I was reading Stephen Pulvirent’s recent post entitled Man of Style/ Man of Fashion which started me thinking – always dangerous. Then I thought some more, and finally decided to stick my £1.50’s worth into the debate.
My father grew up in the late 40’s and 50’s and every Saturday his father would head into town to watch the local football team. My grandfather was a tool maker in the local factory, but the dress code for this weekend ritual was a suit, shirt, tie, brown shoes, raincoat and cap. And this, according to my father, was how all the men of the estate dressed to watch a match.
That ritual is of course repeated today, but sadly the manner and manners have all but gone.
We might all long for an era when fine suits and tailoring were standard attire day or night, from the terraces to the boardroom, but that is not the reality of the world in which we live. Increasingly life is has become a more casual affair.
But dressing appropriately to your social setting, age, the era in which you live and appropriate to your peer group is all part of being well dressed and what might be termed style.
I remember once reading a bit of advice in GQ to the effect that it was always better to be overdressed than underdressed. The reasoning was that if you turned up to a wedding in a wetsuit or swimmers and T-shirt you’d look stupid and people would think you stupid, holding you in contempt for your laziness. Conversely, if you wore a dinner jacket to a swim meet the worst that would happen is that you might appear slightly eccentric, you’d be well dressed and people would almost certainly want to talk to you. Personally, I think you’d look and feel a bit of a tit in either case.
One of the things you learn as an historian is that no one history book is ever the gospel truth. Every writer has an agenda, and that invariably tempers his/her interpretation and representation of the facts.
Differentiating style from fashion can largely depend on agenda. If you are weak to the forces of nostalgia – as many of us who read Mensflair are – then you’ll invariably look to the past to determine what is stylish. Conversely, if you obsess over the new and modernity, as do much of the media (because of the necessity to entertain) than the label ‘stylish’ is attributed to anybody who wears enough designer labels within the current season. The truth lies in the middle ground.
My own view is that fashion is the macro while style is the micro. Fashion sets broad parameters on a grand scale, which can change from season to season, year to year and decade to decade. And sometimes they span decades. What you do within those parameters is a matter of style, and how well is a matter of stylishness. For example, Cary Grant, Agnelli, Douglas Fairbanks, the Duke of Windsor, Tommy Nutter and Tom Ford are all regarded as stylish by one group or another. But essentially the garment that has provided that label is the suit. The parameters of fashion expanded and contracted but through all those periods essentially the suit remained much the same garment.
And so for me I suppose the key to stylishness is picking and working within the parameters that span the greatest timeframe.