06 December 2011

On wearing a uniform (that isn’t a uniform)

Fashion is primarily a visual affair. While I can only speak for myself, I find a lot of fashion writing to be akin to postmodernist twaddle: pretentious in its depiction of the superficial as profound and in its forced, obscure intellectualism, stale with its mix-n-match pastiche of trite phrases, clichés and silly neologisms (seriously, ‘murse’?). I would much rather look at pictures of interesting clothes that haven’t been mediated through fashionspeak. This is why I prefer fashion blogs like The Sartorialist that focus on the imagery of clothing and the people wearing it, unlike other more chatty blogs that run often inane commentary alongside the pictures.

But on rare occasions, I come across fashion writing that doesn’t try to pass itself off as deconstructionist prose. Where the writing is honest, intelligible and even humble, if that word could be applied to something as narcissistic as fashion. The autumn/winter 2011 issue of menswear magazine Dapper Dan has such writing, in an article by Angelo Flaccavento (‘Long Live the Immaterial’). Flaccavento is a proponent of ‘uniform dressing’, though he doesn’t mean it in the institutional sense (military, corporate, sports etc). I’ll let the man himself explain.

[W]hat people do with their own wardrobes and lives is none of my business. Prescriptions are proscriptive and I am no teacher. Still, I’d like to humbly suggest another way: uniform dressing. I am not talking about military gear, brass buttons and epaulettes, though I am wildly fascinated by them. I am referring to a formulaic approach to dressing up: choosing what’s best for you and sticking with it. Abandoning the perils of the fashionable for the cozy retreat of the familiar and tasteful. Playing it safe, some might say. But it takes time, care and attention to create a uniform that is not a uniform. Along the way, you will discover the liberating joy of having no options. All of this can be done without forsaking the deep pleasures of dress-up.

Flaccavento is my kind of sartorial ideologue. His ‘uniform that is not a uniform’ describes my dress sense. I almost always wear the following: a classic hat, whether a felt fedora, wool fisherman’s cap or straw sunhat; leather lace-up boots or plain canvas slip-ons; a tailored two-button jacket; ankle-length pants with little to no break; button-up shirts, plain or vertically striped (and always tucked in). It has taken me about 4 years of experimentation to finally settle on this selection of garments that constitute my Flaccaventonian uniform.

Here are some of the key influences on my style (click on the images to enlarge them):

Lewis Hine’s early 20th century photos of European migrants, working class men and child labourers.

Winslow Homer’s 19th century paintings of rural Americans.

The period costumes in films like Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard and Claude Berri’s Jean de Florette.

The picture below is from Manon des Sources, the sequel to Jean de Florette. The woman’s clothes display the colours and textures that I’m fond of.

This is Flaccavento’s dressing manifesto. I would happily sign up to it.

1. Be light. Don’t turn your opinion of fashion into a declaration of war. Maintaining a uniform is your choice, not a dogma.

2. Know that you are in good company. Coco Chanel, Diana Vreeland, Gio Ponti and Beau Brummell all excelled in the practice. But don’t use it as an excuse to look down on others. Refrain from judging.

3. Look at yourself in the mirror, thoroughly and severely. Consider your pros and cons, and decide what to highlight. It can be everything. Sometimes cons are more charming than pros; a prominent belly can be more sensational than a six-pack. Trust your instincts, and the uniform will begin to feel natural.

4. Trust in Dieter Rams: “Less, but better.” Edit down to the bare essentials, plus, perhaps, a tiny bit more. You should be able to get ready in a flash with a thoughtful, quick edit. Likewise, never plan an outfit in advance; the result will be rigid. A little mistake here and there feels lively.

5. Be modular: you will augment your sartorial possibilities in a logical, efficient way. If you can mix and match, your wardrobe will expand virtually without taking up vital space.

6. Choose your uniform according to the idea of yourself you have in mind. Let the immaterial shape your material expression of your persona, without restrictions or boundaries. Stripes and mismatched patterns can be to you what solid black or clerk-like grey is to others. That’s how the game works.

7. Ignore what people say. Wear a suit to the grocery store, if you wish. Clothes should be an expression of your inner self, but they should also display courtesy. Dressing appropriately is a gesture of kindness, for oneself and for others.

8. Look at what’s happening in fashion. Be critical, but look. Then adopt and adapt, or you’ll turn into a grumpy old statue covered in dust.

9. Evolve, avoiding dogmatism and orthodoxy. You’re not the same person from day to day. Your uniform should change accordingly.

10. Defy expectations. Don’t let the uniform take over, and don’t allow yourself to be identified by your uniform. Break it up once in a while. Be a prankster. Remember: situationism rules.

11. Hey, they’re just clothes: you’ll get tired of them sooner than you think.


No comments:

Post a Comment