The Universally Young And The Universally Pedantic

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It’s always fun flipping through the Japanese magazine Free & Easy and seeing all the botched English, such as “Made in trad.” Having spent a summer in Japan, I can assure you that nonsensical English used in advertising and the media provided hearty guffaws on the hour.

But sometimes the Japanese are unintentionally perspicacious, as in the top quote from the image above. The image is taken from the home page of Tokyo-based Tailor Caid. I’m afraid I don’t know much about the guy, save that he makes some beautiful jackets influenced by a variety of American cultural and historical references, and has a vast collection of vintage images that he posts on his blog. Every time my girlfriend goes home on a business trip I ask her to go see the guy, but she never seems to have the time. Perhaps our man in Tokyo can take on the assignment.

As for the top quote — “For the university young [and] the universally young” — it’s a clever and pithy way of describing a concept we explored in a recent post: namely, that the Ivy League Look is a unique genre in the history of American clothing, conferring dignity upon the young and youth upon the dignified. In the illustration above, we have a group of college men on the left and a gathering of finance or ad men on the right, who may or may not have looked like the men on the left when they were younger.

The second quote on the image — “We are not fashion snobs but we know a few simple rules” — is also astute, though I read it ironically.

First off, in a sartorial context let’s just replace “fashion” with “clothing” and so we don’t get too hung up on the F word. In fact, the Internet has introduced us to a particular breed of clotheshorse that we might normally only come across once in a lifetime: the snob whose snobbism derives from following rules of men’s dress that can either be quite sensible or ridiculously antiquated.

Now I have a veneration for tradition that runs across my personality like a rep stripe, but it’s spangled with crests of individuality. I may own a blazer, khakis, white buttondown, regimental tie, argyle socks and penny loafers, but I wouldn’t wear them all together and then feel smug about it. Of course that’s more of a formula than rules, though in the mind of the fusty clotheshorse the two certainly go hand-in-hand.

Bruce Boyer and I frequently chuckle over some of the more schoolmarmish personalities in the #menswear world. I asked Bruce for a fresh take on the whole concept of rules-based dressing, and here was his response:

I know there are people out there who spend countless hours discussing the correct depth of trouser cuffs and length of coats. But the reality is that dressing well is like writing well: you learn the rules that are fashionable at the time, then you develop your own style by breaking them in order to better accommodate your unique life.

Those who slavishly follow the rules of dress are really just followers of fashion: the fashion of a particular time, past or present.

But the old saying holds true: fashion is for people who don’t know who they are. Guys who insist on rules of dress are either (1) stuck in some time period, (2) frighteningly insecure, or (3) don’t have any style of their own.

No one who has style is a slavish follower of rules, because style perforce implies individuality, character, and personality.

Well said, Bruce.

In the image above, the first quote feels like it honors the special quality of the Ivy League Look, that it has relatively fixed genre parameters that work well on young and old alike. But the second quote brings up the dark flipside of any genre-based approach to dressing, in which certain pedants will look not at the wide range of colors they have to paint with, and instead seek out numbers telling them how to do it.  — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

27 Comments on "The Universally Young And The Universally Pedantic"

  1. I think I’m gonna hurl.

  2. Schoolmarms are one thing, but some of these guys come across as “Trad Mullahs.”

  3. That slogan also echoes the Van Jacket slogan “for the young and young at heart.”

  4. Wow. I mean, just wow. Not the illustration or the copy, but the commentary.

    C’Mon, now, CC. Nothing is easier than the building of a straw man.

    I’m not sure who Boyer has in mind, but, among all the many “clothes horses” I’ve met, few if any get all bothered and fussy about–what was it?–right, pant cuff depth and cost lengths. Really?

    The men who like (and, equally imoortant, actually buy and wear) good clothing know what works for them, and, more often, heed the counsel of a seasoned tailor.

    About good cloth, style, and quality of tailoring? Fussy ’bout all that? Well, Sure. Why not?

    You use the word “genre” in reference to a “style.” (you’re okay with “genre” but poo-poo “aesthetic”? ) Both need–no, demand–a few characteristics that give definition to said “genre” or style. Rules? Well, I agree the copy is all cheek-tongued. We might’ve stopped there. But, a defense: A genre of anything is what it is because it can be defined, even if abstractly.

    But you know all this.

    What’s the outfit that wouldn’t inspire smugness? From memory: A blazer, khakis, striped tie, and penny loafers? Well, I should hope such an ensemble would certainly never inspire smugness. The irony, though, is that this combo is quite the rarity these days. The exception being game days at Southern schools. So maybe it does ooze smugness, after all.

    I’m all for a bit of rule breaking. But rules can’t be broken until they’re fist acknowledged.

  5. Southern Loafer | August 26, 2013 at 10:48 pm |

    “…A blazer, khakis, striped tie, and penny loafers? Well, I should hope such an ensemble would certainly never inspire smugness. The irony, though, is that this combo is quite the rarity these days. The exception being game days at Southern schools….”

    That may be true elsewhere, but in my small Louisiana town just north of New Orleans, and in many small southern towns like it, the outfit CC describes is not dictated by any “rule”; it is standard issue. It is the daily uniform of gentlemen, both at work and at social events, in the casual atmosphere of the Deep South. By no means is it rare. And, it is a look far too commonplace to be considered smug. I might best describe it as comfortable and familiar.

    We learned by observing our fathers how to dress long before we attended those Southern schools. But, we are not adhering to any “rule”. At least, I was never told there was a rule. We are simply unaware of any viable alternatives beyond seersucker, white bucks, and bow ties in the summer months. We dress this way because, well, because we just always have.

  6. I think two assumptions are made here:

    1. That the ‘rules’ are to mimic what was ‘in style’ during a certain time period at the east coast universities

    2. That the ‘older guys’ who are ‘universally young’ are elderly Japanese men who dress up, more or less in costume.

    Both assumptions could be totally accurate. The ad is not for Americans.

  7. It’s obviously easier to find proper Ivy clothing in Japan than in the States.

  8. Some people are mad when you don’t follow the rules and some people are mad when you do. I just try to enjoy clothing and focus on myself. It’s really not that serious.

  9. Roy R. Platt | August 27, 2013 at 11:08 am |

    I am probably fortunate in having spent most of my life before these “rules” were made up.

    (Oddly enough, none of these “rules” appear in John T. Molloy’s 1975 book “Dress For Success”.)

    I have always imagined that all of these new “rules” (which no one ever heard of until quite recently) were made up by the sort of people whose fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers did not wear a suit and tie (and hat) to work.

  10. Mitchell S. | August 27, 2013 at 11:26 am |

    @Christian: Perhaps you intend to write “snobbery.” There is no such word as “snobbism.”

  11. I’m not bothered much by the second quote. To me, “a few simple rules” is just that–simple, and few. Nothing so minutely defined and analyzed and scrutinized as by the igent crowd.

    Roy R. Platt:
    Agree with you on Molloy. I had the 1988 updated version of the book. His advice still works today (except for the part about “no black briefcases”).

  12. I think one rule that is cast in stone is that you should not wear the tie of a regiment in which you have not served.Same with school and college. But possibly a ‘Regimental tie’ means something different to you fellows.

  13. Also, on reflection, I don’t think I can take seriously advice on style from a man who uses the word ‘perforce’. Zounds! Gadzooks! Get thee post haste to Gloucester, sweet Worcester. And gentle Leicester, hi thee withal to Bicester…..

    And regarding your stripes, is it ‘rep’ or ‘Repp’? I believe I have seen both frequently, but have never been quite sure what it meant. I thought ‘rep’ was short for republican or possibly an acronym – ‘Retired English Professor’. Please advise.

  14. @Redcoat

    A Repp is actually a type of weave although today a tie with stripes is commonly, but incorrectly referred to as a Repp tie.

  15. I’ve seen both rep and repp. Once upon a time, I, too, thought it was some sort of shortening, but it turns out that it’s a variant of rib. “Rep” refers not to the pattern but the material, and the ridges—i.e., ribs—of the weave gave it its name.

    In a similar fashion, cordovan was originally the material, not the color; gingham was the material, not the pattern; foulard was the material, not the pattern… you get the point.

    So OCBD is right. Not all striped ties are reps, and not all rep ties are striped. Technically, a solid tie could be a rep tie, but now most people would call it a twill.

  16. Many ties that feature a stripe design are, in fact, repp weaves. A repp can be made of silk (warp and/or weft), cotton, wool, etc.

    Brooks has used the phrase “repp tie” for a long while. Correctly. They use Vanners for their reppe (a nod to the English) silk.

  17. @Henry & S.E.

    Thanks for the additional knowledge. I it always nice to see helpful comment here.

  18. Indeed. Gentlemen, thank you.

  19. And we can hope more insight is forthcoming. A future piece written by someone in-the-know about Caid would be most welcome.

    The context is important. My own experience is that most of the people I know who prefer something resembling Ivy style don’t have funds to buy custom suits and jackets annually. They stick with mostly inexpensive basics. Which is fine. All to the good.

    Still…there’s Ivy, and then there’s, for lack of better phrase, Haute Ivy. Custom Ivy would be a misnomer because NH was off the rack.

    Caid is not Lands End or LL Bean or a Brooks Brothers outlet store. Caid, it seems, is a custom tailoring operation that caters to men of means. But, unlike a lot of the custom clothing sold in the States (let’s use Hickey Freeman and Samuelsohn), the house style is American Traditional and/or Ivy.

    Were Caid to follow Kamakura Shirts’ lead and set up shop in, say, Manhattan, we might safely compare them to Chipp, or, in terms of price point and quality, the Langrock or Norman Hilton of yesteryear: tailoring and cloth comparable to, say, Oxxford, but with emphasis upon a certain style. In this case, TNSIL.

    By all appearances, they do what they do brilliantly. They pay attention to the most minuscule and subtle of details (is this adherence to rules? Then count me in) and get busy replicating. And it may be the replication is better than the original because cloth woven by the likes of Woodhouse, Lovat, and Hardy/Minnis is likely being used. This too is a throwback to the better Ivy shops of yesteryear, most of which could not have survived by relying upon a customer base consisting mostly of undergrads.

    So, in a very real sense, they’re both keeping the rules–attending to the nuances of a nearly forgotten style–while creating something altogether new. Not so much breaking the rules as reforming. Good for them.

  20. There’s a certain irony in the fact that without the rule-obsessed pedants the free-thinking style rebels wouldn’t have any rules to break. Then where would they be!

    It’s also a fact, in my experience, that a lot of men are desperate to discover ‘the rules’. The idea that dressing well is entirely down to personal expression is terrifying for most guys; they are far more comfortable believing that there’s a code to style that can be learned.

  21. While I don’t entirely disagree with Mr. Boyer’s comments, the problem is that in today’s blog riddled world, people strive to “break rules” for the sake of it, not as a natural reflection of personal style. People are so desperate to self promote their “style” that they trade basic good taste for misguided peacocking – e.g., no socks in the dead of winter, items with fake/manufactured wear, affectations on top of affectations, contrived and purposeful “nonchalance” (e.g. purposely flipped cuffs, unbuttoned collar buttons, shoe buckles undone, mistied neckties, etc., etc.), and so on.

    None of these things reflect “style of one’s own” – instead, contrary to Boyer’s comments, this sort of overt, heavy handed rule breaking (and the copy-catting that tends to drive and follow it) belies a total lack of natural style and dangerous deficiencies of self awareness.

  22. @MF

    Actually, Joe at An Affordable Wardrobe is fond of claiming an arbitrary made-up rule in order to show how he broke it.

  23. AEV,

    Well stated!

  24. The worst is the pinned button down collar. By this I mean a button down collar that’s safety pinned. The buttons, abandoned and lonely, unused. It just looks ridiculous.

    The privileges of “Personal style” can be taken, well, too bloody far.

  25. G. Bruce Boyer | August 28, 2013 at 12:30 pm |

    Dear AEV (An Elevated Vision???), I couldn’t agree with you more. All that false nonchalance you mention is at the other end of the same thread. neither reflects a “style of one’s own”.

  26. ‘Rep’ is also an Oxford acronym: Rents Evening Paraphernalia, as in ‘Northern Chemist, Keble, rep.’… At Cambridge it is normally an abbreviation (for repugnant, or repulsive), as in ‘Natural Scientist, Fitz, rep’…

  27. Too many Gurus. Not enough Role Models.

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