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The Art of Wearing Clothes

Ενα κλασικό κείμενο για το αστικό ανδρικό ντύσιμο. Δημοσιεύθηκε το 1960, αλλά σε πολύ μεγάλο βαθμό διατηρεί ακέραια την αξία των παρατηρήσεών του και, κυρίως, το πνεύμα και το στυλ.

The Art of Wearing Clothes, by George Frazier

The history of this rare masculine art and of the men who practice it supremely well.

Esquire magazine, September 1960

Gary Cooper

Many a vagrant vogue has prevailed and perished in the hundred-and-fifty-odd years since George Bryan (Beau) Brummell resigned from the tony Tenth Hussars upon being denied permission to wear a uniform of his own design, but the criterion by which men are adjudged either beautifully or badly dressed is still what it was in that dandified day when people cherished the belief that the Beau achieved the flawless fit of his gloves by having the fingers made by one man and the thumbs by another. Now, as then, an impeccably turned-out male is characterized by the same « certain exquisite propriety » of dress that Lord Byron admired so abundantly in Brummell. « If John Bull turns to look after you, » the Beau once observed, « you are not well-dressed, but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable. »

This was Brummell’s bequest—his irreproachably tasteful simplicity. What’s more, it is the one constant in the fickleness of fashion, nor has any mode, no matter how maniac, ever proved it spinach—neither the cult of pipe-stemmed perfection that caused any true Edwardian dandy to shudder at the thought of having, as Max Beerbohm put it, « the incomparable set of his trousers spoilt by the perching of any dear little child upon his knee »; nor the autograph-slickered, bell-bottomed callowness of the « cake-eaters » and « sheiks » who found their laureate in John Held, Jr.; nor the casual coolness of all the beer jackets of Princeton springtimes; nor the abortive and itinerant « Italian style »; nor, for that matter, even the natural-shouldered, pleatless-trousered look that is known as « Ivy League, » but that by any name at all would still be the Brooks Brothers No. 1 sack suit.

Prior to Brummell, men had dressed to almost freakish excess. Thus, according to Hayden’s Dictionary of Dates, Sir Walter Raleigh wore:

« . . . a white-satin-pinked vest close-sleeved to the wrist, and over the body a doublet finely flowered, and embroidered with pearls, and in the feather of his hat a large ruby and pearl drop at the bottom of the sprig in place of a button. His breeches, with his stockings and ribbon garters, fringed at the end, all white; and buff shoes, which, on great court days, were so gorgeously covered with precious stones as to have exceeded the value of 6,600 pounds; and he had a suit of armor of solid silver, with sword and hilt blazing with diamonds, rubies and pearls. »

Nor was Lord Buckingham, James I’s favorite, any shrinking violet either, for, as Hayden has it, he « had his diamonds tacked so loosely on [his robe] that when he chose to shake a few off on the ground, he obtained all the fame he desired from the pickers-up. » And then, too, there was Prince von Kaunitz, who achieved the desired shad of his wig by strolling back and forth while four lackeys sprayed it with different tints of scented powder. Indeed, in those pre-Brummell years, men were such peacocks that The Times of London used to describe their clothes in as minute and fascinated detail as it did women’s.

With the Beau’s arrival in London, however, restraint in male attire became the order of the day and, for that matter, of every debonair day thereafter. It is, in fact, almost impossible to exaggerate Brummell’s influence, for as Virginia Woolf has said, « Without a single noble, important, or valuable action to his credit, he cuts a figure; he stands for a symbol; his ghost walks among us still. » Indeed, because of him alone simplicity became the hallmark of the well-dressed man, whether he be a Victorian Prime Minister named Lord Melbourne, an American general named A. J. Drexel Biddle, a former Secretary of State named Dean Acheson, or a song-and-dance man out of Omaha named Fred Astaire.