What to say about George Costanza? Everyone knows him. No one was supposed to like him, but somehow, we’ve all seemed to find a soft spot for him in our hearts. When thinking about the character from the ’90s hit TV sitcom “Seinfeld” (the so-called “show about nothing”), one typically thinks of him creating some scheme that will work him out of a situation that he has gotten himself into by spinning lies. If not that, maybe we think about him getting in an argument with someone, say a clown at a child’s birthday party. But what we don’t typically think about is his style. It would be easy to dress up as him for Halloween: a plaid shirt, khaki or grey pants, Nike Cortez sneakers, and wire rim glasses. But that oversimplification actually takes away from a bold, personal statement George Costanza’s character is making through his clothes. Let’s examine George’s look falls and how that fits into the Ivy League look.
What’s brilliant about George Costanza’s dress is this. When the average person looks at George, what he wears isn’t the first thing, or something at all, that comes to mind. And that is important because it highlights the understated nature of his garb. However, when the sartorial-minded man looks at George, he sees something different entirely. Episode to episode, it would be easy to presume George dresses roughly the same. But I would make the case that almost all of the outfits George wears are not so much the same as they are in line with the style that he has cultivated. One would never see George, who can be found wearing a herringbone tweed jacket over a sweater mismatched with khakis, or a polo shirt tucked into pants with a leather belt that matches the leather on his shoes, all of a sudden wearing parachute pants and a tank top. Why? It’s not because he has something against those fashion trends of the 90’s when Seinfeld was on air, but because those items are not in line with his character’s dress and its message.
So, then, what is this style that George has created for himself? Well, I would say it’s something unique to him built around items that are not unique at all. The three main categories we Trads typically use are the Ivy League Look, Preppy and, of course, Trad. When thinking about the Ivy League Look, what comes to mind for me is just as much the clothes as it is the details that surround them. Repp ties, OCBD’s, khakis and Weejuns are all just as important as the size of the knot with which you tie your tie, if a shirt has a pocket or not, cuffs on your pants and when your shoe needs to be resoled. And while George does incorporate both garments as well as details and rules typically attributed to Ivy style into his own wardrobe, it is clear to see by watching him over the course of nine seasons that he is not an avid practitioner of the look. So what about Preppy? There really does not need to be an argument made here. George is not preppy. George wears muted colors as opposed to bright ones, he almost never wears shorts and he also never wears boat shoes. While these aren’t the only ways to distinguish if one is preppy or not, I think by glance alone it is easy to tell that George is not preppy. And so we come to our last of the three pillars, Trad. The trad look means different things to different people, just as all of these looks do. And while there are rules for each look which you can see if someone follows or not, by examining at a handful of outfits alone it is hard to tell what someone’s personal style is. But what is Trad? Trad is a little less regulated than Ivy style and a good deal more formal than Preppy. While Ivies tend to dress a little more practically, Trads tend to have a perpetual desire to look good. Even at a less formal occasion, one where you would see a preppy wearing a polo or an Ivy wearing a sweater, the trad would probably be seen in a suit with a sweater underneath, or, at the very least, a sport jacket. But back to George. Is George trad by the definition I just outlined? Not really. But, when the occasion calls, George, like he does with elements from the Ivy and Preppy styles, takes cues from the Trad style.
After examining the three pillars of classic casual American menswear, it’s clear to see that George Costanza is not a cut and dry example of any one of them. Yet that is what makes his sense of style work so well for him. It’s clear to see by watching just about any episode of Seinfeld that George sometimes doesn’t care at all what others think of him, and other times that’s all he can think about; but regardless, he usually ends up doing what suits him best. So it is because he has this general sense of “what works best for me” that his style actually does work so well for him. George Costanza is a balding, unemployed thirty-something living at home with his parents. He comes from a middle class background in Queens, NY. No one would say George is a WASP by any stretch of the imagination. And the amazing thing is, he can get away with taking cues, rules and elements of styles traditionally worn by WASPs without trying to look like them. He has a style that borrows a bit from Ivy, a bit from Preppy and a bit from Trad. And while he takes his nods from styles invented by WASPs, he never appears to try and look like one. That is because George Costanza has cultivated a style that mixes and matches different elements, a style that doesn’t fit into guidelines, and a style that is only for him. And that is why he looks so good in it.
George’s personal style brings up an important, yet often overlooked, aspect of the Ivy League Look, an intangible aspect. It is easy, with the Ivy Style just as it is with anything, to focus only on the black and white, the details, the rules. It’s easy because they are there written out for you, no thinking required. Button down my collar? OK. Three buttons on the chest of my jacket? OK. Only wear madras during the summer months? OK. But what is not so easy to look at is the confidence and comfort with which one carries themself. These are not factors unique to the Ivy League Look, but ones the look came about because of and ones that helped spread it. George has developed a style that works for him, and in doing so, has found it easy to be comfortable in his clothes (his lack of confidence, however, is an important part of his character on the show and has nothing to do with his clothes). So while his personal look may not tie in exactly to the X’s and O’s of the Ivy League Look, his aura is exactly that of someone who would sport Ivy style in its intended form, with comfortability, uniqueness, and personality. I guess it’s kind of ironic that the things George Costanza’s dress tell us are in extreme juxtaposition to his character traits. Was the costume designer for Seinfeld intending for this irony or were they simply a fan of a well dressed man? Maybe it’s better if we can just appreciate George Costanza, sartorial superstar. — TREVOR JONES