February 04, 2011

Things A Man Should Know About Style; Or, A Book Review Of Sorts

Receiving a parcel is one of those delights that never gets old. Opening a parcel is a game of mixed fortunes, but on the most recent occasion that I received a mysterious package I found inside this book, sent from Mother Dearest, back in the Motherland.

This is not a serious book, and provides no justifications for the advices and exhortations it bestows upon the reader. On matters of style we are asked simply to believe the authors, as if clothes will indeed make the man, all by themselves. It seems there is a greater talent for aphorism than for philosophy here, but then, we shall always have recourse to Carlyle. Nevertheless, it is jammed full of practical wisdom and strategic nuggets of information that cannot fail to make life go more smoothly. What is more, these rules to live by are given with an irreverent wit that will surely raise a smile. This is typified by the selection of the model for all the photographic support that the book provides for its rhetorical maxims. A picture or two will speak many a thousand words:

So what of its rules and regulations? Here are some of the more valuable gems that I have found it handy to live by myself:
If you wear a suit on a plane and there is a flight delay or cancellation, the ticket agent will help you in a way that she wouldn’t if you were in a tracksuit.

The Hawaiian shirt: no.

“Easy-care” is for those who don’t.

There is no foot pain so severe, no dress shoe so fragile, no commute so arduous as to justify the sartorial holocaust that is wearing trainers with a suit.

A restaurant meal tastes better when you’re wearing a suit jacket.

Never trust a fashion magazine.
This last is particularly poignant because the publisher of the book also publishes Esquire, which, it should go without saying, you should never read. This tongue-in-cheek subversiveness warms me all the more to the tome’s tone. Nevertheless, there are some things to which I must take exception, and I might as well share them. First, the authors assume its readers to have no prior knowledge of these things, which surely cannot have been the point of publishing the book. Only a man who thought he knew it all already would ever find amusement in it, and if it ever fell into the hands of a style dunce he would likely regard it as so many silly pictures of bulldogs. I take no satisfaction from the introduction telling me that some of the rules may be broken ‘so long as you know what you’re doing. Which you don’t’. Furthermore, I must take at least partial issue with the following:
There are no bargains.

Speaking of colour, there is little use for pink…

You can’t wear a fedora if you’re under forty-five.

You can’t wear a bow tie with anything other than a tuxedo if you’re under forty-five or not a famous novelist or not a total geek. Got that, professor?

Keep a clip-on [bow tie] in reserve, should your bow-tying skills fail, which they probably will.
If there are no bargains I can only assume that much of my wardrobe doesn’t exist. Finding a bargain doesn’t mean you have to compromise. If there is little use for pink then most well-dressed Englishmen do not exist either. This must just be nonsense. Fedoras are a matter of confidence, not a matter of age. Likewise bow ties. Is one to presume that young and famous authors waited until post-fame to begin wearing them? And if your nervousness about bow ties causes you to carry a spare clip-on lest your ability to tie knots fails, then you should probably also carry some spare shoes that fasten with Velcro. The knot is essentially the same, after all.

All this being said, this isn’t really a book review, but an extended note of thanks for having received it. By the way, one thing that isn’t in here: Always send thanks to people who send you gift parcels. It’s only the right thing to do.


  1. Doctor, but the historian knows beyond doubt, consolation or relief - most well-dressed Englishmen do not exist.

  2. I am 100% on wearing nothing under a kilt!


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