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

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

  1. 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.
     


  2. 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?
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2013


  3. Lovelace

    Lovelace Senior member

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    ...
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2013


  4. 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.
     


  5. mafoofan

    mafoofan THE FOO 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.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2013


  6. mafoofan

    mafoofan THE FOO 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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  7. 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".
     


  8. 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.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2013


  9. 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.
     


  10. mafoofan

    mafoofan THE FOO 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.
     


  11. Sander

    Sander Senior member

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    This was just an example, probably a badly chosen one. I think the point was clear though; one can easily imagine clothes that are more 'functional' (in the narrow definition of the term) than a suit.


    There still is the question why we abandoned the old language of architecture but not the language of clothes. Yes, obviously they work differently, so a side-by-side comparison is not really an option; but still I think there are enough similarities to warrant closer inspection. What makes the meaning traditional dress conveys so much stronger than the meaning traditional architecture conveys?
     


  12. LA Guy

    LA Guy Opposite Santa Staff Member Admin Moderator

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    I would argue that the central hypothesis of the OP is incorrect.
    We don't "dump old norms and their communicative value." It's just that the language has evolved, absorbed the lexicon of other clothing traditions, and become much richer than it once was. I'm not even sure if you could separate out the "old language", but if you did, you'd find yourself with a poverty of words.
     


  13. The Thin Man

    The Thin Man Senior member

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    I think that premodern buildings are more beautiful than modern buildings. However, the vast economic advantages of modern construction render questions of aesthetics moot.

    If we ever live in a world where energy is expensive again, my guess is that elite standards of beauty will revert to appreciate premodern forms.
     


  14. Septimus

    Septimus Senior member

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    Great topic!

    I find it odd that anyone here is contending that simply because (some) modernists put form before function that it would ever be possible to have a skyscraper or suit that was purely functional and not at all formal/decorative/culturally-loaded. Obviously, every piece of clothing has signifying/cultural value and communicates something, including overalls. And even the most modernist of buildings is doing a lot of signifying work,including declaring "look how modern I am."

    I think there is a lot to be said for the point that modernism in art and (what we call) classicism in menswear are rough contemporaries. The contemporary ("classic") suit is essentially from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. (Beau Brummel--credited with the first modern suit--was from the first half of the nineteenth, but his "suits" did not look much like the ones we wear today.) Look at (good) period films: details aside, the suits from the turn of the century are recognizable and even wearable (think Downton Abbey), whereas those from earlier in the 19th century (think Pride and Prejudice) would clearly be considered costume now.

    Which leads me to my hypothesis: the impetus between much modernist art - to be "new," to be "clean," to be "refined" - is much the same as that behind "classic" menswear. The "classic" suit is already a very stripped-down, sleek version of what came before. It exudes the modernist ideal, at least in comparison to what came before. And, like modern art/architecture/literature, it too now looks (to some) old-fashioned.
     


  15. Ich_Dien

    Ich_Dien Senior member

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    Artwork is a collective action, not purely resembling the weltanschauung of the artist. There was for the vast majority of artistic history always a client, who asked for the work, paid for it, and reckoned on using it in some way or other afterward. The idea that this client was or is today benevolent is false. The second party is always an active member in this dynamic process and ultimately the artwork was designed for his benefit - not the artist's. It is only with Romanticism that the idea the artist should be in control gains any credence, indeed the notion of the "artist" is a relatively modern figure. It is too blinkered to see artwork as purely ideological from the basis of the artist.

    However, your second point here is certainly interesting when it comes to the discussion. Like before in this thread I have said it is too simplistic to discuss clothing from an art historical theoretical perspective and it should be considered more so from an anthropological/sociological/art historical viewpoint with the development of style largely based on the theory of iconography and semiotics. To borrow from Saussure - clothing can be analysed from a semiotic viewpoint as signifier and signified. Yet, theories on art collecting and patronage in the history of art do certainly have relevance in a more modern era as ultimately in this transitional period of classical menswear the market (or client) is deciding the styles not the artist and could lead to an interesting note to the discussion;

    Like art collecting, commissioning bespoke clothing is the desire to acquire culture, however seen as this process is a largely ostentatious and lucrative activity many simply wish to express their love of "art/clothing" rather than the fact of ownership (Sartre - Bourgeois "I am what I have"). Like art collectors, we can find many passionate clothing fans who feel the need to explain their choices in cultural or pseudo cultural terms - the patrons see themselves and others in terms of taste - and from this gain a sense accomplishment at what they have "created". The triumphant capitalist bourgeoisie remains fascinated by the symbols of the defunct aristocracy or those previously in power, and such classical menswear fills a big void here, however unlike the largely unproductive expenditure on luxury items by the old aristocracy for the new bourgeoisie it is an investment in social prestige - and we're back to the iconology entailed - a visible sign of social rank. Much like art collections, the proper bourgeois buys nothing in clothing that is not "as it should be", the strict adherence to classical menswear styles is reflective on such taste.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2013


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