Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

It’s Personal

If you know the contemporary scene, you could tell them apart at once, just like you could a soldier or sailor, with their separate uniforms. Take first the Misery Kid and his trad drag. Long, brushless hair, white stiff-starched collar (rather grubby), striped shirt, tie of all one colour (red today, but it could have been royal-blue or navy), short jacket but an old one (somebody’s riding tweed, most likely), very, very, tight, tight trousers with wide stripe, no sox, short boots. Now observe the Dean in the modernist’s number’s version. College-boy smooth crop hair with burned-in parting, neat white Italian rounded-collar shirt, short Roman jacket very tailored (two little vents, three buttons), no turn-up narrow trousers with 17-inch bottoms absolute maximum, pointed-toe shoes, and a white mac lying folded by his side, compared with Misery’s sausage-rolled umbrella.
— Colin MacInnes Absolute Beginners

I’ve quoted from that book before, because teenagers in the early 60’s in London were obsessed with style. The real modern jazz creation was realized from the American college boy Brooks Brothers/Miles Davis model of the same period. But he had rules (as did his female counterpart). Later those rules would stipulate that pockets, for instance, had to be cut at a strict 45º angle and the angle between the toes of one’s shoes and the cowling on one’s Vespa or Lambretta was very important.  Playing within those rules, he distinguished himself from the pack of rabid individualists. It might be the way he wore his watch, or the knot he used for his tie. It was most certainly the tailor’s touch in the cut of his suit. He was unthreatening in society, although he didn’t quite blend in, as he escaped into the clubs and tailoring shops.

In short, the Mod fit in and stood out, which is another way of saying that he had style. At least that’s the impression I get. What is your style quirk, the thing that goes largely unnoticed by the population at large and gets you the once-over by the Elegantologists in the crowd?

Now playing: “Catch Me If You Can” by Outasight (free download from iTunes this week.)

9 thoughts on “It’s Personal

  1. Style quirks I love, a man I worked with only wore deep navy suits, white shirts and did not waver. I always admired YSL for his chunky glasses and then Andy Warhol for his hair. I guess something recognizable is all we can hope for, something genuine, something a bit unique.

  2. My favorite style quirk is my pair of glasses from SEE. They are of a 60’s style and colored dark green. They’re nothing most people notice but those in the know stop me on the street.

  3. I love to see a signature style…bow tie, etc.

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  4. Come now. Brooks Brothers has no business being anywhere near the racist entertainer Miles Davis. They have absolutely nothing in common.

    In my experience growing up, the Brooks Brothers-wearing preps of my acquaintance loved classical music, Broadway musicals, and pop/rock.

    The idea that Preps and Ivy-stylists loved jazz, is a myth.

  5. My hair — snowy white (sans the dwarfs)! I never thought I would keep it, but it is so well received
    by onlookers and now I like it.

  6. LBT, other way around. The modern jazz guys adopted the Brooks Brothers/Ivy style. It was younger and fresher than the 30’s/40’s silhouettes that the traditional jazz musicians favoured. Funny to think about: what we call “trad” being a “rebellious” statement.

  7. Didn’t we answer this question once i.e. my having the word IRIE monogramed on the cuff of my dress shirts?

    Help me out here, “racist entertainer”? DId someone just call Miles Davis racist?

  8. Great art does not always have the most respectable of origins, and moreover it seems anachronistic to categorize Davis as a racist. His formative years were well before the civil rights movement. I believe his entire approach to his musicianship was strongly marked by what he thought it meant to be black in America at that particular historical moment. In any case, he was plainly one of the finest musicians of the 20th century.

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