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Niles Tributary

Niles Crane

If Izzy may be permitted a little immodesty, he was pleased as spiked punch to discover that the Guardian has praised his humble blog.  In the immortal words of that British newspaper, what you are reading is “a splendid American fashion blog that appears to be written by Niles off Frasier.”  As for the comparison to the fictional Dr. Niles Crane, a neurotic Jungian psychiatrist (is that redundant?), Izzy will accept it insofar as Niles was both over-educated and fastidious in his taste in art, culture, and clothes, even if he occasionally fell for 1990s fads seen above: shirts with narrow collars and widely-spaced stripes, impressionistic ties, and double-breasted suits with fat lapels rolled to the bottom button. Happily, in the show’s later seasons, Niles rarely needed sartorial therapy.

Overly Big Willie Style

Will Smith in three-piece suit

While attending the premier of his latest movie, Will Smith boldly wore an unusual three-piece, peak-lapel suit with a shepherd’s check and black detailing around the button holes.  Unfortunately, the gape in the in shirt collar and the billowing fabric in his vest make it look like his outfit was a cheap formal-wear rental, unlike the custom job it presumably was.

Swiss Mister

Arpad Busson

Not being a habitué of Gstaad, Izzy had never heard of French/Swiss financier Arpad Busson prior to the announcment of his engagement to Uma Thurman, but the self-made ladykiller definitely has the rich-playboy style down pat.  Note his high shirt collar, decolletage, unbuttoned (or are they uncuffed?) mitred cuffs, and funky bracelets.

In the past, with a different beauty on his arm, he has even been able to add color to a tuxedo without looking gauche.  But Izzy is even more impressed with Busson’s ultra-slim-fitting peak-lapel dinner jacket. (Are those bracelets his trademark?)

Arpad Busson in tuxedo

Business Casual-ty

Ben Stein in necktie

Conservative curmudgeon Ben Stein, himself never seen in public without a necktie—whether a militantly preppy one with dogs on it, or a militantly elitist one from Yale Law School—recently responded on TV to the supposed demise of the tie.  Apparently he always keeps his high horse tethered nearby:

You see this lovely silken thing around my neck? It’s called a necktie.

When I was a lad and a younger man, men wore these to show they did not work with picks and shovels and pitchforks.

Ties were a symbol of white collar status, although even some workmen wore them under their leather aprons.

If you had on a necktie, it showed you had some sense of organization, some sense of dignity about yourself.

Even schoolboys wore them. At fabulous boarding schools like Cardigan Mountain in New Hampshire, where my handsome son went, boys still wear them. It showed, to use a word that you rarely hear, class.

Now, I read in The Wall Street Journal, on the front page, if you please, that men don’t wear neckties any longer unless they are in subservient posts.

This will probably come as a bit of a surprise to Senators McCain and Obama, as well as to President Bush. They generally wear neckties, at least on TV.

It will probably come as a shock to all of the network newscasters and the late night talk show hosts. They’re the coolest guys on the planet, and they wear neckties.

But never mind. The Journal says only 6% of men wear neckties to work, and the necktie is being run down by history.

I hereby quote my late great friend Bill Buckley and say, I am going to stand in front of the train of sartorial history and shout, “STOP!”

The necktie is a sign of a man who is there to work, not to play. It’s what a man who takes his responsibilities seriously wears. Men who want to look and act like small children dress like small children, or surfers, or hoboes, or something.

Plus, the necktie covers over a little part of one’s paunchy stomach. And it just generally makes a man look better, smarter.

My fellow men: stop dressing like children. Start dressing like grownups and acting like grownups. The necktie is a start.

Kids, it’s the perfect time of year to get your dads a necktie. Get with the program, before we become a nation of open-collared slackers.

I mean it. Right now. And then straighten up your room.

Pulling Off the Pullover

brown and blue in Manhattan

It’s not easy to wear a sweater on one’s shoulders without looking unbearably preppy, but this gentleman in Manhattan succeeds, perhaps because the dark navy melds into the shirt and jacket.  His entire outfit is a well-balanced study in brown and blue, even in such details as his tortoise-shell glasses, woven belt, and puffed-up pocket square.

It’s Time for Change…of Shirts

JFK inauguration shirt

In his recently published memoir, The Place to Be, television newsman Roger Mudd writes about a time he was late to Air Force One as President John F.  Kennedy was about to leave for a trip. The reporter was forced to take a different staircase than was usual: “To get to my seat in the rear I had to pass through the presidential quarters. There stood the president of the United States himself, with [press secretary Pierre] Salinger grinning and hovering, ready to pounce if I dared ask a question. I dared not. The president stepped aside to let me pass….As I slipped by, I noticed that there were shelves in the space usually used for coats—shelf after shelf of shirts, stacks of freshly laundered presidential shirts. There must have been four dozen of them. Only later did I learn that Kennedy put on a fresh shirt each and every time he deplaned from Air Force One for a public appearance.”

Magnetic North

Roman Polanski in wing collar

Like the directions of a compass rose, Roman Polanski’s hair and open wing collar point in all directions—which, fittingly for a director, makes his face the focal point.

Monsieur de Pompadour

Sean Penn with pompadour

The poet Walt Whitman once rhapsodized:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

But that apologia for inconsistency surely doesn’t excuse Sean Penn’s combining a 1950s rockabilly pompadour with a nineteenth-century-style shirt and tie.  To Izzy’s eyes, chronological contradictions can be the most disagreeable.

A Button Too Far

Clooney and Pitt at Cannes

It may seem like just a minor thing, but Izzy can’t stand that unusually high top button (or is it a stud?) on George Clooney’s shirt.  By being so close to the bow tie, it ruins the simplicity appropriate to formal wear.  And by the way, given the gap between the lapel and his shirt collar, Brad Pitt’s jacket appears to be too small around the chest.

Blond Beast

Owen Wilson

Speaking of the negative portrayal of slick-haired men in Hollywood movies, even worse is the treatment of blond men. (And worst off of all are slick-haired blonds.) With the exception of the broken-nosed Owen Wilson, called by some the butterscotch stallion, tow-heads are nearly always cast as bad guys, never as romantic leads.  (Admittedly, Luke Skywalker was also an anomaly.) Is it because one part of “tall, dark, and handsome” will always elude them?

Portable Teepee

Banana Republic pants tent suit

In one of Izzy’s favorite episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the neurotic protagonist is highly annoyed by extra trouser fabric bunching up over his crotch. But the “pants tent,” as Larry David calls it, is a phenomenon that occurs only when he sits down, which makes the ill-fitting crotch on these Banana Republic trousers even more inexcusable.

The Well-Polished Gumshoe

detectives in suits

Although Izzy had heard of gangsters getting suits customized to conceal weaponry, he had long wondered whether detectives do the same.  According to this fascinating New York Times story, they do.  But the most interesting part of the article is the discussion of the psychological benefits of having a clean and neat appearance in what can be a dirty line of work:

“A suit and tie is our uniform,” said Joel E. Potter, 64, a veteran homicide detective who retired in 2000. “A lot of times you’re set up in a car at 3 in the morning, or there are two dead bodies on the sidewalk. And when you step out of the car, you look like a professional. They know the man is there. They know the suits mean business.”

[…]

The ability to go from interrogation rooms to living rooms is so essential that some psychologists lecture detectives on both the influence of suit attire on suspects and the need to tip tailors to ensure that alterations hide the appearance of guns and handcuffs.

“I suggest they bring along every piece of equipment when they go buy it,” said Richard E. Ovens, who has given lectures to detectives in New York and other places. “You want the weapon to disappear.”

Dressing in a suit can set a boundary against what Guy O. Seymour, who has worked as a psychologist for the Atlanta police, called “crime-scene corruption.”

“Because they are all well dressed it establishes a barrier between them and the messiness,” Dr. Seymour said.

That was the case in some instances for Vernon J. Geberth, who wore two- or three-piece suits on the job before he retired as a detective commander in 1987.

“I looked like a banker,” said Commander Geberth. “It put me in a different mode. It slowed me down: ‘Look at this guy. He is all dressed up and he is in an abandoned building.’ I am here to put things back together.”

“I was above the fray,” he added. “My psychological armor.”

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