The Style of Ordinary Americans

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A rich vein of style runs through American men. It is a style that is partly imported and partly their own. But each part constantly and consistently informs how they dress, and gives them a little-recognised advantage over their peers in England and Italy.

Americans love their history – no other nation reveres and studies the events of its past with such fervour. Perhaps it is because they have so little of it. Perhaps it is because it is all so recent.

As with the Civil War or the civil rights movement, so it is with US sartorial history. Much examined and much loved, American traditions of dress are loyally pursued.

English men have lost touch with their traditions, by comparison.

Go to a city in the UK outside London. Ask an average man on the street about England’s sartorial tradition; he will draw a blank. Ask him what Northampton is famous for; he will not say shoemaking. He may have heard of Savile Row, but he will be able to tell you little about its fame.

And this is the country that stylish Americans usually hold as the source of the greatest style in the world.

Most importantly, there are very few English men that revere England’s traditions of tweeds, three-piece suits and brogues. By contrast, preppy style in the US is held in the highest regard. There are more blogs on that than any other aspect of men’s style.

A friend of mine grew up in Baltimore. (Remove the t and i for the local pronunciation.) He spent his childhood outdoors, camping, skiing and going fishing with his father and grandfather. Not a posh kid from the metropolis.

Yet he told me recently he never wears t-shirts, just polo shirts and dress shirts. They just look better on a man – or at the least flatter more men. This is the great preppy tradition filtering down: polo shirts are the casual standard, not t-shirts.

Equally, he apologised for wearing deck shoes into the office, sockless. Yet to English men, wearing loafers without socks like this is an element of fashion – something continental and stylish they seek to emulate.

One final example, drawn from my day job. During a trip last week to New York, meeting lawyers at the big American firms, I was struck by how well dressed everyone was. To a man they obviously spent more time (and money probably) on their dress. Crisp white shirts, elegant cuff links and a smattering of bespoke.

A rich vein of style runs through American men.


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Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at permanentstyle.blogspot.com. He has too many suits.