The Art Of Wearing Clothes OR Are You Seriously Going Out Like That ?
By George Frazier
Many a vagrant vogue has prevailed and perished in the hundred-and-fifty-odd years since George Bryan (Beau) Brummell resigned from the tony Tenth Hussars upon being denied permission to wear a uniform of his own design, but the criterion by which men are adjudged either beautifully or badly dressed is still what it was in that dandified day when people cherished the belief that the Beau achieved the flawless fit of his gloves by having the fingers made by one man and the thumbs by another.
Now, as then, an impeccably turned-out male is characterized by the same “certain exquisite propriety” of dress that Lord Byron admired so abundantly in Brummell. “If John Bull turns to look after you,” the Beau once observed, “you are not well-dressed, but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable.”
This was Brummell’s bequest—his irreproachably tasteful simplicity.
What’s more, it is the one constant in the fickleness of fashion, nor has any mode, no matter how maniac, ever proved it spinach—neither the cult of pipe-stemmed perfection that caused any true Edwardian dandy to shudder at the thought of having, as Max Beerbohm put it, “the incomparable set of his trousers spoilt by the perching of any dear little child upon his knee”; nor the autograph-slickered, bell-bottomed callowness of the “cake-eaters” and “sheiks” who found their laureate in John Held, Jr.; nor the casual coolness of all the beer jackets of Princeton springtimes; nor the abortive and itinerant “Italian style”; nor, for that matter, even the natural-shouldered, pleatless-trousered look that is known as “Ivy League,” but that by any name at all would still be the Brooks Brothers No. 1 sack suit.
“. . . a white-satin-pinked vest close-sleeved to the wrist, and over the body a doublet finely flowered, and embroidered with pearls, and in the feather of his hat a large ruby and pearl drop at the bottom of the sprig in place of a button. His breeches, with his stockings and ribbon garters, fringed at the end, all white; and buff shoes, which, on great court days, were so gorgeously covered with precious stones as to have exceeded the value of 6,600 pounds; and he had a suit of armor of solid silver, with sword and hilt blazing with diamonds, rubies and pearls.”
Nor was Lord Buckingham, James I’s favorite, any shrinking violet either, for, as Hayden has it, he “had his diamonds tacked so loosely on [his robe] that when he chose to shake a few off on the ground, he obtained all the fame he desired from the pickers-up.”
And then, too, there was Prince von Kaunitz, who achieved the desired shad of his wig by strolling back and forth while four lackeys sprayed it with different tints of scented powder. Indeed, in those pre-Brummell years, men were such peacocks that The Times of London used to describe their clothes in as minute and fascinated detail as it did women’s.
With the Beau’s arrival in London, however, restraint in male attire became the order of the day and, for that matter, of every debonair day thereafter. It is, in fact, almost impossible to exaggerate Brummell’s influence, for as Virginia Woolf has said, “Without a single noble, important, or valuable action to his credit, he cuts a figure; he stands for a symbol; his ghost walks among us still.” Indeed, because of him alone simplicity became the hallmark of the well-dressed man, whether he be a Victorian Prime Minister named Lord Melbourne, an American general named A. J. Drexel Biddle, a former Secretary of State named Dean Acheson, or a song-and-dance man out of Omaha named Fred Astaire.
But Brummell, far from being a prophet without honor, was a legend even in his own lifetime—a circumstance, incidentally, that he helped propagate by circulating rumors to the effect that, among other primping practices, he mixed champagne in his boot polish, employed three different coiffeurs to do his hair (one for the temples, another for the crown, and a third for the front), and had once jilted a rich and beautiful noblewoman because he couldn’t abide the way she ate cabbage.
Nevertheless, his fussiness was genuine and it was a matter of record that he refused to take off his hat to ladies for fear that he might not be able to get it back on his head at the precisely rakish angle. Furthermore, his concern for himself was so rapt that he was able to identify his troop only because one of its members had “a very large blue nose.” Yet for all his affectations, he was possessed of a sense of beauty that bordered on genius. So flawless was the fit of Brummell’s coat that, according to Byron, “It seemed as if the body thought.”
Indeed, next to the Beau himself, Byron must have been Brummell’s most ardent admirer—a circumstance, by the way, that must seem a little incredible, for, as famous as he was, as handsome, as talented, as nobly-born, and as much a lion among the ladies, Byron, who achieved his own wind-blown “Byronic” look by putting his hair up in curlers at bedtime, spent sleepless nights tossing over his inability to tie a neckcloth with any of Brummell’s surpassing skill.
As it happened, the Beau, who took three hours to dress and used to change his clothes three times a day, made such a ritual of tying his neckcloth that the Prince of Wales, who, it was said, “would rather be amiable and familiar with his tailor than agreeable and friendly with the most illustrious members of the aristocracy,” considered it a privilege to be permitted to observe the ceremony. The trick was to wrinkle the twelve-inch-wide white muslin which was wound horizontally around the neck, into the five-or-so inches between the chin and shoulder blades.
This “creasing down,” as it was known, was accomplished by Brummell’s reclining in his chair as if he were being shaved and, when the cloth was finally wound around his neck, sinking his head, ever so slowly, until the muslin wrinkled to perfection, for, as Virginia Woolf has said, “If one wrinkle was too deep or too shallow, the cloth was thrown into a basket and the attempt renewed.” Once, when a visitor inquired what Brummell’s valet was carrying as he descended from his master’s dressing room, he was informed, “These are our failures, sir.” This was what has since come to be known as “studied carelessness”—”the perfect art,” as Kathleen Campbell has said, “which conceals art, that satisfying spontaneity which can be achieved only by taking intense thought.”
Nowadays, it is to be observed in such seeming trifles as the way that a well-dressed man wears a handkerchief in his breast pocket. Unlike the wrong way—a squarish effect which, though the handkerchief is merely thrust into the pocket, gives a highly contrived look—it consists of fluffing the handkerchief so painstakingly that it seems merely to have been thrust into the pocket. But even studied carelessness cannot make a man well-dressed if he lacks, in Max Beerbohm’s words, “physical distinction, a sense of beauty, and either cash or credit.” Moreover, if age cannot wither, neither, for that matter, can custom-tailoring stale the man who has those attributes.
It is scarcely a coincidence that not only are most “best-dressed” men more than forty years of age, but also that they rarely, if ever, wear ready-made clothes. For in addition to good looks and clothes sense, they have by and large, enough money to afford the invaluable collaboration of superb tailors like Bernard Weatherill and H. Harris in New York and E. Tautz in London; of such American shirtmakers as Dudley G. Eldridge, Brooks Brothers, and Sulka’s, and Turnbull & Asser of London; of bootmakers like Lobb of St. James’s Street in London (which is, incidentally, one of the most beautiful shops in the world) and the Boston Bootmakers of Boston; of tiemakers like Dudley G. Eldridge, Sulka’s, and Brooks Brothers in this country and Turnbull & Asser abroad; and, equally important, of barbers as skilled as, say, the celebrated Vincent Battaglia of the Plaza Hotel.
“Best-dressed” men are, almost without exception, committed to nothing but the best (though not necessarily the most expensive), and even their shoes must be polished (and, frequently, boned) to perfection—just as was the case in Regency London when the death of one Lieutenant-Colonel Kelly of the First Foot Guards sent all the dandies racing to hire his valet, who was rumored to have a secret formula that had imparted the incomparable sheen to his late master’s footwear.
When, incidentally, the valet let it be known that he expected a salary of two hundred pounds a year, Brummell told him, “If you will make it guineas, I shall be happy to attend upon you.” As things were to turn out, there was a certain ominousness about this anecdote, for it reveals Brummell at the critical moment when he was beginning to lose one of the three ingredients that combine to make a man well-dressed—in this case, his credit with his tailor, Schweitzer & Davidson of Cork Street, Piccadilly. When, a bit later on, he began to lose his trim figure as well, he was no longer the glass of fashion mirroring the most elegant of all eras.
Obviously, the credentials required for recognition as an authentically well-dressed man are not very readily come by. Thus in the case of a certain attractive young New York advertising executive who wears suits, shirts, and ties of impeccable taste, the disqualification lies in his weakness for bizarre footwear, particularly during the summer, when he frequently appears in what Murray Kempton has described as “those obscene ventilated shoes.”
Yet for all the range of varied views expressed about men’s clothes—reactions extending all the way from Thoreau’s admonition to “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes,” and Hawthorne’s austere conviction that “Those who make their dress a principal part of themselves will in general become of no more value than their dress,” to Max Beerbohm’s airy belief that no man can cut a dashing figure unless he is sufficiently clothes-conscious not to be distracted by a job or family—there is at least a measure of accord about the fact that, though clothes do not necessarily make the man, they do, if becoming, make him confident and content. “A man,” said Dickens’ Mark Tapley, “may be in good spirits and good temper when he’s well-dressed. There ain’t much credit in that.”
Brummell, for instance, had, like most flawlessly turned-out men, an air of such unassailable authority that he provided a shining example for Scott Fitzgerald’s later claim that “Gentlemen’s clothes are a symbol of the ‘power that man must hold and that passes from race to race.’ ” It may well have been a desire for this sense of security that derives from being well-dressed that prompted young American officers in the First World War to put on new white gloves before going into battle. Actually, the gloves need not have been new—merely spotlessly clean—for in men’s clothes (far more so than in women’s) age lends a certain reassuring patina. “Trust not,” warned Carlyle, “the heart of that man for whom old clothes are not venerable,” an attitude that was subsequently endorsed by Rupert Brooke, who sang of “the good smell of old clothes.”
Part of the appeal of old clothes lies, of course, in the fact that one becomes almost dependent upon them. They are, as it were, known quantities, and, rather than discard them, one goes to great lengths to keep them serviceable, having, for instance, a favorite jacket relined or the frayed collars and cuffs of a well-cut shirt turned. One of the most attractive items in Joseph Bryan III’s wardrobe, for example, is a dinner coat that, except for having been relined and having had its buttons tightened, is precisely as it was when his father had it made in 1912.
There is, after all, a certain amount of experimentation, of trial-and-error involved in wearing new things, a peril, by the way, that Dickens noted in Great Expectations, where he says, “Probably every new and eagerly expected garment ever put on since clothes came in falls a trifle short of the wearer’s expectations.” Furthermore, it is a fact that old clothes—provided, of course, that they are of the highest quality—have become molded to one’s body, which is why no first-rate tailor considers his job completed until he has altered certain minor shortcomings that become apparent only after a customer has worn a suit a half-dozen-or-so times. Once a suit has received its maker’s approval, however, it requires infinitely less care than do inferior garments.
Hetherington Turnbull, the head of F. L. Dunne’s (a bespoke tailor of such prestige that when John P. Marquand did a reverent article about it for Vogue, he asked that his recompense be a Dunne suit) has not had his dinner coat pressed once in the more-than-thirty years since it was made.
As it happens, however, the best-dressed American men—at least for the most part—not only cherish venerable clothes, but cherish venerable milieux as well. Like their apparel, they, too, are full of tradition, being, rather more often than not, products of such sanctified New England private schools as St. Mark’s, Groton, and St. Paul’s, and of ivied universities like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton; living, not in such youthful and characterless cities as Los Angeles, but in either what Roger Angell has termed “The Effete East”—which is to say the hallowed ground of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and the posher precincts of Long Island—or in such proper outposts as Richmond and San Francisco; and belonging to such select clubs as the Racquet & Tennis and the Brook in Manhattan, the Southampton on Long Island, the Somerset in Boston, the Philadelphia in Philadelphia, and, as nonresident members, Buck’s and White’s in London.
They walk, so to speak, in beauty, and at dusk, when not playing backgammon at such sanctuaries, they turn up at beatified bars like the ones in the St. Regis in New York and the Ritz-Carlton in Boston. Furthermore, they not only respect, but quite often indeed are exceedingly fond of the men who sell them clothes—which, after all, is the way they were brought up, down through the years since Christmas vacations when Brooks Brothers was where, in a manner of speaking, they hung their childhood, and with such correct consequences that, in their navy-blue overcoats from Rowes of London, they were proper and personable little gentlemen indeed. And afterwards, on the mornings of their weddings, it would have been absolutely unthinkable not to have had a Brooks Brothers representative on hand to tie their and their ushers’ ascots.
For this, everything considered, is the authentically well-dressed American man’s way of life, even unto J. P. Morgan’s having customarily greeted one Brooks employee with a deferential, “Good morning, Mr. Webb,” and having had Mr. Webb reply, “Good morning, Jack.” Always there is noblesse oblige.
Almost without exception, the best-dressed men have, very simply and very vernacularly, colossal class. And being, in most cases, to the manor born, they feel no urgency, as do less secure men, to be either obvious or extravagant. Thus although there was nothing in the least amiss about the fact that the late Herbert Bayard Swope (whose claims to chicness were deflated one night when Damon Runyon pointed out to Leonard Lyons the unpardonable offense of Swope’s creased sleeves) happened to favor expensive monogrammed hosiery, it is, nevertheless, not without a certain significance that, for both daytime and formal evening occasions, A. J. Drexel Biddle wears black-ribbed “fine lisle vat-dyed” socks (which have nylon reinforced toes and heels) that cost him only a dollar a pair at Jacob Reed’s in Philadelphia.
Although it would be altogether too arbitrary to single out Biddle, the sixty-three-year-old Adjutant General of Pennsylvania, as the best-dressed man in the United States, it would, at the same time, be something of a task to find a male more elegant than he, not only in this country, but anywhere else in the world. Other well-dressed men are the first to acknowledge this, none, however, any more tangibly than Ahmet Ertegun, a son of the late Turkish Ambassador to the United States.
Some years ago, when Ertegun somehow came into possession of a suit that had been made for Biddle by E. Tautz of London in 1923, he promptly put it into a protective cellophane covering and hung it in a closet. It has remained there ever since, emerging only when he wears it on some opulent occasion or when he permits clothes-conscious male visitors the privilege of admiring its splendid cut, caressing its incomparable stitching.
On the elegant face of things, one would probably imagine that “Tony” Biddle has closet upon closet of clothes. Actually, this Main Line Philadelphian, whose father was the epic figure about whom the playThe Happiest Millionaire was written and whom himself was one of the most extraordinary participants in the Second World War, has so sparse a wardrobe that Lord Byron, for one, and Lieutenant General Rafael Trujillo, Jr., for another, would feel that it amounted to not having a stitch to their names.
On June 20, 1812, for example, Byron, according to Leslie A. Marchand, his most incisive biographer:
“. . . bought ’12 Fine white Quilting Waistcoats’; on July 1 ‘A spfine Olive Court dress Coat lined Completely thro wh White Silk, 20 Elegantly Cut & Highly polished Steele buttons, A very rich Embroidered Court dress Waistcoat, and A pair rich black Silk Breeches.’ In August and September he added dozens of other items, bringing the total bill on September 18 to £243.10s.”
As for Trujillo, his taste in clothes is apparently as undiscriminating as it is in certain other matters. He once commissioned a New York tailor to make him—sight unseen!—fourteen suits at $285 each, four sports jackets at $196 apiece, ten sports shirts at from $20 to $30 each, twenty-five $33 dress shirts, fifty $7.50 neckties, and four pairs of slacks at $88 a pair.
Even in its entirety, Biddle’s wardrobe seems, by contrast, almost monastic. It includes seven so-called business suits—two double- and one single-breasted navy-blue serge; one double- and one single-breasted dark-blue pin-stripe flannel; one single-breasted charcoal-grey flannel. (They were made by either H. Harris of New York, who charges $225 and up for a two-piece suit, or E. Tautz of London who charges, as to do most topnotch British tailors, almost a quarter less.
All have skeleton alpaca linings and the sleeves have three buttons and open buttonholes. The single-breasteds have three-button, notched-lapel jackets.) For formal daytime wear, Biddle has a charcoal-grey cheviot cutaway, a single-breasted white waistcoat, and black trousers with broad white stripes. (With these, he wears a black silk ascot and a wide wing collar.) For semiformal daytime occasions, he has a charcoal-grey single-breasted cheviot sack coat and trousers, in either black or Cambridge grey, with broad white stripes. Besides a ready-made Aquascutum raincoat, Biddle owns three outer coats—a double-breasted blue chinchilla ($175 from Tautz), a single-breasted light drab covert cloth ($225, H. Harris), and a double-breasted polo coat with white bone buttons ($325, Harris). He has, in addition to a tweed cap, four hats, all of them purchased at Lock’s in London too many years ago for him to recall exactly what they cost. One is a high-silk, one an opera hat, and the other two homburgs—one black and one green.
For formal evening wear, Biddle has tails ($175, Tautz), a double-breasted dinner coat with satin shawl lapels ($150, Tautz), and, for warm weather, two single-breasted, shawl-collared white gabardine dinner coats ($98 each, Tautz). His evening shirts, with which he wears a conventionally-shaped bow tie, have pleats, roll collars, and are made for him by Dudley G. Eldridge of New York at $28 each.
Biddle’s sports clothes include three tweed jackets ($160 each, Harris), three pairs of charcoal-grey flannel slacks, and a half-dozen button-down shirts made by Eldridge out of silk that he, Biddle, bought in Spain. His shoes, of which he has three pairs of black for daytime wear and one patent leather and one calfskin for evening wear, were made by Paulsen & Stone of London, who also made for him, for sports wear, a pair of black moccasins, a pair of black loafers, and two pairs of white canvas shoes with brown leather toes and rubber soles (which he wears with either prewar white flannels or an ancient double-breasted light-grey sharkskin suit).
Biddle’s neck-band shirts, which are either starched dickey bosoms (elongated so that the bosoms extend below the middle button of his jacket) or semi-starched pleated bosoms, have white cuffs and bodies of either grey or light blue. They cost $26 each and are made by Eldridge, who also makes his stiff white collars ($3 each) and his ties ($7.50 each), which run to solid black silks and discreet shepherd checks and are shaped so as to make a knot small enough to fit neatly into a hard collar. His underwear is ready-made and comes from Jacob Reed’s.
As for his military wardrobe, it seems downright skimpy when compared with what, according to Leslie A. Marchand, Lord Byron had on hand during his service in Greece:
“Two Braided Plaid Jackets, 4 pair of Trowsers, Red Cloth Jacket braided with Black, Red Cloth Jacket trimmed with Gold Lace, Four Full Dress Uniform Coats trimmed with Gold Lace, Two Pair Blue Trowsers trimmed with Gold Lace . . . 2 Helmets with Gilt Ornaments (Homeric helmets, gilt with an overtowering plume, under which . . . were his coat of arms and the motto ‘Crede Byron’), Six Pair of Gold Lace Epaulets, One Pair of Silver Lace Epaulets, 5 Gold Lace Sword Knots, and various guns and equipment, including ten swords and a sword stick.”
Biddle somehow manages to squeeze by on a total of five uniforms.
Like all men with innate clothes sense, Biddle eschews such abominations as ankle-length socks, matching tie-and-handkerchief sets, huge cuff links, conspicuous tie clasps, and, most hideous of all, cellophane hat covers. Indeed, well-dressed men, almost without exception, are interested in something novel in clothing, only when it is both as attractive and functional as, say the duffer coat, which proved its value to the Royal Navy in the Second World War.
Naturally, Biddle’s coat sleeves are not only uncreased, but also of such length as to permit a fraction-of-an-inch of his shirt cuff to show—as, similarly, the neck of his jacket is cut so that the back of his shirt collar is exposed. As for the width of his trousers and coat lapels, it is determined, not by the extreme narrowness that is something of a rage these days, but by, respectively, the length of his foot and the breadth of his shoulders. He selects, in short, clothes that become him. For anyone who is not as “clean favored and imperially slim . . . and admirably schooled in every grace” as Biddle is, the Biddle style of dress would be preposterous. Few things are more precarious than the indiscriminate aping of another man’s wardrobe.
If, for example, the Cary Grant of To Catch a Thief was culpable of anything, it was less his onetime activities as a “cat burglar” than the fact that his clothes in that movie aroused such demonstrative admiration among women that any number of men were inspired to try to copy the actor’s wardrobe. For the most part, the results were disastrous. It should be noted, by the way, that women should never be permitted to counsel men about clothes. “No woman,” says author Finis Farr, “really knows anything about men’s clothes. How could she? After all, she’s conditioned to obsolescence, to the principle that things go out of fashion. Well-dressed men know that nothing worth-while is ever outmoded, that a superb tailor’s work is ageless.”
It is, of course, a manifestation of A. J. Drexel Biddle’s clothes sense that he patronizes such superb tailors as E. Tautz in London and H. Harris in New York. Conceivably, he might, with equally impressive results, go to any one of several others, among them Kilgour, French & Stanbury, Strachan & Hunt, E. C. Squires, Davis & Anderson, and Sandon in London and, in New York, F. L. Dunne, Bernard Weatherill, Pat Sylvestri, Lord of New York, Brooks Brothers, and Rosenthal-Maretz. If, as is most unlikely, he happened to be residing in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he could avail himself of the services of T and T, which, though not stylistically creative, can, like its Hong Kong counterparts, produce hand-stitched, authentically custom-tailored suits for as little as $75 each.
Although the British, by and large, are more skilled and less expensive than the Americans, not even the very best of them is superior to Weatherill and Harris, which, if not necessarily without peer, are certainly unsurpassed in this country. It is almost impossible, however, to generalize about American tailors, for, unlike their London counterparts, few of them are cast in the same mold. On the one hand, for example, are the Weatherill’s and Harris’, which, though quite able to turn out any style of suit, are assertively uninfluenced by fads, and, on the other, the likes of Lord of New York, whose clientele, for the most part, is disposed toward the Ivy League cut. But of all American tailors, no two, notwithstanding their conspicuous dissimilarities, are more representative than Weatherill, which is hallowed, and Lord, which is youthful and, despite no genuine feeling for tradition, immensely worth-while because of the meticulous workmanship of its Peter D’Annunzio.
Bernard Weatherill, which has been thriving in New York City for more than thirty-five years, is owned by Charles Weatherill (whose brother Bernard has a shop in London), is terribly British, and, as such, posh, polite, and paneled. Yet for all its innate respect for the old, Weatherill has a lively enough interest in the new to enable it to satisfy even the most progressive-minded members of the well-heeled younger generation. It is also very horsy, indeed, being unquestionably the foremost American maker of sidesaddle habits and riding breeches (which it measures to within one-sixteenth of an inch in New York and, because of prohibitive labor costs in this country, then has executed in London).
Such, in fact, is its artistry at this sort of thing that it is the only American tailoring establishment to have made a “Regulation Club evening and driving kit” for a member of the London Coaching Club.
Weatherill charges $260 and up for a three-piece suit, takes some three weeks to turn it out, and feels that a perfect fit is achieved only with one’s third suit. In the tradition of British bespoke tailoring, it favors four buttons with buttonholes on the sleeves of business suits and a single one on sports jackets (though it does think it rather jolly to add a second one—on the side of the sleeve next to the body—that permits the wearer to button the sleeves tightly around the wrists in foul weather). Where Weatherill (along with other topnotch American firms) has a distinct advantage over the British is in its ability to make a superb tropical-weight suit. Moreover, unlike London establishments, it does not feel that if a tailor is satisfied with a garment, the customer should be too.
One day at Weatherill in London, for example, a cutter suddenly grabbed his shears and began slashing a suit because of his umbrage at the fact that the customer who was trying it on had not expressed his satisfaction promptly enough. Weatherill in New York does, however, like to keep a fatherly eye on its garments and, for four dollars, it will hand-press (which takes an hour or more) any suit, no matter how ancient, that came from its work benches.
Unlike Weatherill, Lord of New York is brash, explorative, and highly disorganized. Chronologically, Lord of New York is a branch of a genealogy that goes all the way back to 1835 and Brooks Brothers’ natural-shoulder—or, as it is precisely known, No. 1—sack suit. Around the turn of the century, Arthur Rosenberg, then the foremost tailor in New Haven, began to exploit this style among Yale undergraduates, and, not long afterwards, J. Press, also of New Haven, fell into line.
Eventually, two Rosenberg employees, Sam Rosenthal and Moe Maretz, went out on their own as Rosenthal-Maretz; then Bill Fenn and Jack Feinstein left David T. Langrock to form Fenn-Feinstein (now associated with Frank Brothers). Somewhat later on, Mort Sill and (a year later) Jonas Arnold quit Press and opened a shop in Harvard Square, Cambridge, which they called Chipp.
Then, with his partner’s departure to form Sill (New York and Harvard Square), Jonas Arnold entered into an agreement whereby two former Press employees—Sid Winston and the late Lou Prager—were permitted to use Chipp as the name of the shop they were about to open in New York. Arnold, who closed his Cambridge store several years ago, is still a partner in the New York Chipp’s. In 1952, Lord of New York was begat by Chipp—or, more accurately, by three of its former employees, Ken Frank, Mike Fers, and Peter D’Annunzio. Lord charges $195 and up for a two-piece hand-stitched suit lined with tie silk. Unlike Chipp, it neither charges extra for open buttonholes on jacket sleeves nor does it line coat collars with foulard. Unlike J. Press, it resists such gimmicks as lining the breast pocket of a jacket with foulard that can be turned inside-out to serve as a handkerchief.
In recent years the renaissance of interest in men’s clothes and the increased number of tasteful men’s shops have, rather ironically, provided the creative dresser with progressively fewer opportunities to express himself. By the same token, though, the American male, who for decades had been something of a sartorial fright, suddenly began to look presentable—so conspicuously so, in fact, that recently Osbert Lancaster, the cartoonist for the London Daily Express, returned from a visit to the United States and promptly abandoned drawing the garish-looking man who for years had represented his conception of the American male. In its stead was a subdued, almost Brooks-Brotherish figure. “The old self-confident, easily-bamboozled, back-slapping person is a figure of the past,” said Lancaster.
It could hardly have been otherwise, for nowadays even the smallest town has a men’s shop that carries the same suits and haberdashery that are on sale at, say Madison Avenue and Forty-fifth Street in New York. New Bedford, Massachusetts, for example, has Marty Sullivan’s, a store so attuned to the fickleness of fashion that it has its buyers and designers spend part of their Manhattan visitations in such bars-and-grills as P. J. Clarke’s, which attracts an extremely creatively-dressed Ivy League clientele.
Furthermore, shops like Sullivan’s—Eddie Jacobs’ in Baltimore; Dick Carroll’s in Los Angeles; and, in New York, Casual-aire, Paul Stuart’s, Phil’s, to name a few—are far from expensive. What’s more, at their best—Atkinson’s in Los Angeles and Pasadena, California, and the Andover Shops in Cambridge and Andover, Massachusetts, which derive much of their appeal from the superb workmanship of Frank Spade, the head tailor, and the creativeness of co-owner, Charles Davidson—they are superlatively tasteful. Even in 1960, however, not all ready-made suits are low-priced. Oxxford, for example, turns out a suit that costs $235 and up, is impeccably tailored, and has a following among affluent men who are either too impatient to hold still for custom fittings or dislike investing in a garment without knowing how it will look when finished.
From the point of view of style, the best ready-made American suit is turned out by Norman Hilton, a young, enterprising, and discerning Princeton alumnus who, among other things, makes blazers and sports coats for Brooks Brothers. (Contrary to prevalent opinion, Brooks Brothers does not manufacture all its wares, but has certain items made to its specifications and on its own models. Only the label “Brooks Brothers Makers” means a Brooks-manufactured garment.)
Although Brooks Brothers (which also goes in for custom clothes) can no longer be regarded as the unique pace-setter it was prior to the recent renaissance of interest in men’s clothes, it still carries come matchless items, notably its neckwear and shirts, particularly its white buttondown in Pima broadcloth, which costs $8.50 and, among ready-made shirts, is in a class by itself.
By and large, however, elegance resides in the individual. No Bernard Weatherill, no Brooks Brothers, No E. Tautz, no Dudley Eldridge can do more than minister to its tastes. It is never easily come by and, once achieved, it must be vigilantly preserved—by boning one’s shoes and putting trees in them at night, by using molded hangers, and by all such other good care as is constantly stressed in the imaginative and informative Wallachs ads that appear three times a week in The New York Times andHerald Tribune and, while of a somewhat different tone, compare, for candor, readability, informativeness, and wit with the extraordinary ads for Zareh of Boston and Brookline, Massachusetts, one of the few authentically tasteful men’s shops in the United States. And elegance must also be guarded pridefully. When a radio interviewer accused the late Michael Arlen of not being able to write so well as Evelyn Waugh, Arlen said, “Ah, yes, that’s quite true, but I dress better than Evelyn.”
Elegance, however, need not be visible. Moss Hart, for example, is partial to monogrammed solid-gold collar stays. Freddie Cripps, the celebrated London dandy, is equally unconcerned with making an impression on anybody but himself, his chief indulgence being a refusal to have his underwear made anywhere but in Vienna, to which he commutes regularly for fittings. But elegance need not be expensive either. In the case of the late William Rhinelander Stewart, for example, elegance was nothing more costly than not venturing out in the evening without first having his rumpled paper money ironed flat by his valet!
“I don’t consider myself ‘the well-dressed man.’ I don’t make any effort in that direction. I do take a little pains occasionally with my clothes but just to feel comfortable. I also like to wear things that others don’t. I rather enjoy fooling around with a new note here and there to see how it comes off.
“I don’t think a man’s clothes should be conspicuous. If they are noticed, it should be because of their conservativeness. It depends, of course, on the individual as to how the whole thing comes off.
“I like colors. Red silk handkerchiefs and colored shirts and socks too.
“I like double-breasted suits and they’ll come back, by gosh. All those little tailor shops that have signs in their windows, ‘Have your outmoded double-breasted suit made into a single,’ may have to change their tune. But they can never say, ‘Have your single made into a double.’ Aha! It won’t work!”
“P.S. I forgot to mention that I often take a brand-new suit or hat and throw it up against the wall a few times to get that stiff, square newness out of it.”
“One is prepared for most daytime and some evening occasions, if he has a navy-blue serge, and a charcoal-grey—and possibly a light-grey—flannel suit. Their number and weights depend upon one’s means, requirements, and the climate in which one lives—just as the choice between a single- or double-breasted jacket should be guided by one’s judgment as to which would prove the more appropriate to his build.
“Then, too, to meet his basic requirements, one should have a dinner jacket. A navy-blue overcoat will satisfy both his daytime and evening requirements.
“As to cut: I personally prefer a jacket to fit precisely around the neck and the shoulders, and under the arms. For accommodation of these requirements permits the jacket to be perceptibly but not exaggeratedly cut in at the waist, as well as to be draped on the back, and to end in a slight flair—and withal, to render the appearance of hanging loosely from the shoulders.
“Then, of course, if one’s activities require it, a full evening dress suit would be indicated. Aside from the coat’s necessarily fitting snugly at the waist, care should be taken to see that the bottom of the white waistcoat is covered by the front of the coat.
“I very much admire the beneficial nation-wide influence of the ready-made clothing industry upon the maintenance of good taste in masculine attire—and the industry’s capability of making clothes available at reasonable prices. The reason most of my clothes are custom-made is because, due to my measurements, I encounter considerable difficulty in the matter of sizes. If I find a ready-made jacket that fits me around the shoulders, there would be enough room in the trousers and in the rest of the jacket to accommodate several others besides myself. On the other hand, if I find a pair of trousers with a proper-fitting waistline, the shoulders of the jacket would be so snug as to preclude satisfactory alteration.”
—A. J. Drexel Biddle