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.”
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.
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.