What is the future of dressing up? Has the pandemic, as many have suggested, killed off proper attire for good?
Back in January I published a storybook of “apocalyptic menswear fiction” in which I assembled the entire history of men’s fashion in one place, lit a match and burned it to the ground. And just to make sure it was gone forever, flushed it down the toilet. You could say I needed to get it out of my system, as my disillusioned narrator drops out of society to live the kind of simple life our ancestors knew.
But I also wrote “These Are Our Failures” — the title is a reference to a famous Beau Brummell anecdote — as a wake-up call about the fate of masculine elegance. The trio of main characters includes the luxury lifestyle journalist who gets the scoop of the millennium, a vintage clothing dealer who believes that if we simply enacted Socialism everyone would naturally want to dress up and look their best, and the last of the Old Money WASP billionaires.
Here’s an excerpt:
“Look, men have been talking about the death of the necktie for years, but we’ve developed software that can actually measure it.”
I cocked my head at an angle of inquiry.
“It tracks the wearing and non-wearing of a necktie by prominent men as captured by the mainstream media. A few years ago the threshold alarm went off. The trend had reached the irreversible, signaling we are now in Preservation Mode.”
There was an odd rumble from outside that caused our dinnerware to rattle. Unfazed, Mark continued. “This is what the media, brands and retailers—everyone whose business it is—this is what they don’t realize because they’re in denial. If ‘dressing up’ were a person, it would not be a boulevardier fawned over by the society pages. It would be an old man in a nursing home, sporting a boutonniere that foreshadows the flowers at his own impending funeral. And guys like us who love clothes are the cultish acolytes who come to visit the old geezer before he croaks.”
“And this software of yours,” I asked, “is tracking the necktie and not suits?”
Mark shook his head and daintily placed a piece of salmon in his mouth. “Suits cover a man’s entire body; are the flashy, changing part of fashion; and are the industry’s big-ticket item. But suits do not measure the health of traditional menswear. You can still have suits but no ties—that’s what they do in Hollywood, and now corporate America and politics. It’s what they do in Iran, because they think the necktie is a Western affectation. They’re right, of course: it is an affectation, but an affectation that has held the whole formula together for the past two centuries. The very concept of what it means to be well dressed falls apart without the necktie. Fashion has its cycles, but not when it comes to formality. Once men stop wearing something, it’s gone forever.”
“And you say we’ve reached this point?”
“There’s no point in denying reality: our values are no longer reflected in mainstream society. We’re preservationists, a small group of eccentric relics. You could say we’re all becoming Tom Wolfe.”
Back in March I was shown a write-up on the book by Christian Barker for The Rake, but then coronavirus struck and the story was “killed,” which is actually a plot device that appears in the book. The last I heard, The Rake’s editorial department felt that “no one cares about ties right now.” Which is the entire point of the book in the first place.
There are still some copies left, which are available exclusively from my partner and all-around good guy Kirby Allison. Makes a great gift. At least I’d like to think so. Happy Black Friday 2020. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD