Style and taste are a particular sort of intelligence, and vice versa.
Aesthetic judgments rarely transcend the culture of the judge.
The style of studied nonchalance is the psychological triumph of grace over order.
Style is a simple way of saying complicated things. Which is why Fashion is shallow, but taste is deep.
There’s no right or wrong about style. Like a poem, it simply is what it is.
Real luxury is understanding quality, and having the time to enjoy it.
In the end, aesthetic judgments are perhaps merely enthusiasms.
In matters of taste, if you can see the trees well enough, you don’t have to see the forest.
To consciously avoid fashion is in itself a fashion.
Today tradition is commercially merely another commodity. As is History.
In a world of plentiful choices, taste is the hallmark of restraint.
Luxury may be, as Balzac says, less expensive than elegance. But both are less expensive than fashion.
Uniforms both include and exclude.
Taste is one of those human concerns in which a lack of experience is no hindrance to opinion.
Precision in dress is the neurotic refuge of the perpetually insecure.
Deliberate nonchalance is intended to imply a strength held in reserve.
Mother of Pearl Card Cases
Bruce Boyer has been writing for Drake’s new blog and I’ve been admiring (what I assume to be) his card case. I found pictures of a similar case at this antique’s site. It’s not nearly as nice as Boyer’s, but it’s of the object alone and close up.
Card cases such as these were common among well-to-do Europeans during the Victorian era. They were invented in China, but became popular on Europe’s continent during the 19th century, then quickly spread to England and America. They were usually made from mother-of-pearl, sterling silver, or paper mache, and would often be decorated (though men’s cases tended to be more simple and than women’s).
Calling cards were integral to Victorian social life and there were all sorts of sophisticated rules governing their use. For example, if you wanted to visit someone without an invitation, you would leave your card with her servant. If she wanted you to visit, she would send a servant to deliver her card to you. If you received her card by mail, however, it meant that your visit was thereby discouraged. There were also ways of communicating through a card without using any words. Folding the top right corner of the card meant congratulations, the bottom right was a call of condolence, and the bottom left a farewell.
We obviously don’t have calling cards anymore; they’ve been replaced by business cards. Business cards don’t really serve the same social function (partly because we’re more informal, partly because we no longer have servants). Still, cases such these can be used to hold business cards all the same. They’re a little antique-y, but not in a fusty way, and I think incredibly beautiful things to own.
“There’s More to Style Than Clothing”
PowerHouse Books recently emailed me an electronic copy of their latest project, Gary Cooper: Enduring Style, a monograph on the legendary actor’s timeless fashion and alluring sense of style. I scrolled through the file yesterday and couldn’t help but be impressed by how natural and elegant Cooper always looked in his clothes. He was obviously known for playing many roles well - everything from the cowboy to gentleman - but even in candid shots, Cooper never failed to look natural no matter what he wore. In some images, he’s photographed wearing corduroys, a cowboy hat, and a field jacket with bellow patch pockets. In others, he’s wearing a peak lapelled, pinstriped, double breasted suit, highly polished black wingtips, and a starched, white, dress shirt with a collar pin. Cooper was able to carry both American sportswear and European tailored wear with grace and ease; nothing ever looked overly studied or out-of-place.
In his essay at the end of the book, Bruce Boyer wrote that Cooper was born in the frontier prairie town of Helena, Montana. He grew up around ranch hands and grasshoppers, and learned how to shoot a rifle, use a knife, and ride a horse at a very young age. When he was eight, he and his brother were sent to be educated at the Dunstable School - a “proper” English school in Bedforshire, England, just 30 miles outside of London. Here he attended school in little tweed suits and starched Eton collars, and he studied Latin, French, and English poetry. As Boyer put it, “[t]he result was that by the time he reached adolescence he’d had the advantage of both an American-West, frontier upbringing and a highly civilized British Edwardian education. His sense of style was a unique blend of both.” Later in life, Cooper continued to hunt, fish, and travel extensively, all of which I think played no small part in why he always looked natural in his tweed field jackets and Savile Row suits.
I’ve lamented to friends that people care too much about the authenticity of their clothes, but don’t demand the same authenticity in people. There are people who dress like international men of leisure, but they’ve never travelled outside of the country; people who dress like they come from elite universities, but aren’t terribly well read; people who dress like early 20th-century factory workers, but … live in 2011. The men I draw the most style inspiration from - both dead and living - have a sense of style that’s in accord with their lifestyle and character. Their clothes always express them as an entire person.
In his review of the book, one of my favorite bloggers, Mister Crew, wrote “the one thing to take away from this book [is that] there is much more to style than just clothing.” I couldn’t agree more. Of the men who are interested in dressing well, there are some who convincingly carry off what they wear and those who always look like they’re in costume. The difference, I think, is that the latter thinks clothes make the man when in reality they only help frame him. If a man wants to look like sophisticated and elegant, he of course can, but it takes more than wearing the right kind of clothing.
Bruce Boyer in the Wall Street Journal
Bruce Boyer, one of the best voices we have in men’s clothing and style, was recently interviewed in the Wall Street Journal:
It is both delusional and stupid to think that clothes don’t really matter and we should all wear whatever we want. Most people don’t take clothing seriously enough, but whether we should or not, clothes do talk to us and we make decisions based on people’s appearances.
On the other hand, there are people, particularly in the fashion industry, who take clothing too seriously. We aren’t doing biomedical research or working on some nuclear collider. Clothing is not everything in life and it won’t solve problems of famine and overpopulation. It’s a fine balance you have to strike and that’s what I try to do.
I’ve learned a lot from bloggers. Some of the young men doing it are wonderful and know much more than I do. But what bothers me is that some of them seem to know everything about clothing except how to enjoy it. They want the latest, hippest labels and they know what all the most expensive brands are but you get the feeling that they really don’t enjoy it or don’t know how to wear it the way they should.
You can read the rest here.
(photo via The Sartorialist)
Scrimp, Save, and Shop Slowly
In the past week, I’ve been reading The Craftsman by Richard Sennett, a wonderful book that Bruce Boyer recommended to me some time ago. In one chapter, Sennett talks about various epochs when the volume of material goods available to Westerners expanded dramatically.
In the Renaissance, trade with non-Europeans swelled the number of goods at people’s disposal. Netherlands, Britain, and France had an unprecedented demand for new possessions (and subsequently the furniture that was needed to display those possessions). As material abundance seeped downward, it extended to ordinary matters such as people having more than a single pair of shoes to wear and different clothes for different seasons. Victorian England was similarly prosperous. Here, the advancement of industrialization made it possible for the British to enjoy more clothes, domestic utensils, and books.
In each of these periods, Europeans felt both wonder and anxiety for their new material abundance. People worried about how to use goods well, what abundance might be for, and how not to be spoiled by possessions. Human virtues such as restraint and simplicity came to the fore, and some wondered whether the sheer quantity of objects around them would dull their senses.
One can see a reflection of these periods in our current state. Despite all of the economic problems we may have, most Westerners (and many in the East) still live in a consumer paradise. However, I think we’ve struggled to properly manage the issues that have come out of that. Take, for example, clothing, which has largely become an industry of “fast fashion.” Clothing is made cheaper and cheaper, and new items are introduced not just on a seasonal basis, but also multiple times throughout a season.
The production of cheap clothing has led us to devalue clothes, both in what we’re willing to pay and how we treat them. The mere availability of $15 button-up shirts makes people cringe at the idea of a $75 shirt, even if it’s made from better materials and done with better stitching. Give someone a closet full of $15 shirts, and they’ll have no incentive to really learn how to take care of what they own.
The availability of cheap clothing has also made voracious appetites possible. People these days are constantly buying new clothes, and this introduces a level of waste that’s only dreamed of in scarcity societies. Even cheap, poorly made garments - which are only meant to last two or three years - are thrown out long before the end of their practical life.
One explanation is that people these days are more aroused by anticipation than actual operation. Getting the latest thing is more important than making good use of what you have, and being so easily able to consume new and cheap things makes this quest an endless activity. Consequently, people have much more than they need, but nothing that they truly satisfies them. This triggers a vicious feedback loop - because they’re not satisfied, they go out and buy more and more, but since they consume so much, their limited budget forces them to only buy other unsatisfying things.
It also sets an utterly bizarre modern mindframe. In what other era have people thought they need to fill every “gap” in their closet? “I have wool trousers in glen plaid, solids, window panes, and houndstooth, all in navy, brown, and grey, but none in olive, so I have to fill that gap.” Granted, I write about things such as “Five Casual Trousers for Fall,” but this doesn’t mean you have to get every one. I’m giving you options, not a shopping list.
In previous epochs when Westerners enjoyed such material abundance, they reflected back on what it meant for society and themselves as individuals. We’ve done the same; there’s all sorts of neo-Ruskinian attitudes these days. Everyone is talking about craftsmanship and returning to a more “humanist” view of production.
The fundamental problem, though, is still present: we expect to accumulate an unreasonable amount of clothes, and we want to do it within a year, if not a season. People are constantly hunting for “deals” at “fast fashion” stores such as Zara, buying things without any real long-term impression of what they need, and spending whatever is within their immediate disposable income. That kind of practice will lead to an enormous wardrobe, but of things they’ll never quite like, so they’ll never really wear.
It would be better, I think, to have a more controlled appetite. Make a prioritized list of the staples you need, and don’t get side tracked into impulse buys. Then, find out how to really discern quality in clothing, and buy what is truly, truly worthwhile. Instead of owning a hundred mediocre ties, thinking that they were a “bargain,” buy ten quality ones in your most basic designs. Instead of having twenty mediocre shoes, buy three excellent pairs, and use the time that you would otherwise spend on shopping to take care of what you have. Put in shoe trees, apply leather conditioner, and take the time to buff and polish.
Of course, if you have the means to accumulate nothing but the best, then more power to you. If you’re of limited means, however, you would do better by really taking the time to understand how to discern quality and prioritize that over price. If you can’t afford it today, then scrimp and save for a while until you can. If you take a long view - that you will need five to seven years to accumulate a decent wardrobe - and don’t expect to need fifty trousers in every single pattern and color, this is quite achievable. That is, after all, how most people built wardrobes in the past.
(pictured above: installation art by Christian Boltanski)
“It’s better to have one good pair of shoes than a half dozen cheap ones, because the cheap ones look cheap even when they’re new, but the good ones look good even when they’re old.”— Bruce Boyer, via Rugged Old Salt