Dapper Dude

An Interview with Nickelson Wooster, Menswear Street Style Star and Creative Director of JC Penney

Nickelson Wooster has become a staple of American street style, defining his own brand of masculine elegance. He talks to Josh Wool about his new job at JC Penney -- and how he likes feeling overdressed.

12.07.12 2:58 PM ET

Josh Wool

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Nickelson Wooster is a veritable master of all things sartorial. He’s been called the “alpha male of American street style” by GQ and has redefined the norm for modern masculine fashion through his work at Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Calvin Klein — and now JC Penney. His personal brand, a kind of of rugged style meets elegance, has shaped the way men dress all over the world. Josh Wool caught up with the Kansas native at Bobo, one of his favorite West Village restaurants.

Josh Wool: Can you describe what inspires your style?

Nickelson Wooster: Getting dressed for me is like a window to my soul. I grew up in the 60s and 70s when men were required to wear a suit, shirt, and tie every day to be taken seriously. I was at the tail end of that generation, and it had a significant impact on me. I always favor being overdressed –- if I’m not wearing a suit, I’m wearing a jacket.

JW: What does fashion say about a person?

NW: To me, how you dress is a way to show you care. I think the way you dress is a direct reflection out of what you will get out of your day; you make the effort, people will notice. You’ll feel better, and those around you will feel better.

JW: Tell us about your new(ish) role at JC Penney.

NW: I want to offer customers a way to feel better about themselves. I have found that guys are not only interested in style — they really want to know how they can get it at a good price. If I can offer our customers an upgraded point of view at prices they are comfortable with, I think it is a win for everybody.

JW: But people don’t exactly think of JC Penney in the same league as Nieman Marcus or Barneys. Is that your job, to remake the brand into something more chic?

NW: I’m not proposing three-armed jackets; I’m just proposing taste at an affordable price.

JW: Have you ever had a job you hated?

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NW: Following college graduation, I moved to New York to work for Saatchi & Saatchi. The job itself was not crappy, it was just a really crappy fit because it was all numbers, tons of spreadsheets, and analyzing business — all before computers. Years later, I realize it gave me a good understanding of what drives business; but at the time, I did not want to do it.

JW: Now you’re all over the computer. Do you think social media has changed the way we consume fashion?

NW: Absolutely. Tumblr, the Fancy, Instagram — it has democratized fashion in a new way, giving everyone instant access to what is happening on the runways and the street. I’m really interested to see how the publishing and retail worlds might blend together.

JW: What advice can you give the average guy on how to look sharp on a budget?

NW: Fit is so important … it’s about details, not about spending a fortune.

JW: What’s your favorite thing about living in New York?

NW: The great thing about New York is neighborhoods are so close to one another, yet have their own distinctive feel. The West Village has been my home off and on for 30 years, and I love how it retains the feel of local shops — my tailor, barber, and shoemaker are all within 100 feet of my front door.