I once read of an interaction between an antiques collector and the writer Bruce Chatwin, who as a young man worked in the antiques department of Sotheby’s. The collector had seen Chatwin pull out of a pile of worthless rubbish the one article that had any character and value. “I see that you have The Eye,” began the collector. “I too have The Eye.”
Among art dealers, The Eye is that unteachable and irrevocable power to discern art from trash, real from fake, inspired from derivative. It is the capacity to appreciate something that you have not already been taught that you must appreciate. The legend of The Eye would have it that this talent cannot be learned. But I believe that attention and exposure to a wide variety of interesting objects is what sharpens The Eye.
Men who enjoy looking at and wearing tailored clothing tend not to develop their aesthetic sense in this way. There is instead a matryoshka of “rules”, which extend to the minutest of details. There is some sense to this. The suit is a garment with a history and a social meaning. There is a “right” and “wrong” way for a suit to fit – if not in an absolute aesthetic sense, at least in meeting society’s expectations of a suit-wearer, which is often important on occasions which require wearing a suit. The easiest way to fulfill this duty is by going through a checklist – are the sleeves the right length, is there an “X” indicating tightness at the buttoning point, etc..
And yet most of the really great dressers I know don’t worry so much about these things, and tend to dismiss complaints such as “your sleeve is a 1/4” too short”. It’s not that they don’t care about these details. It’s that they have developed the ability to look at an outfit holistically, rather than in parts. They have The Eye.
Hardy Amies once said, “if it looks right, it is right.” Of course the question is if it looks right to whom. Eventually, the answer should be to you, the wearer. At first most people are not confident in deciding what they thing looks right. Relying on rules at this stage can be a useful crutch, but try not to become dependent on them. Wander wherever your eye takes you. Then when you look back in the mirror, it’ll be right.
Quality content, like quality clothing, ages well. This article first appeared on the No Man blog in June 2014.