Us men don’t have many opportunities to add a little pop to our wardrobe. We have a few conservative options in watches, belts and shoes, but every pair of cufflinks needs its own French cuff shirt, and trying to bling every day at the office quickly turns you into Needless Tie Bar Guy.
We do, however, all have smartphones. When treated correctly, they’re the perfect gateway to branch out stylistically. Unfortunately, there are few good tips on how to wear your phone, so if GQ won’t do it, we will.
Let’s start with the hard and fast rules: first, no giant bumper-car cases. This list was designed to wean you off ugly Otterboxes — safety and utility are great in theory, but so are fanny packs and cargo shorts. On that note, cases that make your phone look like a classic Game Boy or a mixtape are fine for the duct tape wallet crowd, but that won’t fly at work (unless you’re a back-end web developer).
And please, no cases by mainstream designers. The ladies have a few decent options in this realm, but a big branded Louie V case is in the giant diamond stud earring category of douchebaggery. Moreover, the unending army of knockoffs have put even the classic Burberry check on hiatus.
Finally, no belt clips, unless you have one that matches your fedora. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get on the best contenders, sorted by what personal brand of fly you are.
Warning: this list skews a little iPhone heavy, so if you’re in the green-messages crowd, we hope you still think this is a valuable learning experience.
Your hats are Supreme, you have a skateboard with a “Protect Lil B at All Costs” deck, and your phone background is a selfie you took with Tyler, the Creator at the Badbadnotgood show. You’re probably unafraid of rocking cotton candy colors a la the “Beamer” music video.
If you haven’t plastered your phone up with decals yet — or even if you have — try the Odd Future Donut iPhone case to show how truly #based you are.
Pair with: Dickies shorts, a Supreme hat, Creative Recreations, Urban Ears headphones and cotton mouth.
We can’t say “hipster” anymore, right? Let’s be more specific: this one is for guys who make coffee using the pour-over method, take woodshop classes, work in creative design and felt physically ill when Williamsburg got its first Starbucks. You know who you are, and the case you’re looking for resembles a hand-drawn poster for an Andrew Bird show.
Threadless is the spot to browse. They crowd-source patterns from a community of artists whose work belongs in the pockets of your untreated Japanese selvedge denim. We advise shelling out a hundred bucks or so to get a few cases so you can swap them out seasonally. Hint: loud rust colors are going to be huge this fall.
Pair with: A denim button down, bespoke jeans, sailor tats, a professionally groomed beard and work boots.
If your first question about someone is “Exeter or Groton,” we know what you’re looking for. You need something you can wear on the tennis court, at the club, or out on the sound — a case you can dress in tassle loafers and a classic 1818 blazer when you need.
Adidas makes a sporty case with a little protection for the racquetball court. The look is very Spring/Summer, but are you really going to stay north for winter? Even if you are, it’s ok to throw on the protective, waterproof case when you’re at Taos or Stratton.
And if anyone down among the plebes accuses you of being a preppy freak, you just point them over to David Foster Wallace’s classic essay, “Federer As Religious Experience.” That’ll show ‘em.
Pair with: A classic polo, headband, white sneaks, Clubmasters, a pearly white smile and a trust fund.
Cases that double as leather wallets have a hint of Student Body President to them, but you can just barely pull this off if you shy away from form-fitting clothes.
The extra layer of leather will add some bulk back, bringing you dangerously close to Otterbox territory. But what you lose in front pocket space, you gain big time in not having to carry a wallet. If you’re going for this look, dish out an extra couple of bucks on some real leather like this one from Mapi — black or brown only!
Another brand of this look are cases that make your phone make look like a small, worn book. They’re cute, but be warned: talking about your phone case and immediately railing on about your reading habits will make you look like a major try-hard. When you go high brow, never brag.
Pair with: Slim-cut khakis, a button-down collar, a forest green cardigan and loafers that match the color of the leather case.
Dark, fashionable and moody. The most common thing people say about you is that “it’s like you’re at every show,” but you’re just holding yourself over with Banks and The Weeknd while you wait for The xx to finish another damn album. If you ever went designer, you’re wearing Public School and maybe Varvatos, but you’ll hit up flash sale sites to stay on the very leading edge of trends, and you know that black and white is in fashion every season, every year.
You probably want something more abstract: cityscapes, psychedelic patterns, Escher-style optical tricks and moody greyscales. And if none of that suits your mood, go with a typography design. Those never fall out of fashion.
Pair with: Leather joggers, high-top Android Homme or Supra sneakers, a bandana print shirt and a panel hat.
Using wood for a phone case is like using it in your apartment — it gives a comfortable, classy, natural look, and it simply looks good with everything. It’s antique and attractive, and you can dress it up for the boardroom and down for the trap. We recommend Karvt, which offers a whole host of different kinds of hand-cut wood skins and, based on this writer’s experience, is a total compliment magnet.
Wooden cases typically offer absolutely nothing in the world of protection, but it’s the sacrifice you make for timeless class. Warning: never ever, ever get a wood print that isn’t real wood.
Pair with: Anything really, but our recommendation would be a slim cut linen suit with peak lapels, a white button down with a spread collar, double monk strap shoes and a briefcase.
Ok, so maybe this kind of list isn’t for you. Maybe your special guy or gal got you to click through, hoping you’d ditch your Otterbox while you keep saying “I don’t know, it’s just not me.” If you can’t make up your mind, here’s the middle of the road option — a safe, slim, inoffensive hardshell case that’ll just cause your phone to go unnoticed.
Pair with: Whatever it is you wear. Hanes t-shirts, turtlenecks, Nikes, whatever.
It's time to ditch the Otterbox — safety and utility are great in theory, but so are fanny packs and cargo shorts.