Men My Garments Wear
Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, Weekender | Fri, 12/16/2011 12:56 PM |
Fashion is a couturier’s autocracy, attire is guided democracy. There is no room in style for dilettantes!
It takes more than dainty men and indulgent women at the top of the fashion hierarchy to make the mundane look intellectual, the repulsive become arousing. It takes classic style to make average, underweight, toast-skinned “me” seem more than I am, just with a simple fold and cut.
The greatest couturiers are like Picasso and Nietzsche – pushing the frontiers of thought in understanding Homo sapiens as more than apes without the excessive body hair. They are lunatics and geniuses whose aesthetics are guided equally by an explorer’s heart and a scholastic mind.
Few can boast the academic credentials of the late batik master Iwan Tirta, who taught international law at University of Indonesia before studying at Yale, the London School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies.
Miuccia Prada earned a doctorate in political science before trading her Communist Party membership for bourgeois couture. Yves Saint Laurent delved into Braque’s cubism to relive the enigma of Proust for a prêt-à-porter line. He was so infatuated that he later acquired the novelist’s residence in Normandy, France.
“Fashion,” explained Coco Chanel, “has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”
Whether pinstriped or punk, what may seem like madness is imbued with decorum. There is an inherent synthesis in the Sex Pistols aesthetic of a ripped T-shirt. Consider the sensibilities of stilettos versus wedge heels, the political divide of Yogyakarta and Surakarta blangkon.
There is the commonality of ordered chaos in cloth and canvas, from the painstaking beauty in a canting-dotted batik to the hypnotic pointillism of a framed Georges Seurat painting.
I long for the contrived elegance of a two-piece Armani suit, much as I long to have Audrey Hepburn – in Tiffany pearls and that little black dress – on my arm. Those Armani shoulders exude esteem, color and style in an imprint of taste, the cut projecting sophistication.
Dressed to Impress
They say that men who dress well but modestly never fail to impress. So true. Haute couture is not the raison d’être of fashion. Even the outrageousness of the late Alexander McQueen had its threads in his beginnings as an accomplished tailor to royalty and dignitaries.
Fashion is ultimately a form of communication. The most important commodity this billion-dollar industry has spawned is not the clothing itself, so much as its codes of dress.
Whether from ignorance or laziness, too many of the nouveau riche are richly suited – but in unsuitable suits. There’s rhyme and occasion to combining those loud Versace shirts, quirky plaid blazers and oversized Harley Davidson belt buckles that groan and tear at the boundaries of style.
When people look, 80 percent of what they see is the clothes. Perhaps that’s why we spend the same proportion of time and money on the remaining 20 percent – hair, grooming and makeup – as the larger 80 percent.
My grandfather and father taught me well, as I will my son: the wisdom of knowledge, the humility of faith, the conscientiousness of manners and the rules of simple chic.
Never wear a short-sleeved, clinging shirt with a tie, unless you manage a fast-food restaurant or your name is Dilbert.
Trousers must rest on the shoes. Socks must hide cross-legged shins. An inch of cuff must peep out below the suit sleeve, accented by a glimpse of cufflinks. The collar points must rest on the body when worn with a tie (to avoid looking stuffy). Ties – with a dimple under the knot – must touch an underwhelming belt buckle. And – the coup de grâce – it’s sacrilege to do up the bottom button of a two- or three-buttoned single-breasted suit.
There’s a history to such couture dogma, a logos transcending vanity and whimsy … in much the same way that this essay on fashion could not be written without the ethos of a sprinkling of French terms and Italian designers’ names.
The lowest buttons on suit jackets are left undone either as a way to loosen restrictive long waistcoats, or because Edward VII inadvertently started a trend among his British subjects by not fully fastening his vest over his potbelly.
Buttoned-down collars can be either an informal classic or faux pas formal evening wear. That’s because they were designed for polo players to keep their collars from flapping in the face (hence the Polo brand).
I asked a friend once why she had suddenly taken to wearing oversized sunglasses that seemed more intent on taking over her whole face than simply covering her eyes.
“It’s what everyone is wearing!” she said.
Having never been a buffalo, I could not comprehend her herd mentality. But I restrained myself from telling her to her face that the sunglasses gave her the look of a giant blowfly.
Of course, most of us are not blessed with the luxury of being rock stars or eccentric millionaires. When those icons tread into the left-field of fashion, it is unique and admirable; for the rest of us, experimentation soon leads to disaster.
Consider, as an analogy, guitar-god Jimmy Page rehashing an instrumental version of “Stairway to Heaven”, creating a unique alternative version. When a local band puts its own spin on this rock classic, it’s just crass.
Shakespeare understood this, as he did the human condition. As Katherine rejected Henry V as poor fashion, the king replied: “You and I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country’s fashion. We are the makers of manners (fashion) … and the liberty that follows our places stops the mouth of all find-faults.”
Being conservative in your dress code doesn’t make you boring. Just as being a bit odd-looking doesn’t make you hip. If you can’t dress well, then dress appropriately.
Remember that merely following trends does not make a person fashionable. It only communicates misguided servitude to fashion mongers. Such people are nothing but walking mannequins with no governance over their own minds. In short: people with no style.