In my storybook “These Are Our Failures,” which was released in January, one of my characters argues that a change in mindset is necessary for the clothes-wearing men of today. We are fast becoming “retro-eccentrics,” relics and remnants of past standards, or, one could say, ghosts.
The situation of the coronavirus will surely reveal much over the course of the coming months. Stay-at-home orders could be lifted in the summer, the hottest and therefore most casual time of the year. If social distancing continues into the fall, with few if any public events for which to get dressed up, by the time the “new normal” dawns, it could mark the final nail in the coffin for formal dress.
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.”
This is all by way of preamble to our news roundup, which includes several pieces on the effect the virus is having on our concept of clothing. In its May issue, The Atlantic argues that office dress codes should never come back and that “sweatpants might be here for good.” Keep in mind this is the same publication that recently praised Communist China for its deft and elegant stifling of free speech, which serves as an ideal model for the US going forward. Quote:
The seepage of work beyond the office is one of the defining experiences of modern employment—and from one perspective, the erasure of dress codes isn’t helping. In the past, you could come home and take off your uniform or office attire with the knowledge that you were totally free until the next day, mentally and physically. Now many people wear the same jeans they wore to work to cook dinner, cellphone and laptop never too far from reach, the mind and body never totally disconnected from labor.
Even the mass entertainments that have made the suit-and-tie look such an enduring shorthand for professionalism are beginning to fade, no doubt because the same young Americans who now constitute the majority of the broader labor pool have real influence in shaping what ends up on your screens. TV series such as Silicon Valley and Superstore depict occupational aesthetics as something closer to what they’ve been for millions of Americans for the past decade: people wearing the same clothes to their job that they’d wear to the movies or to lunch with a friend, sometimes complemented by a company-issued jacket or an ID-carrying lanyard.
Next, the following landed in my inbox today (along with a J. Press email blast about tees and sweats, which we’ll give them a pass on). It’s from a company called xSuit:
For many, lounging in sweatpants after a week of hard work is a dream come true. As many of us are fortunate enough to stay at home, what used to be a treat is now an everyday reality with many wearing loungewear for days on end with no plans to dress up in the near future.
As we’ve gotten accustomed to staying cozy, it can be difficult to think about dressing up. Luckily xSuit offers the most comfortable suit and shirting on the market with 4-way stretch (exterior, interior, lining and thread) to make that transition easier. xSuit blends smart design features and modern fabric technology with increased softness to offer modern men a comfortable and stylish alternative to the traditional stiff suits that are prone to wrinkles, odors and stains.
On the positive side, trade paper WWD did a recent piece on suits that quotes Bruce Boyer and Alan Flusser, who is optimistic, as one would expect from someone who works in the industry, about the prospects for dressing up come the fall:
With many young people embracing a more-tailored aesthetic for fall, and so many unemployed men out in the market looking for jobs, Flusser believes there will be a “renaissance of suits” later this year. “That always happens after financial disasters.”
In addition to traditional suits, he believes the jacket will also be popular. Calling it the most flattering piece of apparel for a man, the jacket can highlight his shoulders, offer a slimming effect and even make a guy look taller. “There are lots of cult forces at work against the suit,” he said, “but there’s strength of a jacket for office work.” And younger guys are more skilled and comfortable putting together a sophisticated outfit with a jacket as the centerpiece.
But the traditional suit can offer men an option that is still unparalleled. In a recent blog post, Flusser wrote: “The classically cut suit will always offer a man a vision of himself that no other housing can. It’s hard to foresee a time when a man will not want to be reminded of his most debonair self. There’s a moment after putting on a fine suit appointed with the right finery when you turn to look in the mirror and flash back to a moment of discovery, like when you first saw Paris at night or had your first martini.
“So far the fashion world, after many, many decades in the making, has yet to come up with a credible alternative to the man peacocked in all his suit-silhouetted regalia. Call me a sartorial romantic, but I am prepared to bet the proverbial bankbook that they never will, and the world will be better for it.”
As for what to do with your unkempt hair, Esquire invokes Ivy with a piece on crew cuts.
But while it was first drafted during World War I, like many men’s classics, it was homogenised in the Ivy League universities of North America. Rowing or ‘crew’ (as the sport is often called in the States) teams at Harvard, Princeton and Yale sheared off the tousled scholarly curls that impeded vision out on the water. The crew cut then, was a style born out of function.
And finally for your feet, there’s the new Fred Perry x Bass Weejuns collaboration pictured above, which would probably look better with sweats and tees than a suit and tie.
Carry the torch, my friends. As Gustav Mahler said, tradition is not the worship of ashes but the preservation of fire. — CC