I taught guitar for years. When I did, I started everyone out with a classical, nylon string guitar, no more than $100. In the beginning neither you or your hands know anything, and you must learn and practice the fundamentals. I used to say to people who brought me guitars they were thinking about buying: You have no idea what to do with it, and you can’t learn on it. For six months, classical guitar. After that, you can pick your own genre and have at it all you want. But you must learn the fundamentals on a classical guitar, and after that everything will come much easier.
I know people, and so do you, who have a $20,000 wardrobe they have no idea what to do with, and they can’t learn on it. Fundamentals.
G. Bruce Boyer is not particularly Ivy. He gets that rap in some circles because he looks great in, and wears often enough, ties and sportcoats. He has forgotten more Ivy than I know, but he is not restricted to Ivy. By any means. And he is far and away the best dressed man I know of, because of his mastery of the fundamentals. And his eye for pallette, which I don’t think you can teach but maybe you can.
True Style (you can buy it here and you should) has a copyright date of 2015, so it is not the oldest book in the Ivy Library we are going to build. It is not the least expensive. There is not a single photograph in it, there are sketches but even they are not in color. But if you want to learn your wardrobe, there is no other place to start.
The art of dressing is a visual art. Like all arts, there are two choices, you can either have a knack for it (in this case a great eye) or you can work until that knack happens anyway. And like all arts, it is fairly exclusive to itself. The arts do not like cross pollination. It is why you don’t see many impressionist painters writing great novels. Especially the visual arts. They like their practitioners unpolluted by other talents.
And yet. G. Bruce Boyer writes as well as he dresses.
That is the first note about the book. It is well written. Boyer is conversational and one gets the feel that the sound of reading the book aloud would be very much akin to the sound of Boyer’s thoughts, were they audible. He’s also funny. That is rare in our little world. The notion with most fashion writers I have encountered is that they take their clothes as seriously as they take everything else, and they take everything else too seriously. Boyer is confident, and that affords him room to joke. He uses the room.
The introduction does a great job of letting you know what you are in store for. It reads like the introduction to an excellent book, not the prototypical list of tips that fashion defaults to. Here is Sherlock Holmes. HMS Pinafore, and the word “synecdoche.” This is not “when mixing strips with patterns blah blah blah.”
Here. This is what I mean. Here is Boyer’s call to you, to practice a little style.
“What’s a man to do? Go on wearing drab suits for the rest of his life, drowning the very soul of individuality within him in a sea of sludge-colored sack cloth, or slouch about in a hoodie and trainers?”
I love that he calls them trainers. And I told you, this is no “Try not to shave against the grain” 500 words to satisfy a razor company.
Chapter 1 is Ascots. Yep. I don’t think he means Thurston Howell, but he does advocate, well, “Call it what you will – ascot, cravat, stock – the scarfat the throat is the tested and true answer to the naked neck.” Mr. Boyer and I part company here a little – I simply cannot pull it off. And I write an Ivy Style blog with an earring.
But buckle up buttercup, because the rest of the book is nothing short of a mandatory primer. I won’t walk you through it all, I couldn’t even if I wanted to, but for us in the Ivy end of things, the book raised an interesting question to me.
I know why I dress Ivy. I do it for two reasons. First, of all the styles I have been exposed to, it looks the least embarrassing on me. But second, and probably more important, is that I align with the values. The message. But once I made that choice, why do I pick out what I pick out? How do I know what to put together? How far to push?
I have walked amongst the Ivy purist for a few years now, and here is what my take away is. Most of the time, if you are a guy, it falls into two camps. Either your father wore it, or they wore it at your school. But that doesn’t teach you style, any more than karaoke teaches you to sing. It teaches you mimicry, maybe a what-to-wear-where rule, but it doesn’t teach you STYLE.
Which begged for me another question. Can you have style in Ivy Style? I mean, are the rules so strict that there are only stickers of footprints on a wooden floor and no freestyling? And the answer is an unfortunate yes, unless you learn style.
And to learn style, you must start with True Style. The book walks you through every piece, its history, what you can do with it, and how to incorporate it into a classic wardrobe. It is not an Ivy manual. Thank god. It is the classical guitar of Ivy – you must learn on it first, and then figure out your own jam.
But you will be very happy you did. It is a reader’s book, not a text book. It is as much story as it is instruction, and much personality as it is history. Ever been to a concert or a show, forgotten how long you were in there because you were so entertained, and it wasn’t until you were halfway home that you realized how much you learned?
That’s True Style by G. Bruce Boyer.