Archive - November, 2008

When Moustaches Were All the Raj

While recently reading Piers Brendon’s excellent new book The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, Izzy came across this fascinating digression on how the imperial British moustache largely originated in India:

Also reflecting the customs of [India] was the growth of “the Moustache movement.” Some British officers had begun to sport hair on their top lip during the Napoleonic Wars. They did so, largely, it seems, in dashing imitation of coxcombical Frenchmen, who took the Spanish view that an “an hombre de bigote” was a man of resolution, their whiskers evidently being “appurtenences of Terror.” The mode became imperative in India, where beards were deemed sacred but the moustache was a symbol of virility. . . . So in 1831 the 16th Lancers hailed with delight an order permitting them to wear moustaches. . . . In 1854 moustaches were made compulsory for European troops of the Company’s Bombay army and they were enthusiastically adopted elsewhere. . . . 

Moustaches were clipped and trimmed until they curved like sabers and bristled like bayonets. Their ends were waxed and given a soldierly erection. Imitating warriors, civilians too stiffened their upper lips: Frederich Engels mocked Anglo-Irish aristocrats with “enormous moustaches under colossal noses.” . . . For different reasons sailors and parsons eschewed the fashion but it was jealously guarded by the beau monde. Edwardian tuskers rebuked servants who aped the “fancy hairdressing” of their betters. Nothing would be permitted to devalue these military insignia, which achieved their apotheosis in the crossed scimitars of Lord Kitchener and gained iconic status in the famous Great War recruiting poster. So the moustache became the emblem of empire, roughly coterminous with the Raj but largely derived from it—much as the Romans derived the habit of wearing trousers from the barbarians.

The tradition of warriors choosing to be proudly hirsute lives on in the U.S. Special Forces, whose soldiers are the only American troops permitted to wear facial hair (and not just so they can blend in with locals abroad). It’s hard to quantify such things, but sometimes it appears that an outright majority of Navy SEALs wear mustaches. Of course, such facial hair is also a badge of honor, allowing the elite to stand out from the ordinary rank-and-file.

Unsweet Rose

In honor of the belated release of Guns N’ Roses’ latest album, it’s worth remembering why no one regretted Axl Rose’s disappearance from the collective consciousness. Most men, even the most aesthetically clueless, know that the world does not want to see a vast swath of denuded pinkness.  And is it Izzy’s imagination or is that cross trying to get as far as it can from Axl’s chest?

Bondage by Tom Ford

The Los Angeles Times has a long but excellent article on the new wardrobe 007 in Quantum of Solace, the latest James Bond movie. Ditching Brioni, Bond now has Tom Ford as his custom tailor. That helps to explain the above three-piece suit, a style Ford has tried to re-popularize in recent years. While a three-piece is appropriate now that the franchise is looking back to its early years (e.g., Sean Connery wore one in Goldfinger), it’s a shame that the vest was cut so voluminously and short. Also, Connery’s Bond knew not to fasten the bottom button.

In any case, Ford, acting like a sartorial Q, at least gave Bond some tricks up his pants:

one of Bond’s coolest secret weapons this time around is a small button tab inside the cuff of each trouser leg that never has a second of screen time, and whose sole purpose is to keep 007’s pant legs precisely where they should be

Izzy has never before heard of such a thing, and is curious how it works. Another interesting tidbit from the article is that the costume designer

desperately wanted to source a very specific, very expensive suiting fabric known as “mohair tonic,” a wool-cashmere blend with a subtle sheen not unlike that of a subdued sharkskin suit. “It was extremely popular in the ’60s; all the Mods and all the wannabe Bonds wore it,” she said. “I’m sure Sean Connery would have worn it at least once.” According to a Ford rep, when a sufficient quantity could not be found, the Tom Ford team developed the proprietary fabric to specification in its Italian mills (and cloaked in Bond-worthy industrial secrecy, she declined to identify the specific mill).

Note that the costume designer does not say that Bond himself ever wore such shiny fabric, which, whatever its merits, has never been considered high class.

Suiting Up for Power

As befits a president, Barack Obama has finally gone custom. Izzy missed this at the time, but Obama wore a custom navy blue worsted Hartmarx suit for his acceptance speech.

Obama, who wears a 40 long with a 33-inch waist, has worn Hart Schaffner Marx suits in the past but always off the rack, said an inside source. He favors the Gold Trumpeter collection. This time, he made appointments with Hartmarx tailors for his nomination-night suit.

[…]

The fabric is 97 percent merino wool and 3 percent cashmere.

The pants are pleated and have an inch and a quarter cuff.

A similar suit off the rack would retail for about $1,500.

Pleated pants? Isn’t Obama supposed to bring change and vigor to the White House? Is this a sartorial bait-and-switch?  After all, TV pundit Chris Matthews got all excited before the election:

“Think of the Kennedys,” Mr. Matthews said, when asked the impact on Washington if Obama wins. “A mixed administration. Pragmatic. Some liberal tendencies, not overwhelming. Very tough. Very smart. Thin ties — are you looking at this?”

While it’s nice to see that Obama’s custom suit has some waist suppression, unlike the superconservative sack cut a la J. Press or (traditional) Brooks Brothers, it doesn’t come close to achieving the flair of JFK’s narrow ties and lapels. Going with flat-fronted pants would give a sleeker look and would also be more flattering for a thin man such as Obama.  SAnd speaking of his gangliness, unless he gains some weight in office, he should start wearing higher collars to hide his long, scrawny neck.

The Clash of Civilizations

Prince Charles meets the Sultan of the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta. Notice how the Sultan’s decoration is barely visible in the midst of his technicolored top, while the Prince’s poppy, well, pops.