Sprezzatura Revisited

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There is always much talk of sprezzatura and affected nonchalance in men’s dressing and style, and has been for at least some 500 odd years or so. Too often though, all that is said is “looking nonchalant is important,” “try hard, but don’t look like you are,” or “here are ways a few distinguished gentlemen did things differently,” and when more is added, it is often secondary to these common assertions. That said, I am certainly not suggesting that these are bad bits of advice (or more personally, that I do not read them, absorb them, write them, and employ them on a daily basis), but I do think they require some reflection.

First off, yes, looking like you spent an hour adjusting your necktie is no way to go about, and if you are spending an hour adjusting your necktie, I have some lovely hobby and book recommendations you should take a look at. On the other hand, I think it is even worse to look like you spent that hour trying to look like you spent 5 minutes. Affected nonchalance is the goal, not falsely-nonchalant affectation.

And, while I know the temptation is great, just because Agnelli or the Duke of Windsor did it doesn’t mean you should too. We have many things to learn from these ever-elegant men, but neither of them became as elegant as they did by mimicking others exactly. Now I hate to sound like I am telling anyone what they can and cannot wear, and believe me I wouldn’t dare do so, but I will say that one should proceed with caution when looking to copy “nonchalant” quirks. While unbuttoned shirt cuffs look a bit jaunty and unfussy, putting your watch on over your cuff can quickly make you seem like you think you’re The Rake himself; developing your own peccadilloes is far more enjoyable anyway.

the-rake-agnelli

All of this though is futile if the most important factor is missing: you must actually look comfortable and nonchalant. Whether your tie is straight or swaying doesn’t matter if it looks like you would rather not be wearing one, and no matter how precisely your coat is cut, if you wear it like a straight-jacket, forget looking elegant.

To risk shameless public admiration, Lino of Al Bazar is a perfect example of looking at home in one’s clothes. I am convinced that he was born in double breasted suits and half-undone monkstraps…and this is exactly what I think is meant by sprezzatura. Even though I hesitate to say whether he does or does not have to think very much when he gets dressed in the morning, as soon as he leaves the house, no single quirk or item stands out, but rather, I get an overall impression of ease, comfort, and confidence that I think we can all aspire to (whether you like his particular taste or not).

lino-sprezzatura
Image credit: TheSartorialist.com

Lastly, I just want to say that I make no claims at being the authority on this matter – far from it. Each day is a new adventure, and style takes a lifetime to cultivate; if it didn’t, things would get quite boring. Inspiration should come from all around us, and our clothes should reflect who we are, what we want to say to the world, and what we aspire to. The question isn’t “How do I look effortless and comfortable like the greats?” but rather “How do I look comfortable and elegant as myself?”


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Stephen Pulvirent blogs at thesimplyrefined.blogspot.com. Striving always for elegance and excellence, Stephen believes that whether it be dress, drink or diversion, it should be considered, explored, and enjoyed.

Comments

  1. Tsing Tao says:

    That second photo is lifted from The Sartorialist and uncredited. An attempt at photographic nonchalance? Surely you jest.

  2. MensFlair says:

    @Tsing Tao,

    Thanks!

  3. I find it’s easiest to pull it all off in garments that are old favorites. The new item you bought might be bespoke, on trend, comfortable, and elegant, but nothing is as comfortable as, or inspires as much confidence as the familiar.

    I posit that any photo illustration of sprezzatura is of a man wearing something he’s owned at least several years.

  4. I agree that the worn and familiar always gives greater confidence. Perhaps the answer to achieving sprezzatura (is there as charming a word to describe women’s dressing I wonder) is to boldly mix old favourites with the new?

    It not only looks dapper/interesting but will ensure that dressing remains an adventure; that you remain a little anxious/excited by what you are wearing and therefore avoid looking over-confident, blase or affected!

  5. Carl Henrik L. says:

    People tend to forget that sprezzatura not primaraly concerns clothes, but personality. How many of those on style blogs and fora talking about sprezzatura has acctually read count Baldesar Castiglione’s ‘Book of the Courtier’ (where the term is introduced and defined)?

    Sprezzatura – derived from the Italian verb ‘sprezzare’, meaning ‘to despise’ or ‘to contempt’ – and of course in this case the contempt of one’s own effort.

    Unfortunatly I do not own an English edition of the ‘Book of the Courtier’, so I will translate myself from my Swedish edition. All lingual weaknesses in the translation are on my account. The sentence where ‘sprezzatura’ is introduced reads as follows:

    ‘But after many occasions of having contemplated over how this grace is achieved, and disregarded those who has it as a gift from above, I find a universal rule that in this respect is applicable to every thing people say and do, namely that to every extent avoid affectation, like a sharp and dangerous skerry, and in all contexts show – to introduce a new word – a certain “sprezzatura”; an untroubled appearance, that hides the art of it and shows that what one says and does is without any effort and almost without giving it even a thought.’

    So to think that one can achieve and excel in sprezzatura when it comes to clothes and style only, without mastering sprezzatura in all of life’s matters, one is very, very wrong. One will look – and act – like a clown.

  6. Gloria says:

    @Carl: Count me among them. Thank my degree in art history. I had no idea the term was so widely used among fans of fashion.