An essay from the July/August 2006 issue of "The American Enterprise" about menswear.
|There's not much to do while sitting in an airport, waiting for your connection. You can munch on overpriced food from an in-terminal vendor, or try to read a book if all the noise and commotion around you isn't too much of a distraction. Of course, if you are a glutton for punishment, you can people-watch.
Watching folks haul oversized bags (carry-on bags, bags under the eyes, saddlebags, etc.) and rush around like headless chickens or meander like newly conjured zombies can be unpleasant. You realize that yes, the obesity epidemic is real. And if you have any sartorial taste whatsoever, you realize that you are in a definite minority.
It isn't just the tourists and their awful interpretations of resort wear. It isn't merely the overgrown frat boys with trucker caps and puka shell necklaces, nor their distaff equivalents, resplendent in low-rise jeans to show off fresh tramp stamps as they travel to the site of the next "Girls Gone Wild" videos. No, some of the worst offenders are the commuting businessmen--in a way, the most offensive, as they are actually trying to look dressed-up. But with their high-water suit pants revealing poorly matched shoes, their ill-fitted jackets highlighting their ill-maintained bodies, and their badly tied ties peeking through badly collared shirts, they are failing miserably.
But there is hope. As we climb out of the '90s--a decade that attempted to destroy gentlemanly dressing through grunge and hip-hop fashions, along with 'Net-nerd inspired "casual Fridays"--some American men are rethinking slob chic and are actually starting to dress like, well, men.
A would-be gentleman doesn't have to go alone into the foreboding world of bespoke suits and handmade shoes. There are now plenty of books available about classic men's style. One of the newest and best is 'The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men's Style' by Nicholas Antongiavanni, the nom de plume of a major Republican speechwriter. The title is pretty self-evident. Nearly everything a man would want to know about suits and how to wear them is contained in these pages. Ever wonder what suits work best for your body type? Antongiavanni wisely steers readers away from the bland, shapeless "sack suits" of the Ike era to clothing that actually fits. Confused about dress shirt collars? Ties? Footwear? Ever wonder why Tim Russert looks sort of weird in his business clothes? All of these questions are answered with wit and panache.
There are other fine books floating around to help a man in his pursuit of gentlemanly dressing. Bernhard Roetzel's 'Gentleman: A Timeless Fashion' was originally published in Germany, but pops up in the U.S. in English language format from time to time under the simple title 'Gentleman's Guide'. Chock full of photos and covering everything from suiting to vacation wear to undergarments, Roetzel's book is entertaining and informative, though oddly dated for a book that came out in 1999. For example, he mentions how popular saddle shoes and tweed jackets are among American college students. Sure. More like sandals and T-shirts. The out-of-print, collaborative 'Dressed to Kill: James Bond--The Suited Hero, focuses on one of the greatest cinematic style icons of the last 40-plus years. Reviewing the sartorial achievements of the various film Bonds, the book goes a little too easy on Roger Moore, a little too hard on Timothy Dalton, and gushes a little too much over Pierce Brosnan.
Let's face it--it's easy to be fashionable. Just turn on some hipster TV show and copy what you see. Being stylish is more difficult, which is why so few men make the effort. At least there are some good books to help those willing to try. Remember, what is fashionable is not always stylish, but style is always fashionable.