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History of Men's Fashion: What the Well Dressed Man is Wearing Hardcover – 23 Oct 2008
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Anyone aiming for timeless elegance, rather than temporary chic, will benefit from Storey's authoritative, but readable book. -- Esquire magazine
His depth of knowledge in his subject is a delight. It's all here. Hats off. -- Country Life
Leaders of fashion share a discerning penchant for the English sartorial standard. This book covers the main areas rather well. -- Maxim magazine
Leaders of fashion share a discerning penchant for the English sartorial standard. This book covers the main areas rather well.See all Product description
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This book is a real gem and I, for one, wholeheartedly recommend it.
If you are looking for a guide of how to dress classically in modern times, this is a up to date (2008) guide, if like me you are looking for a history of men's fashion through the ages this is not the book for you.
It is well illustrated and in depth as to high style for a traditional gentleman. All is here: white tie, black tie, morning dress, casual dress, etc. Of course, one should be aware that the author is well heeled himself to be able to afford much of these things (indeed, who could write about Savile Row tailors as if popping to the local shop or suggest getting half a dozen waistcoats like going to buy a box of eggs) but these things can be obtainable by those who know where to look for a fraction of what they would be worth brand new. Also, the book is firmly traditional so don't expect denim or other such larks (if you are looking for something more modern/contemporary orientated then the Debrett's Guide to the Modern Gentleman, although very (and I mean very) thin in details, would do the job).
As someone else noted, it is not a history but a guide to the form, though some of what he writes may not be entirely accurate and are his opinions on a specific item. Nevertheless, it is one of the most comprehensive of guides on this subject and fun to read and if you are a traditionalist like me you would appreciate its usefulness as a whole.
However, most of the books written by self-professed Anglophiles have curiously been written by foreigners. Bernhard Roetzel is German. Alan Flusser is American. So when you get the authentic English perspective written by an Englishman, it is cause for celebration.
The title of the book is somewhat misleading for the dress etiquette protocols and traditions outlined within it remain largely of relevance today. I must confess, that while very little of the content of these dress protocols were in any way foreign to me, it came as a surprise to see them so full and engagingly articulated, without once seeming prescriptive in an old fashioned authoritarian way. Rather, the tone of the writing is engaging, the language clear, readable and informative. Above all, the content is carefully researched.
Even things such as Levee court and diplomatic dress are decribed here - I thought I would never see such a thing written in this day and age, but there it is. Particularly impressive is, for example, the insistance in using the expression formal morning dress. Indeed, earlier in the nineteenth century, morning dress encompassed quite informal forms of day time dress and so within it there were gradations of formality. These days, we tend to use the expression "morning dress" as a synonym for formal daywear, but this was not always so. A good example of the remarkable attention to detail includes a contemporary source of lemon chamois dress gloves for morning wear. Where NJS dug that one up from, heaven knows, for that is precisely the sort of thing that the great dandy Count D'Orsay was once described as sporting. Not only that, but charming things such as tatersall check waistcoats for country wear, and even correct hunting frock coats (in hunter's pink) are described for wear in their correct context.
One point that is particularly worthy of praise is that NJS also gives us the correct term "reefer jacket" for the double breasted, blue serge jacket with gilt buttons that has latterly ursurped the name of "blazer". Mercifully, he steers the reader away from the stereotypical colonial look of the blue reefer worn with grey flannel trousers. Instead, he insists on the proper nautical and sporting combination with white ducks or flannels. Perhaps for future edition he will challenge the Americanism that has taken hold of calling reefers, "blazers".
Another authentically English touch is the clear distinction between country and city wear. This is taken to traditionalist extremes to the point that the old fashioned idea is revived that sporting a breast pocket handkerchief with anything but country and casual wear is naff. I had thought this idea died in the Victorian era, for this was the reason that frock coats and dress coats used to made without a breast pocket - a feature that was thought fit only for sporting and country garments. In the Victorian era that meant only lounge and morning coats had them - the latter being a type of sports coat for riding. Once these two garments started to be worn in town, so too did the breast pocket remain adorned with a handkerchief. Next evening dress ('tail') coats started to be made up with the welted chest pocket.
Perhaps of greatest note of all, is the quiet debunking of a few oddities that have been widely recommended on American internet clothing fora. The first of these is the widespread recommendation to wear brown, rather than black, shoes with a city lounge. The second is the prescription to have the coat sleeves short enough to show 1/2" of shirt sleeve, which NJS suggests is an Americanism. Curiously, Roetzel also recommends this. Although it is often claimed that this is "traditional", in all the many tailoring and cutting texts I have seen published over the last 170 or so years, never once have I seen it recommended that the sleeves be finished like this. Nor can I find this in old etiquette books. Rather than inventing fictitious "traditions" to support his case, NJS tells us that the coat sleeve length should be finished to taste - a recommendation I can find textual support for in older texts. It is typical of NJS that he mentions such revolutionary concepts that upset the apple cart of internet convention so quietly, almost as an aside, unannounced by fanfare, and unadored by rhetoric.
One surprising compromise to modernity is, however, the rather easy acceptance of city lounges in checks and plaids. In some conservative British circles this still reputedly remains cause for the offending employee to be sent home to be told to return after changing into more appropriate attire, or else for the wearer to be subjected to snide comments such as "off to the country, are we?" It is indeed unfortunate that Americans and Italians all love to wear "British" style Prince of Wales check lounges with their brown shoes in the city. With the exception perhaps of the acceptance of checks in town, NJS gives us a much more authentically English view of the English dress heritage, which from St Petersberg to Tokyo, has become the international lingua franca of the well dressed modern man. For dress is a language that always speaks volumes about its wearer.
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