In his Book of the Courtier (1528), Baldassare Castigilione describes wit, sprezzatura, and apparent effortlessness in any endeavour, as ‘’a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.’’
This, I suggest, should especially be the aim of dressing; after all, dressing is never an end in itself. One dresses for occasions and events; which are in particular places, involving the company of particular people. I have even heard arguments that one should dress just for the particular place (such as a theatre, concert hall or opera house, a restaurant or a hotel, and for professional and business places). I suppose that, if we allowed this argument to influence us, we should at once be rid of the sometimes annoying angst that men seem to feel about appearing ‘over-dressed’ in a suit and tie, amidst a sea of shirt-sleeves and jeans and chinos. There is also a growing caucus of men who shout about not being bound to observe any conventions or norms in dress at all and demonstrate their own particular ‘style’ in some deliberately eye-catching way.
It is, to my mind, far better to leave the eye-catching to the ladies and still to dress smartly and conservatively for smart and conservative places. The sole justification that you need is your respect for the place. Moreover, it is often perfectly obvious where these places are, even if they, themselves, no longer insist on minimum standards (or very high minimum standards), of dress in their patrons but they will often appreciate those who make the effort, and that is worth something in itself.
I am not talking about going to the opera in full evening dress or even black tie (unless the event specifically calls for it) because, in a sea of casual dress, of course you will appear (at best) as an usher or (at worst) a figure of fun. But if you go there in a dark suit along with the better dressed of the other attendees then you fit in and show respect for the place even if the majority of the other men are in shirt-sleeves.
This brings me to the crux of the question: is it possible to dress well anymore, without attracting attention and, maybe, feeling self-conscious and awkward? Probably, because though the outstanding nail - the tailcoat in a sea of denim - may be hammered down, by fitting into the standard of the better dressed men in a place you will feel and appear natural and relaxed without raising many eyebrows. In other words, emulate Matteo Marzotto (second from the left) in the photograph. Dress no more formally than your peers (if you happen to outdo them as to cut or fit more power to you).
We can all do our little bit to bring back the debonair into norms of dress and, maybe, even shame the shirkers into smartening up.
-Text by Nicholas Storey
-Photo by madeinitaly.tv
-Photo by madeinitaly.tv