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How formal is an outfit?

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by Cantabrigian, Aug 27, 2013.

  1. YRR92

    YRR92 Well-Known Member

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    It seems to me that the ideal for playing with black tie is like the ideal for drinking champagne. You can get schwasted and embarrass yourself, or you could partake in just enough that you come across as especially charming.
    Note that the last time I drank "champagne," it was actually Frexinet and I fell asleep in a corduroy jacket on a dorm room floor, and the last time I wore black tie, the prom theme was "Memories Never Fade." I reveal this in order to make this a wittily self-aware iGent-ish post, rather than, well...
     
  2. Ivar

    Ivar Well-Known Member

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    It merits mentioning that Vox -- to harp on his "coherent combinations" again -- allowed for dandyfied derivations from the protocol, but only under the assumption (1) that you are an actual dandy (which is about more than donning a loopy outfit), and (2) that you go all in with the flamboyance.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2013
  3. Cantabrigian

    Cantabrigian Well-Known Member

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    You're answering the simpler and less interesting question.

    What you wear for formal and CBD occasions is fairly apparent.

    We're talking here about how you evaluate an outfit when you could otherwise wear shorts and a tshirt.

    On that point, you seem to be in the camp that items have a set or at least largely determined level of formality. I'm not sure I agree (or disagree for that matter) but I'd like to hear more about why you think that.
     
  4. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Well-Known Member

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    There is a difference, but what's playful and what's moronic is a matter of taste. That unbuckled monks and wristicles look stupid (fwiw I agree on these) doesn't mean we have to wear clothing most guaranteed to blend in. For instance, sticking to black tie, I quite like a dinner jacket with a spalla camicia. I like velvet Belgians with satin bows worn with a tux. I think these are not so silly as the earlier examples. But they're also not exactly what you would get from going to brooks or whatever and getting the standard black tie rig that nobody would ever notice.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2013
  5. Cantabrigian

    Cantabrigian Well-Known Member

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    For the record, sock less with anything but driving mocs or boat shoes is dumb. What I want to get into is whether this outfit is formal or casual and, by extension, how you should go about critiquing it--
     
  6. Ivar

    Ivar Well-Known Member

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    I should have been clearer about Vox's terminology. He meant something more like city/formal/public vs. country/informal/private:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20120711...oughts-on-coherent-combinations-for-beginners

    That is to say, what I call "country" is a shorthand for informal/private, as opposed to formal/public. Again, using his terminology.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2013
  7. YRR92

    YRR92 Well-Known Member

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    Even then, I think it's relatively more difficult to put together something if it isn't internally consistent in terms of formality. I generally limit my concern in that area to the materials used. The heavy lifting in terms of "what materials look good together" has already been done.

    To go back to leftofthedial's fit, as far as I can recall the formality in terms of the materials was pretty consistent, with the exception of the square. If he had done the same short pants thing with a Harris tweed jacket and a satin tie, it wouldn't have worked as well. By creating tension with some very untraditional touches inside a traditional rig, he put together something that sends a different message than either pure trad or total edginess. I guess I have a similar ethos, but I'd like to keep people guessing a little more ("Is YRR really square?" vs. "Is YRR really hip?"), partially because I haven't seen a "twist on a classic" I like and partially because I don't know the answer myself.

    My answer to the direct question (is it casual or formal) is "both." It's formal because the traditional elements used are formal. It's casual because the non-traditional elements make it so. To critique it, it makes sense to talk about the formal elements in terms of formality, and to talk about the casual elements in terms of casual attire.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2013
  8. FlyingMonkey

    FlyingMonkey Well-Known Member

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    I think that trying to get a definitive answer to the question in the OP, formal? (yes/no), will not help you judge this outfit (or many others).

    When we dress and when we see what others are wearing we have several kinds of reactions. The first is likely to be a combination of personal prejudices and aesthetics: 'do I like this or not', 'does this look good or not?' The more educated one's eye, the more this judgement veers towards that of pure aesthetics and away from simple prejudice, but there's always a mix. Now, the thing is that many people stop trying to educate their eye at a certain point. So, many on this side of the forum, can spot a roped shoulder half-a-mile away but would be lost when it came to understanding what Yohji Yamamoto's fluid, overzised cuts are supposed to be doing. And vice-versa. You can also make a choice to favour a particular kind of aesthetic, and can even, as a matter of cultural politics and even social control, insist that others favour this too. I would argue that a lot of what goes on here is actually the latter.

    That's when we have to go beyond that initial reaction and think about what standards we should judge a fit against. If it is quite clear that someone is not playing by rules that we play by, or even understand, we have to make an effort to understand what they think they are doing. First of all, are they successful in what they are trying to achieve? This is not just a matter of anything goes, BTW, because people often fail at what are trying to achieve or misunderstand aspects of the fit at which they are aiming. To continue the example from above, just wearing a normal oversize suit for example, does not achieve the same effect as wearing Yohji.

    If we can summise that someone knows what they are doing, then we can start to consider whether they have achieved the result they want. I think it's clear Leftofthedial does and did. Then we can go back to discussing the question of whether it works on other grounds. Formal / informal, city / country - these categories do not really work as markers of what is acceptable when you are dealing with subversions of categories. How successfully is any category subverted? Funnily enough we seem more than happy to accepted certain things that were once subversive ('tweed in the city', anyone?), but not others.

    So I think what Leftofthedial is going for here is a slightly louche look which has something of the 1950s Parisian intellectual but also a nod to contempory notions of hip. The hair, the glasses and the way the cigarette is held (even the fact that there is a cigarette) all speak to this even before we get to the clothes, which are of course all well cut and fitted, except for those trousers, which seem calculated to remove the outfit from traditional CM and place it as something that is at home on the street. It's got a really well-worked combination of tightness (formality if you like) and casualness (or informality), which play off each other.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2013
    1 person likes this.
  9. YRR92

    YRR92 Well-Known Member

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    ^^
    The idea of some forms of subversions vs. others is an interesting way to put it. I suppose (and I am fully aware that this post will use the word "subversion" too much), that "tweed in the city" isn't necessarily internally subversive -- there is no subversion within the rig itself (if you'll grant me a hypothetical "coherent" tweed rig), but the context would have been externally subversive. Leftofthedial's fit is both -- within the rig, he messes with traditional style, yet by dressing in coat and tie in a streetwear context, he's messing with his external context. Does that scan?
     
  10. FlyingMonkey

    FlyingMonkey Well-Known Member

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    Makes sense to me!
     
  11. RDiaz

    RDiaz Well-Known Member

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    I don't have a problem with loafers of any kind and no socks, but anything that is buckled or laced looks just dumb IMHO

    On the Duke's "fun" black tie, I don't think he used such tuxedos for strict black tie events (or did he?), just for more casual dinner, cocktails, etc. He probably knew perfectly when to do it and when not to do it. Someone please enlighten me.

    Personally, if I had to wear a tuxedo (and I doubt that opportunity will ever come, since it is not ceremonial wear in Spain), I would try to get it as correct as possible, but that's because I'm an enthusiast. I have to admit no one takes formal wear seriously anymore. Though if I had to break the rules I'd think twice before wearing no socks, as that is just plain nasty for many people and I could get attention for the wrong reasons.
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2013
  12. MikeDT

    MikeDT Well-Known Member

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    There's worse... he's NOT wearing socks....hardly formal. But then what is formal these days, and does anyone outside of SF really care? As long as he's happy.
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2013
  13. archibaldleach

    archibaldleach Well-Known Member

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    No. I'd put it at Level 4 with the caveat that this look only works if one is wearing loafers. I think that loafers without socks, linen pants, shirt and a relaxed summery odd jacket can work together. Personally I probably only go sockless at Level 5, but I think it's tolerable at Level 4.

    Clarification Edit - It's a Level 5 look that can work with a Level 4 outfit. I should have been more clear.
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2013
  14. archibaldleach

    archibaldleach Well-Known Member

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    It's tough to articulate exactly "why" I think this way re: items having a determined level / range of formality; it just seems intuitive. I may be talking in circles a bit here and feel free to try to drill down on anything further, but let me give some examples of how I'm thinking about this. Level 1 (formalwear) and Level 2 (CBD or otherwise business formal if not fully CBD) are pretty obvious, I agree. Maybe you dress down a worsted solid suit by pairing it with a BD collar shirt (not a fan myself but at least IMO it's not awful) or wear a more casual tie with it but that's about it. The conservative worsted suit with no tie look to me is an instant fail and just looks stupid IMO. Level 1 and Level 2 are pretty boring as I think that formalwear and conservative suits have very limited range.

    Things get more interesting at Level 3 through Level 5 (there is probably a Level 6 too if we go casual enough too). A casual look built around jeans, for example, can be spruced up by a nice pair of loafers, monks or derbys in place of the awful athletic shoes that get worn way too often (oxfords say business formal to me and are jarring to my eyes with jeans). I'm not sure if it makes the look much more formal (I think the denim dominates the formality discussion no matter what you do with it) but it probably gives it a more sophisticated appearance at the very least. Wear jeans with a jacket and tie and it just looks wrong, like the top and bottom half of your body is engaged in some sort of schizophrenic battle. Just like denim dominates the formality discussion, I think the sockless look calls attention to itself and singles out an outfit as casual. In both cases, wearing a tie is a complete syntax fail (the fact that the sockless look in this thread involves double monks makes it that much worse as I really only think the sockless look works with something as effortless as a slip-on shoe, not even going to touch the way too short pants). You have something that is jarring because when one item suggests very casual and the rest of the outfit suggests something much more formal. Try the sockless look on a lazy summer afternoon when you're wearing linen trousers / shirt / summer odd jacket sans tie and it works because jacket sans tie is not so inherently formal as to creating a jarring contrast. I think the key to playing with the formality level of your outfit is to make more subtle changes.

    A good example of a garment with a wide range of use (at least in the U.S.) is the navy blazer and its contrast with other odd jackets. Pair it with black shoes, medium grey trousers, white shirt and a conservative solid tie and it's just a small step down from a suit in terms of formality. Try this with any other odd jacket; it just doesn't work as there is a limit to how formal you can possibly make something like tweed or similar jackets look. Substitute the white shirt for a blue shirt, the grey trousers for tan trousers and adjust the tie accordingly and the navy blazer gets dressed down to the "California Tux." Most other odd jackets can play in this environment now too. Now take off the tie. I think this is the utter limit to how much you can dress down the navy blazer and some other odd jackets. Some tweeds might work with jeans and a dress shirt. I think the navy blazer, which can be stretched reasonably high in terms of formality just looks completely out of place here. A casual odd jacket can still work. Switch out the dress shirt for a t-shirt and you're done with odd jacket land; an odd jacket in this context just looks dumb IMO. I could maybe see a casual odd jacket it with a nice sweater serving in more of an outwerwear function, but that's it. To a lesser extent, maybe a linen odd jacket with something like a polo. I'm not recommending these looks; just saying that's as far as I can see one going without the contrast in formality being too jarring.

    So most casual looks can be spruced up, even if it does not really make them more formal, with a nice pair of shoes that is not a pair of oxfords. Going sockless can make a casual to business casual look a bit more relaxed and casual when done in the summer and with loafers. Some odd jackets can dress up a casual look and most odd jackets can be dressed up or down by adding or subtracting a tie or switching up the trousers. In any event, each garment has their limit to how formal or how casual you can make it. Subtlety is key in adjusting the message a particular garment sends.
     
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  15. Cantabrigian

    Cantabrigian Well-Known Member

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    Interesante. No sabia.

    What's the most formal thing you'd wear for weddings or really swanky parties or state dinners? Dark suit & tie? Or is there like some Spanish native dress / uniform that I've never heard of?
     
  16. RDiaz

    RDiaz Well-Known Member

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    Most (if not all) weddings here are celebrated during daytime, so morning dress would be appropiate. Otherwise, just a dark suit. Swanky parties or state dinners, on the other hand, are not ceremonies, so black tie would be fine I guess... with ceremonial wear I meant it's not appropiate for weddings, baptisms, funerals and the like (and I guess the baptisms and funerals part is not just a Spanish thing [​IMG])
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2013
  17. bourbonbasted

    bourbonbasted Well-Known Member

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    Here's the issue with the current state of sock-less affairs. The sans-socks look (in the context of trousers and jackets) originated in prep and boarding schools. While students couldn't stray from their uniform, they always looked to find subtle ways to rebel against conformity. No socks (when worn with Weejuns and an appropriately cut pair of trousers) are a very tongue-in-cheek nod to a sense of casualness. In a formal setting this acts as more of a "fuck you" than a "look at me."

    The majority of today's sock-less looks (as best as I can tell) were born out of deliberately dumbing down traditional clothes. Since we live in a casual world nowadays, no socks dampens the blow of being "dressed up." Plus, there is the homage to the "fuck you" flare of preppies past. Unfortunately, when you add flood hems and/or 6" leg openings, you completely destroy the spirit of the look. You're left with "look at me." The subtlety (which is what creates the charm) is gone.

    I almost never wear socks. However, I do so as subtly as possible. While those around me will eventually catch onto my bare ankles, I've never put a pair of pants or a pair of shoes on with the intent of drawing attention to my ankles. To me that's asinine. I also only go sans socks with loafers. I'd say 75% of my shoes are loafers. Having grown up never wearing loafers with socks, I simply have been conditioned to never think "socks before shoes." Lastly, I only go sock-less in situations that are appropriate. Living in the South, working in a business casual environment and being a younger guy means that the majority of my situations (professionally and socially) demand a much more casual appearance.

    I agree that the majority of the "sock-less culture" (I feel dirty coining that) today is affected and generally in bad taste. However, when the absence of socks is a subtle nod to a laid back approach to dressing and not a vie for attention, it can be pulled off with a decent degree of charm.
     
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  18. Fuuma

    Fuuma Well-Known Member

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    So intention matters more than results?

    ps: when I think of a sockless I don't think of preppies (didn't know the anecdote you've just relayed), I think of Mediterranean countries or the beach, it's not such a rare gesture that it can be associated with just one thing.
     
  19. bourbonbasted

    bourbonbasted Well-Known Member

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    Intent to the extent that you understand the execution. Trad means of dressing are marked by fuller cuts and wider silhouettes. You wouldn't notice ankles with a quarter break on a 18" leg opening. However when you're wearing a 13" opening and a hem at the ankles, you're intentionally drawing attention.

    The Mediterranean look and feel is pronouncedly casual. Like much of trad, the sock-less look is a borrowed element from European trends. The big difference is that bare ankles, when worn by the Italians, French and Greeks, accompanied more louche fabrics and fits. They were clearly in vacation mode, bearing ankles under airy linens and tropical open-weaves. With the American, "preppy" execution, you were pairing bare ankles with worsted wools and canvas cottons.
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2013
  20. DocHolliday

    DocHolliday Well-Known Member

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    Trad's treacherous territory, as it aims to condense down decades of evolving fashion into a single never-was. When you talk about prep school style, when do you mean?
     

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