On The HuffPo: Rules And Rule-Breaking

Shortly after arriving in New York I developed a men’s style column at The Huffington Post which lasted for a short time. This article on the rules of dress is still up on the site and I think is worth revisiting at a moment in time when standards of dress are in grave danger. (You can check out my storybook “These Are Our Failures,” released precisely one year ago, for my full thoughts on the state of masculine elegance.)

In my experience, rules-obsessed dressers are lacking in natural style and charisma, surely know this, and must get an ego boost from the thought that they dress “correctly.” In contrast, those who are naturally stylish tend to go for the general feel of clothes and don’t sweat the details much. I think of Chet Baker donning his girlfriend’s sweater, as recounted by Charlie Davidson in my recent Rake article, who said, “The goddamn thing looked great on him.” Surely wearing women’s clothing breaks most men’s commandments about correct gentlemanly attire.

Here’s a snippet:

“Pulling something off” — say, a chesterfield coat over an oxford shirt and gray sweatshirt, paired with jeans and bit loafers and accessorized with a baseball cap and toasted bagel — is something that really gets the prescriptivists’ boxers in a bunch, for pulling something off requires breaking rules.

Head over here for the full story, which includes some quotes from Alan Flusser, who for much of his career was seen as the arch arbiter of rules, but who has mellowed considerably with age. — CC

25 Comments on "On The HuffPo: Rules And Rule-Breaking"

  1. I have always thought that rules can be broken, but you must know them and look damn cool when breaking them.

  2. Rules? While I admire Alan Flusser, the only rule of his I have religiously followed is to not wear a dark brown suit unless you are built and look like Gregory Peck, otherwise you will appear to be a pile of dog shit wearing shoes.

    I did enjoy his book in the early 80s describing the origins of many clothing items.

    Flusser might have wrote, don’t chase fashion, find your own style, but most well dressed men followed this axiom long before many had ever heard of Flusser. Men of good taste don’t cookbook a look, basics are just basics, foundations.

  3. Menswear is political philosophy.

  4. It remains utterly and maybe humorously true that I lack charisma. This may shock, but there are still parts of the world where “charisma” isn’t looked upon so favorably. Thank God.

  5. With age, comes the privilege of rule-breaking. My unorthodox rule-breaking: My trousers are pleated and cuffless, my jackets have two, rather than three buttons, some of my jackets are darted and have unnatural shoulder padding, my tailor has closed the vents on all of the, and I prefer lined collars and non-iron BB OCBD shirts. What hasn’t changed? All my trousers are grey flannels or chinos, the only suit cloth patterns I wear are chalk stripe, solid grey, mini herringbone, and glen plaid, like another recent commenter, the only jackets I wear are navy blazers, herringbone, salt-and-pepper, or birdseye tweeds. The only shoes I wear are cordovan or black loafers, bluchers, or wingtips. The only belts I wear are solid black or cordovan leather. The only shirts I wear are solid blue, solid white, or white with blue stripes. I can assure you that in spite of my unorthodox rule-breaking, people still tell me that I’m the epitome of Ivy. Some rule-breaking doesn’t seem to destroy the overall Ivy image, it seems.

  6. Henry Watson Fowler | October 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm |

    @MAC

    Re: “Flusser might have wrote”…

    Grammar rule are not meant to be broken.
    That’s “…might have written…”

  7. Orgastic future | October 26, 2012 at 10:14 pm |

    Style is having something to say and the balls to say it. Rules are what others tell you to say….

  8. Here’s to Old Ivy! I would add that with age, you settle in on what YOU like, not necessarily what the playbook calls for. That’s true Ivy to me. You are being authentic.

  9. Conventional Chap | October 27, 2012 at 12:02 am |

    Rules make life easy.

  10. Bill Stephenson | October 27, 2012 at 12:14 am |

    Good article. It seems natural that at some point in life, you figure out what works for you, and don’t worry about rules.

    Maybe you learn from upperclassmen in college, what you read here, etc. “Dress for Success” was a good guide for many.

    After that, you never think twice about the Mercer shirts, the 3/2 jackets in the closet, the Aldens, etc. It’s just what you decide works for you, and you move on to more important concerns.

    Seems like that was why J Press was great in the family owned days, for many of us. They had a remarkable consistency. All that you had to do was restock.

  11. Piccalilli Circus | October 27, 2012 at 9:11 am |

    “Here’s to Old Ivy! I would add that with age, you settle in on what YOU like, not necessarily what the playbook calls for. That’s true Ivy to me. You are being authentic.”

    So Marthur, is Ivy not so much a tailoring style as it is a state of mind to you? A way of life?

    Unnatural shoulders, pleated pants, lined collars on non iron shirts, no vents on jackets! Yeah, that sounds very authentic to me.

    I would agree that “with age, you settle in on what you like”. So with that in mind, I would suggest that perhaps Mr Old Ivy doesn’t like Ivy. Harsh?

  12. @Piccalilli Circus

    “Mr. Old Ivy” used to be fanatically orthodox, but has grown up and stopped dressing for an Ivy costume party.

  13. @ Piccalilli Circus

    Remove “That’s true Ivy to me.” I had one Martini more than one should last night when I wrote my comments. Add “to your own personal preferences” after authentic.

    No, I did not view your comments as harsh.

  14. @Tabor Kid

    What blazer did you settle on after last weeks request for feedback. The BB 1818?

  15. This Diamond Ring | October 28, 2012 at 12:39 am |

    @ Johnathan Jay

    I don’t know you find it necessary to laugh at young men who are just enjoying themselves and dressing up Don’t you have a hobby?.

  16. @Comment by Granny Takes a Trip — October 27, 2012 @ 10:44 pm
    Another rule follower.

    It goes without saying that if you post a picture of your outfit on a clothing forum you are putting yourself on offer as a target for those who like to spend their time sniping from the sidelines. It also goes without saying that we never see pictures of the snipers, now that would be interesting! Of course Granny, there’s nothing to stop you registering on Talk Ivy and posting a few pictures of yourself just to show thoae poor misguided souls what true style really looks like. I challenge you!

  17. Chelsea Drug Store | October 28, 2012 at 2:54 am |

    Comment by woofboxer — October 28, 2012 @ 2:26 am

    “It goes without saying that if you post a picture of your outfit on a clothing forum you are putting yourself on offer as a target for those who like to spend their time sniping from the sidelines. It also goes without saying that we never see pictures of the snipers, now that would be interesting! Of course Granny, there’s nothing to stop you registering on Talk Ivy and posting a few pictures of yourself just to show those poor misguided souls what true style really looks like. I challenge you!”

    You of all people Woof ought to know that dissent is not tolerated on that site. Why I remember a time when poster had his profile changed to try to convince the imbeciles who post there that a certain poster was Dan Geddes (a certain bête noire of the gang boss}, And anyway hardly anyone normal posts over there these days. You are an exception and I notice you post rarely. Why would anyone bother? But who knows, perhaps Granny will let use see her bloomers!

  18. Granny Takes a Trip | October 28, 2012 at 3:15 am |

    @ Woofboxer and Chelsea Football Club

    Granny’s bloomers shall not be put up for inspection I’m afraid. But that does not negate my right to advise and comment, especially when I see young men (and not so young men) making fools of themselves in public. My Lawdy. Maybe their mothers are watching.

    But perhaps This Diamond Ring is right. These are just young men dressing up. What’s wrong with that after all? It’s a pretty harmless hobby. They could be going out with girls and getting into all sorts of trouble.

  19. Comment by Chelsea Drug Store — October 28, 2012 @ 2:54 am

    It’s hard to say what ‘normal’ is these days, still, thanks for the sentiment.

  20. For the most part, rules work because the majority of people are completely clueless. Some of the rules that were missed included things like:
    Your shirt should be pressed when wearing a tie (if not all the time)
    Those horrible sneaker/shoe hybrids should not be worn with a suit to a job interview
    Navy blue pants with a Navy blazer is not a “suit”
    An Under Armour polo is not appropriate for a wedding.

    Getting out of the bubble that is NYC makes you realize how horrible people dress.

  21. Dutch Uncle | October 28, 2012 at 8:50 pm |

    @PJG

    One might have added:
    “Your shirt should be washed before it is pressed”.

  22. It’s not about rules, it’s about parameters. Let’s imagine we take twins in to J. Press, they are really handsome like me and Christian. We provide them with charcoal grey flannel suits, white shirts and dark charcoal socks. We turn them loose to determine their accessories. When the smoke clears one kicked ass, you will wish you owned that tie, the other guy, probably the one that looks like Christian, cook booked it. No hurry, there is no line at the five meter board.

  23. Charlottesville | January 5, 2021 at 2:13 pm |

    Thanks for re-posting this, Christian. I agree that breaking rules is part of the fun. Of course, one should know the rules first, and do the breaking judiciously with a sense of style, but not much could be duller than the safe, lackluster advice of Molloy’s Dress For Success, which already seemed plodding and tone deaf when I encountered it around 1980 (only solid ties with a striped shirt, etc.). Flusser’s books, particularly Dressing the Man, seems to allow for much more of a personal approach, while noting guiding principles of fit, proportion and good taste.

    I very much like a white shirt, “wedding tie,” chalk-stripe suit and black cap-toed oxfords topped with a charcoal gray Chesterfield for a dressed-up look. However, I am happy with the same coat over cords and a Shetland sweater with camp mocs, or a Barbour over a suit and Bean Boots depending on the weather and the occasion. I have worn the former to run to the store on a chilly weekend and the latter to the office on muddy, slushy mornings when I did not have anything formal on the schedule. Any well-made clothing selected with care and worn with style beats khakis and a fleece vest or sweats and Nikes that seem to be all most men can muster these days, at least around here.

  24. Mr. Flusser has retired from his shop.

  25. Charlottesville | January 5, 2021 at 3:45 pm |

    Numbers – I am sorry to hear about Mr. Flusser, but who can blame a 75-year old for retiring. I am glad that his website indicates that the business will continue. Not Ivy, certainly, but a stylish look that exhibits some of the same English influences as Ivy, like many of the 20th century offerings Polo Ralph Lauren.

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