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Posted by Dirck on 17 April, 2013

I steal the title of this entry from a rather elegant blog you may want to look at, but I’m using a slightly different inflection.

I don’t imagine it will be a surprise to anyone that I’m in the category of people who rather like Downton Abbey, and one of the things I like about it is the mode of dress shown.  As I was walking just now, I was contemplating how very much I’d like one of the suits worn by the Irish chap who married the younger daughter (I have, I should mention, a certain trouble in the area of retaining names).  This lead me down another path of consideration, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about where it went.

I would, I repeat, like that suit.  The components, the weave and the colour of it all please me and if my wife is to believed it would compliment my complexion.  Here’s the crux, or at least the turning point– if I could lay my hands on it, wearing it would cause almost no serious comment.

So what?  So… the scene I was looking at was set rather more than ninety years ago.  I hadn’t really considered the matter firmly before, but that’s an odd thing, because if that sort of thing has been possible in the past millennium I’m unaware of it.  Lets step back a hundred years.

"Say, Tad... does that fellow across the way strike you as a little outre?"

“Say, Tad… does that fellow across the way strike you as a little outré?” (1912)

"Are those chaps not wearing corsets?  Decadence!"

“Are those chaps not wearing corsets? Decadence!” (1826)

In 1913, a fellow looking at a relatively nice outfit of 1820 might think to himself, “Say, that looks rather handsome,” but he’s really unlikely to have said, “I’m going to dress thus.”  If he did, people would almost certainly assume there was either a costume party nearby or a circus parade about to appear.  Even fifty years ago, the gap in style from 1960 to 1860 was pretty uncrossable.

And yet…. I cast my eyes to the left, and find only the collars a little antiquated.  The rest of it would pass muster, especially in a well-dressed crowd.

So, what is it that has arrested the progress of Western men’s fashion in this way?  Is the suit-coat and trousers look so eminently function as well as (when decently tailored) flattering that it represents some sore of pinnacle of evolution, resisting all but the most delicate of amendments?  Is it that the differences in national costume are so flattened out by the current level of international trade that there’s nothing to draw inspiration from and insufficient imagination to develop acceptable novelty?  Given the rapid cycling of women’s fashions (didn’t we just stop revisiting the 1970s in 1998?) I have a suspicion that the latter is more the case, and that men’s clothes have just reached the apparent stasis of imperceptibly rapid oscillation from one retro to another and back, so that rather than a series of distinct impacts  it’s just a hum.

One may, and I shall to save one time, point out that the suit is but a single manifestation of men’s fashion in the current day, and that some of them are extremely modern.  Jeans, t-shirts, baseball caps and such are likely what a 23rd century’s Chronicle of Western Costume will offer for the current moment, and it’s true, but it’s also missing the fact that if one has something nice or important to do to, one does it in a suit whose general form is now a century old– the guy in jeans and a t-shirt will swap them for a suit, should he have the means, if summoned to court, funeral or his own wedding.  I’m trying to imagine an Edwardian middle class guy chasing about town for a stock, frock-coat and stirrup-britches because his brother has asked him to stand up as best man, and it just comes out a farce (possibly with a younger Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie starring in it).

I’m not a scholar of fashion by any means, and I’ve not studied on the matter beyond the merest skin of the top layer.  Am I completely astray?  I may be.  Am I worried?  Well, a little, since ossification of anything in a culture suggests some trouble for that culture… and it’s the culture I’m stuck living in.  Since I happen to like dressing well, though, there’s some comfort for me to take from the phenomenon– so long as I can wear a fedora without attracting gawkers, I’m happy.  I’ll leave it to others to see about breaking us out of this apparent rut and enjoy the fact that, whatever else the kids are doing today, they’re not walking around with their pants on inside out.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Old Timer
Today’s ink: Herbin Bleu Nuit

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