On Fashion, Gender, And Society

Right out of the gate I want to make two things clear: First, this is not an indictment of individuals, but of ideas. Second, everyone is entitled to their ideas and beliefs, and I am just expressing my own.

I have been troubled by a recent discussion taking place here on Mens Flair regarded the supposed differences inherent between men and women. A fellow columnist asserted, casually no-less, that “women tend to be led, men tend to choose,” and when questioned about it defended himself by suggesting in the positive that “being guided by fashion has given women an advantage in a heightened sense of aesthetics.” While I do not think these comments were meant with any malicious or consciously misogynistic intent, it would almost be better if they were. The very fact that they reside as seemingly-benign, condescending assumptions about a gender difference with natural, easily traced causes makes them all the more dangerous. It is only in acknowledging our assumptions, questioning them, and then making distinct and purposeful judgements of them that we can ever hope to express truth.

Another perfect example of this is the assertion that “the markets for womenswear and menswear respond to market demand,” with simply no regard for what might cause or influence those demands. The power of the market is not top down, and certainly not bottom up as it would seem here, but rather dialectical. We want things because of unconscious motivations and desires that stem from much broader concerns than whether we wish to be fashionable or classic. And, while due to additional social forces these concerns may impact men and women to different and varying degrees, no person exists outside of them. To think so is a delusion.

A commenter pointed out the absurdity of some of these assumptions and was quickly met with the philistine maxim “Embrace boldly your masculinity, your sword of discrimination, your natural proclivity towards choosing. Do not prostrate yourself to the fashionable altar of politically correct feminism, or its facsimile. Stand up, my good man.” I’m almost speechless. While we are at it, you know, taking up our violent implements of barbaric masculinity and keeping the progression of ideas about gender politics (and anything else for that matter) suppressed and in the kitchen where they belong, why don’t we just go all the way and take the vote back as well? Such a disgusting, ignorant depiction of subordinate female intelligence and action is the exception to my above clause granting everyone the right to their opinion.

Such an attitude’s companion, the condescending, self-righteous brand of faux-gentlemanly behavior that includes soft-voiced references to “the fairer sex” does nothing more than champion misogyny under the guise of paternalistic protection. I know it sounds like a crazy idea, but imagine actually respecting a member of the opposite sex, not as a woman but as a person. Seditious seeds these suggestions should not be.

Lastly, the powder keg that began all of this, the paragraph regarding classic men’s style as different from blind female consumption, in fact should have had nothing to do with gender at all. As people interested to varying degrees in style, fashion, craft, &c., we should all be aware of the myth of “classic.” Yes, I like classically inspired garments and accessories, but to ignore the fact that this category of design is influenced by trends, past or current, is to miss the mark. All design and aesthetics in general are relative. Absolute beauty is only one thing: absolutely false. Whether male or female, we do not design fashion or style, nor do they design us. We design each other. The debate here should be about things like menswear/womenswear, classic/fashionable, not about men vs. women.

Perpendicular And Parallel

Honoré de Balzac once wrote “Carelessness in dressing is moral suicide,” but we know that if carelessness is the number one sin, a bit too much carefulness is not far behind. There are the two ever-present opposite concerns of looking disjointed or ill-conceived and appearing a mannequin with everything matched to a fault. The key, as with all things menswear (and truly all things in life) is balance.

Now, don’t get ahead of me and think I’m advocating another contrived form of sprezzatura or offering up a “how to dress well in a world that generally doesn’t” guide. Those things can be important, but what I’m getting at here is a much more basic aesthetic principle – what you wear at a given time should harmonize, whether through unity or contrast.

A perfect example is colorful accessories. Typically a gentleman has four places for flexible color in daily attire: tie, handkerchief, cufflinks, and socks. Looking like you bought the foursome as a box-set from the discount bin is about the last thing you want. The habit of matching is tempting at times though. I personally have an orange handkerchief that I rarely wear except with a certain orange and navy tie I quite fancy. No one’s perfect. Often though, choosing things that are complementary colors and patterns results in a much better look than choosing things that obviously match. The result has more depth and interest, rather than a single note. Purple tie, burgundy socks. Orange handkerchief, purple silk knots. The combinations keep on going. That is not to say matching can never be done, but at least try to vary tone and texture to keep things interesting.

You also don’t need to make all four of these elements a statement all at the same time. A pair of somber socks can keep a bright tie and handkerchief from looking comical, while a plain navy tie can set off those striped socks you want to wear without distracting like more stripes might. A striped shirt with a spotted tie might look great, but if you throw in a printed handkerchief and some wild socks, the whole thing begins to look a bit overwrought. Balance between fun and foundation is key, and as always, the overall look should be greater than the sum of its parts.

Fits Like A Glove


Nowadays most people only ever wear gloves in the dead of winter to keep the chilly air at bay, but as recent as two- or three- hundred years ago it would have been unthinkable to venture out with one’s hands bare. To shake a hand or greet an acquaintance without gloves on would have been considered rude and crass, but over the years, as formality has waned, so has the wearing of gloves.

Along with many other accessories, gloves used to be rigidly coded for different times and places, with many of these “special” gloves being extremely hard to find these days. The various incarnations ran the full gamut of formality, all the way from court appearances to a weekend at one’s country cottage. These include the famous “kid gloves,” wore with white-tie formal wear (now commonly made of cotton or calf instead of the namesake goat), grey buckskin for morning dress, yellow chamois or black calf for city wear, and brown pigskin for the country.

Gloves are something which have always both fascinated and vexed me – I have particularly small hands, so while I love the idea of gloves I often find them ill-fitting and unenjoyable to wear. Enter Chester Jefferies. Based in Dorset for almost a century, Chester Jefferies supplies made-to-order gloves to gents worldwide. They offer a full range of dress, sport, equestrian, driving, and everyday gloves for men and women in too many styles to name. Most models allow you to choose from a variety to leathers (cape, hogskin, deerskin, chamois, &c.) in colors ranging from the typical blacks and browns to greens, blues, purples, reds, and any other color you can imagine. And that’s just for the outside – they have an equally versatile series of options for linings, including silk, wool, chamois, and fleece for whatever climate you might inhabit.

Their typical MTO option asked you to measure around your knuckles and to indicate if you are a male or female, but for only a twenty pound one-time fee you can trace your hand and have the gloves made completely to specifications. I’m currently planning on ordering a pair in the next few weeks in either blue or green cape with a wool/cashmere lining for the winter. Anyone have experience with CJ already and want to offer any advice? I’ll certainly post a review when they come in, and hopefully my days of cold fingers and ill-fitting gloves are over.

A Tale Of Two Shoulders

Mr. Williams wrote a little while ago about the Rope and Pagoda shoulders, two of the less common shoulders available on men’s jackets. To go back to basics for a moment, I wanted to discuss the difference a soft versus hard shoulder makes on the overall look and feel of a jacket. Oscar Wilde always said that a man dressed from his shoulders in reference to braces and trousers, but I think its a good rule overall.

What spurred me to write about this was the arrival of both the Polo and Ede & Ravenscroft catalogues in my mailbox this week. The Ede & Ravenscroft book is full of crisp, cleanly tailored suits in beautiful worsteds and flannels, all of which have a razor-sharp shoulder silhouette. Shot against the backdrop of London architecture, the suits’ silhouettes have lot in common with their art deco surrounding. Lines are clean and sharp, with a broad, structured top cementing the look. From this broad shoulder line, the rest of the coat comes to a pointed closure at the waist, and then the trouser crease keep the long, lean line going all the way down to the highly polished oxfords.


The opposite is present in Ralph Lauren’s fall presentation. The jackets seem to have only slightly more structure than a piece of knitwear, and without the sharp shoulder line, they look effortless and comfortable, not to mention much more casual. Because these jackets don’t have darts to help pull the back and waist in, they rely on a slimming drape, barely grazing the body, and Mr. Lauren chose to finish them off with odd flannel and corduroy trousers and hefty brogues in the provided images – all of which have a 1920s countryside vibe to boot.


The differences in these shoulders serve not only to define the shoulder-line of the wearer, but also serve as a basis for the entire fit of the coat. I happen to have a suit from Ede & Ravenscroft with a similar silhouette, which seems right at home wandering through London, but something about that line just seems too harsh for wandering around campus in the fall. Something about that soft sloping shoulder and sack cut just screams fall casual to me.

There’s lot of talk about “no brown in town” and similar rules about colors, cloth, &c. and what one can and cannot wear in certain situations, but I think cut deserves debate as well. What do you all think about various types of tailoring and the environments they look/feel best in?

Ode To The Loafer

weejun1While my taste usually remains somewhere under the large umbrella of “classic style,” whatever that means, I am prone to having “moments” if you will. For a period of time, I get extremely devoted to a specific garment or style, and tend to incorporate it almost daily in whatever else I feel like wearing. I’ll go months without touching a shoe that isn’t black, weeks wearing only blue patterned shirts, or in the other direction, periods of time where a certain width of tie is an absolute no-no. I see these little fits as ways to experiment and intensely explore a certain idea before mellowing out and finding a healthy middle ground.

Right now I am really feeling the loafer. It’s not the first time I’ve looked at laces as more trouble than they’re worth, but I am finding myself wearing string-free footwear 5 or 6 days a week. There is a certain “go-to-hell” attitude to a slip on, seemingly implying to all around that I’m in no rush, live life at my own pace, and don’t really want to be bothered with laces. Also, as summer begins to slip away, loafers seem a nice way to keep a bit of the warm weather leisure with me.  These loafers can take many forms, each with it’s own quirks and peccadilloes.

The classic American (Norwegian) style penny loafer, a la the Bass Weejun, is my favorite go to shoe. If I have to run out and grab groceries, pick up my mail, head to class, go to a party, it doesn’t matter, the Weejun gets the job done, and with style no less. Somehow they look just as at home with jeans and a soft-collar shirt as they do with a grey flannel suit and tie. A real classic, I don’t what I’d do without my Weejuns in black and burgundy.

For me, the beauty of the Weejun is that it sort of fades into the background of whatever else I’m wearing, keeping my feet elegant while also keeping them from being the center of attention. When I want something a bit more eye-catching, I go for my burgundy calf tassel loafers. A slightly more pointed toe, and a bit more visually arresting detail, the tassel loafer is equal parts dandyism and business.

w-velvet1Now for the fully on louche Don Juan shoe – the velvet slipper. Sadly they are only speculative for me now, but soon I plan on remedying that. A slip on shoe made from a wholly impractical, soft material, with a delicate sole and ribbon piping. Plus, while black is the classic formal option, they come in as many colors as you can imagine and with an infinite number of embroidery options.  It doesn’t get any more go-to-hell than that as far as I’m concerned.