Speaking of men and clothes (as we've been doing the last few days), I've been enjoying some of the work done by "Izzy" at Manolo for the Men, a blog about men and fashion that's a spin-off from the granddaddy of all fashion blogs, Manolo's Shoe Blog.
I liked his recent post, for instance, eulogizing the fashion sense of the now-dead William F. Buckley. He writes:
As befitted his politics, he never swayed in matters of appearance from the preppie style seen in this photo of him around the time of his college days at Yale. Ironically, that lookcomprising a button-downed collar, narrow tie with a small knot, and three-button sack tweed jacket rolled to the second button (note the button hole on the lapel)is now at the height of fashion, and is being copied by labels such as of Band of Outsiders (some of whose wares can be purchased here).
The one time Izzy was in close promixity to Buckley, your humble blogger noticed that Buckley’s tuxedowhich had survived innumerable galas, fundraisers, and rubber chicken dinnerswas so battered that it had a faded brown stripe on its shoulder, the result of years of wear from the leather strap from his briefcase. Surely there is nothing more trad than a dinner jacket that is no longer entirely black.
"Trad," for those of you who were wondering (as I was), is defined by Wikipedia thusly:
American Trad (also known as AmerTrad or simply Trad in the United States) is a men's clothing style that was influenced by early Brooks Brothers clothes and its amalgam of Anglo-American style; as well as by the natural-shouldered Ivy League clothing style of the 1920s to 1960s. For this reason, American Trad is sometimes considered akin to the preppy look.
Eschewing blatant display of excess and fickle fashion, the American Trad style includes elements such as the three-button rolled to two ("3/2" for short) sack fit blazers and suits, plain front trousers, button-down Oxford cloth shirts, silk ties, and loafers made by Alden, Allen-Edmonds, Bass (the Weejun) and other American shoe manufacturers.
... Although American Trad is associated with New England mainstream WASP culture, notable adherents have included authors and journalists such as F. Scott Fitzgerald ... and George Plimpton.
This is all interesting in its own right, this anatomizing of the fashion aesthetic of this nearly extinct species of New England WASP. Also interesting is the way that the conventions of this look re-emerge in other kinds of looks that have a very different constellation of cultural signifiers.
Izzy (of Manolo for the Men) writes, for instance, about the popularity, amongst rappers, of the very preppy (maybe not quite Trad, but in that ballpark) tattersall pattern:
Named after a British horse auctioneer from the 1700s, the tattersall pattern originated on horse blankets, something it is still used for. It has long been the classic design for flannel shirts meant to be worn with tweeds in the countryside, but Izzy has noticed that a few hip-hop stars, such as TI above,have been donning the conservative pattern, in the same way that many have been borrowing from preppy attire (note TI’s sherbet sweater).
People often write about fashion as it's totally transient, totally superficial-- as if TI and his fellow Tattersall-sporting MCs are simply wearing these clothes because they liked how they looked, or they needed something new, or whatever. The truth, though, is that they're wearing these clothes, unconsciously or consciously, because they convey some sense of class, wealth, exclusivity, and because hip-hop culture is invested in these ideas in all sorts of complicated ways.
It's not an accident, for instance, that Ralph Lauren, that most overt of preppy labels, was, at least for a while, the brand of choice for hip-hop kids, nor is it an accident that Ralph Lauren himself was born Ralph Lifshitz, in the Bronx, to immigrant Jewish parents (his father was a house painter).
For that matter, I never believed that William F. Buckley, the uber-prep, was quite the unselfconscious avatar of privilege and old money he made himself out to be. There's something too affected, something too too, about his whole shtick. People who are truly at ease with themselves, and with their place in the world, don't expend so much energy advertising their ease and comfort to the world.
Point being, clothes are always more than just clothes, and fashion is usually more than just the latest trend.