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Brummell Vs. Classical Style

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by J. Cogburn, Jan 6, 2010.

  1. voxsartoria

    voxsartoria Well-Known Member

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    ... dressing well as a middle finger raised in the face of the masses.

     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2012
  2. sw20

    sw20 Well-Known Member

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    JC, thanks for a thoughtful post

    Suspect that no matter one's tastes in clothes, most high-achieving professionals are conscious of how certain items (perhaps obviously costly or unusual) are perceived, consciously or sub-consciously, by colleagues, clients, etc....every industry, geography and socioeconomic stratum has its own culture and peer pressure (even among codgers)

    I tend to think personal style is inextricably wound up in one's confidence, judgment and creativity....and view it as expressed in one's choice of career (and achievement levels); attire; choice of commuter car (one's riskiest daily activity); choice of daily grub; choice of shelter, etc etc

    But it's often dangerous to generalize from a quick impression of one's clothes, car, dining habits, etc....many guys who are extraordinary in some of these allegedly style/taste-revealing categories are indifferent or downright mockable/sloppy in others....such is complexity of life
     
  3. srivats

    srivats Well-Known Member

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  4. DocHolliday

    DocHolliday Well-Known Member

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    I think here is where each of us has to do some soul searching, deciding what sort of image we wish to present and our motivations for doing so.

    Personally, I have long since accepted that people will notice my taste for the somewhat eccentric. I'm fine with that, but I *don't* want to appear ostentatious. I also don't want to make others uncomfortable by being constantly overdressed. My interest in clothing will draw some attention, certainly, but I want it to be the right kind of attention, or at least a sort of charitable bemusement. I'm not interested peacocking for peacocking's sake, or in trying to impress others with expensive-looking clothes. People recognize that sort of thing, even today, and tend to react to it very negatively. Our motivations are often more transparent than we might think.

    On the other hand, I think it's quite possible to err on the side of bland anonymity. Living in constant fear of attracting attention can be no better than seeking it out. Confidence, coupled with a bit of restraint, carries the day.

    Here's a nice post by Bruce Boyer on A Suitable Wardrobe that touches on the topic.
     
  5. Will

    Will Well-Known Member

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    I recall smoking a cigar on the Kowloon waterfront surrounded by literally hundreds of mainland Chinese who were asking for my autograph as they had never seen someone dressed like me in the flesh. Nonetheless, I would not have drawn a second glance at the Penn Club in Manhattan or the Wolseley in London. Was I well dressed? I believe so. One's native dress has always been correct. The rest is just a matter of self-confidence.
     
  6. srivats

    srivats Well-Known Member

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    For my part, there are days when on dressing up, I shake my head and mutter to myself, "I look so simple, even severe, that I could have arrived at my present station shortly after I embarked on my sartorial journey". But the truth remains, we all have to endure the entire spectrum. In other words, waste a lot of money (and time) to achieve the look like a court jester, then revert to simplicty - after much expense.

    This is very true. After a while of "dressing up" with colors and accesories becomes just to much. Same with shoes too.

    On the other hand, I think it's quite possible to err on the side of bland anonymity. Living in constant fear of attracting attention can be no better than seeking it out. Confidence, coupled with a bit of restraint, carries the day.
    [/url]


    This is exactly what I wanted to say - great input, doc.
     
  7. PNW Guy

    PNW Guy Active Member

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    Bravo Cogburn! One of the most thought provoking threads I have read here in some time. Quite an introspective and sociological conundrum. I myself face this issue on a daily basis. While I appreciate Mr. Brummel's advocation for restraint, he lived in a very different time than we live in today. I believe that if he could see how poorly the masses were dressing today, he would be more allowable to "raising the middle finger" or "turning heads" in order to get back to an appropriate standard of style.

    I believe this is the first thread I have read from beginning to end and hope to continue checking back on occasion. Good job.
     
  8. jdldore

    jdldore Well-Known Member

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    Excellent post, Cogburn. Brings to mind a moment early on in my in-house career, in which I paired a purple check shirt with a solid purple tie (I had not, to that point, worn a suit and tie more than twice a month). One of the company principals popped in, did a double take, and asked, "did we just hire Grape Ape?" I learned a lot from that interaction.
     
  9. BlackMesa

    BlackMesa Active Member

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    Quite interesting, and in and of itself it does pose a conundrum.

    But let me counter with another question: In this day and age, in ones milieu do the tenents of Brummell even matter? And as a corollary, does "Classical Style"?

    How many people here on Style Forum have heard of Brummell before joining?
     
  10. M. Alden

    M. Alden Active Member

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    Mr Cogburn,

    What Beau Brummell actually said was:

    "If John Bull turns to look after you, you are not well-dressed, but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable."

    In 2010, if men who try to dress well botch it up, it's because they wear clothes that are too stiff, too tight or too fashionable. So Brummel actually had a good many things right.

    Brummel, Byron and many of the elegant set of the times were hardly shrinking violets. They wanted clothes that highlighted their rather immense personalities as opposed to distracting attention from same. They absolutely wanted to be seen, remarked and even idolized for "the men they were", not for their clothes.

    It's the old "the man makes the clothes" tenet that never seems to tarnish.

    Cheers

    Michael Alden
    www.dresswithstyle.com
     
  11. FELT

    FELT Well-Known Member

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    Wasn't the term 'dandy' popularly applied to Brummell and his followers, who were dressing in opposition to the be-wigged peacocks of the time and advocating a pared-down simplicity and elegance? I guess it then became established as refering to someone who took great interest in and care over their dress, but then evolved into an association with kind of OTT dressers that Brummell was objecting to.
     
  12. PNW Guy

    PNW Guy Active Member

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    A good point Will. Geography does play a role as well.

    As a side note...I love your blog. I read almost everyday. It has helped me tremendously.
     
  13. Film Noir Buff

    Film Noir Buff Well-Known Member

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    Quite interesting, and in and of itself it does pose a conundrum. But let me counter with another question: In this day and age, in ones milieu do the tenents of Brummell even matter? And as a corollary, does "Classical Style"? How many people here on Style Forum have heard of Brummell before joining?
    I think quite a few have heard the name and knew he stood for clothes but they dont know much about him historically. That quote is repeated far too much and distorted out of all context. He did say "John Bull" which is a very ordinary, middle class person. This is not the sort of person Brummell associated with or cared about. He was known for his clothing and wanted people to notice his clothing. When and if he made that comment he quite probably was being profoundly absurd in order to toy with whomever he was speaking to. Literalists have re-quoted it ever since. Because the drab and subdued is considered standard masculine clothing today it's a little difficult to realize that Brummell caused a sensation by wearing toned down, relatively drab colors back then; when other men in the upper classes wore fancy, colored things. Over time, the Brummellian code became standard so that to be Brummell today, one might need to wear shocking things. It really doesn't matter that much because that quote can no more help a person get dressed than belief in a style formula or that "fashion" is a dirty letter word. Well, it may be a dirty word but only for those with similar minds.
     
  14. BlackMesa

    BlackMesa Active Member

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    Mr Cogburn,

    What Beau Brummell actually said was:

    "If John Bull turns to look after you, you are not well-dressed, but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable."

    In 2010, if men who try to dress well botch it up, it's because they wear clothes that are too stiff, too tight or too fashionable. So Brummel actually had a good many things right.

    Brummel, Byron and many of the elegant set of the times were hardly shrinking violets. They wanted clothes that highlighted their rather immense personalities as opposed to distracting attention from same. They absolutely wanted to be seen, remarked and even idolized for "the men they were", not for their clothes.

    It's the old "the man makes the clothes" tenet that never seems to tarnish.

    Cheers

    Michael Alden
    www.dresswithstyle.com


    In 2010 men who try to dress well (according to classical style guidelines) and botch it up will not be noticed because their "clothes that are too stiff, too tight or too fashionable", rather as J.Cogburn points out, it is because of their dressing in the 'classical style'.

    If Will wore his usual ensemble and wandered around Union Square, he will inevitably draw notice of a few. Exchange his Marinella tie with a shiny metallic Charvet with matching pocket square, the looks he will draw will in general be the same.
     
  15. Brian_I

    Brian_I Well-Known Member

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    5-Star Thread...


    Anything done with class will always be done right. Being a snob is as class-less as being a slob. Dressing well and being aware of your environment takes experience and an eye for detail. Keeping that knowledge with your age group, your social status (or the status you wish to attain) and the company you plan to keep you will be ready for the world.

    Cheers to the OP!
     
  16. CrimProf

    CrimProf Well-Known Member

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    Perhaps Brummell's comment could be best understood as a reaction to the prevailing fashion mode...the Fop.

    Sure, Brummell's clothing would have drawn attention. But for reasons of cut, simplicity, and elegance. Whereas the Fop was about ostentatious display, even to the point of looking (and smelling, with layers of scent) like a caricature of a human. The Fop was a head-turner, insofar as he dressed in a way that screamed for attention. Do the top 5% today dress in a foppish manner--that is to say, ostentatiously? If not, then Brummell's comment won't make much sense.

    Recall also that Brummell moved in aristocratic circles, so he probably cared not a fig about impressing the common sort. I suspect that Brummell's outfit--should a lower class person be able to afford (or steal) it--would have drawn the same reaction from workers in the Regency era as a Brioni suit would from one's co-workers at Walmart. Exactly the reaction one gets by dressing above one's station. Brummell didn't have to worry about that, but most of the rest of us (particularly people who are younger) probably might.

    Anyway, as for me, I dress casually for the most part; however, with items of high quality that don't stand out excessively from what most others wear. I dress for my own pleasure, but also for the person who has an eye to appreciate fine things. That's why I don't wear shirts with ponies on them anymore and why I don't have a Rolex.
     
  17. BlackMesa

    BlackMesa Active Member

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    Keeping that knowledge with your age group, your social status
    Yes, I agree with this.

    (or the status you wish to attain) and the company you plan to keep
    This not so much. Dressing in an aspirational style (say in a heavy tweed suit) if your friends are mainly meat and potato type/jeans would be quite strange.
     
  18. SimonC

    SimonC Well-Known Member

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    I have come across a number of gentlemen recently who have revised my thoughts on style. I have generally passed them in the street, and walking away thought "I wish I had a better opportunity to examine that outfit".

    This seems to occur because it's not sufficient to be outlandish, but adequate to stand out. I'll also say that much of these seems to be about fit and presentation; something that has compelled me to take more care of my clothes, i.e. pressing my trousers more regularly.

    The really surprising aspect is how many were wearing something I would have thought would be 'too much', and yet it was carried off with balance. The best example I can give was a gentleman exiting Hyde Park one morning last week, who was wearing tartan trousers. Too much, one would think, but they were a dark cloth, excellently cut with perfect break, and were toned down by an otherwise conservative coat and shoes.
     
  19. james_timothy

    james_timothy Well-Known Member

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    Recall also that Brummell moved in aristocratic circles, so he probably cared not a fig about impressing the common sort.... Exactly the reaction one gets by dressing above one's station. Brummell didn't have to worry about that...

    If I understand the history, Brummell was always dressing above his station as he was continuously moving in circles above his station.
     
  20. J. Cogburn

    J. Cogburn Well-Known Member

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    Analagous experience: Last summer, I went with some co-workers to a relatively high-end restaraunt in Washington, DC. I was wearing a seersucker jacket, white ducks, white bucks, a powder blue button-down shirt, and a tie that looked something like this. It was "casual Friday," so I thought I could pull off an outfit like that for office-wear. Anyway, the beautiful young blonde hostess saw me come in, stared for a moment with a couple of waitresses by her side, and said, "I'm sorry - I'm sure you hear this all the time, but my God, you are wonderfully dressed!" I was quite happy with that bit of head-turning, but would Mr. Brummell? If she were Jane Bull, perhaps not. But ... I don't believe it.

    I suspect that you are right, Michael. But this too is a point that I've been unsure about. My wife contends that a big personality should have understated clothes because Mr. Big Personality needs no more (metaphorical) shouting about him. While there's something to that, the opposite would not hold. For instance, there is a fellow in my office who dresses like an Alpha-Male, K Street lobbyist "screw you" Washington power lawyer. He is, however, among the mildest, most decent fellows I know. Does a "mild" personality demand compensating clothes? No. If not, then the contention that clothes should tone-down or amp-up one's personality (as necessary) clearly holds no water.

    Incidentally, this doesn't get too far with my wife. She - like her mother - believes that anything that distracts attention from YOU is a bad thing. Hence, any clothes that might prompt particular notice are to be distrusted and treated skeptically.

    .

    My understanding was that Brummell was not a member of the high peerage at all and that he WAS dressing and socializing "above his class" so to speak. But I'm sure you are correct regardless that he was not attempting to impress Mr. Bull ... maybe Lord Bull.

    Oh I don't know. A lot of people seem to - consciously or not - live by this Brummellian rule. I know plenty of people who are happy to dress like everyone else and afraid of putting anything on that might elicit much notice. That might stem from a lack of interest in putting energy into dressing well or a fear of being perceived as "different." I do agree, however, that one can't really live by that quote while dressing particularly well given current sartorial standards.
     

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