Dress for the Occasion

Dressing for the occasion

You don’t see a lot of well-dressed campers, farmers, boaters, or other rural folks. That’s fine.  I’ve canoed almost to James Bay, herded cattle from a pony, bailed hay, boated through locks, and camped out under the stars, which I could actually see without the light pollution from the city.  I dressed the part.

But when I came back into town, I changed how I dressed.  When folks come into my town, I wish they would too.

I didn’t realize I was channeling Noel Coward until recently.  Upon entering a modern office in a suit and tie someone sometimes exclaims that I needn’t have dressed up because it was “casual Friday.”  I’d respond that I normally wear a tuxedo and that I was indeed dressed casually—for me.

Apparently Coward once entered the fancy Tomorrow Club wearing evening dress.  He was greeted with members wearing day clothes.  Awkwardly pausing, he eventually said “I don’t want anybody to feel embarrassed.”  This is one of many bon mots in True Style by G. Bruce Royer.  The review I read is by journalist, critic, and Wall Street Journalist habitué Henrik Bering, who seems to have his own collection of bon mots…and clothes.

It’s a bit rich writing a book about nuances when what’s really the issue is cargo pants, running shoes, T-shirts, baseball caps, and backpacks.  But, Boyer is a refugee from being fashion editor of Town & Country, GQ, and Esquire, and may have been insulated from said clothing.

But first a digression.  French philosopher Michel Foucault, when studied at University, is one of the best excuses for drinking heavily.  But he did take thousands of words to make at least one good point.  In translation, it’s along the lines of – things that are imposed from the top down get opposed from the bottom up.

Bering channels Foucault, minus the drinking perhaps, when he notes that “[w]here fashion was once dictated from the top down, it now rises from the street up.”  However, Ralph Lifshitz (aka Lauren) apparently watched the street for trends.  So may have predecessor, Latvian immigrant, J. Press who kept his eye open on the Yale University campus about 1902.  But that’s the preppy style, not running shoes and backpacks.

Where Boyer, Bering and I agree is that men’s business suits shouldn’t be so tight they make the wearer look like Pee-wee Herman. Even middle-aged Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s jacket button closes so tightly as to reveal a wedge of white shirt at about the navel and a red tie pointing downward—“this way to my loins” I guess.

As problematic as camping attire in the city is, so is the obligatory blue business suit.  Its ubiquity is everywhere, and redundant.  The open neck shirt is worse, especially on someone over the age of 35, and who should be able to afford a tie.  Also as problematic is the over-adorned.  Playwright George S. Kaufman referred to a French formal garden as something “to show what God could have done if He’d have had money.”  A lot of well off people dress like this.

More quips abound in the book and the review.  English dandy and humourist Max Beerbohm defined a dandy as “a painter whose canvas was himself.”  The caution is not to look like “an overdressed Easter egg or a rare and extremely poisonous tropical flower.”  Boyer says “Your clothes should not in themselves be more memorable than you are.”

For less than the cost of the cargo pants, etc, you should be able to buy a couple of outfits at an American outlet mall—Lauren, Brooks Brothers, Off 5th, Neiman Marcus and so on.

Wait for the big sale, and look like you belong in the city.

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