Gregory and Maurice Hines perform Irving Caesar’s Crazy Rhythm (1928) in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club (1984).
Writers routinely emphasise technical and decorative prowess when recommending a certain tailor: fineness of stitching, shapeliness achieved by padding, and accomplishment of faithful fit. Equally important when choosing the artisan who will make your clothes is that person’s style. Simon Crompton points out that only a small number of tailors are good designers; it’s an observation that assists in comprehending the sentiment behind Giorgio Armani’s infamous missive that Savile Row is a melodrama lost on the past. Nonetheless, in a fundamental sense the design of your ensemble is executed by your tailor and for this reason it’s essential to find an artisan whose style attracts you.
An artisan’s aesthetic may have its origin in the individual’s experience and taste or in the house’s style. It’s perceptible in the media visually, in photos of finished garments, and often conceptually in the individual’s discussion of his or her work. The ideal, though often impractical, scenario would be to see the object in a bricks and mortar workshop or boutique. Notably it’s here that the casuistry of the chameleon tailor, who offers all styles to all people, is exposed. It’s more likely that such an offering amounts in substance to hollow technical replication without personal expression, a product that resembles everything but which features this year’s sartorial buzzwords. True style is attained by those artisans who pursue it for its own sake.
In the hesitant stumbles of my journey toward acquiring a bespoke ensemble, I initially considered tailors based partly on affordability. The invaluable Simon Crompton has usefully reviewed tailors at all points of the spectrum and I was gravitating toward a house that seemed to offer a sensible entry, albeit given a few concessions to finer technical details and geographic convenience. As I enquired after a first appointment I noticed that I was hesitating, almost imperceptibly so given the clamour of more rational considerations. Simply put, I wasn’t swooning over his style. And for that kind of engagement, one should experience precisely that calibre of reaction. Finally I settled on another house whose style I judge will deliver a sustainable thrill and whose coat construction encapsulates what I currently imagine to be my ideal of a gentler shoulder that doesn’t wilt.
This lofty benchmark of demanding technical, aesthetic and stylistic satisfaction in a garment goes far in illuminating bespoke’s attraction and its challenges. Practically it’s a serious financial outlay (or ‘investment’, the darling of compliant ****wear hacks worldwide), at least for those of us who are not of freewheeling fortune. Personally it’s a concerted foray into stylistic achievement, allowing us to sense perhaps a shade closer to esteeming ourselves to be objectively well-dressed.
It’s worth keeping in mind that the value of a newly-acquired instrument of style is equally about its and your appearance and how that makes you feel. Consider the tailor’s style.
It’s summer. And for the elegantly-dressed, hot weather is accompanied by delicate conundrums. Compared to displaying one’s own bare skin, cloth is a relatively uncomplicated affair.
Until recently this question hardly arose as the body was expected to remain covered in polite society from ankle to wrist to neck, and above the crown of the head. With the unwinding of society’s fixation with and disapproval of the public human body these convenient coverings have steadily receded. Today, we are less burdened in summer with devising how to wear all this fabric without resembling a perspiring water fountain. Rather we are doubly vexed by how to present geographically more skin, accompanied here and there by appealingly fashioned scraps of cotton, linen, silk and other cool plant materials.
“I’d ask you in but my husband is such a grouch before breakfast.”
Early morning in the fantastical world of Esquire magazine, 1935.
One evening in Budapest, l’éclat chaleureux of the window display of Bomo Art‘s fine stationery boutique on Régiposta utca cast a spell. I left with a plan, definite in resolution yet vague in specifics, to store some precious object in one of their attractive boxes.
From Ernest Lubitsch’s One Hour With You, 1932 with Maurice Chevallier, Jeanette MacDonald and Genevieve Tobin (writer Samson Raphaelson, from the play Only a Dream by Lothar Schmidt).
“Here—rub a little baby oil into your kisser. If you want to stay young, you have to keep well lubricated.”
“Baby oil? What happened to Nivea?”
“Too greasy. Baby oil soaks right in. It’s the best thing for a man’s face.
“Isn’t baby oil just as greasy?”
My father raised a thick eyebrow. “Listen to me,” he said. “Learn my secrets.”
The funniest writing on dressing that I’ve ever read. Tom Junod’s article My Father’s Fashion Tips appeared in the December 1996 edition of the magazine GQ. Read the entire article at gq.com
At the gravitational centre of the parallel universes of dancing and dressing are one’s shoes. They are practically essential for the former; the sartorial fifth dimension similarly collapses without genuine footwear. I’m referring here to what could be called ‘classic’ footwear. It’s usually leather, goes well with a sports coat, requires polishing and all that. The fourth dimension, by the way, is time.
“[A]n opportunity for people to show a little bit of flamboyance. The pocket square to me, now, is almost like wearing a piece of art in your pocket.”
Publicity film The Pocket square by English shirtmaker, clothier, and tiemaker Turnbull & Asser.
Entering a café in Paris recently, searching for coffee, the waiter greeted me:
“On a du très bon café monsieur” (We make excellent coffee here sir).
“Ah bon?” (Oh really?) I thought, doubtfully.
The milk was delicious. The coffee part of my café however is best left undescribed; despite the waiter’s good intentions I’m sure.
Coffee for me is integral to a dance festival, notably for sustaining on the dance floor and for summoning the weekend visitor’s joie de vivre that Europe’s wondrous array of regional capitals deserve. Budapest, Krakow, Madrid, Vilnius, Brussels, London, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Ljubljana, Bucharest, Stockholm: each are more pleasurable after visiting a reputable café. In the event that you visit Paris, I thought that you might appreciate a guide to the haunts of its few baristas.
“You can wear almost anything with a blue suit. You can wear any one of the self figured ties sketched in the panel of accessories in the right—yes even the green one.”
L Fellows, Esquire debut edition, September 1933. Continue reading “Versatility of the blue suit”
Mia and Sebastian’s exchange will resonate with those in pursuit of dressing well. For many, though, their particular experience may have unfolded rather along these lines:
Mia: And though you look so cute in your—what’s it made from by the way?—suit…
Sebastian: Uh, I’m not sure. I think that it’s wool. Let me check the label… It says ‘Wool/poly…’ uh poly-something (I can’t pronounce that word) ‘blend’.
It’s not acceptable to be insecure about when it’s OK to wear one. It’s always OK. If [you’re] wearing a jacket with an open breast pocket, the pocket should have a square in it.
—Will Boehlke, founder & writer (from 2006–2015) of A Suitable Wardrobe
La Fête du timbre (‘the festival of the stamp’) is an annual event involving the release of souvenir stamps organised by the French philatelists’ federation. Among the 2016 stamps is depicted ‘le Charleston’. The theme ‘la danse’ features again following salsa in 2014, hip-hop and tango the following year, and ballet, also in 2016. The waltz will feature among the stamps issued for the next edition of the fête. Continue reading “Le Charleston”
Integral to taking an interest in style is maintaining the minutiae of one’s appearance: an ironed shirt, polished shoes… and erect socks.
Socks count among the usually invisible elements of the well-dressed formula. Crumpled around the ankles or in whichever state, socks are unlikely to be noticed unless your legs are crossed, and the fabric is particularly bright in colour, or a photograph captures you in an acrobatic dance move. Introducing refinement to the conversation, a glance to the past and to classic dressing will reward the curious with an effortless and elegant means of displaying an ankle pleasingly and evenly covered by hosiery.
An advertisement for Keds ‘The shoes of champions’ in the November 1935 edition of Esquire magazine.
Trousers present two significant conundrums for dancers: they slip down, and shirts untuck from them.
Much of this impracticality is attributable to ill-fit. A bespoke shirt that fits properly will remain tucked while trousers that rest above the waist will remain up. Universally-sized, ready to wear shirts cannot accommodate an individual’s upper arm lifting without pulling the shirt’s body with it.
Talcum powder is a highly advantageous aide to enabling clothing to survive dancing. Athletic movement inside the often sealed and humid atmosphere of the ballroom leads to perspiration on the dancer’s outfit, which in turn results in that outfit acquiring an unpleasant odour. Continue reading “Talcum powder”
Someone recently sought my advice on where to buy trousers for dancing (or pants, in American English). Reflecting on this question I realised that there are, for the curious, numerous angles to consider: style, fabric, manufacturer, historical context, and dance suitability. That which follows is my (entirely unqualified) views and advice on trousers for dancing.