What We’re Losing: An Essay On The State Of Tailored Clothing

There is a menswear phenomenon that seems to be taking hold more and more over the last two decades or so. Something that seems to mirror a wider phenomenon in American society and, I would suspect, many other places around the world. That is, the lurch toward privileging personal preference and personal comfort over all else. Over and over again, on internet forums and advice columns, the driving force behind clothing decisions is often “What do I prefer?” and “Does it make me feel good?” Indeed, the refrain “The most important thing is that I feel good wearing it” is so common as to be almost a trope among menswear enthusiasts online and elsewhere.

How could this be a bad thing? Do we not all strive to develop a personal style that we feel comfortable and confident in? Sure, that’s true for many of us. And in fact, having a personal style that one feels good in is a meaningful and important thing. However, privileging those things over all else does ensure that we lose something very valuable in the menswear sphere. Two somethings in particular, actually.

We lose the ability to allow tailored clothing to be a corrective to our physical realities.

It prevents us from an objective appraisal of our own physique, and promotes an ignorance of what tailored clothing can do for us.

Objectivity is a controversial term in the 21st century. In an age of pluralism we are compelled to consider all aesthetic judgments as equally valid. “There is no truth, dear boy. Only a myriad of opinions.” This criticism is well taken. Certainly aesthetic ideals are highly subjective and, at least to some degree, culturally constructed. However, nothing we do is devoid of cultural context. Understanding that context, both in a particular and in a plural way, is as important to dressing well as anything else.

In the increasingly homogenizing world of menswear, where Japanese, American, Italian, and a slew of other aesthetics, come into contact and combine in interesting ways, the cultural context is more singular than ever. The funny thing about tolerance and pluralism is that it tends to assimilate us all to one another. Thus, multiculturalism actually serves to create one global culture rather than to foster an appreciation for disparate cultures.

All this is to say that, despite the cries of opposition to any claim of objectivity in aesthetics, we can still seem to realistically make judgments on what looks good on a particular kind of body. We can do this because we are all in communication with people from around the world, and we are making collective decisions about fashion together. But the trend toward personal preference short-circuits this.

A short man may have a preference for two-inch cuffs on all his trousers, a fat man may have a preference for bold checked suits, and a tall man can wear pinstripes all he wants. The justification being “It makes me feel good.”

Fine. But if we accept this argument we begin to lose an appreciation for one of the most amazing things tailored clothing can do for us. That is, to hide our deficiencies and accentuate our assets. Menswear legend Alan Flusser once opined that wearing clothes that “fit” is besides the point of tailored garments. Clothes shouldn’t mirror the shape of your body. Rather, they should make it appear is if you have a better body than you do. They should make you look more athletic (but not too athletic), taller (but not too tall), and slimmer (but not too slim).

True, all of those things are variables that have a certain subjectivity to them. How tall is too tall? But generally speaking we may talk about a moderate ideal of the male form that most people having these discussions would recognize. Call it the “Brumellian Ideal.” Indeed, men use this concept without even knowing it in many cases. Admonishing someone with a long neck for not wearing shirts with taller collars refers to this ideal. Recognizing when someone is wearing a jacket that is too long, or too short, refers to this ideal. An ideal rarely defined and often unspoken, to be sure.

And when we go too far in believing that it’s all about personal preference we miss an opportunity to really begin to look good. We lose the capability to make clothing decisions that account for our dropped shoulders, our rotund bellies, or our short statures.

We lose an understanding of clothing in context, and we lose respect.

One of the wonderful things about learning the history of menswear is that it provides the learner with an understanding of why certain clothes are worn in particular contexts. Understanding context allows the dresser to view his clothes as something far more meaningful than a banal exercise in self-love.

Through an understanding of context we begin to see clothing as a tool capable of expressing humility, grace, and respect for others. Why do men wear black tie in certain circumstances but not others? Why should we strive to fit in more than we stand out? Why should we have a sense of occasion? Because having an understanding of these things shifts the attention of others around us from ourselves to the things we actually dress for.

By going to a black-tie event accoutered in clothing that largely adheres to tradition, for instance, we are saying that we, ourselves, are not more important than the occasion we are dressing for. By attending a wedding as a guest, and not out-dressing the bride and groom, we are saying that “This is your event, and I find unadulterated joy in your happiness.”

On the other hand, the man who wears a suit and tie to a job where his fellows are dressed in denim and t-shirts brings attention to himself for all the wrong reasons. Rather than finding solidarity with his fellow workers, he seeks to stand out, to be the center of attention, and to demonstrate his wealth or his taste in non-subtle and offensive ways.

But why would any man want to do that? Wouldn’t peer pressure alone compel him to dress like those around him? Not so when adopting the mindset of “Whatever I do, it will be correct, as long as it makes me feel good.”

Honestly, for most of us this isn’t a major problem. Social expectations are a remarkably powerful force in most of our lives. But even if most of us don’t fit the model of someone who is selfish to the point that he wears a suit and tie to his job as a television repairman, it often creeps into our lives to some degree or another. For instance, a man who wears black-tie to an event where cocktail attire is more appropriate, demeans himself by emphasizing his own preferences over those of his host, or others around him.

This doesn’t mean that there is no room for personal expression in clothing. Quite the contrary. But it does require that we think harder and deeper about how we express ourselves. A pair of vintage cufflinks handed down from a grandfather, or a boutonnière given by a spouse, carries far more dignified meaning and expression than a pair of gold Gucci sneakers. Totems of love and respect, referential to others rather than to the self, allow us to dress well without seeming self serving.

No, young man, the most important thing is not whether you feel good. While feeling good is important, far more important is putting those around you at ease. Making them feel that your presence enriches their own lives, and that they can find in you a comrade rather than a better.

Where does this leave us?

Fear not, ye self-promoters, there is still plenty of room for personal preference in menswear. I prefer corduroy over flannel in cold weather. I enjoy Go To Hell clothing, too. But I do make an honest effort to wear these things when appropriate and without undue self referentialism. Life is lived in degrees, and clothing is worn in degrees. Thus, there will always be a place for what you, personally, think looks good.

But do yourself, and the world around you, a favor and step back every now and then. Temper your decisions with the understanding that you are not the center of the universe, and your own personal comfort is not the ultimate arbiter of taste. Think a little less of the self and a little more about the people you share this world with.

Dressing with taste and humility might not stop war, eliminate hunger, and prevent injustice, but thinking of others when choosing your clothes can foster empathy for those around you and put your fellows at ease in your presence. — PANI M.

61 Comments on "What We’re Losing: An Essay On The State Of Tailored Clothing"

  1. Having read and reread, I am confused.

    But this seemed clear enough:

    “While feeling good is important, far more important is putting those around you at ease. Making them feel that your presence enriches their own lives, and that they can find in you a comrade rather than a better.”

    Ah, sartorial populism. Is this true in the workplace or all aspects of one’s life? Does “feeling good” run counter to “putting others at ease”? Is the effort to enrichment others’ lives synonymous with being a “comrade” to them?

    “The funny thing about tolerance and pluralism is that it tends to assimilate us all to one another. Thus, multiculturalism actually serves to create one global culture rather than to foster an appreciation for disparate cultures.”

    A keen insight, this. But it seems to conflict with other sentiments in the piece. Isn’t the guy who dressed however he wants (even if just to “feel good”) raising a fist of defiance to the forces of assimilation (“one global culture”)?

    Not sure how this piece speaks to the “state of tailored clothing.” I was expecting a broader look at the scene, perhaps a comparison of MTM and bespoke options. Oh well.

  2. What we’re gaining: Men who know how to dress tastefully, and dare to set the bar high–at the risk of failing to nurture potential “comrades” and making everybody “feel at ease” (a futile endeavor, anyway). Dress up!!

  3. The comment on pluralism wasn’t meant to attach a value judgment. It was simply to say that as cultures converge in our world we have more of a right to make generalizations about aesthetics. Not less.

  4. Your whole essay can be condensed into a link to a critique of post-modernism. The decoupling of clothes from their historical context, of form from function if you will, can be traced back to the ending of Edwardianism. Bit by bit, the walls separating true artists, who earned their craft by blood and toil, from the hacks were dismantled. So too, it became easier for pretenders to ape a caricatured version of the well-mannered, with the help of a sycophantic profession, the fashion “designer.”

  5. Dominic, very astute observation. It is, indeed, a critique of post modernism, among other things.

  6. Dylan Baldwin | April 9, 2018 at 1:06 pm | Reply

    The comments confuse me as much Pani M’s essay.

  7. EVAN EVERHART | April 9, 2018 at 1:14 pm | Reply

    I think this piece requires more precision in its expression of its precise perspectives and points within its broader topic, and yes, I also was expecting more upon the subject of the general (and horribly regrettable!) decrease in the use and acceptability, as well as in the knowledge of tailored clothing within the global (and assorted national – ahem, America!) society/ies. I also did not relish the rather lecturing tone, and the apparent inference that a person who dresses well is being selfish and inconsiderate (the very definition of social rudeness), the only modifier given, was that this over-dressed person might work as a “TV repairman”, though the implications of that for the piece and the perspective of the author are also troublesome. I for instance wear a suit and tie almost every day to work at an office where the majority wear dress shirts or polo shirts and assorted business casual wear, but personality and social engagement ensure that no one thinks that I think that I’m better than them, I just like to dress in what I was taught was the correct way to dress professionally. I am not disrespecting them, I am respecting my work, my employers, and myself, and neither do I judge anyone else who dresses differently, unless they come to work in shorts and sandals and a t shirt, then all bets are off. An engaging and charming person puts anyone and everyone at ease, and good clothes don’t detract or distract from that personality, they are merely the orderly and pleasing but not melodramatic casing for that personality, and a subtle hint or inference of it. I did find the piece interesting though.

  8. EVAN EVERHART | April 9, 2018 at 1:20 pm | Reply

    In short, I was expecting a discussion over the casualization of society at large; e.g. “joggers”, sweat pants, gold lame’ sneakers, “bling”, “swag”, assorted ad hoc douchery, and etc, and their combined effect upon the structure of society, as well as our respect for society, though I did think that this was reasonably addressed if not as fully explored as I could have hoped for in the references to cultural pluralism, which of course are rooted in moral relativism, which to me, reeks of intellectual nihilism which is so prevalent and the de facto end game of post modernism. Just saying. In a society. Relativism was addressed also. Good points. But expecting more exploration. Rant. Sorry! Stimulating article though – on points!

  9. In the days of Bach, Reynolds, Voltaire it was easier to separate an authentic from a faker, because objectivity was stronger. You would be laughed out of the room if you tried to sell a canvas of paint drippings for $25 million, or if you showed up at a concert and played nothing for 4 minutes 33 seconds. Similarly in the world of suits, viz. the (visual) differences between Mueller and Trump. I know this has been beaten to death, but it is very current.

    CM puts the finger on the essence of why Ivy is relevant in menswear of today. It’s about depth vs breath (to oversimplify his argument grossly!). Without a proper historical grounding (as well as the socio-cultural), one’s wardrobe can be bigger than Imelda Marcos’ and still be dressed like a 2-bit pimp. Ivy, or a similar socio-cultural inspiration, gives the proper focus to wardrobe and ensemble. It’s also about piggy-backing on our forefathers and receiving their collected wisdom on clothes, no?

  10. Clothing serves one of three purposes. 1.) Weather protection, 2.) Make the workplace, a workplace, and 3.) Display social class and sexual allure.

    Tailored clothing works on #3, and works extremely well.

    Today, Millennials are reported as having sex less than half as often as their Baby Boomer parents did at the same age. #metoo is not about Harvey Weinstein so much as it is about beautiful young actresses willing to do ANYTHING to make in show biz, including doing Harvey. Sexual allure and sex itself are a no-no to many people of strong opinions on how the entire rest of the world should operate.

    Additionally, white college-educated men age 22 to to age 75 who wear suits and ties to work haven’t had a pay raise greater than inflation since the start of The Great Recession,and aren’t likely to go above inflation anytime in the next ten years. YET, the cost of a nice dinner with a newly met potential partner can go $150 to $250, up from $75 ten years ago.

    Men (of any social class) who lack profligate funds to impress a new lover typically trim down to a fat-free shape, and start wearing better fit clothing. Most white college-educated men who wear suits and ties to work are doing that very thing right now.

    The other alternative is to be like the 7 year old kid who can’t reach the cookie jar and then states flatly he doesn’t want a cookie anyway.

    Tailored clothing makes the man (or woman) show higher social status and more physical allure. Indeed, perhaps more allure than may be native to the body underneath. Right now with half as much sex going on as when Baby Boomers were on the rise, and the #metoo’s screaming at the sky someone somewhere is having too much fun in bed, fewer men (and women) are using tailored clothing for alluring effect. Yet, tailored clothing is STILL just as effective as it ever was, and that effect WILL be used by some.

    Google “pinch and pin” and be amazed at just how many people want to know how to “tailor at home” to make a cheap woven fabric (or knit) shirt look alluring on THEIR body. Tailoring is not going away. What IS going away is the expensive cloth college-educated white men used to buy which was made into tailored clothing. Fine cloth will come back. But it may be a while until the men who buy fine cloth clothing start getting above average pay raises again.

    It is only those who don’t care about their own person allure who wear sloppy clothing.

    Ralph Lauren’s business is today half the size it was before The Great Recession.

    Two days ago, in a Starbucks (read, “cheap”),I saw a trim man — with the look of some miles on his face — with an eager, doe-eyed woman more than 25 years younger than he, she seeming to hang on his every word. He was wearing a tailored-to-fit-well dirt cheap sport coat, probably not even $89 new, and a woolen scarf.

  11. Casualization is an interesting topic, but not the one I wanted to write about.

  12. Unfortunately, the horse has already left the barn and all signs indicate he is not returning. In some cases, governments are promoting the idea of ditching tailored clothing all together. The Japanese government encourages salarymen to forgo the suit and tie as a way to save money on energy costs related to air conditioning. The program is called “cool-biz” and it has been in place for over a decade.

  13. Actually, this essay was largely addressing people who wear tailored clothing. Not casual dressers.

  14. From a historical point of view,when this phenomenon started?

    Was in 90 (at age of Clinton admministration),or before?

    Was a reaction to the clothes renaissance of the Reagan years?

    Was the late 60s-70s generation the initiators?

    In my opinion when the old generations left the scene,the boomers became like kids alone in the house without baby sitter.
    The mess (not only in clothes field) began then.

  15. I gave the essay another try. This is worthy of another glance:

    “On the other hand, the man who wears a suit and tie to a job where his fellows are dressed in denim and t-shirts brings attention to himself for all the wrong reasons. Rather than finding solidarity with his fellow workers, he seeks to stand out, to be the center of attention, and to demonstrate his wealth or his taste in non-subtle and offensive ways.”

    A friend of mine is contractor. He owns a company that builds houses–really nice houses. He is surrounded (every day) by men who wear jeans, flannel shirts, and steel-toed work boots. He wears sport jackets, dress pants, button down shirts, and ties. Even many of the architects “dress down” Here’s the thing: people love the guy, including the construction workers and ditch diggers. This may be especially true in the South , but nice (even tailored) clothing isn’t worn (intended) to “demonstrate wealth.” The clothes may be a demonstration of taste. In fact, they are.

    If I am reading the essay as intended, the author suggests that social fabric is worn thin by people who attempt to present themselves as (in any way) elite. Thus the call to blend in–to look (act, behave…even think?) like others as much as possible. The message is clear: for the sake of others’ comfort/peace of mind, by all means don’t try to “stand out” or set yourself apart…or be unique. Utopia by way of uniformity. Let’s hope everyone who reads the essay honors the instinct to rebel against the argument.

  16. Just occurred to me the author may have the worst state of vocational being in mind: mid-level management or sales…or some sort of tech work. Or anything that involves a cubicle. If yes, then he’s probably right…and God have mercy on the pour soul who spends decades building up retirement savings that way. But even there, there’s an opportunity to stick out trad style: trade the jeans for chinos, the sneakers for penny loafers, and the North Face fleece for a Shaggy Dog.

  17. S.E. I think that’s too polemic of a reading. I’m not saying we should only ever fit in, nor am I saying we should always put others feelings before our own. I’m saying that we shouldn’t be so self referential in our clothing choices. An example of a self referential person would be that #menswear person we’ve likely all seen who insists on wearing a suit and tie in a room full of, say, tech workers who are wearing Star Wars shirts and cargo shorts. That doesn’t mean said person can’t look nice and dress qualitatively better than his fellows. But it does say that this hypothetical person should take respect for others into consideration as well as his own desire to look good. In other words, don’t make a spectacle of yourself by dressing for an occasion to which you are not attending.

  18. I have a strong feeling that right now there is overwhelming overlap between #menswear and cosplay. Namely the biggest menswear peacocks jump out of their outfits the minute the camera shuts off.

  19. Dominic, I think you’re right. It’s a business for so many people who call themselves influencers.

  20. Bernard Faber | April 9, 2018 at 2:34 pm | Reply

    He huffed and puffed and to what end! This is a web site out of 1984 where everyone is a slave to a single style-pobsessed about ephemera of hooked vents and collar roll. I don’t see any encouragement for original and individualistic style. We dress for our reference group- who we think we are most like, or for those most hoenest, who we think we want to be. That is our abiding concern.. I also think that for those who have come to “adopt” the style they do so with such blind zeal that they are petrified about an element of dress that is not straight out of history or what we believe to be history.

  21. Bernard Faber | April 9, 2018 at 2:36 pm | Reply

    Christian
    Are you censoring my cirtical comments. Play fair and stop being so authoritarian!

  22. Certain environments (particularly work) allow for displays of individual (expression of) taste(s). Many do not. Many are boring and stifling to point of suffocation (here I offer a nod to Whyte’s The Organization Man). The best dressed men I know are lawyers, doctors, clergy, architects, upper level execs (COO’s, CFO’s, CEO’s, and academics–both professors and deans. The latter may be surprising to some, but the college/university environment allows for lots of individual expression.

    The world the author describes, even with amendments to the piece, sounds awful. But, in fairness, I know plenty of guys who trudge to the high rise buildings every day–the I.T. guys, the paper pushers, the data enterers. They have as much freedom as the factory worker. And they may see less sunlight from 9:00 to 5:00.

    “While feeling good is important, far more important is putting those around you at ease…” God, it just hurts to read that.

  23. Vern Trotter | April 9, 2018 at 2:42 pm | Reply

    What codswallop is this whole piece! Seeking to stand out and being the center of attention is the whole point for discriminating men of style and of being well dressed. This fellow must be right at home in the commune or maybe the gulag.

  24. Jason R. Ward | April 9, 2018 at 2:54 pm | Reply

    I am guilty of being the one guy who doesn’t dress like his coworkers. I teach in a rural, economically depressed high school, and am the only teacher who wears a tie every day (one of our Assistant Principals wears one a couple of days a week). On Fridays, my fellow faculty members show up in jeans and t-shirts; they look like they’re going out to rake leaves. I refuse to succumb to this. This has nothing to do with demonstrating any kind of economic advantage as we all make commiserate salaries, but rather I believe if I look like I am taking this job seriously, then maybe my students will take their education seriously.

  25. Jason, I applaud you for that.

  26. A generous reading of the essay is that it’s moral in tone–a Kantian categorical imperative: the world would be a much better place if everybody dressed with this primary (sole?) consideration in mind: How do my clothing choices make other people feel? Politeness taken to a ridiculous–even oppressive–extreme. And where does it stop? Not all slopes are slippery, but would we apply the same counsel to choices in cars, homes, food, vacation spots, schools… ?

  27. @Vern Trotter: Beau Brummell wrote: “If people turn to look at you on the street you are not well-dressed, but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable.”

    Being well-dressed means blending in.

  28. I’m sorry S.E. I don’t think that’s a generous reading at all. ?

  29. “In further institutionalizing the great power of the majority, we are making the individual come to distrust himself. We are giving him a rationalization for the unconscious urging to find an authority that would resolve the burdens of free choice. We are tempting him to reinterpret the group pressures as a release, authority as freedom, and that this quest assumes a moral guise makes it only the more poignant.”
    — The Organization Man, William H. Whyte

    In other words:
    Manager to worker: “I called you into the office today to ask about your clothes. As you can easily see, we’re a jeans-and-polo shirt kind of place. What’s with the dressy shirt and pants and sport jacket? You seem out of place. Don’t you want to fit in? Trade those loafers for a pair of running shoes. Take a look at mine. New Balances. Got ’em on sale.”

    Worker: “Uh, I guess you’re right. I mean, that makes sense. I mean, I want to fit in. I can look like everybody else does. No biggy.”

    Manager: “Great. Good talk. Back to your cubicle you go.”

  30. “Cosplay” is the correct term indeed. Dressing up like a gentleman does not make you one. Nor will subscribing entirely to clothing from the 1960’s turn you into Donald Draper.

    It’s one thing to wear a soft-shouldered sportcoat to dinner on a Saturday evening (even if your peers won’t), it is another to show up to a summer picnic in a tie because you’re trying to project.

  31. During my corporate career, I wore worsted wool suits, white cotton pinpoint shirts, silk ties, black, well-shined shoes, and a gold watch with black leather strap. That was my uniform. And the better the quality of the uniform, the more money I made.

    When I was a rookie, my mentor told me to always dress well, for men wanted to do business with a prosperous man. A prosperous man got prosperous by doing a better job than others. So, look prosperous, he told me. And indeed the more prosperous looking my uniform, the more money I made.

    A young man I know, said a friend of his with a job in financial was told repeatedly to buy a good watch. The young man had a cellphone which kept perfect time. Finally late one morning, his boss put a piece of paper on his desk with the make and model of a particular watch, and the address of a jewelry store which sold that watch. Boss told him to buy that ($3,000) watch on his lunch hour and to wear it every day. It was reported by the young man’s friend he couldn’t believe how much better clients treated him.

    Which man would you rather trust to fix your car? The man in a AC/DC t-shirt, or a man in J.C.Penney’s clothing with holes it in, or man in fresh looking Carhartt’s?

    Yes, some great techies dress like last year’s Goodwill, but management NEVER puts them in front of customers, not even in an emergency.

  32. John, that’s a fair point. But I would also suggest that “dressing for success” is something quite different than what I’m talking about. Dressing as if you’re prosperous, and by doing so putting your clients at ease, is a good thing.

  33. I always go for the kill. Always. Even when dressed down I am dressed up. The sentiment of the article, if you change the context to grooming, is along the lines of a comb-over covers your deficiencies if you are balding, so forget about that stylish crop because that would just be showing off. Not a problem I have, but were I balding I would go for the crop…

  34. My apologies if I’ve misread/misinterpreted. A complimentary piece might take on the extraordinary task of articulating a meta-theory of trad. I would guess there are about five or six possibilities. Maybe more. One of them has to do with context–work environment and culture. If you graduated from McCallie and HSC and practice law at a big firm in Atlanta, chances are good some version of traditional clothing is the rule of the day. If you’re an I.T. guy at a medium-sized firm in Rochester who proudly wears a UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT ENGINEERING sweatshirt every Fridays, not so much.

    Certain vocations attract more traditional (even fogey-minded) men than others. I suspect this is the key to understanding the look, but I could be wrong.

  35. As a man who spent a LOT of time in various IT dept’s over my career, I NEVER saw a decision maker who wore a sweat shirt, except one time with one man when they were moving furniture around that day.

  36. I agree with John.

    The tech decision-makers certainly don’t dress that way in Austin. Though I’ve never seen one in a trad style, they are almost always neatly dressed in clothes that fit fairly well in the modern slim style.

    Think about it. If they’re making decisions, they’re likely to be an organized, hard-working A-type who obsesses over most any detail that goes by his or her eye. Those kind of men are not slobs.

    • I get it. That’s undoubtedly true. But it’s also kind of beside the point. I’m not trying to say something true about the tech industry, but rather to give an example of what I’m talking about that most people would understand. Further, I’m not making a statement about becoming a “decisions maker,” dressing for success, or surviving in the business world. Certainly a person can, and in some cases must, dress very well in order to be in those positions, or to get to those positions. But in that case you are literally dressing for the expectations of others. To fit in with your expectations. To project success or confidence. To put others at ease. I think you can see how this is perfectly fine in the context of my argument. I reserve my negative emotions only for those who dress inappropriately.

  37. And who, by dressing inappropriately, self aggrandize rather than show respect to the occasions in which they find themselves.

  38. Overall, I think stereotypes and over-simplifications undermine this essay.

    For example, I dress to make myself feel good, but what makes me feel good it to dress appropriate to the occasion and to display a bit of Trad style that usually stands out a bit.

    I am also abundantly aware of my over-generous proportions and wear clothes that minimize them. Pro tip: looser clothes are not the solution.

    Yet, there are kernels in here worth discussing. Less judgment and more nuance could help.

  39. EVAN EVERHART | April 9, 2018 at 5:08 pm | Reply

    @ S.E.

    I see what you’re saying above, and I think I was grasping at it too, it reads a bit like sartorial socialism, at least in it’s underlying philosophy. Though, perhaps that’s just because we’ve associated ourselves with a different hive? Who can definitively say? As I previously said, the majority of the people at my office wear business casual, to extreme business casual (jeans instead of khakis), occasional “dress sneakers” whatever that’s supposed to be/mean, and even sports jersey’s over their dress shirts on Fridays. I don’t look down on them, though I wouldn’t wear that stuff myself, but I do notice that I get compliments on my suits and sport coats and ties, and no one takes my wearing my business attire amiss, I’m just the man in the suit, and I’ve been told often enough that my wardrobe is appreciated and enjoyed, so honestly I get a sense of disconnect on anyone feeling as if I think that I’m better than them, or any rubbish like that because of the way that I dress. Also, when I was younger, the old TV repairman used to wear a blue jumpsuit like a mechanic, but with a little black bow tie, and my locksmith still wears a necktie with his dingy old OCBD and green card dealer visor whenever I visit him to get a key or a lock. Not that that’s the norm, necessarily, anymore, but it used to be, and some still do dress up, even for blue collar work, and no shame or offense or socialistic dismay or ostracism for it.

  40. As a young man I “rode moto” on Sunday afternoons. (“Riding moto” = muscling a 220 pound motocross motorcycle WFO fifteen minutes per race in all five gears across terrain a Jeep would be hard pressed to make 5 mph over.) It was brutally athletic, in 90* heat.
    ==
    You always tell the guy who was a week or two or three short of quitting racing altogether because he showed up with his dirt bike racer all painted up shiny and waxed.
    ==
    Over dressing in the business world is the same indicator as an off-road motorcycle racer with a fancy paint job, freshly waxed. So is under dressing. The career is done. Ended, though the final paycheck may be years in arriving.
    ==
    I live midtown Manhattan, where a blue OCBD shirt is just fine. Guess what I wear when I go out for coffee? A ten minute subway ride to the north is Harlem, where a blue t-shirt is just fine. Guess what I wear when I go to the NYS Dept of Motor Vehicles nearest office in Harlem?

    Right now, and most particularly since the election where OCBD wearing men were crucified because the Loser in the November Elections lost through her own inept efforts, men who look/dress like the Olde Guard will be treated as yesterday’s fish wrapped in last week’s newspaper. By some. Sycophants to the current media noisemakers.

    The reality IS wearing Trad WILL get you a better seat in a better restaurant. Wearing jeans with holes in the knees won’t.

    “Horses for courses.” When you want a better seat in a better restaurant, wear trad. When you want a double hamburger at Micky-D’s in Harlem, wear a blue t-shirt.

  41. I live in downtown Austin and have noticed a sudden upsurge in loud socks on younger guys. The wearers are usually in modern, close-fitting cut sport coats and suits. Their hairstyles are sometimes just plain goof,y and their tie choices need some work.

    However, their jackets hit the shoulder and sleeve marks well, their well-polished shoes appear to be AE or similar, and overall they can match their colors without the aid of Grranimals.

    I dislike the overall style, and I bet they feel the same about mine. However, at least they’ve adopted one and are trying to execute it well. Give’em a break.

  42. I want to know more about the clock in that picture. Not nearly enough has been written about mid-century school clocks.

  43. @Bernard

    No, I’m not censoring your comments. On this thread at least.

    But the king will continue to manage his kingdom.

  44. If brevity is next to godliness, I’m afraid the author and commentators here had their pencils sharpened by Old Scratch himself. My goodness.

  45. Not so easy to write essays on style!

  46. @John
    If the doe-eyed twenty five year old was hanging on to that chaps every word at Starbucks, she was surely being interviewed!! ?

  47. John,
    With your kind permission I’ll stay away from t-shirts and Harlem.

  48. My experience is that those who are quick to take umbrage at someone’s “overdressing” are going to find a way to be offended by just about anything, and those who, somehow, point out that they are “better” dressed than their co-workers probably find less joy in it than they thought.

  49. Jonathan Sanders | April 10, 2018 at 7:34 am | Reply

    the close relative to this piece is the decline of taste. You can be real polished and appropriate in the right pair of jeans, navy crewneck and white button with sneakers too. It’s just this guy is going to know when to throw on a blazer over it.

    A note about tailored jackets: They are the real swiss army knife of clothing; they flatter and distinguish, look polished and also serve as a man purse…you’re wallet, phone, car keys, business cards. a lot more practical than a fleece!

  50. Person From Porlock | April 10, 2018 at 7:53 am | Reply

    I never get into all this context and situational fiddle-faddle. I just wear what my fiancee tells me!

    But seriously, I want my tweeds and knit ties, but she just won’t let me!!!!

    Help!

  51. One of the benefits of Ivy/Trad/TNSIL it ages well. Cracked loafers, rumpled oxfords, patched tweeds–the overall impression is relaxed and comfortable. I used to care about a sharp crease; no longer. And I still wear socks with holes and old, fraying khakis.

    There’s a sense in which it’s far more relaxed than more “casual” combinations.

  52. Wear something nice and screw the world. I mean this in the nicest way.

    You only live once…

  53. Jojoandthecats | April 10, 2018 at 9:12 am | Reply

    An interesting discussion developing here.

    1. The author posits a series of causal links from uniformity to -> appropriateness to -> politeness to -> style. More individualists object to the first (uniformity -> appropriateness) determinism.
    The very concept of appropriateness, beyond the basest modesty, is an inherently ethical* / traditional one and of course runs again the logical* / liberal aspiration for individual expression. I would add two details top that discussion:
    a) uniformity to which group? Your immediate colleagues/ Your local community? Fellow ’Ivy’ enthusiasts?
    b) if we affirm that aesthetics and semiotics are, to some degree, objective and, further, believe that the reference group is in grave error, is acquiescence and conformism not morally unworthy?
    2. Re. “I have a strong feeling that right now there is overwhelming overlap between #menswear and cosplay. Namely the biggest menswear peacocks jump out of their outfits the minute the camera shuts off.”
    I am curious as to the origin of this statement: direct observation or what? And if the statement does hold true, is that good, bad, neutral?
    3. Re. “Beau Brummell wrote: “If people turn to look at you on the street you are not well-dressed, but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable.””
    Perhaps that’s true but then again no one would remember Mr Brummel unless he had made a mark in Society via his fastidious obsession with style.
    4. Re. “I want my tweeds and knit ties, but [my girl] just won’t let me!!!!”
    Is that a joke? 🙁

    * I mean these terms in the Aristotelian sense of identity/being and reason/humanism

  54. @Christian: not easy to write them *well*, it seems.

  55. In my opinion back then in old Regency London, peoples turned to look at Brummell on the street.
    And at Brummell liked it.

  56. Pani, thank you for a thoughtful and insightful essay. This merits a second read – you’ve given us a lot to reflect upon, and you’ve clearly said many things which I haven’t found a way yet to put into words.

    I’m going to respectfully push back on one statement, though: “The funny thing about tolerance and pluralism is that it tends to assimilate us all to one another. Thus, multiculturalism actually serves to create one global culture rather than to foster an appreciation for disparate cultures.”

    My experience with this is colored by the differences between Canada and the United States.

    In the U.S., being a hyphenate citizen (perhaps, ‘Italian-American’) has long been regarded as being less than a native-born citizen. And this colors perceptions towards differences in clothing, language, food, and aesthetics as a whole. I agree with you entirely in that this sort of multiculturalism *does* result in homogeneity, as many people seem to try to abandon their cultural heritage in order to assimilate.

    On the other hand, in Canada there is a different approach to the hyphenate citizen. There is a distinct push for immigrants and emigrants to be both fully part of their native culture, and fully Canadian. The hope is that they bring their native traditions, languages, music, and clothing to Canada – but also respect and embrace the traditions of their adoptive country. This approach does create something which is more truly multicultural and more embracing of differences, rather than something which makes itself bland by trying to assimilate.

    But again, great piece. Pani, I’ve always enjoyed your writing and look forward to seeing more of your byline.

    • Hi Anon,

      Thanks for your reply. That’s a very interesting critique and I’d be curious as to how that social milieu works in specific ways in Canada.

      I think that the major global impulse that makes a monoculture more likely in an environment of tolerance has much to do with the fact that when we closely associate, we tend to do the same things. In other words, if I live in a multi-cultural city where a variety of people are accepted and have access to power, all the groups involved tend to merge in their habits. We begin to go to the same movies, listen to the same music, buy the same clothes, etc.

      When there is a less permissive environment, and cultures are attacked or disparaged, people tend to organize themselves into separate communities. Communities that then become insular and depend on internal institutions rather than external ones. Thus, cultural diversity actually gets more stark in environments of conflict.

  57. @CausticMan: You raised excellent points, and I wanted to take a while to reflect on them.

    One example might be Canada’s approach to street signage. As a way of making the city (and by extension the country) more welcoming for different cultures, any group can petition to have street signs in a neighborhood put into a second or even third language. So a Chinatown might thus have signs in both Chinese and English, making it easier for newer arrivals to find their way around.

    I’ve been mulling over this, too: “I think that the major global impulse that makes a monoculture more likely in an environment of tolerance has much to do with the fact that when we closely associate, we tend to do the same things. In other words, if I live in a multi-cultural city where a variety of people are accepted and have access to power, all the groups involved tend to merge in their habits. We begin to go to the same movies, listen to the same music, buy the same clothes, etc.”

    I definitely see what you’re describing. Around Boston, in affluent towns like Brookline, Newton, or Wellesley, you definitely see exactly that. And I wonder if it is almost a movement to a ‘high-culture aesthetic’ rather than a mass-culture (or consumer culture) one. In other words, the aesthetic filters down from the establishment group, and those looking to access power tend to dress/act/conform in a way to ingratiate themselves with that group.

    On the other hand, I think of New York City, where there is a considerable diversity of parallel sources of power, and multiple aesthetic ideals. On one hand, parts of Brooklyn could be equally street style and Hasidic Jewish, while the dominant styles there may lean towards fashionable/stylish rather than traditional. (I wonder if traditional style ever really caught on in the same way as, say, Boston and Philadelphia?)

    Apologies for the somewhat disjointed rambles here. Still thinking through your good points.

  58. @Jojoandthecats Your surfeit of questions does not negate your deficit of sensibility. RE the cosplay comment: I made it from personal observations and logical inferences. I’ve met a few heavy #menswear instagrammers, and without going into personal specifics, let’s just say inauthenticity and ulterior motives are in great supply!

    Also, the whole idea of the artificial #menswear pose belies their contention that they are comfortable in those clothes. And one cannot truly own one’s clothes without being comfortable in them. Therefore those #menswear practices are antithetical to Ivy. These facially unkempt wannabe fashion model poseurs either have no self-awareness (that they’re wearing absurd clothing), or lack comfort in their authentic selves (hence the need to clown themselves in their getups), or are consciously furthering an economic objective (whether their own or some others’ they choose not to divulge). These are the only rational explanations, and neither speaks favorably to their characters.

    As to whether this is a good state of affairs or not, you tell me if con men and fraudsters are good to have in your midst? Should they be allowed to hijack the debate?

  59. An interesting post, largely because the state of RTW “Ivy League” clothing is currently in the gutter. Only a handful of exceptions disprove this statement. MTM and Bespoke “Ivy” has never been more healthy. Primarily because it is the only way to get what you really want. If you want to wear a limited range of over-priced and cheaply produced garments which rarely get the style right then you are relatively well catered for. If on the other hand you have an interest in, and a knowledge of, “Ivy” clothes then you wouldn’t go near them.
    We have lost nothing.
    Tailored Ivy is stronger than ever due to the progressive death of decent RTW Ivy.

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