When visiting major cities, we expect to see well dressed men showing up for a day’s work or out and about for a day in town.
Maybe these expectations are derived from images in our heads from the past, when men ‘suited up’ for a city visit, and these images are reinforced by depictions from television shows, movies and social media platforms showing men in great clothes in metropolitan settings.
But in reality, when we travel around the world, the expectation of seeing men dressed well often fails us–and the once-common sight of the elegant man strolling down city sidewalks is nothing more than a relic of the past. Strangely, sometimes we see more horse-and-carriages in a given city, than men in suits!
What’s going on?
Didn’t we say just a few years ago that a sartorial revolution was on-the-rise? Did television shows and social media alone convince us that the idea of a sartorial revolution is true? Unless it’s fashion week, it’s unlikely you’ll see very many men dressed up in big cities unless you happen to catch a glimpse of an employee heading to the office where a suit is mandatory.
In Italy however, there are a few cities (Naples in particular) where some men continue to dress up to go outside, possibly due to the Italian culture of shirt-making and tailoring still in force, and likely an influencing factor in terms of how men dress.
At the risk of sounding like people with outdated and irritable dispositions, we wonder where all the well-attired men (who once dotted the landscape of the world) have gone? If we sound old-fashioned for complaining about how people dress today, then so be it. But if we forfeit the hope for a return of ‘the aesthete’ or ‘the elegant gentleman’, then something is lost. We believe the hope for a real return to elegant style should be kept alive and kicking.
Indeed, if we forego aesthetics and elegance, it means we also forego the pursuit of beauty. And, if we forget about beauty, why grow flowers when we can grow strictly food for human consumption? Why decorate the table with fine china when we can use dishwasher-safe plates or even paper plates instead?
Why not destroy cobblestone streets and pour concrete walkways to rid ourselves of the annoyance of trying to walk on rocky roads, as well as the maintenance-headache of keeping so many stones in place?
If our mindset surrenders completely to convenience, what will our world look like in the future ? And more importantly, what will our world be like and act like?
THE PURSUIT (OR LACK OF PURSUIT) OF ELEGANCE
Hand sewn jacket by Santillo1970, Hopsak fabric by Vitale Barberis Canonico photo: thebespokedudes.com
The way we dress, as well as the way we work together and how we treat our family and friends, all encompass the trait of elegance. We dress well to respect ourselves and others and to celebrate life itself. But dressing well is nothing but a chore, unless it’s something we want to do instead of something we have to do.
This leads to another question: why do people avoid dressing up?
We can hypothesize that insufficient money, apathy (laziness), and concern for what others may think, are among the top reasons why people decide not to dress up. But no matter the reason, one thing is certain—the adage “where there is a will, there is a way” is most relevant when it comes to realizing individual elegance. As an example, a portion of the men of Africa like the dandies of the “Sapeur movement” in Congo, Cameroon, Ivory Coast or South Africa are men with an iron will to present their best selves, often despite extremely limited resources.
If there is a will, knowing the basics of good tailoring and color/pattern combining is easy to do (the Parisian Gentleman Academy is a good place to start). The next step is to find satisfying ways to express yourself with your clothes, finding your own balance between over-zealousness and dull understatement.
Each personal path can also (eventually) be free from worrying about the judgement of others…as each person who pursues his own personal style will ultimately learn to discount what other people think in favor of following his own internal compass.
Other than learning some techniques for dressing well, instincts and experience will take care of the rest. Developing personal intuition in regard to what pleases your eyes and your senses is the key element needed to advance sartorially.
Dressing for an occasion is fine and good, but expressing your individual identity can be the ultimate experience.
THE VOICE OF A FEW GREATS
G. Bruce Boyer
According to Marcel Proust “style for the writer, no less than color for the painter, is a question not of technique, but of vision”. Likewise with clothing, our vision of how to present ourselves well, will trump technical points and rules.
Thomas Carlyle wrote in Sartor Resortus (i.e., The Tailor Retailored) that clothing could hold more power than writing or speaking! In Carlyle’s words “speech is of time, silence is of eternity”.
And it’s true–our clothing doesn’t utter a word, yet at a glance of someone’s attire, an imprint is processed on the brain and we perceive many messages at once (not in any specific order, but simultaneously). Perceptions of success, taste, occupation, creativity, perseverance, concern, and respect, for example, instantaneously flood the mind, just by observing how a person is dressed.
More than 150 years after Carlyle, the acclaimed G. Bruce Boyer reaches another echelon with his words, addressing the pursuit of grace:
“Finding one’s individualism may begin as an exercise of order, i.e., pairing and combining the right suit with the best tie, shirt, shoes and socks (and what about pocket squares, cufflinks and braces?), but when approaching dressing well with the right attitude, this pursuit of “proper order” transforms into a desire to express grace through what begins as a pretended “nonchalance”, but transforms into dressing with grace and a “natural nonchalance”—even with a fake-it-until-you-make-it approach!”
One of the most moving examples of expressing individualism comes from Vincent van Gogh, who expressed himself through his paintings. Like most of us, van Gogh was ridden with self-doubt and often felt discouraged, but nothing would deter him from expressing himself. If we take the liberty to apply van Gogh’s words to dressing well, it seems to make sense:
“What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low? All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me.” —(Vincent van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo).
THE SUIT BEGINS WITH THE FABRIC : VBC DESIGNER FILIPPO NEIRETTI
The first step to express your individuality in classical suiting is through your choice of fabric.
Indeed, before the design of the suit itself (by a tailor or a stylist), there is “a designer behind the designer” : the fabric designer.
It is possible to draw inferences about a man by observing his choice of fabric pattern for his suit. For example:
* Solid fabrics can communicate sobriety and formality.
* Pinstripes can indicate willingness to make a statement while accepting the gaze of others. Stronger stripes like tennis and chalk stripes will attract attention while subtle stripes blend more and are considered more discreet.
* The “checked universe” is a different world altogether, ranging from the large window pane checks which are generally chosen by strong personalities, to the softened glen plaid which is a staple to most any wardrobe, to the gun club check which emits an outdoor vibe, or even a sense of intellectualism.
Vitale Barberis Canonico designer Filippo Neiretti has a penchant for the universe of checks.
Each gentleman has the freedom to choose a fabric from loudest to the most discreet cloth, yet everything about a suit begins with fabric. ~Filippo Neiretti
With grace beyond his years, VBC Designer Filippo Neiretti embodies individualism. After his interview, Filippo drove us back to our hotel, and we immediately sensed his love of freedom and nature.
In the car, as Filippo rounded the corners that surround the mountainous roads of Biella, we spoke of the clear waters running through the rocks, the joys of motorbiking, and what it’s like to be raised in a town where the craft of making fabric touches practically every family.
As the fifth (of six) VBC designers we interviewed, it became apparent while talking with Filippo, that fabric designers are all too often overlooked, while tailors and designers are openly celebrated as being the creators of suits.
Filippo is 34 and began his career as a textile designer after finishing his education at the Istituto Tecnico Industriale Quintino Sella in Biella. During the first years of his career, he worked with various manufacturers of men’s fabrics and wool mills before arriving at Vitale Barberis Canonico a little more than four years ago. He is the youngest of the six designers.
In an industry where the age of professionals is often advanced, VBC takes a vital step to include the young generation in its development of new fabrics, which helps keep their selection current for men of all ages. Filippo thus brings a fresh face to fabrics with a passion for his job, and a style which breathes life into his fabric designs.
Today, for us, Filippo narrows his picks down to two fabrics made of the same wool–although quite different in style, technical characteristics and use. The wool chosen for these two style interpretations is intentionally standard, with an average fineness of 21 microns. (Click the fabric photos to see details).
FABRIC 1 : TRADITIONAL WORSTED SUIT (Ref : 6.1145/3)
100 percent wool – 360grams per meter.
This is a twill suit, compact and crease-resistant, which is typically used for haute couture and especially nice for winter wear. The visibly thicker yarn enhances even the simplest of designs and gives great depth to plain backgrounds. Its compactness and its weight enable the realization of elegant suits with impeccable drapability.
For the very reason of its distinguished character, this fabric is used by diverse houses looking for sober elegance, such as Drapers, Cantarelli, Hermès, Paul Smith and Prada.
RUSTIC WEAVE (ref : 95.000)
100 percent wool – 240 grams per meter.
As a result of its tropical weave, this fabric is notably lighter and practically porous, summery and airy. The mouliné yarns, composed and blended with mélange colors, give this fabric a modern and outgoing look. As a result of the mouliné warp and weft, even a simple plain fabric assumes a youthful, almost unpredictable appearance.
It is ideal for a modern suit with no-nonsense lines: a fitted jacket and cigarette trousers with turn-ups.
VBC’s clients who select the Rustic Weave include Giorgio Armani, Brunello Cucinelli, Lardini and Polo Ralph Lauren.