In a city of early risers, Austria-Hungary’s Emperor Franz Joseph reigned supreme. He would begin each day well before dawn, waking at 3:30 am. This habit put Franz Joseph’s morning attendant in an even more extreme position, having to awaken in order to draw a bath, prepare the Emperor’s toiletries, and ensure everything Franz Joseph needed to begin the day’s work was laid out, all before waking the Emperor up.
No early riser himself, Franz Joseph’s attendant consistently struggled to wake in time. Instead of beginning his day earlier than 3:30 am, Franz Joseph’s attendant decided to instead extend his night, staying up with the help of a bottle of schnapps until it was time to waken Franz Joseph and begin the day. On more than one occasion this habit caused the attendant, supporting the old Emperor as he gingerly stepped into the bath, to lose his own balance and sent both tumbling into the water.
The Emperor’s valet, by contrast, had a much easier time of it. Franz Joseph, ascending to the throne when Europe was wracked by the revolutions of 1848, dressed almost exclusively in military uniforms, many of which were gifts from neighboring nations. His valet claimed his devotion to uniforms was so great that he “barely had two good coats to his name.” It was said that when Berlin wanted to dress up, it chose a uniform. When Vienna did, it dressed in evening wear, luxuriating in the simple elegance of black tie. If Franz Joseph adopted to an extreme degree the Viennese habit of early rising, he shunned the dress codes of the city.
Past habits, of course, don’t necessarily translate to the present. But while other cities maintain small neighborhoods or quiet backstreets that seem to embody a long-lost culture of the city, I found that much of Vienna, to a surprising degree, still seemed to have held onto its old habits.
I arrived in Vienna, and after checking into my hotel- surprisingly, almost shockingly, close to St. Stephen’s Cathedral- my first stop was at perhaps the best known of Viennese institutions: its coffeeshops. Long time readers may remember that way back in An American in Edinburgh I mentioned I have an inordinate fondness for spending far too much time in coffeeshops and cafés. Finding myself in a whole city of them, with centuries of venerated coffee culture, seemed like heaven. I just had to be a part of it.
The first coffeeshop I wandered into was Café Hawelka. I suspect some of you may know it. Given its central location inside the Ringstrasse, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was remarkably free of tourists. Myself excepted, of course. Lined in dark wood panels, brass fittings, racks of newspapers, with nearly painfully formal staff, it seemed the archetype of a Viennese café.
Luxuriating in such surroundings brings me, of course, to what I’d order from my tailor for the occasion. It was a casual setting- a coffeeshop- executed quite formally. I chose to mirror this: formal clothes, made casual. A simple navy, single-breasted suit, with wide shoulders, plenty of drape, and shoulders that weren’t shy about padding. Otherwise, proportions were relatively restrained: not overly wide lapels, no ticket pockets, and an Ivy League classic, a 3/2 button configuration. What turned this navy suit into a more casual one was what I paired with it: my shirt was a plain white button-down, with a very generous, nicely rolled collar, and a navy grenadine tie. The shoes were cordovan penny loafers.
While Vienna’s coffee shops exceeded my expectations, its bars didn’t disappoint either. Anyone interested in design (especially in Vienna) should read Adolf Loos, or at the very least know the name. What I didn’t know, but was delighted to find, was that among his many architectural creations was a small bar in the heart of Vienna, Loos American Bar. With low yellow light, brightly polished brass, and mirrors on all sides of the room that reflected the light in a shimmering aura, the bar was a visual feast. When my drink came- a Sazerac, for anyone interested- it turned out the bar was a mixological excellence, too. The entire atmosphere was, and I mean this to the fullest extent possible, timeless. Take away the corner table with drinkers in t-shirts, and the entire scene would not have been out of place in any year since the bar opened in 1908. It felt only appropriate that I channel that heritage.
My suit was charcoal fresco, double-breasted. Generous lapels, wide shoulders, a nipped waist, wide-legged trousers. In other words, a rather smexy Deco drape Max Mogg suit. I paired this with another white shirt, with a long, pointed collar. Not quite as long as #ZeeJerman collar, but impressive nonetheless. A striped silk regimental tie and black cap-toe oxfords completed the scene.
One of my last stops in Vienna was at another of its institutions the Wiener Staatsoper. I realize I’m writing for a mostly German audience, so it might be a bad idea to admit that I don’t much care for opera. I enjoy it on occasion, but I can’t say I’m an enthusiast. Nevertheless, I can summon up the passion when required and given the chance to see opera in Vienna, I, of course, said yes.
What could be better for this than black tie? It really is the height of elegance, and the simple lines of the clothing underscore the beauty of the whole form. Given the relative restrictions of black-tie dress code, particularly when compared to lounge suits, the cut of the jacket becomes far more important. My current preference is for a double-breasted, shawl lapel jacket, with a 4×1 button configuration. Slight drape through the body, and the trouser legs wide. I paired this with a single-end bow tie, patent leather oxfords, and a pair of sterling silver art déco cufflinks I found recently at a flea market. Altogether, the perfect expression of tailoring for Vienna. NWW/DPFC/MM