17 April 2013

In The Mix (a minor rant)

Its been said so many times that the earmarks of a well dressed man are all in the details, and its true. With what may seem a fairly limited arsenal of items to choose from (jacket, trousers, shirt, tie, shoes) all the punctuating differences are in the details. Pleats or no pleats, collar style, cut of jacket, shape of the shoulder and so on are just some of the bits that differentiate one style form another. Its worth knowing these things, but it can lead to fetishism and the rise of a clothing police force.

I think of this frequently when  I look around the internet at the men's clothing scene, particularly among devotees of the traditional American look. So many of them adhere so strictly to a set of rules as thought they were carved in stone and handed down from on high. No where is this truer than with the so called "Ivy" or "Trad" crowd. These are the guys who take style to be an exact replication of what an archetypal college man might have worn in 1962-67. Coats are three button and un-darted, with two button cuffs, trousers have flat fronts, and shirts have button down collars. All details must be in place at all times, and no one detail may be combined with details form any other school of style. While I do in fact enjoy that style myself and draw from its influence frequently, I find it highly limiting and anything but stylish to dismiss all else out of hand. I used to encounter this same strictness among the Rockabilly scene in the old days, guys who would measure the roll of your jeans cuff and chemically test the make up of your pomade for correctness. It's the difference between wearing cool old stuff and dressing in what amounts to a Halloween costume.

In the photo above, I've combined a continental style blazer with roped shoulders, darts, side vents and a ticket pocket with forward pleated side tab trousers and a button shirt and rep tie, both from Brooks Brothers. The coat, though made in New York, is European in style. The trousers, from the Andover Shop, are replete with British details, and the shirt and tie are as American as it gets. And yet I see no reason why these things can't all work together, In fact, by mixing them, the severity of any of them is diminished and a more interesting whole is created.

One of the hallmarks o what we call American style always was the combination of sporting and formal elements in this way. As I recall, it's actually as traditional to do this, if not more so, than to adhere strictly to a self imposed set of Ivy League standards. Charlie Davidson has been dressing this way for half his long life. My old boss Harold Simon was notorious for wearing 6x2 double breasted suits with forward pleats  with a button down collar, repp tie  and tassel loafers. The High Holy Fred was doing it in the 1930s, and he's one of the big shots.
It looks good. It looks more like you know about good clothing than simply that you've been reading the blogs the last couple of years. It looks more like you enjoy dressing and less like you enjoy being a crotchety old man obsessed with "the good old days". And anyway, those good old days weren't necessarily so good anyway. Just ask any woman or minority if they wish things were more like 1962.

This isn't to say that this is the only way either. My point is there is no "only way" and that "correctness" will only take you so far. Finding personal style lies in learning all this and then making bits and pieces of all of it your own. Putting it all together is where we find individuality while basically wearing the same thing. Use your freedom of choice.

For the strict types out there, Devo said it best:
Freedom of choice
is what you got 
Freedom from choice 
is what you want

Addendum: I wrote this in the morning using a photo from a week before. The very same day this was written, I wore this:
Kelly green 3/2 sack blazer by Brooks Brothers, with military khakis, ribbon belt and striped button down, both Brooks Brothers, and a plain navy tie, Andover Shop. I dig this too, I just see no reason to be one dimensional. Right?


Anonymous said...

Awesome post. Hopefully someone will post this to the Ask Andy Trad Forum. - Eric

Georgia Coal said...

I could not agree more. If you read some of these discussions it really becomes comical. People are literally berating each other over non-iron shirts. Like you have said here many times just not having on flip flops and cargo shorts immediately puts you ahead of 80% of the "men" you see walking around....this is about enjoying yourself and looking nice. One reason I love your blog so much.

The LMM said...

Well said!

We discussed how society idolize the 1960s (especially since Mad Men came out) without understanding the type of oppression that was going on during that time. The style was fantastic, I agree there but your right! Have fun with what you are wearing. Do not be obsessed with just how the Ivy League students were dressed and idolozing an era where women and minorities were oppressed much more than they are now it's just not cool..

Wisco said...

Hear Hear! I too am sick of Bloggers trying to tell me what to wear and what not to wear, especially Trad police who were not even alive in 1965.

My rig today is similar to yours being a mishmash that suits me: BB 3B sack, nipped in by my tailor to take out some of the sack fit, a blue shirt, gray Glenplaid flannel trousers, green dots on white silk PS and C&H monkstraps. Take that Bloggers.

God bless you, the people affected and the entire City of Boston.

JKG said...


Anonymous said...

Really, what does it matter? Those who won't stray from The Rules no matter what are only hurting themselves while at the same time making those who make their own rules look all the better in comparison.

Young Fogey said...

I agree with all of what you say...

..except the part about 1962.

The past gets a bum rap. Sure, our ancestors weren't perfect, but neither are we.

Consider the following facts about 1962:

Divorce rate (1960): 2.2
Illegitimacy rate: ~5%
Rapes per 100,000 people: 9.4
Robberies per 100,000 people: 59.7

Now, the same facts for our day:

Divorce rate (2009): 3.5*
Illegitimacy rate: ~40%*
Rapes per 100,000 people: 26.8
Robberies per 100,000 people: 113.7

*With fewer people getting married, the divorce rate is lower than expected, but this is reflected (partially) in the skyrocketing illegitimacy rate.

Also, in 1962, we had no school shootings, no public bombings, and no Fourth Amendment-violating searches for air travel. Many people left their doors unlocked, day and night. People didn't carry concealed weapons because they didn't feel the need. Illicit drug use was rare. Families were strong and largely intact. Manufacturing jobs were plentiful. America was a net exporter and a creditor nation.

No one is saying we should return to the past; we can't, anyway. But is it possible that we threw the baby out with the bathwater?

Roger v.d. Velde said...

Now, a lot of people will disagree with me, but I think the high priest of 'ivy' Bruce Boyer is more to blame for this than people think. Moaning about how shirt collars aren't unlined like in the heyday and paying through the nose for bespoke tailors to make his clothes, which are expensive versions of any 1960s college clothes.
Then people come along and applaud him for it and the vicous circle continous.

Joe said...


That's all true. But like I said, ask a black person or a woman.

A lot of women stayed in abusive marriages then, because there was little recourse for them. Black people were still being lynched with regularity. Illicit drug use was likely just not as openly discussed, and alcoholism was accepted on a staggering level as "normal" for most men.

But the clothes looked nice, the jazz was good, and the furniture was better.

Gray Flannels said...

Not a rant at all, but the most significant, reasonable statement about personal style choices that I have read.

I am not a thrifter (no possibility wher I live), but I read your blog on a regular basis because of your good taste and good sense.

I always wear two-button jackets, have the vents (side or center) closed by my tailor, prefer outward-facing pleated trousers (never plain fronts), non-iron Oxford cloth buttondown shirts, (although I find plain-collar white broadcloth shirts a welcome variation)and very conservative ties (always navy). All my woolen trousers are gray flannels. I never experiment with new combinations, new colors, or new fits, and I am perfectly content with what I wear. People tell me that I look like an English gentleman or an Ivy Leaguer, and yet I know that I dress like neither.

Slavish followers of pure Ivy/Trad style are really missing out on a lot. They frequently choose colors/patterns that don't suit their body type or complexion, simply because they are obsessively concerned with adhering to the Ivy gospel.

Joe said...

Thing is,I don't think that gospel was as strict in its day as people today imagine it was. The past through rose colored glasses,and all that.

Anonymous said...


I was at a West Coast college from 1961-65. The college stores only sold what we called Ivy League (not Ivy or Trad) then. It wasn’t a matter of adhering to a gospel: the choices available were very few, and it made life easier:
Oxford cloth button-down shirts in solid blue, solid white, and white with blue university stripes.
Flannels in varying shades of grey.
Chinos in one shade.
Navy blazers.
Tweed jackets in grey or brown.
Plain-toe or wingtip shoes in black or cordovan. (Cordovan was a color for us, not a type of leather).
Penny loafers in the same colors.
Polo shirts ın a very limited range of colors. (I only remember white and navy).
A wide range of neckties: That was how one expressed one's individualism, and that was enough for us.
Did all students dress thıs way? No, but if one didn’t care for ivy league style, one had look elsewhere; not in college stores.

redcoat said...


I'm afraid we think you fellows run around in loin cloths, or 'wranglers' and pointy toe boots, so it's very encouraging, though also mystifying, to hear you take this stuff so seriously. But jolly well done, and keep it up; don't let the naysayers do you down. In time you will reach our standards if you pay no attention to any of this crap.

AJC said...

Excellent post; though I think you went a little off topic - and a little off the rails - with the things you said about the social conditions of the 1960s.

"Talk to a black person or a woman," you say. Well, I have, and many of them are just as nostalgic about the good ol' days as Don Draper might be. They appreciate the advances society has made in some regards (race relations, women's rights), but lament the loss of other values and virtues. Oversimplifications about the past, from whatever angle, rarely help us understand it more clearly.

But, anyway, most of what you said was spot on. Well done.

Anonymous said...

"One of the hallmarks of what we call American style always was the combination of sporting and formal elements in this way. As I recall, it's actually as traditional to do this, if not more so, than to adhere strictly to a self imposed set of Ivy League standards."
I take this as the main point. Americans take what works, innovate, adjust when necessary, and re-evaluate constantly. It is antithetical to our culture to slavishly copy a photo spread from some old foreign book - you rightly point out that in America this is considered costume and not applauded. It shows a lack of creativity and misses the point and context of the American style and orientation.

Young Fogey said...

Divorce. We have really opened up divorce, eliminating all need for cause (called fault in legal terms). So for that tiny minority of people who want to escape an abusive marriage, it's easier than it was. OK, but most divorces have nothing to do with abuse.

Have we thought about the damage that easy divorce inflicts? Divorce is always bad for children—always. Most people want to be married for life, but no-fault divorce makes people hesitant to marry; worse yet, it leads people to mistrust the institution itself. Standards of living for everyone usually drop in the wake of divorce. I don't think this has been a change for the better.

Drug use was nowhere near as common before the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s than it has been afterwards.

There's a difference between heavy drinking and alcoholism. Heavy drinking was certainly more common—and more acceptable—in the past, but heavy drinkers are not necessarily alcoholics.

I did a little reading on lynchings, and it turns out that the peak was about the 1920s. There were lots of lynchings in the late 19th century in the West, and most of those victims were white. There were even black lynch mobs in the South! On average, there were about 50 lynchings per year in the US between 1880 and 1950. Horrible, yes, but not the open season we sometimes imagine it to be. By 1962, lynchings were, thankfully, a thing of the past.

But yes, the clothes looked nice, and the furniture was better. I'm not a jazz fan, so I have no opinion on that.

Anonymous said...

No school shootings in the 60's? They've unfortunately occured almost as long as we've been a country, the most widely publicized instance for the time period in question being Charles Whitman at University of Texas-Austin in 1966...

Matthew H. said...

I came across this and was immediately reminded of every post in which you caution against a strict adherence to the rules. Stephen Fry's plea for a movement away from pendantic scrutiny to a playful celebration of English is this perfect linguistic analogy to what you attempt here on your blog. Enjoy! http://www.upworthy.com/stephen-fry-takes-a-firm-stance-on-grammar-he-doesnt-go-the-way-youd-think-2