I’m sure you’ll remember the scene in Adam McKay’s masterwork Talladega Nights in which the dastardly (French) villain Jean Girard challenges our hero Ricky Bobby to name one thing of value that Americans have given the world. As a proud American, I’ve often wondered how I might have answered, were I in Ricky Bobby’s shoes. One tempting answer might be that classic of Ivy Style, the penny loafer. But this isn’t quite right. The penny loafer was born in Norway.
Desiree Desierto of the University of Rochester and Mark Koyama of George Mason University have recently released a working paper on these laws, known as “sumptuary laws,” in pre-industrial Europe. Along the way they find some delightful language from various medieval laws, such as the 1485 French law that restricted the use of gold, silver, and silk cloth to “nobles living nobly who are born and extracted of good and old nobility.”
Deirdre Clemente’s recent article in The Atlantic argues that business casual originated in Silicon Valley as a bottom-up phenomenon (as opposed to a bottoms-up phenomenon, a very different sort of thing).
In the beginning, there is only navy, grey, white, and brown. Perhaps army green if you like to wear military gear on the weekend or olive if have a tailor in Naples. But there comes a time in every clothes-wearing man’s life when he tires of the traditional menswear palette. “I’ll have no more of this monotonous uniform!” he cries. “Let there be color!” he demands. And so there is color.
One of the joys of custom made clothing is getting to choose your own details. But there are plenty of subtle yet distinctive embellishments that can be put on bespoke and off-the-peg clothing alike. Any jacket shipped with unfinished sleeves, for instance, is ready and waiting for any button configuration you care to conjure.
The conventional wisdom within classic menswear is that the shirt collar performs the necessary function of framing the wearer’s face. Hence the fixation with collar height, and in particular the structural integrity of the unbuttoned collar, the collapsed collar providing no frame at all. Without such a frame, so the theory goes, the face is but a naked, wilting canvas, wandering through the world utterly bereft of protection, purpose, and presentation.
I’ve come to believe this theory is a bit overwrought.
Today’s men’s suit began life in the Victorian era as a less formal alternative to morning and frock coats, the standard business dress of the time. Because this “lounge suit” was more informal, there were few restrictions on its design, and therefore could be found in all manner of fabrics and permutations.