While there is some truth to the adage that classics are timeless, when it comes to fashion (which is, by definition, trendy), it should also be noted that new classics trump old classics. An old classic may never come to look absurd in one’s lifetime—after all, it is a classic. But it also will never look as fresh and current as its modern counterpart. And a modern gentleman should be at the forefront of his times—in thinking, in manner, and in taste. Yes, moderation in cut and style is the better part of things classic and elegant, and less does tend to equal more in matters sartorial, but the fact is that even the classics must be reinterpreted and tweaked to fit the day. There is always something about a classic 1950s’ suit that will make it look dated when juxtaposed to a classic 2010s’ suit—the way a 1950s’ pin-up girl, beautiful in her own right, does not look as appealing and as relevant to a 21st -century man as a 2010s’ pin-up girl. Or like with a beautiful lady of 50 who looks 30 at first blush: something, even if it is just one thing—her elbows or her knees or her neck or that prone-to-wrinkling, ultra-soft skin of her inner upper arms—always reveals her true age. Such it is with fashion: Even the so-called “timeless” pieces reveal their true age under careful scrutiny.
“Vintage” is typically a venerated word; but when it comes to fashion, the “age” part can be problematic. So why bother to invest in garments which “will last a lifetime”? Silhouettes change ever so slightly; shoulders become less relaxed or more relaxed; armholes are raised and lowered; lapels are widened and narrowed and notched higher or lower or even peaked; proportions are lengthened and shortened; trousers are flat-fronted in one era and pleated in the next; cut is either closer to the body or more relaxed on the body; pants’ waists are either low-rise or standard, and both are never at the cutting edge of fashion at the same time. One day, the three-button, center-vent suit is on the runways of Milan and New York, then five years later it is the two-button, two-vent. So in the end, fashion is exactly what it is meant to be: a reflection of the times, even if good fashion is informed by that which is timeless. Therefore the shrewd gentleman who wisely invests in “timeless fashion” should aim to receive a full return on his investment within five years—by wearing his garments to death!
It is wisest, then, for a well-dressed man of the 21st century not to follow the time-honored counsel of his father, his father before him, and the great books on men’s fashion by purchasing a “well-tailored suit” which “will be as much in fashion thirty years later as the day it was made.” Such suits do not exist in fashion reality. (Besides, gravity impacts differently upon the 30-year-old body than it does upon a body of 50. And as any connoisseur of the bespoke garment knows all too well, custom-made garments exist in a world measured in centimeters. So in the end, the great suit is likely to fit unlike a great suit—even with adjustments). The more practical—even if more radical—advice, then, would be more along the lines of another time-honored philosophy: that of “carpe diem”—seize the garments of the day; and wear them well, for tomorrow they will be no more. In the modern world, with many design houses and clothing manufacturers producing good-quality garments at reasonable prices, purchasing a few such items with the aim of wearing them frequently over the course of four or five years, then discarding them and purchasing new garments, is the much more prudent approach.
Admittedly, for the gentleman who can afford it, there is a time and place for an exquisite Savile Row or a Caraceni or Brioni suit or shirt. Every gentleman should aspire towards experiencing the luxury of being fitted for and owning a bespoke garment at least once in his life. (See chapter, “The Luxuries of Life”). But whenever he invests in such a suit, for example, his aim should be to wear the garment as often as possible (once or twice per week)—especially if its color is understated and neutral, such as charcoal gray or navy-blue for the cool months, and oatmeal or navy-blue for the warm months—so that its demise arrives when it has been worn out, rather than when when it is delivered, 50 years later by the grieving widow of its once-proud owner (in a state almost as impeccable as the day it was tailored) to the Salvation Army or some other like charity to be sold for pennies on the dollar to some unwitting college co-ed who will wear the great garment as a hobo-themed Halloween costume. And speaking of suits, never should a gentleman—even one for whom money truly is no object, or one who must wear a suit each day to earn his living—own more that ten suits (whether off-the-rack, made-to-measure, or custom-tailored) at one time: five spring/summer suits; and five fall/winter suits. Firstly, no gentleman in possession of truly refined taste will ever be able to find more than ten suits which are truly to his liking. And secondly, there are few things in life more disdainfully decadent than a man with too much “stuff.” As for the man who wears suits only occasionally, he should have no more than three suits: one light-colored and one dark-colored suit for the warmer months; and one dark-colored suit for the cooler seasons, which he could wear to every occasion requiring a suit—from business meeting to dinner party to funeral. The moral of the story: Garments should be worn out before they are thrown out.