There are some splendid, thought-provoking and open/honest replies here; I hope the discussion can continue in this vein, because some very interesting tangential topics are being touched upon, many of which I am wholly unqualified to probe. Of course, that will not stop me.: )
Originally Posted by DocHolliday
Originally Posted by Holdfast
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.
I think it depends on the target audience. Within certain circles, I'm sure it was noticed. To the average person on the omnibus, probably not.
Your points are well-taken though.
Originally Posted by Fuuma
While I understand where you're going (you're a psychiatrist or a psychanalyst, right?) I am not sure we have an actuall dissonance. In the end I think the belief that 1) a meritocracy is possible and even more so that 2) we have a meritocracy is so widely disbelieved that it is almost pointless to attribute it to people at large, although some individuals might pretend to hold these as true.
Yes, a psychiatrist. I guess I think that many people rationally disbelieve it, but emotionally believe it, creating a pretty deep sense of disquiet about their role/identity in the world.
Originally Posted by Parker
I totally acknowledge that I'm "just dressing up". I'm not in a suit-wearing profession or social circle, but I do live in a city. Sometimes I'll wear a suit and tie just for its perceived effect on observers. i.e. being the contrarian 'suit' in a group of 'hipsters'. Or even just for personal enjoyment. And though I understand the conventions of good taste (graceful, harmonious and understated), that's precisely why I will sometmes I like to wear an exploding pocket square. I realize this way of dressing is much different that someone who dresses in the tailored tradition all the time. I feel a little like an imposter in this world, but I still enjoy knowing the arcane rules and using (or igonring them) to my own personal effect.
I think this post is closest to my own circumstances, and more importantly, attitude, although I don't execute the results as well as you do. It definitely resonates as an attitude, though.
Originally Posted by Jermyn
Once you no longer have to make an effort, I think, some of the joy is lost.
That's a very thought-provoking statement. Perhaps, but maybe other joys are created. I am not certain.
Originally Posted by Geezer Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
"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 that 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"
This applies to me, with a very occasional "biz cas" Friday.
It may explain why, for example, I am rather more relaxed than this forum about what shoes to wear with a suit, as long as they are black, clean, and of good quality. I also do things that this forum rightly approves of (wear braces, wear a PS often, have my suit pressed when it needs it) that are much more distinctive as sartorial statements to non-SF people than wearing non-oxford shoes. It gets very boring indeed wearing the "job interview outfit" every working day.
As many soldiers will attest, if you have to wear a uniform, the little ways of personalising it - within regulations - can have their attractions, including showing you don't take it that seriously. There is a time (state occasions, big parades) for identical perfection. At other times, there is a natural human impulse to show some individuality.
As a former art historian, I find it useful at times to think of MC clothes in terms of artistic styles. There are classical styles, but also neo-classical - the latter inspired by and emulating the former, but not slavish recreations of what has gone before. There are in-your-face baroque styles, quirky knowing mannerist ones (much sprezz seems mannerist to me), and modernist and post-modernist approaches. Of course it doesn't map across exactly, but it does give you a different frame of reference.
There are specific and distinct cultural reasons why insouciance (which is absolutely the correct word) has a powerful hold on ideas of traditional men's style. Mostly from English, French and Italian cultures, as they were the primary drivers of MC in the early/mid 20th Century (and like most such drivers were then swamped by, reinterpreted by, and absorbed into US culture). A mix of an aristocratic "I am a superior person of independent means and higher sensibillity and do what I like", English "don't look like you are trying too hard, or care too much", individualist posing "I am an artist" and so on. It's sort of Beau Brummell versus Lord Byron, and that duality exists in most of us.
Thank you for this post, and the reassurance that there are places in London which still hew to traditional standards! I also enjoyed the rather apt comparison of sprezz to mannerism.
Originally Posted by Half a loaf Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If you’ll permit a first post from one only recently noticing, and cursing, the lack of quality in modern clothing, I would suggest that the particular form of dress adopted on this forum has an inherent tension stemming from its history and culture that have filtered through to now due to the somewhat glacial pace of ‘gentlemanly fashion’.
Consciously or unconsciously this is a style that has become archaic enough that it stands out, it is a form of ‘peacockery‘ in itself yet the forms and rules of dress were established at a time when to wear a suit was expected. Without this frame of reference there is the problem that this is a conservative form of dress made for a time when what you wore was very much defined by what you did or what social rank you had attained, as well as relatively simple rules, simple options that enabled the majority of men who did not have the time, or interest to dress without the aid of a valet. Now however, these rules are unknown by most so the touches indicating insoucience have to be exaggerated enough to convince the viewer you are not their grandfather, but not so far out that you are seen to have disregarded the rules. I would expect that if this forum had existed in the 1910s it would be full of discussion of minor variations in tie or buttoning or the latest trends that in society would be considered daring. Therefore I suggest you react against the constraints this form of dress has imposed on you through a desire for ‘insouciant dressing’ – at heart you seek to be a peacock because interested in clothes yet the form is conservative because historical. I sense slightly this tension between the good taste and the peacock thread.
An alternative theory – about the time men went to church every Sunday and the poorest labourer had only one formal suit: his ‘Sunday best’ that irritated him and made him fidget and rearrange his starched collar, only the wealthy were used to regularly wearing formal clothes of a good quality and fit. Thus, to show they were of the right class they might ensure they showed comfort and a feeling of being at ease in their armour through little touches of self-confidence and laissez-faire attitude. If not perhaps they would have seemed as though being too obvious, portraying themselves as of a class to which they did not belong. An analogy might be to forms of speech that supposedly reveal class to those in the know – the social climbers ‘pardon?’ as apposed to the more at ease ‘what?’ of the upper-crust. For those interested in clothes one could not step out of rank to a large extent in a sartorial sense unless a) they were very brave, b)unconcerned with reputation, or c) important enough to make and break rules of dress (royal family etc). Little touches of expressionism might be allowed though and perhaps be an inside code, a signal of belonging, and good taste, distinguishing the old money from the new.
Thirdly, the tall poppy syndrome (TPS). As we all aware us English love nothing better than to bring down a man who has overreached himself. Overstepping the line, striving too hard for something, or showing pomposity, are all grounds for a beasting from the press or one’s peers. Displaying an insouciance suggests one does not care, is not bothered, has other things one one’s mind, and allows one to withdraw slightly from above the parapet, to reassure the viewer he is not in the company of a bore or prat (TPS).
Fourthly, the English style and the Italian style have become merged and neither are worn exclusively but they are not complimentary in their philosophy. To grossly over-stereotype, and repeat a traditional cliché, the English style seeks to understate and views anything else to be uncouth; while the Italian seeks to show off, to present in the best light. If the two are mixed one might feel to some extent suppressed wearing the English style, and worried about being in good taste in the Italian.
All of these I’d argue have created a shadow and influence over ‘gentlemanly fashion’ and what is considered in good taste and perhaps create such a mania, but I have naturally over-extended myself in this post so I expect a resounding cry of 'b*llocks' should you reach this far.
Thank you for the post; as it's your first one, you now probably have the highest ratio of content:filler in your posts of anyone here! :)
I agree with a lot of your observations in the earlier paragraphs. Regarding different nationalities, if I may be equally permitted a bit of deliberately cheeky oversimplification/stereotyping, I'd suggest that the best-dressed Italians dress like they want to be a well-dressed Englishman (filtering that look through their own culture, obviously), and many of the better-dressed Americans (Ivy-stylers excepted) and Asians dress like they want to be a better-dressed Italian...
As I said, a cheeky stretch, I know!
Originally Posted by philosophe
The contrast between natural ability/talent and hard work predates Judaism and Christianity. Look, for example, at ancient Greek ethics: Aristotle praises the person who is by nature moderate, generous, courageous, etc. Such a person is born with the right temperament and into the right social context, such that he has the right appetites and moral emotions. Judaism and Christianity praise the individual who strives to overcome temptation. Early rabbinic texts and later Maimonides praise continence and self-control: managing one's desires is praiseworthy. The Christian theology of post-lapsarian temptations goes even further: everyone is always responsible for conquering defective appetites and desires. the monotheists like hard work.
Is this a function of monotheism itself or an occidental individualist attitude? I know little about clothing traditions in the East, but given their historical different attitudes to society and fate, it must surely have a knock-on impact on dress. Intuitively, I would suspect a greater admiration for precision and accuracy of appearance, and less tolerance for individual expression. On the other hand, the whole wabi-sabi thing might count the other way. I'm sure some here probably know about culture and clothes in the East and may be able to tell us.