Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Hats of Summer

Chapter 20
It's summer, and you need a hat. Yes, you do. The blazing rays of our celestial nuclear furnace are beating down upon you, and you need to shield yourself. "I don't like hats," you might object. "They're hot, they make my head sweat, I'm not outside that much, I'm better in summer without one, thank you very much," etc. Balderdashery -- stop whining and get thee to a haberdashery!

You might be thinking of a baseball cap. Not the best choice for summer headgear: it sits tight to your scalp, absorbs heat and transfers it to your head; and the bill, while keeping some sun out of your eyes, will do nothing for your ears and back of your neck, which will be sizzling like crispy strips o' bacon in short order.

For torrid summer heat, nothing beats a real hat. You don't need to lay down loads of oof for a suitable one either; your local Chinese-Clothing-Import-Big-Box-Mart will have a cheap selection, at least one of which should be in a suitable summer style. You get what you pay for, of course, so you'd best treat it like a seasonal disposable; unless you shell out hundreds for the high-end stuff, which you can wear for decades.

Regular hats, whether of felt, fur, tweed, or cloth, are usually matched to your jacket to a greater or lesser degree: summer hats are by nature a more casual breed, that can be worn more as an afterthought accessory which matches everything. Whilst a felt fedora or tweed trilby looks a bit odd with shirtsleeves, a summer hat doesn't look out of place with a polo shirt and Bermuda shorts, making it perfect for, well, summer.

So what makes a good summer hat? A light color is essential, to reflect radiant energy and keep your noggin from broiling. A brim, all the way around, to keep the UV rays off your ears and neck. A high crown that sits a bit off the top of your head, to prevent conduction heating. And a slightly loose fit, to prevent undue sweating from contact with a too-tight sweatband.

The best material is, and always has been, straw; being lightweight, light in color, and of a loose enough weave to permit a little airflow through the crown. Cotton is a good compromise material, as is thin felt; the tradeoff is durability and waterproofity for lightness and airflow.

Most people think straw hats are "Panama hats." While all Panamas are straw, not all straw hats are Panama hats! A real Panama hat must be hand-woven in Ecuador from Jipijapa palm straw. They're made in a variety of styles, but the most iconic is the Optimo Panama.

You can tell an Optimo by its open crown
with characteristic ridge down the center.
And as with everything, the style of your hat is of no small importance. The best styles of summer hat are those which mimic real hats: most notably the fedora and homburg.
"Toquilla" by Monterrey, a true Panama in
the classic fedora shape.
"Eldorado" by Dobbs, with the center crease and
turned-up brim of the more formal Homburg.
Trilbys and stingy-brim styles are more for fashion than function: their brims are too narrow to be of any practical use, and make poor summer hats.

The Stetson "Mercer" trilby, for example,  
is too thin of brim to provide any real shade.
At the other extreme, unless you are a gaucho, stay away from any version of sombrero.

The first extreme: a resounding No.

The other extreme, "Charlie" porkpie by Bailey:
fashionable enough, but you won't look like much
of a hepcat with burned ears.
Those in the American West, where there is a legitimate precedent for the wearing of cowboy hats, can wear them in a summer style. Those that merely want to emulate the working Western hat, (and there are many,) can do so with a summer fedora that has a less dramatic Western-style brim and crown than the real article.
The Colorado Straw is a good cowboy-style
treatment without going over the top.
Cloth or canvas bucket hats, or fishing hats and their ilk, are too casual for public use. Use them for fishing, gardening, or at the poolside, but don't wear them "out." All summer hats are not created equal: although they are all casual, there are those you can wear out to dinner, and those you can't.

Make no mistake, the Canadian "Airflo" by Tilley is one
phenomenal fishing hat. Just don't wear it in town.
Merely wearing a hat to keep the sun off isn't enough, however. Admission into the World of the Hatted comes with some ground rules. The cap-wearing masses largely ignore these rules, and as a result the rules are quickly becoming forgotten. Learn them, and you can add that extra, subtle dash of panache to your grown-up sartorial arsenal. The rules seem complicated to the uninitiated, but next week I'll break all the hat-rules down to their essentials...and it's not as complicated as you think!

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Tony Tygers

Chapter 19
Attendees to the Tony Awards are usually better dressed, on average, than at other Hollywoody awards presentations. One side would say, it is because The Real Theatre is True Performance Art with thousands of years of history and tradition, which naturally would demand more exactitude of formality. The other side would say, it is because theater is a passé art form, a creaking relic, a reminder of pre-electric entertainment when the footlights were made of hollowed-out T.rex skulls filled with burning whale oil.

The truth, of course, is somewhere in the middle. The theater is old school. Why else would an otherwise sane human pay extortionistic fees to see tiny people shout their lines at each other on a stage -- when motion pictures are superior at delivering stronger emotional punches, more subtlety of acting, consistent performances, larger budgets, and more realism? Or for that matter, watching your high-def flatscreen TV in the comfort of your own living room? The more the Classical Stage-Crafters tried to convince us on Monday that the theater is, in fact, relevant, the more aware we became of the yawning artistic chasm between it and All Other Forms of Media. And the shrill cries of "Relevancy! Relevancy!" were in full voice at the awards... which, ironically, was broadcast to you on your high-def flatscreen TV in the comfort of your own living room.

But enough of that. You know the drill here: we will patently ignore what the pretty arm-candy was wearing, and cast a critical eye on the dudes' duds. I've chosen ten fellows as a representation of those in attendance, so let's dissect what framed these bright-burning tygers' fearful symmetry. To make sure all the players start on a level field, the pictures are from the red-carpet photo-ops before the show, so everyone should technically be at their best, just as they arrive to the event.

I'll look at several things. Foremost, the overall impression and silhouette. Then, using a low-contrast, lightened version of the image, I'll pick out some details of cut and design, and how they differ from the Classic Tuxedo form. I'll pass judgement as a Hit or a Miss, point out their glaring errors, and how they might have improved themselves.

Let's start out with Alec Baldwin. The burgundy long tie stands out immediately. This flummoxes me, because most everything else is so right. The shirt collar is a good shape for his face, and looks nice and crisp. The tuxedo is absolutely classic, a black single-button with matte silk lapels. The wool is nice and dark and doesn't reflect the harsh lights. Now let's turn up the contrast.

Notice some things here. The tie is tied with a four-in-hand, a very casual, asymmetrical knot that is inappropriate for a black-tie event. Notice also that it's too short for the jacket's crossover, and is trying to escape above the button. Big Miss there. The jacket itself is a big Hit, with beautifully shaped lapels, jetted hip pockets, and an elegantly slanted, curved 'barchetta' breast pocket. It's well constructed, and fits him perfectly. The thinness of the material is getting him in trouble with his trousers: habitually jamming his hand in his pocket is preventing them from falling elegantly, causing sloppy wrinkles. It would be easy to maintain his style while improving the details: I would ditch the tie and get a proper bow -- even one in the same color. Alternately, a proper black bow and sharp burgundy pocket square would give him the pop of color he wants. Keep his hand outta his pocket, wear high-waisted trousers or a black cummerbund, and unbutton the jacket. Tuxedos are best left unbuttoned. So close, and yet, the jacket can't save him from the tie, so I'll have to give him a Miss --just slightly-- for the error.

For our next example, we have a two-fer, with David Burtka and Neil Patrick Harris. Here is a good example of why bows work better than long ties with dinner jackets. The button-point of a tuxedo is just too low for a long tie, and the visual elongation is awkward. Harris is not athletic, but the swath of white shirt and the cut of the lapels makes his chest look broader. Note also Harris' very correct use of midnight blue rather than jet black for the jacket. (I should probably note this is not the breakaway costume he wore for the opening number.) Now we turn up the contrast.

Burtka's flaws are many: the aforementioned tie, naturally, but his shirt collar is stingy and awkward as well. The jacket is all wrong. The satin lapels are too shiny; the lapels are notched; the sleeves are too long; and it's a button-two. Big miss. Harris' is better, as noted, being more of a classically traditional Tuxedo. His flaws are fewer and less grievous: the sleeves a touch too long; the jacket is buttoned; and the tie is obviously a pre-tied job. Shame! A begrudging Hit, since the flaws are not the fault of the outfit itself, but in his manner of wearing it.

Now we move on to James Earl Jones. His jacket is absolutely Darth black, with the barest sheen on his silk lapels. The dark red brocaded waistcoat is remarkable.

The pattern is elegant and subtle. Jones is a broad-shouldered fellow, and his Tuxedo could have easily handled a broader lapel to take up the extra space. The pre-tied bow is a little stingy as well. All things need to be in proportion, and a larger frame needs larger details!

Here, later on under the glare of the stage lights, you can see the color of the vest come out. You can also see more clearly what I mean about the narrow lapels. (Properly unbuttoned! Thank you, James.) The length of the jacket is perfect; this style would even shine as a full-frock. I'd call this a Hit, fake bow and narrow lapels notwithstanding.

Next up, let's look at Joel Grey. A man of slight stature, he should benefit from a Tuxedo's chest-broadening lines. But what have we here? Shiny fabric -- satin edged -- buttoned all the way up, with tiny little notch lapels? We need further investigation!

Oh, heavens. Always remember: just because there's a button there, doesn't mean it is supposed to be fastened! The poor jacket is forced to fight against its own lapel padstitching: see the diagonal stitches running down the front of the jacket? That controls the roll of the lapel. This jacket's lapels are meant to roll smoothly past the buttons. Simply worn unbuttoned, everything would fall into place: an artsy Tuxedo cut along the lines of a button-three Edwardian sack jacket. (Which, unfortunately, would still look silly.) Any points given for tying his own bow are offset by the awful pouf of his black pocket square. An inappropriate jacket worn completely incorrectly: a big Swing-And-A-Miss. Sorry, Joel! At least you are teaching others what not to do.

Now let's look at Kelsey Grammar and his granddaughter --oops, sorry, I mean his wife. (Silly me.) This brings up an important question: Is it proper to wear a white tie (even one you've tied yourself) to a black tie event? Even if Kelsey's not doing it to co-ordinate with his prom date's dress, then technically it still isn't. Sorry. Black tie is black tie. But...I'm willing to give him a pass here, because everything else he's wearing is so excruciatingly correct! Just look at the cut of that Tuxedo! Look at that shirt collar, and those pearl buttons!

The size, shape, and sheen of the silk peak lapels, the jetted pockets, it's all just perfect. This is a man who knows how to do it right, and is bending the rules just enough. While it is true that with a black tie he would have it exactly right, the odd tie in this case works. Why? Because it doesn't look like a mistake, but rather, a deliberate deviation from the standard that was consciously made. White articles have provenance as an occasional deviation from black in semiformal wear, and have been used by historical figures in bygone years. Grammar is insouciant enough, elegant enough, and in all other points correct enough, to get away with the variation. For these reasons Grammer gets a resounding Hit. Two minor points off: unbutton your jacket, and get your hand outta yer dam' pocket.

Next let's look at Reeve Carney. This is a man who doesn't have a clue what he is doing, and it shows. Painfully. He's trying for a retro-Edwardian look, with the club collar, grey pindot bow, and slicked hair. A club collar is the wrong shape for his frame, first of all, and although the tie is nice, it's not appropriate for a black tie event. But the jacket is so, so wrong. Whither the pear-shaped silhouette? He looks narrow up top. Surely this is a grievous error of some sort...Let's look closer.

Why, it's not a Tuxedo at all, or even a dinner jacket of any stripe: just a button-three notch lapel suit jacket, and an ill-fitting one at that! Observe the details: wee little lapels rolled right to the top button, flapped pockets, and even a ticket pocket. Much too fussy for formal wear. Observe the fit: too tight across the chest, pulling at the waist, creases at the button. Awkward, sloppy, long, arms. Someone should have stopped him before he got nearly this far. Epic Miss.

Rob Marshall. Well, now we're just compounding problems. No, it's not all bad...his shirt collar's nice. The only detail that makes this anything other than a black business suit, is the odd satin edging on the lapels.

Long tie. Pants far too low, and worn with a belt. That awkward satin stripe. Notch lapels. Pocket hands, buttoned jacket, sloppy fit. Not much else to say. This isn't anything close to black tie. I actually feel sorry for him: no one has bothered to explain formal wear to him at any point in his life. And he's at the Tonys!

Oh, waiter, I'm ready to see the wine list...Oh, sorry, that's actually Samuel L. Jackson, going in a different direction, with the variation of a white dinner jacket. Nothing wrong with that, it's a legitimate tradition. You've gotta be careful to get it right, though. White jackets are a whole degree more casual than a Tuxedo: quite literally a lounging jacket, on par with a green velvet smoking jacket. White jackets are reserved for tropical climates, usually on vacation, at a resort, or on a cruise. As a black-tie alternative, you really do need the black bow tie. Although his jacket is the correct shade of ivory, and he would look good in a much more casual evening venue, I have to rank him a black-tie Miss for the lapel shape (notch instead of the requisite shawl collar,) button-two fastening, too-long sleeves, and his long tie and button-down shirt collar. In "Rick's Café" mode, it would have looked fan-freakin'-tastic. I'm sorry, Mr. Jackson...please don't hurt the messenger.

And while we're listing the Misses, let's pick on John Leguizamo. This is another case of oh-so-close, trying to push the artsy envelope until the essence of formalwear is accidentally lost. The jacket looks inky, velvety black, which is a good start. It doesn't go any further than that, though. His shirt collar is slack and sloppy, his tie loose and askew, and, oh, yeah -- long. His shirt is visible under the jacket buttons: a clear sign that his pants are too low.

Turning up the contrast, we do see some interesting details. It's cut as a true button-three, as the lapel breaks at the top button. The lapels are notched, which is not surprising, considering the casual button stance. More interesting is that there are no exterior pockets. None. As a fashion-forward semi-casual jacket example, it would need to be balanced with the proper accessories. John might have worked this look better with proper trousers, shirt, tie, and waistcoat, and leaving the jacket unbuttoned. Perhaps even a boutonniere for a little color. Oh, and also by not playing with the car keys in his pocket.

So as not to leave us too depressed about the state of humanity, I shall depart on a Hit. Andrew Rannells came as close as I'd seen to hitting all the Classic Style buttons with very little deviation. The silhouette is as classic as you'd expect, trim, shaped, jet-black, with just a hint of sheen to the lapels. Compare the overall effect with Kelsey Grammar's outfit. Both are well turned-out, but Andy lacks some of the gravitas and insouciance of Kelsey: much of this can be attributed to his age, but his self-consciousness is very apparent: Rannells' Tuxedo is wearing him. This seemingly minor point, is why Grammar can get away with a variation of black tie that Rannells dare not: in the world of black tie, exactitude is required in lieu of insouciance. Let's note the details.

Notice his shoes are correct: patent-leather plain toe Balmorals. (The laces should be flat silk; I can't tell if he's done it, but I wouldn't be surprised.) The trousers have the proper silk stripe down the leg, and the length is right-on, breaking just at the top of the shoe. The Tuxedo is button-two, instead of the more proper button-one, but otherwise is very correct: jetted hip pockets, no breast pocket, and silk-faced peak lapels broad enough to hit just at the midpoint of the neck and shoulder seams. The sleeve length is spot-on, although I'd like to see a quarter-inch of shirt sleeve at the wrist. Actually, the only thing I'd nitpick is the button stance: a longer lapel, rolling to a single-button closure, would give a longer and more elegant front line. And, of course, wear it unbuttoned.

Coming away from all this sartorial hit-or-miss, there are three very important lessons that you would do well to keep in mind, should you find yourself at the Tonys, or any other black-tie event.

First: don't button a proper Tuxedo. If it fits (and it SHOULD,) the fronts will come together naturally without buttoning. Folks don't understand about buttons nowadays. It's actually more formal and elegant for a jacket to sit on you just-so without the need for buttoning. Just because it's there, doesn't mean it's supposed to be used.

Second: don't show your trouser waist. With your Tuxedo unbuttoned, it needs to be covered by a waistcoat or cummerbund. And it needs to sit at, well, your waist.

Third, and most important: don't stuff your hands in your pockets. It throws off the whole effect of your fine clothes to schlump around in them. Have something to do with your hands. If it helps, carry a prop to give your hands something to do. A walking stick, a pair of gloves, a pocketwatch, a pen, a spider monkey: anything to keep your hands busy and outta your pants.

See you next week!

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Personality, Incorporated.

(Part Nine of the series "Dressing the Average Guy.")
Chapter 18
Today, let's wrap up our look at how the psychology of personal style is shaped early in life by our likes and interests, and figure out how to effectively --but unobtrusively!-- incorporate those likes and interests into your grown-up, mature style. If you can cast your mind back to two weeks ago, in Part Seven, you remember we started by looking at the sartorial fashions that surrounded you in your youth, whenever that may have been, from the late '60s up through the '90s; and last week we looked at some examples of fictional styles as well, all of which came together to form an "other-time" that directed your subconscious in a style direction, which reflects the happiest time of your life.

For the sake of expedience, we'll use some catchall terms to divide this "other-time" up into manageable temporal chunks, and I will do this by co-opting a term that we're all familiar with: blankpunk. At its simplest, it is a literary device that invents a world built on one particular technology that is extrapolated to a highly sophisticated level, usually of a dark and gritty nature.  It all began, of course, with "Cyberpunk," coined by author Bruce Bethke in 1980. We'll set aside the literary connotations of bleak, dystopian societies populated by marginalized, mechanically-hybridized loners, and focus solely on the physical characteristics of the clothing involved in each case.

The "future" is a very ordinary
double breasted suit, with the
lapels cut off and the show
buttons removed. The intention:
streamlining the unnecessary;
the result: a bit awkward.
From a style perspective, we'll call "cyberpunk" every fashion that comes from the future. Fashion-wise, it's actually a bit of a cheat, for two reasons: one, by definition, there is no "style of the future;" because, (and this is point number two,) "future styles" are always derivative of the year in which the story was actually written (or, in our case filmed.) Look at and compare the clothing styles in, say, Metropolis, Soylent Green, Blade Runner, and Babylon 5. Ignoring the future's apparently ubiquitous jumpsuits and military uniforms, ordinary clothing was modelled on contemporary outfits and suits, with minor variations in the cut of lapels, overall length, trim, etc., to look different (read: "futuristic") to the contemporary viewer. If your escape ran to the future as a kid, get a mental basket ready to put your favorite things in. In this basket let's put things such as, say, Rick Deckard's shirts and ties, John Sheridan's lapel-less jackets, Han Solo's vest, and similar stuff.

A truly atrocious movie,
unfortunately, despite its
steampunky goodness.
The widest-known blankpunk was invented in 1987: steampunk. Its extrapolated technology was that of the Industrial Revolution, and its highly mechanical aesthetic enjoys an enthusiastic following today. The era is supposedly 1820-1910, but the fashions portrayed tend to stay right around the region of 1880 or so, and is most accurately described as "Neo-Victorian." Remember we are divorcing the connotations of the literary style from the purely sartorial Victorian matter. If your fancy ran to the 19th century as a lad, in this basket place all the toys of your youth that fit that style: the Disney frockcoats, the Sherlock Holmes tweeds, the Old West dusters, the brocaded waistcoats.

Transpose steampunk to the inter-war period of 1920-1945, and the aesthetic becomes dieselpunk: Chrome, grease, and sleek art deco lines replace steam's riveted brass, exposed pipes, and dials. Originally even darker and more grimy, a sort of post-steampunk, (think Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,) its fashion is classic film-noir, but for my purposes will cover the entire swath of the Classic Age. Toss Rick Blaine's trench coat, Indy's leather jacket and fedora, and Arthur Hastings' suits in this basket.

Though Captain Hastings is often overlooked and in the shadow of Poirot's
fastidious threads, you could nevertheless do worse than closely studying
the sporty, casual ease of the little Belgian's Lagonda-driving sidekick.
Atompunk covers the pre-digital period of 1945-1965, including mid-century Modernism, the Atomic Age and Space Age. Throw Roger Thornhill's suits in this basket, and everything ever worn on Mad Men. This takes us right up to the mid '60s, when the fictional worlds of yesterday abut the real worlds you grew up in. This gives us a complete timeline to with which to work...almost.

Not based on any historical
styles, but Hobbit fashion
has a lot going for it: the
handcut square buttons,
rough fabrics, rich colors,
and well-shaped lapels.
Among all the retrofuturism and suppositional history, there is a blankpunk style that doesn't fit the pattern. I'll call this elfpunk. Inspired by the movies based on J.R.R.Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, and J.K.Rowling's works, they depict a world that, unlike cyberpunk, is steeped in history and myth, rather than looking forward technologically. The deep past of Middle-Earth, the hidden present of Hogwarts, or the just-around-the-corner-ness of Narnia are simpler worlds, places of yearning, just out of our grasp. Into this basket go the suede jerkins, hoods, and cloaks, the rustic colors and forged metals.

Now that we have real and alternative history chopped up into discrete stylistic periods (with rather cool names,) we can go about the process of incorporating discrete elements into your individual look. Here is where the rubber meets the road, where the structure of classic style meets the form of your personal style. It is work, and study, and a cautious alchemy of balance and control: the proper result of which is something which looks effortless and unplanned; unassuming, yet unique.

First, the baseline of Classic Style, the framework on which fashion rests, must be clearly understood. In Part Five, the Science of Style, we covered just what that baseline is. Incorporating personal style involves deviating from that baseline. Just what to deviate, and how far, is a judgement call that only you can make; but I can provide guidelines to help you along the process.

What exactly fulfills your Second Great Secret? For some men, the answer is so obvious it isn't even a question. For others, it may take days of soul-searching, note taking and pondering. When all is said and done, take a mental basket, such as we used earlier, and fill it with the trappings of that era, those elements that left you feeling best; whether that be styles, fabrics, colors, or accessories. For men, thinking in this artsy, right-brain, touchy-feely way isn't easy. You were warned, this is going to be work!

EPIC FAIL. Just...epic.
The manner of incorporating said trappings into a wardrobe requires finesse. The execution should appear to be insouciant and innocuous. If it appears at all as if you are trying for an effect, you have failed, and the boundary between clothing and costume has been breached. If the effect appears aware of itself, (or in other words, if you appear self-conscious,) you have failed, for your clothes should never call attention to themselves. If your clothes appear different, stand out in a crowd, or draw attention to themselves, you have failed. The distinction should be so subtle so as to not be immediately noticeable. Anything else is costume.

The amount of incorporation should be carefully weighted against the overall effect. Ideally, the deviation from Classic standard should be minimal in relation to the Classic proportions: the easiest and most glaring error is to go completely overboard in an effort to be different. Too little deviation can look like a sartorial mistake, or an odd detail that merely looks out of place. Too much deviation, and we are into the realm of costume again.

The balance of elements should be observed. This ties intimately into the amount of incorporation.  A small but strong accessory can balance an outfit, or the entire outfit can be balanced by a slight change in overall detail. This balancing point is the make-or-break of any suit of clothes. The balance of formal vs informal, and studied vs insouciant, have been touched upon previously. This latest, classic vs personal, is just one of the many balances you must take into account.

The cornerstone of personalization is in the details. (This falls into the category of slight and overall.) Subtle jacket deviations from standard can be explored in lapels, pockets, shoulders, and button stance, to name a few, as well as materials, color, and construction. Shirt variance is often seen in color, pattern, and materials, and of course the cut and style of collar. Trousers can vary widely in rise, width, and flare, as well as construction.

A less-integrated but more facilitative option for personalization is the use of an accessory. Hats, ties, shoes, of course; but minor bits like pocket squares, watches, boutonnieres and lapel pins can play an important role as well.

Okay, guys, got it? Nothing to it; easy as pie. I cannot go into each permutation of every detail, of course, any more than I can tell you every suit to wear. It is not an easy row to hoe, but it will yield results far in excess of the effort you put in -- if you do it correctly. It's not a move to be taken lightly, and in all honesty, I won't hold you at all in disregard if you decide the risk is not worth it, and continue to wear the Classic Style unaltered, as you have been. Jumping in too early, too eagerly, or unprepared, can result in a disastrous two-steps-back situation from which you may find it difficult to extricate.

Ultimately, it's all up to you to find the balance, but I will help you out with some examples.

To bring some steampunk into your attire, if you go with dark grey wool for your jacket, you could also go with braces on your trousers, raise the jacket's button stance, and preserve the balance. Do this with a bow tie, and the balance starts to tip. All this and a lapelled waistcoat, and the balance is tipped--it's too much.
A classic suit with just a lapelled waistcoat would balance, though.
A classic suit with a plain waistcoat and arranged pocket watch would preserve the balance. Add a stiff collar, though, and the balance is tipped.
A completely classic suit with a stiff collar preserves the balance.
Spats that are very subtle and understated with an otherwise completely standard classic suit would not tip the balance. Add anything else--it's costume.

For a little dieselpunk, chalkstripes would work with a classic suit. Doublebreasted chalkstripes are on the verge. Add wingtip shoes, and it begins to tip. Add a boutonniere and fedora -- too much.
A standard suit with a slightly broad button stance, and subtle spectator wingtips would just start to tip the balance.

An English touch that adds to many blankpunk schemes is the tightly-furled full length umbrella, used as a walking stick. Used on a bright, sunny day, it will tip the balance, however.

For a touch of the '70s, a standard suit with pagoda shoulders and roped sleeveheads would not tip the balance. Add a Windsor-knot tie, and it's right on the edge. Broaden the lapels by an inch: too far.
A standard cut suit in a maroon-and-rust weave doesn't tip the balance, but the addition of a broad-point collar, striped shirt would. Think outside the box: a vintage LED watch may work well.

For a bit o' the future, the "current view" is a trim fit with dark color and contrasting detail. Narrow lapels, dark blue cloth with bright teal buttonholes, for instance, or quite bright monocolor tie or pocket square. Too much is too much, and it will end up being too fashion-forward -- which is just as bad as too fashion-backward.

Good luck, have fun, and remember, dressing like a grown up doesn't have to be stodgy, or boring, or even ordinary; with the addition of this little bit of psychological wizardry, the first Two Great Secrets will be yours, and your wardrobe will never be the same!

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Lost in the Other Eighties.

(Part Eight of the series "Dressing the Average Guy.")
Chapter 17
Last week, I revealed the Second Great Secret of dressing well: "Left to himself, a man will always dress back to the era when he was happiest." There is, however, an important codicil to the Second Great Secret, which we will discuss today:

"...or the era when he imagined himself happiest."

Most men were happiest as children...but there are a number of men who did not have happy childhoods. They cannot look back to a period in their own pasts, to a time when they were content to the extent that it informed their current sartorial decisions, in the manner that we made note of in our last installment.

Fortunately, children have a built-in coping mechanism: vivid imaginations and fantasy lives. It takes very little stimulus to plunge an unhappy child from a broken home into a rich world of his own creation. And these worlds can be just as real to him, and can cement his future clothing preferences just as thoroughly, as a man who drew inspiration from having lived through more idyllic formative years. 

Every person is familiar with placing himself in an imaginary world: the very basis of the genre of fiction itself is the ability to suspend reality and empathise with the hero of a story, to be immersed in a tale and come through feeling a connection to the characters, situations, and settings, as if they were real. For most men, the entertainment value of fiction is a sideline interest. One can jump into it, jump out of it, and get on with life.

For some, though, the fictional connections formed in childhood become more lasting, more engaging, than real social interaction with their peers. The imaginary world becomes more of an influence than the real world. This can cause all sorts of long-term psychological and social issues. These kids may be ostracised as nerds, geeks, weirdos, or just shunned as odd reclusives -- pushing them further into the comfortable retreat of their fantasy world.

For our purposes, of course, we're solely concerned with clothes, not what goes on in your noggin. And just as what you wear is informed by what made you happy, it is also informed by what interests you. Everyone takes something away from their favorite fiction, as well as their own past -- but when your favorite fiction becomes the happiest time of your past, the two become intertwined, and the most comfortable mode of dress might just not be from your own youth at all!

The seeds of creation of these alternative-realities were usually the domain of entertainment media. Books, movies, and television gave us glimpses of different worlds; better worlds, where everyone got along, solved their problems in the span of a story-arc with a swashbuckle, a fight, a clever ruse, or perhaps a song. They depicted different times from our own: vaguely historical, but sanitized, safe, with none of the real problems associated with those eras. We were comfortable there -- we wanted to be there.

The Depression of the '30s brought a number of cheerful musicals and romantic comedies to the theaters. Seen from the distance of a half-century, the then-contemporary patter, smashing suits, and strong women is an irresistible mirror of an idealized era.

Face it, we all wanted to be Nick Charles. Still do.
Passamawho? Disney may have
been weak on plot, but with outfits
like Doc Terminus', who cared?
For decades, the Western dominated the airwaves, and countless children were influenced by images of the wide-open spaces, the wild frontier towns where men were free and rode tall in the saddle. Disney's trademark spin on British Edwardian and American Western life in both animated and live-action form made an indelible mark on young lives, from Old Yeller, Davy Crockett, and Apple Dumpling, to Doctor Doolittle and Mary Poppins. The very perception of America itself is reflected in Disney parks' seven-eighths-scale Main Streets and Frontierlands.

If I looked like that, I'd talk-sing everything too.
Just as a man will take his childhood with him, he will attempt to take his fictional world with him too. Unfortunately, the dress of the fictionalized past just doesn't fold well into modern dress.

Jeremy Brett's portrayal of Holmes was
an eyefeast of proper English dress.

Kids may try to "dress up" like their heroes, but when this moves into adulthood, we invariably encounter problems. Henry Higgins, Harold Hill, George W. Banks, Sherlock Holmes, or Indiana Jones may dress smartly within their worlds, but it becomes costume when taken into the real world.

Who wouldn't want to live in River City? Straw hats, folks bursting
into ex tempore song, and Shirley Jones in her prime? Rrrowl.

No, I was referring to 
this Indiana Jones.
 This does not preclude taking elements of the fictional worlds of the imagination, and including them in your own personal style. Just as we can take parts of a man's happiest past and stir them into your sartorial mix, we can take your fictional past and do the same thing. The method is in the manner, the amount, the balance, the details, and the accessories. And we will conclude next week with just how to do that, while not looking costumey, keeping your style current and classic, and still reflecting that which makes you, you.

(I'll look at another permutation of fictionalized history next week, as well. Stay tuned, muggles!)