In Praise of Sartorial Individuality

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In a particular movie scene, a Victorian gentleman makes his way into a particularly dubious establishment, something in the manner of an old coaching inn; full of rose cheeked, merry groups of drinkers, smiling and scowling in equal number. His magnificent formal evening dress, white tie, top hat and tails, shines in the dim light with a near celestial luminescence. The owner of the establishment, a portly man with a pompous ensemble of his own, stands in salute, instructs the entertainments to cease and announces with pride; “The Two Turtles is honoured by the visit of a gentleman.”

Such deference, though artificially portrayed, was not uncommon. Smartly dressed gentlemen were clearly identifiable among the rank masses, particularly in areas of town unfamiliar to the silk top hat and patent shoe. They were fawned over and bothered for their charity but generally, they were left rather well alone. Certainly they might have been the object of an optimistic theft in a dark alley on a gloomy evening, or the reason for a knowing nod, nervous glance or a hushed word, but generally whatever animosity there might have been to the educated and well-dressed, it was apparently well disguised.

These days, chastisement of chaps for the way they dress is, in my experience, commonplace. If you happen to be among certain groups of people in certain areas of cities, you come across certain persons I refer to as ‘spoilers’; spoilers, not because of the picnic-table fibreglass they attach to the back of their vehicles but because they often try and spoil the fun of dressing well. I remember walking past a growling trio who, rather startled by my advancing form, gave me the ‘once over’ and muttered ‘Poof!’ as I passed. I am little concerned by such antics. I don’t dress to attract attention or seek approval. Therefore, such appraisal is easily forgotten. But such events do cause ripples of thought; what would the world be like if everyone dressed the same?

If everyone dressed in a way one particular person, or one group of people, approved of the events of fashion conflict would surely never arise. Everyone would approve of one another, differences in such matters would be minute and inconsequential and you would have a uniformity of attire, similar to a day at Ascot or an ambassadorial dinner. However, if everyone dressed in glorious morning dress it would cease to be special and ceremonial; no one would be admired for their particular fashion or style. Clothing itself would cease to be important as, the natural progress of conflict is to cause discussion; and discussion which can divide as well as unite.

Looking at the glowing pictures of catalogue models, all perfectly groomed and attired, enjoying impossibly beautiful afternoons on Cambridge punts, elegant dinners on Tuscan terrazzas and glorious sunsets in Maine, it is difficult not to conclude that fashion’s message is clearly: ‘Dress like this… and the world will be beautiful.’ Of course, if more people took more interest in clothing and cultivated attractive personal styles, it would be an exotic occasion indeed, to walk down the street, oohing and ahhing at the cornucopia of elegance on show. I have been to several locations where I have relished and celebrated the sartorial artistry of those that surrounded me and the knee jerk reaction is quite naturally; ‘If only more people dressed like that!’ A famous writer I had the pleasure to meet and ask for an autograph remarked upon hearing my first name; ‘Ahh, Winston. More people should be called Winston…although if there were too many, it’d be rather terrible.’

There is nothing that cheapens quite like popularity, or I should say, over popularity. The fashionistas of my acquaintance, as fickle as they are, are loyal to one ideal; as soon as a garment appears in Primark, in the eyes of fashion, it is dead. Although such slavish devotion makes me chuckle heartedly, I empathise with such thinking. Men of style and flair who visit these pages, looking for advice or seeking to provide their own valued input, are in a minority. I for one am happy that, as a minority, it remains; stylish gentlemen are jewels to be enjoyed on occasion and for their charming individuality and expression of sartorial understanding. As they are, they shine as precious stones; treasured or ridiculed, berated or applauded, either is preferable to the idea of an oppressively numb uniform world.


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Winston Chesterfield is an amateur composer, fashion blogger, trained lawyer and style aficionado. He lives in Westminster, London and blogs at www.levraiwinston.com.

Comments

  1. Nicola Linza says:

    Winston,
    I agree wholeheartedly with your stance on individuality and style. We must always remember that a man’s actions, style, and his entire being i.e. speech, manner, inflection, knowledge, the way he treats others, etc. is reflective of a number of aspects surely in proportion to the man’s breeding, intelligence and confidence. Of course, we rarely would make much of an issue of it, yet it is nonetheless always there, as a given, in point and fact.
    Now let us address the fools on the street, that you encountered, those types are everywhere, always have been out there, and should always be ignored, short of legal action. Those who would be so crude to make such hideous and snide remarks are not worth your direct attention outside of a court of law. Be sure, such comments by people in public, as you well know, is nothing short of slander (or online – sad result of our contemporary world – technology abounds and allows any fool to expose their psychological insecurities and shortcomings by libeling others,) in both cases it is always the direct result of jealousy.
    You and I know Winston that those kinds of people have to learn the hard way how easy it is for us to handle these types of upsetting situations. The statements or remarks of these creeps, which start for their own amusement, prove to be not so amusing when they result is financial devastation to them in a court of law. We have been taught, vengeance is the Lord’s and that may be true, but for my palate, revenge is a dish best served cold.
    My grandmother often said that “jealously is worse than a disease.” I have found that to be especially true, especially now. It (human jealously) works in a psychological order of prominence in the following fashion (no pun intended,) first, there is the jealously principle of another’s physical looks, this always results in snide comments by those who are insecure in their own looks. Secondly, then often in combination to the previous, perceived social and career positions and/or family ties – note if factors in combination for the subject are above normal – the more brutal the attack results out of jealousy. It is in my experience always in that order, it is the human nature of the most desperate and sad perpetrators. Interesting is that in the case of digital libel, the perpetrators try to make an effort to hide their identity, always hide behind pseudonyms, during participation in such pathetic, uncivilized and lowly acts. Do they not realize that people of intelligence and power fully record such acts of libel as they occur, recognizing and tracking all information necessary for the courts, including proxy IP addresses? The same as one would have witnesses and record to an act of slander. I view your encounter on the street as distrubing. We have to remember that people stoop to such low levels as slander (and libel) do so because they are limited and disturbed. They do not realize that their actions speak volumes to us of their entire lack of background, civility, and intellect.
    This article was about style and individuality, but I believe addressed far more pressing issues of male breeding, confidence, and civility, and the ultimate costs of a lack thereof.
    Regards,
    Nicola

  2. Ted B. (Charging Rhino) says:

    That might fly in England, but in what was once called “the Colonies” overdressing will provoke scorn rather than deference in most venues, …or even disrespect. One aspect being that someone who misgauges what’s appropriate is often a phonie, or worse an arriviste’.
    If anything, the true movers-and-shakers typically are dressed-down a’notch, but their garments are of superior quality and cut to that of the masses…if a bit more treadbare and comfortably worn-in.

  3. Ted,
    Sadly scorn is more likely even in England nowadays. The anecdote referred to a film documenting a Victorian gentleman (circa 1880).

    W

  4. Like it’s often said ” variety is the spice of life” if everyone dresses the same it’ll be boring and bland. even at high school were we wore uniforms individuals still managed to show their style with shoes, bags, watches …

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