Ship Of Fools

Gentlemen, Newport is an absolute dream. I’ve been in a daze since I arrived. Stars, moonlight, ocean, sunsets, church bells, mansions, cottages, ancient trees, snow, crows, and rabbits running around. May I go deeper into dreamland and never wake up.

Back in the real world, alas, things are changing and for the worse. But then I’ve always believed that, and when Trad Man launches, I’ll finally have an outlet for it. Others seem to be shell-shocked. I popped into the J. McLaughlin store and chatted with two sixty-something ladies running the shop and they couldn’t wrap their heads around how poorly people dress today, and can’t admit that the trend is all but certainly irreversible.

When I got home, a reader sent me a link to a Washington Post story about how dress codes on cruise ships are tearing cruise ships apart. Evidently everything is being torn apart these days, and it’s not even January 12 yet.

From the Post:

Formal nights, a holdover from a grand cruising tradition, are becoming less formal — when they exist at all. And while that might be welcome news for travelers who just want to relax on vacation, it’s a sad turn for many who love to dine with a dressed-up crowd.

“There has been a bit of an evolution in the dress code overall,” says Colleen McDaniel, executive editor of the news and review site Cruise Critic. “It doesn’t mean that everybody loves that. And in fact, many people who visit our message boards who are very much in favor of a formal night — and a formal dress policy — really, really don’t like it when people show up who are not in formalwear.”

Celebrity Cruises, which describes itself as a “modern luxury” option, changed formal night to “evening chic” in 2015, allowing designer jeans and making a sport coat or blazer option for men. Holland America Line introduced “gala nights” in 2015; while a jacket and tie there is preferred, it is not required. Carnival Cruise Line changed its formal night to “cruise elegant” several years ago, adopting “more of a resort-style dress guideline.” Norwegian Cruise Line has a “dress up or not night.” And Royal Caribbean International recently started holding a “wear your best” night on cruises of five nights or fewer, with the message: “Say goodbye to Formal Night, and hello to Wear Your Best. Get glamorous. Be chic. It’s time to shine — your way.”

I think we need to face it that men who enjoy dressing well according to inherited standards are fast becoming preservationists. In fact, I’ve got another storybook of fiction coming out about that very thing. It’s being printed as we speak so expect the — shall we say — formal announcement soon. — CC

51 Comments on "Ship Of Fools"

  1. Jesse Livermore | December 18, 2019 at 8:08 pm |

    My wife and I did a crossing on the Queen Mary this past June. Cunard stills holds to the tradition in 1st Class. Otherwise, I thought I was on the Staten Island Ferry.

  2. New Andover Shop? Not a good sign. I have not visited it in years,
    I am in CA. Checked out the new website and then called today.
    On the Website they now offer three sport coats with narrower lapels and side vents.
    Reminds me of the Samuelson stuff at Nordstoms.
    Not their original cut. They do have leftover inventory of the old merchandise-
    not shown on the website. It was not clear to me whether the great variety
    of fabrics, etc is available through MTM in the old cut, for example. Earlier this
    year the website featured a wide variety of tweeds, etc in their sport coats. In
    recent years garments had to be “made up”, MTM in effect, although if one
    visited the shops there were some RTW jackets in stock. I also indicted that the
    copy in the website called a balmacaan raincoat a trench coat. I am afraid that
    their “business model” is to trade on the name while selling generic semi trad.
    I hope that I am wrong.

  3. Grey Flannels | December 19, 2019 at 1:32 am |

    Re: “Newport is an absolute dream. I’ve been in a daze since I arrived. Stars, moonlight, ocean, sunsets, church bells, mansions, cottages, ancient trees, snow, crows, and rabbits running around. ”

    Happy for you. Enjoy!

  4. Why on Earth would you expect a “formal night” on one of the cruise lines cited above? Their clientele is the same as Disney World, Las Vegas, Dollywood, Universal Studios, etc. None of whom intend to get “all dressed up just to go eat”.

  5. Let me guess…Mr. C’s new work of fiction will be a dystopian short story set in the year 2050. It is a time of catastrophic environmental calamities and rapid technological progress.

    Computers will be miniaturized to fit on contact lenses and glasses so that humans will be staring at smartphone screens nearly 24 hours a day and robots and drones will replace workers and soldiers.

    Water will be scarce so there will be less natural fibers like wool, cotton and silk. The suit and necktie will be long forgotten for men. Women will be wearing only spandex. Everyone will be wearing polyester uniforms and toting laser guns and micro nuclear weapons because 2050 will be ultraviolent and all social graces will be long forgotten. Mark Zuckerberg will be President of the New World Order…

  6. Mitchell Springer | December 19, 2019 at 4:52 am |

    CC,
    I hope that doctors, dentists, and barbers still wear white coats in Newport. That would be a real dream world.

  7. The Andover Shop’s website is so new that if you press your nostrils up to the screen you can smell the paint drying. There’s a great inventory of classically cut sport coats in the store itself, but just a handful of their inventory has been upload to the site thus far. So be patient and check back.

  8. “Wear Your Best”. Oy. Have you seen the pics people put on social media of their cruises? You could swing a dead cat without hitting a four-year degree or a BMI under 35.

    The only cruise I’ve fantasized about is a westward passage on the QM2: sitting on deck, under a wool blanket, reading, being served good tea; dressing for dinner; at least one formal night. Does that kind of thing even exist?

  9. I realize many people enjoy cruises, but the idea of being trapped on a tub with 1,000 people — regardless of their dress habits — horrifies me. I’ve seen passengers come ashore at resort towns, and they looked like they’d just been shot out of a cannon. They party like frat boys for a few hours, and then scurry off to, I suppose, vomit and restart the drinking (yes, a guy with “whiskeydent” for a handle wrote that). I love to be on the sea, but not with an ocean of people trying to, as Jimmy Buffett sang, “cram lost years into five or six days.”

  10. Ah, Newport. Whenever I am nostalgic for the place, I watch “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” a documentary set at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and glimpse into a lost world.

  11. Charlottesville | December 19, 2019 at 11:28 am |

    Christian – So glad that you are enjoying Newport. I can sympathize with the two ladies you met. We do seem to be fighting a last ditch battle for any hint of formality in the current age, but I generally enjoy it. Current standards of dress and grooming are really not very flattering to those who adopt them, but I suppose they don’t care. It is always a treat when I find myself in a spot where at least a few like-minded men are wearing coats and ties, but outside of church, an occasional private party and this website, that is pretty rare. I have noted before that women, even young women, seem more likely to wear a dress, make-up and jewelry than men are to wear a tie. I know from conversions I have had that young women appreciate the effort when a young man dresses up, and I tend to get complements from them as well. So, at least there is that.

    Mr. Livermore – My wife and I went on a few cruises in the 90s and early 2000s, and found them enjoyable, although we haven’t tried one recently. We kept more or less to ourselves, ate in the “specialty” restaurants and enjoyed watching the water go by our veranda, rather than joining what seemed like the forced fun of the activities offered. Dinners were either black tie (2 per week), coat and tie (also 2 nights, I believe) or jacket required/requested, although more casual venues were available. Not quite the Queen Mary or the SS Constitution in the Cary Grant era, but still a a pretty civilized way to travel. Sounds like 1st class on Cunard is the only option these days for that sort of experience.

  12. A Ship of Fools references Platos’s “Republic.” It refers to problems of governance in political systems not based on expert knowledge, such as democracies.

    Mr. C’s clever allusion to current affairs and the impeachment proceedings.

  13. @ Paul

    I’ve fantasized about a cruise like you describe for decades. I’d say it just doesn’t exist anymore. I’ve about given up on any type of civilized living. The fanciest restaurant in my county doesn’t have a dress code. Casual dining, only. (Of course, you can wear a jacket and tie if you want.) The only jackets and ties are the business men and lawyers that eat lunch there, for my town is the county seat, with lawyers galore.

    The country club, if you can call it one, I belong, (a modest, almost bankrupt, nine hole cow pasture) used to have the usual dress code, collared shirts, shorts below the knee, no t shirts, and other niceties like removing your cap when entering the clubhouse. Now, nil, zero, anything goes. The public welcome.

    One jerk I know will use the basest language, and everyone thinks he’s being cute. The elderly lady manager told me a few weeks back that she’d like to tell him about it, but it seems it’s normal behavior today.

    So, it’s not going to get better, just progressively worse, as Mitchell suggests. I figure I might have 16% of my life left, if I live to 80, hopefully healthy. I feel for you young fellows.

    The only course is to keep personal standards as high as possible, and try to live a virtuous life.
    Cheers, gentlemen.

  14. PS: Wanted to wish Christian the best in Newport. Happy that he likes it there.

  15. Whiskeydent,

    Extemely well put.

  16. @Wriggles – your post reads like the start of a Cheever story that I’d like to read more of.

  17. “Why on Earth would you expect a ‘formal night’ on one of the cruise lines cited above? Their clientele is the same as Disney World, Las Vegas, Dollywood, Universal Studios, etc. None of whom intend to get ‘all dressed up just to go eat.'”

    and

    “They party like frat boys for a few hours, and then scurry off to, I suppose, vomit and restart the drinking.”

    These observations are a pretty accurate assessment. You could also add Hawaii, Cozumel, and Cancun to the mix, any body of fresh water where power boats-jetskis are permitted, and perhaps certain Spanish and/or Mediterranean destinations to the mix where one might have to wade through this sort of thing. But God forbid that anyone should actually comment publicly on the lowbrow approach that is now par for the course most places. The angry villagers with torches are on the way. They’ve got expendable income and the latest iPhone. Far better to keep quiet and make certain one does not put oneself in a similar position a second time.

    On a more pleasant note, Newport sounds like a breath of fresh air.

    Compliments of the Season,

  18. The comments above on the recent batch of cruise ships is well taken. I agree, life with several thousand cruisers (a food percentage of them drunk) on a mega ship not only horrifies me, it also threatens me. The solution, I’ve been advised, is to find the smaller, much smaller, sail and motor vessels which still have some flavor of the classic ship experience.

  19. @ Eric

    Thank you for the compliment. Back when I was in college, I took an advanced English composition course. We, the students, were required to write about past experiences and such. I was an older student, had US Army service, and several years of employment, before completing my BA.

    I had more things to write about than the younger students. Being an accounting major, the professor refused to grade me higher than a B+. I received B+ on 8 to 10 papers required for the course, no grade higher, no lower. Just B+. His other students were English majors and such.

    The last critique he gave me, involved the paper I put absolutely no effort into. He gave it accolades, and suggested I rewrite it for extra credit. I told him I was satisfied with the B+.

    Maybe, I was suited more for writing, than a CPA.

    Cheers!

  20. The Earl of Iredell | December 19, 2019 at 4:41 pm |

    Modern dress code: Patrons must wear at least one article of clothing.

  21. I’d rather shave a bobcat’s ass in a phone booth than go on a cruise but, alas, I have young children, so there is probably a Disney cruise in my future. I will more than likely be mistaken for a member of the staff. Gins and tonic will be utilized, brothers.

    Will

  22. Mark this date. sacksuit and I agree. Here’s to lower case names! And thanks Jim!

  23. Not all cruise lines are created equal. The French Ponant line has smaller (100 cabin) ships that sail to ports that can’t accommodate the mass market behemoths, and feature French food, wine, and culture. A few years ago we were on a Ponant cruse that was passing Stromboli at night while an eruption was occurring. The captain pointed the aft of the ship at the volcano, cut the ship lights, and we all enjoyed the fireworks while Champagne and crepes were served to the music of Mozart. The experience doesn’t come cheap, but as a result you get a different sort of traveler from the Walmart On The Water mass market lines.

  24. Charlottesville | December 19, 2019 at 6:00 pm |

    AtlBill – That is comforting to know. Since my 300-500 passenger cruises of decades past (Silver Sea and Regent), I have tended to move to more stationary holidays, either renting a house or apartment or staying in hotels, but your experience sounds lovely.

    Sacksuit – The thought of a Disney cruise fills me with a nameless terror. Like Carnival with cartoon characters. However, I am sure your youngsters will be delighted with your selfless sacrifice on their behalf. Bon voyage and cheers!

  25. @Earl

    As Twain said, “Naked people have little to no influence on society.”

  26. There is no distinctly American criminal class – except Congress.
    Mark Twain

    And all the men in Congress still wear jackets and ties!

  27. whiskeydent

    Had to happen sometime. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

    Charlottesville

    What wouldn’t we do for our children? I wore a tie dyed shirt last weekend running a 5k with my daughter and there has even been talk of my wearing a tu tu skirt for the next. I’ll make it look trad. God bless.

    Will

  28. NaturalShoulder | December 19, 2019 at 8:21 pm |

    As someone who grew up watching Love Boat in the 70s, I have always wanted to go on a cruise but reading the comments has made me rethink. Conversely, I have heard that the Orient Express still has a dress code so maybe I will consider as an alternative.

  29. Arthur McLean | December 19, 2019 at 11:06 pm |

    Here’s a cheer to the Queen Mary 2 and the three formal nights they have per crossing. Have crossed eight times on it and find that, although people can look so-so during the day, by and large they do dress well on formal nights. Virtually the only ship I’d go on.

  30. Anemoia is at the heart of all this. This style and all the accompanying commentary. Which is why it’s such a damned mystery.

  31. U people don’t go on cruises; they own their boats or have friends who do. But more often than not we like going on more recherché (and active) travel destinations like staying in a friend’s ski chalet in Japan.

    Also- there is no decline in dressing standards; status signifiers have become more invisible to the masses. No one I know would be caught dead wearing the same thing that loyal readers of a preppy cosplay website would.

  32. With my compliments:
    “Dress code – what do I wear on the Venice Simplon Orient Express?
    To put it simply, we don’t believe it is possible to overdress when travelling aboard the Venice Simplon Orient Express.

    Starting with dressing for dinner, gentlemen should always wear a suit and tie or dinner suit, whilst ladies should dress in smart attire.

    That said, a great deal of guests enjoy the true sense of propriety aboard the Venice Simplon Orient Express and wear a formal dinner jacket and black tie for gentlemen and evening dress for ladies to compliment their evening meal.

    During the rest of the day, the dress code is smart-casual. To be more specific, this can be translated as trousers and a shirt for gentlemen at lunch (jacket and tie are optional) and smart clothing for ladies. It goes without saying that jeans are not suitable at any time.

    With the above in mind, by dressing in a style befitting this historic journey, you will fit in perfectly with fellow passengers and certainly look the part as you travel across Europe in style.”

  33. Looking again at the picture CC included: It’s too easy to connect, correlate, conflate Ivy style with the tastes of American upper and upper-middle class men, but a safe guess is that many (most?) eschewed Ivy as too tweedy, too rustic, too New Englandy–maybe even frumpy or stodgy. (read: not sophisticated). This habit of consolidating great wealth with Ivy style, nurtured here, is likely misguided.

    I recall a conversation with Paul Winston a few years back. He recalled that plenty of NYC bankers and lawyers (intentionally) asked for something other than purist Ivy– no doubt influenced by the more continental, sophisticated looks exemplified by JFK, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Astaire, and so on. Less tweed, whipcord, flannel, and hard, unfinished worsteds; more cashmere, sharkskin, and fine suitings.

    And I sometimes wonder if a cheap version of the Apparel Arts look remained intact among the American middle-class–even during the Ivy Heyday. Funny to think that less than 5% of the American male population (during the 50s/60s) actually wore Ivy as it’s described and discussed here. Maybe not even that many.

  34. @S.E.: I have to agree with you.

    In Germany, someone who wears natural-shouldered jackets and heavy, durable fabrics (like tweed) in the city is considered lower middle class.

    In Germany, sleek, streamlined, lighter weight fabrics are considered more appropriate for business suits, but you don’t want to be flashy or flamboyant.

    There is a saying in Germany that someone who wears clothes that are too expensive can’t be trusted. There was a politician there who was criticized in the media for dressing to much like the Brioni-wearing Donald Trump.

  35. @ Paul, There is a QM2 cruise in 2020 (April?) where the vintage crews from LA and NYC are traveling en masse from London to New York. There is bound to be lots of formal attire – even on non formal nights – and plenty of classic menswear and ladies wear on deck!

  36. The German word “welsch” refers to the propensity to distrust clothing styles from countries such as Italy or France.

    https://parisiangentleman.co.uk/2017/03/14/german-inelegance-berhnard-roetzel-helps-debunk-a-few-myths/

  37. I think we can all agree that it is a bad idea to trust the French.

    Guillaume

  38. One of the last holdouts of dressing for dinner on vacation (outside of private clubs) was Bermuda, but even Bermuda has generally moved away from it in recent years as they clamored to attract a broader, more rank and file vacation crowd. Even the most “formal” and traditional Bermuda spots have watered down their dress codes and now look like any other mainland resort.The south, particularly New Orleans (and especially places like the main dining room at Galatoire’s) is your best bet to assure that you are dining in the company of other well dressed, fully dressed compatriots.

  39. And there is a 12-piece band playing “I’ll be seeing you (in all the old familiar places)”, as one tune of a three-song medley, in a very danceable, moderate 4-beat ballad tempo. Those were the days, my friends…

  40. Charlottesville | December 20, 2019 at 2:00 pm |

    Roast – Sad to hear about Bermuda. I have not been back in roughly a dozen years, but recall it as one of the very few resort areas where coat and tie, often with shorts and knee socks, were the norm at better restaurants. Galatoire’s is another favorite and one of the last spots in New Orleans where that is still true. Shorts or jeans, flip flops and tattoos (shirts optional) seem to be standard street-wear. However, to be fair, I still see a fair amount of seersucker down there, some of it in suit form. Charleston also is a bit above the average, although dress for the most is now quite casual even there.

    Some high-end spots in New York are still dominated by coat-and-tie wearers (e.g., Daniel and ’21’) but even the Yale Club was a mixed bag the last time I was a guest there. I am often the only tie wearer at dinner when I visit most Washington restaurants these days, although there may be a few more at midweek lunch. I rarely see a tie in Richmond, which used to be a fairly formal town. Tonight my wife and I are going to celebrate our anniversary at one of the best Charlottesville restaurants, and despite the significant local wealth I expect to be the only man in a suit and tie, although there may be some blazers or sport coats worn with open-collared shirts. Still, it’s generally better here than the west coast, I suppose, although Henry, Evan Everhart, Benton Nilson and others still carry the trad flag out there. As noted by others, the heyday, not just of Ivy but of any hint of formality in dressing, is past. I comfort myself that there is still a remnant that recalls a better time and am happy to be a part of it.

  41. In Richmond, long pants and no flip flops will be the best you will see in any restaurant.

    Happy holidays to all.

  42. Roast,

    You mentioned above that “Bermuda has generally moved away from it in recent years as they clamored to attract a broader, more rank and file vacation crowd.” While right about Bermuda being now less formal, I don’t believe it is because tourism is trying to attract the ordinary. It is the reality of things today.

    We stay at Cambridge Beaches. It’s an old school cottage resort – somewhat of a relic. They do require – at least request – in the main dining: “The general rule is to wear something you would wear to a country club…” Therefore, I suppose that assumes guests might likely be members of country or yacht clubs and know what that means.

    Yes, the private clubs such as Coral Beach and MOC are probably more right and propper about dressing than the public resorts. They have their budgetary woes and, yes, have relaxed standards to keep the tourist dollars coming. I do find, however, that Bermuda is a beautiful place with friendly people (who enjoy a drink).

    Cheers, BC

  43. Charlottesville | December 20, 2019 at 3:59 pm |

    BC – The cottages at Cambridge Beaches are very special, and I hope to return some day. I also like the Hamilton Princess for a few nights in town. Have not been to either in over a decade. Nice memories.

  44. Sorry to hear this about Richmond. But I guess I’m not surprised.

    @Mitchell:
    “There is a saying in Germany that someone who wears clothes that are too expensive can’t be trusted. There was a politician there who was criticized in the media for dressing to much like the Brioni-wearing Donald Trump.”
    Yes.

    As I reflect, most of the men I know who persist in old Ivy kit — older professors and couple of older lawyers. The young men I know who tend to be drawn to it –they appreciate the relaxed, rustic quality. There are plenty of approaches toward “dressing up” that are more, to use a clumsy word that borders on misnomer, “sophisticated.”

    The stubborn and now time-tested brilliance of CC’s magnum opus has to do with the question that inspires the great debate: Brooks, which was an outpost of a certain sort of polished urban sophistication, or the campus? Whence Ivy style? I think the Brooks influence was eclipsed by campus-inspired tastes early on — the burly tweeds, the fuzzy Shetlands, coarse cords (Whip and Covert), and hearty twills. I don’t associate any of the above with the men who came to (new) money and power in the mid 20th century.

    There’s a great scene in one of the episodes of the third season of The Crown. Having been confronted with the sophisticated, refined tastes of an art critic (snob), Prince Philip, dressed in what I’ve imagined to be a Cheviot Tweed suit, replies: “We’re (just) Country People, really.” Fantastic.

    I wonder how many among the NYC High Society lot favored J. Press. Even if they flirted with it during the college years, let’s suppose they moved on.

  45. If you are interested in reading a great commentary about cruise ships, see the link below to David Foster Wallace’s “Shipping Out – On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise,” titled in one of his compilations of articles as “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.”

    https://harpers.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/HarpersMagazine-1996-01-0007859.pdf

  46. James Anchor | December 21, 2019 at 5:29 am |

    @S.E.
    Re: “…less than 5% of the American male population (during the 50s/60s) actually wore Ivy as it’s described and discussed here…”

    What a privilege it was to be part of that 5%!

  47. Henry Contestwinner | December 24, 2019 at 5:13 pm |

    Where I am in Kasual Kalifornia, I am a rank oddity in a jacket & tie. There are a few other holdouts at my employer (2000+ people). It’s no better when I go elsewhere on the Leftist Coast.

    Black tie? I am fortunate enough to be able to attend several semi-formal balls per year. Most of the men wear a tuxedo to these black tie events. Even so, there are always a few jokers who can’t be bothered to dress appropriately.

    We are in the middle of the fall of Western Civilization; falling dress standards are merely one symptom. Prepare for more decay.

  48. Henry:

    The spirit of the gospel is optimistic; it trusts in God and looks on the bright side of things. The opposite or pessimistic spirit drags men down and away from God, looks on the dark side, murmurs, complains, and is slow to yield obedience.

    Quote from Orson F. Whitney

    Hope you have an optimistic, happy, and healthy Christmas

  49. Charlottesville | December 27, 2019 at 11:28 am |

    Henry and Mr. Korn – I agree with you both. It is indeed sad and dispiriting to watch the decline of Western Civilization and democratic norms. Courtesy, modesty, bravery, kindness, intellectual rigor, religious belief, and a number of other character traits were once nearly universally affirmed in this country (if imperfectly practiced). Now, rarely is even hypocritical lip-service paid to virtue. Selfishness, shady ethics and rudeness tend to be the norm, and seem to be affirmatively praised. People are no longer ashamed of bad behavior, but delight in it. Snarky humor, facebook vanity, Twitter rants, road rage, politics-as-screaming, and a number of other manifestations illustrate the point. As Henry notes, the decline in standards of dress is another manifestation, if hardly the most important. One may well be tempted to despair. I know I am.

    However, despair is a sin because it denies that God is sovereign. None of the sins of the present age are altogether new, and great civilizations have fallen before. Indeed the last century saw evils on a much larger scale than could have been dreamt of in ancient times when only swords, spears and catapults were available for slaughter. I know that my hope should not be in human endeavors, no matter how noble, because man is fallen and failure is inevitable. Still, I don’t think it is entirely inappropriate to lament the passing of a gentler and in many ways nobler time, with all of its faults, provided that one also remains aware of where the true treasure is.

  50. Henry

    I apologize if my words offended or hurt you on Christmas Eve. Best wishes to you and your family for a happy and healthy New Year and all that follow.

  51. Arthur McLean | January 12, 2020 at 12:25 am |

    Read with interest the comments about formal nights on the Queen Mary 2 crossings. Even before WWII one never dressed the first or last night out (formal that is) or a night the ship had been in port if it was a cruise. Applying those rules to today’s cruises still wouldn’t allow for many formal nights (maybe none). Nevertheless Hail Cunard!!! and its dress standards.

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