Still Elegant After 30 Years

Tue 21 Apr 2015 - Filed under: Historic Texts,Personae — Christian
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417jx++tRUL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Apologies for being in the dark yesterday as we got bit by another bug. We’re now in the process of migrating to a new hosting company with better protection against these tedious maladies.

In the meantime, we welcome everyone back with a special treat from Toronto-based style writer and broadcaster Pedro Mendes, who recently interviewed G. Bruce Boyer for his blog The Hogtown Rake on the 30th anniversary of Boyer’s classic book “Elegance” 

Knowing Bruce has friends and fans here, Mendes reached out this morning offering to share his interview directly on Ivy Style. Et voila, as they say in Canada (or should that be “eh voila?”)

Oh, and speaking of anniversaries, just last week Boyer grew another year wiser. — CC

* * *

It has been 30 years since G. Bruce Boyer wrote Elegance, his now classic book on men’s style. I recently read it for the first time and while I found it inspiring, I was also constantly fluctuating between two sensations. First, almost shocking familiarity because so much of what Mr. Boyer wrote about is happening now: a return to elegance in men’s dress and a nostalgia for the 1920s and 30s, for example. Second, and much more pronounced, was a sense of sadness by how much has changed in the last three decades. Just as a new generation is rediscovering what it means to dress well, many of the makers, sellers and suppliers Mr. Boyer wrote about are either long gone or inexorably changed. As I read the book, I came up with question after question in my mind I wanted to ask Mr. Boyer. So when I finished, I contacted him. I am very, very thankful that he agreed to answer a number of my questions, providing insights both to those who have and haven’t read the book. We also touched on his soon to be released True Style.PEDRO MENDES

* * *

PM: When I read the book, I was quite taken by how much we’ve lost and how much has changed for the worse. How does the book make you feel, 30 years later?

GBB: Funnily enough, I’m still happy with Elegance, except for the “service” elements of it, i.e. those list of shops which, as you note, are sadly out of date. It’s very sad for me that some of the great New York stores — I’m thinking of the old Abercrombie & Fitch, M. J. Knoud Saddlery, H. Kauffman & Sons, Fulton Supply, and other places where you could find authentic sports clothing — are no longer with us. But life moves on, manners and mores change, and there are new venues to seek out and patronize.

PM: What changes have there been to your personal approach to style and your wardrobe in the last 30 years?

GBB: I’m afraid I’m a prisoner of my youth. When I was a young man — 12 to 20 — I experimented with all sorts of dress, but more and more drifted to American Ivy style clothes with a British influence. As early as 1958 or so I was also already aware of the Italian approach — we called it “Continental” style at the time — and was affected by that too. By that time I had stopped experimenting with styles and was more interested in simply finding shops and craftsmen who could give me what I wanted. In other words, by the time I was 20 or so, I was honing my style and taste, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I admit to looking a bit old-fashioned, but then I’m not a young man anymore so it doesn’t really matter.

PM: You wrote about a return to elegance in the ’80s, similar to what is happening now. But is it happening for the same reasons?

GBB: I think there are always a number of young men who will be interested in elegance, and the times will determine what that concept means and how it is envisioned. Thirty years ago of course there was no widespread internet of shopping and blogging advice. Today many more men are aware of the golden names of craftsmanship and quality in clothing than there were in the 80s. Also today we have witnessed the great rise of the Tokyo-Singapore-Hong Kong triangle. Asia has become a major player in men’s fashion, we are aware of stores like The Armoury and Kamakura, the great Japanese fashion magazines, and The Rake (from Singapore). The influence is more pervasive and international today than it was in the 80s.

PM: When you spoke of “bespoke” and “hand-lasted”, I get the impression that far more men knew terms like those 30 years ago than today. Is that true?

GBB: The problem is that these terms — bespoke, custom, made-to-measure, benchmade, hand-lasted, and others — used to have definite and distinct meanings. But because of commercial greed and lax legislation, they are now used indiscriminately to sell product. From what I gather, even the British courts will not take a stand on the use of these words. So now everyone uses the word “bespoke” to the detriment of the unwary consumer. When anything can mean anything, the consumer must educate himself to a high degree or get robbed. That’s how capitalism works: Let the buyer beware.

gbbPM: It seemed at the time that the 80s were the end of the “let’s-dress-any-old-way-we-want” era, yet that seems more true today than ever. Do you feel hope for the future of tailored clothes or is this current trend a last gasp?

GBB: This is the real question, and if I could answer it I would probably be phoning in this interview from a rather capacious mansion in the South of France. On a philosophical-sociological level, clothing has always been a way of showing one’s place in the social sphere, and I think that this will always be so. Even with saints and communists, some will want to look a bit better than others. But the slice of the pie of tailored clothing is very small today, every retailer is fighting desperately for a crumb of it. Further, the tailored wardrobe, as we know it — suit, shirt & tie, leather shoes — has had a long go of it, hasn’t changed much at all in 150 years, which is an incredibly long time when you consider what’s happened in science — think of transportation, medicine, technology — in those years. We can have a nice cup of coffee 50,000 feet in the air, and all the while be dressed the way we were a hundred years ago.

PM: You called Savile Row “the greatest tailoring street in the world. Period.” Do you still feel this way?

GBB: Yes, simply because it still has the largest group of tailors in the smallest space. My feeling is that this is a very good thing, because they can all help and feed off each other, trade ideas while still be in competition. Craftsmen and artists must talk to each other. Other cities would do well to institute “Craft Zones”. Savile Row is always under assault by developers, until it’s pointed out to the London City Council that a great deal of money accrues to the city by tourists coming to the Row to buy clothes and leaving a lot of money behind.

PM: Of all the major retailers featured in the book, it seems LL Bean has changed the least. Would you agree?

GBB: No, I’m afraid that LL Bean has changed along with the rest. What we see in every great retailer is that quality continues to go down as quantity increases. To be fair, it’s a vicious cycle: if people want more instead of better, that’s what retailers will sell them. Many people today would rather have six pair of cheap shoes rather than one pair of good shoes.


Goodbye And Good Riddance

Sat 18 Apr 2015 - Filed under: Historic Texts — Christian
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After that epic winter, I hope I never see tweed again. If you haven’t brushed your old jackets and put them away yet, this weekend might be the time.

Just don’t forget to get outside. — CC


Typical University Of Virginia Students, 1962

Fri 3 Apr 2015 - Filed under: 1960s,Historic Images,Historic Texts — Christian
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Following our April Fool’s Day diversion, we return to the topic of UVA with this wonderful find by assistant editor Christopher Sharp. Pictured are caricatures by Carlton Abbott entitled “Typical UVA Students,” which appeared in a 1962 issue of University of Virginia Magazine.

Pictured above is The Ghoul, whose description reads:

Amusements: Bicycling, Chess, Newcomb Hall;

Clothes: Stretch Socks, Leggett’s Galoshes, Clearasil;

Drink: Vanilla, Coke, Teem;

Girls: Night-Stand Books;

Places Never Seen: Cavalier, Down the Road



April Fool’s Day: Collegiate Pulp Novels

Wed 1 Apr 2015 - Filed under: Historic Images,Historic Texts — Christian
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The joke is these are no joke. Note descent from campus lover to campus affair to campus doll to campus tramp. I wonder if the consumer of these had ever been to college. — CC



Roll Of A Lifetime: Esquire On Buttondowns, 1983

Sat 7 Mar 2015 - Filed under: 1980s,Historic Texts — Christian
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A reader recently left a comment saying that collar roll is a fetish of the Internet age and that didn’t exist in the analog decades. Assistant editor Chris Sharp tapped his photographic memory, rummaged through his archives, and immediately produced an article from the April, 1983 issue of Esquire in which John Berendt opined on buttondowns and collar roll. Here are the highlights. — CC & CS

* * *

The mere thought of buttondown shirts reminds me of the late, dapper George Frazier, freewheeling columnist for The Boston Globe and a contributor to this magazine over a span of many years. George Frazier possessed a highly refined sense of style, and he could be moved to eloquence on the cut of a Huntsman suit, the precision of a hunting gun, the elegance of handmade Lobb shoes, or the shoeshine at Ralph Kaufman’s place at the Cleveland airport, which was, in George’s estimation, “an achievement of such matchless glossiness” that on more than one occasion he changes planes in Cleveland just to avail himself of its artistry. “The roll of the collar,” Geoerge used to say apropos of buttondown shirts, “that is the most important thing.”

And, of course, he was right. The roll is everything when it comes to buttondown shirts, the roll being that parabolic curve, described by the forward edges of the collar. The whole idea of the buttondown, historically, has been that it was a soft, unlined collar with long points that would flap in the breeze if they were not tethered. This was the case when John Brooks of Brooks Brothers first laid eyes on them at a polo match in England in 1900. Players had fastened their collars with buttons to keep them from snapping in their faces. Brooks brought the idea back to New York, and from that day to this the white oxford-cloth polo-collar shirt has been Brooks Brothers’ biggest-selling item. The Brooks polo collar has a full roll to it, which is the only contour that makes any sense. Buttondown shirts with short straight collars and no roll are an anomaly; they do not need buttons, they need collar stays.

In its 82 years, the Brooks buttondown has seen very few changes. Colors have been added to the line along the way, most notably pink… As always, the shirt’s heavy oxford fabric is woven exclusively for Brooks…. The body of the shirt is slimmer these days but still “generously” cut. Otherwise, the only news is that in the past decade Brooks has broken its long-standing tradition and put a pocket on the front of the shirt — a move that would have dismayed George Frazier. George kept his pens in his inside jacket pocket and condemned shirt pockets as gauche — something you don’t wear, he said, “not if you know the score.”


What, Me Worry? Yale During The Great Depression

Wed 19 Nov 2014 - Filed under: 1920s-'40s,Historic Images,Historic Texts — Christian
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The 1930s was the time of the Great Depression, yet simultaneously it was also the golden age of Hollywood glamor and of masculine elegance. It was also the time when the Ivy League Look flourished, though within closed corridors, the aristocratic golden age versus the postwar, democratic silver age.

This article from the Yale Alumni Magazine details what life was like for New Haven students while others were fleeing the Dust Bowl. There was homework, but there was also football games, junior proms, and shopping for white bucks, as shown in the photo above.

Here’s an excerpt:

Life at Yale for wealthy undergraduates resembled escapist movies about the rich and carefree. They enjoyed their automobiles, weekends in New York, country club summers, sailing on Martha’s Vineyard, and trips to Europe. Spectator yachts lined the Thames when Yale rowed against Harvard at New London in June.

When the residential colleges opened in September 1933, undergraduates selected by the college masters (there was not room for all) lived in luxurious suites, ordered meals from printed menus and were served by uniformed waitresses, and after eating perhaps repaired to the squash courts for exercise fitting their station in life. Faculty fellows of the colleges delighted in weekly dinners followed by port, conversation, and sometimes bridge or poker. The residential faculty fellows (bachelors only) had large apartments. The masters lived with their families in mansions worthy of bank presidents before the fall.

Varsity football prospered. Games filled the Yale Bowl with cheering students and alumni. Gate receipts held up so well during the Depression that in 1931, the chair of President Herbert Hoover’s committee for unemployment relief asked Yale to hold a postseason benefit game with other elite schools. In 1937, Yale raised the salary of one part-time assistant football coach, law student Gerald R. Ford ’41LLB, from $3,000 to $3,500, more than that of an entering junior faculty instructor with a PhD.

Some alumni recalled afterwards that they were oblivious to conditions outside of Yale. Hear Senator William Proxmire ’38: “We lived in a kind of disembodied cocoon, a deliberate isolation from what we could see and smell and hear when we left the New Haven Campus. . . . Most of my classmates were wholly preoccupied with sports and girls and grades, and bull sessions about sports and girls and grades—in that order. If you wanted to be happy, it was a great time to be a Yalie. If you wanted to be serious—you had to wait.”

Surely this was the real heyday? — CC & CS

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