A long-time reader asked how I developed my knowledge of sartorial things and to tell the truth I'm not completely certain because I never worked in the business. But I do know that my learning began while I was in my early teens, at a place called the Squire Shop.
The Squire Shop of Hinsdale, the Illinois area where I lived with my family, was an independent clothier that operated in a Chicago commuter town surrounded by horse country for more than forty years. And it was the Squire Shop, with downtown's Brooks Brothers (less accessible until I could drive there on my own), that began to teach me me how to dress.
My teens were my duffel coat, Shetland sweater, oxford cloth shirt, corduroy trouser, argyle sock and Weejuns years. And, though I didn't need to wear much of the other merchandise very often, inside the store I was surrounded by regimental neckties, foulard scarves, and tweed jackets - clothes with textures and colorings of a quality that was very different from the relatively homogenous offerings of the chain stores that have replaced the independent retailer in so many modern American locales.
It's probably always been true that we get used to something and that makes it OK. And it's not completely unreasonable to argue that the community standards in many places are roughly what's sold in the local Target, or perhaps the Gap. But men who want to enjoy clothes at a level beyond that have to do more than read about clothing.
The committed student will pay particular attention to what people wore or are wearing that is worthy of his emulation. One man might like the clothes in Virginia's hunt country, another prefer the clubs of St. James, and a third, heaven help us, enjoy what passes for fashion on the runways of Los Angeles*. And then the student needs to talk about that style with the sellers who provide it. That means that if the student is not fortunate enough to live nearby one of the few quality resellers still extant, he needs to make time to shop for clothes when he travels.
In my opinion, it's that combination of seeing and discussing that's the best way to learn about clothes.
*The pages of People magazine are recommended only to those who hope to one day grace them.