Friday, October 18, 2013

Yanks dress for shit

OK there are exceptions

I have laughed at American fashion sense for decades. But now that I am living in the USA, as a dysfunctional, dual-national, Male Trailing Spouse, I can attest to the (relative) fact that there are a LOT of blokes in America who dress like complete and utter shithouses.   


America is a conformist society and its men have identikit style. Horrid, garish neckties chosen by wife, partner or mother,  ill fitting, off-the-rack suits, blue button down shirts, khaki "slacks" (trousers) and Kenneth Cole shoes that haven't seen brush or polish since Jesus was born and God was a young man.  


Not even 007 can pull off a brown suit (is he wearing that necktie for a dare?)


One of my bugbears is the ubiquitous brown suit. Who the Hell in their right mind wears a brown suit, and why would you wear one to a wedding? Brown suits with fascist blackshirts and gaudy psychedelic neckties are everywhere in America. I take after Daily Mail editor, Paul Dacre, who has an irrational dislike of brown suits (and brown shoes) and banned gents from wearing them in the office (hear hear Mr. Dacre!)


Gore Vidal in ghastly blazer with psychedelic necktie


The preppie look has annoyed me for years. Upwardly mobile, White posh types always dress in the recognizable uniform of loafers, grey/tan pants, polo shirts and schoolboy blazers


John Updike in polo shirt, "plaid slacks" and brown loafers.


This golf-chic meets Brooks Brothers look is known in my family as "the Yank" and has been worn by public figures as diverse as John Updike, Gore Vidal and Dick Cheney


Senator John McCain in blazer and "tan slacks"


This is probably the best look for any occasion in the USA and if you were to adopt this God awful combination you can immediately pass yourself off as one of the locals. If overseas, in a rainy city like London, add a Burberry mac and some "plaid pants" (trousers that Rupert Bear wouldn't be seen dead in), and you will be instantly recognizable as an idiot Yank abroad and potential terror target, etc


Oxfam style to pass off as a local in the USA

What if you don't want to dress up for an international terror related kidnapping or domestic street mugging?  Well, there's another option -- dressing somewhere between a 1970s skateboarder and a Generation X grunge type. This bum look is easy to achieve for any outsider to US culture -- baseball cap, crap t-shirt, neutral denims (I.E. no baggy or skinny) Vans or ConverseYou can hipster this classic ensemble with a pork pie hat, lumberjack shirt, studs in face, quirky facial hair and cliched tattoos. The end result? You look like the other kind of American shithouse (and a right proper one n'all). 


"This Mia Farrow dame had better be worth it, Frank."  Von Ryan's Express (1965)


Whatever happened to the savvy Yank who rocked up to save the world with a leather jacket and bags of cool? Obviously an invention of the Hollywood propaganda machine because I don't know any in real life.


Or do I?


Is that a brown suit? Stanley Reynolds at Punch (illustration by Michael ffolkes)


There is one Yank I know with boundless style and savvy to spare, my Dad, who else?  He is a sharp dresser who feeds the pigs in Saville Row suits and hand made shoes and wouldn't be seen dead in a blazer and "slacks".


"Me walk around in a bohunk blazer? Fuck that shit, kid."


Reynolds: Young American in Seersucker suit and button down shirt


When Dad arrived in England in 1960 he had distinct American style.  Brits had never seen button down shirts before and in his Brooks Brothers coat with the velvet collar he looked, from a distance, a bit like a Teddy Boy.  Then there was the hair.  American chaps have always been the leaders in hairstyles -- going back to Tony Curtis's medieval quiff in The Black Shield of Falworth (said to have inspired Elvis Presley). And Dad's short, Ivy League, hair-do led many a Brit to comment.   



"Youse got 'air like Perry Como!" 


Years later Dad was sent to the USA by the Guardian to cover the 1988 election. He went to get drunk (on ginger beer) in a New York bar clad in a white linen suit with pink lensed spectacles. A group of blazer clad types at the bar were on hand to note, "You look like Truman Capote."


Tom Wolfe (looking like a right old poof)


Dad told me this story and I pointed out the gaffes. You do not go to the USA in a white suit.  If you are a writer you will be immediately lampooned as a Tom Wolfe wannabe or Truman Capote clone. It is best to play it safe in a gold buttoned blazer, plain shirt, striped necktie (conservative), khaki or grey slacks with turn-ups and loafers (oxblood, brown or black).   


But I have my own sartorial mishaps. Four years ago I was propping up a bar in New York when a Jewish Princess in a sexy grey dress and black killer heels decided to hit on me.  She noticed the hand made suit, hand made shirt and solid silver cufflinks


"Why are you wearing cufflinks...are you gay?"  


"Madam, I am from England, cufflinks are not gay."


Male Trailing Spouse looking sleazy in Society


"You are dressed really sharp," she said, "are you a banker?"


"Madam, a banker?  I hate bankers. I am an enemy of the City and the City is an enemy of me! Why do you ask?"     


"Because I-am-a-banker."


The Banker Chick knew her liabilities from her assets and moved on to the next would-be Master of the Universe.

Shortly after this incident I hooked up for a bevvy with the Brooklyn Princess (a hot lady whom I have known for 30 years).  I was wearing white trousers (designer).


"What the fuck are you doing wearing white pants after Labor Day?  You look like a German tourist. I am embarrassed to be seen with you in public!"


"Labor Day?"


"What, you don't have Labor Day in England?"


"No, we have May Day like the rest of the Socialist world..."


Satisfied Reader

I will round off this post with a plug (of sorts). A new book has caught my attention I Am Dandy: Return of the Elegant Gentleman but you would do well to avoid the looks on display -- a mash up of  Tom Wolfe and almost any male character from an E.M. Forster novel. America is a highly conformist place and it is best to style yourself after one of the locals (or not).