Posted by: Gregoryno6 | September 22, 2012

In the wardrobe, as elsewhere, style leaves space.

It’s as if nothing can be said at less than top volume. Words have no weight unless they’re amplified.  We live in an era of disclosure, which allows greater frankness and freedom, and stronger rips of satire. But it is also a period which distrusts and devalues mystery, artifice, understatement, insinuation. Our pop culture wants everything and everyone nailed down, neatly labeled, explicit.

From an article written by James Wollcott for Vanity Fair in 1997. It dovetails with a more recent VF piece, highlighted here by The Eye of Faith, on the Icons of Style. Right at the top of the list, Vanity Fair puts… wait for it…

That’s right. George Clooney’s on the list, and so is Clark Gable. But Numero Uno is Mister Fred Astaire. In fact, most of the names there belong to decades well past.

And not a tattoo or a nose ring in sight.

Have we turned the corner – sartorially speaking, at least – on Woolcott’s observation? Are subtlety and understatement making a comeback?

I’ll be honest. I prefer a lady’s cheek to be unpierced, her  tongue unstudded, and her breasts (and other parts) uninked. By current standards I’m a stodgy conservative; a stick in the mud, a dinosaur. I can live with that. I’ll just stay where I am, and in a few more years – with luck – I’ll be wonderfully avant-garde.

Somerset Maugham once said that there were three rules that had to be followed if one wanted to write a successful novel – unfortunately, he added, nobody knows what they are. I would venture that one rule should be Master the skill of omission. Knowing what to leave out is at least as important as knowing what to leave in. We all have a book or a movie that never grows dull. We fit naturally into its spaces – and as we change, we find new aspects of its story.

It may be a leap from the arts to attire, but the principle is still good. A flattering ensemble leaves space for the wearer.  The wardrobe that shrieks LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT MEEEE!!!! will fulfill its purpose, but usually as a target for scorn.

Fancy clothing was traditionally a luxury for the wealthy. Post-WW2 affluence put elegance within reach of housewives. The concept of the teenager, which had begun to take shape during the early parts of the 20th Century, emerged in full flower at the same time. The zone between 12 and 20 became a market demographic during the 1950s. Restless youth set themselves apart from their parents in every way they could – and the easiest way available was through their appearance. Junior’s hair crept down towards the collar, and having reached that beachhead, kept on the path of descent. Denim jeans, the working man’s clobber, became mandatory for teens.

I remember my own adolescence now with some relief. In my social set the required uniform was Levi’s jeans and Miller shirts. This one wears the Wrangler label, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it came out of the same factory as the Millers.

The fabric was interwoven with gold threads, and just like swapcards, there were ‘rare’ patterns. Finding one of these scarce shirts at the local jeans shop marked you out as one of the blessed.

I was lucky. While I was getting rigged up at Don Scott’s jean shop in Camberwell, men just a few years older were tossing aside their plain white shirts for paisley and lemon yellow and other visual torments. The oversize lapels on their suits clearly yearned to break free of the earth and soar among the clouds.

Levis and Millers were soon superseded among young Australian males by pierced ears. Just one at first, usually the left ear; Phil Oakey, lead singer with The Human League, seemed flat-out ghey when he appeared in a clip with both ears pierced. I won’t even mention Boy George.

The borderlines of bodily enhancement have moved a considerable distance since those days. Each generation has to be just a notch more extreme than its predecessor. The body has become the prime canvas; the declaration of the unique individuality. The results are aesthetically appealing to some, no doubt – but I mostly find them grotesque.

And unlike the fashion blunders of the past, bodily decoration is usually permanent. Only the fortunate few will be stricken in later life with both the embarrassment and the hefty bank balance needed to rectify it.

The follies of youth are numerous. Most can be either forgotten or disowned. The trend over the last two decades has been toward fashion statements that can’t be left behind. Those old photos of the grandparents in their silly clothes are always good for a laugh.

Keep in mind, however, that the grandparents enjoyed one very useful advantage.



  1. He didn’t nail his specs to his head? What a sissy!

  2. Dapper fellow, read somewhere he could dance too..

  3. Reblogged this on et cetera* and commented:
    Nothing but class and then, nothing but

    • Thanks for the reblog. Astaire’s a surprising choice – not because he lacks style, but because his style seems so much at odds with today’s concept of it.
      And maybe he didn’t nail his specs to his head, but then again, who else danced on the ceiling?

      • OH MY! I must clarify, for sure I didn’t mean Astaire re: the specs, but Mr. uhh, umm, Trachea with matching Thyroid..

        OH! You’re Velcome..

        • Well, that does alter the significance somewhat.

          • Yeah, I thought so. Damn shame there are no productions on the screen with class and grace any longer.

            Haven’t been in a while, but I believe what we gotS now is, Tutsi and Hutu peoples with saggy Levi’s so they can show their asses.

            • Speaking of class and grace, RIP Mr Andy Willams.

            • Without a doubt. Listened to Moon River. Got goosebumps. Hadn’t listened to fine music in a long while. Memories gracefully dancing through the mind, Astaire style. Ahh yes!

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