Seth Putnam and Jeff Kieslich grew up in the Midwest, buying clothes a few sizes too big so they could grow into them. They didn’t own expensive labels or rush out to buy the latest trends.
When they went to college at the University of Missouri, they both saw the value of dressing sharp and realized they could do it on a budget. They also saw that fashion in the Midwest was often overlooked for New York or LA.
“Unfortunately, the stereotype of the Midwest is that it’s not super fashionable,” said Kieslich, 24, who grew up in Kansas City. “The East Coast stereotype is dressed up and LA is laid back. In the Midwest the stereotype is the absence of fashion.”
To help break that stereotype, the pair started The Midwestyle. The website offers advice for men who want to look stylish on a budget and highlights fashion trends in Midwestern hubs like Chicago and Kansas City.
Putnam, 23, a native of Joplin, Mo., first came up with the idea for the site and approached Kieslich, who was living in Chicago.
Putnam said he wanted to create a site that wasn’t just “another fashion blog,” but one that relied heavily on original content and photographs. They wanted a clear focus: showing that men in the Midwest can look sharp without spending a fortune.
“With the globalization of fashion, anyone can have a blog for their style and not have to wait for GQ to come out,” Kieslich said. “But with a lot of these blogs, the creators were women on the East Coast. There weren’t any men’s blogs from the Midwest.”
The duo added another collaborator, Cam Niederhauser, now a junior at the University of Missouri, and launched the site in January of 2011.
The inspiration for the site comes from what they saw in college, where they were surrounded by students going to class looking like they were dressed for the gym.
“In college you suddenly have the freedom to wear sweats to class,” Putnam said. “But when you’re wearing pajamas, you’re not paying attention.”
After a few semesters Putnam started taking more sartorial risks and found that his performance improved. He realized he didn’t need a specific reason to wear a tie and he could look stylish with a blazer and pants found at a thrift store.
“When you look better, you do better,” Putnam said.
The response to the site was initially quiet, but has grown steadily. Women have started reading the site and showing the posts to their brothers or boyfriends.
“The response has blown us away,” Putnam said. “With menswear blogging, the number of people doing it is small, so everyone has been very welcoming.”
Putnam and Kieslich hope Midweststyle will help other men realize that they, too, don’t need to a good reason to wear a tie and that wearing a cardigan and chinos will get them farther than a cotton shirt and gym shorts.
Their advice: dress for yourself.
“Unless you’re completely out there, you can shift public opinion by making a change in what you wear,” Kieslich said. “People will respect it.”
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