“In the country for dinner parties with neighbors, and especially in his own home, a man may wear a velvet smoking jacket, usually navy blue, burgundy or dark green, with a black bow tie, dinner jacket trousers and evening slippers. While this dress is acceptable for the host, it would not be right for a guest to wear this for an event with the dress code black tie actually stated on an invitation, which effectively means a dinner jacket.” – Debrett’s Handbook
Many may think that those of us who choose to dress in a classic manner and adhere to the many “rules” of classic style are clinging to a way of life that is outdated and unnecessary – a lifestyle that has had “dry rot in it for years.” While I may concede that dressing in a classic manner is not necessary, few things in life are, I will not concede that classic style is in anyway outdated; it is just not understood by many modern minds. This is largely due to the fact that the fashion industry has made it a keen point for many decades to market the idea that classic style is old-fashioned and boring in order to sell, sell again, and sell once more, more and more clothing of ever cheapening quality and ridiculous proportions to an ignorant customer base. The fashion industry really does not care if you look right in your clothes or if you are able to actually build a wardrobe; it just wants you to become fearful of “not looking on trend” and to always be questioning your clothes in relation to others. Remember, marketing works by going at an individual’s emotions; it actively tries to get an individual to stop thinking for himself and shutdown his reason in order to induce him to act not necessarily in the way that he should for himself, but in the way that fulfills the marketer’s end. In other words, “Follow me and the grass is greener.”
True classic style, on the other hand, adheres to well-vetted aesthetic principles that have stood the test of time. Yes, classic style does evolve through time; however, it does so at a glacial pace and is far more influenced by overall formality standards than a sudden need to change aesthetics. Also, one of the key differences between classic style and fashion is that the former takes into account the proportions of the individual who will be wearing the clothes far more than the latter. That is not to say that fashion completely ignores proportions. On the contrary, it tends to diminish or exaggerate certain proportions relative to others in order to create “looks” that are in vogue until they are not. Classic style, conversely, attenuates or augments proportions in order to balance an individual’s appearance; the overall goal of classic clothes is to help a person look more correct than he would without the clothes. In other words, classic clothes are trying to help a person look less ridiculous, not exaggerated.
The Grass is Greener is a jovial comedy from 1960 that revolves completely around the inner struggle we all have about whether to live our lives according to well-vetted principles that evolve at a glacial pace or jump on board with the current fashions of our time. Cary Grant plays a landed Brit steeped in tradition who finds himself battling not only modern times but also a rather contemporary, American oilman after his wife played by Robert Mitchum. Grant, of course, is impeccably dressed throughout the film. He effortlessly glides from one scene and situation to the next always appropriately attired in clothing well-proportioned for his body. His inward approach to life, like most of his possessions, has been passed down through the generations to him. He is rich in meaning, but struggling financially to hold it all together; this is in sharp contrast to his contemporary antagonist. Deep within him, however, is a conviction that his classic attitude toward life is his only path for happiness. His long association with the classic has given him a mastery over his own aesthetic. He even chooses a green velvet smoking jacket with black bow tie and dinner jacket trousers to formally entertain his guests at his English country home. There can be no doubt he uses such a look to directly state and symbolize to his adversary that he is the lord of his manor.
Dressing in a classic manner is not at all boring or outdated. Anyone who ventures into the world will find that there are a multitude of different ways to express yourself tastefully. Take some time to understand it and you will find that it is a foundation on which you can build. Like Cary’s character in the film, take a longer term view of things and stay away from the prodigal, ephemeral nature of modern times. You may even find that you wish to sell your television set and return to a more civilized way of living. It is your choice.