Takes One To Know One

Bloggers can go on all we like about the “menswear renaissance,” but the fact of the matter is that even in a sartorial capital like New York, truly well-dressed men remain thin on the ground. One can certainly find any number of suits shuttling between the money mines of Wall Street and Midtown, but theirs are overwhelmingly joyless ensembles: worsted work uniforms worn with thick dull shoes, indifferent ties indifferently knotted, and slung laptop bags biting deep into overpadded shoulders. It’s not passing judgment to observe that these guys would rather be wearing something else.     

Faced with such a prosaic reality, traditionally-inclined dressers tend to seek solace in a wainscoted memory palace, furnished with the sumptuous illustrations and silvered icons of an heroic past. Here we find our digital domain of headless avatars and hokey handles, communing in comments and threads about the Fall and Rise of Elegance. Occasionally, we may gather for mildly awkward cocktails that might as well be burned coffee in a church basement. Shoe circles have happened.

Increasingly, however, we’ll spot One of Us, in the wild, gloriously anonymous, perhaps even doing something other than shopping for or discussing clothes. He is not merely rich, swathed in tastefully bland luxury. He is not merely fashionable, all popped color and seams. We know him by the shine of his well-boned shoes, the shivered break of his deeply cuffed trousers, the roll of his 3-on-2 lapels. He is a dresser, an aficionado, an initiate. He is a menswear dork.

And man, can we ever be bitches to each other. With so much treasure, so much research, so much aesthetic principle invested in the even smallest details, we too easily lapse into unseemly judgment of those whose tastes diverge even slightly from our own. (Or perhaps more acerbically, those who share our taste but fail our standards of execution. Or perhaps worst of all, those who share our taste and surpass our execution. @#$*%!& dandies!) The traditional gold standard of dressing is, after all, impeccability: the absence of sin. In other words, we’re bloody well looking for it. Too conservative. Too flamboyant. Too retro. Too trendy. Too stiff. Too sprezzed.

Most of us hate being branded as dandies because the term doesn’t conjure elegance so much as fussiness. We are never more fully heirs of Brummelian asshattery, however, than when we take the measure of a fellow dresser by his clothes alone. Whatever you may read here and in other journals of atavistic men’s style, ours is a rare and endangered species, and we should take every occasion to acknowledge and encourage each other, whatever our differing positions on trouser rise or undone sleeve buttons.  

So go ahead and cast the sidelong glance. Offer an approving nod. He’s noticed you too. Don’t worry. It’s all about the clothes.

[Originally published in A Suitable Wardrobe.]