Friday, May 25, 2012

Generation Degeneration

Chapter 68
This week, we're looking at influence. Specifically, what the young-and-impressionable set do when they see adults acting and dressing a certain way: they copy them as best they can.

Children learn through imitation. 'Tis always been so. If they were fortunate, they learned from their parents first, then from tutors, then professors, then professionals. If they were less fortunate, they learned from orphanage directors, then from Dickensian factory masters. All right, there were also shades of demarcation between those two extremes...but the point is, for most of human history, kids were the passive observers. The adults were going about their adult-y business, and the kids absorbed the proper way to go about things in an adult mode.

Then, media happened,
and very wealthy men who should know better discovered that children were commodities that could be pandered to directly. Instead of children looking up to adults, the adults stooped to the level of children. And they kept stooping, lower and lower, each generation.

So, let's peek at the adult side of the equation, through the most childish of the "serious" awards events. (We're discounting venues like MTV and the Kids' Choice Awards, as these are deliberately aimed at a child's maturity level; there is thus nothing to be learnt from them.) No, we shall look at the Billboard Music Awards. Specifically, the Magnum- Jergens- Bioré- Sunkist- ABC- John Frieda- Chevrolet- Sundrop- Sony- MGM Grand- Billboard Music Awards. Unlike most of the Hollywoody events that reward talent, ability, originality, or excellence, the BMA gives out trophies to who sold the most crap. That's all -- trophies to whomever had the broadest, most general appeal to the largest number of average meatbots with access to iTunes.

Their music, and its effect on young ears and young minds, is another issue entirely. Fortunately, this is Dress Like A Grownup! and the focus here is on the threads, not the sounds, that these cats are throwing down out there.

Because of events like the Billboard awards, we have a unique opportunity to see who the children of today are looking to for their stylistic adjuvants. This is not a formal awards show; there is nary a tuxedo to be seen. This is an event for the uber hip and mega trendy. And while there are some truly mind-numbing aberrations, there is also some hope for the future.

Because this is Dress Like A Grownup!, we're not going to focus on the girls here, as most are doing at Miley Cyrus' typical post-Disnoid idiocy; but look instead at some of the going trends among the men present. As always, where necessary, I shall adjust the contrast of the images to highlight the details.

We'll start off with the worst of the bunch. Not surprisingly, a child tops the list. Multimillionaire Justin Bieber is dressed --albeit poorly-- for the first day of a lower-middle class urban high school. His handler probably dressed him thusly. Note the chunky trainers and long sleeves pulled to the elbow. Notice, too, a textbook example of the striking disproportion of modern fashion: his torso appears quite literally twice as long as his stumpy little legs.

A bit older that the Beeb, but notice Chris Brown's trainers, elbowed sleeves, and tee shirt. It's a more mature suit, but the kiddy fashion trend remains. Worn properly, the suit might even (barely) pass for a tux, but this is the extent that dressing-down takes. And it looks, I'm sorry to say, patently ridiculous.

Josiah Bell, more of the same: Miami Vice up top, Rosie the Riveter down below. The frustrating thing is, worn properly, this wouldn't be a bad outfit at all. Sleeves down, real shoes, and a day cravat under the tee, and he'd be quite stylish.

Robin Thicke, now we know you're just glomming on -- you look far too ill at ease to believe you actually look good. In fact, you look disturbingly like your dad thirty years ago.

As bad as the above examples are, it looks outright elegant compared to this. I don't know what, if anything, Kuba Ka was thinking here.

Wiz Khalifa proves that a (potentially) nice waistcoat does not always save the ensemble from absolutely everything else.

Michael Lockwood models the latest in burlesque clown-suittery. Just, what? Ever see a five-year-old girl go through her grandparents' closet? This is actually worse than that.

Now that we've hit rock bottom, we'll draw some attention to some guys that understood what was going on. Not brilliant execution in some cases, but at least some effort was given.

Gavin Degraw, at least, is trying. A nice suit with a belt, even an acceptable tie --remember this is not a formal event-- but the red hat and black shirt just end up looking goofy. Notice the trendy trousers that are so extremely narrow that they are forced to gather in folds above the shoes, unable to break properly over them.

John Legend, oh! so close! The jogging pants and sneaks are just stupid, and unutterably out of place with the jacket. Sleeve length notwithstanding, I kinda dig the black band collar shirt with the futuristic grey fly-front minijacket. Because, like, buttonholes are so passé.

Luke Bryan's summery casual ensemble almost works. White jackets are quite acceptable in this venue. Even the bit loafers can't atone for the open shirt, unfortunately. Even without a tie, a simple day cravat would have nailed the look.

Linkin Park did a fairly good job channeling the Carter era with their denim leisure-suity ensembles. This is a good example of striking the proper balance for this casual event. Any less than this would have looked too casual because of the nature of the material involved; any addition to it would end up looking affected.

Miguel shows the hazards of mismatching. All the parts are there, but they aren't coalescing into a unified whole. The matching trousers would have worked much better -- even with the untucked shirt. And I don't say that often.

Compare with Eric Benet. This is actually a really nice suit in all regards, and an expert study in color and pattern matching. If I were to nitpick, it's that the double breasted waistcoat, with the low crossover, is better suited to a bow tie. Perhaps overall the suit is a little too bright for this function: it would be better "suited" to an outdoor event, or a resort.

Co-host of the event Ty Burrell got it right, a good casual mix that hits the right buttons. All wrong for formal wear, of course, but for this, not bad at all. The batwing tie is especially nice, and a great reminder that bow ties do not always equal formality.

The Wanted tried to pull off a unified mid-century retro vibe within the current minisuit fashion, but it turned out looking a little over-staged. You can see their handler in your mind's eye, a la The Wonders: "You're the front man; you wear the vest. You, no tie; you're the bad boy. You, just loosen your tie, 'cuz you don't care. You, you're the goofy one; you wear the bow tie, and everyone wear a square" Still, high marks for the attempt at a choreographed put-together classic look.

Especially compared with, say, Patent Pending. Ush. At least they are wearing ties, and that puts them all head and shoulders above the Beeb.

We'll end this installment on the best of the evening: 
Jason Derulo has it down cold, and wins my award for best dressed at an event where no one is really dressed at all. This is a perfect outfit for a casual awards event. It's not formal wear, although it is quite dressy and elegant: it shows just the right amount of interest and fun without calling undue attention to itself. Proper shoes, trousers that fit, and a diamond patterned tone-on-tone shawl collar smoking jacket, over a white band-collar shirt, buttoned up with no tie. The fit is impeccable -- this is how it is done. Children, pay attention.

There were many good examples of smart dress in attendance for children to emulate...but for each tastefully casual example, there were legions of musical yahoos who were so busy trying to out-unique each other, they ended up looking identical in their awfulness. These guys are in a unique position: they are not only stars, they are ad hoc fashion icons for the millions of young'uns that listen to their music and follow their concerts. Too few -- far too few -- take that responsibility seriously.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Hemming and Hawing

(Part 14 of the series "The Island of Misfit Clothes.")
Chapter 67
This week, we return to The Island to put the finishing touches on our project jacket. To refresh your memories, we left off with all the hard work completed: trimmed down from a boxy size 46 to a trim and much more fitted size 39. Our side seams were re-worked, our shoulders re-cut and narrowed, and the sleeves re-set. From the outside, it looks like a whole new animal -- but the lining is still unattached inside, so this week we'll turn our attention there.

The first thing to do is tidy up the bottom hem. Lay out the jacket on a board, spread out flat like this. Tuck the lining up out of the way to give you room to work.

Using the outside edges as fixed points, turn under the hem to make a straight line. You may have to press some old creases out before you press the new crease in. Then stitch the turn-up in place. Since the inside won't be seen, and the hem doesn't bear any load or strain, you can use a long running pick-stitch along the inside that just catches one or two threads on the outer side. Another option is a hidden pick-stitch, that runs inside the crease and picks up a thread on both sides. There are other more specialized stitches that will also help keep the raw edge from fraying, but we won't bother with those for now.

The lining must be loose on the inside of the jacket. If it's too tight, it runs the risk of gathering the outside fabric into puckers or pulls. And if it's not attached straight down, it can make the jacket look as if it's twisting aroung you! So turn the jacket completely inside-out, and put it on your form. Smooth the lining down across the back.

Turn the lining under and pin it at the bottom edge, making sure that it is a little loose, but not hanging too far down.

Then smooth the lining across the shoulders, and pin it in place just shy of the armscye. This will make locating the lining around the shoulder a bit easier later on.

Lay the jacket on the board again, spread out as before, and run a very loose running stitch to hold it in place. Stitch the lining just underneath the fold to ensure it stays loose, and press over the stitches. There are, again, special tailor's stitches just for this area: a looping zigzag that loosely holds the lining in place but doesn't restrict its motion. It's worthwhile to learn how to do it, but it's not strictly necessary here: if you are careful to keep the lining free, a hidden pick stitch will work just fine if you don't snug the stitches at all.

You will notice that the lining is wider than the shell by several inches. Not surprising, considering how much we took out of its circumference! You needn't worry about taking any lining out: we'll just insert some pleats where needed. Before you stitch, divide the extra length along the hem into two equal parts, and put the pleats directly underneath the armholes. (Oops...Editing error! That green circle is under the existing pleat. The new one is just to the right.)

With the hem stitched and the pleats in place, press the new pleats into the lining.

Now turn your attention to the shoulders. We'll stitch the body lining around the armscye first, and then stitch the sleeve lining on top of that to get back to the original look. Starting from the front, use a hand inside the jacket to smooth the lining from the lapel to the armscye seam, and a hand outside to pin right through to the lining. It'll take every bit of your quilting pin to get through all the padding at the top of the shoulder, but it can be done.

This is what it looks like from the inside. Notice the large amount of extra lining that ends up inside the armscye.

Continue working your way around the armscye. Make use of the pins you placed in the shoulder earlier to smooth the fabric to the back of the scye. Form the pleat under the arm, that is a continuation of the pleat you made in the hem. 

You will need another pleat just behind the top of the shoulder, running to the collar seam. Pin these pleats in place. 

Make a running pick-stitch all around the armscye. From the outside, dip the needle in right at the seam, and keep the stitches fairly short, considering the depth of the padding. You aren't just holding the lining in place now, but all the padding as well. There's no need to trim the excess lining from the sleevehead, as it will sit happily where it is, and be covered by the sleeve lining.

Now it's time to add that sleeve lining. Holding the jacket vertically by the collar, reach into the sleeve from the inside and pull the lining through. Make sure it is straight and not twisted, and the top of the lining aligns with the top of the armscye. Attaching it is a simple matter of a running stitch around, right over top of the stitches you've just done, sewing lining to lining.

With all the seams completed, try the jacket on and take a good look at the overall fit. Even with careful measurement, mistakes can happen. If the lining ends up pulling a bit of the shell fabric around, re-sew that bit a little looser. We're almost done with this one! All that remain are sleeve length and button stance, and we'll tackle those issues on our next visit to The Island. Stay tuned!

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Friday, May 11, 2012

The Kentucky Derby: or Why The British Hate Us

(Part Twelve of the series "Dressing the Average Guy.")
Chapter 66
This past week, if you were paying attention, was the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby in America. There were horses, there was gambling, there was a two-week-long party resulting in various stages of inebriation. But most importantly for us, there was a cautionary tale writ large within which we can take an important lesson about dressing, not merely well, but Like a Grownup.  

The Kentucky Derby is frequently compared to the UK's Royal Ascot, but to prove our sartorial point this week, we need to run a brief comparison betwixt the two venues first. 

The Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands is held on the first Saturday in May. It is the first leg of the US Triple Crown: followed by the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. The attendance at the Derby in Churchill Downs, not surprisingly, surpasses the attendance of all other American stakes races. (Yum!, who sponsored the race this year, operates Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, and WingStreet. Based in Louisville, Kentucky, it is the world's largest fast food restaurant company.) 

Ascot is the foremost track in the United Kingdom. It's six miles from Windsor Castle, so it has close ties with the Royals. Up until 1945, the only event there was the four-day Royal Meeting in June; but today hosts 26 days of flat and jump racing through the year. Royal Ascot is still the big one, though, going all the way back to 1711. 

So both events are big deals in their respective countries.

Churchill Downs has many different price levels of seating, from the dizzyingly expensive Millionaires Row with all the amenities included, gradating down through Skye Terrace, the Turf Club, and the Clubhouses, to the Grandstand seats, to general-admission in the infield. The only dress code is "business casual," a catch-all which really only specifies a blazer and collared shirt, and only applies for reserved seating. 

The infield area has no dress code at all, with predictable results. We shall ignore them.

Ascot, on the other hand, has three degrees of seating for the Royal Meeting weekend: the high-security Royal Enclosure, the Grandstand, and the Silver Ring; and each has a pretty comprehensive dress code. Most people are familiar with the Royal Enclosure's requirement for black or grey morning dress. Top hats are required but may not be "customized." The Grandstand requires a suit and tie, and the only requirement for the informal Silver Ring is to wear "smart clothes," and bare chests are prohibited. Also, the Royal Weekend stipulates that "fancy dress, [what Americans call costume,] novelty and branded / promotional clothing are not allowed on site."

So both events have dress codes, are considered a dressy event for those at the top-tier tax bracket, but the requirements get lax for the proles in the cheap seats.

And, believe it or not, both events are costume parties for the spectators. Despite protestations to the contrary, Ascot attire is costume. The difference is, Ascot can get away with it, while the Derby cannot.


In brief, it's the working-out of the Great Secrets of Dressing Well.
If you remember back to the very first posts of this blog, the Dressing The Average Guy series posited two Great Secrets: The First, The purpose of clothing -- the very reason for raiment itself -- is to make you look better than you really do. The Second, Left to himself, a man will always dress back to the era when he was happiest -- or imagined himself happiest. 

The Third Great Secret is not for the novice or the faint of heart. We have seen it spelled out again and again in practice over the past year. I alluded to it in Chapter 18, but only now that the Average Guys of a year ago have graduated to grander things, do I dare set it down: A man cannot break the rules successfully, unless he knows exactly what those rules are.

In an unusual turn for us, we'll look to the gals for the most obvious example of this.

At Ascot, the women's ridiculously lavish hats blur the line between fashion and costume. Certainly, they're not suitable to wear anywhere else. It's become a sort of Royal Ascot trademark, and it is unique for that event.

At the Kentucky Derby, where there is no specific dress code, it is telling that the women's fashions include the same sort of absurd headwear, a la Ascot. That is the unbreakable link that has been forged between the two events -- the dress at the Derby apes that of Royal Ascot. Although not spelled out, the message is clear: we are pretending we are dressing up. Women are used to wearing absurd costume exactly once, pretending it is totally normal, and we are used to seeing it. Men are another matter entirely.

Morning dress, insasmuch as it is unlikely to be worn anywhere else the entire year, is also a form of costume, albeit one whose form and function have been set down in stone for decades. Even in the Grandstand and Silver Circle, many men opt for morning dress at Ascot, even though it's not required. Notice that the suits, morning wear, or what-have-you, don't overpower the gentlemen wearing them. Although odd to see swallowtail coats and top hats in use, it doesn't smack of the absurd. 

This doesn't assume the men are any more well-behaved than Americans, however -- brawls among the suited are increasingly common, although the top-hatted folk have largely managed to keep themselves in check.

Compare this to the average man's attire at the Derby. 

It cannot be more obvious that these outfits will be worn exactly once: for the men wearing them are painfully self-conscious and self-aware of their ridiculousness. 

They are children dressing up in what they think is a grand Southern style, tittering to themselves and grinning like fools. 

They are, in short, at a costume party.

This in itself isn't a bad thing; there's nothing wrong with indulging in a bit of hilarity. The ensembles themselves, at times, aren't horribly garish.

They can be bright, cheery, and a good deal of fun. Here's the rub, though: It is apparent from the images who is used to dressing well and is bending the rules to give a light and breezy appearance, and who has never worn a tie and jacket before.

Some of these man-boys don't have a clue what they are doing. 

It is possible to Dress Like A Grownup, and still have a good time with a festive suit. As with everything, it distills down to the ability to strike a simple balance. 

The difference between fashion and costume is simply this: the ability of the man to wear his clothes, without his clothes wearing him. If people see your suit first, and say 'what a festive suit,' you are in costume. If people see you first, and say 'what a festive suit,' you are in fashion.

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Note that many of the photos of average Derby racegoers are from As is usual when I show non-celebrity images, I recognize that some may not want their faces shown outside of the original venue. This blog's all in good fun, but if you see yourself here and want your face redacted, just drop me a comment, and I'll remove it!