A Lifetime of Infrequent Wearing
StyleForum member MafooFan – who’s famous on that board for not only his good sense of style, but also his ability to cause controversy – has some simple advice on how men can dress better: build smaller wardrobes. To him, the problem for most men is not that they don’t have the right clothes (though, there’s that), but that when faced with a massive wall of choices, they’re apt to picking the wrong things and looking haphazardly put together. Better, he thinks, to thoughtfully and slowly accumulate things that more or less work together, rather than build a massive wardrobe of clothes one doesn’t really know how to wear. 
It’s a nice theory, but not one I’ve ever bought (can you not buy a theory about not buying?), if only because most well dressed men I know of have big wardrobes. Think of historical dandies such as Evander Berry Wall, style icons such as Noel Coward, and contemporary figures such as Luciano Babera. All had wardrobes that were multiple times bigger than most men’s today. I’m not sure any of us could be made to dress more like them if we just limited our choices. Maybe if we adopted one or two personal “uniforms” (like Thom Browne in his signature grey flannel suit), but where’s the fun in that?
No, I believe in big wardrobes. Not just because I think clothes are fun and choosing what to wear should be an enjoyable activity, but also because I think to be truly well dressed, you need to have the right clothes for any kind of weather or social occasion. Instead of five suits or sport coats made from a year-round material, it’s better to have five suited for spring and summer, and five for fall and winter. Instead of having a wardrobe of just tailored clothing, it’s better to have a mix of suits, sport coats, and true-blue casualwear, so that you can be appropriately dressed at the office, dive bars, fancy restaurants, camping trips, holiday parties, sporting games, weddings, etc. 
The downside of big wardrobes, however, is that with too many things, nothing gets regular use. And without regular use, it can be difficult to “break-in” clothes so that they look and feel more natural. Think of how much better a tweed jacket looks once the fabric begins to really soften, or how much more handsome an oxford-cloth button-down shirt becomes once the collar starts fraying. It’s this kind of “broken-in” look that makes pre-distressed clothes so popular (even when they feel like poor imitations of the real thing). I’m also reminded of this passage Christian Chensvold once wrote on his blog Ivy Style back in 2009:

I’ve never understood the web’s notorious clotheshorses and their compulsive acquiring. Money is not the issue, as some spend lavishly while others are inveterate thrifters. At some point both must reach a stage of surfeit, when it’s impossible for every item in their wardrobe to be fondly cherished. It’s the difference between having a dog and having a kennel. At some point it’s just variety for its own sake, and at that point are your clothes really an extension of you?
And just because an item is already broken in doesn’t mean it will automatically feel second nature to wear it. Whether it’s an old rep tie or a vintage Harris Tweed, an item new to you is still new, and will take time until you’re wholly unaware of wearing it. But before then the item will not feel like a part of you, but a kind of awkward sartorial prosthesis.

On the upside, check out these suede shoes you see above. They were once owned by the famous Douglas Fairbanks Jr., before being sold off to the writer David Coggins in a massive estate auction three years ago. These were made bespoke for Fairbanks by Henry Maxwell, a 250 year-old English shoemaking firm, and presumably earned this condition through a lifetime of wearing, even if the wearings were infrequent. The condition of these shoes makes me think they were as old and familiar to Fairbanks as some of our most beloved pieces. I can imagine them looking excellent — much better than brand new suede shoes — sitting below a pair of grey woolen flannel trousers and a well-worn tweed jacket. 
There’s hope for us clotheshorses yet. 
(Picture by Liam Goslett via GQ)

A Lifetime of Infrequent Wearing

StyleForum member MafooFan – who’s famous on that board for not only his good sense of style, but also his ability to cause controversy – has some simple advice on how men can dress better: build smaller wardrobes. To him, the problem for most men is not that they don’t have the right clothes (though, there’s that), but that when faced with a massive wall of choices, they’re apt to picking the wrong things and looking haphazardly put together. Better, he thinks, to thoughtfully and slowly accumulate things that more or less work together, rather than build a massive wardrobe of clothes one doesn’t really know how to wear.

It’s a nice theory, but not one I’ve ever bought (can you not buy a theory about not buying?), if only because most well dressed men I know of have big wardrobes. Think of historical dandies such as Evander Berry Wall, style icons such as Noel Coward, and contemporary figures such as Luciano Babera. All had wardrobes that were multiple times bigger than most men’s today. I’m not sure any of us could be made to dress more like them if we just limited our choices. Maybe if we adopted one or two personal “uniforms” (like Thom Browne in his signature grey flannel suit), but where’s the fun in that?

No, I believe in big wardrobes. Not just because I think clothes are fun and choosing what to wear should be an enjoyable activity, but also because I think to be truly well dressed, you need to have the right clothes for any kind of weather or social occasion. Instead of five suits or sport coats made from a year-round material, it’s better to have five suited for spring and summer, and five for fall and winter. Instead of having a wardrobe of just tailored clothing, it’s better to have a mix of suits, sport coats, and true-blue casualwear, so that you can be appropriately dressed at the office, dive bars, fancy restaurants, camping trips, holiday parties, sporting games, weddings, etc.

The downside of big wardrobes, however, is that with too many things, nothing gets regular use. And without regular use, it can be difficult to “break-in” clothes so that they look and feel more natural. Think of how much better a tweed jacket looks once the fabric begins to really soften, or how much more handsome an oxford-cloth button-down shirt becomes once the collar starts fraying. It’s this kind of “broken-in” look that makes pre-distressed clothes so popular (even when they feel like poor imitations of the real thing). I’m also reminded of this passage Christian Chensvold once wrote on his blog Ivy Style back in 2009:

I’ve never understood the web’s notorious clotheshorses and their compulsive acquiring. Money is not the issue, as some spend lavishly while others are inveterate thrifters. At some point both must reach a stage of surfeit, when it’s impossible for every item in their wardrobe to be fondly cherished. It’s the difference between having a dog and having a kennel. At some point it’s just variety for its own sake, and at that point are your clothes really an extension of you?

And just because an item is already broken in doesn’t mean it will automatically feel second nature to wear it. Whether it’s an old rep tie or a vintage Harris Tweed, an item new to you is still new, and will take time until you’re wholly unaware of wearing it. But before then the item will not feel like a part of you, but a kind of awkward sartorial prosthesis.

On the upside, check out these suede shoes you see above. They were once owned by the famous Douglas Fairbanks Jr., before being sold off to the writer David Coggins in a massive estate auction three years ago. These were made bespoke for Fairbanks by Henry Maxwell, a 250 year-old English shoemaking firm, and presumably earned this condition through a lifetime of wearing, even if the wearings were infrequent. The condition of these shoes makes me think they were as old and familiar to Fairbanks as some of our most beloved pieces. I can imagine them looking excellent — much better than brand new suede shoes — sitting below a pair of grey woolen flannel trousers and a well-worn tweed jacket. 

There’s hope for us clotheshorses yet. 

(Picture by Liam Goslett via GQ)

Personal Style Through Elimination
Ivy-Style had a nice post last week about the well-edited wardrobe, which reminded me of how much stuff I’ve gotten rid of over the years. Christian, the writer behind the blog, is a bit more ruthless about culling than I am. He had a great post many years ago praising small wardrobes, and the accompanying photograph was of just one tie. I assume that was shot for effect, but I don’t think it’s far off from how he operates.
In any case, there’s a passage in his article that I really like

As a result, I’ve never understood the web’s notorious clotheshorses and their compulsive acquiring. Money is not the issue, as some spend lavishly while others are inveterate thrifters. At some point both must reach a stage of surfeit, when it’s impossible for every item in their wardrobe to be fondly cherished. It’s the difference between having a dog and having a kennel. At some point it’s just variety for it’s own sake, and at that point are your clothes really an extension of you?
And just because an item is already broken in doesn’t mean it will automatically feel second nature to wear it. Whether it’s an old rep tie or a vintage Harris Tweed, an item new to you is still new, and will take time until you’re wholly unaware of wearing it. But before then the item will not feel like a part of you, but a kind of awkward sartorial prosthesis.

I perhaps value variety a bit more than Christian. I find it’s nice to have a wardrobe that will suit any kind of occasion, weather, or mood one might find themselves in, and to do that, it’s hard not to have a sizable wardrobe. Still, I’ve gotten rid of quite a lot over the years: patterned pants, pastel shirts, fabric belts, sack coats, and a smattering of designer clothing. Basically things that caught my eye in a store, but didn’t feel natural enough to me when I got around to wearing it. So in continually editing out things that don’t feel right, I think I’ve come to a better sense of personal style. 
Which is to say, if you’re just starting off, perhaps it’s not as good of an idea to “buy less, buy better.” Instead, dabble around and shop in the middle-tiers of quality. That way, you don’t lose out on too much as you try to find your own sense of style. Let your tastes slowly mature, be honest with what you wear, and cull everything that doesn’t feel like a natural extension of yourself. That’s the best way, I think, to find your own personal style: through a process of elimination. 

Personal Style Through Elimination

Ivy-Style had a nice post last week about the well-edited wardrobe, which reminded me of how much stuff I’ve gotten rid of over the years. Christian, the writer behind the blog, is a bit more ruthless about culling than I am. He had a great post many years ago praising small wardrobes, and the accompanying photograph was of just one tie. I assume that was shot for effect, but I don’t think it’s far off from how he operates.

In any case, there’s a passage in his article that I really like

As a result, I’ve never understood the web’s notorious clotheshorses and their compulsive acquiring. Money is not the issue, as some spend lavishly while others are inveterate thrifters. At some point both must reach a stage of surfeit, when it’s impossible for every item in their wardrobe to be fondly cherished. It’s the difference between having a dog and having a kennel. At some point it’s just variety for it’s own sake, and at that point are your clothes really an extension of you?

And just because an item is already broken in doesn’t mean it will automatically feel second nature to wear it. Whether it’s an old rep tie or a vintage Harris Tweed, an item new to you is still new, and will take time until you’re wholly unaware of wearing it. But before then the item will not feel like a part of you, but a kind of awkward sartorial prosthesis.

I perhaps value variety a bit more than Christian. I find it’s nice to have a wardrobe that will suit any kind of occasion, weather, or mood one might find themselves in, and to do that, it’s hard not to have a sizable wardrobe. Still, I’ve gotten rid of quite a lot over the years: patterned pants, pastel shirts, fabric belts, sack coats, and a smattering of designer clothing. Basically things that caught my eye in a store, but didn’t feel natural enough to me when I got around to wearing it. So in continually editing out things that don’t feel right, I think I’ve come to a better sense of personal style. 

Which is to say, if you’re just starting off, perhaps it’s not as good of an idea to “buy less, buy better.” Instead, dabble around and shop in the middle-tiers of quality. That way, you don’t lose out on too much as you try to find your own sense of style. Let your tastes slowly mature, be honest with what you wear, and cull everything that doesn’t feel like a natural extension of yourself. That’s the best way, I think, to find your own personal style: through a process of elimination. 

Ivy Style Exhibit Coming to FIT: Sept. 14th - Jan. 5th

If you haven’t already heard, The Museum at FIT in New York City is hosting an exhibition on the classic American “Ivy League style.” The exhibit, simply titled Ivy Style, will show the development of the look over three distinct periods: the interwar years of the 1920s and ’30s, the post-war era to the end of the ’60s, and the style’s revival from the ’80s to present. In the first period, the interwar years, American clothiers Brooks Brothers and J. Press took classic English pieces such as tweed jackets and polo coats, and appropriated and modified them for young men in elite East Coast colleges. After the second World War, the “Ivy League look” started to disseminate across the United States. OCBDs, khaki chinos, and penny loafers were adopted by a much larger, more diverse population, including working class GIs and jazz musicians. Finally, after a period of dormancy in the 1970s, Ivy League style started to see a revival, from the ’80s until today. 

The exhibition will be on view from September 14th until January 5th. The museum is also running its annual fashion symposium on November 8th and 9th. This year’s talk will be connected to the Ivy Style exhibit and will feature speakers such as Bruce Boyer and Christian Chensvold, as well as other scholars and designers. We’ll publish info on that symposium as the date approaches, but for the time being, we encourage you to check out the exhibit. 

For those not lucky enough to be able to attend, know that a more in-depth study of the Ivy League look will be featured in the accompanying book, also titled Ivy Style. It will contain essays written by the museum exhibit’s curator, Patricia Mears; scholars such as Dr. Peter McNeil, Dr. Christopher Breward, and Dr. Masafumi Monden; and leading menswear writers Bruce Boyer and Christian Chensvold. Boyer and Chensvold, in my opinion, have written (and continue to write) some of the best material on classic men’s style, and I’m really looking forward to reading their new project. You can pre-order it now on Amazon