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Shirts | Manolo for the Men - Part 2
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The Making of a Cowboy

Ronald Reagan in cowboy hat

The accusation, now frequently heard, of “cowboy politics” stems from the iconic image of Ronald Reagan as an all-American denim-clad horseman.   But it turns out that, while Reagan had long enjoyed riding horses, his cowboy attire originated as a bit of showmanship:

In 1966, a local reporter from KTIX in San Francisco wanted to do a segment on horseback with the candidate for governor of California. Lyn Nofziger, Mr. Reagan’s press secretary, accompanied the reporter and was shocked to see his candidate in jaspers [jodphurs?] and English riding boots.

“When he changed into his riding clothes, he came out. And I looked at him—and he was not yet the governor—and I said, ‘You can’t do that,'” Mr. Nofziger recalled. “He said, ‘This is the way I always ride.’ I said, ‘This is not the purpose of that. It’s to get votes. They’re going to think you look like a sissy!’ He’s a great cowboy, looking at him. He played a cowboy in movies.

You can find photos of Reagan in his more aristocratic, English riding-wear here.

Aryan Master Drapes

drapes suit

Whether or not this Obedient Sons suit is made of wallpaper, curtains, or drapes, Izzy thinks it would be wunderbar were it from the designer’s Von Trapp collection.

Apparel Disfunction

George Clooney and Brad Pitt with open collars

There are only two ways to wear an open collar under a jacket: 1) firm and erect, 2) limp and flaccid. Someone, please get Mr. Clooney some Viagra for his shirt.

On Tightening One’s Belt

James Cook of Turnbull & Asser

If this interview of James Cook, the bespoke manager of Turnbull & Asser, can be trusted, economic downturns turn out to be booms not just for bankruptcy lawyers but high-end conservative tailoring.   According to Cook (who, incidentally, wears his jacket sleeves unusually short—perhaps to show off T&A’s best work: their shirts?):

In the 90’s, many Americans came into Turnbull & Asser in London and every single person was talking of the dot com craze and how they would never have to buy a tie again. They were only ordering shirts. And then there was a massive crash, and everyone went back to a tie because the Bank Manager showed up, or the Finance Minister. Gradually people started wearing less and less ties again until this recession.

You notice in this recession that people are dressing up again. Every time that [an economic downturn] happens, people have to get suits and shirts. They have to sharpen themselves up again.

Everyone forgets about history; the shirt, the tie and the suit never change. I don’t know why people think it is okay to be casual at work…. [I]f I show up and my bank manager isn’t suitably attired, I am not going to trust that person with my money. Same thing with my lawyer.

The Dude’s a Biden

Joe Biden

Regardless of one’s politics, it’s hard to deny that in choosing Joseph Biden as his running mate, Barack Obama picked the best-dressed man in the Senate.  Admittedly, there’s not much competition for that title, but Biden stands out due to his willingness to wear form-fitting suits in a shade other than blue or gray, fun suspenders, pocket squares, casual shirts with the top two buttons undone, and, in the winter, a chesterfield coat with a velvet collar.   And in what is perhaps a bold statement about his foreign policy, he often wears shirts with French freedom cuffs.

Madras Makes Your Eyes Bleed

madras nightmare

A little while back, the folks at Kempt analyzed the ultra-preppy style of Southampton, New York.  No doubt schooled at a radical madras-a, these men are in effect saying, “I’m so rich I can buy a hideous jacket I wear once a year as a joke.”  But even worse is the implied incivility: by wearing such obnoxious jackets, paired with clashing bow ties no less, the men are showing little concern for the eyeballs of anyone else.

Filmed in Bandanarama

Peter Bogdanovich with bandanna

Izzy is more than a bit fascinated by the appearance of film directors, whose line of work makes them especially attune to visuals. Hence, he was especially happy to see an interview of Peter Bogdanovich about his trademark bandanna:

You have developed a very distinct signature style of wearing ascots. How did that start?

They are not ascots. An ascot is usually silk and an English thing. I’m just wearing a bandanna; it’s not so fancy. Most of the time they are cotton and different sizes. It started when I was shooting The Last Picture Show in Texas, and I liked wearing it because it made me feel secure. I don’t know why. But it feels cozy, and I kept wearing it.

Do you wear one when you are not working or making a professional appearance?

Yeah, I wear them all the time. When I make a professional appearance, I sometimes wear a tie so as not to be too unusual.

Do you think the bandanna is quite unusual?

People seem to have caught on and it seems to be a big deal.

How do you tie it?

Over and under, and over and under, twice until it’s a knot.

Do you think personal style is a professional asset?

Yes, until it gets mannered. I may have to stop doing this because it may get too mannered. But I prefer it to a tie.

So why don’t you stop?

It feels comfortable – I’d feel bereft if I got rid of it. The New Yorker ran a piece about me and they had a shot of me tying the bandanna and I though, “Christ, it’s getting to be a bit much.” But, you know….

But you do recognize that it has become part of your brand identity.

Yes, it has.

There is something else I do all the time that nobody seems to have noticed, something I picked up from Audrey Hepburn. When I did a picture with Audrey in 1980 called They All Laughed, I noticed that she never buttoned the buttons on her sleeves, and I asked her about it and she said, “It’s more comfortable this way!” And I tried that and it is more comfortable. I was never thinking about a product or brand; I just started dressing this way because I like it.

Has anyone ever said anything negative about your bandanna?

I think some people are annoyed because they think it’s an affectation. My friend Jerry Lewis hates it; he says it reminds him of a director from the 30s. But I ignore him, and he forgives me.
[…]

Who are your style icons?

Cary Grant; and I knew him too. The first time I went into his office he said, “Is that a Brooks Brothers jacket?” I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Right off the rack, right? They’re great.”

[…]
Do you have any advice for other professionals creating a logo?

Wear what feels comfortable and feels good on you. I wore a bandanna on every picture since The Last Picture Show, but I didn’t wear it in everyday life. Then I thought, “Why shouldn’t I? I should do it all the time.” It could still be a distant echo of wanting to be a cowboy.

Only at the end of the interview does Bogdanovich hint at the real reason of the bandanna: it reminds people of his long-past glory days following the release of his one big hit, The Last Picture Show, which not coincidentally was set in small-town Texas. And as for why no one notices his other sartorial signature, his not buttoning his cuffs, he should realize that that bandanna hogs people’s attention. In any case, one idiosyncracy should have been enough.

Everything’s OK-9

Chinese security personnel

With their matching khakis, polo shirts, and baseball hats, these Chinese Olympic security personnel look more prepared for a golf course than a terrorist hunt.  But the uniform does succeed insofar as it offsets the menace created by the presence of guard dogs.

Everyman Is No Man

dorky ObamaObama with Blackberry

If, while recently visiting the troops in Kuwait and Afghanistan, Barack Obama strove to look like the ordinary man, he succeeded all too well.  With his shapeless black polo shirt, ill-fitting pleated khakis (note the bunching in the crotch and the pooling at the ankles), and prominently-displayed Blackberry and wireless microphone, he is dressed for dorky casual Friday (a/k/a golfwear at the office).  The only exception to that sorry look are his brown suede boots, which clash with his black shirt and belt.  Making matters worse, his unbuttoned collar emphasizes the scrawniness of his neck.

Izzy’s biggest objection, however, is the visibility of Obama’s electronic gear.  If it’s true that you should never let them see you sweat, it’s all the more the case that you should never let them see your Blackberry.  Visibly wearing such equipment makes a man look like a slave to the office, a terrible thing for any would-be chief executive.   Obama should either have worn a jacket to conceal such necessities or, better yet, have had his assistants carry them.

Tape Me

Alexander McQueen tape shirt

It’s “shirts” like this that explain why male models have no chest hair.  And maybe Izzy should have put “male” in quotation marks, too.

Single Fault

Nadal and Feder at Wimbledon

Rafael Nadal may have bested Roger Federer at Wimbledon, but the defeated, in classic tennis apparel, outclassed the victor, who went slumming in a sleeveless, collarless muscle shirt.  Ready for a body slam, not a Grand Slam, all that Nadal was lacked was some visible tattoos.

The visual contrast of these two players reminded Izzy of an excellent, if little known, book on the history of tennis: Sporting Gentlemen: Men’s Tennis from the Age of Honor to the Cult of the Superstar.  Written by E. Digby Baltzell, the sociologist who both coined the term “WASP” and taxonomized that species, the book discusses the decline of tennis from a game of amateur sportsmen upholding an aristocratic code of honor (e.g., the unwritten rule that close calls go to your opponent) into a mercenary high-stakes sport in which players throw temper tantrums on the court.  In the modern era, Arthur Ashe epitomized the old ideal, while John McEnroe represented all that was rotten.  Sartorially at least, Nadal rejects the gentlemanly tradition.

Federer’s white polo shirt, interestingly, traces back to the French tennis player René Lacoste himself.  According to Wikipedia:

While winning the 1927 U.S. Open championship, René Lacoste of France wore something that he himself had created: a white, short-sleeve shirt made exclusively of a light knitted fabric called “jersey petit piqué” that served to wick away moisture due to heat, the very first version of performance clothing in sports. The shirt was a radical departure from tennis fashion of the day, which called for stiff, woven, long-sleeve oxfords. In 1923 during the Davis Cup, the American press nicknamed Lacoste “the Alligator” because of a bet made about an alligator-skin suitcase. With no cognate in his native tongue, the nickname was changed to le crocodile in French. The nickname stuck due to his tenacious behavior on the courts, never giving up his prey. Lacoste’s friend, Robert George, drew him a crocodile which Lacoste then embroidered on the blazer he wore on the courts.

Once he retired from the sport, Lacoste went into the shirt business, savvily putting a crocodile logo on the shirt’s breast—the first time a trademark was placed on the exterior of clothing.   If that wasn’t the Mark of the Beast, Izzy doesn’t know what is.

The No-Band Camp

Dean Martin in camp collar

There is perhaps no more casually elegant shirt collar than the camp collar.  Constructed without a collar band (the strip of fabric that fastens around the neck), the soft collar is part of the same piece of fabric as the body of the shirt, giving it a truly seamless look.  Generally worn unbuttoned, they have a tendency to spread wide.  As Dean Martin proved, they can help separate a gentleman from the pack.

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