O Captain! My Captain ! , says Walt Whitman (and Robin Williams’ John Keating in Peter Weir’s 1989 film Dead Poets Society) lamenting the death of the ‘captain’ of the great ship Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, architect of the Union’s victory over the Confederacy.
In menswear today, there is a tendency to lament the deaths of our stylish role models (and with them style itself) (whether it be Fred Astaire, Gregory Peck, Cecil Beaton, et al) while revenues continue to sky rocket.
The near religious reverence granted to these gentlemen, and the cultish following that surrounds them, upset me greatly. Doubtless, they had excellent taste and celebrated timeless elegance. However, they were by no means prophets, as big fashion companies seem to be trying to convince us. Indeed, these companies are abusing their names. These honourable men were also by no means avant-garde dandies, looking to express their political views through their attire. They were, quite simply, well-dressed men.
I would certainly recommend that we stop this charade of ‘clothing as religion’ once and for all. The height of this craze can be witnessed at the world’s menswear trade shows. Most attendees seem to have joined a sect. Everyone is aiming to present themselves as something better, something more special than they are through their clothing.
Clothing should be appreciated for what it is: it is, at its best, beautiful packaging which serves as a non-verbal amplifier of the wearer’s character or their mood. However, if there was never any character to speak of in the first place, the amplification is but sound and fury.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not aiming to dismiss menswear in its entirety (especially as I follow the menswear world so enthusiastically [not to mention that I work in the field]). Instead, I simply want to invite my readers to take a step back and realise that clothing is – as Hardy Amies so succinctly stated it – just a bit more than trade, but less than art. MM/DC