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Brummell Vs. Classical Style

post #1 of 120
Thread Starter 
One of the most sacred tenets of classical men’s style is Beau Brummell’s proposition that one should not dress in a manner that attracts much attention. Forums like these where serious dressers come to gather repeat that proposition over and over again as a fundamental standard for classical, tasteful men’s dress. Yet that proposition has always confused me.

While I understand that Brummell’s comment was aimed at the uber-dandy men’s style (think Salvador Dali) that he was to subsequently overthrow, in today’s world – a world in which only 6% of men regularly wear a tie to work, a world in which black shirts and garish metallic patterned ties are commonly found on the relative few that do don the silk, a world in which any suit that cost more than what might be found in one of those ubiquitous Joseph A. Banks sales is considered by most as a dubious extravagance – a man who dresses classically and well will most assuredly draw attention. If you doubt me, go over to Will Boehlke’s excellent blog “A Suitable Wardrobe,” peruse through the photos that Will has posted of himself, and ask yourself whether Will would draw any attention if he were walking down a street in your town. To ask the question is to answer it.

And it might well have been always thus. After all, Beau Brummell sure as hell drew a lot of attention for all of his protestations of intent to the contrary. And … he appeared to enjoy all of that attention to boot.

The irony here is that Brummell’s advice – were it taken strictly and seriously – would end classical men’s style in the present because classical men’s style is something that is no longer the standard … if it ever was. For instance, my mother-in-law is a fine, intelligent, and socially adept woman. She intuitively understands and embraces Brummell’s admonition against drawing undue attention to one’s dress. Hence, if I dare don a bow-tie, consider the possibility of white bucks or spectator shoes, think about a hat that’s not a baseball cap, or overdress in the slightest (say, by wearing a blazer sans tie for a party when no one else will be wearing a jacket), I am tsk-tsk’ed. If everyone wears shorts and tee-shirts to the beach club, then I should too. If everyone is probably going to wear an open-necked button-down shirt to a dinner, then I should too.

In short, Brummell’s admonition is used as a cudgel against dressing well given current sartorial standards. It can also be used as a cudgel against dressing creatively. Were we to take Brummell seriously in the workplace and dare to eschew the dark electric shirts, we would wear nothing but dark blue or dark grey worsted suits, red ties, white shirts, and black shoes. We would all look like John Molloy (author of Dress for Success) or, for want of a better example, George W. Bush.

The only person who seems to have wrestled with these issues at all is Manton in The Suit (an excellent book, by the way, for those who haven’t read it, although not all will agree with the author’s enthusiasm for the drape cut suit and a few other subjective preferences found therein). Manton’s conclusion seems to be that one should “dress-up” and exhibit high style to the greatest extent that any given setting will allow. That is, if I understand him correctly (and he’s welcome to chime in and correct me if he likes if he happens across this thread), he implicitly rejects Brummell’s admonition and embraces dandyism.

My own instinct is to agree with Manton on this although he and I might not agree on what the outer-bound of acceptability might be. But this begs another question. To wit; if dressing well is justified as an outward sign of respect and regard for others, then what are we to do when “dressing well” (as me and Manton might define it) engenders hostility and resentment in others? If more people are likely to be put-off by the seersucker suit and bow-tie in a beach-front community than not, is fine, classical dress an act of aggression … a figurative middle-finger aimed at “the masses”? If my mother-in-law (and others) are going to roll their eyes and harbor suspicions that I am looking down at them by wearing x, then shouldn’t I leave x at home?

I for the most part ignore the Brummellism at issue given these inherent problems. I ask what I want my clothes to say about me and then figure out which clothes to wear to say what I want said. That’s easy when we’re thinking about going to the supermarket but a fairly heavy-duty introspective task when thinking about one’s office wardrobe where the stakes (and the dollars) are higher.

How have you resolved these issues? Have you ever considered them?
post #2 of 120
Brilliant write-up, that one Sir!

Very logical arguments, thought provoking indeed. I imagine no shortage of attention to your thread and I gleefully sit back to observe.
post #3 of 120
Thread Starter 
Thanks Alan.

Cminor, tl dr? Sorry, but I don't understand. What does that mean?
post #4 of 120
Ey Thanks for the link to that blog.
I didn´t know it!

A beer for you!
post #5 of 120
post #6 of 120
Thread Starter 
Hmm ... I don't follow you either, Zon Jr. Sorry, but I am new here and don't understand the code.
post #7 of 120
Quote:
Originally Posted by J. Cogburn View Post
How have you resolved these issues? Have you ever considered them?

One must find a balance.

I first joined SF a year ago and start reading a lot (forum, books and other resources) on dressing for men. And I start wearing clothes that should be considered classy and nice, meaning nice shoes, suit, tie pocket squares...

But then I realized that I look TOO overdressed considering that I am a grad student at a Midwestern technical school (meaning, most people wear jeans, sneakers, hoodies...)

So this year, I fix that by not wearing a suit, or even sport jacket. Shoes, slacks, shirts and a tie underneath a sweater work perfectly fine.
post #8 of 120
Quote:
Originally Posted by J. Cogburn View Post
Hmm ... I don't follow you either, Zon Jr. Sorry, but I am new here and don't understand the code.

Just his generic auto reply....
post #9 of 120
Well-written, J.

To answer your question, yes. I often think about the context in which I wear my clothes and the effects they might have.

I work in the creative department of a high-tech company in Silicon Valley. Suffice it to say, when I abandoned the jeans, I was instantly overdressed. Now that I've taken to wearing a tie (with a v-neck sweater rather than a coat), I'm now the best-dressed...well, that's subjective...the most formally dressed person at the company. Executives included.

I think less about how my wardrobe affects my co-workers, and more about the statement I'm trying to make. We have become a self-absorbed, classless culture of inconsiderate slobs. My resolution for 2010 was to treat it as the Year of the Gentleman in both dress and manner. Rather than dress down to please the herd, I dress up. Lead by example or somesuch.

cheers.
post #10 of 120
Quote:
Originally Posted by cminor View Post
tl dr

"Too long, didn't read."

I thought the write-up was excellent. Thank you.
post #11 of 120
Thread Starter 
Posting to say "I didn't read your post because it was uninteresting to me" seems odd. If I did that with every post around here that I didn't read and wasn't interested in, I wouldn't get much done.

Anyway, regarding the topic, I'm tempted to repair to Alec Baldwin's classic line from 30 Rock when confronted by the tee-shirt brigade.

Liz Lemon: Why are you wearing a tux?

Jack Donaghy: Lemon, it's after six. What am I, a farmer?

Alas, it probably works better on TV.
post #12 of 120
Quote:
Originally Posted by J. Cogburn View Post
Posting to say "I didn't read your post because it was uninteresting to me" seems odd. If I did that with every post around here that I didn't read and wasn't interested in, I wouldn't get much done.

Ignore it. It's just internet DB-ism. Good thread.
post #13 of 120
I agree with Onix. As a student in a very blue collar school surrounded by engineers and programmers my decision to start dressing better initially drew quite a few odd glances. On the other hand, even if my colleagues dress down I feel better dressed well. I don't mind working with programmers in T-shirts or hoodies and after the initial shock of my abandonment of that same style nobody seems to mind what I'm wearing. It was a bit unnerving at first to be asked why I was dressed the way I am but now the only comments I get are complimentary. Also it does not hurt when I have to present research or give a talk and the expected dress is nicer that what is worn around a lab I look comfortable and natural in contrast to those with a tie allergy.
post #14 of 120
Quote:
Originally Posted by J. Cogburn View Post
If you doubt me, go over to Will Boehlke's excellent blog "A Suitable Wardrobe," peruse through the photos that Will has posted of himself, and ask yourself whether Will would draw any attention if he were walking down a street in your town. To ask the question is to answer it.

Will and I live in the same town. I see him walking about now and then. I've run into him at Whole Foods. He's always well-dressed, and is recognized as such; which is not the same as drawing attention.
post #15 of 120
Thread Starter 
If Will is widely recognized as being well dressed, then he by definition draws attention to his dress, does he not?

Brummell said if the clothes are noticed, then a man is poorly dressed. Now, as I said above, Brummell's standard is problematic because, strictly applied, it means that Brummell himself was poorly dressed.

Again, I don't believe that Beau - or Will - were/are poorly dressed. I think the admonition at issue is poorly thought out.
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