Do clothes make the man?

My mother used to say "A woman's best accessory is a well-dressed man."

I don't think men dress as well as they once did, do you? I sift through photos of my Dad and his friends, in their trench coats and tweeds, fedoras and homburgs. Shoes built for nearly a lifetime, held on cedar trees.

Years ago, I dated a man who wore ratty jeans and tired t-shirts. In my mind's eye I pictured him in Armani suits. I castigated my shallowness: if he was enjoyable company, did it matter that he looked like a laundry basket? While his clothes were not a deal-breaker, I decided that the long haul across from his indifferent attire and nonexistent grooming would be like living in an apartment with no windows. Functional, but not uplifting.

For many years I've had a partner who spends most of his time in jeans. I am occasionally treated to seeing Le Duc in a bespoke jacket, fine shoes. At that point he assumes gravitas and a different tenor of allure.

Derek Jacobi, in the brilliant film "The Fool" (1990) laments his early constricted social mobility (before faking his way into the upper echelons as an entirely different character): "I had no coat and no connections." Set in London, 1857, Jacobi's con is relevant today, though the barriers of class have eased, at least in North America.

Is it because we're more egalitarian that men have lost the desire to dress well? I know a few men who enjoy their clothes, but in my large Canadian city, it's the exception. Rubber-soled Rockports with company-logoed polos are standard business attire.

Even most "suits" lack style: ill-fitting collars, frumpy cuts, dull ties.

That's why when I see a man dressed like this, I sit up and take appreciative notice. There is nothing trendy here, it's in fact rather conventional until you notice the harmonious blend of three patterns in the shirt, tie and jacket and the beautiful suede shoes. (Photo of writer Bruce Boyer from The Sartorialist.)

But men need not benefit from decades of practice to look sharp. Another Sartorialist shot of a man on the street in New York, near left, shows even young men can wear clothes that fit.

Who embodies the era when men dressed with care and glamour?

My favourite well-dressed man of all time is Marcello; he once said that for over fifty years, he visited his tailor every week to select the next item and be fitted for something.

While there's a lot to be said for the comfort of business casual and super-casual, I do miss the pleasure of precise, flattering menswear and and beautiful accessories.

You can admire some of his suits, and Marcello, in this montage:


Susan B said…
Mon mari is generally a neat dresser, if a bit preppy. He looks fabulous when dressed up, but we just don't have much occasion here. He used to wear jackets and ties to work, but has been beaten down to wearing "business casual" (usually a button-down shirt and slacks) like everyone else.

I love seeing a well-dressed man. There were some on the streets of Paris who took my breath away with the impeccable tailoring and the embrace of a bit of color.
dana said…
Le Duc is very handsome!
I see a lot of very well-turned-out men here in Montréal, if a somewhat more casual style except for formal business wear. In Paris too, jeans rule. They can look very nice if a good fit and worn with a nice shirt, perhaps a sport jacket.

E Marcello! Che bel uomo, dalla gioventù alla vecchiaia!!!
Yes, Dana, agree about Le Duc. He looks very much like someone I know, and I'm trying to think whom...
materfamilias said…
I, too, enjoy seeing my husband dressed up and get treated to that reasonably often as he generally wears at least sports jacket and tie, if not an actual suit, for work. And we've worked out a formula for casual dress which relies on my insisting the jeans be updated at least once a year and be accompanied by a roster of trim pullovers or sports jackets. But I admit to being secretly relieved that he doesn't care for shopping and is more frugal than indulgent (although he's become convinced of the value of spending to a certain level in shoes and clothes). Although I'm all for gender equality, I'm happy to be the peacock (poor metaphor, but work with me, please) in the family and I'm not sure how happy I'd be with a man who was very precious about his clothes.
Duchesse said…
dana/lagatta: When heavier, people told him he looked like Depardieu. Now he gets David Cronenberg. He IS handsome. Lagatta, men in Montreal- oh, can they wear a suit!

materfamilias: Once watched two Italian men in a cafe in Paris fuss a full five minutes with the belts and buckles on their trenches before leaving. Could tell they do this all the time. I like the middle ground, conscious but not obsessive. Really bugs me when a man has scuffed and run down shoes.

Pseu: Le Duc says the men in Paris have the best sports coats- not afraid of colour and a bit of drama.
Belle de Ville said…
I do agree with you that there is a touch of egalitarianism in the way men dress in much of the US and Canada. Men in London, Paris and Milan still dress with impeccable company logoed polo shirts except at home and in private.
materfamilias said…
Duchesse, that's a perfect example of what I mean. Like you, I like the middle ground -- I think either extreme can reflect a certain self-ishness. I like to see a man whose dress manifests a balance between a healthy self-esteem and respect for others.
Duchesse said…
ma: Are we Canadian or WHAT? Happy Canada Day!
diverchic said…
Le Duc is certainly a fabulous accessory! His great gift is his style and how he makes even his jeans outfits look sharp. His other great gift is having an appreciative wife.
Oh I love a man in a suit - they just look better! I think it's partly because the fabric of a suit and construction have the required stiffness for the masculine shape.
lagatta à montréal said…
Imogen, have you ever been to Italy? They have men's suiting there in "cool wool", linen and other fabrics appropriate for business or semi-formal wear in hot weather. I know it isn't exactly the same weather as Australia (certainly not as your torrid North!) but the weather might not be so terribly different from Melbourne's. Excuse my ignorance: I've not yet been to Australia and my priority destination in the Southern Hemisphere is el Cono Sur (Argentina and Chile) where I have many friends.

Duchesse, a funny "flag war" incident on my street. A couple in my co-op have their balcony (still) bedecked in Québec flags, and a neighbour of theirs, obviously of a Federalist persuasion, has hung an equally large Maple Leaf flag from his.

I only have flowers, ivies and potted herbs on mine.
s. said…
Happy Dominion Day to one and all.

Yes, I would be disgusted si mon homme visited the tailor once a week; such preening bespeaks -- to me, at least -- great narcissism.

As Imogen pointed out in her wonderful blog, much of looking nice does depend on grooming. For a man, smelling fresh, a good hair cut (even if that hair cut is of the more relaxed, shaggy fashion), well-tended facial hair and, agreed!, shoes that are not scuffed do wonders.

I love the way my late father dressed. He owned several simple dark suits and every year or two my mother would take him to Fortnums (department store in London owned by a Canadian family) and buy one truly beautiful one that'd fit him like a dream. He had, perhaps, a totaly of 8 pairs of shoes (including tennis shoes and winter boots). He owned no jeans but had 2 or 3 pairs of cords which he wore with a plain belt and cashmere sweater: no brand names or logos.

Of course, growing up I was jealous of my friends whose fathers wore the latest cool clothes, Ralph Lauren and Armani and leather jackets, trendy tie widths and labels. But now I have admiration and nostalgia for my father's frugal, WASPy style. There was such simplicity and neatness. His shoes were made in Italy or England and were not inexpensive, per se, but probably cost pennies/ wear since many (no joke) lasted him 20 or 30 years: re-heeled and re-soled decade after decade.

I am tired of our generation's disposable fashions. The trendiness and poor quality of so much that we -- myself included -- tend to wear. We spend so much more money and yet look so much worse. Men's fashion, at least, tends to be less trend-drive than women's and of that I am deeply jealous.
Tiffany said…
I remember that my father used to dress in a remarkably dapper fashion, especially in the 60s and 70s, and I often wish men would make more of an effort. My spouse is learning to love a well-made shoe and a good jacket and has even received some compliments (usually from MY friends) about his dress, but if left entirely to his own devices would be a mess, I fear. I am with Mater and Duchesse about the middle ground - a man who is too obsessed with his clothing and appearance is not one I would care to spend TOO much time with! In Australia generally, men are very lazy with what they wear, I find.
Duchesse said…
s.: Re your disgust over a man visiting a tailor once a week: for Marcello and his circle, the tailor's shop functions as a men's club, with a lounge area, refreshments, cigars etc. He dropped in not only for his personal and film wardrobe, but also to hang out. La bella figura is not achieved without constant attention.
Anonymous said…
DH and I work for a 'business casual' organization. 80-90 per cent of the time, he wears the golf-shirt-and-chinos combo that most guys there wear (the women are another story entirely). Something about him (perhaps his military past) gives him an air of crispness and neatness that no one else in the company seems to have. The other 10-15 per cent of the time, he treats me to a well-tailored sport coat, crisp shirt and dress pants combo. Forces me to step my my game to keep up!:)
Duchesse said…
tiffany: My sons are 22 and have been mostly oblivious about what they wear beyond jeans. But one of them is being awakened by watching vintage films, and has become conscious of the beauty of well-cut mens' wear. He told me as soon as he can afford it, he is buying linen trousers, "and maybe a jacket". I was quietly delighted to hear that.

lagatta: I just love seeing a man in a summer suit, a light coloured tropical wool is nice but I especially admire linen, the jauntiness of seersucker and a preppy cotton suit. In Toronto few men wear them- between the air conditioned offices and the prevalence of business casual, they make do with 'all season' attire. But when I see a beautiful summer suit, it stops me in my tracks.
s. said…
Ah- thank you for educating me. Perhaps that's what our society needs: tailors and men's stores serving as club so that men can be exposed to beautiful clothes even when they are not actively shopping. Style through osmosis!
Maggie said…
Remember the line from ZZTop's song..."every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man"...? As to Marcello, I always loved to see him in the pages of the movie magazines of the 60's. My mother ran a beauty salon and I would sit for hours pouring over the pictures of the stars. You are so right. They had a certain style that for the most part is gone today. Wouldn't it be nice to see everyone dressed a little better?

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