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Why does the MC tailored aesthetic fetishise the idea of insouciant dressing?

post #1 of 106
Thread Starter 

(a topic inspired by some excellent recent threads & posts, ranging from RJMan's recent post on ASW, Manton's pocket square thread, the peacock thread, and a brief discussion in MC General Chat on the difference between "getting dressed" and "dressing up".)

 

Whether it appears in insanely hyperbolic form as blog-sprezz or in more traditional form as the suggestion that a square should appear carelessly stuffed in a pocket in order to look good, the idea that an otherwise well-dressed man somehow "loses marks" if his evident care in dressing is too obvious is quite pervasive. It wasn't always like this in Western male culture, it still doesn't apply in some of our subcultures, and it certainly isn't globally true.

 

Why is the conceit of appearing artlessly brilliant so pervasive a concept in the modern interpretation of MC clothing?

 

My personal opinion is that it may be a reflection of the high societal regard held for individual genius or flair, and aspirations of the others to mimic those who possess it. In a way, this regard for individual panache unifies both ends of the dressing spectrum on here, from the "tasteful" to the "peacock" (the degree obviously differs!) and also beyond this board into the wider #menswear realm. More unhappily, I suspect it may also reflect subgroup distaste for an up-and-comer/outsider/"foreigner" who tries his best to simply do things correctly but can never fit in because he doesn't understand how to break the rules just right.

 

I would like to suggest that this high regard for insouciance and artless brilliance at dressing can result in a terrible inauthencity of self.

 

There are probably some wonderfully natural (?"stylish") MC-type dressers out there. Mostly, I suspect, they are now old enough to have grown up in a very different era. I don't really think we have any of these people on the forum currently (at least, they don't post pics) but that's not particularly surprising as the very nature of an internet forum on style would probably not attract such dressers, or at least not for long. We have some here who can put together some very nice ensembles following a consciously codified set of principles, but that's obviously a different subset. The point is that I feel it is quite false/inauthentic to seek to look artlessly wonderful. For example, the polite fiction that even a middle-aged man wearing a pocket square in this day & age just threw it in there (as opposed to specifically deciding to wear a square in order to appear well-dressed) is as ridiculous as an unbuckled monkstrap or upturned collar point. There is such a strong purpose/intent behind wearing any smart tailored look in these informal days that it is always "dressing up" rather than "getting dressed", even within the few occupations that still mandate a suit & tie (after all, we all know what the average guy looks like in a suit & tie).

 

If we are indeed all just "dressing up", shouldn't we be honest about that rather than trying to ape a different look? Is there not something "cleaner" about simply acknowledging that we enjoy dressing up? Our era is not one where formal tailored looks dominate and where a slight variation becomes the height of elan. It is an era where to be in a tailored look already marks you out as different - it is a very obvious fashion choice - and everything beyond that is simply a matter of what flavour of different you want. You're already clearly marked out as "someone who enjoys clothes" simply for throwing on a jacket, with all the positive and negative inferences people may make around that. In the eyes of the average person, this is probably as true for Foo as it is for NORE, and as true for FNB as it is for Manton, despite all their obvious differences in actual tailored appearance(/modality?). The highwire act of choosing the correct button or buckle to leave undone, or correct fold of square to use, holds no appeal for almost everyone outside of this forum and its associated subculture. These variations are no longer noticed by society at large, unless taken to astonishing extremes (think prom outfit type garishness, or Pitti-blog level nuttiness) because the basic act of wearing a tie has already done the distinguishing work for you in many places.

 

The one exception I can think of the above is being an employee in a city, profession & firm where a traditional tailored aesthetic still rules the roost. And not just in the fact that there's a suit & tie dress code, but tjat it's an institution with sufficient standards and cultural signficance that a high level of absolutely correct dress is expected. There, the highwire act is restored, and a daredevil puff vs a TV folded square can againbe noticed for what it may once have been. There are precious few such insitutions left, but maybe you can think of some.

 

TL;DR summary? Just read it, you lazy gits! biggrin.gif But I would like to emphasise that I intend no slight to any member or former member and the thread is posted in a spirit of genuine reflection and inquiry, with no "side" or angle to it. I'm interested in hearing what you all think.

post #2 of 106
To answer the question posed in the title, I think MC did, but there's been very little focus on insouciance in WAYW for a good while now. Insouciance has given way to outrageous sprezzatura.

To your point about the impossibility of truly looking "effortless" these days, I think that's true. But, in turn, I think it's important to keep fact that in mind -- just wearing a silk pocket square is more than a bit dandiacal by modern standards, even before you layer other theatrical elements. People get caught up in this stuff and can lose sight of how far out of the mainstream all the SF affectations can be. Gilding the lily and all that.

Personally, I love a little genuine eccentricity in dress. Used to argue its virtue here. But I don't like it when a guy consistently dresses specifically to draw eyeballs. That's self-centered and tiresome, same as the guy who insists on talking about himself all the time.

For me, clothing is no different than anything else -- at a certain point, excess becomes vulgar, vapid and, worst of all, boring.
post #3 of 106
Well, I can only speak for my own personal situation - I'm an academic, which in the United States, sadly, does not really proscribe any form of dress. But happily, it means I am at least allowed to dress as I please, which is in coat and tie, although occasionally the tie is invisible.

As I said in the General Chat thread, if you have only a few occasions where you're even allowed to wear coat and tie, and everybody knows this, then yes, everyone knows you chose that pocket square very purposefully and there's no sense in leaving a button undone here or there to gain any illusion of haphazardness.

But if you always wear coat, tie, and handkerchief, even if it is not required of you, then it is not such a pretense. Wearing these things is not a special occasion for you. Even if you could have easily chosen to wear more "pedestrian" clothing on any given day or indeed all days, you never do. You're not dressing up in this case, you're getting dressed. How else would you get dressed for the day? You can barely fathom it. This allows you to wear coat and tie in comfort, confidence, and nonchalance. As someone who until a year ago always wore coat and tie but had few occasions where it was not ridiculous, having been in school, and for the last year or so has worn coat and tie much more often, I can tell you the transformation, at least in my own attitude about myself while wearing coat and tie, is notable.

More generally, people have a greater admiration for natural talent than hard work. If you play the same piano performance, but for some people first tell them this was an initially unpromising student who through hard work has become very good, and for others tell them this is an exceptionally talented student who through laziness has remained stuck at very good, the second group will rate the performance more highly.

Edit: also, I meant to say, excellent post and thread idea, HF, thanks for posting.
post #4 of 106
I think loaded words like "insouciance" and "sprezzatura" tend to obscure--particularly the latter.

My take is that because most of us have adopted classic men's dress, rather than grown up in the tradition of it, many seek to legitimize their claim to it in various ways. One way is to look as if one isn't "trying hard," in an effort to demonstrate that his manner of dress is organic to him. A lot of this is motivated by snobbery, class sensitivity, self-esteem issues, etc.
post #5 of 106
The protestant ethic and the pretend-meritocracy of market democracies has not managed to erase the (spiritual) feeling that it is better to be chosen (by fate, by god etc) than it is to develop something. We all want to be anointed, merely working for something just doesn't compare to having fate deliver it to you.
post #6 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fuuma View Post

The protestant ethic and the pretend-meritocracy of market democracies has not managed to erase the (spiritual) feeling that it is better to be chosen (by fate, by god etc) than it is to develop something. We all want to be anointed, merely working for something just doesn't compare to having fate deliver it to you being born with it.

Exactly. With a minor correction.
post #7 of 106
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by DocHolliday View Post

Yes, I think MC did, but there's been very little insouciance in WAYW for a good while now. Insouciance has given way to outrageous sprezzatura.

To your point about the impossibility of truly looking "effortless" these days, I think that's true. But, in turn, I think it's important to keep fact that in mind -- just wearing a silk pocket square is more than a bit dandiacal by modern standards, even before you layer other theatrical elements. People get caught up in this stuff and can lose sight of how far out of the mainstream all the SF affectations can be. Gilding the lily and all that.

Personally, I love a little genuine eccentricity in dress. Used to argue its virtue here. But I don't like it when a guy consistently dresses specifically to draw eyeballs. That's self-centered and tiresome, same as the guy who insists on talking about himself all the time.

For me, clothing is no different than anything else -- at a certain point, excess becomes vulgar, vapid and, worst of all, boring.

 

Thanks for the reply, Doc. I feared the thread might just sink completely without trace! It still may, but at least it got your intelligent reply!

 

I'd certainly agree that outrageous sprezzatura looks daft in my eyes. My more bolshy side wonders if this isn't it just a matter of degree, though, and our ability to notice it dependent on our familiarity with the subject?

 

I really wonder whether the average person we meet truly distinguishes between, say, a puffed silk pocket square and an unbuckled monkstrap shoe. I'd love to do a study because I have a sneaking suspicion that both rank pretty far up the scale of "clothes obsessed" and not that far from each other either.

 

Essentially then, all of us already "consistently dress specifically to draw eyeballs" even when we do things that were traditionally acceptable in menswear. The difference between traditionally acceptable and garish is evident to those familiar with traditional standards (the good taste thread is a great example of this in action at the moment), but so few people are culturally aware of these standards that any form of specific care with dress counts of as very unusual behaviour for a man in their eyes. Their eyes, of course, matter far more than those of SF, as those are the people we actually interact with IRL.

 

Now, I'm not arguing against a deployment of taste, even if my own outfits may frequently suggest otherwise!

 

No, what I want to throw out for discussion is whether the idea of insouciant tailored dressing - in whatever guise - has had its day, because its cultural impact is lost on almost everyone we meet. People can't judge it any more, which is why the more extreme styles have emerged. Indeed, a more authentic style would be either a very correct and truly unobtrusive look (no frills but precise; I suppose what some might call UCBD) or accepting that barring going to the extent of Pittifying everything, people can't tell where artless brilliance ends and peacocking leeriness begins.

 

(that last clause, by the way, is as true for much of SF as it is the wider world, and why I think being able to contrast looks in the various categorised wayrn threads that have proliferated has theoretical potential to be useful in seeing the differences but may well just merge into a sea of meh without careful curating)

post #8 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by mafoofan View Post

Exactly. With a minor correction.

Yeah that is what I meant, don't think we disagree. People raised in a Christian culture may be atheists but their thinking is more profoundly religious than they will ever imagine. Nobody wants to be a Maybelline when they could be Jesus...
post #9 of 106
Well put, HF.

I work in a law firm where most lawyers only wear a suit to client meetings. That has made me an office dandy just because a wear a jacket, no gimmicks needed. It allows me to wear a square etc. without anyone raising an eyebrow as that only confirms co-employees impression about me.

There is only a difference in degree between WAYWRN peacocks and the bespoke crowd - just look at how enthusiastically the latter display their fabric choices,pocket configurations etc. in order to gain acceptance and be admired. And to wear a bespoke PoW suit, tussah tie, pocket square, etc. nowadays and appear not paying attention to one's clothes - pretty much impossible.
Edited by Jamesgatz - 8/6/12 at 10:53am
post #10 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fuuma View Post

Yeah that is what I meant, don't think we disagree. People raised in a Christian culture may be atheists but their thinking is more profoundly religious than they will ever imagine. Nobody wants to be a Maybelline...

Yes, this is true. Though, for such people, I think it is more specifically a result of a psychology informed by Judeo-Christian values, not so much anything akin to religion.

We are supposed to hate the existence of class and hate even more any aspirations to class. This may have had origins specifically relating to politically-defined classes in a formal hierarchy, and served a powerful purpose in overturning that sort of over-rigid society, but the participants in that movement and its inheritors (us) have realized just how wonderfully sedating it is to apply similar thinking to anything that makes us feel worse or weak. But underneath it all, we know. We tell ourselves all day: we don't care if we aren't as smart, as pretty, as strong, as wealthy, etc., as others, and we go through the Judeo-Christian gymnastics of rationalizing that such things are actually bad anyway, but we still have that pit in our stomach when we go to sleep. We know, on some level, the only reason we have to rationalize away all the inferiority as a new species of superiority is because we are conscious of the inferiority to begin with.
post #11 of 106
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mafoofan View Post

I think loaded words like "insouciance" and "sprezzatura" tend to obscure--particularly the latter.

My take is that because most of us have adopted classic men's dress, rather than grown up in the tradition of it, many seek to legitimize their claim to it in various ways. One way is to look as if one isn't "trying hard," in an effort to demonstrate that his manner of dress is organic to him. A lot of this is motivated by snobbery, class sensitivity, self-esteem issues, etc.

 

I'm happy to use whatever language (within reason!) you choose to describe these things. I simply picked the words that first came to mind, partly influenced by what I read on other threads/posts recently, though I did try to vary them a little through the post to try to diffuse any language bias. No particular slant/subtext was intended.

 

I agree 100% with what you've posted. My general thoughts would then be, "can that effort result in it actually becoming organic to them, though habit, or will it always be a construct?"

 

If the latter, that strikes me as a very inauthentic way to live, and makes me wonder if others can also feel/see that inauthenticity?

 

Unbelragazzo below essentially argues in favour of "habit" becoming "person" over time. I am not quite so convinced this happens, at least not frequently.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by unbelragazzo View Post

But if you always wear coat, tie, and handkerchief, even if it is not required of you, then it is not such a pretense. Wearing these things is not a special occasion for you. Even if you could have easily chosen to wear more "pedestrian" clothing on any given day or indeed all days, you never do. You're not dressing up in this case, you're getting dressed. How else would you get dressed for the day? You can barely fathom it. This allows you to wear coat and tie in comfort, confidence, and nonchalance. As someone who until a year ago always wore coat and tie but had few occasions where it was not ridiculous, having been in school, and for the last year or so has worn coat and tie much more often, I can tell you the transformation, at least in my own attitude about myself while wearing coat and tie, is notable.

More generally, people have a greater admiration for natural talent than hard work. If you play the same piano performance, but for some people first tell them this was an initially unpromising student who through hard work has become very good, and for others tell them this is an exceptionally talented student who through laziness has remained stuck at very good, the second group will rate the performance more highly.

Edit: also, I meant to say, excellent post and thread idea, HF, thanks for posting.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fuuma View Post

The protestant ethic and the pretend-meritocracy of market democracies has not managed to erase the (spiritual) feeling that it is better to be chosen (by fate, by god etc) than it is to develop something. We all want to be anointed, merely working for something just doesn't compare to having fate deliver it to you.

 

Neatly phrased and accurate.

 

I want to think more about this before replying fully, but for now I'll state that this kind of widespread dissonant belief system grates on me just a little. Perhaps its my job talking, but when I see two contradictory belief structures being held simultaneously, I want to pull at the thread linking them together, to see why they've become woven together and to try to find a "cleaner" system underneath. At the least, I want to make dissonance explicit. That's part of why I started this thread, I suppose, though I wasn't totally conscious of that underlying motivation at the time.

post #12 of 106
H, what Fuuma is describing isn't so much two contradictory belief structures, but the tension between one belief structure and empirical fact (think creationists and the fossil record). For all that we are taught that it is good to be "equal" or that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything, reality frequently demonstrates quite the opposite and our faith is tested. The hunger to be better than others is the empirical fact, not a a competing belief.

As for whether repetitive practice can make something "natural" . . . I don't know, as I have trouble parsing what that really means. But I don't really care to, because I don't think it's an important question. If you are haunted by the desire to appear "natural" in your practices, that itself will always vex your efforts. Under any meaningful definition of "natural" I can think up, trying to will such into place or emulate it is an instant fail. The mentality and resulting character are what impeach--not the clothes or how often they are worn.

Consequently, I don't seek to look natural, insouciant, or express sprezzatura. I try to define for myself what it means to look good, and go that way. Psychological self-deception is still possible along that path, but at least I haven't condemned myself from the start.
post #13 of 106
Also, let me clarify that my comments were just about wearing tailored clothing and looking comfortable and unaffected about it generally, not specific instances of "sprezz" like the unbuckled monk or wayward button-down collar. These I find artificial and contrived methods of looking comfortable in tailored clothing, like buying pre-ripped jeans or jackets that come off the peg brand new with elbow patches.

Maybe it's more of just a feeling than something anyone sees, but that's important too. I don't feel like I'm "dressing up" when I put on coat and tie in the morning. Just feels like I'm getting ready to leave my house.
post #14 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by Holdfast View Post

I really wonder whether the average person we meet truly distinguishes between, say, a puffed silk pocket square and an unbuckled monkstrap shoe. I'd love to do a study because I have a sneaking suspicion that both rank pretty far up the scale of "clothes obsessed" and not that far from each other either.

Essentially then, all of us already "consistently dress specifically to draw eyeballs" even when we do things that were traditionally acceptable in menswear. The difference between traditionally acceptable and garish is evident to those familiar with traditional standards (the good taste thread is a great example of this in action at the moment), but so few people are culturally aware of these standards that any form of specific care with dress counts of as very unusual behaviour for a man in their eyes. Their eyes, of course, matter far more than those of SF, as those are the people we actually interact with IRL.

I don't know that people do distinguish between a puffed pocket square and an unbuckled monkstrap, in that both are an obvious affectation. But folks do notice when both are worn together. Monkstraps are rare enough these days, but leaving your shoes untied or buckles undone just seems insane to the average person. Wear the square and shoes together, with the shoes unbuckled, and you've cubed the dandy factor. Most people are suspicious of that, and, I would argue, for good reason.

While tailored clothing's influence and domain has dwindled greatly, people still recognize and appreciate the general forms. I wore coat and tie to jury duty and my fellow jurors tried to make me the foreman. Which is to say, in the right context, coat and tie still make sense, and a silk square is but a venal sin. The average person may not parse the fine details these days, but I doubt the average person ever did.

Not everyone's lifestyle allows for tailored clothing, but for many of us, it's still perfectly applicable ... within reason. It's all about context and, to some degree, restraint. Personally, I don't care a whit about "insouciance," but I do want to look comfortable in my clothes, and for others to feel comfortable around me.
post #15 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by mafoofan View Post

As for whether repetitive practice can make something "natural" . . . I don't know, as I have trouble parsing what that really means.

Think about the act of tying a tie. Before I started wearing ties regularly, and before SF, whenever I wore a tie I wanted to get it just perfect. It bugged me when it wasn't. This was one of my few opportunities to wear a tie, and so I wanted to be sure and get it right. Now, I wear a tie 3 or 4 times a week. It doesn't take as much effort to get a decent knot, and if it's not absolutely perfect, oh well, I'll be wearing a tie tomorrow too, it's not the end of the world to have it a little bit off one day.

Now, could somebody try very hard to imitate one of my "slightly off" knots that I produce sometimes these days? Sure. I guess it would look the same. I guess it manufactures sprezz. But the odds are very high that they would fuck something else up (not that I don't, but just for the sake of argument), and end up revealing the whole thing to be a complete farce. Then you end up with abominations like this (sorry for posting this twice in two days, but I think it's relevant):

http://ivorytowerstyle.tumblr.com/post/18517016167/howtotalktogirlsatparties-nick-mcclish
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