Some men add a small personal statement to their clothing. Frank Sinatra favoured an orange pocket square with his dinner jacket, as well as those highly individualistic hats (by Mr Lock) which, surely, no one else wore; Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Jack Buchanan often sported a dark red carnation, and there is already a post here on Noël Coward’s brown dinner jacket.
The question arises, possibly more and more: where does individualism in men’s dress end and eccentricity begin?
When I lived in London I knew a senior British civil servant who sometimes wore a black bowler (derby) hat to work. Other times he carried a cane (of the swagger-stick kind, which he proudly told me had belonged to the historian and politician H A L Fisher). Neither is common: bowler hats are quite rare away from the hunting field, and carrying canes in town is normally done only when they are needed as walking aids. However, he never wore the bowler and carried the cane at the same time; probably because he felt that each item, on its own, lent a touch of individualism to his appearance; a charming remnant of another age, but that the two together would have given him the air of an individualist who had strayed into the realm of eccentricity, by way of sartorial anachronism. I think that he was probably right; especially in relation to accessories whose day has passed or is passing in general wear.
It is not that I am against a little game eccentricity. I am full of admiration for men like those in the photographs: the 7th Marquess of Bath and Hamish Bowles, the editor of Vogue, who both dress with bold eccentricity. Possibly, their secret is that they dress as they do just to please themselves, rather than for the effect that they have on others.
However, if the aim of most sensible men is to be remarkable for their tasteful restraint then following the late Neil Munro ‘Bunny’ Roger and combining an Edwardian-cut suit; a high, starched collar; a high-crowned, bowler hat; a cane (or umbrella); a watch-chain, a tie pin, a buttonhole flower, and a pair of gloves will take them, in the modern age, too far away from subtle individualism, and prompt John Bull, Uncle Sam, and all the others, to turn and stare at them in the street. Beau Bummell was right.
Of course, the older we become (and the less influenced by the opinions and criticisms of others), the easier it is to let more than just one personal note shine through but most men will feel uncomfortable and, therefore, appear uncomfortable, being dressed up like a dog’s dinner. Limit yourself to one statement at a time.
-Text by Nicholas Storey