It should be the aim of every man with any pretensions to refinement and self-respect to steer a middle course between the Scylla of foolish foppery, which bedizens a man as though he were a tailor’s dummy or a barber’s block, and the Charybdis of loutish slovenliness, which neglects all outward graces and dignities. Of the two, I would rather you were a fop than a sloven. In the one case men would laugh at you: in the other they would avoid you. A man should be so dressed that no article of his attire arrests the eye or remains in the memory. There should be nothing in his personal appearance to suggest that it has occupied any but the most subordinate share of his attention and thought. The best-dressed man is he whose attire sits on him with a careless and apparently unstudied simplicity. (An Old Boy, Notes for Boys (and their Fathers) on Morals, Mind and Manners, 1885).
The key word in the above passage, pulled from a most useful little book, is ‘apparently’. It takes great attention and scrupulous thought to appear so thoughtlessly put together in a way that works. It might be said that the fop puts no serious thought into his meticulous appearance, for if he did he would rein himself in and undo that to which his fancy led him. In that respect the fop is merely the dark reflection of the slob.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the man of taste can’t occasionally wear go-to-hell clothes. It is merely that he must wear them as if it was of no consequence to him whether today happened to be grey flannel or loudest plaid. If loud clothes are worn to say ‘look at me!’ then people will, and they will think you an idiot. But if loud clothes are worn because the wearer has the freeness of care and the confidence simply to be in them, then they will strike onlookers as outward signs of a strong character. The line is fine. Sprezzatura takes work.
If you could see my Christmas Day attire you’d understand why I’m given to reflect on these things. Wait, you can see it.
It’s an ensemble of patterns in earthy hues, principally in cashmere and silk. When I laid it out this morning, Mrs VB gave me that look – the one where a single eyebrow seems to question my sanity – but I’ve learnt not to let that put me off. Once adorned, she confessed ‘It’s not as bad as I thought it would be’. Then we danced – it is Christmas after all – to Cesaria Evora, with the freedom of movement one has in one’s own home, and the clothes became the man. They tend to do that.
Turkey awaits. Have a great day, one and all.