Summer Style When You’re Not Gary Cooper

I don’t know if you spend much time on clothing forums, but on the classic men’s style side, things usually go like this: an argument erupts, a bunch of random strangers weigh in, some vociferous poster throws down a 1930s illustration from Apparel Arts or a photo of the Duke of Windsor, and everyone simmers down. Those images are basically what pass for reason and authority on such forums. If you had enough of them, you could be some kind of final arbiter for these people – like a Biblical judge, but hopefully in a judicial robe once worn by Edward VIII.

Every time someone appeals to these images, I’m reminded of “The Art of Wearing Clothes” by George Frazier, which is the single best article I’ve ever read on men’s style. In it, Frazier wrote this of Cary Grant (a style god among style gods):

Although Grant, who is fifty-six, favors such abominations as large tie knots and claims to have originated the square-style breast-pocket handkerchief, he is so extraordinarily attractive that he looks good in practically anything.

And it’s true, some men are attractive enough to simply wear whatever they want. Take Gary Cooper, for example. The first photo is one of my favorite images for summer. Cooper is seen here wearing a guayabera – a loose, four-pocket style of shirt with a straight bottom hem. According to lore, the style was first widely adopted in Cuba during the colonial period before spreading quickly throughout Latin America, where it was worn to both informal and formal gatherings. Jesse wrote about them last year after he had one made at Ramon Puig in Florida (where there’s a large Cuban community).

Cooper looks great in his unusual guayabera, short shorts, and ankle laced espadrilles, but he’s also Gary Cooper. For a non-Gary-Cooper-looking guy like me, I’d rather take John Wanye’s ensemble next to him – loose linen pants, a more traditional four-pocket guayabera, and a pair of creped sole shoes. Or better yet? Gary Cooper’s very, very simple style in the second photo: a white t-shirt and comfortable fitting trousers with camp pockets, just for style sake.

It’s good to know your limits. 

PTO Man: G. Bruce Boyer

In this special bonus preview for Season Two of the menswear series Put This On, writer G. Bruce Boyer talks about his distinctly rumpled style. He says the clothes you wear are an armor against the slings and arrows of life, and you should enjoy them.

"You play to your strengths, you know? And my strengths happened to be rumpled."

G. Bruce Boyer’s latest book is Gary Cooper: Enduring Style.

Season Two of Put This On premieres March 13th at PutThisOn.com, along with the DVD of Season One.

Directed by Benjamin Ahr Harrison
Executive Producers Adam Lisagor & Jesse Thorn
Producer Andrew Yamato
Director of Photography Ryan Samul
Sound Andrew Reardon

Special thanks to Leonard Logsdail

"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.