Requirements for Instagram: Style and Good Looks

“You want to know why she has so many Instagram followers?” chirped a colleague, in an irritated fashion “because she’s a skinny model. It has nothing to do with her style.”

My ears pricked. An intense discussion was breaking out in my immediate vicinity. The subject of discussion: Chelsea Ciara – a model and Instagram sensation.

“It’s just because she’s famous” someone else added, conclusively while another contended that “she only became famous through Instagram.”

They flicked through the pictures on her account, emphasising their negative viewpoints on her style with grunts of faux-shock: “Ugh!”, “No!”, “What?!”

“She’s attractive though” a deeper voice exclaimed.

A man had entered the conversation with an unwelcome remark. It silenced the critics suddenly.

“See!” said the initiator “She’s pretty, and skinny. It has nothing to do with style.”

I recalled this conversation when I noted GQ’s recent list of “The 50 most stylish men you don’t yet follow on Instagram.”

Like most content from Generally Questionable GQ, I put my tongue firmly in my cheek when reviewing it. There’s always an angle, always a filter applied (no pun intended) that makes these suggestions fit with the publication’s ‘aspirational’ image.

The 50 men were indeed a stylish bunch, with an impressive range of ages; there were rapscallions in their early twenties and world-weary gents in their late 50s, proving once more that male style transcends age groups and generations.

They were positioned as second division style influencers, after the premier league of powerhouse contributors like Johannes Huebl and Adam Gallagher, due to the fact that they “hadn’t yet broken 40,000 followers.”

However, their style is most certainly not second tier.

A mixture of tailoring aficionados, casual streetwear kings and denim lovers, they live in Miami, Hong Kong, Naples and Sydney – as well as the inevitable London and New York. They have different approaches, different side interests; a number also tread the well-trodden Instagram path of hashtagging travel and food, but others are passionate about their local town, types of coffee or artworks.

However, despite their age differences, their diverse tastes in clothes, their multitude of interests and variety of facial hair, there was one common feature that united these men beyond their undeniable style: their looks.

Whether 22 or 42, long haired or high and tight, street-styled or sartorial, each and every one of these ‘must follow’ individuals were well above average in the looks department. Indeed, many of them are models – or have modelled for brands. They aren’t just confident dressers; their desirability goes beyond their ability to pair a pocket square with a patterned tie. They are the living mannequins, the real-life muses. They look good in a way that others could not.

Admittedly, some of these individuals are so stylish that it makes them even more attractive than they are, but I think the fact remains that all of them successfully dodged the ugly stick.

Typical and predictable? Well, yes and no.

It’s certainly typical of the Instagram age. While these men are undoubtedly more talented with a wardrobe of clothes than the average #WIWT punter, complete visual fulfilment is a real concept that women have become all too familiar with over the last three decades. Classically good looking people look more stylish than average or ‘ugly’ people because their entire image is worthy of imitation. People want to look like them – mainly because they, and other people, find them attractive. Their looks become entwined with their style and convey a lifestyle image that is multi-dimensional and vivid. People want to embody them.

I saw a comment made by a follower of a stylish male Instagrammer that alerted an acquaintance of the benefits of following the user in question: “This is who I was talking about, u [sic] should follow; just pics of good looking guys in suits.”

However, as typical as this might be of an increasingly visual, Tinder-obsessed generation, it’s not that typical of men in general.

For a straight man following lots of good-looking guys because they just happen to be ‘very stylish’, there is an awkwardness that is undeniable. I have seen countless, less conventionally good-looking men on Instagram whose sense of style is positively epic. They don’t have the body of Michelangelo’s David, impossible cheekbones, insanely alluring eyes or a ruthless jawline but they do the best with what they have. They might not look semi-model like in every selfie, but they have an amazing ability to combine colours and textures; and despite not being a double of David Gandy, many of them dress far better than he (or his stylist) could.

Is it impressive that Adam Gallagher has over a million followers when nobody I ask has any clue who he is? Undoubtedly. Do I think his celebrity on social media comes solely from his sartorial craft? No way.

Do I think ‘attractive’ people look better in the same clothes? Sometimes, yes. Do I think it’s fair? No.

But neither is life.

The simple rule for complete Instagram domination, for men as well as women, is simple: be famous and good-looking. You only have to look at the most-followed for verification of this.

And let’s be plain about this; this is not a case for ‘it’s subjective’, the ‘eye of the beholder’ nonsense. A spade is a spade. If you are not famous and happen to be stylish, you’d better hope you have looks on your side. Instagram is no friend to the average-looking man.

Style Icon: Michael Caine

Generally, I’m not a big one for individual style icons; I tend to prefer examining the features of specific historical periods or trends when it comes to dressing. Michael Caine however, is an exception. I grew up watching classic retro films with my father, and upon discovering Michael Caine’s films of the 60s and 70s fell in love with his debonair gravitas – and the impact of his suits.

His dress sense taught me two things. Firstly, wherever possible, invest in the classics and put your own subtle twist on them. Secondly, if you want to dress in a truly timeless fashion, it has to be kept simple. In all of his tailored roles, garments are classic and the colour palette minimal and understated; but he never fails to look the sharp English gentleman. He somehow never looks conscious of wearing a suit and tie – pulling off perhaps the greatest trick of all for the wearer of fine suits – exuding relaxed and effortless elegance. One only has to watch the first twenty minutes of ‘The Italian Job’ to get a sense of what I mean. Caine strolls through the film with a jocular swagger, part the character’s and part his own. You can sense he feels comfortable in suiting and this adds in large part to the appeal of his style.

Another reason that his tailored style exhibited in films of the 60s and 70s remains so appealing today is that his suits were ahead of their time in terms of cut and shape; he deliberately seems to avoid trends and sticks with classic shapes. The result is a truly timeless look.

His blue three piece suit in ‘Get Carter’ is the ideal example. Cut with a well-proportioned notched lapel – not too slim, not too wide – which avoided the short-lived 70s trend for huge, deeply bellied lapels with low gorges. The cut of the jacket is perfectly fitted to modern proportions, not too slim and with no excess drape and the five button single breasted waistcoat adds just enough gravitas, whilst also remaining a very simple cut. Finished with a pale blue shirt – which again avoids standing too tall as was the fashion for 70s shirt collars, and a plain black silk tie – of a quite obviously superior silk, the ensemble is about as simple as it gets and allows the quality and cut of the suit itself to shine through.

Note also his jet black trenchcoat by Aquascutum, cut in a model which the firm still produces today – with the black tie working with the black trenchcoat when worn, keeping the look dark and mean – as befitted the character. Furthermore, because these were his own clothes, and he wasn’t forced into an off-the-peg suit from a film wardrobe procured especially for the film, Caine looks as effortless as he does anywhere else, whilst also bringing a fair bit of menace to his role as a gangster – a prowling Jaguar in a black trenchcoat. Steve Mcqueen pulled off a similar trick in the Thomas Crowne affair, having his suits made weeks before the show, he wore them everywhere for a fortnight before filming started to break them in and get comfortable in high-end tailoring.

Michael Caine’s affinity with tailoring is obvious, given his many years of faithful patronage of London tailors Douglas Hayward, as well as a couple of houses on Savile Row. Also charming is that in many of his films, Caine’s tailor is credited alongside the cast and production team. Hayward was a true celebrity tailors of the time, and remains one of the most fashionable tailors in London.

Douglas Hayward himself was one of the fathers of those suits which possessed the unique understated elegance that characterised the best tailoring of the 60s and 70s. Douglas Hayward was also James Coburn, Lawrence Olivier and Roger Moore’s tailor of choice, amongst many other celebrities and for all of them, produced classically proportioned and effortlessly dapper garments.

It’s also telling that in one of Caine’s earlier films the importance of a good suit is stressed from the very opening. As Charlie Croker emerges from prison in ‘The Italian Job’ and steps into his car, almost Caine’s first words are ‘take me to my tailor’. Some fifty years later, Michael Caine remains a tailoring icon – as the head of the Kingsman Agency in ‘Kingsman the Secret Service’, to be released this October. Caine plays a senior spy in the film whose cover is that he’s supposedly a tailor, and the film is set to be a very dapper affair indeed.

There is just something to be said for a man (whether he celebrity or not) who understands the classics and that in order to look truly stylish, one must not affect to be stylish, but must simply feel relaxed in his clothes. Michael Caine understands both, and this has always showed in his effortless personal style.

Pitti Style Icon: Mr Raro

Pitti Uomo is one of the most salivating experiences for internet-trawling fashionistas and the sartorially savvy. I won’t insult the intelligence of readers by explaining, for the 96th time, exactly what it is. You all know what it meant to be, what it actually is and why it gets so much feverish coverage from bloggers and style columnists at this time of year.

Personally, I delight in the trove of Pitti peacocks. Life, and people, can be so dull at times and it’s refreshing in a grey January, quite possibly the worst month of the year in London, to have some colourful, bold, occasionally outrageous menswear splashed across the screen.

The thing I like about it is that the creativity on display is always within the bounds of what is realistic; not uber-experimental, conceptual, verging-on-art or ludicrously unwearable, unlike some fashion shows where emaciated ‘boys’ parade up and down in priceless bin-bags and Doc Martin boots coated with Swarovski studs.

Men, bless us, are fairly traditional at heart and lack the courage to try anything entirely new. And Pitti Uomo is, arguably, as experimental as men like to get. The silhouette is familiar; suits, blazers, slim jeans, ties, loafers, Oxfords, scarves. There’s relevance and where there is relevance there is inspiration.

One of the most inspiring characters, and easily one of the coolest cats lurking in the loggias of Florence come January, is known simply as Mr Raro. His real name, though not confirmed, appears to be Mohamad Ayoubi, originally designer and proprietor of a menswear store in Dubai called ‘Ayoubi Moda’ and now creator and leader of a moustache-logoed menswear company ‘Mararo.’

Though not quite as daring as fellow sartorial musketeer Manuel Vanni, who I have previously profiled as a Pitti style icon, Raro is very much his own man and wears his ensembles with confidence and a happy manner, incorporating that ever-important ingredient of individual style; personal ease and the hint of a grin.

You can imagine him looking excitedly through new fashions in an emporium, gesticulating animatedly at a new pair of trousers, trying them in on in a mirror, making his companions laugh whilst doing so by uttering some withering comment.

Unlike the Pitti disciples of Nick Wooster – who sport his trendy haircut, short-cut trousers and tight fitting blazers – Raro dresses like a textbook Italian Romeo. He doesn’t have ‘one look’ or one way of doing things; sometimes you’ll see him in a traditional windowpane suit (with some dazzling accessories, naturally) on other occasions you’ll see him in skinny jeans, loafers and a slim fitting blazer. He therefore has enormous appeal. Men and women consider him to look caddish and unflappably cool, neither in need nor desirous of others’ opinions. He has relevance due to his use of current trends and he has the respect of artistic street-style dressers for his ability to look beyond the suit for inspiration. Well played, Raro. Whoever you might be.

Clad Like the Gandy

It must be hard being David Gandy. Not only is the British male model the most in-demand in the men’s fashion industry, he’s also one of the most-gushed about guys in the glossy weekly mags, propelling him from beautiful anonymity to bona fide celebrity status.

He’s seen at premieres, openings, soirees and on primetime chat shows; the kind of rarefied world your average clotheshorse never gets near. Brand Gandy is well and truly under steam and, given he’s only 33, it would seem that it has plenty of track left to run.

“What are you talking about, ‘hard’?” I hear you protest “Life would be a lot easier if I looked like him!”

Of course it would be easier, in some respects. People would smile at you more, flirt with you more, sleep with you more and indulge you more. You’d be invited to parties, everyone would tell you how good you looked – all the time. In fact, you’d be confident, at most gatherings, of being the best looking bloke in the whole room.

However, these are only consolations. One of the big problems a high-profile, successful male model has is being taken seriously. Not in terms of modeling; there’s nothing serious about that at all. Modeling is just grown-up dressing up and mucking about. The problem is in being taken seriously in other fields, even if they are related to modeling.

David Gandy has developed from being a simple bod-for-shots to a fashion spokesperson, brand representative and relatively daring dresser. He’s also seemingly quite keen to enhance this profile publicly and using his assets to develop a brand for his future: “I’m a fan of Brand Beckham” he once said in an interview “He’s done incredibly well.”

Possibly due to his exposure to high-end fashion, Gandy is no slouch when it comes to matters sartorial. Whereas most physically attractive celebrities exasperate with their inability to conjure any elegance in their expensively assembled attire (read: Brad Pitt), Gandy looks at home in it and owns his own style.

When shooting, models have little to no control over what they wear. They are expected to follow commands and simply look good in the clothes for the camera. Gandy is one model who actually dresses in a fashion commensurate with the standards of a photoshoot. It is interesting, and rather encouraging, to see that he dresses in DB waistcoats, tucks his cardigan in, wears odd trousers, trilbies and patterned silk squares because he wants to, not because he has to.

And one of the major reasons why it is so encouraging is that this style of clothing has few cheerleaders of great sexual appeal, and I am certain it has had, and will continue to have, an affect on the way womenfolk perceive men. 5 or 6 years ago women thought I was an eccentric homosexual; half a decade later, I am a wink-worthy dapper gent. The more that men like Gandy, Beckham et al are photographed grinning in looks derived from classic British tailoring, the more the rest of us can enjoy the fact that this most reliable and distinguished style of clothing is finally being appreciated in the proper manner.

Gatsby Tailoring Revisited

Last week I bought the DVD of the recently released Baz Luhrmann adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the film that caused such a stir earlier this year. Regardless of what you may have thought of it, you’ll have to agree that its aesthetics, and particularly the tailoring, made for thought-provoking viewing. In purchasing the DVD and re-watching the film, I’ve had an opportunity to figure out why; to my mind, it’s just not quite right.

The concept behind the tailoring is inspired and in the interests of fairness, much of the tailoring in the film is well executed. Catherine Martin the designer responsible for producing the collection collaborated with Brooks Brothers (Fitzgerald’s own outfitters) and the suiting is filled with period features. Trousers feature a suitably high rise, jackets break high with three button and three-two-roll closures on display. A number of jackets are cut in a Norfolk-style, with intricate patterns of back pleats and half belts. The fabrics used in the suiting are similarly inspired choices. Gatsby’s white herringbone and pastel pink linen pinstriped suits are both cut in exquisitely fine linens by Holland & Sherry, and most of the dinner suiting uses Dormeuil cloths. Wolfsheim sports a handsomely cut double-breasted suit in a blue-grey wool and mohair mix which is arguably the finest piece in the film.

There are however, a number of technical and historical mistakes made in the film’s tailoring that spoil it – and I’m genuinely not being anal and miserable about this, I’ve spoken to various professionals on Savile Row who agree with me.

Firstly, the attention to detail regarding the fit of a number of the suits is poor – collar stands are frequently too high on Gatsby’s suits and stand proud, spoiling his effortlessly glamorous image. Trousers are cut with turn-ups, which is an historically accurate feature, but the legs are consistently too long – causing the hems to break on the shoes and the legs to bunch around the ankle and shin, spoiling the clean lines that the drape and turn-ups would otherwise provide if they were hung at the proper length just touching the top of the foot. There are some serious issues with cut too – trousers for some unknown reason (most likely in an attempt to emulate the modern fashion) are cut skinny and don’t work with the high-rise on the trousers. I suspect this is one of the features in the costume whereby Martin has tried to ‘modernise’ 1920s tailoring, but the effect is unflattering. If wool had been used it would have worked better, but the film is set in the summer and by being cut close through the leg, the linen cloths used don’t have any space to drape and flow – spoiling the otherwise flattering, floaty lines provided by the use of linen.

The choice of frog-mouth pockets on trousers is also curious. Again, they smack of an attempt to offer a modern approach to 20s tailoring, instead of simply producing something authentic. Frog mouth pockets do make an appearance from the 20s onwards, but they are by no means universally used. Conventional vertically cut or slanting welt trouser pockets remain the status-quo as they are today. Gatsby’s dinner suit waistcoat is cut far too high and presents an angular, unflattering line across the chest, as does the strange high-cut double breasted waistcoat worn by Tom Buchannan, which also sports an oddly shallow wrap. Again, this simply doesn’t work and has no historical basis – its an odd experiment.

There are a couple of shots which reveal machine stitched lapel and cuff buttonholes on Gatsby’s suits. I appreciate that this the tiniest thing which the general viewing public won’t appreciate, but it is indicative of a degree of costume cost-cutting on the part of the film, and it really, really irks me. Jay Gatsby would never, never have worn machine stitched buttonholes – even if they had existed in the 1920s.

Why you may ask, am I being so anal about this? Because the standard against which all Jazz-Age costume must be judged is HBO’s magnificent Prohibition era gangster drama Boardwalk Empire, in which the tailoring is flawless and an infinite source of inspiration to the sartorially-minded. In short, Boardwalk’s tailoring is magnificent and offers up authentically 20s visual masterpiece after masterpiece.

Furthermore, I may have the answer as to why. Controversial though this may be, to me the difference is evident in the approach of each project, and from the training of the designers in question. As I mentioned above, The Great Gatsby was produced by Academy Award winning costumier Catherine Martin, who’s training and background is not in men’s tailoring, nor in the history of men’s tailoring, or the tailoring of the Jazz Age. Boardwalk’s tailoring is overseen (and created) by the keen eye of prestigious New York tailor Martin Greenfield, who collaborates closely with the programme designer John Dunn and ensures that the suits are made using true bespoke techniques (rather than Brooks Brother’s mass production), that they fit properly, balance, that stylistically they work and that they are grounded in period 1920s tailoring. The effect of this expertise is, I think, far superior.

Allow me to clarify my position here. I do firmly believe that tailoring must include fashion forward elements and like any other aspect of dress, should keep evolving stylistically – but unlike casual wear or high fashion which has a truly experimental element, tailoring is grounded in several hundred years of sartorial principles and experience surrounding the construction and design of tailored garments. Time has tested the foundations of the tailoring world, and it is tailors trained in the art of bespoke tailoring – not fashion or costume designers – that know this and know how to make the complex elements of tailored garments work together harmoniously.

The Great Gatsby’s tailoring possesses elements which work beautifully, and other elements which form the basis of an interesting stylistic experiment. Ultimately however, this produces some flaws and reveals that the tailoring was produced by a fashion-focused rather than tailoring-focused designer. This leads me to the curious question of where the balance should lie in the world of tailoring; fashion focused and progressive, or timelessly elegant? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this, so please do feel free to comment below, as I intend for this question to form the basis of a future column.