This is one of those reviews that will appeal to a very limited audience--what Tom Wolfe once referred to as "the super-secret order of American dandies". And I have to confess: I consider myself a (junior) member of that club. I like dressing up. I like suits, suspenders, cufflinks, ties, patterned socks, cap-toed shoes, and tuxedos. And I like learning about their history.
Mind you, I don't dress up everyday: unlike Wolfe, I don’t feel the need to put on a suit before I sit down at my PC and write. But when I go out at night, I like to look good.
There, I said it. Still with me?
If you're not, I can understand--ever since the 1970s, being well dressed has been seen as a strange affectation for a man. And yet, to get through life (not to mention dating, job interviews, family gatherings, weddings, upscale restaurants, and other events), there are certain sartorial skills that a man must have.
Fortunately, they're easily acquired.
At the height of the Silicon Valley boom, several friends of mine, all in their 40s or 50s, who hadn't gone on job interviews in ages, each asked me what to wear to them. And in each case, I simply handed them my copy of Alan Flusser's 1985 book, Clothes and the Man and said, "read this".
The Long Polyester Hibernation
Confession number two: I wasn't always much interested in clothes. I became aware of Clothes and the Man in the mid-1980s, when I was in college, having graduated from a 13-year hitch at St. Mary's Hall in New Jersey, a private college preparatory school where I wore a blue blazer, light blue button down shirt, striped tie and gray trousers every weekday.
Not surprisingly, I left St. Mary's more than a little confused about what to wear next, especially since simultaneously, menswear was coming out of its long polyester hibernation and into a brief moment of style (Wall Street "power suits", Miami Vice pastels, suits worn by rock stars in MTV videos, etc.). Of course, with the possible exception of those who were very careful buying their power suits, most '80s fashion dated very badly, leaving lots of men--including myself--with more than a few momentarily stylish skeletons in their closets. Clothes and the Man helped me avoid many further mistakes: the suits and sports jackets I bought prior to buying Flusser's book around 1987 have long since been given to Goodwill. Many of the clothes I've bought since, I still wear from time to time, even after 15 years or so of ownership.