The Canadian Press contacted me to do a piece on holiday wear for men this week, and the reporter mentioned something about pulling archive photos of people like Brad Pitt if I wanted to talk about a celebrity style. She needn’t go to the trouble of looking for visuals because I don’t encourage anyone to swipe another person’s mode of dress – to me, that’s like stealing someone’s identity. Why would we want to look like someone we’re not? We are our own people with our own style, our own speed, and we are not Brad Pitt.
This got me thinking.
Why aren’t there more Brad Pitt types in the world? Why aren’t there more men confident enough to know themselves and laugh at themselves and illustrate themselves through their dress? Are we that uninteresting? Are we collectively afraid to do our own thing?
Throughout history, humans have followed the sartorial cues of influential people in positions of power. Up until the recent past, it was royalty that set the tone of dress to court and then on down to the common people. Kings were incredibly influential this way. To illustrate just how dominant royal men have been on society, I offer the following examples:
1. Footwear during the Tudor period was soft, wide, and square. Some historians attribute the slashed, square-toed shoes of this era to Henry VIII who is said to have suffered from gout, a very painful arthritic-type of joint inflammation most often affecting the joint of the large toe.
A nice, soft, wide shoe would nicely accommodate this affliction, often brought on by alcohol – wine, beer, and mead were the wet for the Tudor whistle, and high fat and cholesterol levels in the blood. I have read that Henry may have been a binge-eater, taking much fatty red meat as a mechanism to cope with stress – his waist was 54″!
2. When Louis XIII of France went prematurely bald around 1624, the men’s wig was born. Louis’ choice of neat and wavy scalp covering swept across Europe and the fashion carried on into his son’s reign, when wigs rose in height and cascaded luxuriously over the shoulders.
The (extremely high maintenance) wig became a staple amongst courtiers and professionals, and the size of wig carried social meaning (“big wig”). Wigs even became part of military uniforms.
Wigs got longer, fuller, and astoundingly high; they changed to white and were powdered, then shortened to a simpler bob which morphed into tightly curled wigs. Wigs for men remained popular in Europe until the 1790s but were for various reasons abandoned however, British judges and barristers continue the tradition of wearing (strange-looking curled and tailed) wigs in court.
So we’ve got a fat guy with gout and a young bald man influencing the way men have dressed across the ages.
We’re well into the 21st century and royalty doesn’t really have the same pull that it once did, so what’s going on now? Who are the style leaders and who do men look to for cues? Entertainers.
Actors, musicians, and popular politicians have replaced royalty when it comes to setting trends. I ask my clients whose style they admire and often I hear James Bond, Cary Grant, George Clooney, and Brad Pitt. What is it about these guys that other men like so much?
This group wears well-fitting and quietly cool clothes; clothes that aren’t stamped with logos and labels that shout out for attention, and busy, flashy accessories. Take Brad Pitt, he’s got his own cool style with a hint of cheekiness worked in through hats, scarves, sunglasses, and haircuts, giving him an interesting and fitting look even when he’s in jeans and a t-shirt.
It seems to me that Brad Pitt knows himself well enough to feel comfortable expressing himself and his sense of humour through his accessories; I like that he punctuates his simple, low-key wardrobe with cool pieces – not every man can pull off a knitted tam worn Rasta style with a long Van Dyke beard.
I’m always encouraging men to play with their clothes and the way they put themselves together. It’s important to find the right pieces that suit the individual in the right colour and the right proportion, even the right texture; something that suits the guy’s personality, things that they feel comfortable in, not what they think Brad Pitt would wear, for they are not Brad Pitt.