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On why we like modernist chairs and houses, but classical clothes.

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by radicaldog, Jan 28, 2013.

  1. mafoofan

    mafoofan Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    I offered an answer to this. Modernism can be understood as a cost-benefit analysis. Function is not merely physical. We don't ditch Corinthian columns because they are completely without function. Sure, we do not need them for structural support and they block both space and light, but they still have a cultural meaning and convey a message. We ditch them because building materials and techniques have progressed so far that it is worthwhile to do so, even sacrificing their cultural, communicative function. The modernist hopes that showing off new materials and technology in the process of optimizing physical functionality will create a new cultural message in place of what columns once conveyed.

    I argue the cost-benefit analysis is not nearly so clear when it comes to clothes. Technology has not provided us with superior enough, cheap enough solutions that make it worthwhile to sacrifice the language of classic menswear. A suit and tie say something very powerfully. Alternatives created with more modern technology do not offer enough superiority in physical function (if any) for us to invest in a new language.
     
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  2. YRR92

    YRR92 Senior member

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    I gotta agree -- anybody who thinks overalls are more functional than a suit hasn't worn very many overalls.

    If you ask me, I think quite a bit of the connection between modernist furniture and classic menswear has to do with SkinnyGoomba's point -- they are, after all, contemporaries. The two aesthetics, after all, worked together. I mean, if you look at post-Renaissance European luxury goods, there's an aesthetic commonality with the whole powdered-wig knee breeches silk brocade business. Similarly, the Modernist period I think of when we talk about furniture and decorative objects (the late '20s through to let's say the late '60s) also coincides with the era where most men wore coat and tie.

    Admittedly, wearing "classic menswear" wasn't a true aesthetic choice for those men, since it was the default, but I think there's some significance in the fact that the people designing most of the furniture we look at as "modern" were dressing within broadly the same aesthetic as we are.

    Actually, it struck me today that the more I learn about art history, the better I become at dressing. That may be coincidental.
     
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  3. Lovelace

    Lovelace Senior member

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    Consider where overalls are worn.

    Try working on a piece of machinery in a 3 piece suit.
     
  4. mafoofan

    mafoofan Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Overalls do offer some functional superiority over a suit, though. They are much easier to put on and exponentially cheaper to make.

    But that's a side point. I am just emphasizing that one must be careful of defining function too narrowly in this sort of analysis. The reason why overalls shouldn't replace suits is not because overalls are without any physical or material advantage, but because they do not function better in the net. Like I said in my post above, a suit conveys a powerful cultural message. That is part of its functional value.
     
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  5. YRR92

    YRR92 Senior member

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    Obviously, but I assumed Sander was referring to day-to-day wear, where I'd much rather be wearing something with a separate shirt, trousers, and jacket.
     
  6. mcbrown

    mcbrown Senior member

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    Well, let's not overstate things. "Classical" men's clothing is not that old, and "modernist" design (as it may be popularly understood) is not that young. Certainly there was a not insignificant period of overlap in the evolution of each. There is no inherent contradiction here.

    Even if there is an apparent contradiction, so what? For most of us there is no absolutism in aesthetic preferences. I like antique furniture at my 1800's farm house, and I like more modern furniture at my 1960's apartment. There is no such thing as my "true" aesthetic preference - context matters.

    Edit: I see SkinnyGoomba beat me to the punch on the age thing.
     
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  7. mafoofan

    mafoofan Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    The age of each movement is irrelevant. Regardless of age, there appears to be dissonance between their fundamental principles. It's a conceptual issue, not a chronological one. That's what we should be debating. On the surface, one appears to be about function over form, while the other appears to be about form over function.

    In truth, they are both about function over form--when you define function as broadly as you should.
     
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  8. Lovelace

    Lovelace Senior member

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    Well, Corinthian columns were originally used for structural support or else how would you have supported the entablature?

    I posted a picture earlier on of the interior of a church designed by Pugin. Not minimalist is it.?

    Pugin believed in architectural honesty., that the design of a building should be based on its purpose. Adherence to one corner of the Vetruvian triad.
     
  9. mcbrown

    mcbrown Senior member

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    I agree with this. I don't actually see what there is to "debate" here. I see no conflict to be resolved.
     
  10. mafoofan

    mafoofan Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    I'm not sure what point you're making.

    Yes, columns were once necessary for structural support. But we have continued to use them for a long time since. Modernists oppose them because they have outlived their cumulative, functional value to us--not because they have absolutely zero value.
     
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  11. Lovelace

    Lovelace Senior member

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    It was originally done though. It you search the internet you'll easily find picture of men stood in workshops, stood at machine tools wearing suits and hats.

    I have pictures in my office of gangs of Victorian bricklayers working on railway viaducts and all to a man wearing coke hats!

    They look better than 90% of the WAYWT posters. :)

    Overalls are better, because they are safer (less loose clothing) easier to clean, less expensive to make and so on.
     
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  12. YRR92

    YRR92 Senior member

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    I reckon I agree with you, if I'm reading you properly. You're saying that classic menswear does, in fact, put function over form because of its social purpose and ability to communicate, right?

    Two questions:

    A) I'm willing to be you have a strongly-defined idea of what that social purpose is. Do you mind laying it out for me, or directing me to a place where you've done so?

    B) I think a lot of the percieved dissonance is due to modernism rejecting extraneous / vestigial details, while classic menswear embraces these to an extent, and the water is quite muddied with regards to what is and isn't an "extraneous" detail. The example that comes to mind are patch pockets -- simpler to construct (I assume) than besom or flap pockets, but they use more material and are arguably less clean-lined. I may be barking up the wrong tree there, though. Does the main idea of that scan to you, though?
     
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  13. Lovelace

    Lovelace Senior member

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    ...
     
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  14. Lovelace

    Lovelace Senior member

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    Don't worry, I'm just rambling a bit.

    I posted the Pugin picture because minimalism is sometimes thought of as a synonym for modernism. Not so. Art Deco is modernist, inspired by the machine age and it is decorative (hence its name).

    Louis 'Form follows function' Sullivan was known to embellish a bit too.
     
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  15. mafoofan

    mafoofan Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Sure, here is a simple example: when a man wears a suit, he is conveying that he is doing work that relies on decision-making over physical labor. You might even go so far as to say he is conveying leadership, participation in the establishment, etc. And then, within the suit-wearing idiom, he is armed to convey all sorts of messages because the forms and components of a suit-based outfit are so highly-developed. Wearing a white shirt is more formal than wearing a blue one. Wearing a pocket square indicates that not only is he tolerating the idiom, but that he embraces it and enjoys it. The color of his suit matters too. Grey and blue convey a more business-like demeanor while browns and tans are more casual. The list goes on.

    So, when you scrap the suit, you aren't just scrapping the message that wearing a suit conveys. You are scrapping all the communicative possibilities that it allows as well. The way we wear a suit is part of the classic menswear "language" that has developed over decades and centuries.

    It's like learning French in America. Learning and speaking French conveys a certain message--it conveys an interest in Western culture, an interest in history, etc. It can also convey snobbery. Yet, regardless of what adopting the language in and of itself conveys, once you are using the language, you are armed to say so many other, more nuanced and expressively unique things because French is so highly refined and developed.


    Modernism is not, strictly speaking, minimalism. In fact, I view minimalism as a sort of intellectually bankrupt movement. It does not add to any analysis of what's good or bad.

    Modernism is a philosophy, not merely an aesthetic language. You cannot know if a building is a good modernist building unless you understand how it works. What it looks like is not enough. The same is true when applying modernist thought to clothing. The fact that something can be called "minimalist" or not "minimalist" by virtue of its appearance says nothing of its modernist value. Modernism is about accomplishing what is better, what is true. So it must always be pursued in light of what we contemplate "better" to mean.

    In the language of classic menswear, patch pockets have a communicative function. They tell me a jacket is more casual than it would be with besom pockets. Removing all pockets might make the jacket more "minimalist," but not necessarily more modern, as you are sacrificing value without a achieving a clear net benefit.
     
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  16. mafoofan

    mafoofan Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Y., a living example of what I mean.

    Cantabrigian and I disagree on all sorts of things, but we are both reasonably familiar with the language of classic menswear. Our understanding of it heavily overlaps. Hence we are able to speak to each other through our choices. In this case, we both know that more rows of buttons is more militaristic than fewer.
     
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  17. mcbrown

    mcbrown Senior member

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    Minor pet peeve: "Militaristic" pertains to an ideology of militarism. I believe the word you are looking for is "martial".
     
  18. recondite

    recondite Senior member

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    All art is a political statement or an expression of the world view of the artist.

    Therefore, the collecting and display of art objects is also a political act demonstrating a fully informed or less than fully informed support for the original political statement of the original artist.

    Clothing can be purely functional, in the case of overalls, where form follows function. This is a modern aesthetic.

    Clothing can be purely artistic and hence whimsical. Think Louis XIV and pure politics.

    The same can be said for furnishings and architecture.

    This is why there might appear to be a dichotomy between the design of clothing and the home and furnishings of a particular person.

    One might chose their furniture based purely on its functional attributes and their clothing based purely upon its artistic [political] merits, unless they hold the world view of Loos, where embellishment is a revelation of a primitive world view.

    The original premise might then be the opposite view, that SF posters might chose more conventional clothing with a preference towards a function aesthetic with less emphasis on artistic merit while choosing their homes and furnishings using the opposite philosophy where the political [artistic] nature is more prominent in the aesthetic.

    Could the selection of clothing and furnishings follow one aesthetic where there is a great emphasis on function with some artistic merit, that would result in the selection of both classical mens' wear and modern furnishings?

    Probably so. And I agree with the poster above that this is quite likely due to the contemporaneous parallel development of "classic" mens' wear and "modern" architecture and furnishings; i.e., despite their naming convention, they share the same aesthetic.
     
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  19. Gdot

    Gdot Senior member

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    Interesting topic.

    However, I contend that once you scrape away all of the potential reasons why there is currently a popular trend towards modernist design in architecture and interiors (including the current skinny suit craze which is firmly founded in the period of modernisms ultimate flowering) is simply this: Fashions come and fashions go.
     
  20. mafoofan

    mafoofan Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    You can view modernism as a philosophy, or as an artistic movement privy to coming and going. Under the former, you must apply an analysis to determine whether a thing is good modern design. It isn't enough just to identify what trend inspired it when.
     

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