Frazier’s Esq. Opus

February 23, 2012

In 1960, George Frazier (the writer, not the fighter) wrote this essay, The Art of Wearing Clothes, for Esquire’s September issue. It’s as good a read today as ever, and equally esoteric and, sometimes, completely and wonderfully non-sensical.  

Many a vagrant vogue has prevailed and perished in the hundred-and-fifty-odd years since George Bryan (Beau) Brummell resigned from the tony Tenth Hussars upon being denied permission to wear a uniform of his own design, but the criterion by which men are adjudged either beautifully or badly dressed is still what it was in that dandified day when people cherished the belief that the Beau achieved the flawless fit of his gloves by having the fingers made by one man and the thumbs by another.

Now, as then, an impeccably turned-out male is characterized by the same “certain exquisite propriety” of dress that Lord Byron admired so abundantly in Brummell. “If John Bull turns to look after you,” the Beau once observed, “you are not well-dressed, but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable.”

This was Brummell’s bequest — his irreproachably tasteful simplicity. What’s more, it is the one constant in the fickleness of fashion, nor has any mode, no matter how maniac, ever proved it spinach — neither the cult of pipe-stemmed perfection that caused any true Edwardian dandy to shudder at the thought of having, as Max Beerbohm put it, “the incomparable set of his trousers spoilt by the perching of any dear little child upon his knee;” nor the autograph-slickered, bell-bottomed callowness of the “cake-eaters” and “sheiks” who found their laureate in John Held, Jr.; nor the casual coolness of all the beer jackets of Princeton springtimes; nor the abortive and itinerant “Italian style;” nor, for that matter, even the natural-shouldered, pleatless-trousered look that is known as “Ivy League,” but that by any name at all would still be the Brooks Brothers No. 1 sack suit.

Prior to Brummell, men had dressed to almost freakish excess. Thus, according to Hayden’s Dictionary of Dates, Sir Walter Raleigh wore:

“. . . a white-satin-pinked vest close-sleeved to the wrist, and over the body a doublet finely flowered, and embroidered with pearls, and in the feather of his hat a large ruby and pearl drop at the bottom of the sprig in place of a button. His breeches, with his stockings and ribbon garters, fringed at the end, all white; and buff shoes, which, on great court days, were so gorgeously covered with precious stones as to have exceeded the value of 6,600 pounds; and he had a suit of armor of solid silver, with sword and hilt blazing with diamonds, rubies and pearls.”

Nor was Lord Buckingham, James I’s favorite, any shrinking violet either, for, as Hayden has it, he “had his diamonds tacked so loosely on [his robe] that when he chose to shake a few off on the ground, he obtained all the fame he desired from the pickers-up.” And then, too, there was Prince von Kaunitz, who achieved the desired shade of his wig by strolling back and forth while four lackeys sprayed it with different tints of scented powder. Indeed, in those pre-Brummell years, men were such peacocks that The Times of London used to describe their clothes in as minute and fascinated detail as it did women’s.

With the Beau’s arrival in London, however, restraint in male attire became the order of the day and, for that matter, of every debonair day thereafter. It is, in fact, almost impossible to exaggerate Brummell’s influence, for as Virginia Woolf has said, “Without a single noble, important, or valuable action to his credit, he cuts a figure; he stands for a symbol; his ghost walks among us still.” Indeed, because of him alone simplicity became the hallmark of the well-dressed man, whether he be a Victorian Prime Minister named Lord Melbourne, an American general named A. J. Drexel Biddle, a former Secretary of State named Dean Acheson, or a song-and-dance man out of Omaha named Fred Astaire.

But Brummell, far from being a prophet without honor, was a legend even in his own lifetime — a circumstance, incidentally, that he helped propagate by circulating rumors to the effect that, among other primping practices, he mixed champagne in his boot polish, employed three different coiffeurs to do his hair (one for the temples, another for the crown, and a third for the front), and had once jilted a rich and beautiful noblewoman because he couldn’t abide the way she ate cabbage. Nevertheless, his fussiness was genuine and it was a matter of record that he refused to take off his hat to ladies for fear that he might not be able to get it back on his head at the precisely rakish angle. Furthermore, his concern for himself was so rapt that he was able to identify his troop only because one of its members had “a very large blue nose.” Yet for all his affectations, he was possessed of a sense of beauty that bordered on genius. So flawless was the fit of Brummell’s coat that, according to Byron, “It seemed as if the body thought.”

Indeed, next to the Beau himself, Byron must have been Brummell’s most ardent admirer — a circumstance, by the way, that must seem a little incredible, for, as famous as he was, as handsome, as talented, as nobly-born, and as much a lion among the ladies, Byron, who achieved his own wind-blown “Byronic” look by putting his hair up in curlers at bedtime, spent sleepless nights tossing over his inability to tie a neckcloth with any of Brummell’s surpassing skill.

As it happened, the Beau, who took three hours to dress and used to change his clothes three times a day, made such a ritual of tying his neckcloth that the Prince of Wales, who, it was said, “would rather be amiable and familiar with his tailor than agreeable and friendly with the most illustrious members of the aristocracy,” considered it a privilege to be permitted to observe the ceremony. The trick was to wrinkle the twelve-inch-wide white muslin, which was wound horizontally around the neck, into the five-or-so inches between the chin and shoulder blades. This “creasing down,” as it was known, was accomplished by Brummell’s reclining in his chair as if he were being shaved and, when the cloth was finally wound around his neck, sinking his head, ever so slowly, until the muslin wrinkled to perfection, for, as Virginia Woolf has said, “If one wrinkle was too deep or too shallow, the cloth was thrown into a basket and the attempt renewed.” Once, when a visitor inquired what Brummell’s valet was carrying as he descended from his master’s dressing room, he was informed, “These are our failures, sir.”

This was what has since come to be known as “studied carelessness” — “the perfect art,” as Kathleen Campbell has said, “which conceals art, that satisfying spontaneity which can be achieved only by taking intense thought.” Nowadays, it is to be observed in such seeming trifles as the way that a well-dressed man wears a handkerchief in his breast pocket. Unlike the wrong way — a squarish effect which, though the handkerchief is merely thrust into the pocket, gives a highly contrived look — it consists of fluffing the handkerchief so painstakingly that it seems merely to have been thrust into the pocket. But even studied carelessness cannot make a man well-dressed if he lacks, in Max Beerbohm’s words, “physical distinction, a sense of beauty, and either cash or credit.”

Moreover, if age cannot wither, neither, for that matter, can custom-tailoring stale the man who has those attributes.

It is scarcely a coincidence that not only are most “best-dressed” men more than forty years of age, but also that they rarely, if ever, wear ready-made clothes. For in addition to good looks and clothes sense, they have by and large, enough money to afford the invaluable collaboration of superb tailors like Bernard Weatherill and H. Harris in New York and E. Tautz in London; of such American shirtmakers as Dudley G. Eldridge, Brooks Brothers, and Sulka’s, and Turnbull & Asser of London; of bootmakers like Lobb of St. James’s Street in London (which is, incidentally, one of the most beautiful shops in the world) and the Boston Bootmakers of Boston; of tiemakers like Dudley G. Eldridge, Sulka’s, and Brooks Brothers in this country and Turnbull & Asser abroad; and, equally important, of barbers as skilled as, say, the celebrated Vincent Battaglia of the Plaza Hotel. “Best-dressed” men are, almost without exception, committed to nothing but the best (though not necessarily the most expensive), and even their shoes must be polished (and, frequently, boned) to perfection — just as was the case in Regency London when the death of one Lieutenant-Colonel Kelly of the First Foot Guards sent all the dandies racing to hire his valet, who was rumored to have a secret formula that had imparted the incomparable sheen to his late master’s footwear. When, incidentally, the valet let it be known that he expected a salary of two hundred pounds a year, Brummell told him, “If you will make it guineas, I shall be happy to attend upon you.”

As things were to turn out, there was a certain ominousness about this anecdote, for it reveals Brummell at the critical moment when he was beginning to lose one of the three ingredients that combine to make a man well-dressed — in this case, his credit with his tailor, Schweitzer & Davidson of Cork Street, Piccadilly. When, a bit later on, he began to lose his trim figure as well, he was no longer the glass of fashion mirroring the most elegant of all eras.

Obviously, the credentials required for recognition as an authentically well-dressed man are not very readily come by. Thus in the case of a certain attractive young New York advertising executive who wears suits, shirts, and ties of impeccable taste, the disqualification lies in his weakness for bizarre footwear, particularly during the summer, when he frequently appears in what Murray Kempton has described as “those obscene ventilated shoes.”

Yet for all the range of varied views expressed about men’s clothes – reactions extending all the way from Thoreau’s admonition to “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes,” and Hawthorne’s austere conviction that “Those who make their dress a principal part of themselves will in general become of no more value than their dress,” to Max Beerbohm’s airy belief that no man can cut a dashing figure unless he is sufficiently clothes-conscious not to be distracted by a job or family — there is at least a measure of accord about the fact that, though clothes do not necessarily make the man, they do, if becoming, make him confident and content. “A man,” said Dickens’ Mark Tapley, “may be in good spirits and good temper when he’s well-dressed. There ain’t much credit in that.”

Brummell, for instance, had, like most flawlessly turned-out men, an air of such unassailable authority that he provided a shining example for Scott Fitzgerald’s later claim that “Gentlemen’s clothes are a symbol of the ‘power that man must hold and that passes from race to race.’ ” It may well have been a desire for this sense of security that derives from being well-dressed that prompted young American officers in the First World War to put on new white gloves before going into battle. Actually, the gloves need not have been new — merely spotlessly clean — for in men’s clothes (far more so than in women’s) age lends a certain reassuring patina. “Trust not,” warned Carlyle, “the heart of that man for whom old clothes are not venerable,” an attitude that was subsequently endorsed by Rupert Brooke, who sang of “the good smell of old clothes.”

Part of the appeal of old clothes lies, of course, in the fact that one becomes almost dependent upon them. They are, as it were, known quantities, and, rather than discard them, one goes to great lengths to keep them serviceable, having, for instance, a favorite jacket relined or the frayed collars and cuffs of a well-cut shirt turned. One of the most attractive items in Joseph Bryan III’s wardrobe, for example, is a dinner coat that, except for having been relined and having had its buttons tightened, is precisely as it was when his father had it made in 1912. There is, after all, a certain amount of experimentation, of trial-and-error involved in wearing new things, a peril, by the way, that Dickens noted in Great Expectations, where he says, “Probably every new and eagerly expected garment ever put on since clothes came in falls a trifle short of the wearer’s expectations.”

Furthermore, it is a fact that old clothes — provided, of course, that they are of the highest quality — have become molded to one’s body, which is why no first-rate tailor considers his job completed until he has altered certain minor shortcomings that become apparent only after a customer has worn a suit a half-dozen-or-so times. Once a suit has received its maker’s approval, however, it requires infinitely less care than do inferior garments. Hetherington Turnbull, the head of F. L. Dunne’s (a bespoke tailor of such prestige that when John P. Marquand did a reverent article about it for Vogue, he asked that his recompense be a Dunne suit) has not had his dinner coat pressed once in the more-than-thirty years since it was made.

As it happens, however, the best-dressed American men — at least for the most part — not only cherish venerable clothes, but cherish venerable milieux as well. Like their apparel, they, too, are full of tradition, being, rather more often than not, products of such sanctified New England private schools as St. Mark’s, Groton, and St. Paul’s, and of ivied universities like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton; living, not in such youthful and characterless cities as Los Angeles, but in either what Roger Angell has termed “The Effete East” — which is to say the hallowed ground of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and the posher precincts of Long Island — or in such proper outposts as Richmond and San Francisco; and belonging to such select clubs as the Racquet & Tennis and the Brook in Manhattan, the Southampton on Long Island, the Somerset in Boston, the Philadelphia in Philadelphia, and, as nonresident members, Buck’s and White’s in London.

They walk, so to speak, in beauty, and at dusk, when not playing backgammon at such sanctuaries, they turn up at beatified bars like the ones in the St. Regis in New York and the Ritz-Carlton in Boston. Furthermore, they not only respect, but quite often indeed are exceedingly fond of the men who sell them clothes — which, after all, is the way they were brought up, down through the years since Christmas vacations when Brooks Brothers was where, in a manner of speaking, they hung their childhood, and with such correct consequences that, in their navy-blue overcoats from Rowes of London, they were proper and personable little gentlemen indeed. And afterwards, on the mornings of their weddings, it would have been absolutely unthinkable not to have had a Brooks Brothers representative on hand to tie their and their ushers’ ascots.

For this, everything considered, is the authentically well-dressed American man’s way of life, even unto J. P. Morgan’s having customarily greeted one Brooks employee with a deferential, “Good morning, Mr. Webb,” and having had Mr. Webb reply, “Good morning, Jack.” Always there is noblesse oblige.

Almost without exception, the best-dressed men have, very simply and very vernacularly, colossal class. And being, in most cases, to the manor born, they feel no urgency, as do less secure men, to be either obvious or extravagant. Thus although there was nothing in the least amiss about the fact that the late Herbert Bayard Swope (whose claims to chicness were deflated one night when Damon Runyon pointed out to Leonard Lyons the unpardonable offense of Swope’s creased sleeves) happened to favor expensive monogrammed hosiery, it is, nevertheless, not without a certain significance that, for both daytime and formal evening occasions, A. J. Drexel Biddle wears black-ribbed “fine lisle vat-dyed” socks (which have nylon reinforced toes and heels) that cost him only a dollar a pair at Jacob Reed’s in Philadelphia.

Although it would be altogether too arbitrary to single out Biddle, the sixty-three-year-old Adjutant General of Pennsylvania, as the best-dressed man in the United States, it would, at the same time, be something of a task to find a male more elegant than he, not only in this country, but anywhere else in the world. Other well-dressed men are the first to acknowledge this, none, however, any more tangibly than Ahmet Ertegun, a son of the late Turkish Ambassador to the United States. Some years ago, when Ertegun somehow came into possession of a suit that had been made for Biddle by E. Tautz of London in 1923, he promptly put it into a protective cellophane covering and hung it in a closet. It has remained there ever since, emerging only when he wears it on some opulent occasion or when he permits clothes-conscious male visitors the privilege of admiring its splendid cut, caressing its incomparable stitching.

On the elegant face of things, one would probably imagine that “Tony” Biddle has closet upon closet of clothes. Actually, this Main Line Philadelphian, whose father was the epic figure about whom the play The Happiest Millionaire was written and whom himself was one of the most extraordinary participants in the Second World War, has so sparse a wardrobe that Lord Byron, for one, and Lieutenant General Rafael Trujillo, Jr., for another, would feel that it amounted to not having a stitch to their names.

On June 20, 1812, for example, Byron, according to Leslie A. Marchand, his most incisive biographer:

“. . . bought ‘12 Fine white Quilting Waistcoats;’ on July 1 ‘A spfine Olive Court dress Coat lined Completely thro wh White Silk, 20 Elegantly Cut & Highly polished Steele buttons, A very rich Embroidered Court dress Waistcoat, and A pair rich black Silk Breeches.’ In August and September he added dozens of other items, bringing the total bill on September 18 to £243.10s.”

As for Trujillo, his taste in clothes is apparently as undiscriminating as it is in certain other matters. He once commissioned a New York tailor to make him — sight unseen! — fourteen suits at $285 each, four sports jackets at $196 apiece, ten sports shirts at from $20 to $30 each, twenty-five $33 dress shirts, fifty $7.50 neckties, and four pairs of slacks at $88 a pair.

Even in its entirety, Biddle’s wardrobe seems, by contrast, almost monastic. It includes seven so-called business suits — two double- and one single-breasted navy-blue serge; one double- and one single-breasted dark-blue pin-stripe flannel; one single-breasted charcoal-grey flannel. (They were made by either H. Harris of New York, who charges $225 and up for a two-piece suit, or E. Tautz of London who charges, as to do most topnotch British tailors, almost a quarter less. All have skeleton alpaca linings and the sleeves have three buttons and open buttonholes. The single-breasteds have three-button, notched-lapel jackets.) For formal daytime wear, Biddle has a charcoal-grey cheviot cutaway, a single-breasted white waistcoat, and black trousers with broad white stripes. (With these, he wears a black silk ascot and a wide wing collar.) For semiformal daytime occasions, he has a charcoal-grey single-breasted cheviot sack coat and trousers, in either black or Cambridge grey, with broad white stripes. Besides a ready-made Aquascutum raincoat, Biddle owns three outer coats — a double-breasted blue chinchilla ($175 from Tautz), a single-breasted light drab covert cloth ($225, H. Harris), and a double-breasted polo coat with white bone buttons ($325, Harris). He has, in addition to a tweed cap, four hats, all of them purchased at Lock’s in London too many years ago for him to recall exactly what they cost. One is a high-silk, one an opera hat, and the other two homburgs — one black and one green. For formal evening wear, Biddle has tails ($175, Tautz), a double-breasted dinner coat with satin shawl lapels ($150, Tautz), and, for warm weather, two single-breasted, shawl-collared white gabardine dinner coats ($98 each, Tautz). His evening shirts, with which he wears a conventionally-shaped bow tie, have pleats, roll collars, and are made for him by Dudley G. Eldridge of New York at $28 each.

Biddle’s sports clothes include three tweed jackets ($160 each, Harris), three pairs of charcoal-grey flannel slacks, and a half-dozen button-down shirts made by Eldridge out of silk that he, Biddle, bought in Spain. His shoes, of which he has three pairs of black for daytime wear and one patent leather and one calfskin for evening wear, were made by Paulsen & Stone of London, who also made for him, for sports wear, a pair of black moccasins, a pair of black loafers, and two pairs of white canvas shoes with brown leather toes and rubber soles (which he wears with either prewar white flannels or an ancient double-breasted light-grey sharkskin suit).

Biddle’s neck-band shirts, which are either starched dickey bosoms (elongated so that the bosoms extend below the middle button of his jacket) or semi-starched pleated bosoms, have white cuffs and bodies of either grey or light blue. They cost $26 each and are made by Eldridge, who also makes his stiff white collars ($3 each) and his ties ($7.50 each), which run to solid black silks and discreet shepherd checks and are shaped so as to make a knot small enough to fit neatly into a hard collar. His underwear is ready-made and comes from Jacob Reed’s.

As for his military wardrobe, it seems downright skimpy when compared with what, according to Leslie A. Marchand, Lord Byron had on hand during his service in Greece:

“Two Braided Plaid Jackets, 4 pair of Trowsers, Red Cloth Jacket braided with Black, Red Cloth Jacket trimmed with Gold Lace, Four Full Dress Uniform Coats trimmed with Gold Lace, Two Pair Blue Trowsers trimmed with Gold Lace . . . 2 Helmets with Gilt Ornaments (Homeric helmets, gilt with an overtowering plume, under which . . . were his coat of arms and the motto ‘Crede Byron’), Six Pair of Gold Lace Epaulets, One Pair of Silver Lace Epaulets, 5 Gold Lace Sword Knots, and various guns and equipment, including ten swords and a sword stick.”

Biddle somehow manages to squeeze by on a total of five uniforms.

Like all men with innate clothes sense, Biddle eschews such abominations as ankle-length socks, matching tie-and-handkerchief sets, huge cuff links, conspicuous tie clasps, and, most hideous of all, cellophane hat covers. Indeed, well-dressed men, almost without exception, are interested in something novel in clothing, only when it is both as attractive and functional as, say the duffer coat, which proved its value to the Royal Navy in the Second World War.

Naturally, Biddle’s coat sleeves are not only uncreased, but also of such length as to permit a fraction-of-an-inch of his shirt cuff to show — as, similarly, the neck of his jacket is cut so that the back of his shirt collar is exposed. As for the width of his trousers and coat lapels, it is determined, not by the extreme narrowness that is something of a rage these days, but by, respectively, the length of his foot and the breadth of his shoulders. He selects, in short, clothes that become him. For anyone who is not as “clean favored and imperially slim . . . and admirably schooled in every grace” as Biddle is, the Biddle style of dress would be preposterous. Few things are more precarious than the indiscriminate aping of another man’s wardrobe.

If, for example, the Cary Grant of To Catch a Thief was culpable of anything, it was less his onetime activities as a “cat burglar” than the fact that his clothes in that movie aroused such demonstrative admiration among women that any number of men were inspired to try to copy the actor’s wardrobe. For the most part, the results were disastrous. It should be noted, by the way, that women should never be permitted to counsel men about clothes. “No woman,” says author Finis Farr, “really knows anything about men’s clothes. How could she? After all, she’s conditioned to obsolescence, to the principle that things go out of fashion. Well-dressed men know that nothing worth-while is ever outmoded, that a superb tailor’s work is ageless.”

It is, of course, a manifestation of A. J. Drexel Biddle’s clothes sense that he patronizes such superb tailors as E. Tautz in London and H. Harris in New York. Conceivably, he might, with equally impressive results, go to any one of several others, among them Kilgour, French & Stanbury, Strachan & Hunt, E. C. Squires, Davis & Anderson, and Sandon in London and, in New York, F. L. Dunne, Bernard Weatherill, Pat Sylvestri, Lord of New York, Brooks Brothers, and Rosenthal-Maretz. If, as is most unlikely, he happened to be residing in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he could avail himself of the services of T and T, which, though not stylistically creative, can, like its Hong Kong counterparts, produce hand-stitched, authentically custom-tailored suits for as little as $75 each. Although the British, by and large, are more skilled and less expensive than the Americans, not even the very best of them is superior to Weatherill and Harris, which, if not necessarily without peer, are certainly unsurpassed in this country. It is almost impossible, however, to generalize about American tailors, for, unlike their London counterparts, few of them are cast in the same mold. On the one hand, for example, are the Weatherills and Harris, which, though quite able to turn out any style of suit, are assertively uninfluenced by fads, and, on the other, the likes of Lord of New York, whose clientele, for the most part, is disposed toward the Ivy League cut. But of all American tailors, no two, notwithstanding their conspicuous dissimilarities, are more representative than Weatherill, which is hallowed, and Lord, which is youthful and, despite no genuine feeling for tradition, immensely worth-while because of the meticulous workmanship of its Peter D’Annunzio.

Bernard Weatherill, which has been thriving in New York City for more than thirty-five years, is owned by Charles Weatherill (whose brother Bernard has a shop in London), is terribly British, and, as such, posh, polite, and paneled. Yet for all its innate respect for the old, Weatherill has a lively enough interest in the new to enable it to satisfy even the most progressive-minded members of the well-heeled younger generation. It is also very horsy, indeed, being unquestionably the foremost American maker of sidesaddle habits and riding breeches (which it measures to within one-sixteenth of an inch in New York and, because of prohibitive labor costs in this country, then has executed in London). Such, in fact, is its artistry at this sort of thing that it is the only American tailoring establishment to have made a “Regulation Club evening and driving kit” for a member of the London Coaching Club.

Weatherill charges $260 and up for a three-piece suit, takes some three weeks to turn it out, and feels that a perfect fit is achieved only with one’s third suit. In the tradition of British bespoke tailoring, it favors four buttons with buttonholes on the sleeves of business suits and a single one on sports jackets (though it does think it rather jolly to add a second one — on the side of the sleeve next to the body — that permits the wearer to button the sleeves tightly around the wrists in foul weather). Where Weatherill (along with other topnotch American firms) has a distinct advantage over the British is in its ability to make a superb tropical-weight suit. Moreover, unlike London establishments, it does not feel that if a tailor is satisfied with a garment, the customer should be too. One day at Weatherill in London, for example, a cutter suddenly grabbed his shears and began slashing a suit because of his umbrage at the fact that the customer who was trying it on had not expressed his satisfaction promptly enough. Weatherill in New York does, however, like to keep a fatherly eye on its garments and, for four dollars, it will hand-press (which takes an hour or more) any suit, no matter how ancient, that came from its work benches.

Unlike Weatherill, Lord of New York is brash, explorative, and highly disorganized. Chronologically, Lord of New York is a branch of a genealogy that goes all the way back to 1835 and Brooks Brothers’ natural-shoulder — or, as it is precisely known, No. 1-sack suit. Around the turn of the century, Arthur Rosenberg, then the foremost tailor in New Haven, began to exploit this style among Yale undergraduates, and, not long afterwards, J. Press, also of New Haven, fell into line. Eventually, two Rosenberg employees, Sam Rosenthal and Moe Maretz, went out on their own as Rosenthal-Maretz; then Bill Fenn and Jack Feinstein left David T. Langrock to form Fenn-Feinstein (now associated with Frank Brothers). Somewhat later on, Mort Sill and (a year later) Jonas Arnold quit Press and opened a shop in Harvard Square, Cambridge, which they called Chipp. Then, with his partner’s departure to form Sill (New York and Harvard Square), Jonas Arnold entered into an agreement whereby two former Press employees — Sid Winston and the late Lou Prager — were permitted to use Chipp as the name of the shop they were about to open in New York. Arnold, who closed his Cambridge store several years ago, is still a partner in the New York Chipp’s. In 1952, Lord of New York was begat by Chipp — or, more accurately, by three of its former employees, Ken Frank, Mike Fers, and Peter D’Annunzio. Lord charges $195 and up for a two-piece hand-stitched suit lined with tie silk. Unlike Chipp, it neither charges extra for open buttonholes on jacket sleeves nor does it line coat collars with foulard. Unlike J. Press, it resists such gimmicks as lining the breast pocket of a jacket with foulard that can be turned inside-out to serve as a handkerchief.

In recent years the renaissance of interest in men’s clothes and the increased number of tasteful men’s shops have, rather ironically, provided the creative dresser with progressively fewer opportunities to express himself. By the same token, though, the American male, who for decades had been something of a sartorial fright, suddenly began to look presentable — so conspicuously so, in fact, that recently Osbert Lancaster, the cartoonist for the London Daily Express, returned from a visit to the United States and promptly abandoned drawing the garish-looking man who for years had represented his conception of the American male. In its stead was a subdued, almost Brooks-Brotherish figure. “The old self-confident, easily-bamboozled, back-slapping person is a figure of the past,” said Lancaster.

It could hardly have been otherwise, for nowadays even the smallest town has a men’s shop that carries the same suits and haberdashery that are on sale at, say Madison Avenue and Forty-fifth Street in New York. New Bedford, Massachusetts, for example, has Marty Sullivan’s, a store so attuned to the fickleness of fashion that it has its buyers and designers spend part of their Manhattan visitations in such bars-and-grills as P. J. Clarke’s, which attracts an extremely creatively-dressed Ivy League clientele. Furthermore, shops like Sullivan’s-Eddie Jacobs’ in Baltimore; Dick Carroll’s in Los Angeles; and, in New York, Casual-aire, Paul Stuart’s, Phil’s, to name a few — are far from expensive. What’s more, at their best – Atkinson’s in Los Angeles and Pasadena, California, and the Andover Shops in Cambridge and Andover, Massachusetts, which derive much of their appeal from the superb workmanship of Frank Spade, the head tailor, and the creativeness of co-owner, Charles Davidson — they are superlatively tasteful.

Even in 1960, however, not all ready-made suits are low-priced. Oxxford, for example, turns out a suit that costs $235 and up, is impeccably tailored, and has a following among affluent men who are either too impatient to hold still for custom fittings or dislike investing in a garment without knowing how it will look when finished. From the point of view of style, the best ready-made American suit is turned out by Norman Hilton, a young, enterprising, and discerning Princeton alumnus who, among other things, makes blazers and sports coats for Brooks Brothers. (Contrary to prevalent opinion, Brooks Brothers does not manufacture all its wares, but has certain items made to its specifications and on its own models. Only the label “Brooks Brothers Makers” means a Brooks-manufactured garment.)

Although Brooks Brothers (which also goes in for custom clothes) can no longer be regarded as the unique pace-setter it was prior to the recent renaissance of interest in men’s clothes, it still carries come matchless items, notably its neckwear and shirts, particularly its white buttondown in Pima broadcloth, which costs $8.50 and, among ready-made shirts, is in a class by itself.

By and large, however, elegance resides in the individual. No Bernard Weatherill, no Brooks Brothers, No E. Tautz, no Dudley Eldridge can do more than minister to its tastes. It is never easily come by and, once achieved, it must be vigilantly preserved — by boning one’s shoes and putting trees in them at night, by using molded hangers, and by all such other good care as is constantly stressed in the imaginative and informative Wallachs ads that appear three times a week in The New York Times and Herald Tribune and, while of a somewhat different tone, compare, for candor, readability, informativeness, and wit with the extraordinary ads for Zareh of Boston and Brookline, Massachusetts, one of the few authentically tasteful men’s shops in the United States.

And elegance must also be guarded pridefully. When a radio interviewer accused the late Michael Arlen of not being able to write so well as Evelyn Waugh, Arlen said, “Ah, yes, that’s quite true, but I dress better than Evelyn.”

Elegance, however, need not be visible. Moss Hart, for example, is partial to monogrammed solid-gold collar stays. Freddie Cripps, the celebrated London dandy, is equally unconcerned with making an impression on anybody but himself, his chief indulgence being a refusal to have his underwear made anywhere but in Vienna, to which he commutes regularly for fittings. But elegance need not be expensive either. In the case of the late William Rhinelander Stewart, for example, elegance was nothing more costly than not venturing out in the evening without first having his rumpled paper money ironed flat by his valet!

Quotes

“I don’t consider myself ‘the well-dressed man.’ I don’t make any effort in that direction. I do take a little pains occasionally with my clothes but just to feel comfortable. I also like to wear things that others don’t. I rather enjoy fooling around with a new note here and there to see how it comes off.

“I don’t think a man’s clothes should be conspicuous. If they are noticed, it should be because of their conservativeness. It depends, of course, on the individual as to how the whole thing comes off.

“I like colors. Red silk handkerchiefs and colored shirts and socks too.

“I like double-breasted suits and they’ll come back, by gosh. All those little tailor shops that have signs in their windows, ‘Have your outmoded double-breasted suit made into a single,’ may have to change their tune. But they can never say, ‘Have your single made into a double.’ Aha! It won’t work!”

“P.S. I forgot to mention that I often take a brand-new suit or hat and throw it up against the wall a few times to get that stiff, square newness out of it.” – Fred Astaire

“One is prepared for most daytime and some evening occasions, if he has a navy-blue serge, and a charcoal-grey — and possibly a light-grey-flannel suit. Their number and weights depend upon one’s means, requirements, and the climate in which one lives — just as the choice between a single- or double-breasted jacket should be guided by one’s judgment as to which would prove the more appropriate to his build.

“Then, too, to meet his basic requirements, one should have a dinner jacket. A navy-blue overcoat will satisfy both his daytime and evening requirements.

“As to cut: I personally prefer a jacket to fit precisely around the neck and the shoulders, and under the arms. For accommodation of these requirements permits the jacket to be perceptibly but not exaggeratedly cut in at the waist, as well as to be draped on the back, and to end in a slight flair — and withal, to render the appearance of hanging loosely from the shoulders.

“Then, of course, if one’s activities require it, a full evening dress suit would be indicated. Aside from the coat’s necessarily fitting snugly at the waist, care should be taken to see that the bottom of the white waistcoat is covered by the front of the coat.

“I very much admire the beneficial nation-wide influence of the ready-made clothing industry upon the maintenance of good taste in masculine attire — and the industry’s capability of making clothes available at reasonable prices. The reason most of my clothes are custom-made is because, due to my measurements, I encounter considerable difficulty in the matter of sizes. If I find a ready-made jacket that fits me around the shoulders, there would be enough room in the trousers and in the rest of the jacket to accommodate several others besides myself. On the other hand, if I find a pair of trousers with a proper-fitting waistline, the shoulders of the jacket would be so snug as to preclude satisfactory alteration.” – A. J. Drexel Biddle

Here, listed alphabetically, are some men who are unquestionably among the “best-dressed” in the United States.

DEAN ACHESON — Educated at Groton and Yale and a member of the Chevy Chase and Metropolitan clubs in Washington, D. C., and the Century in New York, this sixty-seven-year-old former Secretary of State resides in Washington, where he has his suits made by Farnsworth-Reed, Ltd. ($225).

FRED ASTAIRE — This sixty-one-year-old song-and-dance man, who is a member of the posh Brooks and Racquet & Tennis clubs in New York, favors English-type jackets, suede shoes, often uses silk handkerchiefs as belts. He has had many suits made by Anderson and Sheppard of London, but, at the moment, he is using John Galuppo of Schmidt and Galuppo, Inc., of Beverly Hills. His shoes are by Peal of London; his shirts by Beale and Inman and Hawes and Curtis (both of London), Brooks Brothers and Wendley in New York, and Machin and J. T. Beach of Los Angeles.

BUSH BARNUM — The forty-eight-year-old advertising and public-information director of the Glass Container Manufacturers’ Institute graduated from Colgate in 1933, resdies in Gramercy Park in one of Manhattan’s most desirable apartments, and has been a Bernard Weatherill ($260 and up per three-piece suit) customer for more than a decade.

A. J. DREXEL BIDDLE — A graduate of St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, and a member of the Philadelphia and the Racquet clubs in Philadelphia, the Brooks, Racquet & Tennis, Knickerbocker, Union and River clubs in New York, and the Travellers in Paris, Biddle (whose wardrobe is itemized earlier) has for many years devoted himself to public service.

BILL BLASS — This thirty-eight-year-old designer for Maurice Rentner lives in Manhattan, has his suits made at Lord of New York.

J. ANTHONY BOALT — At thirty-two, Boalt, of the class of ‘50, at Yale, is the youngest and one of the most handsome men on the list. A businessman in New York, he resides in Greenwich, Connecticut. His tailor: J. Press.

DAVID TENNANT BRYAN — The fifty-four-year-old Bryan is publisher of the Richmond, Virginia, News Leader and Times-Dispatch and a former head of the Association of American Newspaper Publishers. His tailors: Bernard Weatherill and others.

JOSEPH BRYAN III — A graduate of sanctified Episcopal High near Richmond, Virginia, where he was born, and of Princeton. Bryan, a cousin of D. Tennant Bryan, is a member of the Racquet & Tennis Club in New York. A writer whose assignments take him around the world, he has frequent opportunities to visit Kilgour, Franch & Stanbury and Strachan & Hunt in London and Bernard Weatherill in New York.

HUGH A. COLE — The thirty-five-year-old Cole (one of the eight men in their thirties on the list) is a prominent sportsman, an excellent golfer and a fine horseman, as is fitting the son of Ashley T. Cole, the Chairman of the New York State Racing Commission, should be. He graduated from the Hun School of Princeton, New Jersey, attended Columbia University, is the father of four daghters. He belongs to the Short Hills Club and the Essex County Country Club, both in that county of New Yersey, where he resides. His furnishings are by Sulka; his ties by Tripler and by Charvet; his hats by Cavanagh; and his suits are by Brooks Brothers and by Noman Hilton.

MILES DAVIS — The thirty-four-year-old genius of “progressive jazz” trumpet is an individualist who favors skin-tight trousers, Italian-cut jackets. His seersucker coats, which have side vents, are custom made. His tailor: Emsley (New York), which charges $185 a suit.

RICHARDSON DILWORTH — The sixty-two-year-old mayor of Philadelphia graduated from St. Mark’s and Yale. A member of The Racquet club in Philadelphia, he patronizes among others, Meyers, Inc. ($255 a suit and up) in that city.

RICHARD DORSO — The fifty-year-old vice-president in charge of TV programming for Ziv-United Artists is an excellent tennis player and belongs to The Seventh Regiment Tennis and The Town Tennis clubs in New York City, and the Los Angeles Tennis Club. His suits are ready-made from Norman Hilton, and he has them especially fitted by Bob Difalco, the head fitter at Chipp.

M. DORLAND DOYLE — A graduate of Andover, sixty-year-old Doyle lives in New York City, where he is in advertising. A member of the Links and the Deepdale Golf Club, of which he is a president, he has his suits made by H. Harris ($225).

ANGIER BIDDLE DUKE — A graduate of St. Paul’s (like his uncle, A. J. Drexel Biddle) and a member of the Racquet & Tennis and Brooks clubs in New York, the Travellers in Paris, and the Jockey in Buenos Aires, the forty-four-year-old former ambassador to El Salvador and Vice-Chairman of the Board of the International Rescue Committee patronizes, as does his uncle, E. Tautz-as well as various tailors in Spain.

AHMET M. ERTEGUN — A jazz authority and president of prospering Atlantic Records, Ertegun was born in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1923 and was educated abroad and at St. John’s College in Annapolis. Dedicated to chic living, he has a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. He buys ready-made suits at J. Press (around $100 each and has them recut for around $50) by Martin Kalaydjian, the legendary valet of the Algonquin Hotel in New York.

DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS, JR. — Fifty-year-old Fairbanks, who once contributed to discriminating (and lamented) Vanity Fair, lives in London, but still retains his American citizenship. He is a member of the Century and Lambs clubs in New York, Buck’s and White’s in London, the Travellers in Paris, and the Metropolitan and the Army & Navy in Washington, D. C. His tailor: Stovel & Mason (48 guineas or $141.12 a suit) in London.

FINIS FARR — A gifted writer, Farr, who lives in Ridgewood, New Jersey, graduated from Princeton in 1926, is a member of the Racquet & Tennis in New York, a customer of Weatherill and of Brooks Brothers ($265 a suit).

ALEXANDER COCHRANE FORBES — At fifty, Forbes, who is extremely handsome, looks little older than he did as a Harvard undergraduate (1928-1932). A graduate of Groton, he was a member of the Porcellian Club, probably the choosiest men’s club in the United States. A resident of Needham, Massachusetts, and a member of the Country Club, Forbes is a trustee for various interests. His tailors: Brooks Brothers and others.

CLARK GABLE — Since his switch to Brooks Brothers custom department shortly after the Second World War, the fifty-nine-year-old actor has become a model of subdued chic.

GEOFFREY M. GATES — Gates, Harvard ‘27, lives on Long Island (Oyster Bay), where he is in the antiques business. His tailor: H. Harris.

CARY GRANT — 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. He insists upon tight armholes in his suit jackets, finds the most comfortable (and functional) of all underwear to be women’s nylon panties. Something of a maverick as to tailors, he now goes to Quintino (around $225 a suit) in Beverly Hills, California, and, whenever possible, certain of the preposterously low-priced geniuses in Hong Kong.

WALTER M. HALLE — The fifty-five-year-old head of The Halle Brothers Department Store in Cleveland graduated from Princeton, is a member of the Kirtland Country Club, the Chagrin Valley Hunt, the Cleveland Skating, and the Cleveland Athletic clubs, and, in New York, of the Princeton Club. His suits, which are ready-made by Oxxford, cost around $250 each.

ROY HAYNES — The thiry-five-year-old jazz percussionist belongs on any best-dressed list if only because of his taste in selecting clothes that flatter his short stature (five feet, three and a half inches). His suits are custom made (around $125 each) by the Andover Shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

ALFRED HERRMANN — This thirty-nine-year-old artist, who does the drawings for, among other things, Tripler’s men’s fashion ads, is an outstanding authority on male apparel. His tailor: Chipp (around $205 a suit).

MILTON HOLDEN — The sixty-six-year-old resident of New York and Palm Beach is a member of the Brook, Racquet & Tennis, and Turf & Field clubs. His tailor: Davies & Son, London.

WILLIAM E. HUTTON — Fifty-three-year-old Hutton, who lives in Old Westbury, Long Island, graduated from Hill School and Harvard, is a member of the Racquet & Tennis, Links, Meadowbrook, and Piping Rock clubs. A senior partner in the brokerage firm of W. E. Hutton & Company, he patronizes Wetzel ($285 a suit).

The late JOHN B. KELLY was one of the few self-made men on the list. Like his daughter, Princess Grace of Monaco, he was always impeccably dressed. His tailor: Witlin & Gallagher ($265 for a two-piece suit, $10 more for a three-piece) of Philadelphia.

SOLON KELLY III – Young (thirty-nine) and exceedingly attractive, Kelly, who is a partner in a wine and spirits importing firm in New York, belongs to the Union, Brook, Racquet & Tennis, and Southampton clubs. His tailor: Kilgour, French & Stanbury in London.

CHESTER J. LaROCHE — A graduate of Exeter and Yale, where he was prominent in football, this sixty-eight-year-old head of a thriving advertising agency in New York belongs to the Racquet & Tennis Club and presides over the Football Hall of Fame. LaRoche, who turns up at Yale football games in a venerable polo coat and Tyrolean hat, has his suits made by Arthur Rosenberg ($195-210 for a two-piece and $220-235 for a three-piece suit) and Wetzel in New York and Kilgour, French & Stanbury in London.

JOHN McCLAIN — A graduate of Kenyon College, McClain, who is drama critic of the New York Journal-American, belongs to the Brooks and the Racquet & Tennis clubs. His suits are made by Stovel & Mason, London, by Penalver in Madrid ($65 a suit).

JOHN McLEAN — The forty-four-year-old son of celebrated Washington hostess Evalyn Walsh McLean is a member of the Racquet & Tennis Club in New York and the Seminole in Palm Beach. McLean, who is generally referred to as “Jock,” is a creative dresser who helped originate red socks for wear with a dinner suit. He goes to Bernard Weatherill.

ALBERT S. MURPHY — A graduate of Boston Latin School and Harvard, forty-eight-year-old Dr. Murphy is a senior surgeon at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Boston and on the staffs of Mr. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge and the New England Baptist in Boston. He is a member of the American Board of Surgery and the College of Surgeons. His clubs: Charles River Country and Harvard of Boston. His suits are made by the Andover Shop; his accessories come from either Zareh in Boston or Ara in Wellesley.

HENRY T. MORTIMER — A graduate of St. Mark’s School and Harvard, class of 1939, Mortimer is a Wall Street broker, holds membership in the Brooks and the Racquet & Tennis clubs. An extremely fussy dresser (who has his own-designed coat lapel), he insists upon such details as dull-finish bone buttons, skeleton alpaca linings. Tailor: Lord of New York.

IVA PATCÉVITCH — The elegant, silver-haired, fifty-nine-year-old Russian-born head of the Condé Nast Publications has his suits made by Weatherill.

THOMAS PHIPPS — The only Etonian on the list, forty-five-year-old Phipps is one of the few writers in the Racquet & Tennis Club. His tailor: Sandon in London (around $155 a suit, plus import duty).

WALTER PIDGEON — The sixty-two-year-old actor who played A. J. Drexel Biddle’s father in The Happiest Millionaire goes to Dunhill in New York and Domenick Alvaro ($200-$225 a suit) in Beverly Hills, California.

THOMAS MARKOE ROBERTSON — A graduate of Hotchkiss and Yale (class of 1910) and a brother-in-law of A. J. Drexel Biddle, Robertson, an architect, is a member of the exclusive Southampton Club. His tailor: E. Tautz.

JOHN SEABROOK — Forty-three-year-old Seabrook, a member of the frozen-foods family, is a Princeton graduate and a member of The London Coaching Club and the Racquet & Tennis Club in New York, lives on a 1,500-acre farm in New Jersey. His tailor: Bernard Weatherill.

J. BLAN VAN URK — This fifty-eight-year-old graduate of Princeton, where, among other things, he was heavyweight boxing champion as well as something of a dandy in his bowler and covert-cloth topcoat, is the author of the definitive and handsome Story of American Foxhunting. Van Urk belongs to the Royal Dutch Hunt (the Netherlands) and the Grolier clubs and is a Chevalier of the Confréric de la Chaîne des Rôtiseurs. His suits are made by both H. Harris and H. Huntsman & Sons in London.

THOMAS REED VREELAND — A graduate of The Hill and Yale, sixty-one-year-old Vreeland belongs to the Racquet & Tennis, Cloud, and Southampton clubs in this country, Buck’s in London, and the Travellers in Paris. His tailors: E. C. Squires (around $122 for a two-piece, $133 for a three-piece suit) in London and, in New York, Pat Sylvestri, who, notwithstanding his Johnny-come-lateliness, is one of the genuinely gifted members of his profession.

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WFB: Fads Be Damned.

July 29, 2011

Excerpted piratically, but gratefully, from National Review:

(From a question and answer booklet issued by The Alumni Council of Princeton University, June 1, 1958.)

QUESTION: Why don’t Princeton undergraduates look as glossy as they used to? Is it because the admissions people frown on well dressed, social-looking young men?

ANSWER: Certainly not. Since the war, Princeton undergraduates, like those in other colleges, have gone out of their way to wear beat-up clothes. It’s a fad the GI’s started.

If I had been permitted to butt in with the next question, I’d have asked, “What would you do if the next fad called on the students to go about naked?” The answer would presumably have been as evasive as the first, probably something like, “My dear sir, there are laws against indecent exposure.” To be sure, and there are none against wearing sweat shirts in a venerable university eating hall, or in a classroom where the lecture that morning may be on the age of elegance; none, even, governing dress in fraternity houses where, it is commonly supposed, it is the elite who meet to eat. The reason? Rules affecting a student’s dress are . . .

But let me relate an experience. At Yale, ten years ago, there gadded about a distinguished professor of philosophy with a mania for equalitarianism. Notwithstanding, he was himself a man of personal taste, of imposing countenance and erect bearing, and one day he decided it would be reasonable to expect members of his college (undergraduate Yale is quartered in ten colleges) to come to dinner at the college dining hall dressed in coat and tie. Accordingly, he laid down the edict. Hours later, a student had summoned fellow members of the college student council in extraordinary session to devise appropriate means of resisting the act of tyranny. In due course the president of the council appeared before the guileless master and announced that it was the consensus of the student council that the ordinance he had passed was undemocratic. The master did not reply (such a reply would not have occurred to him, even as a lascivious possibility) “Tell the student council to go—eat democratically some place else.” No, our professor of Philosophy simply rescinded his order, aghast at the revelation that, albeit subconsciously, he had entertained an Undemocratic Thought.

It is the knout of Democracy that is most generally used to flail those who believe the administrators of a college are entitled to specify, nay should specify, norms of undergraduate dress. The economic argument, implausible though it increasingly becomes, is still widely used. It holds that coats and ties are expensive, that therefore the uniform requirement that they be worn daily, and hence worn out prematurely, is a form of regressive taxation. The argument is unrealistic because in point of fact ties do not cost very much, and coats made out of a tough material will outlive even a pauper’s inclination to wear them.

It is something else, really, that prevents the deans and masters from acting. They fear, in an age of permissiveness, the howl of protest. The dean of the Graduate School at Yale said recently, “The attire of students is incredibly sloppy. It would be fine if we could get away with a rule requiring ties at all meals. A good thing to press for in my retiring years.”

Must we wait until the Dean retires? Let us hope not. Meanwhile, I make a few observations. The first: Does not insistence on a minimal standard of dress reflect a decent respect for the opinions of mankind? The same community that insists that one pay at least a procedural respect to the opinions of ideological aberrants can hardly be expected to shrink from deferring to society on the appropriate means of clothing one’s nakedness. Even in the world of getting and spending, for whose coarseness a considerable contempt is stimulated in many colleges and campuses, coat-and-tie is a prerequisite to participation. The Beats who indulge their sloppiness as a symbol of their individualism can take the measure of their hypocrisy by reflecting on their imminent surrender — effective on the day they graduate into the world of commerce in which, almost to a man, they fully intend to spend their lives. The young graduate who informs Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Beane that to require coat and tie is undemocratic, can expect a most un-Philosophic reply. I doubt, going further, that there is a Princeton undergraduate who would presume to call on Jack Kerouac without coat and tie. If disorderly attire is a genuine symbol of personal independence, then the college generation should stick by their symbol at least a few decorous weeks after the ink is dry on their baccalaureate degrees. If it is not that, then dishevelment is what it is: a blend of affectation and laziness.

The second point for the academic community to think over is the matter of authority. Is it theirs to stipulate a minimal standard of dress? Professor Joseph T. Curtiss of Yale said recently, “Respectful or respectable dressing is a characteristic of adult society. Some people are born gentlemen, other people acquire gentility during life, still others must have it forced on them.” The tendency is to depreciate the beneficence of externally imposed norms of civilized behavior. There are many who, like myself, would, if left alone, permit our standards of personal dress to deteriorate to the level of the downright offensive. Conscientious members of society — and I include here, intending no offense, administrators of our colleges and universities — should not permit us to indulge our disintegrative proclivities. Coat-and-tie is merely a symbol. It could be courtesy; deference; reverence; humility; moderation: and are these not, all, the proper concern of a college administration? Is there a relationship between a faculty’s weakmindedness, and a student body’s disorderliness?


Knock Their Socks Off

July 15, 2009

The below article appeared in Time magazine in 1966.

“The overall effect,” explains Lloyd Chiswick, 27, a Stanford University senior, “is studied but complete nonchalance.” Says a Princeton junior: “The whole thing is wrapped up in coolness, in both senses of the word.” They were talking about the most widespread fad on U.S. campuses, which is not to wear socks—not with sneakers, loafers, sandals or even brogues.

At Harvard, going sockless is to the “preppy-clubby” set what the armless sweatshirt is to the athletic crowd. Northwestern Student Leader Skip Mylenski wouldn’t have thought of attending the homecoming dance at Chicago’s Edgewater Beach Hotel any way but bare-ankled. Columbia University students skip the hose for Manhattan theater dates, and at Berkeley, when Theta Delta Chi threw a party, nearly all of the brothers turned up sockless. Maintains Theta Delt David Greenlee, 20: “When you walk down Telegraph among all the beatniks, and you’re wearing a pullover sweater and Daks and no socks, it shows a relaxed attitude.”

Provocative Hairs:

Nobody knows just where or when the fad first began. Easterners say that it started in the West; students at U.C.L.A., one of the few schools where the fad has not caught on, insist that “it looks like it came from New York.” There is a suspicion that thousands of students have taken it up for no other reason than that their socks are in the laundry bag.

Some now defend the fashion on esthetic grounds. “You have this break between your pants and your shoes,” explains a Los Angeles display artist. “Two textures. Why ruin it by sticking a third texture in between?” Others now give the trend Havelock Ellis overtones, agreeing, as one Californian puts it, that “hairs on the ankle look provocative.” Some girls agree. “It looks sexy,” says Rosalie Netter, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. “You can see the bone structure, like finely chiseled stone,” says Wisconsin Sophomore Karen Knauf.

Cultural Leftover:

If anything could kill the look on campus, of course, it would be the news that adults are doing it too. West German Playboy Gunter Sachs, it was noted, married Brigitte Bardot in Las Vegas last summer with his socks off, and already there are signs of backlash. “Socklessness is a cultural leftover,” fumes one Princetonian. Sock sales are even rising in some areas. Still, as the first snowstorms swirled across the Midwest last week the purists were standing fast. “If I could get a pair of lined desert boots,” said one, thinking onward in Wisconsin, “maybe I could get by all year without socks.”


The Measure of a Man

June 25, 2009

Regular internet sartorial searchers are already well abreast of the explosive trend in men’s bespoke (custom) fashion forums, discussion boards, blogs, and e-mail lists. Gentrystyle.com explains: “[Online custom clothing forum] The London Lounge, and to a lesser extent American sites such as Ask Andy and Style Forum, provide a nonthreatening space in which to demystify the bewildering array of choices and protocol that you face when you visit a good tailor. The London Lounge can teach you how to identify peak and notch lapels, double and single vents, besom and patch pockets, ghillie collars, floating canvas and raglan sleeves.”

tailor

Of course, all of this is important. As previously noted here, taking care in appearance is very important because appearances are often first indicators of deeper characteristics. An attorney with untied shoes might write equally sloppy briefs and motions. A doctor with stains on his cuff might be equally lazy about washing his hands before surgery. And so on. The thinking is: industry, care, attention to detail, and cleanliness, if present within, will be reflected without. The same holds true of their absence.

As also previously noted here, however, the importance of appearance as an indicator is in hinting at deeper values, not as an indicator of appearance itself. Tying your shoes doesn’t make you a good lawyer any more than wearing boots makes you a cowboy, unfortunately, and clean cuffs won’t make you a good surgeon any more than a magnifying glass makes you a detective. Dressing well is fine, but dressing to purposely evoke an image is worthless without also acting in the values and traditions of that image. Absent the actual identity, you’re only wearing a costume.

Bespoke London: Savile Row.

Bespoke London: Savile Row.

 Men used to wear button-down Brooks collars and repp ties with khakis and Alden loafers because it’s what they’d grown up with, and the clothing was a uniform which was, like all uniforms, incidental to their jobs. And like uniforms, their clothing was habitual. For example: an army officer wears a brown shirt because it’s part of his uniform. He may own 10 identical brown shirts, and take one down to wear every morning without a second thought. A civilian who asks his tailor to make him an expensive brown shirt, and takes it down in the morning and obsesses over the buttons, the epaulets, the creases, the medals, and then wears it very self-consciously because he wants to mimic the army officer style… isn’t an army officer.

In Evelyn Waugh’s classic Brideshead Revisited, Charles Ryder’s cousin Jasper gives him some advice on dressing for Oxford. There isn’t much detail… certainly less than can be found daily on the fashion blogs. Commentator Michael Anton explains: “Forty years ago, when a father introduced his tailor to his son, they probably both thought, ‘This is something we do, but let’s not dwell on it, because that would be unseemly’. They’d look at the level of interest on these internet forums as going way beyond what is appropriate.” Clothes are a means (appearance) to an end (respectability), not an end unto themselves.

Here, two competing schools of thought emerge. In the first corner is a disdain for costumes and affectation. For those born to a station which includes a certain look, that look comes without effort. Men from certain backgrounds reach for the Sperry brand boat shoes because it’s what they know, not because an internet discussion board said they should. Those who put in effort to look a certain way must not have come by that look naturally. In the second, competing corner: a great sigh of relief that men think it worthwhile again to be aware of proper dress and try their hand at it, even if the effort requires, well, effort. Surely we can’t be any worse off for more men wearing ties and actually caring about how to knot them, and it beats the hell out of more denim shorts and Bluetooth headsets.


Acquired Taste

June 12, 2009

There was an old tailor shop behind the skating rink at Yale University, in dreary New Haven, Conn., which did most of the sewing for Chipp, a boutique menswear clothier which enjoyed a too-short, cultish heyday in the 1970’s. Paul Winston, whose family ran the original store, has revived the brand as Chipp2 and today operates a store with that name in Manhattan. Below are Eric Konigsberg’s thoughts on the store and its heritage, from yellow journal The New York Times:

Memorial Day has come and gone and summer stretches out languidly before him; now is the time that a certain kind of Northeastern dandy, when in polite company, may safely revel in a certain kind of highly coded casual wear.

So I stopped by the fifth-floor atelier of Paul Winston, the proprietor of Winston Tailors (a k a Chipp 2). Chipp, which is what most people still call it, is a family-owned business at 11 East 44th Street. It has occupied various locations near this same spot in Midtown, between Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue, since it was started by Mr. Winston’s father, Sidney, in 1945.

Mr. Winston recalled his father’s visits to Washington to measure both John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. “My father made everything for President Kennedy — that heavy chalk-stripe suit he was always photographed in, for instance,” Mr. Winston said. “And then with Bobby, my father used to have meetings about his clothing, because on the campaign trail, people kept ripping his clothes off him.”

Of course, that was business wear. What may prove to be Chipp’s lasting contributions to preppy civilization were the elder Mr. Winston’s inventions of patch madras cloth, four-panel trousers, and embroidered corduroys.

“We did pheasants, frogs, fish, all sorts of things,” Paul Winston said. “Not whales. That came later.”

Mr. Winston, who is a slim and ruddy 69, oversees a couple of tailors in his shop and employs two other workrooms in the other boroughs. At the moment, he was most excited about a new cloth he had recently bought in 14 different colors — the bolts were stacked near a wall in shades of teal, seafoam, turquoise, navy, sapphire, sky blue, cream, gold, crimson, coral.

“It’s tussah silk,” he said, proudly. “It’s very rough but it’s pure silk. I looked all over for it and found somebody in India who could make it for me. It will make a terrific sport jacket — informal, for Palm Beach or Palm Springs, or somebody who’s wearing it to his country club.”

He also showed off an array of brightly colored poplinsfor “odd trousers,” possibly the world’s greatest collection of bold Scottish tweed cloth this side of the Firth of Forth, and seersucker fabrics in hues not found in nature.

“But I don’t like to make a seersucker jacket or suit for anybody,” he said. “I’ll do it, but I really shouldn’t. Because of what I have to charge them for the tailoring” — his prices start at $1,400 for a jacket made-to-measure in standard patterns and sizes and up to $2,400 if it is custom-made — “it’s not worth it for something that’s just made of cotton.”

He continued: “It’s like this … even the richest guy in the country wouldn’t pay $20 for a banana. He could afford it, but he wouldn’t do it.”

One of Mr. Winston’s favorites is a bolt of clothprinted with Zodiac-themed variations on the Kama Sutra. “A customer had me make a jacket out of this for his sister’s wedding on Fishers Island some years ago,” he said. “I bought a lot of it and use it as tuxedo linings now. Some of the women in my workrooms refused to do it, so I had to have one guy bring it home to work on.”

Another Chippstaple: conservative-appearing rep ties which, upon closer viewing, turn out to have lewd images or messages (athletic supporters, Santa Claus with his pants down, and the repeated words testiculos tene: capiuntur mens et cor — Latin for, roughly, when you have them in a certain hold, their hearts and minds will follow.

“People associate that with Chuck Colson, but the real origin goes back to President Johnson,” Mr. Winston said.

Most of Mr. Winston’s customers tend to be older gentlemen, he said. “There are very conservative young businessmen today who deny themselves the fun,” he said. “Whoever heard of a black suit? Navy blue or charcoal gray, I understand, but black? Did you know it’s most popular color for a suit now?”

Mr. Winston brought out a dummy-model sport coat made of the raw silk cloth, which he asked the supplier to sew up, to see how it would look. For some reason, the supplier chose to make it in near-fluorescent magenta. “Even I don’t think I know the customer who will wear this,” he said, chuckling.

Perhaps only somebody very old or very cool could possibly get away with wearing such a jacket (Mick Jagger, possibly, or Wayne Maser, the fashion photographer?).

“It has nothing to do with any of that,” Mr. Winston said, dismissing such a notion. “My father, he wore the wildest things his whole life. He was enormous, very overweight. He just really liked to stand out.”


The Ivy Look

June 11, 2009

In February of 1981, Men’s Club magazine published an issue titled “The Ivy Special ’81,” which included a photo essay called “Yale vs. Dartmouth.” In it, the magazine documented classic 1970’s collegiate style at the two schools: Sperry Topsiders, two-button blue blazers, tweed jackets, button-down collars, red pants, L.L. Bean duck boots, and rain slickers. The magazine labelled J.Press Yale’s representative shop, and Orvis Dartmouth’s. A sample of the pictures, below.

Dartmouth fashion 1

Dartmouth fashion 2

Dartmouth fashion 3

Dartmouth fashion 5

Dartmouth fashion 4