20 June 2011

What's So Bad About Aspiration, Anyway?

Clothing as a subject can be such a loaded gun that I find myself constantly surprised when writing about and discussing it. For something that is in reality so ultimately meaningless and inconsequential, few things are more fraught with meaning and consequence than the way in which a person presents themselves. I think about this a lot, but I try to keep things generally light around here. However, there's really only so much yammering a guy can do about the cut of his coat and the direction of the stripes on his tie before things get stale, and a little dose of meaningful conversation can help put things in perspective. So today, let's start shallow like we usually do but wind up in the deep end.
With warm temps and sunshine in full swing, all my Summer favorites have been making the rounds with increasing regularity. This old seersucker jacket from Brooks Brothers, patiently sitting in the back row of the closet since last Autumn when I found it for a few bucks,  sees it's second run this past Saturday, in full dress form with a white pinpoint shirt and emblematic tie. What could be more crisp, clean and classic on a hot day?
This, by the way, is how a Summer jacket should be constructed: self lined, with taped edges, and patch pockets. See the shadow of the pocket showing through? Lightweight, comfortable stuff, but not by any means slouchy. In back, we get a 1/4 lining at the shoulders, and lined sleeves, the whole thing machine washable.
While it's true I do dig my seersucker, especially one like this with very prominent stripes, I can't quite hang with a whole suit. I'm a big fan of seersucker trousers with a navy blazer, or conversely a seersucker jacket with grey worsted slacks, as seen here. Striped socks picked up for two bucks at Target keep things from getting too serious. Believe it or not, there's something just too over the top about head to toe seersucker for me. It's true, even I have my limits, and I am fully aware that the line between mere brash foppery and goof-ball costumes is as thin as a hair...maybe that's why I cross it more often than I'd like, but I try to stay on the right side of the line, while getting as close to the line as possible.
Now for the "deep" part of our conversation, the part that relates to the title of this post.  At first glance, one might think this was a Harvard tie. Its crimson, and it has emblematic shields on it. Only its not a Harvard tie.

Its just some nice old tie from Brooks Brothers that I likely paid no more than two bucks for that I happen to like that happens to look quite well with seersucker and a white shirt. I wear it because I like it and because I bought it somewhere, nothing more. True, were someone to wear this tie and pass himself off as a Harvard man when it just wasn't true, he'd be not only a poseur in the truest sense of the word, but also an *sshole. The tie, in that case, would be merely a symptom, not the disease.

There is out there in the wide world a rather large camp of sourpuss types who speak with great disdain about "aspirational" things, by which they mean things that derive from the trappings of old wealth being marketed and sold to the majority of us, the ones who do not descend from that wealth. This has always driven me batty, suggesting as it does that a persons place in society should be decided by the mere circumstance of his birth, and that we should all be relegated to stay in our respective places and be content to adopt an outward appearance that clearly states which rank we were born to, from which we will not be allowed to move. This particular brand of invective is most frequently reserved for Ralph Lauren, but these folks tend not to like the idea of anyone outside their circle receiving an education, speaking and writing well, and on the shallow side, having and wearing nice things.

The fact of the matter is that this birth based class system is on the way out, and so are the social signifiers that the clothing used to carry. For better or worse, no special membership to anything at all is required any longer to wear a repp tie, button down oxford, or even the old "Boston Cracked Shoe" if you so desire. The only thing that entitles anyone to wear anything is availability and the money to buy it. The only things required to pull it off are confidence, style, and a pinch of the old "Devil May Care" attitude. Let's not forget that by now, this is merely one of many particular sartorial aesthetics from which a man may choose, same as the workwear look, or the punk look, ar the hippy look are aesthetics too. All were born long ago and heavily fraught with meaning, but time has worn off the edges, and the better of any of these things remains as a kind of style.

And since when is apiration really a bad thing anyway? Poor kids going to college, aspiring to a better life than they came from, immigrants working hard, aspiring to a better life for their children, or hell, even young hipsters going to the mall to buy "preppy" stuff at J. Crew, aspring to dress better and be more adult than the generation before them...these are all good things, the kind of things that tend to lead to better things as the young folks gradually outgrow the more childish and fashion driven aspects of it all in favor of the meaningful stuff. Sure, we can all cringe at the crass commercialism of the companies that so blatantly cash in on this, and we can complain about the impossible and nonexistent lifestyle for sale in the ads, but really, isn't that what capitalism and advertising are all about? It's here and we can't escape it, but we can make informed choices and use the clothes as a means of expressing in an outward way the person we inwardly are. Isn't that what clothing is all about? You know, once you move beyond the basics of warmth and protection from the elements.

In closing, I'd like to remind the more hardline of the new breed of online  naysayers out there that my own personal definition of poseur extends to cover most of them. In my many years selling both menswear and fine wine in Boston, I've come to know my share of real old money Yankees, and none of them would even acknowledge any of this, at least not in public and certainly not by way of a medium so gauche and common as the internet.

Besides, it's only clothes, after all. Remember?

29 comments:

Admirable Carp said...

Eloquently stated.

Anonymous said...

I'll leave most of this for others to discuss, but let me just state that in 2 years of following various blogs, I have always been waiting for someone to state/realize what you did in your next to last sentence. I have Yankee money in my family. They'd sooner write for Us Weekly than blog. Well observed, my good man.

Grad said...

Brilliant and necessary post.

RIP Ryan Dunn said...

Well said.

Dirty Jon said...

Bravo!

J. said...

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Well said!

Admiral who?

Griswald

gentleman mac said...

G, I'm wondering if the unwillingness (too harsh? just right?) to wear the entire seersucker suit is more regional for you. I love wearing mine and seeing it on others here in Athens, GA., but have more difficulty pairing the jacket with other pants. I was hoping you would have a full body shot to see it all together.

Giuseppe said...

Mac,

Regionalism does play a small part in it. After all, no one looks better or more at home in a seersucker suit than an Southern judge.

DAY said...

Outstanding post. A manifesto for your entire blog, and the many lives--like my own--similarly lived.

Brohammas said...

Ahhh Aspiration. While it is only clothes, clothing and faux aspiration are bosom buddies.

I see two seperate but related "iksome" issues;
there is first, the quality hound who disparages the dumming down, or relaxation of quality that catering to the masses usually demands. While demanding quality is in fact good, if observed with blinders on too deep a critisizm of such with blinders on ignores the fact, or idea, that many can simply not afford quality. There are those, and I speak for myself here, who would more than love to own and wear quality, but I cannot, so What I do instead is put my money to the best use possible to look as if my best foot is being put forward. It is a message being sent to others that one should be taken serious and is in fact worth attention... but if you look closely you will in fact find that the stitching is bad and the fabric flimsy.

Second is that many do in fact spend good money on good quality... when they should not. this is the true poser, one who buys what one cannot afford to put forward a false image of personal success. Many want to flaunt thier wares or worth to all around when that worth is smoke and mirrors.

Balancing all this in a presentable and ineteresting digital manner can be an art... perhaps we are simply lacking artists?

Anonymous said...

I think I know how you feel. I'm in the same situation in a way. I like all that New England preppy, english upperclass stuff, but I'm just a poor French-Canadian guy who lives in the suburb.

Sure, I can dress like a Yale teacher circa 1956 or a Cambridge student from the '20, but I know it's just a costume. I like traditions, but I am the one who turns the traditions of others into a parody, into something that doesn't mean anything anymore. I love authenticity, but I'm wearing clothes from an other social class, from an other era. I'm the epitome of unauthenticity.

So most days, I just wear jeans and a little something that reminds me of a better time. After all, we're not supposed to turn heads.

Philip said...

Maybe this is me, but I just don't see where this idea comes from. I'm a poor college student whose Dad came from the hills of Southwest Virginia; your family is Italian; Anonymous is French Canadian; yet we all like and want to wear the same good quality American clothes---what's more American than that? We're a nation of immigrants. Does the fact that some of my ancestors may have founded Jamestown make me more fit to wear a certain style and fit than you? No---it's no more costumey on you than it is on me. We all care about quality, style, and fit---and let no one naysay us. If a southerner whose ancestors fought with Lee can accept this, then who is to say otherwise?

Anonymous said...

No sane person would pass judgement upon you for wearing that tie, regardless of education, upbringing, social class, etc. Certainly not to your face.

You might however, be mistaken by a Harvard alum FOR a Harvard alum, but a few sentences from you would clarify the issue, and I sincerely doubt that anyone would think less of you, especially considering that upon closer inspection it is NOT a Harvard tie.

So why all the sociological gymnastics then? Sometimes it seems you use your excellent blog to thwart disapproval that is not forthcoming.

Name one occasion where someone has, in person, expressed disapproval because you wore a repp tie or other "upper class" attire?

You're like the pretty girl in school with low self esteem who is convinced that everyone thinks she is ugly.

Even the most die hard Boston Brahmin would probably just say "what a well dressed man." and not "why is that uneducated italian stockboy wearing a repp tie?"

It's all in your head, kid.

Anonymous said...

How does one recognize an "old money Yankee"? I am assuming they don't announce themselves as such.

"these folks tend not to like the idea of anyone outside their circle receiving an education, speaking and writing well..."

Quite a supposition.

"The fact of the matter is that this birth based class system is on the way out, and so are the social signifiers that the clothing used to carry."

This happened like 25 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately some from the old world really don't understand what it is to be an american. Any one can become an american and be what ever they wish to be, hippy prep whatever. One can not say that about almost every other country in the world, I could move to France but would never be considered a Frenchman. So let Cod rest in peace, he will never get it, after all he is apparently an exile.

NCJack said...

These same dorks wouldn't remark if J. Soames Gotbucks IV (Groton, Harvard, Betty Ford) showed up in Kiton or Rubinacci.

Kompton Killah said...

Methinks thou dost protest too much, homie.

Unbelievably Rubbish said...

Bravo, Affordable! I'm with you; 'my own personal definition of poseur', (perhaps not an expression I would ordinarily use, but never mind!) covers almost everyone also.

FIXED BAYONET METAL SOLDIERS said...

beppo the jackets great but you could fuck up anything with your colour combinations, its dark blue tie, light sky blue shirt, dark blue cotton trousers, dark blue socks and black slip ons or penny loafers

Giuseppe said...

Black penny loafers?

maria said...

check out woogie shoes on google
write woogie shoes senegalia italy
check out the 40's black and whites.and one thing pippo remember you is a yankee not italian. italian means living la dolce vita

T said...

Yeah, that 2nd-to-the-last paragraph truly nails it...I was thinking along the same lines. Great post, and you've given me fodder for a posting I've been meaning to get around to: If the sartorial blog world was a mansion, what status or position would [bloggers/myself] hold? I'm pretty sure I'd be the scrappy groundskeeper who enjoys both the trappings of his status and his pints while deftly appearing to do actual work.

Anonymous said...

Well said, and a good post.
I do, however, think the "class" situation is somewhat different, though perhaps I am merely looking at it from another angle.
From my perspective it seems that class remains, but is often simply decided by ones salary or available funds, rather than what he is born into - that is, it seems that a self made millionaire is accepted into the "high society". It is simply defined by extremely expensive things such as handmade Brioni or Armoni suits, fine horses, etc.
Basically what I am saying is that some items seem to be extravagantly priced simply so that only those in the money, so to speak, can afford it, and thus the class (and money) is defined and displayed by such items.

Whether permanent class mentality and designation is on the way out or still here in a different form, the message of your post remains.

Giuseppe said...

Maria,

Don't ever tell me I'm not Italian. As for la dolce vita, I have two wonderful children who continue to teach me that I had no idea what la dolce vita really was before they came along.

Anonymous said...

You and a few of your commenters protest way too much, which is always a giveaway.

Giuseppe said...

a "dead giveaway" of what, pray tell.

Go ahead and make my point for me.

maria said...

well So called Italians in the USA and I'm not saying you give it large about being Italian and can't even speak the lingo and for sure know shit about the food, an example=you could travel the length of Italy and you'd never find some moron putting chicken on pizza.If ypou live in America be American. Italy is too many memories away.I mean can you even speak a bit of Italian? Che cazzo!!!!!

Giuseppe said...

Maria,

First of all, chicken on a pizza is an abomination.

Second, being an American has a lot to do with embracing the culture of one's ancestors. This is, after all, a ntion of people who hail from elsewhere. I really don't see why you have such a problem with that. Che cazzo, indeed.

Ciao, Maria.