Friday, February 18, 2011

How, More Than What

(Part Two of the series "Dressing the Average Guy.")
Chapter 2
There's a technique to dressing well. It has nothing to do with what pattern, fabric, or style you wear. It doesn't have anything to do with what you see on the streets, in the media, or on the fashion runways. It has nothing to do with suits, shoes, hats, or ties. In fact, dressing well has nothing to do with what you wear at all. 

What you wear isn't nearly as important as how you wear it. Our little experiment with which I left you last week, I hope, gave some small insight into that fact. 

In literature and scholarly circles, there is a very old word for a man who realizes this, and turns the wearing of clothes well into an art form. That term is dandy. It is no coincidence, then, that the Internet's primary repository for scholarly information about the art of dressing well is Among all the websites that focus on clothes, is unique -- its focus is the intention behind those clothes. You would do well to tap this wellspring of information in its essays, reviews, insights, and articles; for in some degree lesser or greater, every man that aspires to dress like a grownup, must in some measure understand and apply the philosophy of the dandy to himself.

The word dandy is often used today (quite incorrectly, incidentally,) to describe a person who has a silly, pompous manner and meticulously overdresses in frilly, multicolored or archaic clothes. Actually, that sort of person could more accurately be characterized as a fop, macaroni, or metrosexual. A dandy in the classical, Brummelian sense is quite the opposite: a picture of modern, masculine style who eschews ostentation and ornamentation in favor of cut and fit, and who, in doing so, does not draw undue attention to himself because of his attire. It is in no sense a concept to fear or shy away from.

Perhaps you don't have a spare two or three weeks to pore through's thousands of pages? Oh, very well then...I will, in one word, summarize it all for you. (You can thank me later.)

Insouciance. An awkwardly multi-dypthongic threepenny word that embodies the essence of dressing well. It conveys an impression of effortless elegance, in apparent indifference to one's own appearance. Sounds easy, right? It's not. Many people confuse this with the I-just-rolled-out-of-bed look. It isn't. It is a delicate and precise balancing act, both an art and a science, a mix of anthropology, sociology, and psychology. And, of course, it also just happens to be a great deal of fun.

All the above insouciant factors, and more, must be weighed against each other to achieve a harmonious ideal. Just what that point is, for you, will require some introspection, for they must also be weighed against your own personality -- and this is the demarcation line between dressing, and dressing well. Too strong, and your clothes will wear you. Too weak, and your clothes are completely subsumed by your own personality.  In its perfect balance, what you wear is so much an extension of yourself, who you really are, the clothes become invisible: all that is seen is you.

What is seen, then, achieves its paramount importance, and NOW we reach the point of discussing your attire itself. It's where the tire meets the pavement, where the outworking of all your effort finally meets the eyes of the observer, and we'll talk about that in our next installment.

For now, hop on over to, and get your fill of the insouciant classics, perhaps starting with Pelham's Maxims.  I shall leave you this week with food for thought from HonorĂ© de Balzac, who you can read more about on that site as well.

"Anything that aims at an effect is in bad taste."

"Clothes are the most tremendous modification social man has experienced. They influence all of existence."

"The boor covers himself, the rich man or the fool adorns himself, and the elegant man gets dressed."

"Clothing does not consist so much in clothes, as in a certain manner of wearing them."

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