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?
The ghost of our man Fred Astaire is perhaps an ever looming presence when one is writing about menswear. Occasionally, he manifests himself especially clearly. I can't help but think of him any time white tie and tails is mentioned.
On 8 May, I posted an album of photos of a vintage 1930s full suit of evening wear, tailcoat and trousers. I also said that it would be posted here for auction in the coming week. Well, two and a half months later here it is:
A beautifully cut piece in excellent condition for its age. My best educated guess puts this garment in the late 1930s/ early 1940s, back when there were still a fair number of men who had occasion to wear full evening dress. The chest measures just over 20 inches across, and will fit a man who normally wears a 40 long, with the tails falling just to the knee on a man of about 6 feet. Sleeves measure 26 inches, shoulders 19 across.
Beautifully constructed with a nipped waist, curved back seams and pleated tails. This is the most complicated piece of menswear outside of military dress uniforms to see any regular use in the last hundred years or so, and truly an excellent example of the category.
Note the hooked vent, a traditional detail on such a coat and an indicator of it's age.
Complex darting and seam work typical of a close fitting "body jacket", expertly executed.
Broad peaked lapels faced in old fashioned thickly corded grosgrain silk. The wool is jet black and fairly thick, almost the weight of a smooth flannel. Not a piece to buy now and wear tomorrow, but a real stunner come New Year's Eve, or just for the opera and theatre season.
The trousers measure 16 inches across the waist, fitting a 33/34 inch waist. They have a very high 15 inch rise, which keeps them in line with the short waist of the jackets front. Double pleated, elegantly full cut through the legs, plain hems (of course), 32 inch inseam with up to 2 inches to let down. Held up by braces attached to the outside of the waist band.
Button fly closure,
About an inch of fabric to be had in waist,
Matching grosgrain silk stripe down the outseam,
From Richman Brothers, a long gone shop formerly located on Madison Avenue that specialized in formal wear.
I'll be accepting bids on this suit via email at firstname.lastname@example.org throughout the week. So if you're tall and thin, and you have any reason at all to wear such a thing, make me an offer. The last time I had such a thing for sale, it came to a showdown between a concert pianist and a professional tap dancer. Maybe this time we can get a violin player and a magician...or at least someone clothes mad with enough dash to pull it off. Happy bidding!
This could be you.....
24 July 2012 : SOLD That one went up quick, and the bidding is now closed. Thank you one and all for your interest. Congratulations, Mr. D.N. Wear it in good health.
p.s. for a full range of much easier to wear items in a range of sizes, don't forget to visit our booth at the Davis Flea this Sunday, 29 July, 10a.m.-4 p.m.
The formal suit has been sold. I thank the many of you who showed such enthusiastic interest in it, and I am most gratified that so many of you had a real use for the thing. Part of what I do around here is social work, finding good, loving homes for the orphaned garments of a more formal time. In the end, it came to a showdown between a tap dancer and a classical musician (not joking). The musician won.
True, this may not be Fred Astaire and Artur Rubinstein we're talking about, but it's nice to know that this suit will in fact continue a useful, appropriate existence. Congratulations, Mr. C****. May it help you reach new heights of musical virtuosity...or at the very least make the other members of the orchestra jealous.
Every so often, an item comes into my possession that is simple to precious to be put up for sale directly in the Shop. Oddly, the last time this happened was with an antique morning coat, and this time it is an equally beautiful antique set of evening tails, not far unlike the suit worn by our man Fred Astaire so often in the 1930s.
Honestly, I sometimes feel that I may actually live to see the demise of garments such as these, and that's a shame. In a world where "dressed up" to often connotes merely a tucked in shirt and a pair of socks, we could use a little more formality, just to make our most special occasions seem, you know, special, or something.
So here we have a vintage tail coat, possibly 1930s, though maybe not that old. It's rendered in hefty but soft black wool, with lapels faced in grosgrain silk, grosgrain covered button too match. 38 inch chest, with about a 32 waist and sleeves 26 inches from shoulder to cuff. The armholes are high and the lines tight and sharp, for an thin athletic fellow of about 5'10".
See what I mean about the lines being sharp and tight? Clearly, there will be no slouching or incorrect posture in a garment such as this. But then again, any man would stand up straighter when he looks this good.
Cloth covered button at the back, a hooked vent, waist seam and closed pleats running the length of each tail. The construction of this thing reminds me of very old military dress uniforms.
Note the curved seams running up the back from the waist to the shoulder.
Traditional six button front with wide peaked lapels and a slanted breast pocket. There is a loop to hold a flower stem behind the left lapel just below the button hole.
Four button cuffs with faux button holes...
and some serious formal darts to give the unmistakable shape of a proper tail coat. The detailing and workmanship are off the charts here.
Complete with matching trousers, 32 inch waist with a high 15 inch rise, 30 inch inseam with about an inch to let down, featuring a watch pocket on the right and forward pleats...
Button fly and a v-notch at the back of the waist band.
A silk ribbon matching the lapels runs down the out seams, and the legs are cut somewhat wide with a slight taper. Think of all those Apparel Arts illustrations you've seen.
From Roger Kent. Perfunctory research tells me that Roger Kent was a men's shop with three locations in New York, most notably on Madison Avenue near Brooks Brothers, J. Press and F.R. Tripler, a store in New Haven, and another in Philadelphia. You can guess who the clientele must have been. Oddly, this was unearthed in the same place as the fancy robe I recently found. You have to wonder if it was the same guy.
The condition is excellent, though of course a pressing would be in order. Other than one tiny hole, less than 1/16 inch in diameter near the outer pleat on the right leg, there are no discernible defects.I'm entertaining offers on this suit. Offers and/or questions may be directed to email@example.com. Please remember, a slim man of approximately 5'10", 38 chest, 32 waist will fit into this suit. Only the suit (jacket and trousers) are included, not the necessary dress shirt, white tie and white pique waistcoat, or for that matter, top hat.
Please, someone give this a good home and find some way to wear it. Things like this don't to die, and your gal will be thrilled with whatever place you can take her to that would merit such a suit.