Great God in Heaven, where to begin? For clarity, I’m not talking about the stylists who work for female stars; since I myself know little of women’s fashion, I’ll just assume they know what they’re doing. But the ones who work for the men…
They get paid. Actually paid. And not in buttons or wooden nickels or stones but in hard currency, which you can legally use to buy, like, useful stuff. Blimey, how do I get in on this gig?
You don’t need to be color-coordinated. You don’t need a fashion sense. As far as I can tell, you don’t even need to be a sighted person. The stars they work for clearly aren’t sighted. None of them seem to be aware that they’ve been dressed by Ray Charles...
If Charles Ponzi were alive today, he’d be tickled right down to his larcenous toes. He and his disciple Bernie Madoff were definitely in the wrong racket. Imagine--a scam where you can get rich and never, ever go to jail…
It wasn’t always like this. Homework assignment for you (figure of speech; I’m going to do it for you right now): look at the opening credits of any movie made in the thirties (it really is a shame we must reference thirties Hollywood movies, which were the American equivalent of Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda—but it was the best decade for men’s clothes). You’ll see ‘Gowns by Edith Head,’ ‘Gowns by Adrian,’ ‘Gowns by Dolly Tree,’ etc. Now try to find the credit for the men’s stylist. Look long and hard. Can’t find it? Well, don’t feel too bad, because unless you’re looking at a period-piece costume picture, it ain’t there. All of those fabulously attired male movie stars of the thirties?
They dressed themselves.
Now if I’ve left you scratching your head, or your nether regions, I’ll try to help you out. In a generalized sense, this is how it worked:
You take one young man; very rough around the edges but good-looking enough to land a movie studio contract (say, a Clark Gable or a Gary Cooper). To this, you add an older, wealthier, more sophisticated woman (a Ria Langham or a Countess Dorothy di Frasso). Older woman takes younger man under her wing; teaches him etiquette, grooming, and restaurant French. They take the ‘Grand Tour’ (of Europe), and hit all the ‘right’ tailors, shirtmakers, and shoemakers, guided by the latest photos of the (then) Prince of Wales, and other European aristocrats. Younger man pays older woman tuition for this education, but not with money.
Having picked up the tab for everything, the older woman now sails the younger man home. He left as a rube; he now returns as a polished, well-mannered, elegantly attired movie star. In gratitude for this, younger man now kicks older woman to the curb, grabs himself a hot young dame, and, in that pre-viagran era, cheats on her as often as his personal stamina permits.
As I say, this is somewhat generalized. If you were a Fred Astaire, you were so over-the-top-potty about clothes that you could educate yourself on the subject. Or, if you were a Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., you had a dressed-to-kill movie star father to serve as a role model.
Here I started to write, “All this is gone now.” But that’s not exactly true, is it? The key elements still exist: young actors, older women, the tailors, and all the rest. For reasons unbeknownst to this writer, they simply don’t want to play together any more.
There was a time when, if men wanted to learn to dress, they looked to three geographic locations: London, New York, and Hollywood. The London and New York boys are still trying to hold up their side of the bargain, but in Hollywood there has been a total collapse. And Jethro, when I say ‘collapse,’ I mean like Nagasaki—ain’t nuthin’ goin’ on in the ‘Wood (George Hamilton excluded, of course).
I would really, sincerely, like to turn these actors on to the treasures that exist in Milan, Naples, Florence, London, New York, and elsewhere. They are genuinely doing a disservice to themselves by not being aware of this stuff. It would be fun to walk them through it. But I’m a realistic person; I just don’t see them going for it, and for one simple reason: in today’s Hollywood, true style will always be beaten out by whatever the masses perceive to be ‘cool’—tiny brimmed hats, unshaved faces, unwashed bodies, no fewer than three DUI’S under your belt, etc. But in all fairness to Hollywood, we really shouldn’t be too demanding of a town where vegetarians smoke cigarettes.
In sum, the only practical advice I can give Hollywood actors on style (that is to say, the only advice I think anyone out there will actually listen to) is this: take up blind-folded dumpster-diving. You’ll be much better dressed, and you’ll save an absolute fortune in stylist’s fees.