On the Utility of Rules for Dress and Fit

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by unbelragazzo, Jul 4, 2012.

  1. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Jewfro Dubiously Honored

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    What follows is my humble opinion, meant to be an observation of one person still near the beginning of his sartorial journey, but I hope having learned some things that may be of use to others. In most of my comments I'm exaggerating the extent of what I see as the "problem" for effect and clarity.

    Many of us come here for inspiration, education, and guidance in our modes of dress. I do think this, on balance, raises the level of sartorial accomplishment and appreciation of the typical SF user. But at times, and I can't plead innocence myself here either, it can results in an almost legalistic vision of dressing, wherein a "fit" must follow a number of rules. Fits not following these rules are not pleasing. Fits following the rules are. I want to suggest that this is a backwards way of thinking about the problem, and stunts development.

    The goal of any fit should be to achieve the effect that is desired by the wearer. This is almost circular ("the goal is to achieve the goal"), but I can't write it in any more specific terms, since desired effects vary significantly. I was tempted to define the goal as "to look good" but this is hardly better than what I have now. But this is all rumination for another post. My main point is this: Rules can help you achieve a desired effect or help you realize what's wrong when you're not achieving the effect you want. But adherence to the rules is NOT an end in an of itself. The only way to figure out if you've got what you want is to look at it and decide. Style is art, not science.

    I think "it just looks bad to me" is an under-appreciated as a completely legitimate response in this forum. It's perfectly reasonable for someone else to ask why, but not having a "why" does not invalidate the impression. This is not a math class where you have to prove every statement. An impression is proof in and of itself. After that, you're just trying to explain the phenomenon. For instance, if someone comments on a fit that the patterns look like a mess together, you cannot prove that they are wrong by explaining that the fit follows all the rules of pattern-matching laid out by Flusser et al., and therefore the fit must be impeccable. If your impression of a fit is at odds with your "analysis" of a fit, or the degree to which it is "SF-approved", trust your impression, not your analysis.

    Again, my point is not that the rules are useless. Far from it. The number of choices you make in putting together a fit are extremely large, especially if we are considering not just the items in your wardrobe, but all the items that could be your wardrobe. Considering every combination of color, pattern, silhouette, styling, and accessorizing may literally be an impossible computational problem. Rules help us pare down this space in order to guide us to where the best choices are likely to be. But writing down a list of rules and never breaking them is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for elegance. The only necessary and sufficient condition for style is style itself. You identify it by looking, not by analyzing.

    Not only do I think this leads to better style, but it is much more satisfying. Perhaps the more OCD among us derive some level of utility from observing that their fit for the day conforms to the checklist handed down from SF elders. The rule-follower is always the discovery of a new rule away from feeling completely distraught about his entire wardrobe. In some ways, this is a higher form of brand-whoring. It does not lead to deeper satisfaction. But a greater appreciation of style, both in oneself and others, awaits those who recognize style as art, not science. This appreciation is more personal, inspirational, and in the end, comforting.

    What do you think?
     


  2. F. Corbera

    F. Corbera Senior member

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    I think that the rate of rules-adherence on StyFo is so low that it is an unlikely culprit in the high frequency of dull, weird, or disoriented looks and opinions here.
     


  3. F. Corbera

    F. Corbera Senior member

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    Though elegance is less an art than a feeling, it is also the result of instinct and habit.

    - Honoré de Balzac
     


  4. DocHolliday

    DocHolliday Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    It seems old-school that there's a discussion of the rules at all. Someone post some orange trou, green shell and beads up in here.
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2012


  5. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Jewfro Dubiously Honored

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    Looks like you're on a Balzac kick recently, FC?

    There are certainly those who need no encouragement in disregarding the rules, but there are also plenty who are slaves to them. I've heard tailors talk about those who take home their jacket/shirt/whatever, post pics on the internet, then come back with a list of alterations to be done, down to the quarter inch. There are also those that go about evaluating a particular combination of items by checking whether it satisfies some checklist of aesthetic principles, rather than just looking at it. If you can't tell that it looks good just by looking at it and liking it, either you or the wearer are lacking in taste.
     


  6. Svenn

    Svenn Senior member

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    Maybe it's the fundamentalist in me but I absolutely believe that there are indeed strict rules for the necessary proportions of the modern suit coat. There are very specific shapes, lines, widths and lengths that factor into what the human eye sees as 'flattering' to the body, which is specifically a strong chest, narrow waist, and broad shoulders. With a fixed form like the suit coat, there's only a limited number of ways to achieve that. It's not an arbitrary matter of taste. Some guy can come in here claiming his skinny lapels and ultra-high buttoning point are his 'style', which is fine, but it is an objective fact that it doesn't flatter his figure in the conventional ideal.
     


  7. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Jewfro Dubiously Honored

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    Being that there exist all different sorts of bodies, it's unlikely that you can move all of them towards one silhouette once the jacket is on. Even fixing body type, I wouldn't say that there's one type of jacket cut that looks best. But really this is beside the point. What I'm really saying is not that anything goes, but rather that rules are there to guide you to what looks good. It's possible that you can get to something that looks good only by following the rules. But rules should not be followed as an end in and of themselves. You shouldn't try to talk yourself into something looking great just because you can't find anything "wrong" with it. I do think this is still relevant to fit, but even more I'm thinking of color and pattern matching.
     


  8. Coburn

    Coburn Senior member

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    +1
    The rules derive from aesthetic standards established in western art since the greeks -- proportion and integration of color and texture.

    '...Plato felt that beautiful objects incorporated proportion, harmony, and unity among their parts. Similarly, in the Metaphysics, Aristotle found that the universal elements of beauty were order, symmetry, and definiteness..."
     


  9. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Jewfro Dubiously Honored

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    What does Aristotle have to say about a spalla camicia vs. a roped shoulder? Or how much shirt cuff should extend past the jacket sleeve?
     


  10. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Jewfro Dubiously Honored

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    And for that matter, why should the entire world dress according to the aesthetic principles of Western art?
     


  11. Tropicalist

    Tropicalist Senior member

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    Aesthetics is a biological, social and geometric construct.

    Wide shoulders and chest, narrow waist, and height are appealing as they represented higher chance of reproductive success, just as female breast, waist and hip ratio was a signal of fecundity. This relates not just to humans but also reproductive success in animals.

    Second, dressing up is a social construct. We dress up to appeal to others, following a collective fiction around what is elegant, attractive or appealing. What else could explain what appear like monstrosities now but were height of style once.. Bell bottoms anybody?

    Thirdly, certain geometric ratios seem to be programmed into nature- fractals and the golden ratio are examples. Our evolution somehow supports liking these proportions.

    So coming back to rules - these are complex interactions of qualia, memes and just animal instincts. We are compelled to follow them. Instincts make basic rules of symmetry and proportion stable over time (broad shoulders, narrow waist, height). Memes drive fashions (skinny lapels), and qualia creates individuality. The issue is that all three tend to be in play at the same time.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2012


  12. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Jewfro Dubiously Honored

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    But how to apply them to dress is not obvious.


    Yes, but there's some variance across cultures in what is considered optimal (varies from .6 to .8 for the ratio you mention).


    That may be part of the reason we dress up - but also to embody and advance our own taste, perhaps then for the approval of others, but we don't generally set out from the beginning thinking about what others will like, any more than a musician who writes a song that represents his own creation, and then hopes that others will appreciate it, and by extension, him.


    I should clarify again what I mean by rules. Clearly it is POSSIBLE to create a system of rules that will guarantee something that "looks good" to you. A very memory-intensive version would just be to categorize every possible outfit as "looking good" or not. The point of rules is to have something that's simpler to remember than that. So remembering "show some cuff" immediately cuts out all the outfits that don't show cuff, so that you don't have to remember for each individual one that they don't look good. In fact you can think about your own "taste", or your own sense of whether something looks good or not, as a system of rules working in the background, in your unconscious mind, developed by evolution, to evaluate the aesthetic quality of what you're looking at. One way to interpret what I'm saying is that you should trust this system of unconscious rules, and not just the conscious rules you have learned like, "when putting two different patterns together, make them of disparate scales".
     


  13. Tropicalist

    Tropicalist Senior member

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    I tend to think in terms of principles not rules - for example - don't let your underwear show!
     


  14. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Jewfro Dubiously Honored

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    Ok, but these rules/principles describe, instead of establish, what we find attractive.
     


  15. Coburn

    Coburn Senior member

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    Great post.
    I'm a bit distracted as I'm reading this while in a meeting discussing big airplanes but, the point that has been made on this forum again and again -- the fashions you describe in point 2 always seem to revert to the mean of the proportions you describe in point 1.
     


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