Parker York Smith, a menswear influencer and founder of The Looksmith, traded his journalism career to help regular guys look and feel good about what they wear.
If things had gone a little differently, Parker York Smith might be anchoring your nightly news. With his square jaw, flowing hair, and crisp wardrobe, he certainly looks the part. Instead, he decided to take his longtime love of fashion and build a personal media brand, guiding men on both the basics and latest style trends.
Growing up, Smith was drawn to the news business, and studied broadcast journalism in college, before making the rounds at local news networks. But he decided that chasing down stories in the field wasn't for him.
Style and fashion had always been a passion of his, taking his cues from a sartorially minded father early on. So, using some of the same skills he had honed in traditional media, he branched out on his own, posting Instagrams, writing blog posts, shooting video, and ultimately creating The Looksmith—all in an effort to make style attainable and achievable for everyday guys.
From his perch in Hollywood, the native Midwesterner has been at it for the past three years, growing his audience and forging partnerships with different brands, including work as a GQ Insider and a new YouTube channel.
We recently caught up with the always-dapper Smith, to get his take on channeling your own personal style, what it’s like to create a media brand from scratch, and why, every so often, he feels like James Dean.
As a “menswear influencer,” you wear a lot of different hats—often literally. How do you describe what you do?
I am someone who looks to educate my fellow man on the way that they can best express themselves through their style, through their fashion. I like to teach classic rules, but also allow for some liberties to be taken and ways that guys can allow themselves to be different from the crowd without having to stick out like a sore thumb. Boosting confidence and boosting individuality through the use of style.
How do you make that attainable for guys who are starting from square one?
Because I’ve been in it for such a long time, it’s been a really interesting learning experience for me, because what I naturally gravitate toward myself is unique and isn’t going to be as widely understood or appreciated. So I’ve had to really dial it down at times because I’m so focused on education and not, “Look how cool I can look in clothes!” I think it’s important for guys to be able to come to me with questions and for me to not automatically give the most trendy, high-fashion thing, but something they can incorporate in their everyday lives. Fashion can be so self-serious and that’s not me. I like to be able to express myself and not stick in certain boundaries
How did you get into this?
Originally, I graduated from college with a degree in broadcast journalism and kind of immediately out of school tried to go the traditional news anchor route and realized it wasn’t really for me. I didn’t enjoy the field as much as I thought I would. So I left the local news arena and pursued some acting and had some minor success with that. But after hitting a wall and not really sure what to do, my girlfriend suggested I should consider cataloging my outfits and sharing them with people and maybe they would either enjoy what I was wearing or learn something. And because I enjoy writing and I enjoy fashion, it was a nice collision of the two.
Why are you passionate about style and fashion?
It’s kind of in my blood. My father was really in tune with fashion growing up. I would see him paying attention to it. The big thing that really got my journey started was I attended private school from first grade through high school. And in elementary school, we had to wear a uniform, but we were allowed to wear sneakers, so that was the way we expressed and differentiated ourselves. For me, my birthday is August 30, so it was always when the school year started, and my understood gift was my mom would take me shoe shopping. So I would get the latest, coolest Air Max or whatever it was. It started to sort of build this expectation for myself to have something that was interesting to people, and I enjoyed the way it made me feel different from everyone else, to express myself that way.
After a long time, it became less about impressing other people and more about allowing me to relay my mood from the moment I walk out my door, not only to myself but to the world around me.
What’s it like running your own media brand?
It’s been a big learning experience, that’s for sure. I’ve always been someone who either worked in restaurants or on modeling jobs or things like that, so I never really studied business in college or learned the traditional inner workings of a business. So it’s a constant learning experience for me, in terms of accounting and marketing and being a one-man band. Doing everything is overwhelming at times, but when it works, it’s the best feeling in the world—knowing I’m responsible for myself and the freedom that offers is pretty incredible.
How do you describe your personal style?
Very West Coast casual. I’m someone who would very gladly wear the perfect jeans and beat-up white T-shirt every single day if I could. But I also enjoy sticking with basic aesthetics, what I call my base layer. Then surrounding it with really interesting sneakers and rings and bracelets and hats, that allow me to be very comfortable but very expressive. The more I’m able to make a basic outfit my own, the better.
And what are some of your fashion influences? Give us a cheat sheet.
In terms of influences, everything. I love LA because I can get influenced by a lot of people I see on the street. I’m good at mentally cataloguing if I see an interesting mannequin or a guy on the street. I think, “I would’ve never thought to wear those pants with those boots.” And with Instagram, you can people-watch anytime you want, which is really helpful, because there are a lot of people doing it really well. I like that there are so many guys out there who are finally realizing how beneficial focusing on your style can be.
What’s your advice on style, for someone who’s looking to make a change?
It’s not about being impressive, it’s about being expressive. If you’re at a point where you’re ready to take it to the next level, remember, you understand what fits you, what’s most comfortable to you. I know guys who wear suits and ties every day because they feel most comfortable in suits and ties. That’s not something I naturally gravitate toward. So if they have an understanding of their genre or what’s best for them, accessories are a big recommendation of mine. If you’re not someone who already wears necklaces and bracelets and rings, slowly delve into that. Take baby steps. You’re never going to be comfortable if you dive in on something major. If you are like, “You know what, I’m not a hat guy, but I desperately want to be a hat guy,” take 30 days, wear a hat every single day, even if it’s around the house. Do something outside your comfort zone and you’ll start to feel comfortable. That’s how you expand. Long story short, baby steps.
Being in this industry, you must accumulate a lot of “stuff.” What’s really essential to you?
I think essentials are categorically different. For me, it behooves my business to have a lot of options of everything. But for the average person who’s not necessarily looking to show off, quality over quantity. Having a mid-wash slim pair of jeans that are broken in are actually essential. Some white sneakers, some black and/or brown boots, a white button-down shirt, a white T-shirt, and a comfortable, unstructured navy blazer. These are things that are all going to look good on any type of guy, no matter what. If it fits, it’s great. I don’t care what your essentials are, as long as they fit and they’re quality products you can break in and be emotionally attached to to a healthy degree, the better.
As someone who’s around fashion all day long, what are your thoughts on American Made Supply Co.?
I love American Made stuff. Just the fact that it’s a super reliable, quality-made thing, and it’s American-made. More and more, I say be aware of where your products come from and where they’re being made. It does make a difference. Something at H&M or Zara may cost 10 bucks, but it’s not going to hold up and you’re not going to feel the quality on yourself.
American Made is affordable, so it’s great that they’ve opened up opportunities for people to have great basics without breaking the bank. Everything from the sweats to the baseball tee, they’re all super comfortable. A white pocket T-shirt is arguably the greatest piece in fashion for me personally. When it fits right, it makes me feel like James Dean.
What does it mean to you to be American Made?
The first word that comes to mind is freedom. And as stereotypical as that is, I feel really strongly about it in the sense that, internationally speaking, you don’t necessarily have the freedom to be who you want to be on a daily basis. So having the availability of being a businessman today and a streetwear person tomorrow is freeing. It’s really nice to not feel like I have to be the same thing all the time. It’s nice to know being American Made is something that allows me to make my own decisions and not have them made for me. And the availability to pursue entrepreneurship and start my own business because I didn’t like the status quo and bureaucracy of corporate life. I respect the structure of it, but I also hate the fact that you can work your ass off and get passed up if they feel like it. Whereas with entrepreneurship, you can work your ass off—it may not work out, you may not be the next Mark Cuban—but you can still make an impact, provide for yourself, and learn so much more.
By Rod Kurtz