Five years ago today a man who goes under the username Harris posted these immortal words on the Ask Andy About Clothes forum:
I live in the Northeastern US and tend towards the American Look. Or trad or whatever you wish to call it. Sack suits, tassel loafers, shetland crewnecks, Harris Tweeds, madras, etc. I am interested in knowing how many forum members have stuck with this look: the J. Press-Brooks-Andover Shop crowd.
The post resonated with a large number of members, and before long trad had its own Ask Andy subforum. Within a few years, the online village of Tradsville had grown to include competing forums, a handful of trad blogs, and eventually Ivy-Style.com.
I wasn’t around in the early days of Andy’s trad forum, but a few years ago I got my editor at the San Francisco Chronicle to green-light a story about trad. I called it off, however, when I decided there wasn’t enough material to peg a story on. It was simply a group of guys on an Internet forum who shared a certain taste, without any larger sociological or fashion implications. Last week, however, the New York Observer took a shot at a trad story.
For Ivy-Style’s 100th post, I made a crack about how the thing I was proudest of was never having attempted to confirm or deny that there is or is not such a thing as “trad.” I will now further elucidate my ambivalence.
While there’s a Wikipedia entry for trad, there’s also a wiki entry for Bigfoot. “Trad” is a term the Japanese use for traditional American clothing. Before Andy’s trad forum, its use in America had been limited to the world of jazz, where trad is a term is used to describe a deliberately passé, Dixieland-style of music that was an alternative to the radical sounds of modern jazz. And while the term shows up in Alan Flusser’s 1996 book “Style and the Man,” historically “trad” was not a common term used to describe classic natural-shouldered American clothing.
However, we’re not living in the past, we’re living in the present.
You can certainly see the appeal of the word. From a linguistic perspective, trad was coined (or imported) at a time when a new word was needed. The term “preppy” had long since ceased to describe a specific style of dress or socio-cultural background, and had become almost meaningless. (In the PBS documentary “People Like Us,” for example, a teenager from rural Texas uses the term “preppy” to describe any fellow student who doesn’t live in a trailer.) So taken at face value, you can certainly see why a 50-year-old man fond of bow ties, argyle socks and striped watchbands — often worn simultaneously — would prefer to use a word like “trad” to describe his wardrobe, since “preppy” is what his daughter calls the clothing on “Gossip Girl.”
Harris, the man who started it all, has been called a troll, though he’s been called this by other trolls, so make of that what you will. Probably since I interview people and write articles for a living, I’ve never had much patience with the anonymous side of the Internet. The way I see it, anything you’re not willing to sign your name to isn’t worth saying. Was Harris on the level? Who knows. And at this point it doesn’t really matter. (Requests to interview Harris for this post, incidently, were unanswered.)
Regardless of the dubious authenticity of trad, five years later it continues to irk and roil a certain notorious English Internet troll, who needs trad the way the Marquis de Sade needed the Church.
And for that, on this 14th day of September, 2009, we should all raise a glass of champagne. — CC