- Jan 18, 2007
- Reaction score
Never forget that there is a difference between what is aesthetically pleasing, and what is culturally accurate. Both can be done either poorly, well, pleasingly, exceedingly well or garishly so. You may not like a certain shirt and tie combination as an outside observer but if it suits the particular wearer's purpose, what would or indeed should he care? A City lad who wears a bright shirt and a wildly patterned tie is accepted and admired by his coworkers, the only people he may see, and for him that is his stage, his England.
And you, the outside observer, when you react positively or negatively to it, why are you doing so? Is it because you don't like the art of it, is it a judgment based on class, location, audience? Is it a judgment based on your own concept of what you should wear? Have you taken the time to consider what a beautiful outfit it is for his purposes or how it is better to see him at the office in this shirt and tie than say a t-shirt and jeans? Perhaps it excites you that another is well dressed and likes clothes and you suddenly do not feel so alone in a world of shabbily dressed fellows. Perhaps it depends a lot on who you are, how much you are willing to absorb what other cultures do. Perhaps it is a lesson in figuring out that a well dressed person is simply one who takes more pride in themselves even if you don't approve of the color, pattern or combination.
If you were to meet with someone and they wore a color of tie you did not like but they were competent, would it still bother you? Does that say more about you or him? There are so many things you could say about the reactions clothes trigger in people that as Anne Hollander suggests when discussing clothes, language fails because clothes/style have a purely visual language all their own. Indeed the minutest of details of color shade or fabric texture can send such divergent signals to so many different observers that if War is the march of folly, surely fashion is the march of frivolity.
Reconstructing the English is as difficult as piecing together the dinosaurs notwithstanding the fact that while the dinosaurs are long gone the English still walk amongst us. As soon as I get what I think is a handle on something they like to do, I often realize there is an exception, many exceptions. But then I am preoccupied with zoologically categorizing them while they are interested in living their lives.
A successful approach to style resides in treating it like you are a wardrobe for a film. If you needed to dress people for a particular effect, you wouldn't necessarily always choose the best quality or colors for them, you might choose what would have the desired effect on the audience both in the film and watching it. I don't think applying this to your daily life makes one a phony as the hidebound, inflexible might suggest. Let me explain this further. There may be a belief that wearing things which are not you or to get a desired result is a betrayal of one's true self. I don't think that's true for several reasons.
First, anything you wear is worn for a desired effect, thus why cannot it be more expansive than just the few things you first decided defined you? Second, no one is asking anyone to change themselves, just to understand a genre or purpose and choose from amongst the available items. Thus, you are not wearing someone else's style or clothes but rather are making these things a part of yourself. If someone told you to become a commando, you wouldn't wear the same 13 oz suit would you? No. You would wear the commando outfit, further you might choose a beret instead of a woolen cap. Both of these are commando gear, you prefer the beret, and thus you've made a choice that more reflects yourself.
The assumption of thrift for clothes is not advisable for choosing appropriate fabrics for Americans. Pointing to the English as an example is even worse. First, the English wear one suit until it rots off of them and so longevity is a real concern. Culturally, even when they're swimming in loot, the English cannot bring themselves to buy a lot of suits.
The American ideal is to own a lot of suits, and also they don't keep their suits longer than 5 years. Thus the idea that a suit needs to last forever is nonsense and a false economy. Americans like to look up to date and not necessarily like they're wearing the most traditional deepest quality. Often what works for them is the most innovative and expensive fabric which will just last them until they replace their suits. American men respond to style more and women will let them know when they are lagging behind. I suppose all the quality in the world doesn't matter to an American if he isn't envied by his peers or superiors and if the fairer sex do not look kindly upon his choices.
You will find that the American language has limitations. If you meet women at a bar and they invite you to attend brunch the next morning and they say don't wear a suit. They mean don't show up in a 13 oz, old fashioned semi milled suit that makes you look like you're impersonating their father. However a Super 180s Kiton suit with a shirt worn sans tie strikes them more like you are successful, hip and fun. Language has many meanings, if you're going to reject certain principles, at least make the effort to understand the full science of what you're turning your back on rather than pretending it doesn't exist because you're scared to address it or you think it makes you profound.
The English are a bit more secure at approaching their wardrobe like a costume for the film of their life. Americans too generally get the idea that different wardrobe elements give off different signals. One contrast is that the English are more aware of what choices give off which signals for their intended purposes and their intended English audience. Americans have less of a wardrobe road map to work from which is why they rely more heavily on films and ads than do the English for examples of what looks achieve what results or present which image.
Bertie Wooster in the BBC production of Jeeves and Wooster wears medium grey suits and brown shoes in London not because he doesn't know better but because he is better. He is a West End denizen and doesn't have to work, spending his days at the Club and strolling about he is distinct from the City of London crowd.
Back then he would've been a separate creature from the city worker but today the successful Englishman plays many roles and can appear in the city in dark suit and black shoes then at a club in a lighter suit and brown shoes. The items he can wear off hours or outside of the city greatly increase. Suit shades and patterns unthinkable for a business meeting are acceptable for social occasions with no accompanying loss of social prestige. What I am saying is that dandy and city broker are no longer separate people, they can be the same person playing different roles.
The English have a love affair with matching colors, that is why it is easy to find shirts, ties, cufflinks and pocket squares that all pick up the same shades. However, the further up the social ladder or the self assurance scale you go, the less likely the English are to match colors. They like to match colors but they see being caught at matching as a loss of caste, and so the trick is to look sophisticated through buying all the items that match together and then never putting them on within a mile of each other.
I am observing the English sartorial Intelligentsia (SI). SI encompasses people from all backgrounds but it does focus on the most powerful, educated, wealthy, fashionable and urban (or rather urbane). One cannot but admire the clothes designed to impart a sense of prosperity and influence on people other than those who actually possess it. This is a godsend in that I can limit my observations to a set of people. Within that set there will be the average and there will be the more stylish and the less stylish, the better groomed and the lesser groomed. By observing all of these types within a set I can determine an idea of trends in patterns, colors, qualities for clothes.
There is a world of English tastes and then there are what certain English will choose within it. What makes the English fun is that when compared to other developed countries there is a higher ideal of taste and a fixed world of it. It is rather like a Venn diagram. To illustrate one facet of how it all works, consider this example. I was giving my opinions of shirt colors and patterns I wanted to see with an English fabric merchant. I was treated politely but none of my suggestions were followed up on.
It occurred to me at first that the English do not like to copy people. As an American, copying isn't quite as full blown as it is in some developing nations and one very developed one but it isn't as taboo as in England. And it is true the English do not like to copy people but here was a follow up that I had to learn the hard way.
Wearing a shirt made from fabric from this merchant, a couple of people complimented me but asked if they were Pink shirts? Pink is very popular here at the moment and I am sure make very nice English shirts but they cannot compare to the ones I choose and have custom made. I found myself annoyed and it made me more aware at how annoyed a custom shirt customer would be if he saw the same color/pattern on the back of a youngish off the rack fellow. When you factor in how much less the English like to resemble each other, you can see the drive to be different at work. Mine was a perfect example of cretin clashing with culture.
When the English do copy it is only because the item is a universally accepted classic (like the spotted tie) or in such demand that it wouldn't make sense not to copy it. Otherwise the English serve markets, markets that evolve their own languages and styles. . I think probably the entire range of choices could be worn in a pinch by any Englishmen but because they don't have to, each circle develops a relatively distinct look; at least through English eyes.
Consider suits for example. If an Englishman about to run into an important meeting in the city ruined his suit and finds himself in a shop that has only two suits in his size has a choice between a black solid and a navy chalk stripe, he will always choose the navy chalk stripe even if the black solid material and construction is suit is vastly superior to the navy one. However, if the choice is between the black solid suit and a medium grey suit, he would select the black one.