A For Effort

Still, perhaps no other 20th-century icon better exemplifies casual American elegance like Fred Astaire. While all Ivy style is American (even when it’s Italian loafers and Scottish sweaters), not all American style is Ivy. Still, few illustrate the crossover better than Astaire.

Astaire’s personal style, which he employed in his films whenever possible, was based on natural shouldered tweed jackets, soft-roll buttondown collars and rep ties. A customer of Brooks Brothers since about 1920, he would buy striped ties by the dozen.

Astaire also knew instinctively the importance of looking dressed down even when dressed up. He was often seen with his jacket removed and sleeves rolled up. And in a famous apocryphal anecdote, he would supposedly throw a new jacket against the wall a few times to break it in. Above all, just like his dancing, Astaire’s style suggested a lack of effort, a carefree nonchalance that many strive for and few achieve.

However, Astaire was no fan of the Ivy League Look during its heyday, saying “I simply don’t understand it. It may look well on some people, young ones, but it’s terrible on me.” And further:

The unpadded shoulders, the three-buttoned long and boxy coat, the too-short, thin pants, and the thin ties with striped buttoned shirts in dark colors—well, I suppose this may go very well with some personalities but it’s not for me. To me, all such look like TV producers. Maybe they want to.

A recent biography on Astaire explores the man behind the style. The author is Joseph Epstein, author of the mildly amusing “Snobbery: The American Version.” Writing on Astaire, Epstein opines:

Charm is elegance made casual, with emphasis on the casual. American charm, to be truly American, somehow has to combine the aristocratic with the democratic, but without a trace of snobbery.

Epstein’s book, however, has not been well received, so consider Boyer’s style tribute instead. — CC

9 Comments on "A For Effort"

  1. Canadian Trad | January 18, 2019 at 5:16 pm |

    “Consider Boyer” is always good sartorial advice. When he’s older, I should give the boy my copy of Elegance and inscribe it with, “Find your own style, son. But if you’re in doubt you can always ask yourself, ‘What would Bruce Boyer wear?’”

  2. Or you could just cut out the middleman and ask “What would Luciano Barbera wear?”


    Hey, even role models have role models.

  3. Canadian Trad | January 18, 2019 at 9:46 pm |

    I’m a fan. He looks like my grandfather had he been Italian rather than a Scot.

  4. I’m not sure Ivy is the best style for a short, skinny guy. So, his judgment about Ivy is spot on.

    Before I discovered the affiliations with jazz, Steve McQueen, and New Yorker writers and so on, the most natural association (growing up) was the preppy jock and/or college fraternity guy. The BMOC.

    It’s a great look for athletes. And then there’s All-American thing with Ivy. Astaire’s look was more Continental. Think Paul Stuart and Carroll & Co. Didn’t he buy Anderson & Sheppard suits and jackets?

  5. Chalk up his care-free nonchalance to sprezzatura (spelling?).

    Mr. Astaire wore belts made from repp ties and used to wear collar pins with button-down shirts.

    He is also remembered for wearing boater hats, a style that has been out of fashion for a hundred years.

    As an aside, I enjoyed the bowler hats, sack suits, and wild ties in the new Laurel and Hardy film. Alan Flusser calls bold, art-deco style ties “Charvet prints.”

  6. Evan Everhart | January 21, 2019 at 11:12 pm |

    Barbera’s real faux pas is not the fit of his jacket, but rather the bulk and unseemly and unsightly breadth of his neckties. Yikes! But well dressed, over all.

  7. One only has to watch this clip from “The Band Wagon” and one would know Mr. Astaire knew what he was doing.


    And Cyd didn’t look to bad either!

  8. Carmelo Pugliatti | January 31, 2019 at 12:54 am |

    Well,Astaire in my opinion was the standard-bearer of the best American style (sorry Ivy),the middle atlantic Anglo-American style.
    Ralph Lauren in his best times reprise it.
    Middle atlantic is for exemple a well cut double breasted (or single breasted two buttons),darted, with side vents,pair with button down or collar pin shirt,Houndstooth or striped tie,brown suede shoes,pork pie hat.
    Fred Astaire tailor’s were Anderson & Sheppard (but also Gieves for some tailcoat)in London and Schmitt & Galluppo in Los Angeles.
    The thing that i love in Astaire is that he ever had his own style; never too much baggy or skinny trousers,never too much large or slim lapels and ties, never huge padded shoulders,never fancy 40s ties or minimalistic thin navy ties in late 50s.

    About Luciano Barbera,i think that for sprezzatura he worn coats and suits of his youth,when he had a different size.
    Obviously he could have alteration from a tailor,or simply buy new bespoke suits,but the message that he want give is “who care”?
    Is a pose.
    I don’t never loved Luciano Barbera..and apart for the style,believe me, he is not a pleasent,nice, man.

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