Living pieces of history? Why dress Trad?

Theoden

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
Gents,

Something occurred to me.

Aside from liking the Trad/Ivy approach to dressing, is there something intentionally anachronistic about dressing this way?

It seems to me as culture accelerates and, as I find my self in my mid 40's starting to frame my memories in terms of decades, that wanting to be linked to the past, to something timeless or unchanging is very appealing.

I was a history major and a lot of my imagination lives in ancient and medieval Europe. But that's a dead past, at least to many Americans. In fact, living in NYC gives me some connection with artifacts of our 19th Century past. Lots of people want to live in a Brownstone or perhaps have a drink in the Campbell Apartments at Grand Central Station. American Victoriana is somewhat accessible in older American cities and towns.

It didn't occur to me, until recently, that Trad fashion has, in some sense a strong link with a period of time (1920-1970), a culture and a lifestyle, that, not only has a myriad of accessible artifacts, but, to some extent, is still a living subculture.

Having a martini in the Algonquin in a 3/2 roll and OCBD shirt in 2011 is a real pleasure, but it some sense, it's visiting the past while legitimately inhabiting the present. You could be some guy in Dorothy Parker's circle talking about literature or one of the Mad Men talking business. But...you are also Joe Smith, 21st century computer designer or banker with his Blackberry in his jacket.

I tended to overlook the icons and artifacts of the early and mid 20th century. But they are much more available to us. And, to some extent, they are tied to a culture that still exists. Not all of us drink at the Algonquin, live in Connecticut, are members of country clubs, are Andover or Yale Alumni or sail, but, I imagine the sense of having a set and definitive culture that anchors you to the living past, partly by your clothing, might be part of the appeal of Trad.

The novel by Jack Finney, Time and Again, was a time travel novel based on the idea that time is a river and that the past still exists but is so far upstream that we can't see it. All that was necessary to access it was to dress and immerse yourself in an environment identical to a certain period in the past and then, magically, you cross-over. In the story, the main character leaps back from 1970 NYC to Manhattan in the 1880's by dressing as a Victorian and renting a period-furnished apartment in the Dakota building on W 72 St living in monastic isolation until in a hypnotic trance, he traveled 85 yrs into the past. Impossible science, but interesting sociology. It's interesting to note that the novel was written in 1970 when NYC was beginning it's long cultural and economic slide that didn't pick up again until the mid-90's. Sounds like Jack Finney wanted to take a leap back.

Being realists, perhaps, connecting to more accessible artifacts in our clothing and lifestyle enable us to keep history and a certain culture alive. Are we, in some sense, time-travelers, like the main character in Finney's novel? Rather an escaping to the past, are we, perhaps, carrying it over the present and con-currently inhabiting two worlds? Am I just simply saying that style, flair and tradition are more than how one dresses, but also how one lives and believes?

Douglas Coupland, one of my favorite writers, suggests that people in America, specifically on the west coast are de-narrated. We live, to some extent, far from our families, untethered from a sense of history, without any allegiance to country, ideology or religion. We are not part of a story -- de-narrated,

Is dressing a certain way speaking against that de-narration and cultural acceleration we are all experiencing?

Funny enough, Midnight in Paris, the recent Woody Allen movie, address the idealization of the past in a light-hearted way.

Or...it could be the clothes just look good. ;-)

Theoden
 
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bd79cc

Super Member
I've been wearing the same kinds of clothes, bought from about the same places, since the early 1960's. An unbroken line from the time of St. Peter? Not quite. But close enough for my pleasure and reassurance.
 

Theoden

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
vwguy,

I hope you had Eartha Kitt and Bridgitte Bardot hanging on each arm. ;-)
 

Mad Hatter

Super Member
I've been wearing the same kinds of clothes, bought from about the same places, since the early 1960's. An unbroken line from the time of St. Peter? Not quite. But close enough for my pleasure and reassurance.
This. Trad is more concept than clothing, IMO. The vast majority of the "iconic" garments are firmly integrated in casual style.

If someone is trying to dress (and live) anachronistically, I hate to say it, but it's lost on the issue of trad style. Nobody much will notice nor care if your OCBD has flapped pockets, your sack jacket has a hooked vent or you've got a historically accurate amount of cuff on your FF chinos. And if you stress about buying from an old-line retailer, nobody sees the label. You have to wear some pretty outrageous trad stuff to really warp the timeline-and maybe be mistaken for a Hipster in your Oxford Bags.
 

maximar

Super Member
I saw the movie yesterday. And it does touch what you just said.

Anyway, for me, dressing trad is not about people actually noticing me. No one ever notices nor cares. What's important for me is I do. I do not have any GTH clothing or accessories at all. My trad taste is very subtle and quiet.

On a shallow note: Did you notice that Owen Wilson was wearing color 8 shell bluchers in the movie? :icon_smile_big:
 

Joe Beamish

Elite Member
I saw the Woody Allen flick and enjoyed it. He's always played with the theme of idealizing the past.

The past inspires us (or you're plain dumb) and we take things from it, update them, carry them forward, appropriate them.

But mainly I dress "trad" because it's still extremely versatile, viable and handsome. On the other hand, I don't "rock" trad items and try to avoid looking costume-y or cute.

Too many posters here look costume-y in my book. But that's a personal taste thing....
 

The Rambler

Honors Member
I, for one, would prefer that the forum was called "contemporary traditional," to suggest that traditional American dress is a living, evolving thing.
 

Trip English

Honors Member
Maybe I'm too far down the rabbit hole, but I don't think there's anything we wear that's genuinely obsolete. Navy blazers, tweed sport coats, khakis, loafers, repp & club ties, etc etc are all still widely available and worn even by those outside of our little society.

Sure you can spot a devotee, but you can probably also tell that people like rock climbing or golfing by what they wear so I don't think it's as costumey as morning dress or cowboy duds.
 

Joe Beamish

Elite Member
I, for one, would prefer that the forum was called "contemporary traditional," to suggest that traditional American dress is a living, evolving thing.

This would appear to mandate something "contemporary" in people's "rigs".

But I'm not alone in viewing "trad" stuff (traditional American clothing) as being "timeless" on some level.

What IS contemporary, anyway? It's no longer entirely clear.
 

phyrpowr

Honors Member
I don't look at "trad" as being stuck in Princeton in 1962, or the like. For me it's more about simplicity, durability, proper fit and a certain level of "adulthood", for lack of a better word. I can mix and match practically all the clothes I own, feel comfortable in them, wear them anywhere, and don't have to fret over what the other kids are wearing, last year, this year and next year.
 

Trip English

Honors Member
I don't look at "trad" as being stuck in Princeton in 1962, or the like. For me it's more about simplicity, durability, proper fit and a certain level of "adulthood", for lack of a better word. I can mix and match practically all the clothes I own, feel comfortable in them, wear them anywhere, and don't have to fret over what the other kids are wearing, last year, this year and next year.

Yep. Well stated.
 

The Rambler

Honors Member
I don't think "contemporary" means "what kids are wearing." I don't think it means what the fashonistas are wearing this season. "Contemporary American traditional" means what traditional dressers are wearing today. While in some cases that's very little changed from what people of our ilk actually wore in 1960, "trad" is quite selective in what it remembers and what it forgets. I'm never conscious of donning a "piece of living history," and don't think I'd enjoy the feeling if I got it too frequently, but then, at my age I feel like a bit of living history myself. :biggrin2:
 
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Theoden

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
Gents,

Great comments.

I agree that trad items are comfortable, handsome, "grown-up" and classic.

I don't think one dresses trad to stand out (or be costume-y). I think the idea, in general, is not to be garrish or loud (except for accepted GTH items). Trad is under to radar, so-to-speak.

The fact that trad items, or even "rocking' trad items is not purely anachronistic, means that the items aren't relics. They are acceptable classic clothing with a sense of style. Part of the reason they aren't costume-y is they are still part of a living subculture with large amounts of artifacts in our everyday world.

If I were to dress the way businessmen did in the 1860's, that would be a costume. In fact, there is a Society for Creative Anachronisms that sponsor events for certain periods. It just dawned on me that someone could be dressed much like people did for the last 60 years and still have some connection to living artifacts, places and establishments.

Thanks for commenting and indulging me.

Nietzsche once said that historians spend so much time looking back, they begin to believe backwards. Perhaps I'm suffering from a little of that in this stage of my life. I'm not a historian, but I'm a man in his mid-forties who is wondering what kind of legacy I'm leaving my children and I'm finding myself longing for permanence.

--Theoden
 

defygravity

New Member
Gents,

Nietzsche once said that historians spend so much time looking back, they begin to believe backwards. Perhaps I'm suffering from a little of that in this stage of my life. I'm not a historian, but I'm a man in his mid-forties who is wondering what kind of legacy I'm leaving my children and I'm finding myself longing for permanence.

--Theoden


Theoden....very well-written, and thank you for starting this thread.

As a gentleman in his (now later) 20's and still trying to get a grasp on adulthood, the workplace, and life in general, not only these forums, but the trad concept in general provides not only a basic guide on how to properly dress myself, but it also gives me that permanence you mention. It gives me something (relatively) timeless to be a part of, and something classic to wear that has rarely been out of style for the last half century. Economically this also has it's benefits, as I'm confident that the clothing I buy today I can wear well into the future.

Again, thank you for this post, as it is very enlightening to read everyone's reasons for dressing this way.
 

Titus_A

Super Member
Theoden said:
Are we, in some sense, time-travelers, like the main character in Finney's novel? Rather an escaping to the past, are we, perhaps, carrying it over the present and con-currently inhabiting two worlds?

Not time travelers, but custodians. Every man is a custodian of truths and traditions that he has not made, but that were entrusted to him with the understanding that he would pass them on, intact, to future generations. In the grand scheme of human learning and traditions, clothing is not a vast part. But at the same time, it seems quite evident that sartorial customs and traditions reflect, in small ways, what people think and cherish regarding "larger" issues. By preserving sartorial traditions, a man not only makes practical decisions (i.e. he wears clothes that just plain look good), he's performing an important cultural task as well. Now maybe there are some folks who don traditional menswear but devote all their other efforts to innovation, iconoclasm, and destroying cultural traditions and social memories: I would find that a bit incongruous, but not impossible.

At the same time, the people who point out that it's not desirable simply to look as much as humanly possible like a 1962 Yale student (or professor) are right: tradition isn't archeology or acting, it's preservation of essentials. Someone noted that we can't go around dressed like it's 1850. But consider: the average (well-off) man's outfit of 1850 has much more in common with the comparable man's outfit of 1960 than the 1960 outfit has with today's. One sees continuity of essentials between the first two: shirt, tie or neckerchief, jacket, (perhaps in 1960) waistcoat, watch, trousers, leather shoes. Today, who knows: maybe you get most of those elements in an office, but very rarely on the street. You have to reduce the common denominator to "covering nakedness with something more advanced than animal skins" to find continuity.

Theoden said:
Nietzsche once said that historians spend so much time looking back, they begin to believe backwards. Perhaps I'm suffering from a little of that in this stage of my life. I'm not a historian, but I'm a man in his mid-forties who is wondering what kind of legacy I'm leaving my children and I'm finding myself longing for permanence.


The first step is to stop thinking Nietzsche is a source of good advice, unless one aspires to the status of criminal mastermind or blood-soaked dictator: he provides good rationales for these career paths.
 

Sartre

Senior Member
Both original post and commentary are well written and well reasoned. A nice surprise since from the headline I assumed it was someone trolling.

I do not intentionally dress anachronistically, but I'd be lying if I deined there was some element of nostalgia working somewhere in my brain...
 

Theoden

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
defy gravity,

My pleasure to be of help. May you dress and live well.

Titus,

Excellent response. I like the word "custodian". The idea of being a custodian of truths and traditions we inherit and expressing it partially by how we dress is a very helpful inight. Dressing as cultural act -- brilliant observation. I was thinking more about cultural artifacts, when in fact, I was really aiming at bigger issues.

Regarding Nietzsche...I think his insight was funny and helpful. I was a history major and when I first ran across it, it made me laugh. He's dead-wrong about most things, but he's one of the most engaging philosophers I've read.

I'm at in the place in my life where lots of things are coming unglued. I've been one to hold on to the old standards and keep my commitments, I've passed on timeless truth to my children, and yet, it feels like "things fall apart, the center cannot hold". I don't take advice from Nietzsche. But, if you are man of prayer, kindly remember me this afternoon.

Sartre,


I was surprised, too. Glad it was interesting for you.

--Theoden
 

hydepark

New Member
Re: Nietzsche

In response to the anti-intellectual and rather snide comment about Nietzsche above, let me suggest that the OP had his "Use and Abuse of History for Life" essay (one of the Untimely Meditations) in mind. While perhaps misremembering some of the contents the OP was right that Nietzsche warns us again the urge to erect monuments, to attempt to capture history--it is an essay, after all, in the service of promoting life. "Life" goes on and certainly doesn't belong to any notion of a fixed, reified, ratified, or otherwise monumentalized history. This essay comes from a moment in German history when nationalists were particularly intent on glorifying a certain version of the past that would lead to the cultural authorization of many tragic decisions; it is fortunate Americans have never really been in the same position. To the OP: don't worry about the world crumbling around you, for that really isn't the world. "Life" is dynamic and composed of both the melancholic urge to re-collect parts of the past as they slip away and directed toward the future--which, yes, will eventually be death--attached to endless lines of chaotic forces that arise out of moments of fidelity to our own projects. One last comment to 'Titus_A': be careful for every inheritance comes with the demand, the injunction to make a decision of what you will keep and what you will reject. You cannot fully accept any inheritance as it only exists qua inheritance because of its constitutive incoherency.
 
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