s what I want to dress like when I grow up. Cinema became my passion and the style I discovered there has always influenced me whether Marcello Mastroianni in 81/2 or, well….anyone in a Wes Anderson film. Cary Grant, Fred Astaire…all those guys.

You have came a long way since your early days on Good Eats — what brought on this change? For the sartorial better that is.
The turning was Iron Chef America. I needed to wear suits for that gig. But I looked pretty terrible in what I had and my body was a wreck. So I started hanging around a men’s shop in Atlanta called Sid Mashburn and there I began to learn something about fabrics and fit. Then I started concentrating on getting in shape so I could wear Italian clothes.

A lot of your fans only recognize you for your kitchen expertise, have they showed any interest in your threads?
More and more, people comment on my wardrobe and its strange because I never really thought anyone would notice. Usually the comments concern something bold…a plaid jacket or a hat or a bow tie.

When putting an outfit together, what do you build around?
For me, the blazer is almost always first. I love blazers because they’re tools…wearable luggage if you will. I kinda feel funny without one.

I can only imagine how much a man like yourself travels — the perfect travel outfit, GO…
Wool/cashmere blend Loro Piana Zelander dress cargo pants, Cucinelli travel blazer, a simple button down and a light etro scarf because you never know. oh, and suede chukka boots.

You have a lot of character and you show a lot of your personality in the way you dress (we love that about you!) – What are your style “dos and “do nots”?
1) Don’t fuss. If my bow tie doesn’t knot perfectly…so what. If my pocket square doesn’t puff just right…screw it. Shirt isn’t perfectly ironed? Whatever.
2) Don’t be afraid of a splash of color. I even put bright hook+ALBERT laces in my beat up boots.
3) WEAR YOUR CLOTHES! Don’t let them wear you.
4) Fit is everything.
5) Fabric comes just after fit. Good fabric can take a lot of abuse and still look great.
6) Use your clothes. I wear my Burberry trench on a motorcycle and get mud all over it. That’s what it’s For!
7) You’re better off with one alligator belt than a whole rack of crap.
8) Always dress a little better than you think the situation requires.
9) Screw casual Friday
10) If you’re wearing flip flops you’d better be at a beach or in a locker room
11) Pleats…don’t.
12) Find a tailor. That way when you unearth something sweet at Good Will in the wrong size, there’s hope.
13) Wear a vintage watch on a cool strap. The watch is the first thing I look at on a man.
14) Unless you’re a college student or a soldier on deployment, or heading out into the woods, I beseech you to rethink the backpack.
15) When you take your shoes off at the end of the day, put in shoe trees. that way the leather will dry in the proper shape. The next day you can take them out.
16) Buy a decent suit brush and brush your blazer or suit every time you wear it makes a huge difference. That and a steamer will keep you from having to go to the dry c,earner so often.
17) Quirks can be good but you gotta own them. Sometimes in summer I’ll wear a rep tie as a belt with my seersucker suit. I get away with it because…I honestly don’t care what someone else thinks. I dress for me. I own it.
18) A winter overcoat should have a flask pocket and you should have a decent silver or pewter flask to go in it. We are civilized after all.
19) In summer, I wear hats. A light-weight straw, properly fitted and worn with a casual rake will make you look great and keep skin cancer at bay.
20) An Etro pocket square can transform an entire outfit…for the better.
21) Buy a pair of jeans that were made in America, damnit.
22) I really hate fleece.

If your whole wardrobe was destroyed by an alien invasion, but you could save one item, what would it be?
Navy blazer…hands down. Although this is the south so I’d like to save my white bucks too.

The bow tie seems to be a signature of yours — tell us about that.
I started wearing bow ties because I’m a pilot and straight ties get tangled up with cables and harnesses when you fly. Also, I got tired of spilling stuff on ties. And I think you can get away with more colors and complex patterns with a bow because it takes up less space. The trick with bows is to never tie them perfectly…unless you’re wearing a tux. Oh, and no clip-ones or fake strap-ons. If you’ve got ten minutes and a mirror you can learn to tie a bow tie.

What is on your shopping list right now?
A suit from Anderson & Sheppard. And some handmade shoes would be flippin’ sweet.

Is there any designer or company you are especially fond of right now?
Isaia. Flat out. They’re clothes fit me amazingly well right off the rack and I really dig what they do with fabric.

What can’t you leave the house without? What’s in your pockets?
Nutmeg…a pocket knife…cash, a small notebook of some type, a fountain pen, and my iPhone.

Because you are a food genius — the ultimate sartorial dinner is…?
A chicken roasted on an antique clockwork rotisserie by the fire.

What makes Alton Brown suave by nature?
I care…but then again, I don’t.