Trad is about being a child.

Discussion in 'Andy's Trad Forum' started by A Questionable Gentleman, Feb 1, 2008.

  1. A Questionable Gentleman

    A Questionable Gentleman Super Member

    United States
    Pennsylvania
    Sunbury
    Warning. This is long and you may regard it as a load of dingo’s kidneys.

    Mpcsb’s post on the trad gentleman got me thinking quite a bit about what this trad business is all about. I asserted, and still maintain, that a great deal of trad clothing is entirely unelegant and much of it is, by most people’s lights, odd and inappropriate. The notion struck me that dressing in Trad clothing is really like dressing like a child. It’s about being in play clothes all of the time, even when suited at work. As with a child, leisure and comfort are the paramount concerns. I’d be willing to bet that if you let loose an 8 year old in a closet full of clothes and told him to play at dressing like a grown-up, you’d likely get a very trad effect.

    I should probably point out that I don’t consider myself to be a trad. Nonetheless, I have and routinely wear all of the stuff. My casual wardrobe would not meet with much criticism on this board. My business wardrobe is distinctly not trad. I don’t like the child-like casualness of trad in that environment except on very casual days. I’d also like to point out that I’m attempting to make descriptive rather than normative observations. With those disclosures and disclaimers in place, I’d better try to support my assertion.

    Trad clothes, even at their dressiest, downplay male secondary sexual characteristics. By this, I mean that they radically de-emphasize the physical model of masculinity characterized by broad shoulders and chest with a narrow waist. Let’s compare a Huntsman style jacket to a sack suit. The Hunstman will have constructed shoulders, harder construction and a very narrow waist. It is designed to convey the message that the wearer is most certainly a grown, athletic man. The sack, in contrast, moves to eliminate any suggestion of shoulder. While the waist on a sack jacket can be nipped in, it often is not and it omits the darts which give the impression of shape. The overall effect is not the triangular, masculine Huntsman, but rather a shape straight from shoulder through hip that is more child-like and less masculine. It is the shape of a boy in the nursery.

    Let’s look at the furnishings that are paired with the sack suit. First, the OCBD. In just about no other place in the world than the US is this considered a shirt appropriate for the suited workplace. This is no particular surprise. At its best, it is made of relatively coarse cloth with fairly heavy stitching and wholly gratuitous buttons on its collar that are designed to keep it flapping about on horseback. None of these qualities is particularly desirable or important in the office. They do, however, suggest that the wearer is at play rather than doing stuffy drudge-work in a stuffy office. The impression of being a child dressed up for grown-up play is reinforced by the popular choices of trad neckwear. All of the Vineyard Vines cartoonery aside, trads generally like their ties in relative cheerful crayon colors. Note the extreme fondness for regimental ties in general and the Argyl and Sutherland in particular. The effect is compounded when a bow tie is worn as it is distinctly less blatantly masculine and more child-like, more fun-loving as though it’s wearer is enjoying a joke.

    The nursery aspect of trad footwear is immediately obvious. Our theoretical child playing dress up would certainly opt for loafers over lace-ups. So does the trad in defiance of the conventions of the rest of the suit-wearing world. Even his preferred lace-ups, the gunboat longwing brogue, are generally thought too inelegant for business dress elsewhere. Both are wonderful shoes with their place in any wardrobe, but with business dress, they may suggest that commercial activity is play rather than serious business. It is to be done when one pleases but it’s a diversion among many diversions rather than a matter of truly keeping body and soul together.

    If we depart from business dress and look at casual clothes, well, the trad dresses in just about the same way from the cradle to the grave. Chinos, his OCBD and a sweater will see him through life. If he outgrows any item, Brooks will sell him an identical one in the next size up. There’s an almost Garanimal-like quality to it. The trad has the comfort of going through life knowing that his stuff always matches.

    Unless, of course, he doesn’t want it to and that brings us to the whole panoply of items that to one degree or another shout, “Go to Hell!” We run into things relatively innocuous such as argyle socks and seersucker suits. Many, if not most men would not wear them, though they probably wouldn’t condemn them either. Then we hit all of those pants. What is it about a trad and his trousers? How on earth did they become a venue for extravagant display? Nonetheless, they get hauled out in bright red, patch madras, patch tartan, four panels, embroidered flora and fauna of every description and, just occasionally, some or all of the foregoing list combined simultaneously! Surely not even the most devout trad could claim that any of it is tasteful. However, it is all fun. Very fun, indeed. There is a most child-like innocence in wearing this stuff as an adult.

    Which brings me to my wrap-up. How did these clothes come to be? Perhaps they are the necessary adjuncts to a semi-leisured class who had to go into New York to make ends meet but wanted to be at play. The notion of playfulness was probably central to them. Where does that leave us now with trad? It ought to embrace its child-like playfulness. At its very best, it is playful and a bit naïve. There is a tendency here and in the Forum That Is Not To Be Named to take it seriously, to obsess over the details and their deep meaning. That’s a shame as trad is not a serious style. It is not a correct or elegant style. It is not the style of great and proper gentlemen. It is simply fun.
     
  2. Patrick06790

    Patrick06790 Connoisseur

    United States
    Connecticut
    Lakeville
    OK by me

    Interesting stuff. I'd argue with the idea that Trad isn't elegant - it can be, I think - but then again I rarely wear buttondowns with suits, sack or otherwise.

    Any train of thought that leads away from the more ponderous sentiments that sometimes afflict this board is welcome. I would point out that we can't even agree on what Trad is most of the time, which makes it hard for me to be a True Believer.

    And it is fun. I'm a hobbyist who happens to wear his enthusiasms.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2008
  3. Markus

    Markus Senior Member

    689
    I follow you. Nice, thoughtful post. Wish we had more of 'em like that.
     
  4. randomdude

    randomdude Senior Member

    668
    United States
    New Jersey
    Plainsboro
    Wow, do I radically disagree with you AQG. But to pick one particular thing:

    Trad clothes, even at their dressiest, downplay male secondary sexual characteristics. By this, I mean that they radically de-emphasize the physical model of masculinity characterized by broad shoulders and chest with a narrow waist. Let’s compare a Huntsman style jacket to a sack suit. The Hunstman will have constructed shoulders, harder construction and a very narrow waist. It is designed to convey the message that the wearer is most certainly a grown, athletic man. The sack, in contrast, moves to eliminate any suggestion of shoulder. While the waist on a sack jacket can be nipped in, it often is not and it omits the darts which give the impression of shape. The overall effect is not the triangular, masculine Huntsman, but rather a shape straight from shoulder through hip that is more child-like and less masculine. It is the shape of a boy in the nursery.

    If the "model of masculinity characterized by broad shoulders and chest with a narrow waist" is what you're going for, and it's why you wear darted and shaped jackets, then I just think you are trying waaaayyy too hard. I mean seriously, wear a dressy tank top to work and show us all how hard you've been hitting the weights! Especially for a man, I find it extremely distasteful - it's the male equivalent of low-rise jeans. Men shouldn't dress like that.

    The thing I like about trad/preppy style (and this is discussed some in the OPH) is that it looks good and it's not overly sexual. I've never liked girls who are too sexual. Give me a khaki skirt and pearls every time. But I like trad because it's about elegance and being different from the Axe-body-sprayed, slick-haired, spray-tanned masses. Although this image could just be from me living in Jersey :icon_smile_wink:
     
  5. Harris

    Harris Advanced Member

    Interesting theory. A lot of truth in what you write.

    Context is everyting, so the eye of the beholder is everything.

    For some, repp striped ties, button downed oxfords, suits without shape, plain front khakis, penny loafers, and brushed shetland crewneck sweaters speak to a certain seriousness of mind and spirit--a staid, stodgy, humorless conservatism that constantly points backwards. ("...standing athwart history, yelling 'Stop!'...") This, then, is why certain (admittedly clumsy) takes on "Fogey" have been applied to the look. How many times have I been accused of "dressing like an old man" by more than a few of my friends and colleagues. Too many to count. It is undoubtedly true that when you compare/contrast the style with what most students (and faculty, for that matter) at a school like, say, Princeton, are wearing--well, it comes across as old fashioned and maybe even stuffy.

    In the eyes of other beholders, the look is hip, youthful, playful, and fun. J. Crew, Band of Outsiders, and others have recognized this element, and have profited from it. I think that more than anyone else, Brownshoe is this approach's most gifted exegete. No doubt that even at its most serious and stodgy, it's collegiate--as in late 1950s collegiate--in spirit.

    These two schools of thought have more in common than one might think. For both, the look (whatever one wishes to call it) is an island amidst a vast ocean. We like and choose it because it's unique. Which is strange, since, once upon a time, it was worn by most men.
     
  6. bd79cc

    bd79cc Super Member

    United States
    TX
    San Antonio
    1) According to your analysis, I'm wearing the perfect clothes for me.

    2) The great and proper gentlemen were left behind in the Old Country all those years ago. We're a country of players!

    3) Take comfort in the fact that probably everyone here at the Trad Forum already had at least an implicit understanding of your observations. The hard part, as you've found out, was making those observations intelligible.

    Thanks for the post. It was well worth reading and pondering.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2008
  7. bd79cc

    bd79cc Super Member

    United States
    TX
    San Antonio
    My favorite line in this post. Only the tags are missing!
     
  8. paper clip

    paper clip Advanced Member

    United States
    Massachusetts
    Boston
    Great post. Well thought out and written. Thanks for sharing. It is odd how it can be conservative and thought stodgy and appear child-like at the same time.
     
  9. Tom Buchanan

    Tom Buchanan Super Member

    United States
    Maryland
    The City
    Interesting stuff. I need to read it closer when I have more time.

    One thing pops to mind on your theory of masculine shape though. The nipped waist was not always seen as masculine. A narrow waist used to be considered quite feminine. Through history, strong men were supposed to be more block shape. Personally, I like a narrow waist on my sack jackets.

    Also, I think Ivy League clothes used to be marketed as very "football hero" masculine. I like trad clothing because it is unfussy (yes, I understand the irony of posting that on a clothing board).

    Good post.
     
  10. Lawson

    Lawson Active Member with Corp. Privileges

    249
    United States
    North Carolina
    Raleigh
    Exactly, I stick with the standard dress codes. On more formal occasions, my shirts have point collars and a finer gauge of cotton. Trad is the pinnacle of casual clothing in my book, but I look elsewhere for dressier events.

    Perhaps sack suits desexualize the wearer, but polo shirts seem to accentuate the male physique.

    Tommyrot! Trad is elegantly casual. The style is about looking good within the confines of casual dress. Chinos, cords, gray flannels, moleskins, sportcoats, polos, OCBDs, repp ties, loafers, bucks, and boat shoes all look more refined than sweats, jerseys, T-shirts, jeans, and technical sneakers. Fun colors, stripes, and patterns are added to show personality without looking like a public high school student. The fun colors, I should add, need to match your season. If worn properly, casual clothes can be tasteful and fun.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2008

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