ESQUIRE, September 1996: "SCHOOL FOR STYLE"

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One designer’s guide to buying and wearing great men’s clothes.

By Woody Hochswender

I learned a lot about dressing from designer Alan Flusser’s new book, Style and the Man (Harper-Style), available in bookstores this month. In fact, I hope eventually to become a truly stylish man. If you think this is silly (or impossible in my case, considering the raw material), because one is either stylish or not, I direct you to the book’s introduction. “Despite the commonly held myth that stylish men are born, not made, dressing well is an acquired skill,” writes Flusser. “Becoming proficient in matters of attire is much like honing the talents needed to become a great golfer.”

While one sincerely hopes that dressing well is not quite as excruciating at mastering golf, let me tee up a few points from this estimable book, which is both a tutorial on how to buy clothes and a survey of the best places around the world to find them.

ONE - Dress appropriately when buying clothes. Many men shopping for a serious suit start off on the wrong foot by dressing casually. At the least, bring a dress shirt that suits you, says Flusser, since its collar height and sleeve length assist the tailor in fitting you properly. Also, bring along any items you normally carry in a suit, from an eyeglass case to a wallet, to ensure proper fit.

TWO - The same amount of shirt should rise above a suit-jacket collar as that which peeks from under its sleeve — one-half inch. Although I occasionally fret about the amount of shirt cuff showing (since many of them have been laundered into semi-oblivion), I never even looked at my suit collar vis-a-vis my shirt collar. If you wear spread collars, the jacket jacket should cover the edges of the shirt’s collar points. So take a close look at that fashionable suit you’re about to buy: it may reveal an egregious amount of shirt.

THREE - Button-down collars are often work by precisely the type of men who should avoid them, namely, the “double-chinned set.” Indeed, most dress shirts, regardless of price, have collars too small for the wearer’s face. Flusser’s rules of thumb: long-point collars for the rotund countenance, spread collars for the the long and narrow.    

FOUR - Avoid billowy trousers. Make sure that each leg’s front crease intersects the middle of the kneecap. If it does not, the crease should be toward the inside of the leg. A crease that falls outside the knee makes your legs look thicker — and cannot be easily fixed.

FIVE - Note whether a tie is expensively made. In addition to the sumptuousness of the silk, check the loop at the back of the blade. If it is made of the same fabric as the tie and folded into the center seam of the larger blade, it is an expensively made tie. On less expensive ties, the maker’s label is simply sewn on to the rear of the main blade.

SIX - A dinner jacket with notched lapels is a sartorial oxymoron. Flusser is quite down on business jacket designs for formal wear, although many manufacturers gladly supply them. His logic is persuasive: If formal dinner clothes were invented to be distinct from the workaday wardrobe, why infiltrate the style with workaday detailing? The only real tuxedos, he says, are the ones with peaked lapels (derived from the tailcoat) or shawl lapels (a relative of the smoking jacket). The plain, notched version is a bastard.

SEVEN - Wear a waistcoat with a single-breasted peaked-lapel dinner jacket; wear a cummerbund with a shawl lapel. This rule flows aesthetically from the notion that the waistcoat’s downward points below the waist echo the upward sweep of the peaked lapels. A cummerbund’s curved design harmonizes well with the shape of the shawl collar. (And, of course, always wear the cummerbund with the folds upward, to accommodate theater tickets and whatnot.)        

EIGHT - Why are men’s formal evening shoes called “pumps”? Flusser’s theory is that the black calf slipper with grosgrain bow got its name from the word pomp (there is also the French slang word pompe, for boot) and is the oldest surviving relic of nineteenth-century court fashion.

While Flusser, a designer with his own custom shop in Saks Fifth Avenue, is intent on preserving and promoting the enduring principles of fine men’s fashion, the bulk of Style and the Man is devoted to a survey of the best men’s-wear stores in the world. This includes appreciative essays on the cities of Chicago, Milan, Florence, and Paris as well as marvellously specific observations on elegant arcana like a loden-cloth Corbusier jacket at Arnys in Paris, the haute-collegiate couture of J. Press in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and out-of-the-way haberdasheries in Dallas, Rome, Montreal, and Tokyo. (Check out his wistful and withering piece on Brooks Brothers past and present, as well as his paean to Ralph Lauren’s Rhinelander Mansion store in New York; together, they mark a passing uptown of the torch of traditional American men’s fashion.)

Eccentric and imperious (the way really fashionable men tend to be), this book is destined to become a Baedeker of style for consumers who care about high-class clothes.