January 18, 2010

New York Inspirations: Convention Centre

Strolling briskly around mid-town Manhattan, one cannot escape the style-savvy well-cut thirty-somethings who populate the place. More than any other city, perhaps, in New York there is no compunction about fine tailoring, and no reticence about showing it off. Yet, strange to report, it is by-and-large pretty conventional; where it isn’t, it stands out.

Standing out, as The Sartorialist is wont to show us, ought to be a good thing. A man who knows who he is ought to be applauded for following his heart. But I must admit I received mixed reactions from the conventionally clad over a moderately daring pair of plaid trousers. My nether man was perfectly attired in the well-fitting, English-designed, Italian-stitched, product of Scottish sheep. Never did such a sheep turn so many heads! Looks of admiration were welcome; looks of confused bewilderment were confusedly bewildering; exclamations of ‘oh boy, oh boy’, replete with shaking heads and expressions implying moral transgression, were rather vulgar. A woman rudely exhorted me to stop as I helplessly ascended an escalator in Bloomingdale’s, in order to ask me where in the world I bought such ‘pants’. In the same store, a member of staff eyed me up and down, particularly down, and commended me on my ‘very nice plaid’. Workmen in sweatshirts and jeans (blue collar is an outmoded image), smoking cigarettes, called after my lithe legs, partly to ridicule, partly as masculine recognition. In short, my lower half has never received so much attention… in public.

I had not intended to shock. I had not sought the limelight – God knows, Broadway has enough people clamouring for that – or any semblance of notoriety. I merely wore what I thought were rather spectacular trousers. It seems that I am not the only one to have an eye for the spectacular, but the jury is still out on whether I am the only one to have a taste for it. What I take away from the experience is a deeper knowledge of what constitutes acceptable behaviour on the part of strangers as they encounter me in that haphazard manner wrought by urban living. It is rude to stare. It is more rude to stop and stare. It is more rude still to stop, stare, point and gawp. And it is rudest of all to stop, stare, point, gawp and declaim aloud the ill-made decisions of others. A man should have enough about him to be able to take what he sees in his stride; quietly to acknowledge good taste where he sees it, if it is appropriate so to do; and discreetly to go about his business without comment or any outward sign of recognition where he disapproves. Nobody was hurt by this particular pair of trousers. Some even found pleasure in them. But whatever one’s inner reaction, there is no real need to risk offending the sartorially splendid stranger, or the victim of fashion, by sharing those feelings in crass and conspicuous ways.


  1. Doctor,

    let me acknowledge with a smile something I've noticed and that everyone needs to learn about the audience in the theatre: some laugh or cry, depending on the play, but few pay attention. Indeed, as an old man put it, the singers or actors in the chorus are always the same. Perhaps we are wont to take our comedies and tragedies to the streets and the news respectively, which is either criticism or neglect of our poets.

    But to cut to the bone inexpediently quickly, do not you see that sympathy is at work in both situations, inappropriate praise and undue curses? - Sympathy is not wont to know the difference between private and public - or any other rule about what is appropriate where. It is an experience: immediate, intractable - allegedly -, and gregarious.

  2. I am all the more regretful at not having bought a pair for myself now, also as a means of expressing my solidarity with your sartorial boldness. Although the plaid jacket has also received some comments from strangers,they have been wholly positive until now. Both my red and green pants, however, have elicited teenage sniggers, and accusations of homosexuality. But then, North Americans seem to have a particular stigma against colourful male lower-body apparel. In Italy I saw quite a profusion of green, red and yellow "trousers" (I shall say it the British way, as to avoid any unfortunate confusion) being worn by otherwise quite conservatively-dressed men.

  3. Is there not some cognitive dissonance when you suggest, first, that you chose to wear what you considered 'rather spectacular trousers' and then note with some disdain that your spectacle aroused passion in those around you?

    I would suggest it is bad taste to comment, publickly, on some person's errant choices yet those are the choices you made specifically in the spectacularity of the trousers.

    And, had the comments been uniform in their appreciation of your sartorial vision, you would not complain?

    Et tu?

  4. Thank you, sympathetic readers all.

  5. Thank you for your comment 'Ur'. As I have pointed out in the past, and will no doubt continue to do, I am always shocked when I arouse passion through nothing more than my appearance. My choices are always mine, for me, and interaction with strangers in the world is surprising (there are here to be found some lengthy discussions on this head). It is by no means, as I have said before, always unwelcome. On the contrary, a well-intended compliment goes a long way. But I repeat my sense of circumspection about the right time and place to proffer them.

  6. As a woman of a certain age who should know better, would you permit me to tell you that this detail of your person is extremely pleasing to me.

    I am very interested in your profile notes as someone who is interested in notions of female masculinity and regrets the passing of trousers as a transgressive garment for women.

  7. Permission certainly granted. Thank you, most humbly.

    I plan in future to make mention of female masculinity. I'd be grateful for your return. In the meantime, may I offer my compliments on your blog, which I shall follow with interest.

  8. You wore something extremely prep in one of the least prep cities in the country. Most New Yorkers don't do prep unless they have homes outside the city (most likely in Connecticut). It's just not the style of the city. Doesn't make your trousers less fabulous, but they do say, "You're not from here, are you?" Your trousers might have raised eyebrows at Bloomingdales but probably would have been hailed at Paul Stuart.

  9. Thank you for this. It reassures me in some ways about the title of the piece. I am heartened to know that I don't fit in. So wonderful to be non-conformist. I confess I just had to look up the word 'prep'. Being, in the broadest continental sense, not from around here, I am never entirely sure what the word means (thus you may rest assured that no such 'preppiness' was intended). I may have to think carefully about the reception of English eccentricities in far-flung parts. Or I may simply fling caution to the wind.

  10. Absolutely love it! But it's well seeing you escaped from the old country!


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