In our last post we discussed Japan and the concept of menswear rules. Let’s pick up where we left off.
Now I may have been a bit quick on the draw in the previous post, going off on a tirade about close-minded clothes-minded guys obsessed with dressing according to rules and formulas. The concept of correctness is an integral part of the Ivy League Look, and part of what makes its history socially interesting. At the same time, there was constant innovation from its beginnings up until today, and the genre included much more than we commonly think of today. That is why the MFIT chose the term “Radical Conformists” as part of its book and exhibit on the Ivy League Look.
For myself, there are certain traditions I always follow, such as leaving the bottom button of a vest or cardigan undone. Less because it’s some sort of rule, but because I think it looks more relaxed. I also prefer to wear only single-vented jackets with buttondown-collared shirts, even though some menswear colleagues tell me that’s absurd — there’s no reason not to wear a buttondown oxford with a double-vented jacket. But since nearly all of my shirts are buttondowns anyway, it’s not an issue: I don’t currently own any double-vented jackets.
Now on to a specific example of whether or not a menswear rule applies.
The above illustration is taken from the latest issue of Free & Easy and presents (or juxtaposes, some would say) a three-piece suit with loafers. The question is whether or not there’s a sartorial rule being broken here. Some would say the formality of a three-piece suit demands a lace-up. These men would say that the loafers would look off even with a two-piece suit, not to mention a three.
Others would say it comes down to something more elusive, such as the outfit itself and the wearer’s flair for pulling it off. To hell with rules, the guy either looks good or he doesn’t. Also, there’s certainly something Ivy, or at least simply American, about this casual approach to matching shoes and suit.
So let’s see where you guys stand on the matter. — CC
It’s always fun flipping through the Japanese magazine Free & Easy and seeing all the botched English, such as “Made in trad.” Having spent a summer in Japan, I can assure you that nonsensical English used in advertising and the media provided hearty guffaws on the hour.
But sometimes the Japanese are unintentionally perspicacious, as in the top quote from the image above. The image is taken from the home page of Tokyo-based Tailor Caid. I’m afraid I don’t know much about the guy, save that he makes some beautiful jackets influenced by a variety of American cultural and historical references, and has a vast collection of vintage images that he posts on his blog. Every time my girlfriend goes home on a business trip I ask her to go see the guy, but she never seems to have the time. Perhaps our man in Tokyo can take on the assignment.
As for the top quote — “For the university young [and] the universally young” — it’s a clever and pithy way of describing a concept we explored in a recent post: namely, that the Ivy League Look is a unique genre in the history of American clothing, conferring dignity upon the young and youth upon the dignified. In the illustration above, we have a group of college men on the left and a gathering of finance or ad men on the right, who may or may not have looked like the men on the left when they were younger.
The second quote on the image — “We are not fashion snobs but we know a few simple rules” — is also astute, though I read it ironically.
First off, in a sartorial context let’s just replace “fashion” with “clothing” and so we don’t get too hung up on the F word. In fact, the Internet has introduced us to a particular breed of clotheshorse that we might normally only come across once in a lifetime: the snob whose snobbism derives from following rules of men’s dress that can either be quite sensible or ridiculously antiquated.
Now I have a veneration for tradition that runs across my personality like a rep stripe, but it’s spangled with crests of individuality. I may own a blazer, khakis, white buttondown, regimental tie, argyle socks and penny loafers, but I wouldn’t wear them all together and then feel smug about it. Of course that’s more of a formula than rules, though in the mind of the fusty clotheshorse the two certainly go hand-in-hand.
Bruce Boyer and I frequently chuckle over some of the more schoolmarmish personalities in the #menswear world. I asked Bruce for a fresh take on the whole concept of rules-based dressing, and here was his response:
I know there are people out there who spend countless hours discussing the correct depth of trouser cuffs and length of coats. But the reality is that dressing well is like writing well: you learn the rules that are fashionable at the time, then you develop your own style by breaking them in order to better accommodate your unique life.
Those who slavishly follow the rules of dress are really just followers of fashion: the fashion of a particular time, past or present.
But the old saying holds true: fashion is for people who don’t know who they are. Guys who insist on rules of dress are either (1) stuck in some time period, (2) frighteningly insecure, or (3) don’t have any style of their own.
No one who has style is a slavish follower of rules, because style perforce implies individuality, character, and personality.
Well said, Bruce.
In the image above, the first quote feels like it honors the special quality of the Ivy League Look, that it has relatively fixed genre parameters that work well on young and old alike. But the second quote brings up the dark flipside of any genre-based approach to dressing, in which certain pedants will look not at the wide range of colors they have to paint with, and instead seek out numbers telling them how to do it. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
This morning we were alerted to a sportcoat made for Cary Grant in “Monkey Business” for the scene in which a youth serum gives the 48-year-old Grant the tastes and behavior of a college student. The jacket, currently for sale from a movie memorabilia company, did not make it into the film. It was made by Carroll & Co. of Beverly Hills, LA’s longstanding outpost of traditional clothing.
The jacket is a kind of hybrid jacket combining Ivy elements with characteristics of jackets Grant wore at the time. It has soft shoulder lines, three-button stance and a hook vent, combined with darts and a ticket pocket.
It’s similar to a jacket Grant wears in “People Will Talk,” subject of one of Ivy Style’s earliest posts, and in “Monkey Business” Grant also wears the three-button jacket with the bottom two buttons fastened.
The sportcoat will set you back $8,000, but the spring it will put in your step will be priceless. “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant,” Grant once famously said. “Even I want to be Cary Grant.” — CC
A few weeks ago saw our semi-annual menswear market weeks here in New York, so I went to a couple of trade shows to see what we can expect in the neo-prep space come next spring.
First up is the above look from Castaway Clothing, which takes a traditional windbreaker — like the kind James Dean wears with a white tee in “Rebel Without A Cause” — and renders it in blue oxford cloth with seersucker lining. It’s paired with a white t-shirt with madras pocket. (Continue)
Last week the website Cool Material asked me to contribute to its “Wear This” series and pull together an outfit based on stuff currently on retail shelves. The result is illustrative of how I’ve been dressing lately: a foundation of traditional items spiced with stylish accessories that give off — to me, at least — a vibe that’s a bit cool, a bit chic. And that means stuff in the verboten hue of black.
Cool Material mistakenly grabbed a Mercer & Sons straight-collar shirt, whereas I’d said a buttondown. No matter, just imagine there’s a pin running through it.
I’m posting this piece from a laptop while on a weekend getaway. There’s a vague hint about what I’m up to in the collection of items above. There’s another hint in the headline. And here’s one more:
Full report next week. Bon week-end. — c C m
Whenever we put up a post on the bright colors and crazy patterns of what is known colloquially, or rather Internetically, as go-to-hell, the chorus of curmudgeons always chimes in with cantakerous remarks about how it’s all mere kids’ stuff.
There’s no changing the minds of intractable fellows such as this, but for those of you whose mind is open at least one degree, and who don’t normally wear candy colors, this post is for you.
There’s a guy I regularly play tennis with: late 40s, thin as a rail, very tan, and rather soft spoken. He’s just returned from overseas, where he lived the past 10 years, and before he left, he liquidated all his belongings, including most of his clothes. A former teacher, he’s now trying to launch an acting career.
The guy (lets call him Eric) usually dressed for the courts in black or grey fleece shorts baggy enough to accomodate a quadruped, and an equally oversized faded burgundy t-shirt hanging on his thin frame as if on a wire coat hanger.
Talk turned to clothes one day, and Eric admitted that his extremely limited wardrobe consisted of whatever he could find at the local dollar discount store.
This was clearly a fashion emergency, and as I’ve always been an inveterate closet-purger, I thought I’d throw some old shorts and polos his way. I’d be helping out a new friend, and it was fun upending the notion that queer eyes advise straight guys, but not the other way around.
A couple weeks later I showed up at the courts and saw a threesome with a couple of guys I recognized. Figuring they might need a fourth for doubles, I headed over to find out. After a minute of shooting the breeze, I noticed one of the guys was wearing a shirt that looked eerily faimilar. It was a lime-colored polo, somewhat similar to the Castaway shirt above (it, and plenty more like it, are available from our loyal sponsor Country Club Prep), and reminded me of one I used to have. I took a closer look and sure enough it was Eric standing there checking his strings. He also had on well fitting khakis, and a white tennis cap, which might explain why I didn’t recognize him.
But I’d like to think it was due to the power of good fit and a confident dash of color — especially for a summertime sporting activity. Eric looked younger, more confident, and just all around better thanks to well fitting clothes and a bold color gesture. Enough so, in fact, to make him all but look like a different person.
Never underestimate what preppy can do for you. — c C m