Relic Hunting

Earlier this week the Wall Street Journal ran a piece that cause quite a bit of discussion in our Facebook group. For starters, there’s the headline: “Why admiring Cary Grant’s style ages you.

Apparently the concept of timeless style has turned out to be a false one. Alan Flusser coined the term “permanent fashion” to refer to the so-called rules of menswear that were largely codified in the 1930s, but the Journal reminds us that everything in the universe is in flux, and the only thing constant is change. And so the pantheon of menswear icons — many of whom wore elements of the Ivy League Look — should be viewed as irrelevant relics. Why? Come on, you cranky relics, you know the answer. From the piece:

IF THERE WERE a Mount Rushmore of men’s style icons, Steve McQueen, Cary Grant and Paul Newman would probably be chiseled in stone. Not all men have looked up to this predictable trio since the 1950s, but many have. Whenever mere mortals faced closet conundrums, these heroes’ celebrated wardrobes provided answers: What do I wear to that pitch meeting? A dark gray suit, polished black shoes and a tie a la Grant. Or, how can I look cool? Just put on whatever Newman wore during his downtime. While their pulchritude was not achievable for everyone, their outfits were.

But many decades have passed since these and comparable names ruled pop culture. And in the ensuing time, men’s fashion has become more diverse and, happily, more inclusive. As handsome as Grant’s Savile Row suits and Newman’s preppy canvas sneakers were, they’re relics in an age of pervasive streetwear and changing gender norms. CEOs amble into work wearing T-shirts, jeans and hoodies; male models stomp down runways in lace blouses. 

Then there’s the following:

We are not all white, fit, hetero men with dashing good looks, and the range of style icons men reference has come to reflect that… Who you look up to is a personal thing. As it should be. 

Amen to that last part. As for the first, the problem with classic menswear — as with history in general— is that it’s filled with a conspicuous number of white, fit hetero men. As to whether or not they had dashing good looks, you decide. — CC

18 Comments on "Relic Hunting"

  1. I do agree that people should dress as they like. That said, most people on the street look dreadful. It’s not the styles they affect, it’s the complete lack of any style except for one that paradoxically says, “look at me because I don’t give a shit how I look.” That tells you both what they think of themselves and what they think of everyone else.

    Grant, Newman, McQueen … I personally prefer Fred Astaire, who wasn’t especially good looking.

  2. As I noted on the Facebook page, the key words are, likely, “ages you”. God forbid the author shouldn’t be thought of as young, young and vibrant and “woke” and inclusive and non-judgemental….well, you get the idea. He is not, NOT, heading into middle age.

  3. Cary Grant was actually bisexual (most probably). WSJ should know better. 😉

  4. I read a few of Gallagher’s pieces. Ugh.

    So what if something “ages” a person? How is this bad? Don’t we want to grow up?

    Gallagher is mistaken. (His piece is more of a hopeful protest than a declaration). There is, now and alas, such a thing as timeless style. It (actually) happened. The postwar consensus that rendered a unified Europe and an America strong enough to move forward with the changes that followed–this consensus stands. It was cultural, spiritual, political, economic…and (sorry, CC) aesthetic. (see excellent Michael Barone piece). The latter includes sartorial: The suit, as defined by 20th century standards, will be with us for the foreseeable future. By that I mean mostly forever. And men who want to be taken seriously will return to it–generation after generation. Including men who “self identify” as something other than white and heterosexual.

    Even most of the “stylists” at Pitti Uomo would agree with this.

  5. Caustic Man | July 27, 2019 at 8:30 am |

    I’ve been noticing an interesting trend among menswear writers in the last year or so, maybe longer. They continually insist that menswear is more inclusive today than it was in the past and they congratulate themselves for this perceived progress. This mystifies me because any Ivy style enthusiast familiar with its history knows the style’s connection with jazz, to include a who’s who roll of black jazz legends. We know that the Japanese were obsessing over Ivy in the 60s. We know that preppy style has always included women. Maybe these writers are simply referring to the print advertisements that, now, include people of all readily available races and a plethora of genders. But even so, this seems to me a rather superficial claim. Ads are meant to sell. Fashion is created on the ground by the people who wear the clothes. And that, when it comes to Ivy, includes a dizzying array of races, ethnicities, etc. Or maybe they mean that menswear is being influenced by a broader array of cultural forces. But I don’t think this is true either. If anything I think menswear is distilling into a more homogenous and less diverse phenomenon as globalism encourages us all to consume the same things and read the same literature.

    There is probably a longer piece in here somewhere but, for now, suffice it to say that, no, menswear isn’t more inclusive now. It might have the veneer of being so because of the self conscious change in advertising imagery but when it comes to who wears what, little has changed.

  6. The Wall Street Journal is the Bible of men’s fashion, which is why it is particularly painful for me to read that my style role models are aging me and the old relics that I put on every day are irrelevant.

    Maybe I suffer from denial, but when I see a Thom Browne model wearing high heels and lace blouses, I feel a mixture of repulsion, fear, and Weltschmerz.

    I, for one, am proud of the collection of timeless “relics” that fill my closet and hold my head high when I get dressed every morning because I am an American Adonis!

  7. Buster said it all.
    People just don’t give a damn what they look like. Went to the vets the other day, two old ladies brought their cat in. Complementing our Golden, I couldn’t help but notice their shabby blue jean attire.
    Forty years ago, they’d be wearing dresses, or at least dress pants.
    My Aunt Mildred, RIP, NEVER wore pants, just nice dresses and pearls when she was out. I recall her wearing pillbox hats, gloves, back in the 50’s and 60’s.
    Oh well.

  8. The WSJ articles about men’s fashion are just that–fashion. Not style.
    And they all seem to be written by twenty-five-year-olds, and are not for audiences much older than that.

  9. Old School Tie | July 27, 2019 at 11:36 am |

    Whenever mere mortals faced closet conundrums, they threw caution to the wind and became……yes, wait for it……..fashion gods!

  10. @Old School Tie:

    Hahahahahahahahaha…too funny! You definitely get my vote for “comment of the week.” You’re on a roll.

  11. whiskeydent | July 27, 2019 at 2:57 pm |

    Gentlemen, always remember this: Age and treachery always defeats youth and enthusiasm.

  12. ”The Wall Street Journal is the Bible of men’s fashion”.
    Really?

  13. The Earl of Iredell | July 27, 2019 at 4:57 pm |

    White men. Why? Perhaps because they have given us just about everything worthwhile in Western culture. Fit? Perhaps because fit people are more attractive than unfit people, and consequently serve better as fashion icons. Put 75 pounds of lard on David, and Michelangelo’s statue becomes far less appealing. Hetero? How would the authors or anyone else even know, one way or the other?

    Bottom line: Let’s not wallow in identity politics, OK? Open season on white guys is now officially closed . . .

  14. Joel Vaughan | July 28, 2019 at 12:32 am |

    The business suit has always been a professional man’s uniform, whether he be on Wall Street, Capitol Hill, in a local insurance office in front of a classroom, or in a pulpit. Imagine a modern day MacArthur accepting another army’s surrender while wearing a hoodie and jeans. Imagine any President giving the State of the Union in a Gap sweatshirt. Imagine needing a policeman and his showing up at your house wearing sweatpants, a fleece jacket and a ball cap. Imagine a clergyman delivering the eulogy for your loved one’s funeral wearing a T shirt and torn jeans. That is what America has come to – no respect for a uniform. Michael Jordan in his heyday always wore a suit when meeting with the public, and he explained that there might be someone there who’d never see him but that one time and he wanted to appear properly.

  15. Charlottesville | July 29, 2019 at 9:47 am |

    Joel — Good to hear from you again. As you and others point out, there is a difference between fashions or fads and style, and proper dress shows respect. Thanks for the anecdote about Michael Jordan. I wish more men in the public eye felt that way today, whether sports figures, CEOs, Hollywood actors, or anyone else.

  16. Spot on, Caustic Man; spot on! The sillier reaches of the ‘woke-washing’/identity politics idiocy have finally slithered up to supposed bastions of the ‘establishment’, like the WSJ and it is tragicomic to see them pay obeysance to the new cultural hegemons.

    One can plausibly suggest that selling the uniform of a privileged set to the masses is aspirational, but, by definition, not exclusive.

  17. That Mount Rushmore was derived when mostly white hetero men were getting into clothes back in the style blogger heyday. Now the market has broadened, more diverse guys care about clothes and post about it on the internet… That’s great.

    But what if I am a white, fit, hetero men with dashingly decent looks? Who the fuck am I supposed to look up to now? Fella Kuti and Shabba Ranks?

    I will corroborate that part about aging you though. I am 32, yet I feel like I’m an alien when I wear a blazer outside of work. I recently did an open mic at a coffee shop full of college kids and they looked at me like Donald Sutherland in Animal House.

  18. Carmelo Pugliatti | July 30, 2019 at 2:33 pm |

    Wow..is incredible see as counterculture have destroyed and shattered the United States (and for the most the western world).
    They had to be annihilated up by late 60s,in universities,press,society.
    Now is too late.

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