There’s Preppy – Then There’s Ridiculous

Preppies like to have their belts and pants embroidered with various motifs. There are spouting whales and signal flags, lobsters and tennis racquets, ducks and sailboats. These are the classics.  But have you ever imagined whales, for example, embroidered on a seersucker jacket?  Well, J. Crew has, and I can tell you the result is neither preppy nor aesthetically pleasing, but something verging on the ridiculous and clownish.  I came across these images on an eBay site.  So I am not sure if J. Crew is offering anything like this for the summer of 2012.

Worn correctly, seersucker is an elegant statement – showing good taste and an understanding of seasonal traditions.  It shows a practical side as well.  Seersucker keeps you cool in the summer.  But this?    This is just fundamentally wrong!  A seersucker jacket does not need gee gaws adorning it.  Unfortunately, this is what happens when preppy goes mainstream, and a retailer like J. Crew fails to grasp the correct way to apply a much loved motif.

Overall, this is a colossal design failure.  Although the jacket is a 3-button model with half lining and patch pockets, a very good start, there is no 3/2 roll to the lapels.  J. Crew committed a further mistake by making the material darted in the front, rounding out the fiasco with the blue embroidered whales.

Now, what would a great seersucker jacket done correctly look like?  Let’s try an example from J. Press – clean, simple and timeless.

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Upper Class Twit of the Year

Monty Python’s Upper Class Twit of the Year Show suggests that the landed gentry – at least in England – have their share of problems, too.  Inbreeding can do awful things to the gene pool, as demonstrated by  contestants  Vivian Smith Smythe Smith, Simon Zinc Trumpet Harris, Nigel Incubator Jones, Gervais Brooke Hamster and Oliver St. John Mollusk.

Paul Fussell – Ties and Social Class

In his book Class:  A Guide Through The American Status System, cultural critic Paul Fussell presents a concise analysis of ties and their class significance in America.  I am posting the text of that passage in its entirety along with representative images of each type of tie he discusses.    

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The principle that clothing moves lower in status the more legible it becomes applies to neckties with a vengeance.  The ties worn by the top classes eschew the more obvious forms of verbal and even too crudely symbolic statement, relying on stripes, amoeba-like foulard blobs, or even small dots to make the point that the wearer possesses too much class to care to specify right out in front what it’s based on.  (This illustrates the privacy principle, or the principle of mind-your-own -little-disgusting-middle-class-business, a customary element of the aristocratic stance.)

Small white dots against a dark background, perhaps the most conservative tie possible, are favored by the uppers and upper-middles and,  defensively, by those nervous about being thought low, coarse, drunken or cynical, like journalists and TV news readers and sportscasters, and by those whose fiduciary honor must be thought beyond question, like the trust officers working for the better metropolitan banks.

Moving down [in class ] from stripes, blobs, or dots, we come to necktie patterns with a more overt and precise semiotic function.  Some, designed to announce that the upper-middle-class wearer is a sport, will display diagonal patters of little flying pheasants, or small yachts, signal flags and sextants.  (“I hunt and own a yacht.  Me rich and sporty!”)

Just below these are the “milieu” patterns, designed to celebrate the profession of the wearer and to congratulate him on having so fine a profession.  These are worn by insecure members of the upper-middle class (like surgeons) or by members of the middle class aspiring to upper-middle class status (like accountants).  Thus a tie covered with tiny caduceuses proclaims “Hot damn!  I am a physician!”  (Significantly, there is no milieu tie pattern for dentists).  Little scales signify “I am a lawyer.”  Musical notes:  “I have something to do with music.”   Dollar signs or money bags:  a stockbroker, banker, perhaps a wildly successful plastic surgeon, or a lottery winner.

I’ve even seen one tie with a pattern of little jeeps, whose meaning I’ve found baffling, for surely if you were a driver in any of our wars you’d not be likely to announce it.  Other self-congratulatory patterns like little whales or dolphins or seals suggest that you love nature and spend a lot of time protecting it and are thus a fine person.

Any of these milieu ties can be alternated with the “silk rep” model striped with the presumed colors of British (never, never German, French, Italian, Potuguese or White Russian) regiments, clubs or universities.

As we move further down the class hierarchy, actual words begin to appear on ties, and these are meant to be commented on by viewers.  One such artifact is the Grandfather’s Tie in dark blue with grandchildren’s names hand-painted on it, diagonally, in white.  Imagine the conversations that ensue when you wear it!  Another reads “I’d rather be sailing,” “skiing,” etc., and these can also be effective underminers of privacy – “conversation starters,” and thus useful adjuncts to comfy middle-class status, in the tradition of expecting neighbors to drop in without warning.

Some ties down in this stratum affect great cleverness, reading “Thank God It’s Friday” or “Oh Hell, It’s Monday”; and a way to get a chuckle out of your audience  and at the same time raise your class a bit is to have these sentiments abbreviated  on your tie with yachting signal flags.  At the bottom of the middle class, just before it turns to high prole, we encounter ties depicting large flowers in brilliant colors, or simply bright “artistic” splotches.  The message is frequently “I’m a merry dog.”  These wearers are the ones [John T.] Molloy is addressing when, discussing neckties, he warns “Avoid purple under all circumstances.”

Further down still, where questions of yacht ownership or merry doghood are too preposterous to be claimed even on a necktie we come upon the high- or mid-prole “bola” tie, a woven or leather thong with a slide (often of turquoise or silver), affected largely by retired persons residing in Sun Belt places like New Mexico.

Like any other sort of tie, this one makes a statement, saying, “Despite appearances, I’m really as good as you are, and my necktie, though perhaps unconventional, is really better than your traditional tie because it suggests the primitive and therefore unpretentious, pure and virtuous.”  Says the bola, “The person wearing me is a child of nature, even though actually eighty years old.”  Like many things bought by proles, these bola ties can be very expensive, especially when the slide is made of precious metal or displays “artwork.”

The point again is that the money, although important, is not always the most important criterion of class.  Below the bola wearers, at the very bottom, stand low proles, the destitute, and the bottom-out-of-sight, who never wear a tie, or wear one – and one is all they own – so rarely that the day is memorable for that reason.  Down here, the tie is an emblem of affectation and even effeminacy, and you can earn a reputation for being a la-di-da by appearing in one, as if you thought yourself better than other people.  One prole wife says of her spouse, “I’m going to bury my husband in a T-shirt if the undertaker will allow it.”

Real Hunter or Actor Boy Poseur?

I’ll lay odds this clown couldn’t hit the side of a barn with buckshot at 20 yards, and I’d let him saw off the shotgun barrel to be fair.  His hair and cynical demeanor read actor boy poseur or ironic hipster.  He attempts upper class references with the afternoon of shooting in the country theme – drinking a glass of sherry while wearing a tweed jacket that could have come from Richard of [the now defunct] WASP 101.  But he’s edging toward the Bee Gees with his wide open shirt and collar sticking out over his lapels, a completely unconvincing act.

The Classic Style of William Eggleston

William Eggleston (Portrait by Maude Schuyler Clay)

This is a portrait of William Eggleston – one of my favorite photographers.  It was shot by his cousin Maude Schuyler Clay.  Raised in Mississippi and now living in Memphis, Eggleston is one of the most celebrated modern artists, and his work hangs in major museums all over the world.  But his clothing style is very traditional and a rejection of all that is trendy and hip.  He opts instead to dress like a gentleman.  In this portrait, he is wearing a tweed jacket with a faint camel windowpane pattern and 3/2 roll over a gray wool crew neck sweater (probably a Shetland knit) and a blue candy stripe oxford cloth button down.  Eggleston is the epitome of a natty dresser!  I believe he is holding a Leica M4 camera – the same model used by Henri Cartier Bresson.  A pair of smart tortoise shell glasses complete his timeless look.

Note:  Camera experts tell me Eggleston’s Leica appears to be an M3, a slightly earlier model.

Confessions of a Preppy Tie-o-Holic

“Hi, my name is Preppy Croc, and I’m a tie-o-holic.”  If you’ve never been to this meeting before, the correct response in a very affirming tone would be, “Hi, Preppy Croc!”  You’re just seeing the top layer of my tie rack.  There are several layers more underneath this one.  52 ties total.  All but four were thrifted, some for as little as .99 cents.  Most are Brooks Brothers and 100% silk or linen/silk blends.  Some are 100% cotton madras.  None contains polyester!  You may also consider me a tie hoarder.  Not so bad.  In fact, much better smell-wise than cat hoarding.  I sense a new reality show on the horizon, but that would be a decidedly unprep.  Hmmm.