True Style: The History and Principles of Classic Menswear

True Style: The History and Principles of Classic Menswear

I've always been a slob when it comes to clothing. I straight up wore sweatpants for all of sophomore year in college (note: this is not the "Ivy Style" that Boyer refers to in the book). The difference between a suit, a tuxedo, and a blazer? Hell if I knew. In "True Style", Boyer politely lets me know that he has had enough of my indifference. With a refined conviviality, he propounds his philosophy of style, offering such advice as "if a man is dressed effectively, confidently, and comfortably, he’ll be judged on other criteria — talent, productivity, merit, skill, loyalty — which is the way it should be." I must admit that I was swept up in his enthusiasm for understanding the historical evolution of clothing styles and I began to appreciate Boyer's sartorial analyses. But he really won me over with the subtly outrageous asides that he peppered throughout his book. My hat is off to you good Sir Boyer - you took a subject that I always considered the purview of stuffy, self-important lightweights and turned it into a fun and fascinating read. My view now aligns more closely with that of Lord Chesterfield:

dress is a foolish thing, and yet it’s a more foolish thing not to pay attention to it

There was also an unexpected connection to one of the best books I've read this year - "Endurance":

The polar explorers Robert Falcon Scott, Ernest Shackleton, and Roald Amundsen all wore windproof and waterproof suits designed and made by Burberry. Even the tents Amundsen took with him were made by the firm.

And here's a little taste of what you're getting into with this book - some of my favorite little quips:

Advertisers have always argued that one of their main functions is to inform and educate; they say this without even smiling, the wolves.

Or his little wink to the literary class:

Sometimes I carry a few old books — hardcover of course, without dust jackets — around with me, anything faintly grubby and esoteric looking, to reinforce the impression that I’m studying something of mind-bending importance.

And my favorite bit of fashionable trollery:

“Haven’t bought clothes in years” is an almost unbeatable ploy, since any reply would seem rather arriviste and petty at the same time.

My highlights below


Let’s, for the moment, forgo the moral question about whether these matters of dress and grooming, of posture and manner should matter, because the reality is that they do.

As Sherlock Holmes noted, the accessories that support the tailored wardrobe are of particular importance as personal and social indicators precisely because they tend to have no other real function, no utilitarian purpose, and are otherwise completely unnecessary except as symbols of status and clues to aspirations.

As the English statesman Lord Chesterfield pointed out, dress is a foolish thing, and yet it’s a more foolish thing not to pay attention to it.

The goal of this book is to help you transcend the moment — to describe a set of items, styles, and traditions that are at once rooted in history and possessed of a timeless elegance that will see you through the next five seasons, or the next fifty.

George “Beau” Brummell stands as a synecdoche for this shift, and much credit has been given him ever since for advancing the standard outfit of the business class: plain wool coat and trousers, white linen shirt, and necktie. Brummell’s great contribution to social history is that he made style a criterion for advancement,

The fact is that well-dressed men are well dressed not because they follow every little rule about clothing, but because they have good taste, individuality, style, and a sense of history.


The ascot is, of course, named after the most fashionable event of the London season: the annual race meeting held, as it has been for almost three hundred years now, at Ascot Heath each June. Ascot has always been the dressiest event of the English sporting season, and a broad silk neck scarf fastened with a pin eventually became de rigueur for the occasion. The name took.


Which brings me to another point: under no circumstances should you buy a pre-tied bow tie.


In the oft quoted advice usually attributed to Lord Chesterfield, “Do not inquire too deeply into the truth of other peoples’ appearances. Life is more sociable if one takes people as they are and not as they really are.”

Richard Sennett, in his very thoughtful study The Fall of Public Man, argues that we’ve lost this helpful distinction between our public and private selves.

And finally, if a man is dressed effectively, confidently, and comfortably, he’ll be judged on other criteria — talent, productivity, merit, skill, loyalty — which is the way it should be.

Simplicity is generally a virtue. Your clothes should not in themselves be more memorable than you are. They should complement you, not compete with you.

Insist on comfort. If you’re uncomfortable in your clothes, you’ll make others feel uncomfortable, and no one will do his best. In this day and age, it’s not necessary to sacrifice comfort to fashion or dignity.

As a general rule, never wear anything cheap, fancy, shiny, or synthetic.

Diana Vreeland wisely said that the key to style is refusal.

Great dressers like to play genres off against each other, like wearing an old Barbour hunting parka with a city suit or a well-tailored tweed jacket with jeans.

Simply put: guys who dress head to toe in a particular designer’s gear are thought to be without any taste or imagination of their own.


My particular favorite book about craft is Thomas Girtin’s marvelously written Makers of Distinction: Suppliers to the Town & Country Gentleman (Harvill Press, 1959).

Certainly more academic, but readable nevertheless, is Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman (Yale University Press, 2008).

My own thoughts about craftsmanship take me back to a letter written by the nineteenth-century German poet Heinrich Heine about a holiday walking tour of the cathedrals of France he made with a friend. Along the way, he wrote letters home describing the tour, and at their last stop at the majestic, massive cathedral of Amiens, he recorded the conversation: “When I lately stood with a friend before Amiens Cathedral, he asked me how it happened that we can no longer build such works. I replied: Dear Alphonse, men in those days had convictions. We moderns have opinions. It requires something more than opinions to build a cathedral.


Denim, the indigo-dyed, sturdy twill cloth of France and India, first popularly appeared on the forty-niners digging for gold around Sutter’s Mill in Northern California. Levi Strauss — this story is well-known and documented — had taken bolts of heavy canvas west with him, thinking all those transplanted miners would need tents. As it happened, tents didn’t sell, but pants did, and entrepreneurial Levi turned his canvas to good purpose.

In The Wild One, Brando’s denim jeans and black leather jacket identify him as a challenger of society as much as his sneer of insolence. When asked, “What are you rebelling against?,” his character Johnny languidly answers, “What’ve ya got?” For the disaffected, and those posing as such, it was the coolest, hippest utterance ever made: if you were truly hip, you understood there was a systemic corruption of the whole culture.


The tuxedo consists of matching coat and trousers made of a smooth-finished black fabric.

In a telling anecdote, when a friend showed up to accompany the king to an exhibition of paintings before lunch wearing a tail coat, Edward angrily told him, “I thought everyone must know that a short jacket is always worn with a silk hat at a private viewing in the morning.” (Undoubtedly the Edwardians, living in a rapidly changing world not unlike our own, firmly believed that a rigid adherence to rules would ensure social, political, and even intellectual equilibrium. Three years after Edward died, those hopes were shattered in the mud of Flanders and on the banks of the Somme.)

Beginning in the 1930s, though, the stuffed sausage look began to change. Central heating, lighter weight fabrics, and a more relaxed social attitude all contributed to making men’s clothes more comfortable.

For women, the retro “new look” of Christian Dior — which restored voluminous fabric and color to the female wardrobe — was first seen in 1947, but it took till the 1950s for men to break out into color.

It was the beginning of what, in the next decade, would be called the “peacock revolution,” and men were now paying attention to a wider range of fashion options.

The 1970s was a cardiac-arrest period for dress, and — just as in the peacock revolution of the 1960s — evening wear wasn’t spared. Tuxedos now were printed velvet, silk-lined denim, lime-green gabardine, and every other atrocity imaginable, accompanied by lace-fringed pastel shirts, floppy ties, and floppier hats.

Which meant, in effect, that we had completely lost all sense of occasion. Whatever the event, men from the 1980s onward showed up looking as though they’d just come from the gym.

Some simple rules apply, now and across the ages. The classic tuxedo coat follows the preferred tailored silhouette of the day. If business suits have wider shoulders or narrower trousers, invariably the tuxedo will too.

Dress trousers differ from business trousers traditionally in only two respects: they are never cuffed, regardless of the current fashion in day trousers, and a stripe (matching the lapel facings) of either satin or grosgrain runs the length of the outside leg seam.

This brings me to another point, one I’ve already touched on in Chapter 3: before the so-called casual revolution, an evening tie always meant a bow tie, with either square or pointed ends, in a silk matching the facings of the jacket’s lapels. The dandies among us might occasionally opt for polka dots or other patterns and colors, but it takes incredible self-assurance to wear anything but black or midnight blue.

These waistcoats may also be backless; many of these style details were invented to reduce the weight of the outfit. After all, the main entertainment when wearing a tuxedo was dancing — which also explains why evening footwear has always been of a light construction. While I’m on the subject of shoes: those are usually black in color, fairly unadorned, often low-cut, and worn with plain dark hose (cotton lisle, fine merino wool, or silk). There is a surprisingly acceptable variety of formal footwear: plain black calf or patent leather oxfords, velvet Albert slippers, or patent leather slippers with bows.

The real trick to wearing clothes, and this is especially true of evening clothes, is to wear them as if you mean it, while at the same time giving the impression that it’s a natural grace.


It was 1965, the film was The Ipcress File, and the star was Michael Caine, playing the role of Len Deighton’s spy, Harry Palmer. Caine was so successful in this role, wearing his heavy black Wayfarer-style plastic spectacles, that he reprised it the next year in Funeral in Berlin.

I found that glasses can be a wonderful pose in so many ways, actually enhancing the visual message you want to send about yourself to the rest of the world: playful, intelligent, serious, creative, well bred, even something of a renegade if that’s what you want. You can jauntily take them off, twirl them in your hand, and affect a contemplative look, if the situation calls for it. An effective way to buy a few extra moments to figure out what the hell’s going on.

Sometimes I carry a few old books — hardcover of course, without dust jackets — around with me, anything faintly grubby and esoteric looking, to reinforce the impression that I’m studying something of mind-bending importance.

Whether you want to enhance the natural shape of your face or play against it, the fundamental goal is to find frames that don’t call attention to themselves. After all, the main purpose of dress is to make people concentrate on you, rather than on what you’re wearing. To achieve this there are certain general rules: The front piece, regardless of shape, should be just short of the eyebrows on top, and just to the top of the cheek on bottom. Spectacles shouldn’t be any wider than your face (this should seem obvious, but it’s not). The bridge should fit well, certainly tight enough so that the glasses don’t keep slipping down to the tip of your nose.


Louis XIV was called “the sweetest smelling monarch that has been seen” and was so fond of perfume that he insisted on being in attendance while scents were being concocted to his own requirements by his perfumer.

Perhaps cologne’s best-known advocate was Napoleon, who had a standing order with his perfumer for fifty bottles a month. He was a tad indulgent, but then emperors are expected to be. He indulged copiously and regularly, pouring a full bottle over himself after bathing and splashing another bottle or two on during the day whenever he felt the need to refresh himself.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on men’s fragrances alone, never mind the rest of it.

Generally though, from weakest to strongest, scents are labeled aftershave, cologne, toilet water, and perfume.

Second, know the various types of scents for gents: (1) citrus, derived from lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange, and bergamot; these scents are considered light and brisk with a fresh, summery quality; (2) spice, which generally includes nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, bay oil, and basil; these are considered heavier than citrus but still in the fresh category; (3) leather, usually concocted of the oils of juniper and birch, an aroma smoky rather than brisk; (4) lavender and various other florals, which are said to have a warm delicate scent; (5) fougère (French for fern-like), with a somewhat herbal green, outdoors scent; (6) woody, which includes vetiver, sandalwood, and cedar—all clean scented, but darker than fern; and (7) Eastern, such as musk, tabac, and some bay oils—these are the heaviest and most pungent.

It’s important to know the strength and type of scent because, in a business environment, a man should smell merely clean and fresh, not like a brothel in Marrakesh.

So because heat tends to intensify fragrance, it’s best to wear the lightest scents in warm weather and save the stronger ones for fall and winter.

Unlike some wines and people, scents don’t improve with age, so there’s no point in saving or hoarding them. Use ’em, or lose ’em. Even the best cologne will fade and change with time, particularly if exposed to direct sunlight, left unsealed, or subjected to extremes in temperatures.

Splash a drop or two on the inside of your wrist, rub your wrists together, and smell; wait a few minutes, and smell again. If you still like the scent the second time around — or in fact if the scent even remains around for the second sniff — it’s safe enough to buy.

It’s sometimes argued that anointing the pulse points is a good idea because that’s where the heat is closest to the skin surface and provides greater impact to the fragrance. My feeling is that if you splash it around, you’ll hit most of those points anyway. We don’t have to be as lavish as Napoleon, but he does seem to have been on the right track.


Advertisers have always argued that one of their main functions is to inform and educate; they say this without even smiling, the wolves.

Scipio Africanus Minor (circa 185–129 bce) would have been the first man in need of a grooming kit, according to the Roman naturalist author Pliny the Elder. He reports that Scipio was the first man he knew to shave every day. And he traveled a great deal too, particularly in North Africa and Spain.

Last among the list of basic shaving gear is the lowly styptic pencil or alum block. Found in every drugstore, this handy device is the time-proven way to staunch the flow of blood aside from cauterization. It’s an astringent made of alum with a quick hemostatic ability to contract the skin tissue and blood vessels.

And speaking of being presentable, it’s worth noting that the actual quantity and cut of facial hair — once the subject of intense regulation and scrutiny — is these days more a matter of personal choice and professional decorum than anything else. The subject of facial hair was for many years well understood: there wasn’t any. From just after World War I to the 1960s, the “business look” prescribed a clean-shaven face.

Just as there is a general rule about the size of shirt collars — that they should be in proportion to the size of the face — there is a basic admonition about facial hair: the mustache or beard should be in relative proportion to the size of the face. A long, thin face wearing a wide, thick mustache or large beard tends to make the hair look as if it has a life of its own—which means that the detail gets noticed rather than you.


Tailoring as we know it — like almost everything else as we know it — began with the Renaissance, whose history is inextricable from that of Italy. Actually, cutting and tailoring — the two basic aspects of the craft of constructing clothes from patterns — began to develop gradually in the eleventh century.

Italian medieval armor was the most beautiful in Europe: it was highly decorated, elegantly shaped, well designed, but too light and thin to be used in combat. The Italians themselves preferred the German armor, which was ugly but practical. It was safer.

Armani purposefully altered the business wardrobe. He made the English sports jacket more comfortable by taking out much of the stiff padding and interlinings, using softer and more highly textured fabrics, and enlarging the silhouette slightly by dropping and broadening the shoulders, lowering the lapel gorge and button stance, and slightly lengthening the jacket. The jacket began to ease, to purposefully sag a bit, to look broken in, like it had been worn for years right off the rack — in essence, to look sensual.

The movement toward comfort has been one of the great forces in modern clothing, and Armani has played a very large part in that story. There is a direct line from him to the lightweight clothing we wear today.

As soon as American men put it on they noticed its lightness and easy gracefulness, because the Neapolitan tailors had in great measure achieved the ideal: a jacket that was lightweight and comfortable, but still had shape.

In the North, where the weather is cooler, dress is a bit more conservative, and the business uniform is for navy blue suits, dark brown silk ties (did the Milanese invent the eye-catching color combination of blue and brown?), and white shirts. And brown shoes, because Italians consider black shoes both funereal and uninteresting.

And just as the English have a long tradition of wearing their country clothes to town, Italian men have a penchant for mixing the playful with the serious when putting together an outfit. A somber suit is often matched with a patterned shirt and colorful tie, bright socks often peek out from under discreet trousers, or a vibrant pocket square from the breast pocket of an otherwise sedate coat.


And then there were the Ivy League shops. The period 1945 to 1965 was the golden age of the classic “campus shops,” stores that had built a reputation for catering to the sartorial needs of those with EEE (Eastern Establishment Elite) aspirations, adresses d’or such as J. Press, the Andover Shop, Langrock, Chipp, and Brooks Brothers.

The basic items were the oxford button-down shirt and cotton khaki trousers. Khaki cotton cloth had been used for hundreds of thousands of uniforms during both World War II and the Korean War, and army-navy stores sprouted up everywhere to sell off the surplus. In cooler weather, a Shetland crewneck sweater in any color was added. A pair of brown penny loafers and white tennis shoes (or white or tan bucks, or boating moccasins) constituted an acceptable range of footwear. For outerwear, a cotton gabardine balmacaan raincoat (always tan) and a stout duffel coat (always either tan or navy) were all that were needed, although many a young man also had a cotton “Baracuta” golf jacket (also tan). A tweed sports jacket (Harris or Shetland) or a navy single-breasted blazer was favored for semi-dress attire, and a gray flannel suit for dress. Summer semi-formality was assured with a seersucker or tan poplin suit; some of the more assured students had madras sports jackets. For more formal occasions, a plain dark gray tropical worsted suit always worked (the trousers would also be worn with the sports jackets). A half-dozen ties (rep-striped regimentals, foulards, or clubs) and the necessary complement of underwear, socks, pajamas, and handkerchiefs filled out the basics.

The true Ivy-style sports jacket, for instance, is characterized and distinguished by a detailed quarter-inch stitching along the edge of the lapels (and sometimes the edge of the collar, pocket flaps, and seams as well).


As a daily routine, the ideal is (1) to rotate garments, in order to allow them to rest between wearings; (2) to clean and air them after wearing, which means brushing fabrics with a soft brush to remove dust and wiping shoes to remove dirt, and then leaving them in a space open enough for air to circulate (to evaporate perspiration) for at least twenty-four hours; and (3) to store them properly in a closet or some other storage facility such as an armoire. On this last point, it pays to make the small investment in decent wooden hangers on which to rest tailored garments (knitted garments should never be hung; they should be folded) and in wooden shoe trees with which to maintain the shape of shoes.

Unless the situation is extreme, there’s little reason to have tailored garments or even sweaters cleaned after every wearing. Cleaning with chemical solvents and pressing weaken (that is, break and dry out) fibers so they become shiny, flat, and lifeless. Localized treatment for spots is best, and don’t mind a few wrinkles either. Good flannels, tweeds, linens, and cottons actually look better after they’ve been well broken in.

And if you must iron, it’s best to not iron directly on woolens or silks. Use a slightly damp and clean cotton or linen cloth (a handkerchief or tea towel will do nicely) between the garment and the iron, always start with low heat—you can always increase heat, but a too-hot iron will cause real and permanent damage very quickly—and bear down gently, as if you were stroking a cat.

A good tailor is one who works in quarter inches, and any tailor who tells you he can take in a jacket or let it out more than two inches and still have it sit properly is not a competent craftsman.

Besides the obvious shortening or lengthening of sleeves and trouser legs, here are the other safe alterations: taking in or letting out trouser waist widening or tapering trouser legs removing cuffs suppressing coat waist easing or tightening trouser seat The following are more difficult alterations, better left to a master tailor: adjusting a back or collar narrowing the shoulders narrowing lapels lengthening or shortening a coat easing or tightening the chest.

The first point to be made about taking care of leather shoes is that they should be rotated, given a day off between each day’s wearing.

But whatever your shoe wardrobe, buy a nice shoe horn. You wouldn’t want to go around with the backs of your shoes broken down any more than you would want to wear a frayed shirt collar or stained tie.


THE FRENCH NOBLEMAN François de La Rochefoucauld (1613–1680) didn’t invent that most minor form of literature, the maxim. It had already been a popular party game in the salons of seventeenth-century Paris when he published his Reflexions ou sentences et maxims morales in 1665. But his little book did initiate the popularity of the genre. Leonard Tancock, in his introduction to the Penguin edition of the work, believes the maxim to be “the clearest and most elegant medium for conveying abstract thought known to the modern world.”

Style is the art of bending fashion to personality.

Style and taste are particular sorts of intelligence.

To consciously avoid fashion is itself a committed fashion.

Real style is never a matter of right or wrong. It’s a matter of being yourself. On purpose.


Highlighting one particular aspect of the wardrobe tends not to so much solve a problem as to create one: it tends to remove the wearer from his clothes.

The underlying goal here is really to prevent any one garment from hogging the spotlight.


The sensible rule here — as with the sensible rule for so many other things having to do with the individual in society — was set down by that great writer of manners and etiquette Baldesar Castiglione in his study Il Cortigiano (usually translated in English as The Book of the Courtier), published in Venice in 1528: “True art is what does not appear to be art, and the most important thing is to conceal it.”

The accessories should make a subtle rather than a studied statement. Proper business dress in particular should aim for approachable dignity rather than flamboyance. A discreet puff of silken color at the breast pocket is the acceptable extent of flair. And for a more formal attitude, white linen or fine cotton is foolproof.


It is no understatement to say that Byron invented the modern shirt collar—or at least helped to popularize the wearing of it open and with its points laid flat against the collarbone, rather than standing upright around the neck.

Shirting fabrics can be almost anything woven from natural or synthetic yarn, but tradition and history have made a strong case for the Big Three: cotton, linen, and silk.

No less than Alan Flusser, that astute observer, chronicler, and wearer of finely tailored clothes, has observed that the “triangular sector formed below the chin by the V opening of a buttoned suit jacket constitutes the cynosure of a man’s tailored costume.”

I’m not talking about how to tie a tie or fold a pocket square, mind you; we don’t need all those little educational, step-by-step line drawings, not among friends. I suspect that if you really don’t know how to tie a tie, this book won’t be of much interest to you anyway.

The role that color plays in these matters is subtle. For instance, exactly matching tie and pocket square colors can have the unfortunate effect of making you look like a car rental agent; the point is that the tie and pocket square should echo each other in terms of color, rather than coordinate.

In other words, high contrast should be avoided, and colors should blend rather than pop.


Indeed, it is precisely because it is so often overlooked that the shoe-hosiery-trouser nexus is of such monumental importance, for it reveals exactly how far the style of the subject extends.


Historically, shorts are related to sports and military uniforms, as so much of men’s clothing is. According to W. Y. Carman’s A Dictionary of Military Uniform, shortened trousers were worn by native soldiers in the British army in South Ghana as early as 1873.


In English the word Castiglione uses to define his “universal rule,” sprezzatura, is usually rendered as “nonchalance,” but in truth it’s more than that. Sprezzatura is not merely unreflective spontaneity, or casual thoughtlessness, or even the attempt to lie or deceive. It isn’t, in short, recklessness. Quite the opposite: it is the conscious attempt to appear natural, the affectation that seems uncontrived, the studied casualness and feigned indifference that is intended to indicate a greater worth than one actually sees. It is the ability to conceal effort — the opposite of affectation, which exposes itself.

In more modern times the British writer Stephen Potter composed a humorous book on the subject, titled The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship or The Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating.

Contrast the English meadow style with the intricate ornateness of the formal French gardens of the period, meant to impress the viewer with the determination of man to subdue nature to his own ambition and aesthetic sense of rational opulence. Or, as I believe playwright George S. Kauffman once said, “to show what God could have done if He’d have had money.”

A few good wrinkles always separate the men from the boys, because invariably the novice tries to appear flawless and correct — and that’s his great mistake, and the trap is easily set and sprung. The old ploy used to be to shine the light on this attempt to be immaculately proper and drive it into the ground. “How do you manage to always look so sharp? I never seem to have the time to get all matched up.”

As the Beau well knew, the amateurs are always trying to look perfect and pressed to the marrow, while the real pros go for the calculated mistake.

Showing complete ignorance about the obvious, not knowing one’s size, or of what material one’s jacket is made is always a good idea. (“They say soldiers at the Somme used this stuff to clean the cannons.”)

“Haven’t bought clothes in years” is an almost unbeatable ploy, since any reply would seem rather arriviste and petty at the same time.

“Oh, Mr. Boyer,” he drawled in a perfect, lock-jawed, Main Line accent, “I don’t buy evening clothes. I have evening clothes.” Spot on, and leaving me feeling very definitely one down.


There he was witness to a remarkable pronouncement from King Charles II — a declaration that would change the course of fashion history. As Pepys recorded in his diary the next day, “The King hath yesterday in council declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes, which he will never alter. It will be a vest, I know not well how. But it is to teach the nobility thrift, and will do good.”

Those few weeks in October 1666 mark a turning point in social history. The rigid formality of court dress was on the way out and the swing toward sartorial democracy had begun — a process initiated, ironically enough, by a restored monarch.

Whether a suit should include a vest or not is more a matter of fashion than practicality—but when it comes to personal tailoring (that is, having a suit made), a vest is undoubtedly a good idea for several reasons. First, it increases the variety of the outfit to provide several looks; second, it provides more pockets; and third, it makes the outfit more responsive to changes in weather. This latter point is particularly important when traveling from one climate to another.

Furthermore, by tradition the d-b always takes peak lapels; notch lapels are reserved for single-breasted jackets.


By the Middle Ages linen had become the principal textile in Europe, not unknown even among the poor.

By the seventeenth century people were learning new hygienic modes, which included changing clothes every now and then, and occasionally cleaning them. Linen could be easily cleaned without it being ruined in the process. The facts are recounted fully by Daniel Roche in his fascinating study The Culture of Clothing: “the spread of linen, especially shirts, paved the way for the introduction of the more systematic bodily cleanliness of changing.”

Wool has many attributes to recommend it: it tailors well, and it breathes, wears well, responds well to cleaning, pressing, and altering. Wool’s also hygroscopic, capable of absorbing water in excess of 30 percent of its weight, yet doesn’t feel damp because it can quickly shed the moisture, wicking it back into the air.

Garments made of seersucker are by their very nature rumpled, which makes ironing superfluous. This is not only seersucker’s most distinctive characteristic, but its greatest virtue as well. One doesn’t worry about wrinkles because the stuff is permanently wrinkled, which, when it comes to warm weather wear, presents a solution near genius.

Women in huge skirts with bustles and men in wrinkle-free clothes say the same thing: “I don’t have to do any physical work.” It’s easy to see what Veblen would have made of inexpensive, wrinkle-free synthetic fibers. Their relatively recent invention has meant that a noncorrugated appearance is no longer a goal, since almost anyone — no matter how strapped — can afford the look. Technology has, in short, made it necessary to change the aesthetic rules of fashion, even though the underlying principle remains the same.


A turtleneck sweater with a suit? Why not? Purposeful nonchalance of this sort has its place.

Post–World War II French existential bohemians (such as Samuel Beckett, who took up the turtleneck not long after Waugh put it down) and US beatniks made the black turtleneck sweater a part of their daily outfit—an outfit that, in the French case, involved a long black leather jacket à la Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, and that in the American case included variously berets, goatees, jeans, army surplus khaki trousers and field jackets, dark glasses, and bongo drums

Postrevolutionary France, the English Regency era, and Jacksonian America were all periods of intentional dressing down.


The first, slightly older method of producing water-resistant fabric is to bond a layer of rubber to a layer of cotton. This method was discovered by the Scotsman Charles Macintosh (1766–1843—and not to be confused with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Scottish architect and painter) in the early 1820s.

The other genius of the early years of rainwear—and the inventor of the other, most noble rain-resistant fabric—was Thomas Burberry (1835–1926).

he began to experiment and eventually hit on a combination process that proved decidedly successful in waterproofing cotton fabric by treating it in both the yarn stage and the fabric stage with lanolin (a purified sheep’s wool grease): the cotton yarn was chemically saturated and then tightly woven into fabric, and finally the whole woven piece of fabric was saturated again, which resulted in a waterproofed cloth that was much lighter and cooler than rubberized fabric, with a natural breathability and extremely good water resistance.

The polar explorers Robert Falcon Scott, Ernest Shackleton, and Roald Amundsen all wore windproof and waterproof suits designed and made by Burberry. Even the tents Amundsen took with him were made by the firm.

During those hostilities of 1914–1918, half a million British soldiers wore Burberry trench coats and other rain gear.

Rather than the “bonded” approach (where rubber is sandwiched between layers of cotton), the Barbour technique is to use Egyptian cotton impregnated with a paraffin-based wax. The advantages are that the fabric is both breathable and supple; the disadvantage is that the cloth must be rewaxed from time to time. Barbour is probably the only clothing company in the world that provides maintenance service for its clothing.

If you want a real education in the subject, the leading umbrella company in the world is James Smith & Sons in London (53 New Oxford Street), which has been making fine umbrellas, walking sticks, and seat sticks since 1830.

Appendix: The Best Fashion Books for Men

Bell, Quentin. On Human Finery. 2nd ed., revised and enlarged. New York: Schocken Books, 1976. A wonderfully well-written study of the Thorstein Veblen theory of conspicuous consumption in Western society as it applies to fashion. This is a serious examination of the subject, but written with wit and entertaining insight for both the historian and the general reader. Bell himself was an artist and member of the Bloomsbury Group—he was Virginia Woolf’s nephew—and thus has considerable insight into created finery.

Flusser, Alan. Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. Any of Alan Flusser’s books is worth reading, and this one is the most recent, inclusive, and handsome. No one knows more about the practicalities of correct dress than the author, whose advice over the years has been a guiding light for so many well-dressed men.