Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891

Lettres

Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

Happy Katzenjammer!

Penned upon the 2nd of January, 2008

Welcome to the glorious year of 1908!

No, I’m kidding. We are here and this is now. That does bring me to something I’ve been pondering, though. You may have noticed I’m an enthusiastic dabbler in the art of dress. Chaps such as I tend to get called ‘dandies’ – or even ‘groovy dandies’, as the Age article which included a few fairly irrelevant quotes by me had it. Now, you might be surprised to learn that this epithet puts some people’s noses out of joint – “serious” dandies, who feel they’re applying the philosophy of dandyism to the modern condition. Why they’d want to is beyond me, as history’s only real hard-line dandy philosophers are Brummell, a two-faced hyper-masculine society snob; Baudelaire, one of the most deplorable misogynists ever to set pen to paper; and a handful of card-carrying Fascists.

In any case, a common trope among such types is that dress, to be good, must not be an outdated historical style – that such garb is the realm of the goth, the nostalgic, not the respectable gentleman. Leaving aside that some of my best friends are goths and nostalgics but none of them are respectable, this approach is simply incomprehensible. It is impossible to dress both well and within the confines of current fashion – not because the unfashionable is inherently better but simply because fashion does not recognise ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Fashion, being a market force, has no consistent attributes at all – good today is bad next year, and so on.

The following trope is that unfashionable or dated clothes are not in fact clothes at all, but ‘costume’. This, I take serious issue with. What is a costume? When does one wear a costume? When one wishes to appear to be someone else. For a party, or perhaps as a disguise. One doesn’t think a costume to be good to wear in itself – just useful, for the purpose of appearing as a nurse or a moose or whatever. That’s why costumes aren’t well-made – we don’t wear them every day, and in return, they don’t fall apart and leave us naked while crossing the street.

Historically-inspired dress, then, is certainly not a costume if one wears it because one simply likes it, as dress. In fact, I rather think that vintage clothes are better-made and more flattering than many made today. Much of what you can buy today is intended to be temporary, to provide the appearance of being fashionable, or in the case of workwear, professional. It doesn’t particularly suit most people who wear it and it’s of such poor quality as to have a limited lifespan. Compared to, say, an overcoat from 1900 which looks very nice and could survive a bomb hitting it, which is the costume?


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Commentary upon “Happy Katzenjammer!”

  1. Lady Julianne Eternity was heard to remark,

    Upon the 2nd of January, 2008 at 12:55 pm,

    An excellent point. Of course, fashion aims to sell people clothes that will give the illusion that they are stylish and up-to-date, so that they keep on buying them out of the fear of being left behind.


  2. Nathan was heard to remark,

    Upon the 2nd of January, 2008 at 1:40 pm,

    I’m not sure I’m qualified to respond to this article. All I can say is that I don’t consider what I wear to be fashion or fashionable… it’s just clothes.


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