CuffDaddy

Connoisseur
6,790
WARNING: Lengthy post.

One of the great things, perhaps the best thing, about AAAC is the large number of posters who are very knowledgeable about men's clothing. A good many of those men are not just knowledgeable but enthusiastic, or even passionate, about style. The thing about knowledgeable, passionate people is that they tend to have opinions, and strongly held ones at that.

There is a great tendency for the holders of those opinions to offer them not as opinions but as rules. But there is a difference between rules and opinions, preferences and proscriptions, poor choices and faux pas. There are rules, there are conventions, and there is everything else: advice, preference, connotation, etc. (More on this below.) We should all resist the urge to elevate a position that we take above its station.

What's the harm, you may ask, of calling a strongly held personal preference a rule? After all, when less knowledgeable readers are seeking advice, isn't it easier to follow clear, bright line rules? The harm is multifold. First, when one asserts a preference as a "rule," it purports to shut off debate. "Rules are rules, after all; my position is the rule, so any disagreement with it is ipso facto, automatically wrong. This argument is over." This is obviously not conducive to the sort of enlightening give and take, back and forth, explanation and illustration that forms the best exchanges on AAAC.

Second, and more troubling, it confuses the less knowledgeable reader. With every experienced gentleman expounding his personal preferences as "rules," the world of real men's clothing becomes a sea of rules, many of which are mutually exclusive; this churning sea of dictates threatens to capsize any man who doesn't know them all, and wash him up on the shores of embarasment. The novice or impressionable reader may quickly decide that he would learn a simpler set of rules first, such as the US tax code, and go back to wearing jeans, sneakers, and golf shirts, because at least he understands the rules for those. He'll stay on the little lake of crummy clothes rather than risk setting sail on the big, scary ocean of real clothes, with all its harsh and swirling rules. Alternatively, he may decide that the only way to master the material is to get serious, and try to learn all the rules he can, and follow them religiously. He'll set sail, but he'll be checking his depth gauge, sextant, compas, LORAN, and GPS so constantly that the sailing won't be any fun and he will sail right into obstacles that are plainly visible to the eye but are unmarked on his rule charts.

Moreover, having learned this profusion of "rules," he will proceed to judge other men's clothing by their conformity, or lack thereof, to them. He will see other men, elegantly attired in classic clothing that violates a purported "rule" of one AAAC member or another and dismiss the other man as a rube who doesn't know all the "rules." He begins spreading the "rules" he has learned to others... meanwhile, individuals with whom he is not acquainted read different posts and learn different "rules." Pretty soon, even on AAAC, we are operating from vastly different "rulebooks," and we are all speaking totally different sartorial languages. (It makes one wonder whether there was an internet forum at the tower of Babel.)

Here's the part where I suggest defintions for "rule," "convention," and "advice/preference/connotation."
  • RULE: A true rule is a prescription or proscription that is mandatory in nature. It is universally understood within the world of men who are educated in classic dress. The instances of well-dressed men violating a rule will be few and far between. The only men who can break rules are those whose social position and eminence allows them to "make new law" - royalty and other celebrities of unimpeachable taste. For the rest of us, breaking a rule is just going to look bad, and undeniably so. Violation of a rule may get you tossed out of a nice restaurant or club, and/or may seriously impede social and business interaction. Here are some examples of rules:
    • Shirts worn with a jacket and tie should be tucked in.
    • A man's suit jacket should have one, and only one, breast pocket.
    • A man's trousers should button or zip up the front.
    • A bowtie and a necktie may not be worn simultaneously.
    • A tuxedo is not appropriate attire for a day at the office.
    • Sandals do not go with a pinstriped suit.
    • The left sock and right sock should match.
    • When in the UK, do not wear a tie proclaiming affiliation with an organization if you do not have such an affiliation.
  • CONVENTION: A convention is a widely understood and recognized practice that is followed by the great preponderence of well-dressed men. Occassionally, a well-dressed man will violate the convention, but it will be noticeable, and represent an intentional effort to conspicuously flout conformity. Over a very long period of time, a small number of conventions can become rules, but the overall trend is for there to be fewer rules, not more, so earning promotion to "rule" status is very rare. Conversely, things that were once conventions can become mere advice over the course of time. Here are some examples of conventions:
    • DB jackets should be buttoned when standing.
    • Striped fabric (except for regatta blazer jacketing) should not be used to make odd jackets, but saved for suits or odd trousers.
    • Socks should match the color of the trousers one is wearing or coordinate with the color of something above the waist.
    • Shirts should be lighter in color than the suit and/or tie.
    • The broad end of a necktie should be in front of, and longer than, the narrow end (unless the narrow end is tucked into the shirt or trousers).
    • When worn with a sweater, ties go under the sweater, not over it.
  • ADVICE/PREFERENCE/CONNOTATION: Everything else about what one "should" or "should not" wear falls into this category (really 3 separate categories, but I don't want to further complicate things). Some of the advice is very, very good advice, but still neither rule nor convention. It is easy to find examples of well-dressed men "violating" the advice. Reasonable, well-informed men can and do disagree on the matter at issue. Arguments about the particular matter are not about which view is "correct," but which view (if any) is "better." If advice is widely enough followed and understood, it may eventually become a convention. Some examples (not all of which I agree with):
    • Neckties should end at the middle of the belt buckle (or at some other place).
    • DB jackets should be buttoned when seated (or unbuttoned).
    • Brown shoes do not go with navy suits but do go with brown (or vice-versa).
    • Spread collar shirts look good on the widest variety of men (or point collars or button-downs).
    • The stripes on a tie and the stripes on a suit should never be of the same size.
    • Wholecuts, although modern, can fill the same formality niche as captoed oxfords.
    • A grey flannel suit, blue OCBD, and right-to-left striped tie evoke a distinctly American, northeastern/patrician feel.
I think if we all were less reliant on the use of the word "rule" to support our preferences, we might think more about why we hold those preferences, and would be better able to explain and support them... or, alternatively, if another position is "better," be more willing to change our views and become even more stylish.
 

Wisco

Senior Member
682
CD,

Thank you for this thoughtful and well written post. I am one of the noobs who was until recently in the land of the confused rules, conventions and preferences. As a noob, you inherently want simple "blue line rules", but as in most things in life.... things are rarely cut and dried.

I can't yet remove the pebble from the masters hand, but I am beginning to realize what sartorial wisdom is all about. if I may, it is about synthesizing rule to develop your own conventions expressed as your preferences in dress.

Hell, my children don't make fun of a "hanky" in my breast pocket any longer.... that's gotta mean something.:icon_smile_wink:

Regards,

Wisco
 

cdcro

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
296
But my conscience will be clear! ;)
I think most of the "rules" are thinly veiled attempts to indulge in the internets favorite activity, proving ones vastly superior worth. Your initial treatise is spot on, BTW.
 

blaze79

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
216
    • Brown shoes do not go with navy suits but do go with brown (or vice-versa).
I kinda agree with most you written.

But I actually have never heard anybody say the above before.
I thought blue/navy and brown were like...I don't know white and grey
 

CuffDaddy

Connoisseur
6,790
I kinda agree with most you written.

But I actually have never heard anybody say the above before.
I thought blue/navy and brown were like...I don't know white and grey
Oh, I agree, that's not only not a rule, it's not even good advice; inclusion in my list of examples is not an endorsement of the advice. Notice that many of my "advice" examples include the reverse.

And that's the nature of the third category. Since well-informed people can and do disagree, conflicting views are inevitable - and part of what distinguishes my sense of style (however poor it may be) from yours. But as long as we're honest about those being personal preferences, as opposed to rules, we can have a conversation about it. And maybe one of us will be persuaded. Or maybe not. But because it's not a rule, we don't have to throw anyone out of the club for disagreeing.
 

Mute

Senior Member
637
United States
California
Diamond Bar
Good job! Eventually someone had to say it. Be prepared to get brow-beaten by the over opinionated.
 
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