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Sprezzatura: The Essentials and anything else you want to know/comment

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by Soph, Oct 3, 2006.

  1. Soph

    Soph Senior member

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    A term coined by Italian statesman Baldesar Castiglione in his Il libro del cortegiano (1528) to describe an ideal of courtly behavior. Castiglione defined sprezzatura as a style of behavior in which every action "conceals art, and presents what is done and said as if it was done without effort and virtually without thought" (Book 1, Chapter 26). Sprezzatura is usually translated as nonchalance.
    Sprezzatura is a contradictory concept, demanding "the ability to show that one is not showing all the effort one obviously put into learning how to show that one is not showing effort" (Berger, 296). Castiglione resolved this paradox of contrived spontaneity by contrasting sprezzatura with affettazione (affectation), which "exceeds certain boundaries of moderation" and must be avoided "in every way possible as though it were some very rough and dangerous reef" (1.27). Affectation draws attention to the effort the courtier makes in maintaining the appearance of taking "no thought in what he is about." Castiglione illustrated the difference between affectation and sprezzatura by contrasting the ungraceful rider who tries "to sit stiff in his saddle (in the Venetian style, as we are wont to say)" with "one who sits his horse as free and easy as if he were on foot."

    How much more pleasing and how much more praised is a gentleman whose profession is arms, and who is modest, speaking little and boasting little, than another who is forever praising himself, swearing and blustering about as if to defy the whole world—which is simply the affectation of wanting to cut a bold figure.

    Castiglione's Cortegiano was rendered obselete by the rise of absolute monarchs in the 17th century, but sprezzatura remained influential to writers on style and civility. 17th Century French literature made reference to grâce, nÃ[​IMG]gligence and nonchalance. Locke's Thoughts on Education (1693) condemned affectation and praised gracefulness, emphasizing the need to keep a child's spirit "easy."

    Ease was incorporated as an equivalent to sprezzatura in the 18th Century formulation of the English gentleman (Burke, 126). Sir Richard Steele's Nestor Ironside persona wrote in the Guardian of the ideal British man: "modest without bashfulness, frank and affable without impertinence, obliging and complaisant without servility" (Guardian #34, 1713). Lord Chesterfield's posthumously published letters emphasized the need to achieve an easy manner and "graceful, noble air" (Burke, 127).

    Esquire's Black Book and SF have posts on the subject.
    It's worth noting, as it implies a graceful, studied look, but with subtle casual elemets as to appear relaxed, masculine yet most importantly not rigid or effete and affected, or prissy and fussy which I can see when people adhere to rules and are always trying to look perfect.

    Nonchalance is the most common term which basically means the same thing
    the trait of remaining calm and seeming not to care; a casual lack of concern
    unconcern, indifference, carefreeness - the trait of being without worry or responsibility. in other words not being overly concerned with your appearance even though you thought it all out before you left the house.

    --Some of it's quite intriguing some not so much, the tie reversal just looks atrocious to me.
     
  2. cuffthis

    cuffthis Senior member

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    Would that be... Flussertura?

    Ouch.
     
  3. Nantucket Red

    Nantucket Red Senior member

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    Why do I get the feeling that nailing down sprezzatura is counterproductive?
     
  4. drax

    drax Well-Known Member

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    Why do I get the feeling that nailing down sprezzatura is counterproductive?

    Yes it is rather! But it got SF talking about it. I should point out that Sprezzatura in BB was not a list. It was was a photoshoot designed to play on (or around with) those ideas. I should know... I styled the shoot and I wrote the copy. And excellent it was too IMHO. Ha ha....

    Point is Sprezzatura is impossible to nail down, especially in a list because that is its nature - its a will-o-the-wisp. Should we therefore avoid it in a book about style?
    But I have personally seen the all of those tricks in action in italy - even the tie in the breast pocket thing - countless times (I would venture that the pocket square is first removed before the tie is added). But I would concede that that the tie in breast pocket thing in particular is close to the fringes of affectation (even when done by italians) rather than studied carelessness.

    The key point is Sprezzatura only works if you have the coglioni to carry it off. Confidence must surely account for 30% of the equation.....

    When all is said and done Sprezzatura or whatever you may call it is the paradox that is the foundation of male style: One must achieve effortlessness; but only through effort.
     
  5. Lucky Strike

    Lucky Strike Senior member

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    [FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]From: http://www.jderickson.com/clothing/sprezzatura.html[/FONT]​
    [FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif] [FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]You have read, perhaps, of sprezzatura in dress. I first read about it in Bruce Boyer's Eminently Suitable. Its origins have been traced to this early 16th century book, a sort of description of and handbook for the social nobility of the Italian Renaissance.[/FONT] [FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]From Book One. [/FONT] [FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif][26] "Therefore, whoever would be a good pupil must not only do things well, but must always make every effort to resemble and, if that be possible, to transform himself into his master. And when he feels that he has made some progress, it is very profitable to observe different men of that profession; and, conducting himself with that good judgment which must always be his guide, go about choosing now this thing from one and that from another. And even as in green meadows the bee flits about among the grasses robbing the flowers, so our Courtier must steal this grace from those who seem to him to have it, taking from each the part that seems most worthy of praise; not doing as a friend of ours whom you all know, who thought he greatly resembled King Ferdinand the Younger of Aragon, but had not tried to imitate him in anything save in the way he had of raising his head and twisting one side of his mouth, which manner the King had contracted through some malady. And there are many such, who think they are doing a great thing if only they can resemble some great man in something; and often they seize upon that which is his only bad point.[/FONT] [FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]"But, having thought many times already about how this grace is acquired (leaving aside those who have it from the stars), I have found quite a universal rule which in this matter seems to me valid above all others, and in all human affairs whether in word or deed: and that is to avoid affectation in every way possible as though it were some very rough and dangerous reef; and (to pronounce a new word perhaps) to practice in all things a certain sprezzatura [nonchalance], so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it. And I believe much grace comes of this: because everyone knows the difficulty of things that are rare and well done; wherefore facility in such things causes that greatest wonder; whereas, on the other hand, to labor and, as we say, drag forth by the hair of the head, shows an extreme want of grace, and causes everything, no matter how great it may be, to be held in little account.[/FONT] [FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]"Therefore we may call that art true art which does not seem to be art; nor must one be more careful of anything than of concealing it, because if it is discovered, this robs a man of all credit and causes him to be held in slight esteem. And I remember having read of certain most excellent orators in ancient times who, among the other things they did, tried to make everyone believe that they had no knowledge whatever of letters; and, dissembling their knowledge, they made their orations appear to be composed in the simplest manner and according to the dictates of nature and truth rather than of effort and art; which fact, had it been known, would have inspired in the minds of the people the fear that they could be duped by it.[/FONT] [FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]"So you see how art, or any intent effort, if it is disclosed, deprives everything of grace. Who among you fails to laugh when our messer Pierpaolo dances after his own fashion, with those capers of his, his legs stiff on tiptoe, never moving his head, as if he were a stick of wood, and all this so studied that he really seems to be counting his steps? What eye is so blind as not to see in this the ungainliness of affectation; and not to see the grace of that cool disinvoltura [ease] (for when it is a matter of bodily movements many call it that) in many of the men and women here present, who seem in words, in laughter, in posture not to care; or seem to be thinking more of everything than of that, so as to cause all who are watching them to believe that they are almost incapable of making a mistake?"[/FONT] [/FONT]​
     
  6. The False Prophet

    The False Prophet Senior member

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    Sprezzatura is wearing your clothes, rather than letting them wear you.

    Sprezzatura is what separates clothes worn by a real person from those on a mannequin or a runway model.

    The list (plus photos), I take it, was not meant to enumerate what exhibiting sprezzatura would entail, but rather to give examples of how, in some contexts, it may manifest.

    If appropriate, a relaxed and stylish man may remove his tie and put it away. Scott Schuman notes Fabio Borrelli (I think) doing this, and it instantly changing the image that he projected.

    As for the rest, pocket squares and whatnot, I think the message is not to be too precise or fastidious.
     
  7. dtmt

    dtmt Senior member

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    After reading that list, it sounds like sprezzatura is Italian for "trying too hard."
     
  8. skalogre

    skalogre Senior member

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    Maybe it has been mentioned already (have not read all posts) but isn't this exercise by sheer definition not what it aspires to? I mean how can you be nonchalant by calculating how to appear nonchalant [​IMG] ?
     
  9. macuser3of5

    macuser3of5 Senior member

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    After reading that list, it sounds like sprezzatura is Italian for "trying too hard."
    Or, "Internet forum creates OCD"
     
  10. kshah

    kshah Senior member

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    After attempting to teach a few friends about clothing, I let them venture on their own, and they just couldn't understand complementing shirts, ties, suits, and shoes, nor how to carry oneself. I think you just have it or you don't.

    A good eye can't be taught. Elegance can't either.

    I once read, spezzataura is defined as, "the art of concealing the art."

    I think things like confidence and drape achieve this.
     
  11. jml90

    jml90 Senior member

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    I don't know it seems kind of overdoing it in the overcoat.

    I ammend this. White linen only anything else is overdoing it.
     
  12. The False Prophet

    The False Prophet Senior member

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    Maybe it has been mentioned already (have not read all posts) but isn't this exercise by sheer definition not what it aspires to? I mean how can you be nonchalant by calculating how to appear nonchalant [​IMG] ?

    As I sorta tried to say in my last post, I don't think the purpose of the article, or this discussion, is to prescribe a list of things to follow, but rather to provide examples to better illustrate what the word and concept means, and perhaps help people get into the mindset.

    (Not directed at anyone in particular) It's all well and good to show how clever we are by saying "you can't study how to look unstudied", but it doesn't add a lot to the discussion....
     
  13. macuser3of5

    macuser3of5 Senior member

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    (Not directed at anyone in particular) It's all well and good to show how clever we are by saying "you can't study how to look unstudied", but it doesn't add a lot to the discussion....
    I think of it as a koan. [​IMG]
     
  14. summej2

    summej2 Senior member

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    Would that be... Flussertura?

    Rough...but true.
     
  15. Christofuh

    Christofuh Senior member

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    Some internal inconsistencies.

    1. Taking tie off and putting in breast pocket- crushing your pocket square.



    [​IMG]
     
  16. whnay.

    whnay. Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    [​IMG]

    Well if it pulls wool like that I'm going to have to start trying it out.
     
  17. neyus

    neyus Senior member

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    I feel that sprezzatura is a certain kind of flair to dress...or a certain x factor. I dont think it should be studied or needs to be. I think it is something that should come naturally. I dont think I display it on occassions, but do it rather subconsciously. I think its about feeling comfortable in your clothes.

    I dont think the list is their to be followed. There are no hard and fast rules to this subject.

    I have noticed, however, that I like it. I do notice certain people exhibiting sprezzatura and I feel drawn towards the look. There is a fair amount of warmth in it and accessibility. Well there is for me.

    Being deliberate about it is definitely stupid and thats not the point.
     

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