Sunday, September 25, 2011
Perhaps the most interesting thing to me about the wardrobe of the late Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. that was auctioned off earlier this month was that it was among the last on the planet to include a full selection of what is now essentially extinct formal clothing. There were tailcoats, morning coats and half a dozen smoking jackets in addition to the black tie that most of us now think of as formal wear.
Faribanks' wardrobe bridged the first and second half of the twentieth centuries. Residing in London after the Second World War, he was part of the capital's social circle during a time when men wore formal day wear with some frequency and usually dressed for dinner. By the end of his life, the lounge suit had supplanted most of that clothing for 99% of the occasions when it was once worn.
Change being constant, the lounge suit is in the late stages of becoming our version of formal dress. Seen during the day on a relative handful of professionals, it is worn in the evening by men who wear shirt and trousers to the office (at least those who believe that dressing up means more than throwing an odd jacket over a pair of khaki trousers, however that is another discussion entirely).
There were half a dozen blazers in Fairbanks' closet but I only recall one of what we otherwise think of as odd jackets at the auction - they were not worn in the city. By contrast, today's Silicon Valley venture capitalist has odd jackets aplenty but if he owns a suit it rarely leaves its hanger.
None of this is good or bad of course, only different. But Mr. Fairbanks was one of the last of a now departed era.