A few weeks ago, Harper/Collins was kind enough to enough to send me an advance copy of their new book, The Gentry Man, released to the general public today. A compendium of Gentry magazine from 1951-1957, it provides an interesting look back at a period in menswear history that can frequently be romanticized beyond recognition.
For those of you not familiar with Gentry magazine, I can only say that it reminds of what GQ was like a long time ago, when it was good. It offers a broad slice of all the things that make up what they call "the civilized man". In it you'll find not only cocktail recipes, but also great articles about the act of drinking itself with titles like "In Praise of Booze". You'll find tips on winning chess in seven moves, food articles about James Beard and Brillat Savarin alongside classic and time tested recipes. You'll find a few pages about cars and resort hotels, furniture, modern art, and of course, plenty about clothing. Interestingly, you won't find much talk of professional sports.
As you might expect, it contains a lot of nostalgia about "the good old days" when men regularly wore suits in the day and formal wear at night. What's better than that, though, is all the unusual stuff that's included. Crazy sailor suits for poolside at the resort come to mind at the wild extreme, a tweed weekend jacket with raglan sleeves comes to mind in the "why doesn't someone make that anymore" end. The good stuff is really good, but it's the inclusion and sheer amount or weird stuff that's even better. For one thing, it makes the good stuff look better, and for another, its good to be reminded that even in what we like to think of as the glory days, it wasn't all a bed of roses. People were just as prone to go for something crazy in the interest of newness back the as they are now, the only difference being that then the labels were attached to the inside of the clothes. Its a useful thing to remember both good and bad when we see the past and use it as a tool to assess good and bad today. Gentry provides both.
Each chapter is introduced with some brief text by editor Hal Rubinstein, and his writing is well informed and to the point, making this book as good to read as the pictures are fun to look at. Best of all, the whole thing is relatively short, and very well chosen. No filler, only the good stuff. The book is laid out in a very easy to thumb trough way, which is always a bonus with these kind of things.
For the older reader, this book can offer both a warm look back and a chance to chuckle at some minor foibles. For the younger reader, it provides an extra degree of true perspective on the past in a more multi-dimensional way that is often offered. In either case, it would be a fun addition to any mans collection of sartorial books.