26 October 2009

The Mark of a Gentleman

Rope (1948)
Alfred Hitchcock

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Alfred Hitchcock

(movie stills taken by me)

It would perhaps seem to the outside observer that elegance in men's attire and style has slowly been diminishing since the 1950s. But to consider the historic evolution of the suit, from the Court dress, to the riding-coat-inspired morning coat, to the lounge suit (a brief overview to say the least), which dominated the 20th Century, there has always been a diminishing in some form.

This is not to say that the movement towards the casual is in any way bad, however I for one lament the passing of days where true gentlemen wore hats and suits even on the weekends. I suppose I am a romantic at heart, and whilst fashion may invariably influence the general clothing and styles of various generations, I often feel that a pull back, such as the traditions still heralded by Savile Row, would have a relevance in today's society.

There are men today who feel uncomfortable in a shirt and tie, let alone a lounge suit, and it truly does make me wonder where the next adoption of casual elements into formal attire will strike. Invitations to Buckingham Palace, where Court dress was the norm, have for the past few decades boldly listed 'morning suits or lounge suits' as the expected attire. I have that romantic notion of dressing up for events, rather than simply wearing what one would wear to the office. I am most probably sounding like a bitter man beyond my years, but generations shall always hark back to the traditions of old, and there is certainly something to be said for looking smart and presentable.

My pondering over this matter actually stems from the fact that I was watching Alfred Hitchcock's Rope this weekend, a film I would definitely recommend to you all. I am particularly fond of the fact that the entire film is situated within a single set, using only 10 takes (!!). The costume design is one that I absolutely adore - the men are for the most parts wearing full thee-piece suits completely furnished with pocket squares. The pocket square, a handkerchief placed in the breast pocket of one's coat (more commonly called the jacket or blazer), is a formal accessory that seems to have fallen to the wayside with the modern evolution of men's formal attire. Indeed even by Hitchcock's 1956 film, The Man Who Knew Too Much, one notes that the only characters to sport them are merely on the periphery of the show.

The pocket square is a trend which actually originates from the end of the First World War, and although perhaps at first a casual element in itself, it was quickly adapted to serve a far more aesthetic and decorative purpose. In the run of things, it is perhaps a short-lived accessory, and yet for me there is an inherent charm to the pocket square. It is an elegant touch, and elegance is something unfortunately far too lacking in men's style these days.

Portrait of Alexis ffrench
(Cover detail)
The Englishman's Suit
Hardy Amies

I believe that the mistake most men make when wearing a suit in general is that they do not take the time to get comfortable in it, and as such, comfortable and confident with themselves. It becomes obvious to those around us when we are not comfortable in our clothing, or indeed with our own bodies. Insecurities of this nature are a personal thing, and yet when it comes to the suit it is easily overcome.

I personally spent my entire schooling career within the constraints of uniform, and as such am perfectly at ease in a suit (indeed I often feel more so than when in casual attire), however there is one trick which always worked for a new suit. If you intend to wear the suit the next day or in the evening, simply wear it around the house beforehand. Spend a day in the suit just going about your general activities at home and get used to the feel and cut of your particular suit. Whilst it may sound odd, if you know before the event how the suit feels, once at the event you are able to carry it off with a natural elegance and charm. Indeed you will look positively at home in your dashing attire, in contrast to those who may look ill at ease and stiff.

'There are rules. The most important one is that it must look as if you use it; and you must'

I believe that this reasoning can easily be applied to the pocket square, in that one must be comfortable with the pocket square in order to wear it well. Hardy Amies, the couturier and Court dressmaker wrote in his book, The Englishman's Suit, that it should look as if you use it, and that you probably actually should. A suit is as much about looking good as it is functional. If you are stiff in a suit, it means that you are not wearing it correctly, or to put it into context of Amies's view on the pocket square, you are not using it properly. As such, your way of wearing the pocket square ought also to have a certain nonchalance to it. If it is merely a fashionable detail that you obsess over making look perfect, it becomes unnatural and your lack of confidence and comfort with the detail becomes problematic.

The pocket square ought to look as if it is used, having a very casual fold and display that fits seamlessly into your finished look. Indeed fussing over a single detail of your outfit too much makes the outfit feel forced in general, and I personally believe that those forced aspects not only detract from your look, but are also apparent to others who see you. Style is about confidence and being comfortable with yourself, and this is no where more needed than with formal attire.

'The second rule is that the handkerchief must not match the tie but merely tone with it in colour'

Whilst this is not a set rule, it is a good place to start. I personally find the exact matching of a tie and pocket square feels far too forced. A simple play with colour adds a dynamic flair to any outfit, and even more so with the suit. The suit is by its very nature traditional and demure, so to play with colour, even if it be subtle, has a wonderful impact. Matching tone is the easiest option, but a whole plethora of patterns and colours exist. Just as one can express personality through choice of tie, the pocket square provides innumerable chances to play around.

'Of course it's extravagant to blow one's nose in a silk handkerchief, but we are talking about style not economics'


Several basic attempts to display the options available. Some are obviously more domineering than others in style, however it is up to the wearer to find what works best for them and their outfit. Please do excuse the poor quality white cotton and sewn hem. I am slowly but surely working on a collection of proper silk handkerchiefs with rolled hems.

I am but a mere amateur in the art of using a pocket square, however feel free to check out Barima's blog to see how a true connoisseur does it.

Just remember that, as with all dressing, you should try to have fun with it!

Currently playing: I Can't Explain - The Who

xxxx

65 comments:

  1. I think I'm going to print this out and give it to every guy I see. You're doing a Public Service here, DK :)

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  2. This is so very true, but not necessarily just for men. There's so many people who seem to have no pride in themselves! That probably sounds a little judgemental, but you only have to walk down the street to see it. Shame really.

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  3. true gents are hard to come by.

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  4. lovely folding, I am impressed.

    though the mark of a gentleman isn't in anything he wears

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  5. Oh my, what a great entry, and I LOVE the fact that you've featured screen shots from Rope. SO cool, the ultimate in suave suits and hair styles.

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  6. Love this post! A man in a suit is so sexy!

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  7. You get so much props (for lack of a better word) for referencing Rope. It is one of my favorite Hitchcock's, and i think it's pretty under-rated.

    I like the white cotton pocket square, it brings it more down to earth, i could imagine someone wearing it with no socks and white converses on a summer day.

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  8. I was reading the whole thing thinking "Stop all this whining about declining standards and come hang out with my friends and I to raise your spirits." Then I saw my name at the end and felt mildly awed

    Thanks for the kind words and well done on another erudite write-up and some skilful screencaps. Even today, I had to explain to a friend that my well received The Pocket Square Post was mostly written by my buddy Mark at http://which43.com/ but the general fingering of silk in my pocket is all me. I'm actually going to be addressing some of the issues you raise soon and will give you a heads up when all's in place

    Stay well,

    B

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  9. Very well written post Dapper! The stills and your own shots was quite a touch, I enjoyed every bit of it. I couldn't imagine this being written any better then it already has.

    Thank you for your comment also.

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  10. Yes I've noticed 'casual' is seen as better almost now a days. If you wear a suit, 'you think highly of yourself' is what I've heard some people say. It's sad because getting dressed up is always just a fun experience but maybe it's because we get to do it so little? When it's okay to do? Awesome post. As for The Pocket Square, I like it. I wouldn't wear it because its not who I am but I think they're charming.

    I'd love to get a nice tailored thin suit. They're always soo baggy and lose on me. I look ridiculous.

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  11. I love the pocket square. My husband got his tuxedo for our wedding at a pretty fancy suit store and the man who helped him suggested a matching pocket square, tie and suspenders. He was the absolute perfect gentleman...

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  12. ok every guy needs to read this ,this is great DK. the mark of a gentleman is in all that you mentioned.
    xx
    marian

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  13. That is an art to know what to do with that pocket. Cool.

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  14. this is awesome! i love jimmy stewart so much.

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  15. I agreed with what you wrote and its really so true !!

    Going to print it out and keep it <3 No kidding . heeee

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  16. Everytime I see a man in suit - in an unexpected place, I can't help but take a look - and maybe a second look too :)

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  17. Oh that was very interesting - thabk you DK! I always notice the shape of a man's hankerchief in their top pocket - I always wonder what made them choose that particular shape!! Fabulous shots of Hitcock movies - his men always looked so dapped and well dressed! Hope you're having a terrific week DK!

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  18. I love your thoughtful posts. There is nothing like a well dressed man. It's such a treat to see the elderly gents in the neighbourhood in their three piece suits and proper hats for no particular reason.

    I'm soaking all of this up to pass along to my husband, who, when it comes to fashion, is The Man Who Knew Too Little!

    Have a great week Sweetheart! ♥

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  19. wow what an interesting post ! i've never talked and even thought about this . haha . so fun to see all of those pockets . thanks for sharing ! hope you have a nice day !

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  20. Despite being a girl, I find this really very interesting. I think it's sad that suits are becoming more and more of an option as opposed to a requirement during formal occasions.
    Suits are beautiful!
    I never noticed there were so many ways to wear a handkerchief either!

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  21. what an intriguing post, DK! i think it looks like you can master those handkerchiefs perfectly. much love to you, xx.

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  22. I knew there was an art to this, but had no idea about it!
    I'm going to rent this movie now!

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  23. What a great post. Definitely at the top of what you've done so far. You've done some really wonderful posts. I do wish that men dressed better than many of them do. Even those men who wear a suit (whether they want to be wearing it or not) don't often look comfortable in it. They don't make it their own. It's more like a uniform. There are nice touches such as a pocket square that can really put some spark into it. I love watching the style in the classic movies. Those guys knew how to dress.

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  24. As a woman I guess I don't have to worry about this that much, but I do reminisce about the times when people used to dress up for morning, lunch and evening, and how dressing was an art then as opposed to a chore as it often can be. Hope your having a good week =.]

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  25. nothing matches the grandeur of a well-made suit. edith head had a hawk's eye for costuming!
    xo s

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  26. DK, I'm glad you did this post. What woman doesn't swoon over a gentleman... and one who dresses like the part? Great pocket square options too! Sorry for being MIA recently but I'll be sure to catch up on your posts. Hope you are well. :)

    xo, Becs

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  27. absolutely love this old style - why do people not dress this way anymore!

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  28. Really so interesting. I like it.

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  29. this is a great post, i love the movie "rope", sooo goood!

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  30. love this post and i love a dapper looking man...they sure got it back then!

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  31. love this post and i love a dapper looking man...they sure got it back then!

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  32. Great post!!! Love how you brought up how men sometimes have trouble with their suits. I hate to see a man that looks so uncomfortable in a suit. They need to look sharp and feel sharp in it too. BTW, love Jimmy Stewart. :)

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  33. I love the social service comment. I too rue the dearth of well-dressed men, but I guess I can't complain. You don't see the ladies around either. Dressing up was such a good feeling. Dressing down is so overdone and boring.

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  34. I'm with Liz, this IS a PSA. Good to know this guys. Print it off.

    Dressing up is so attractive and seriously undervalued in this day and age.

    Thank you for bringing it to the fore :)

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  35. I agree, it's a shame that dressing up doesn't seem to have much of a priority anymore. Even Hollywood glamour isn't what it used to be. I love the pocket square thing though. Strangely, the first thing I thought of (because I've been watching way too many reruns of it) was William Shatner in Boston Legal, who always wore one in a similar shade to his tie. I guess they did that to portray the old-school in him. I always thought the UK was slightly better at keeping with traditions than other countries though. At least your lawyers still show up in wigs and robes ;-)

    Hope you're having a lovely week so far!

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  36. This was fab! I never realised there was an art to the pocket square but a little change makes the hugest difference!

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  37. Sometimes I do wish it was the 1950s because everyone was so glamorous and took such pride in what they looked like. I love how men acted and looked like gentlemen. They groomed themselves with dignity. They took pride in what they looked like...I think we see a little of that coming back with (lack of a better term) metrosexuals, but still...
    Oh, and I love that movie Rope. All of Hitchcock's movies are brilliant. :)

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  38. Much of modern menswear is becoming more about taking the styling of yesteryear and attempting to make it relevant today, which leads to lazy tailoring and an ADD-driven need for drama and ostentation. I miss the days when a great suit and pocket square were enough. I think the mark of a true gentleman (and a truly stylish guy) is to look just as comfortable in a tailored three piece suit as in a tee and jeans.

    Also, the pocket square is quickly becoming one of my favorite accessories this season. When time is taken to actually fold the square rather than ball it up and stuff it, it adds so much to a look.

    Paz
    Diego
    Freefall Blog
    freefallblog.blogspot.com

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  39. I think that men look so handsome in suits---and I love the way everyone used to get so dressed up----now it seems to be just sweats, tees, and jeans----ugh! (well, that is America, anyway----in London, I saw SOOOO many sharply dressed men---it was amazing!)

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  40. i think all guys should dress like this. it would make me very happy

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  41. Why dont men over here look this good?!

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  42. Why is that in these classic films the men were always so decent to women, only making it harder to come to terms with them no longer holding a door open or asking permission before a kiss. Call me old fashioned, but I like the mark of a good old fashioned Gentleman! =)



    x

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  43. You're so right about not being too matchy matchy. That translates to women's fashion as well. : )

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  44. I totally agree about having fun with dressing.. And you can't beat a good suit! Good tip about wearing the suit before hand too - I'd never thought of that but I shall pass on the wisdom to the boyf. The Lapels on those suits are huge! They are amazing! :) x

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  45. cool post. my grandpa still does this!

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  46. I approve of this post so much :)

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  47. i really take to the idea of a pocket square .... i think its classy and somehow suggestive of some time when the word many or masculine meant something that could be both elegant and stylish .


    men in suits are always a good thing. we cant have enough of those

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  48. what a nice post, hope you have a good day!
    kisses

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  49. good advice! I like the hankey in the 3rd pic, looks like a lotus!

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  50. I'm going to save this to give it a better reader, because it has such great tips and it's def a great editorial.

    A very good work DK, congrats!

    Have a nice weekend

    xoxo

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  52. oooooooooh, i so love this look! and, wow, so many cute ways to tuck in the hanky. <3 <3 <3

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  53. Yes! The pocket square! I need to find a jacket with a pocket that I can stuff a square into (not too common in women's clothing, it seems).

    Love these!

    * Kelsey

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  54. I agree that earlier times were definately more formal. I think that wearing a suit around the house if you are uncomfortable is a great idea. I do it all the time with ew shoes!

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  55. Wonderful post. Men can just kill in the details.

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  56. I agree with the first comment, this post (and all your posts if I'm being honest here!) need to be printed out and handed out to every guy on the street!

    I love men in suits and everything you've written is so true and eloquent that I just need to add my favorite How I Met Your Mother quote: SUIT UP!

    :D

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  57. You really have the time to look at the formal wear while watching the movie. If you are pretty much interested in that formal wear maybe you can visit mensusa.com there you can find many formal wear to look at.

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  58. ok every guy needs to read this ,this is great DK. the mark of a gentleman is in all that you mentioned. xx marian

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