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The Things You Think You Know: Myth Busting in Classic Menswear

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by Caustic Man, Jul 29, 2016.

  1. Caustic Man

    Caustic Man Senior member

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    This thread was partly inspired by repeatedly seeing the claim that white linen pocket squares are "formal" and other various claims that make no sense. I will be going over several un-truths that I routinely see within these forums and attempt to provide some common-sense reasons why you should dis-believe them immediately. Discussion is welcome as well as debate if you disagree with my claims.

    First off...

    The white linen pocket square: Frequently seen on SF is the claim that white linen pocket squares are "too formal" for casual sport jackets or blazers. The picture dense book 100 Years of Menswear, by Cally Blackman, is a wonderful source for debunking this myth. Sticking to the early years of formal and informal menswear, starting around 1900, pictures abound of men in formal day and evening wear with no pocket squares at all. Although wearing no pocket square was much more common, the white linen square does appear regularly on formalwear as well. The white linen square, as well as its patterned counterparts, appear much more commonly on suits and casual garments such as Plus Fours, however. Period photographs and illustrations suggest strongly that the white linen square was, and is, appropriate for both formal, informal, and casual wear.

    The photos that follow are from the above mentioned book and show the white linen square used in all formality levels, and attempts to illustrate that dinner jackets (today's formal evening wear, though perhaps not so in the past) were common worn without a visible square at all.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]



    Black shoes are more formal than brown shoes: This isn't repeated quite so often as the claim on white squares, however it is seen often enough to merit inclusion. In this case it is certainly true that all formal shoes are black, however, not all black shoes are formal nor even more formal than some brown shoes. It is perhaps understandable to make this mistake, as black is associated by many with formal evening wear or conservative business dress, which is often mistaken for having some true formality. Antongiavanni (@Manton ) rightly points out that black captoes are an essential business shoe, however he erroneously claims that they are the most "formal" business shoe, when the suit is correctly referred to as informal, or lounge, wear (The Suit, p. 93-94). Earlier in the book he claims that black shoes are appropriate for "grave" occasions (p. 89) and I think this term better describes the black captoes than does the term "formal". But can black shoes be informal, or even casual? Black loafers (whatever one might individually feel about them) enjoy a long history and must be viewed as a casual shoe. The quintessential casual shoe, the plain toe blucher, also commonly comes in black and is wholly inappropriate for wear with a suit of any kind, to say nothing about formalwear, whereas a dark brown captoe oxford may be worn with most common business suits.

    Not grave enough for a suit:

    [​IMG]


    Grave enough for a suit:
    [​IMG]




    A triple patch pocket jacket is more casual than a jacket with only two patch pockets: This one is a fairly obvious case of bad thinking. Generally accepted is the notion that a jacket with patch pockets is a casual garment because of its historical utility in hunting. A common misapprehension is to assume that if two patch pockets makes a jacket casual, then three must make it super casual. There is no historical basis for this assumption that I know of. Just as there is no such thing as a more or less casual shotgun, so either a jacket echoes the casual practicality of outdoors gear or it does not. Adding a third (breast) patch pocket affects casualness not at all. More important in this regard is a concern over fabric which can impart casualness on a jacket even without patch pockets.

    All these jackets are equally casual:

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]




    That's all for now. I might have some more later, as there is a lot of material to draw from.
     


  2. Roycru

    Roycru Senior member

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    Older members might remember that before the internet was invented, none of these silly "myths" existed. Looking at the pre-internet era pictures posted on websites like http://www.voxsartoria.com will confirm this.

    After the internet was invented, silly twits (who probably didn't wear jackets and ties at school or elsewhere when they were younger and who probably didn't have fathers and grandfathers who wore ties and jackets to work and in clubs, hotels, restaurants, and when traveling) made up a gaggle of silly "rules" and spent much of their (obviously rather overabundant) spare time nattering on about these silly "rules" online.

    One popular pre-internet era book was "Dress For Success" (1957) by John T. Molloy. This is not a book of "rules". This is a book about research done to discover what to wear to sell your products to people of various sexes, races, classes, and locations, what to wear in court, and how to tell which jurors to select or avoid, based on what the prospective jurors were wearing.

    Another popular pre-internet era boook was "The Official Preppy Handbook" which was in the humor section in bookstores (as was its second coming, "True Prep"), not in the fashion section in bookstores.

    Unfortunately, some rather tiresome non-preppy upwardly mobile lower middle class types didn't realize that "The Official Preppy Handbook" was a joke book written by one of the least preppy people in America. They were so taken by it that after the internet was invented, they started making up their own silly "rules", which @Caustic Man has now more correctly labeled as "myths".

    One of the bizarre things about these silly twits who have made up all these silly "rules" is that they seldom (if ever) post pictures of themselves in online groups that exist for people to share pictures of what they are wearing with others and that sometimes their nattering on about their silly made up "rules" discourages other people from posting pictures of themselves.
     


  3. Caustic Man

    Caustic Man Senior member

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    You know, there is something about rules for clothing that is so vulgar. By that I mean that it smacks of people who come from backgrounds that need rules because, by god, they didn't grow up naturally with the requisite knowledge. I don't mean this to put anyone down, everyone can learn something they didn't yet know. But when someone propounds rules so vehemently, and abides by them with equal zealotry, claiming that they are a universal truth, it is very "Prole" indeed. An example is orphaned suit jackets. I don't wear them because I don't like the look of it. I think many here would agree. But there is a massive amount of historical evidence to suggest that men were wearing orphaned suit jackets as casual garments at the highest levels of society in the pre-internet age. Indeed, this practice was openly accepted. Yet today it nearly has the force of law that you don't do that, in some circles. Oh well, whatevs.
     


  4. eagleman

    eagleman Senior member

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    Yeah, that damn Al Gore inventing the Internet caused a lot of problems.
     


  5. smittycl

    smittycl Senior member

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    Nothing wrong with loose rules and general guidelines to start with. Same principle as school uniforms or an office dress code. Levels the playing field and establishes a (hopefully) loosely-enforced baseline. Very easy for the sartorially-inclined to break away a little and set their own course. Away from work all bets are then off!

    I agree that the shriekers and self-appointed guardians of fashion are annoying and would prefer that some folks not be too self-righteous.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2016


  6. Caustic Man

    Caustic Man Senior member

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    Yup, I agree with this entirely.

    This thread, of course, isn't about rules, per se. It's about indefensible presumptions. The examples I gave in the OP aren't rules in any sense, just misapprehensions and bad assumptions.
     


  7. smittycl

    smittycl Senior member

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    I'm trying think of something to contribute..gears spinning...
     


  8. Caustic Man

    Caustic Man Senior member

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  9. Thin White Duke

    Thin White Duke Senior member

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    You touched on pet peeve of mine CM, although I think my position is opposite to yours ..

    There's a perceived wide gulf in formality between oxfords and derbies (let's go with the more general definitions of closed vs open lacing), with which I don't agree. Due to foot shape I can't wear oxfords and don't own any. IMO a shined up captoe derby is marginally (it at all) a step down from an Oxford and 95% of the public would either not know the difference or else not care. But here on SF and in other places on the internet it's seen as a huge faux pas to even think of wearing derbies with a suit unless they are heavy brogues with a tweed hunting suit. Bollocks!
     


  10. Caustic Man

    Caustic Man Senior member

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    That's a relatively minor point in the argument I was making. Indeed, for the moment I'll concede it. Regardless, it doesn't affect the argument against black shoes always being more formal than brown shoes.
     


  11. Thin White Duke

    Thin White Duke Senior member

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    No it doesn't affect your point, it's a separate myth!
     


  12. Caustic Man

    Caustic Man Senior member

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    I don't think it really qualifies as a myth either because you can make a legitimate argument that open lacings are a feature that leans on the casual side, and because of that it would be reasonable for someone to prefer not to wear them with suits. If you want you can classify it as personal preference at the very least. However, the issues raised in the OP are objective facts. Your point about a wide gulf is well taken, however there is undeniably a divide. When it comes to the point about white linen PS, patch pockets, and black shoes, there is hardly any argument at all.
     


  13. FlyingMonkey

    FlyingMonkey Senior member

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    Part of the problem here is that 'formal' is a word that is used in at least two rather different ways. There is the term 'formal' indicating dress that is appropriate for a formal gathering, in the terms understood in 'society' - essentially the aristocracy and upper middle classes. In fact, at some Oxbridge colleges, a particular kind of dinner is still termed 'a formal' and the formal wear required is very specific - black dinner suits, black shoes, white bow-ties (and accessories).

    The other is a more general sense of being more 'proper', more 'dressed up', 'smarter' etc. This is how most people understand the term. But the historical influence of the former meaning has a hold, even if vague on the latter. Some of its elements persist in more popular imaginations of 'formality' even if entirely decontextualised.

    However, the black shoe thing has another genealogy too. In the past, the British had a greater tendency to prefer black shoes with navy or grey suits, and this came from the codes of dress of large banking, financial and legal institutions in the City of London. In conservative British sartorial standards, brown shoes are associated with the more broadly middle class - provincial solicitors (small town lawyers) and the like - or a more relaxed environment - at one's country estate, for example. In that British class hierarchy, black Oxford shoes are more 'city' - which is often read as more 'formal'.

    From both true 'formal' and the British-influenced town-country divisions only the 'blackness' somehow got transmitted onwards as somehow more 'proper', more 'formal' etc.

    Vox's famous basics thread was presaged on a certain persistance of this fundamental division between town and country in men's style (and there's of course a strong link between British and New England class divisions and sartorial norms).
     


  14. Caustic Man

    Caustic Man Senior member

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    I use it in only one way.
     


  15. Caustic Man

    Caustic Man Senior member

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    I suppose it might be helpful to illustrate my way of thinking on the issue of formality. To my mind I think you can make a very good argument that there are only 5 levels of formality modes of dress:

    Formal: White tie and morning dress, now includes the dinner jacket.
    Semi-Formal: Stroller (formerly included the dinner jacket).
    Informal: Most business appropriate suits.
    Casual: Casual suits, sport coats, and trousers.
    Leisure: Athletic and streetwear.

    These are independent categories, not points on a gradient. Therefore, nothing can be more or less formal. It is either formal or it is not. Anything more is superfluous and confusing and contributes to the general lack of understanding among the average male. Terms such as 'Smart Casual', 'Formal Chic', 'Business Casual', etc. have no discernible meaning beyond whatever peculiar local standards are applied to it.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2016


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