Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fred Astaire: A sartorial icon for whom?

This almost needs no introduction - almost. Astaire's Puttin' on the Ritz song and dance routine in Blue Skies (1946) looks deceptively easy and effortless but it took five weeks of painstaking preparation and rehearsal according to the dancer in his autobiography. Astaire was known for his total dedication to dancing and his dance partners throughout the years often struggled to keep up. That was not a problem of course in this solo routine.

At first glance, it may appear that Astaire is wearing an evening tailcoat (i.e. white tie) but he's actually wearing formal daywear, i.e. a black morning coat, ascot, wing collar shirt and formal striped trousers.


Much of the commentary about Astaire, particularly his clothes and style, falls under one of two types. One school of commentary says he is one of a kind, sui generis. In other words, he is inimitable but a sartorial standout worthy of admiration and historical study. The other viewpoint says he is a sartorial icon for Everyman. Any fellow wishing to dress well should imitate and study very carefully what Astaire wore, dressed and looked like. The former regards him as purely an historical artifact, the latter as a timeless icon of style transplantable to any era. Both are wrong.

I plan to elaborate further on the precise appeal (and relevance) of Astaire in my book. Here are a few Youtube user comments on the video:

  • "this is so different from Taco's version in the 80's" (Ha, indeed!)
  • "he is the man"
  • "enorme. puissant. geant. genial."

What is the basis for Astaire's enormous appeal, some 60 years after he tapped out his routine for the film? From a style perspective, I would argue this his appeal is not so much the clothing itself (which is exemplary of course) but the way he approached and thought about his clothes - their function and purpose - and his relentless pursuit of what I would call "clothing-unto-dancing."

In other words, his genius lay in the fusion of what he wore with his formidable talents in song and dance. Hence, the key to understanding his style is unlocking the why rather than the what. In fact, Astaire fits into one of several archetypes of style that I have come across in my research thus far.

From a practical standpoint, what is interesting is that Astaire is neither sui generis nor a ubiquitous sartorial model suitable for Everyman. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to providing a more complete explanation of what I mean by this.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Summer remainders: London & Bath

This post is severely overdue but better late than never, right? Includes photos of London (Savile Row, Kensington) and Bath (Fashion Museum).

Kensington: Hornets, Michael German Antiques

Hornets store

Michael German Antiques

Savile Row

Davies & Son

Norton & Son / Henry Poole

Anderson & Sheppard window

Bath: Fashion Museum

Fashion Museum Bath

The following are shots of some of the Fashion Museum permanent collection:

Chanel & Topshop
Chanel Topshop

Mary Quant / Ossie Clark / Missoni
Mary Quant Ossie Clark Missoni

1970s menswear: Cerruti, Missoni, Yves Saint Laurent, Blades by Tommy Nutter
Cerruti Missoni Yves Saint Laurent Blades

Thom Browne crosses the Atlantic
Thom Browne Jigsaw

Summer sale - socks!

Summer sale Jermyn St

When I was in London the last week of June, the men's shops on Jermyn St had numerous sales. For socks, New & Lingwood and Hilditch & Key seemed to have the most selection and variety. Turnbull & Asser had an excellent selection of handkerchiefs, pocket squares and small leather goods accessories on sale. The socks I bought are certainly colorful, esp. the red and orange ones. I'm still thinking about the right occasion to wear them beyond Halloween or a Princeton home game.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dressing up in Dresden

Another summer sartorial retrospective - this time in Dresden. Yes, that's right, in former East Germany the desire to dress well is alive and well 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and some 65 years after the deadly firebombing of the city during World War II. Time heals as the saying goes. Dresden has prospered and done quite well in the new Germany.

In the Hotel Taschenbergpalais (highly recommended by the way and situated right in the historic city center near the River Elbe), I found this window display by a high end men's and women's retailer, Prüssing & Köll.

Prüssing & Köll

Prüssing & Köll

Prüssing & Köll

Prüssing & Köll

Hmm, those shoes below have a familiar look about them. Could they be English?

Prüssing & Köll

They are indeed of English manufacture. Judging from the printed delivery time and pricing, they are probably made by Edward Green for the store.

Prüssing & Köll MTO shoes

One more thing. If you like German mechanical watches (Glashütte etc.), there are a number of shops in Dresden that offer reasonably priced automatics, new and used.

Monday, November 09, 2009

More Madrid: Carmina, Sesena, Hernanz, Yustas

Some housekeeping is in order. The following are more photos from my summer trip earlier this year to Madrid:

Carmina shoes (Salamanca store)
Carmina Salamanca store

Casa Sesena capes
Casa Sesena

Casa Hernanz espadrilles
Casa Hernanz

This window features men's espadrilles. The second row from the bottom features traditional handmade versions (hecho a mano).
Casa Hernanz window display

Casa Yustas hats
Casa Yustas

Additional links
- New York Times article on Casa Hernanz

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Bespoke shoes: A growth engine?

In this recessionary environment, it's been fairly common to hear of consumers trading down to more inexpensive alternatives. But what about consumers trading up for quality at a price level an order of magnitude higher? It seems a bit unlikely but this seems to be what is happening in the women's footwear market.

More and more women are buying bespoke shoes according to this article by the Independent, a UK newspaper.

Interestingly enough, the anecdotal evidence seems to support this. During Foster & Son's visit last week, this is exactly what I heard from Mr. Edgecliffe-Johnson. Women have been visiting Foster in noticeably higher numbers this year and placing orders. Judging from their core business - men's bespoke shoes - men are also exhibiting the same behavior. Their workshop has been humming with activity these past several months and I suspect the same is true for the other handful of English bespoke shoemakers.

Additional articles
- New York Times article on the recent spike in shoe purchases

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Foster & Son update: Norwegian derby

Earlier this week, I received a pair of Foster shoes - a three eyelet Norwegian stitched apron derby with a lovely dark chestnut finish carrying just a touch of russet brown (less reddish than the photos suggest). They turned out spectacularly well in terms of fit and finish.

Foster Norwegian derby 02

Foster Norwegian derby 01

Conventional wisdom says the Italians have superior finishing compared to the English shoemakers. If this is any example, I think the English can more than hold their own in this department.

Foster Norwegian derby 04

Foster Norwegian derby 05

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Hawaiian (or aloha) shirt

When we think of Hawaii, we tend to think of sunshine, beaches, Waikiki, tropicality in some form.

30th floor view of Waikiki Beach

Waikiki

I certainly don't deny any of this but there's another side of Hawaii related to clothing that is distinctive - instantly recognizable at a glance. So what is Hawaii's contribution to the sartorial world, or at least fashion in the conventional sense?

The Hawaiian or aloha shirt of course. The shoe retailer Leather Soul is a close runner-up! The best examples of this shirt style seem to have been made in the first half of the 20th century. At least that's the consensus among aficionados.

Bailey's Aloha Shirts storefront

If vintage is your thing, visit Bailey's Aloha Shirts just north of the Waikiki district in Honolulu. They carry a large assortment of vintage shirts from Reyn Spooner, Tori Richards, Kahala Shirts and many others. The market for these shirts is nothing to sneeze at. Bailey's most expensive example is a $4,500 vintage shirt with a very unusual design, probably a one-off.

Bailey's Aloha Shirts

If you're interesting in reading up further, check out Dale Hope's book, The Aloha Shirt: Spirit Of The Islands.