Television Program of Note – Downton Abbey

The Well Dressed Cast of Downton Abbey

The Well Dressed Cast of Downton Abbey

From the BBC comes a well written and well costumed drama series, Downton Abbey. Set in post-Edwardian England, the television series follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants during the reign of King George V.

The main male characters exhibit all the sense of style expected from an Englishman in the jaunty manner of the county manor. There is the patriarch, Robert Crawley;

Robert, Earl of Grantham

Robert, Earl of Grantham

the interloper heir Matthew Crawley;

Matthew, third cousin, once removed, of Lord Grantham

Matthew, third cousin, once removed, and heir of Lord Grantham

and the gentleman caller, Sir Richard Carlisle;

Sir Richard, Suitor to the Crawley Women

Sir Richard, Suitor to the Crawley Women

There are several other notable characters that I am sure will be gracing this blog soon enough!

There is even a parody of the opening credits of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that sets up the basic premise of the program:

and lest ye think it’s all a black tie and velvet affair, feast your eyes on yonder tweed and despair from envy,

The Characters on Downton Abbey in Hunting Tweed

The Characters on Downton Abbey in Hunting Tweed

Victrolacore Breaks into the Mainstream – Mr. B. the Gentleman Rhymer with Zoe Ball

Mr B. The Gentleman Rhymer

Mr. B. the Gentleman Rhymer and Victrolacore Innovator

Moving into mainstream consciousness is never a gentleman’s motivation, yet it is often a result of a gentleman’s actions. So a resounding ‘Hazzah!’ for Mr. B. The Gentleman Rhymer, chap hop innovator and victrolacore artiste, on his recent appearance at the Latitude Festival and performing on television for the beautiful and talented presenter Zoe Ball. Well done, chap, well done.

Mr.B The Gentleman Rhymer performs ‘All Hail The Chap’ live from the Sky Arts TV Studio at Latitude Festival, 2011

The Macaroni, The Dandy and Gender Identity

A short explanation before we get started: the term macaroni used in this article is not referring to the Italian pasta, but is related to it. Macaroni, when used in mens fashions, refers to a mid-18th century trend where young men started dressing in the most epicene (androgynous, effeminate) and affected style. They were the metrosexuals of their day. You can find many good examples in fashion plates from that period:

The Macaroni Painter, or Billy Dimple Sitting for his Picture

"The Macaroni Painter, or Billy Dimple Sitting for his Picture"

This trend started with young British aristocrats returning from the Grand Tour (a subject for another time) and the look got its name from the recent excitement around Italian pasta, specifically macaroni. All things uber-contemporary were called macaroni (think Paris Hilton‘s abuse of the word, ‘hot’ and you get the picture.)

The Polite Macaroni presenting a Nosegay to Miss Blossom

"The Polite Macaroni presenting a Nosegay to Miss Blossom" - Delicate Flowers from a Delicate Flower

This trend of dressing more and more garish and adopting various female identified clothing styles increased in popularity among the very rich. And it created a style among wealthy young men that shared the delicate sensibility of women’s fashion of the period.

The Macaroni - The Height of Androgenous Mens Fashion

The Macaroni - The Height of Androgynous Mens Fashion, Tee Hee Hee!

It was the arrival of Mr. Beau Brummel‘s fashion sense that this ridiculous manner of male dress changed. In appreciation I would whole-heartedly support a movement for the canonization of Brummel in the Church of England. Or at least recognition with his own day of prayer (He is most certainly my patron saint of Male Dressing.)

Beau Brummel - Patron Saint of Male Dress

Beau Brummel - Patron Saint of Male Dress

The artifice of the macaroni was an attempt by aristocratic young men (and young men who aspired to be aristocrats) of the time to prove their worldliness in order to affirm their right to the luxury their station provided them. Yet, this only served to demonstrate their disconnection with the wider world; of the coming social and political changes that were about to shatter the aristocratic structure the macaroni so desperately wished to display in their foppish dress.

In counterpoint to this Beau Brummel embraced a masculine look. Gone were the breeches, powdered wigs and all too much lace replaced with trousers, washed flowing hair and silk cravats. The rise of the Dandy was a movement of the middle-class gentleman expressing their masculinity and their disdain for the ridiculous style of upper classes in dress. They hadn’t the money or privilege, but the Dandy had his sense of style with which to shame the silly macaronies.

I make this distinction because all too often a man who dresses well is carelessly refered to as a fop, or as a dandy with the connotation of the fop. This is a terrible misuse of language and blurs the trend I see emerging. The modern Dandy is the masculine answer to the prevalence of the metrosexual look among men.

Men, instead of dressing in a style that teenagers consider ‘cool’  well into your adult years or engaging in the drab and genderless metrosexual look I invite you embrace the Dandy. You’ll thank me for it.

How Not to Dress

Metrosexual? - No. Regressed Man Child? - No.

Steve McQueen Dressing Like a Grown Man

The Cultured Dandy - A Most Hearty Yes! (Thanks again, Mr. McQueen!)

Church & Co. (Church’s) and Gentlemens Shoes

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Very few products distinguish themselves as the ‘gold standard‘ of their market. Even among these, the brand is often purchased by another company, who trade on their item’s reputation, all the while shaving away its quality in the name of profit until he reputation itself is also ruined. In mens footwear, there is one company that I stand by without hesitation as the gold standard of their field – Church’s.

 Canvas & Leather Spectator Shoes by Church's

Canvas & Leather Oxford Spectator Shoes by Church’s

To own a pair of Church’s is to own more than an excellent pair of handmade leather shoes. You are part of a tradition in mens footwear that dates back to 1675, with the family of Thomas Church officially founding Church & Company with his sons in Northampton, England.

Black Leather Brogued Wingtip Derby's 'The Grafton' by Church's

Black Leather ‘Brogued’ Wingtip Derby ‘The Grafton’ by Church’s

It was Church’s that created the ‘left’ and ‘right’ shaped shoe in 1881 (for which they were awarded a Gold Medal at the 1884 International Exhibitions in the Crystal Palace, London) and established itself as the premier English shoemaker when Queen Elizabeth II awarded them the prestigious Queen’s Award for Exports in the Award’s inaugural year – 1966.

Black Leather Wingtip Oxford Shoes by Church's

Black Leather Wingtip Oxford Shoes by Church’s, Ladder-laced

In case you think all this royal attention makes Church’s too stuffy, consider that they were the shoe of choice for James Bond in the films The World is Not Enough, Tomorrow Never Dies (black leather Monk shoes – the Presley) and Golden Eye (brown leather brogues) and this was the most sartorial Bond, played by Pierce Brosnan. Not tough enough for you? Daniel Craig wore both a pair of Church’s chukka boots (in dark brown suede with a rubber sole) and Church’s Oxfords (in black leather with a half cap) in Quantum of Solace. So there.

James Bond, Church's Shoes and a Gorgeous Lady

James Bond, Church’s Shoes and a Gorgeous Lady

Close-up of James Bond Church's Shoes

Close-up of James Bond Church’s Shoes

And in case you were wondering, Church’s is able to refurbish Mr. Bond’s Oxford’s to almost new, as they did for the editor-in-chief of Wallpaper magazine. His Church’s brogues are over 20 years-old!

Gentlemens Shoes 101 – The Derby

When an occasion doesn’t call for a gentleman to wear the more formal Oxford shoe, the Derby is the next choice. The style is also known as the Blücher, so named after the General who first came up with the idea of putting overlapping side pieces of leather to be attached to his soldier’s boots. It helped him kick Napoleon’s ass.

The difference between the two is the placing of the leather lacing pieces; with the Derby, they go on top of the vamp. This exterior attachment can be seen in this example, a pair of brown camel skin Derbys by Church’s.

Camel Leather Derby Shoes by Church's

Camel Leather Derby Shoes by Church's

The semi-formal setting of work is where the Derby flourishes. They are also ideal for social engagements and leisure activities that still require a certain level of a gentleman’s attention to social obligation. Derbys are very appropriate for street-wear in almost all settings, unless one is in an Easter Parade.