Thursday, 28 July 2011

The scourge of enforced casual

I noticed an interesting story buried inside yesterday's Evening Standard about Peter Bingle, a PR man, who was banned from Soho House (one of London's new breed of modern private members' clubs) for wearing a suit. All very strange. It seems that Soho House, in keeping with its role as being the members' club for people in the creative industries, has decided to not only permit, but actually enforce a casual dress code.

How incredibly naff.

I have nothing against private clubs that permit a casual dress code. I am myself a member of both a 'traditional' private club, and a more modern one. The latter suits me when I want later opening hours, trendier cocktails, and not to have to wear a suit and tie. The former has a very different role. That's all fine, but one of the things I like about the more modern club is that I also know that if I happened to turn up in full white tie, neither the staff nor any of the other guests would so much as bat an eyelid. I simply cannot understand the sort of institutional insecurity that leads a private club to actually insist upon a casual dress code.

It is, of course, an attitude deeply ingrained in the creative world that Soho House was formed to serve. I should know, I work in the industry myself, and there is certainly an attitude in some quarters that casual dressing is not just permitted but actually required. Happily, though, this sort of pretentiousness seems to be losing traction and a few agency types, perhaps inspired by Mad Men, are beginning to see that dressing smartly doesn't prevent you from being 'cool', creative, or whatever it is they aspire to. Hopefully, people are finally beginning to ditch the idea that the suit represents conformity, The Man, being boring, and so forth. Instead, they may start to see the infinite possibility for variety and self-expression possible with good tailoring.

Perhaps then, Soho house will also appreciate that, by enforcing a casual dress code, they are pandering to exactly the sort of stale, desperate, conformity that they were, presumably, trying to keep out.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Jackets and ties

The other day, I got one of those bits of drive-by snark that most bloggers in this genre occasionally find left in their comments. Style is so utterly subjective that you don’t need to look far to find someone who disagrees with you, and little further to find someone who’ll express their disagreement in a short, uninteresting, and anonymous comment. Normally I’d ignore it, but this particular one suggested an idea for a post, and I’ve been short enough on posts of late that I thought I’d worth writing.

The comment was along the lines of ‘never wear a jacket without a tie' [Edit: I got this the wrong way round previously, meaning that the rest of the post made little sense. doh].

Well, it’s not terrible advice. To look their smartest, men should always wear a tie, and jackets tend to look better with something to cover the expanse of shirt which is otherwise on display.

The problem I have with this ‘advice’ is the same problem I have with any subjective opinion stated as an objective rule. Do jackets look better with a tie? Yes, often, but not always. Does that mean it’s somehow unacceptable to wear a jacket without a tie? Of course not. Suits look pretty bad without a tie in my view, as the smartness of the suit sits uncomfortably with the casualness of an open collar. The same isn’t necessarily true of a casual jacket or blazer, worn with jeans or chinos and brown shoes. Such an ensemble may have been unheard-of forty years ago but times move on and men, at least those who wish to look stylish and not merely ‘correct’, move with them.

Jeans, a shirt and a casual jacket is now the default smart-casual for most men, and a perfectly good option it is, yet it would look positively odd with a tie (I’ve seen it done, and it’s not a good look). Similarly, a man who works in a fairly casual environment, such as myself, can get away with sometimes wearing chinos and a tweed jacket without attracting anything but polite compliments. If I added a tie, I suspect I would tip over the edge into pomposity or even eccentricity.

The point always worth bearing in mind when dealing with people who insist on this sort of thing is that ‘rules’ for dressing well are often most beloved by people with no particular natural sense of style. I know I occasionally come across as dogmatic, but I suppose that is the nature of writing a blog like this, and I do my best to couch all my comments in terms of advice and guidelines, rather than rules for rules sake. Someone, I forget who, once said something to the effect that a man is not well dressed if he is not appropriately dressed. Stick to the dress standards of the 40s, and you may look smart but rarely stylish, and often simply odd. Accept that times change, but be guided by the best from decades past and don’t bend too easily to passing fads, and you are far more likely to be genuinely well-dressed.