Archive - August, 2007

Breeching the Peace

low-hanging pants

Having deplored low-hanging pants before, Izzy was happy to see that communities are taking action to end the uncivil plague. Pushed to extreme measures, municipalities have criminalized the attire, which is all-too-appropriate given that the style originated in prison, where belts are prohibited. In attempt to get around free-expression Constitutional claims, the laws are aimed at prohibiting public indecency.

The New York Times’ story taught Izzy something new:

Not since the zoot suit has a style been greeted with such strong disapproval. The exaggerated boxy long coat and tight-cuffed pants, started in the 1930s, was the emblematic style of a subculture of young urban minorities. It was viewed as unpatriotic and flouted a fabric conservation order during World War II. The clothing was at the center of what were called Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles, racially motivated beatings of Hispanic youths by sailors. The youths were stripped of their garments, which were burned in the street.

Although Izzy would never encourage a riot, he would like to see a peaceful march that chants “Do not share / derriere / We can see your underwear!” And of course the placards would read “Up with pants!”

Think Yiddish, Dress British

A long-time sufferer from Anglophilia, Izzy is in the midst of reading Ian Buruma’s tribute to that passion, Anglomania. The book contains this fascinating description of Theodore Herzl, the Austro-Hungarian founder of Zionism:

Herzl had always loved dressing up. He was a dandy, with the politics of a dandy. Here he is in a photograph of his Viennese student fraternity, looking more immaculate than his gentile friends: cap at a rakish tilt, coat buttoned up just so, ivory-toppedRobert de Montesquiou cane clasped under arm like a sword. There he is, in morning coat, gloves, cane, and top hat, looking remarkably like comte Robert de Montesquiou, the famous Parisian aesthete, in the portrait by Boldini [pictured at right]. And there we find him, waiting for an audience with the kaiser in the Palestinian desert, sweltering in black formal wear and white tie…And there, in Basel, at the first Zionist Congress in 1897, he is in top hat and tails greeting the delegates. He insisted that all delegates, many of them poor Jews from the east who had never worn such clothes in their lives, attend in white tie. That way, he said, they would appear, in their own as well as as they eyes of the world, as gentlemen of substance.

How ironic that Israeli politicians, in rejecting the jacket and tie and other niceties, became the least formal in the world.

Buruma also includes this tibdit:

Herzl’s Anglophilia as a young man, typically, was largely a matter of his taste in clothes. The playwright Arthur Schnitzler never forgot the devastating occasion when the young Herzl examined Schnitzler’s cravat with a look of distate and said: “And I had considered you a—Brummel!”

En Garde, Vogue

Jay Fielden

The Financial Times just published an article about the growing success of grown-up men’s magazines, paying particular attention to Men’s Vogue, which is edited by Jay Fielden (pictured above in a dapper silk-knit tie):

One of Mr Fielden’s most artful sleights-of-hand has been his treatment of fashion. He has banished male models from the editorial pages and instead outfitted subjects such as tennis star Roger Federer and survivalist Bear Grylls in clothes that are stylish but accessible. It is a Trojan Horse strategy of sneaking fashion into the magazine on the backs of interesting, well-rounded men whom other men might care to read about.

“Fashion is not a word that translates well to men in America,” Mr Fielden says. His readers are more comfortable with the notion of “looking good”.

While getting rid of pouty male models is all well and good, Fielden seems to conflate “fashion” with “looking good.” Fashion, as women’s magazines demonstrate, is about constant change, with a focus on what’s “in” for this or that season. To be fashionable requires the ability to buy lots of new clothes with the “right” labels.   It’s not the word “fashion” that most American men have a problem with—it’s the very idea. They may care about looking good, even having style, but that’s something entirely different from being on the sartorial cutting edge.  Unless that distinction is kept in mind, Fielden’s magazine will likely have a hard time finding its audience.

Shot Through the Heart

Comme des Garcons bleeding heart shirt

Perfect for a miserable Valentine’s Day, this shirt from Comme des Garcon is decorated with sequins imitating a bleeding heart. Izzy wonders if the sequins also come in green—you know, for the fashionable Vulcan.

Hey, Hey, LBJ, How Many Pants Did You Buy Today?

LBJ on the phone

It may pale in political importance next to the tapes of President Nixon’s phone calls, but this surreal 1964 recording of LBJ ordering custom trousers from Joe Haggar still deserves a place in the history books. Be warned: the salty Texan’s choice of words—and colors—is of questionable taste.

Hack Work

bespoke closeup

A few days ago when Izzy pointed out the questionable taste in a journalist’s first experiment with bespoke tailoring, little did he know just how bad things were.  Above is a detail from the suit the writer had custom made.  Instead of respecting tradition, he asked to have five buttons on his cuffs, which is going to make the suit look out of fashion within a year. (Only super-trendy Gucci puts five buttons on the cuffs nowadays.)  And remember, this is the only bespoke suit he is likely to have for many years.   On top of that, even ignoring the issue of color, his gingham shirt clashes with his suit’s Prince of Wales check (a glen plaid with a different-colored overcheck, named in honor of the Duke of Windsor, who favored it), since the patterns are too similar in size.  Was this really the best scribe New York magazine could send for the story?

Siamese Umbrellas

umbrella for two

In theory, an umbrella for two sounds like a good idea.  In practice, it looks like a freak science experiment gone awry, like some mutant cells stuck permanently in mitosis.  Izzy is reaching for his scalpel…

Put on the Map

To Boot Damien shoes

Izzy just acquired these Italian-made suede To Boot “brogues,” which will come in useful when he must pretend to be cooler than he is.

To Boot Damien map soles

With a map of Manhattan on their soles, they are the perfect accompaniment to this jacket.

Going for Bespoke

Michael Idov

New York magazine journalist has written about his first foray into bespoke tailoring, even though he was apparently ignorant of the subject.  Not only does at first think it’s OK to button all of jacket’s buttons, from the wrinkles on his trousers, it looks like he chose his fabric poorly.

The Journalist and the Pitchman

Malcolm Gladwell for Harry Rosen

Things really are different in Canada, at least when it comes to choosing spokesmen for high-end haberdashers like Harry Rosen. The journalist in the advertisement is Malcolm Gladwell, of The New Yorker and Tipping Point fame. (He donated his fee to charity.) While it’s easy to make fun of Gladwell’s unruly hair, having a visual trademark can be a useful thing for a would-be writer-celebrity.

Giddy Up

Ralph Lauren nickel spur belt

With a stirrup-and-spur buckle, this Ralph Lauren belt is ideal for the horsey set, or at least those who aspire to it.

Walking on Egghead Shells

Adlai Stevenson with a hole in his shoe

While recently discussing the footwear of politicians, little did Izzy know of this once-famous photo of Adlai Stevenson showing a hole in his shoe.  Taken during the 1952 Presidential campaign, the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo was embraced by the eggheaded* politician (the model for the feckless President Merkin Muffley in Dr. Strangelove), who saw this image of thriftyness as a way to escape his reputation as an aristocratic intellectual. ”Better a hole in the shoe than a hole in the head,” he would say.  His campaign even sold silver lapel pins to memorialize the symbol of everyman frugality.

Adlai Stevenson silver shoe lapel pin

*Showing a wit all-too-lacking in American politics today, Stevenson would later retort at a 1954 Harvard lecture, “Via ovicipitum dura est, or, for the benefit of the engineers among you: The way of the egghead is hard.” 

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