Yesterday I took in a service at Trinity Church here in Newport. It was founded in 1698 and I got to sit in the pew that was used by George Washington. More interesting for us here were the few old WASPy types who were dressed in coat and tie. Each wore a tweed sportcoat (I’d oped for a blazer for my first coat-and-tie occasion since moving), and the immense age of the garments was quite evident. Each seemed to be permanently pulled apart in the vent area. But there was something else I noticed: each jacket fit the men perfectly in the shoulder area. That’s a testament not only to their keeping their physique, but for knowing that this is the crucial fit area, even when wearing something with functional elbow patches and a draft in the rear.
It made me think of that relevant passage from Paul Fussell’s book “Class.” The remarks, though delivered irreverently, are sound advice:
Upper-middle clothes… lean to the soft, textured, wooly, nubby. Ultimately, the difference implies a difference between city and country, or labor and leisure, where country betokens not decrepit dairy farms and bad schools but estates and horse-leisure. Thus the popularity among the upper-middle class (and the would-be upper-middle class, like members of Ivy university faculties) of the tweed jacket. Country leisure is what it implies, not daily wage slavery in the city.
The tweed jacket is indispensable to the upper-middle-class trick of layering. A man signals that he’s classy if, outdoors, he comes on in a tweed jacket, with vest or sweater (or two), shirt, tie, long wool scarf, and overcoat or raincoat. An analogy is with the upper-class house, which has lots of different rooms for different purposes. Wearing one shirt over another — Oxford-cloth button-down over a turtleneck, for example — is upper-middle-class, and the shirt worn underneath can ever be a dress shirt (solid color is best) with its own collar, a usage I’ve seen in warm weather on Madison Avenue in the upper eighties.
[Later, on the matter of prole gape]:
here I will reject all accusations that I am favoring the rich over the poor. The distinction I’m pointing too is not one between the tailored clothes of the fortunate and the store clothes of the others, for if you try you can get a perfectly fitting suit collar off the rack, or at least have it altered to fit snugly. The difference is in recognizing it as a class signal and not recognizing it as such. You’ve got to know that, as Douglas Sutherland says in An English Gentleman, almost the most important criterion in a suit worth wearing at all is “that it should fit well around the shoulders.”
Pictured, incidentally, is Jack Lemmon with well fitting shoulders. He may have picked that up at Phillips Andover Academy and Harvard. — CC