I wanted to add my two cents to Guido Wongolini’s recent comment about sprezzatura vs. wabi-sabi.
The reason sprezzatura does not resonate with me either (and frankly I do not understand the States-side obsession with it among “menswear” enthusiasts) is the lack of natural poise that it implies (think of the duck on a pond analogy). Working hard to make something look effortless is not an Italian way of life, either. Actually it is a well-known fact that Italians work hard not to work at all.
Italians have for centuries dressed elegantly as part of their DNA. They can do so effortlessly and look like they have done so effortlessly because of their incredible “sartorie”. Where they do put their efforts is in creating simple lines, well made fabrics, natural shoulders, proper fit, hand sewn details and quality craftsmanship that has been handed down through the generations.
This cultural norm (dressing well effortlessly) in Italy is under constant threat these days. There are the so-called Italian fashion houses that have moved even their “black label” production abroad in the pursuit of larger profit margins at the expense of quality or worse they produce garments using Chinese run sweatshops on Italian soil and cheap imported fabrics in order to skirt Italian “Made in Italy” label laws (as is the case in Prato – once the pride of the Tuscan textile industry). Then there is the latest imported American mass-fashion such as Abercrombie & Fitch for whose crap Italians line up around the block here in NYC. And lastly the horrific style worn by the “coatti”, “tamarri”, “truzzi”, “zarri” and “cafoni” (think Jersey Shore, but they actually live in Italy) with huge Carrera glasses (often knock-offs), gel, huge D&G black and gold watch, shiny puffer vest jackets worn over gaudy t-shirts and lots of gold around their necks and pinned to their ears. Good grief.
If anything, as wabi-sabi implies, most Italian men (the ex-Prime Minister aside) age gracefully and handsomely while accepting the transience of life and the beauty of aging. This sadly holds true only for the older generations that have included icons such as l’Avvocato and Marcello Mastroianni as well as the latest generation to age gracefully such as Luca Cordero di Montezemolo and Diego Della Valle. I see someone like Lapo Elkann who is certainly a genius at branding himself and FIAT, but from whom I cannot truly draw any sartorial inspiration with the exception of the times he wears his late grandfather’s wardrobe.
Premised all of the above there is no doubt that Italian men can still pull off elegance and style like few in the world. Will Italy maintain its sartorial edge and position in the global pantheon of great tailoring traditions? Time will tell.
I just found a gob of jam stuck to the bottom of the dining room chair when I went to move it. The sensation was similar to finding gum stuck to the desk chair in High School. This, for those of you who may not know it yet, is life with kids. It used to bother me, greatly, but as any living being must you adapt to survive. Once all the crumbs, spills, stickiness and more is vacuumed, swept up and wiped I take my shower and shave. This is a purification ritual that I must perform each morning in order to start the rest of my day as an adult who aside from the world of parenthood, must also function within society at large, the one that has no idea what it means to have kids and quite rightly couldn’t care less.
I head straight for my closet and make a point of dressing like an adult regardless of whether it is work or a day out with my son that awaits me. Dressing like an adult means that I could walk into a church or temple or other sanctuary and feel that I am dressed appropriately (unless of course I am at or near the beach or working out). I choose religion to make my point, not because I am a man of religion, but because religion (supposedly) represents a certain etiquette and decorum that first and foremost is meant to lead believers to respect themselves in order to be respectful of others.
If there is anything I can still control in my life these days, it’s my wardrobe. My wife is an incredibly stylish Italian woman and certainly very opinionated when it comes to what I wear, as any respectable Italian wife should, but I need to feel comfortable first and foremost in my own “skin”. False modesty aside, I think I do pretty well on my own. I stand taller and walk taller when I feel well dressed this goes for work cloth as well as casual clothes.
Whatever your style, just make sure it’s tidy. Kids, although certainly a major hurdle, are no excuse to looking shabby. That is really what being dapper is all about. Also, never confuse style with snobbery and never ever equate fashion to style. Style is about you and not about what others want you to be – dad’s should understand and appreciate this more than anyone else.
I looked down at my watch after taking that first refreshing sip of my Manhattan on the rocks last Saturday and noticed the time – 5:46pm. Only fourteen minutes away from the beginning of the end, the last judgment, the apocalypse, the end of the world or something to that effect. I grinned. I had sort of pushed the silly notion to the back of my mind since today was my best friend’s wedding and frankly a little mumbo jumbo was not going to distract me from a rare day alone with my wife (aka no kid in tow), friends, fine food and beverages and if all went well a rare cigar or some Cavendish in a pipe to end the night perfectly. I was dressed, and please pardon the delusional benchmark, better than James Bond (even Sean Connery’s). I even tied my own bowtie (the three quarters of an hour it took made me feel that much more debonair). I was sitting high up amongst the gathering clouds (literally), wearing a simple, yet elegant tux and nursing my drink at the Mandarin Oriental in mid-town Manhattan. I was ready to give the Rapture the finger.
Heaven or Hell I figured it would be proper etiquette to show up black tie. I think both establishments are fairly conservative and I did not want any trouble with the bouncers, if anything to avoid the inevitable trek back up or down when I was turned away for not having on the proper attire. I pitied the poor schmuck who had just sauntered in wearing brown loafers with white socks and a black belt – Purgatory was a much worse destination since it was neither here nor there.
The storm clouds circled closer and obstructed the breath taking view of Central Park and the rain starting beating against the glass in front of us. Fine, so my last memory would be of clouds, so what? I was dressed to the nines, I was in great company, having a drink and smiling. A perfect way to go in my humble opinion.
When it comes to the birds and the bees, their mating rituals usually entail the boys trying to attract the girls. This is done for the most part using elaborate dances, spectacular colors, beautiful songs and other means to “look good” for the ladies. One of the exceptions to this natural selection process is the male of the homo sapiens. Go to the epicenter of any town or city’s nightlife and you will notice in most cases that the opposite is true when it comes to men and women. The women arrive all a flutter in their high heels, cocktail dresses, silk stocking, impeccable hair and perfect makeup. The men look like they have just woken up from last night’s fraternity initiation: sweat stained baseball cap (reversed), t-shirt from the hamper, jeans (or khakis if they feel like “dressing up”), braided leather belt from the early 90s and running sneakers or flip flops. Why?
I ask simply because it is incomprehensible to me that when you are out on the town (whether married or single) you would not want to tidy up a bit? All too often, the only guys I see in a suit and tie are the ones who have just left the office and headed straight to the bar or restaurant, but who, I am sure, would rather blend in with the rest of the cave men. The women, I will admit, overdo it a tad, in most cases, especially when they are heading to the local pub for an early bird wings and pitchers special – the dress certainly does not fit the occasion. Can we not find a compromise in which we do not have to see the Beauty making small talk with the Beast in real life?
We are talking about interacting with the fairer sex and despite advances in women’s equality and what not, you still should open the door for them even if she is smarter than you. This applies also to making yourself presentable when meeting her at a bar or taking her out to dinner whether or not you are married and no matter what your intentions are for that evening’s finale.
This means that you take a shower, shave and/or trim your facial hair, dab on some good Cologne (some – don’t shower with it), put on a pressed shirt or Lacoste, slip on a pair of proper dress pants (khakis do not count – they are for Navy officers) or neat jeans, maybe a jacket, a simple belt with a plain buckle and a pair of shoes to match. I will assume that you are not colorblind and can therefore properly assemble these things without looking like a zebra or a peacock.
You should be respectful first and foremost to yourself as a man and, of course, to the women you want to talk to or your soul mate for whom you should always look your best, regardless of the occasion.
I urge you to consider this the next time you are about to grab those soiled boxers from the top of the pre-wash load as you get ready to go out for a drink or dinner. It takes the same amount of time to get dressed smartly as it does to dress like a slob. Always remember that women notice these things – forever.
Vanity is for the insecure. Style is for the bold. That is my take on the matter. Vain people spend hours in front of the closet mirror worrying what others will think. Stylish people glance at themselves in the hallway mirror and say: “Damn, you look good!” I like that cockiness just as much as I despise the preening of the vain.
So many tags exist for men and their dress and manner: grunge, surfer, dandy, banker, punk, frat boy, goth, hip hop, preppy, biker, yuppie, urban chic, euro trash, ghetto and the list goes on and on. I like to simplify the “look book” into well dressed and not. Of course, I have my very own opinion of what that entails.
I believe, in fact, that, style is as much about attitude as it is about how you express it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either trying to make you feel better because you do not have any or is just clueless.
What you wear is the easy part. Whether you are the Prince or the Pauper there is no excuse in not having those basic elements that will always get you through the day looking like the Prince.
Now all you have to do is act and feel like the Prince. Many men do this effortlessly because they have the right attitude. It is a fine line between vanity, style and slovenliness. You walk it by caring enough to put some thought into it, but not caring enough to make it a conscious effort.