On Internet Cultures
For better and for worse, the internet has given common banners to scattered individuals. Each passion, however popular or exclusive, however virtuous or otherwise, now has a community of enthusiasts and advocates. In almost all cases, the passion long preceded its online existence, and so the internet has both connected people to their shared interest, and changed it.
In the case of quality tailoring, that strange beast named #menswear has brought numerous benefits. Although anyone can take an interest in style, the range of choices needed to develop personal taste—and the knowledge that supports it—were always dependent on geography and upbringing…as well as curiosity.
Today one can find a vast amount of information and advice in publications such as this one, on the blogs of tailors such as Julien Scavini and Jeffery Diduch, on internet fora, and in the printed magazines which have responded to this flourishing in menswear interest, with attention to history and craft.
Small producers, who might otherwise be drowned out by the marketing power of the big conglomerates, now can be noticed and celebrated. Craftspeople, whether they are the latest in a long line of makers, or new to their pursuit, can quickly become darlings of the internet. And for consumers too, style has become more democratic: no longer do you need a father, uncle or elder brother to advise you on shirt collars, or where to buy your ties. There are more options at every price, and even the finest can be discovered and ordered online.
Every new medium has been needlessly feared and uncritically celebrated. In the case of the internet, the negative view is that it destroys our attention span and capacity for independent thought; the positive version is pure liberal fantasy: that individuals become more informed, and decisions evermore efficient and rational.
In both cases, it’s important not to get carried away. In cultural terms, the internet is one more technology that communicates and promotes various ideas, styles and postures: this function is shared by the novel in the eighteenth century, the handbook or etiquette manual in the nineteenth, and the glossy magazine in the twentieth. But because of the near limitless ease of searching for and distributing information, the internet expands these functions to a previously unthinkable degree. We have this to thank for the astonishing renaissance of interest in classic menswear, and its provenance, craft, and manifold variations.
The sorrows of the iGent : Instant trends and mindless imitation
At the same time, there are downsides. Because it breaks down barriers, the internet also homogenizes tastes.
The positive side is that an American can read about fishmouth lapels, or an Englishman spalla camicia; the negative side is that men everywhere can start to look like they have been dressed by the internet, and the shine on each pair of artificially patinated double monks starts to dull.
A related problem is that trends become more powerful and exaggerated. The quicker information travels, the more a medium favours newness; magazines and books are printed to be kept, but the currency of forums and blogs is speed. Because the internet both cultivates and feeds a desire for novelty, ever more examples and updates are needed, and perfectly good design choices can become more and more exaggerated as producers and consumers try to outbid one another in a competition to have the best details or the most sprezzatura. Fora bring enthusiasts together, and aggregate wisdom, but they also favour the most monomaniacal of users.
Finally, there is the simple fact that all this quick information provides shortcuts: thoroughly stylish people achieved their looks through a series of ennobling mistakes. Not only do errors teach the eye to make better judgements, they also allow a person to make themselves through a series of negotiations that encompass questions of taste, comfort, politics, sexuality, knowledge and wit. The short-cut of imitation—even imitation of a supremely tasteful individual—denies us that flight from our past selves towards a new and more satisfying posture.
All these effects are embodied in the iGent, that comic figure who embodies the wifi-enabled menswear enthusiast’s worse excesses. The iGent is ravenous for knowledge and yet deeply superficial. To him, the brand is more real than the product, and its retail price (and any discount he wins against it) the sole criterion of its value. He is more interested in arguing on the internet about clothes than wearing them, and more dedicated to his status as ‘dapper gent’ than to the brilliant career, easy charm and generous wit that he thinks his clothes demonstrate.
But we don’t judge a whole gallery by a few tasteless pieces, nor the majority of wise tailors, elegant commentators, and good-humoured fellow travellers by a few wayward souls who bear more cliché than they deserve. Like the new media’s effects on society at large, these changes to menswear are not wholly good nor bad, but they are worthy of measured but serious attention.
The internet tailor : Take care to choose well
To take an example, we examine Luxire, one of the young companies which exemplifies the nature of menswear in the internet age.
For some years now, Luxire have been making shirts and trousers to order and selling directly from their factory in Bangalore. In these respects, they are only one among many companies offering what is often termed ‘online made-to-measure.’ With some of these companies, one merely selects from a few standard patterns and adjusts a few parameters, but in the best cases a personal pattern is made for each customer, either from their own measurements, or from an existing item. As in any marketplace, there are merchants who offer a highly streamlined, fairly simple experience, and those who favour complexity.
Luxire takes the far side of complexity (as does their website, i.e., there is a choice of existing shirt collar shapes, but because they are ordering directly from the factory, customers can also specify their own collars, down to the point length, angle and curvature, and use of fusing or interlining. (Paul Lux wrote about the collars for this publication in 2015; Juho Rehakka has designed his own.) This approach has made the ordering process rather more elaborate than some, but as you might imagine, their willingness to accommodate endless modifications and requests has produced a consistent following of the sort of customer who knows precisely what he wants.
As in any pursuit, there are those who enjoy a taste and move on, and those who drink deeply from the cup, and cannot forget. Some men might try higher-quality versions of their old things and be satisfied, others are left pondering the precise height of their lapel gorge or the gusset shape on their shirts. It is this second group which has driven the development of Luxire’s products, which feature details like hand-shanked horn and mother of pearl buttons, shirred sleeves and cuffs, complicated trouser closures (complete with the so-called ‘Neapolitan chastity belt,’ if that’s your thing) and multitudinous handmade bar-tacks.
Because every item begins from scratch (or from the pattern of an existing garment, if you choose to have one replicated), there is no ‘standard’ offering. This means that production can be much more attentive to trends and whims (for example, there has been a recent surge in Gurkha-style trousers.)
One element obviously lacking in internet tailoring is the old-fashioned tailor’s gentle (or even sarcastic) refusal to honour your every contrivance. And you are not being initiated into a particular tailoring tradition, with a strong house style and a century of famous clients. But if you do know what you want (and if your judgement is sound!) this model offers an attractive option located between traditional tailors and ready-to-wear, both in terms of cost and convenience: the prices are similar to good RTW, and you can adjust a pattern quickly over email from anywhere.
What’s on offer isn’t bespoke—as we happy defenders of that word still understand it—but rather flexible MTO, that can be altered and designed from scratch, using the materials (Dugdale, Alumo and Zegna cottons, Minnis, Loro Piana and Holland & Sherry wools) and techniques you would expect from a traditional tailor. To an enthusiast, this near-unlimited freedom combined with the comparatively low financial risk might be intoxicating.
To an old tailoring cynic, it might represent the problem with our internet-dependent menswear generation: all the stylistic details can be conjured from imagination, or Instagram, or the empty air. You can request an archetypal English business shirt and the most exaggerated Italianate trousers in the same order.
Although the service has never been as visible on their website, Luxire have been making tailored jackets for around four years. Like other offerings, their jackets have evolved, and a recent overhaul has resulted in an almost entirely handmade process. Aspects of finishing, such as buttonholes and edge stitching, have also become noticeably more refined. Due to India’s colonial history, there has always been a British influence on their designs, particularly in the shoulder expression, although over time (and surely thanks to the internet’s recent infatuations) they have incorporated more modern Italian design elements and now offer everything from roped and highly structured British style jackets to soft Neapolitan style. The company strategy has been to provide all the details, features and materials that enthusiasts want, with a highly reactive and somewhat experimental approach to design and production. They aren’t going to teach you what you should wear, but if you already know (or are ready to walk the road of experimentation) then they are certainly an interesting company.
I have just ordered a suit in navy flannel. The fit will be based on a favourite navy hopsack jacket of mine that I am sending as a guide, now that I no longer need it in the colder months. Luxire will make up an unfinished model and send it to me for a fitting, and then make adjustments before finishing the final item. I discussed my stylistic preferences and personal needs with Ashish Ayra, the CEO, and one of his tailors, and made some general decisions about cloth (we settled on a Loro Piana twill) and style (pockets, lapel, shoulder and waistband styles, and so on) but I have left the ultimate design to the team in order to give readers the best illustration of their process. I will report back when we have the results.
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