The Evolution of Style

I don’t care what you wear: wear it well. While this post mainly focuses on: the historical evolution of dress, Dandyism, and inevitably, literature, I hope the reader will forgive me, if, from time to time, I relay unsolicited advice in regards to dress and manners. This unsolicited advice may take the form of general rules of thumb—formulated by time and traditions of Western civilization–, as well as particularities derived from my own prejudices and proclivities.  

My objective here is to inform. Thus, if you (the reader) should learn even one new thing, I have succeeded in my task; however, if at any point someone should let out a little giggle, or a laugh, I will have surpassed by objective, having fulfilled the soul in sharing a morsel of pleasure and enjoyment to another human being.   

This is one author that recognizes a difference between Style and Fashion. Enlightening those differences, Style starts from within one’s self, and involves the process of communicating aspects of one’s identity to the world, through dress. In contrast fashion is imposed from outside of oneself, and is largely concerned with the latest trends. Through cultivating a sense of style based on the relationship between our individual and collective selves and the external world, style is truly about knowing one’s self.

 

History

 

 

 

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Fig. 1 King Charles II and Nell Gwyn. 

The History of the modern suit can be traced back to King Charles II (b. 1630-d. 1685), aka Charles the Bald, aka the “Merrie Monarch.” Charles had many liaisons, and loved prostitutes. In literature, Charles’s appetite for women is preserved in the poetry of Earl of Rochester, who described Charles as rolling, insatiably I imagine, “from whore to whore” and thus the prototypical image of the debonair “playboy”  begins to take form and

 

shape.

Charles II was one of the more interesting monarchs to assume the throne. Charles II was the son of Charles I, and subsequently, was born Prince of Wales in London, on 29 May 1630.

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Fig. 2. King Charles II. 

In 1641 Charles II took his seat in the House of Lords in 1641 and held nominal military positions commanding troops in the civil wars of the English Revolution, before fleeing in exile to The Hague (Netherlands).  In exile, Charles II made at least two attempts to rescue his father who was being held prisoner by political dissidents. Several days late, and many dollars short, however, Charles I was executed in 1649, despite Charles’s efforts. Charles II assumed kingship of Scotland and (some parts of) Ireland and England in 1651. In August (1651), Charles invaded England with 10,000 souls. Long story short, he lost the battle, and lived in poverty and exile for 8 years. Although Charles lost the battle, he did–eventually– win the war. Parliament requested Charles II be restored and proclaimed in him King 8 May 1660.  

These things notwithstanding, Charles’s pertinence to use his he gave us the three-piece suit, by declaration in 1666. Permanent Style “How Charles II Invented the Three-Piece Suit” relays the matter succinctly:  

So on October 7 1666 Charles issued a declaration that his court would no longer wear ‘French fashions’. Instead, it would adopt what was known at the time as the Persian vest. A long waistcoat to be worn with a knee-length coat and similar-length shirt, it was made of English wool, not French silk. The emphasis was on cloth and cut, not ruffles and accessories.

And there, arguably, it all started, not just the forerunners of the modern three-piece, which includes:  Waistcoat (vest), Trousers, and a Jacket, but more significantly, what would come to be the hallmark of British style: an emphasis on cloth (fabric) and cut (or fit), which would be famous by the tailors and clothiers of the famed Savile Row.

Beau Brummell and the Rise of the Dandy

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Fig .3. Beau Brummell. 

There are many ideas about what a Dandy is. There are many characterizations of Dandyism that, in my view, completely misses the mark, such as those who erroneously associate Dandyism with superficial self-indulgence, the “effeminate,” and narcissism. In any case, a Dandy is characterized by a man of places a particular importance on individual presentation—refined, albeit, though sometimes extravagant, in both dress and mannerisms.

 

Brummell was born in 1778 and died in 1840. At 21, Brummell received a modest inheritance, and from there, set out to live the good life—spending most of his money on clothes, gambling, and eating and drinking. In an era where bathing once per week was a seldom occurrence for the general European, Brummel’s morning routine lasted four to five hours. He bathed twice daily: first in milk, then in water. Every day, he shaved and exfoliated, and was a preeminent gentleman, becoming known, near and far for little else than his eccentric dress and habits, and thus enjoyed freedom of movement in the highest strata of the social sphere, where his manner of dress and habits created a cult following.

Brummell died broke and insane, a fate, ironically, that many Dandies would come to share. In 1840 Brummell died in an insane asylum.   Nevertheless, during his life Brummell’s influence was an important development in the rise of Dandyism: having influenced real and imagined Dandies. Oscar Wilde, a Dandy in real life, based many of his heroes on Brummell, and consequently, Dorian, of the Picture of Dorian Grey and Algernon Moncrieff of The Importance of Being Earnest bear striking similarities to Brummell. Traces of Brummell can even be found in Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus—the posthumous semi-autobiographical comedy and part philosophical reflection, that set a standard for the budding genre now known as satire.

More pertinent to our purposes here, Brummell is important to us because it is from him that we arrive at the modern trouser. Today, a statue of Brummell towers in bespoken dignity in Savile Row, London.

Pro Tips: Wearing it well

Needless to say perhaps, I am united, in principle with King Charles II on the tenants of Fit and Fabric as a guideline for a gentleman’s wardrobe.  When comparing European suits to American suits, generally, the European suit fit closer to the body, have higher arm-holes, and are typically slim lined, giving the suit an overall “smart” appearance. In contrast, American suits have lower armholes, larger armholes, and do not fit as close to the body—generally.

All suits are  not created equal. Knowing what to wear, as well as when and how to wear it, can make life a little less hectic. I believe that when most people know better, they do better. Consequently, infractions in etiquette  are usually due to unfamiliarity rather than poor taste.

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Fig.4. Western Suit Fits.
  1. Start with the shoulders. The shoulders pads of the suit should fit your shoulders. Usually, as long as the shoulders fit, everything else can be adjusted by your tailor. Naturally, the closer the suit is, initially, to your ideal fit, the less money you will spend on alterations and tailoring (and likely the more money you will spend on the suit).

 

 

At the shoulder, the fabric should fall naturally, giving a smooth and seamless appearance leading all the the way down to the sleeve.

When smartly fitted, the shoulders will be squared, giving a sharp and formal appearance.

If the shoulders on a jacket are too wide, the head will appear small. When the shoulders are too wide, the head is seemingly inflated.

2. Jacket Length. Ideally, the jacket should stop where the buttock meet the thigh. Slightly longer or shorter is acceptable depending on the tastes and preferences of the gentleman wearing the suit.

*Jackets may be purchased in Short (s), Regular (R), and Long (L) lengths, and may be further customize by a tailor as needed.

**Most jackets have extra fabric as to be lengthened or shortened as needed. However, too much alteration will disturb the proportions of the jacket, eliminating the natural balance of the garment.

3. Jacket Collar. There are many different collars and lapels. The perfect jacket collar gently and comfortably, sits below the shirt collar, which frames the face. Collars are so important, they will get their own section.

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Fig.5. Jacket Collar. 

The Gorge is where the jacket’s collar meets the jacket’s lapel, and should always be about the upper chest. Ideally, the jacket collar will sit 1/2 or more inch below the blouse.

4. Jacket Width. Always, let your body guide you. However, a proper coat fits such that a gentleman should be able to comfortably rest a hand between the fabric and the chest.

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Fig.6. Jacket Sleeves.

5. Sleeve Length. Not too long. Not too short. But just right. The sleeves of the Jacket should let your blouse (shirt) peak from under the jacket. Traditionally, the “proper” exposure is ¼-3/4 of blouse. However, hand-dressing, is highly personal, and these rules may discarded at will. The higher the sleeve, the higher the level of extravagance. In professional settings, however, it is not unwise to be modest, staying within that ¼ – ¾ range. Whistle at play, expose as much sleeve as you desire—without being obnoxious.  Sleeves should never be too long, and thus at least some of your blouse should be seen under the jacket sleeve, tastefully dressing the hand. (See Nat’s expertly dressed sleeves: Fig. 7.).

 

 

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Fig. 7. Nat King Cole. 

 

 

 

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Fig.8. Sammy Davis Jr.                                                          6. Trousers: Trousers are one aspect of a suit, and dress in general, that is very personal. My advice is: as long as your trousers fit at and on the waist, let comfort and function dictate the rest. Additionally, thou shall never, simultaneously, wear a belt and braces. Other than that: rock out, let loose, follow your heart.

 

* Here I will take note to insert my unsolicited opinion and advice: if your trousers fit, you will require neither a belt nor braces (suspenders). Given that the purpose of a belt is to hold trousers in place, it stands to reason that trouser that actually fit will require no belt at all. Furthermore, wearing a belt  breaks up the seamless silhouette that a suit is designed to emphasize. On a smart-fitting suit, the eye is naturally drawn to the main focal point of a suit, the waist-button, which is a about the navel. Wearing a belt effectively divides the top and lower halves of the body, instead of allowing for an elegant, seamless, and uniformed appearance. Additionally, getting your trousers fitted to your waist is often inexpensive, and can be done by all tailors and even most dry cleaners that offer alterations for a nominal fee.

**There are many options when it comes to trousers. But our main focus is  trouser fit at the waist. There are slightly more involved aspects of trousers like pleats—which are little folds, and breaks, and breaks—the point where the trouser meets the shoe. You can read more about trousers here: (https://www.gentlemansgazette.com/how-pants-should-fit/).

 

I have put together a modest gallery for your browsing pleasure. Do note that none of these photos are my own, nor do I have any rights pertaining thereto.

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This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Works Cited:

Brummell, Beau.” Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, 2017, p. 1p. 1. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.umuc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=funk&AN=BR189600&site=eds-live&scope=site

Figure. 1: https://www.google.com/search?q=charles+ii+and+nell+gwyn&tbm=isch&tbs=simg:CAQSlwEJwA458BvVCuUaiwELEKjU2AQaBAgVCAIMCxCwjKcIGmIKYAgDEiiDBIIEvxf0GNEKpxXcCvULlhmSDokuuDq5OooujC61Otg-iy7TIrQ6GjAJb8U-AaCqchtzSx8bxgKDwkxrFwyP5WhtVwuOVaIk5bwSTfzB-C3zPHIwKSo1U0AgBAwLEI6u_1ggaCgoICAESBOMyousM&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjbnr_c5uzbAhXQjVkKHRAoCRQQwg4IJigA

Figure 2: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiErM7x5ezbAhUNrVkKHQQwBToQjRx6BAgBEAU&url=https%3A%2F%2Fin.pinterest.com%2Fpin%2F136445063688672202%2F&psig=AOvVaw1eZ2Mny2OequeAA6adGHAq&ust=1529946737189854

Figure 3: https://www.google.com/search?q=beau+brummell+portrait&tbm=isch&tbs=simg:CAQSlQEJsrSDqL2VYOkaiQELEKjU2AQaAggVDAsQsIynCBpiCmAIAxIo9BiWGYEP8xiOD5IOqxGRDqoRvRuMLrU6gC6_1Ot8vvjq9OuEviy6VLhowe48h4aZWZWz6kDwgaZu5kkNgifr_1JpFqSVQCNAo-XZMUo6a2h5lwYg22fDcCLb4QIAQMCxCOrv4IGgoKCAgBEgQJlVuFDA&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiJ1vy95-zbAhXhzVkKHTtuDXcQwg4IJigA

Figure 4: https://keep.google.com/u/0/media/v2/1VbjefZxNudksLWqETyq5zZkxNelJljM_xAuf0Vao0dcxhimn1BxbX7YrOWVUtg/1jQfh5FAny7zoMRjIg8unsbmLPY_WI2TKNSnq_sajj3yE-zGdhWnMD2LPCNLsOgg?accept=image/gif,image/jpeg,image/jpg,image/png,image/webp,audio/aac&sz=750

Figure  5:  https://keep.google.com/u/0/media/v2/1yJZqp5q1OjX72IWNTK6CRWSnSJ1VaiKVkPc8CE2Cu-DTn7CUcH9ZEXzRdHu2jVg/1_NI8eXQTAry1SaVCp-1X44tbCX2UzbBXStxXopNVLpLiXh0apLiV8aR5RM2nVw?accept=image/gif,image/jpeg,image/jpg,image/png,image/webp,audio/aac&sz=419

Figure 6: https://keep.google.com/u/0/media/v2/1jjSwpsOUC6gthZ-iPIWNf5mK-JkWtWdrXnXVkqsBSKiQCF1hCYrvC_DZ7Kt9cNM/13dRDJRMi3X3RhQJnKbZBDVuEg-YN7OEuJZByIABbUdGYmR3AwuATvZ2z_qXY3Uk?accept=image/gif,image/jpeg,image/jpg,image/png,image/webp,audio/aac&sz=419

Figure 7:  https://keep.google.com/u/0/media/v2/1aMmYFcOce77voLYRmWvmDd39y2qTn99BCqg3Uy9nkRZ0uphznbcKru3uKkZ4Dsc/1-Aa8RmE1EAHUNHoNQHxyWhGZqy-YqRQgbJgVcXV8z-cLtQqG6CDqcGpEEYjQL8M?accept=image/gif,image/jpeg,image/jpg,image/png,image/webp,audio/aac&sz=254

Figure 8:  https://keep.google.com/u/0/media/v2/1NghEth0BUUaD2Nru_QQox8MGpT1LZERIGRcPxcUfc2xkSyfuyf5UsN5t0E3kVA/1XiW599lm71Dz0VeaEZ5B_Z2FKT21sdkQ5HCh7PfR2t-gJzNWou6FV6VnvcvVoFQ?accept=image/gif,image/jpeg,image/jpg,image/png,image/webp,audio/aac&sz=225

 

 

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