ivorytowerstyle

FASHION IS DEAD! LONG LIVE FASHION!

The first catechism learned by every aspiring Internet Gentleman (which last year displaced Norm MacDonald’s infamous Crack Whore Trainee as the worst job in the world) is that their interest is in style, not fashion, which is for women, or possibly the gays (NTTAWWT). Style is meant to describe timeless grace, easy elegance, and all that rot, while fashion is about runway shows, new (probably Chinese or Russian) money, and brand whoring. One of the most trafficked menswear blogs is even called Permanent Style in homage to this shibboleth.

The second iGent catechism is that style was brought into its most perfect form at some time in the 30s by men of flawless taste and character, and set down in the pages of the trade publication Apparel Arts so that future generations might receive the good word that the question of what gentlemen should wear had been answered.

Anyone who has ever read even a couple of articles in Apparel Arts knows that this is a ruse.

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I think I read somewhere once that Tricker’s polish is made by Saphir.

* It has since been brought my attention that Tricker’s polish is in fact made by LCA, which is owned by the same parent company as Saphir, thus the common misconception. Saphir, apparently, does not rebrand their items. Thanks to ivorytowerstyle and The Shoe Snob for the additional info.

Online discussion forums are like fish colonies - they glisten with activity, attract predators, and have very short memories. Styleforum is no different. I only joined in 2011, so I can’t claim to have experienced the “good old days” as longer tenured members love to do so much. But I have spent a fair amount of time reading threads that predate my membership. The nostalgia for those more innocent times has led to some distortion of what the forum was like back then (mostly there were just more and better inside jokes and snark), but there’s quite a bit of valuable content that has been forgotten. Here are some of my favorite threads from days of yore:

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Choosing fabric for a bespoke piece can be an overwhelming process. Particularly if you’re working with a traveling tailor and have thirty minutes to get all your fitting and choosing done before the next asshole knocks on the door for his appointment. 

Advice from trusted sources such as strangers on the Internet can be valuable, but you can also peruse much of what’s available from the comfort of your own home, as many merchants now have swatch pictures online. The pictures may not be totally accurate, and of course you won’t be able to feel the fabric until you have it in front of you. But it’s a good place to start narrowing down your search for what you already have in your head, or get ideas for new projects. Here are a few that I know of:

Huddersfield (includes Minnis) 

Fox (mostly flannel)

Scabal (you have to create an account, but it’s easy and their database is searchable)

Harrison’s (includes Lesser, presumably soon W. Bill and Smith’s, which they recently acquired)

Dormeuil

Caccioppoli (Not swatch pictures of the whole collection, but their Tumblr shows many of the fabrics they offer)

Drapers

Hunters (tweed and tartan)

Butt of Lewis (tweed)

Holland and Sherry 

Dugdale Brothers

Vitale Barberis Canonico (usually better to get this through Caccioppoli or Draper’s)

Lovat Mill (via Scotland Shop)

In Tweed (I think the ones with the “LM” codes are from Lovat Mill, not sure about the others)

If you have a favorite that I’ve missed, let me know and I’ll add it in.(thanks to Die, Workwear! for suggesting a few already)

Menswear Store or Strip Club?

Both menswear stores and strip clubs feel the need to disguise their appeals to the vain and pleasure-seeking shoulder devil that whispers into the left ear of every man with a patina of aristocratic decency. Hence such euphemisms as “gentlemen’s club” and “better value in the long run.”

But there are no more gentlemen, only advertisers pandering to men who would like to call themselves gentlemen. As happens often when two sportsmen shoot from opposite sides of a target that does not in fact exist, these advertisers have managed only to ensnare each other, as it is no longer possible for an honorable man to tell apart names of menswear stores from names of strip clubs.

As proof, I present to you the following 12-item quiz.

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BAD TIES - A SHAKESPEAREAN TAXONOMY

It’s easy to pick a good tie, yet few people do it. This is usually because they think a good tie is “boring” or doesn’t “show their personality.” Good ties are not conversation starters.

But if you’re wondering if in your search for more expressive neckwear you have landed upon a “bad tie,” ask yourself if it falls into one of these four categories.

THE COMEDIES

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If you got a tie in this category, you (probably) at least did it on purpose. Not that that’s really an excuse. Unless you’re an actual professional comedian in the middle of performing, you probably don’t want people to laugh as soon as they look at you. But the worst part is that 15 seconds later after the joke has worn off, you’re still wearing that tie. 

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Book Review: The Best Dressed Man in the Room

Classic menswear is constantly at war with itself over how conspicuous a well-dressed man’s clothes should be. The root of this argument is Beau Brummell’s famous quote that “If John Bull turns around to look at you, you are not well dressed.” This from a man whose every thread and fold were minutely examined by every man in London. The sincerity of Brummell’s quote notwithstanding, the spirit of it - that a man’s dress should play a supporting role in his presentation of himself, yielding the leading role to either the man himself or his date - holds considerable power over the male sex’s natural tendency towards peacockery in the animal kingdom.

Which is what makes it so interesting to me to see the same tension, for different reasons, in gangster dress in Dan FloresThe Best Dressed Man in the Room, available in both hardcover and eBook. These extensive (and, so far as I know, previously unavailable, or at least uncollected) photographs show a group of men with a legal interest in dressing to camouflage themselves among the poor working saps around them, but with the class-anxious businessman’s urge to display personal superiority and financial success. These guys are dressing with a chip on their shoulder, which they try to disguise with a well-formed shoulder pad.

America seems to have an unending fascination with organized crime. For some perhaps it’s the Scarface-style machine gun orgies that are the real attraction, but I think the deeper resonance is with the supposed honor among these thieves - a code (The Wire’s Omar Little - another honorable thief - lived with the maxim, “a man’s gotta have a code”) somehow more dignified and ancient than the rules we live by in a capitalist democracy. It’s a mirage, of course. These were brutal men who made name and fortune for themselves killing people, innocent or otherwise, intimidating others, and stealing whatever they could get their hands on. But their gorgeous clothes are part of what make you wonder.

The book title comes, tellingly, not from an admirer of the criminal underworld, but from Police Chief Lewis Valentine:

Look at him…He’s the best dressed man in the room…When you meet men like Strauss, draw quickly and shoot accurately…Blood should be smeared all over that velvet collar.

He is telling his troops not to be captivated and tricked by the gangster’s costume. That such a forceful speech was required speaks to the power these clothes had.

Today in the United States, thankfully we know this milieu best through its fictional representations, most famously in The Godfather, but in countless films since, and most recently in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, a show which demonstrates a corollary of Brummell’s thesis, that costuming without screenplay is an expensive way to produce something worth seeing at the very most an hour every Sunday. But the academic in me is grateful for an opportunity to go straight to source materials, which this book allows more than any other of which I am aware. 

I have amused myself more than once since reading the book wondering what these characters might have thought of a book about their clothing published some 80 years after their hey-day. Some of the photos appear poised to jump off the page to administer a firm beating if you examine their jacket a little too closely. But I think the gangsters might be unsurprised, and perhaps even satisfied, that their wardrobes remain celebrated. These men were brutal, but clever. They understood what it means to project an image. They are still projecting it to us today, long after their misdeeds are through, in black and white photos, some faded enough that their hands almost look clean.

*This review also ran on Styleforum. Thanks to Dan Flores for showing me the book and sharing these images.

A NEW PLACE

I have moved to New York for a few months, which means that I have an obligation to become completely insufferable to all non-New Yorkers, starting with whichever of you fall into that category. Thus this self-centered, rambling post. 

I have always worried that I’m not cool enough to live in New York. I don’t really know what the young kids are wearing these days. My single, lonely, unloved pair of blue jeans probably rue the day they first went home with me. The very idea of associating blue jeans with coolness probably became obsolete a few years before I was born, but lives on in my anachronistic brain.

There was a brief moment on my last day in DC when I thought my current wardrobe had been granted a last minute pardon from a semester of “why are you so dressed up?” questions. Someone whom I admire greatly told me, “Nobody wears jeans in Brooklyn anymore.” (“Oh?”) But then my hopes were dashed. “Everybody wears sweatpants now.” (“Oh.”) 

I remember just before I went to college telling a (probably appalled) family friend that I looked forward to an opportunity to reinvent myself on a blank slate of complete strangers. There’s a temptation - for everyone, but young people especially -  to believe that if you were just a different person, you’d be so much happier.

This time I’m moving to a place that isn’t so strange and with a self that has grown less malleable. I am not planning a reinvention. But places, like great books, are mirrors, and each distorts our reflection in a different way. When confronted with a new one, we can see ourselves in ways that we didn’t before. As I get to know this city better, I hope I will get to know a new part of myself, too. But I don’t think I’ll be buying any sweatpants.     

Looking Back at 2013

2013 transformed Ivory Tower Style in ways that I couldn’t possibly have imagined a year ago. What began two years ago as a posterboard of selfies has metastasized into a diary of thoughts on style, that maddening mixture of idiocy, depravity, elegance, and self-expression and self-delusion that intoxicates us so superficially yet so thoroughly.

Between contributions to Put This On, A Suitable Wardrobe, Styleforum, No Man Walks Alone, and this blog, by my rough reckoning, I’ve written over 40,000 words on style this year. I know, I can’t believe it either. I certainly can’t justify it. But I want to thank you, even if you’ve read just some small fraction of that.

If you’ve come to the blog only recently, or if you want to reblog this on your blog to show what a discerning reader you are and suggest some new reading material for your followers, here are a few of my favorite pieces from this year:

My visit to Steed Tailors in Cumbria and Thoughts on Northampton for Styleforum

Overcoats Should Be Double Breasted, for A Suitable Wardrobe

A Look Back at the Fight of the Century and a peek at the Snuff Boxes of Beau Brummell for No Man Walks Alone 

RISD’s Artist, Rebel, Dandy exhibit for Put This On

A Dictionary of #Menswear Insults, A Consideration of Style and Exclusivity, A Denunciation of the Exclamation Point, and a Deconstruction of the Deconstructed Jacket, all here at Ivory Tower Style.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be on to writing my first words of 2014. But my last words to you in 2013 are to wish you all a safe and joyous New Year’s Eve, and a Happy New Year.

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT FOR TATTOOS

I am 32 years old and have no tattoos, which almost certainly means that I will never have any tattoos. But most of the guys writing about how to wear a tuxedo never wear one either, so I’m not going to let my inexperience stop me from pontificating.

While I do not have any tattoos, I have seen plenty of them on the Internet. Most of them are embarrassingly terrible even in the bloom of youth, which does not portend well for their future. This brings me to my first rule of engagement with tattoos:

Rule #1: Tattoos NEVER get more attractive over time. The rest of you gets uglier. So will your tattoo.

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Blaggers

(sung to the tune of ‘Royals’ by Lorde)

I’ve never seen a rental tux in the flesh
I taught the rules of wedding dress to the forums
And I’m not proud of my URL
And the blogs I write, no traffic envy

But every post is like new suit, fresh shoes, selfie in the bathroom,
Sprezz photos, no socks, instakoppin’ Karthoum,
We don’t care, we’re getting reblogged in our dreams.
But everybody’s like Pitti wall, first class, posin’ with your pocket square,
Seven folds, tartans, patina on a Corsair,
We don’t care, we got our own black tie affair.

And we’ll never be blaggers (blaggers).
It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe swap ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
Let me be your Tumblr (Tumblr)
You can “like” my selfie
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me wear that Aubercy.

My e-friends and iGents, we ignore la mode.
We count on style and not fashion unless it’s Arnys.
And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this,
We don’t blog for money.

But every post is like new suit, fresh shoes, selfie in the bathroom,
Sprezz photos, no socks, instakoppin’ Karthoum,
We don’t care, we’re getting reblogged in our dreams.
But everybody’s like Pitti wall, first class, posin’ with your pocket squares,
Seven folds, tartans, patina on a Corsair,
We don’t care, we got our own black tie affair.

And we’ll never be blaggers (blaggers).
It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe swap ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
Let me be your Tumblr (Tumblr)
You can “like” my selfie
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me wear that Aubercy.

Each of us have the parts of our wardrobe where we feel more adventurous and those where we find ourselves returning to the comfort of familiarity. Maybe it’s not surprising that pants, being the garment that covers the most sensitive parts, are an area in which men are quite risk averse. Most tend to wear blue jeans with casual wear, and gray wool pants - perhaps in flannel for the winter and fresco for the summer - with sportcoats. Add in cotton or linen pants in some shade of beige and you have already described maybe nine out of ten of the non-suit pants worn by well-dressed men.    

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Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price…How Does it Work?

If you’ve ever bought anything, you’ve dealt with a “manufacturer suggested retail price.” If you’re like me, you might have wondered, why does the manufacturer suggest a price to the retailer? And why would the retailer care about this suggestion? The answer is that the manufacturer is giving retailers both a coordinating device and an enforcement mechanism; they tell retailers how to work together for everyone’s benefit (except the consumer), and punish those that don’t go along with the plan.

Consider a situation where a manufacturer named Moe doesn’t suggest any price to retailers. It just sells steez to retailers at a price of per unit of steez (in what units is steez measured? fuck yeahs? fucks not given? selfies?), with which retailers can then do whatever they please. Suppose there are two retailers, Curly and Larry.

Now suppose that Larry decides to sell steez at some price that is strictly greater than w. What should Curly do? He could charge a price greater than p, but he wouldn’t sell very much as everyone would just buy from Larry instead. He could sell at exactly and share the market with Larry - since they’re both selling at a price above w, they’re both making some money. That seems better for Curly than making nothing by charging a price higher than Larry’s. 

But Curly could also charge a price lower than p. Even just a little bit lower than will be enough to get a lot more business, because Curly would then be selling at the lowest price. Even though he’d be making a bit less money per sale, Curly will still make more money charging this lower price than charging p, because of all the additional units he’ll sell. So given Larry’s strategy of charging p > w, Curly’s best move is to charge some price less than but greater than w.

But wait, there’s more. Now Larry faces the same incentives Curly did, and will again be best off by undercutting Curly. This will continue until they’re both charging w, leaving them with no profit.

Clearly they’d both be better off if they could somehow both commit to charging some p > w. The problem is each one has a constant incentive to undercut the other. How to solve this dilemma? At the beginning of each season when they’re both selling new steez, even if they wanted to collude, how would they even know what price to charge so that neither is undercutting the other? Even in a world where these sorts of conversations between retailers were not illegal, it’s a difficult and costly coordination problem, especially when there are more retailers than just two. 

Manufacturer to the rescue. The manufacturer solves the problem of which price to charge by “suggesting” a price. It also enforces cooperation of all retailers by punishing price undercutting. Punishments can range from a stern talking-to to a refusal to sell any more product to that retailer.

But why would a manufacturer like Moe be willing to take on this responsibility for the benefit of retailers? First, because Moe might himself also have a retail operation. But even if not, if Curly and Larry are making more money by paying w and charging p, the Moe can extract at least some of this profit by raising w. 

But note that each retailer’s incentive to sell at a lower price than has not disappeared. If they could keep the manufacturer from finding out about it, they’d still like to get more business by selling at a lower price. And in fact, most retailers try to do this, but in ways that aren’t as transparent to the enforcing manufacturer. They might, for instance, offer free shipping, a storewide discount, free smaller items with larger purchases, or other “perks” such as outstanding customer service. Anything that the customer will value but the manufacturer can’t cite as a clear defection from the MSRP.

So the next time you’re in a shop and you see something you think is too freaking expensive, know that the store owner would probably like to sell it to you for cheaper if he could.

 

Thackeray liked to call the Regency dandy the “genlmn”, and to admire in his place the new Victorian “gentleman”. Neither species is to be confused with The Gent, an obnoxious specimen of town life that flourished on the London streets in the 1830s and 1840s, to the amusement and indignation of his contemporaries. “The Gent” was a label pasted on young men at the very bottom of the respectable class, the scrubby clerks, apprentices and medical students who scraped along in the backwaters of London on less than 50 pounds a year, calling themselves (hopefully) “gents” and their betters (admiringly) “swells”. The Gent was a creature of once-a-month sprees and splurges, of false fronts to calico shirts, of phony jewellery, half-price tickets to the theatre, greasy hair and dirty ears….

The Gents thrived on the disreputable new ready-to-wear clothing shops of early Victorian London. These shops provided their clothes and also, often, their livelihood: the most commonly caricatured breed of Gent was the haberdasher’s or linen draper’s clerk….To flatter the Gent’s snobbery the cheap tailors called their fashions after aristocrats and dandies: the “Chesterfield” great-coat; the “Byron tie”….“If the things are not dignified by these terms,” wrote a contemporary authority, “the Gent does not think much of them.”

—  The Dandy, by Ellen Moers