Transcript: Mark Kingwell - Lecture | Apr 30, 2005

Mark Kingwell stands on a wooden podium with a sign that reads "ROM. Royal Ontario Museum."
He's in his forties, clean-shaven, with short spiky black hair. He's wearing a black suit, white shirt, and orange tie.

He says I WANT TO
TALK TODAY, AS MEG MENTIONED,
ABOUT THE DANDY, AND THIS IS
DRAWN FROM AN ESSAY IN MY NEW
BOOK,
PRACTICAL JUDGEMENTS.
THE TITLE OF THAT BOOK IS MEANT
TO BE A LITTLE BIT AMBIGUOUS
AND UNSTABLE.

A close-up of his book pops up on screen. The cover features a collage of newspaper and book clippings, and reads "Practical judgments. Essays in culture, politics, and interpretation."

Mark continues I'M NOT SURE WHAT'S PRACTICAL
ABOUT DANDYISM.
I DO KNOW WHAT'S JUDGEMENTAL
ABOUT IT, AND UM, I HOPE THAT
WILL BECOME CLEAR AS I GO
ALONG.
LET'S START WITH A STORY FROM
MY YOUTH.
MY FATHER'S MESS KIT, WAS NOT
WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE, NAMELY A
SNAP-TOGETHER ALUMINUM DINNER
SET, COMPLETE WITH DUAL PURPOSE
UTENSILS THAT YOU BUY TO GO
CAMPING.
IT WAS, INSTEAD, THE FORMAL
UNIFORM HE WORE TO ATTEND MESS
DINNERS IN THE CANADIAN AIR
FORCE SQUADRONS, THE 404 IN
NOVA SCOTIA, THE 415 IN PRINCE
EDWARD ISLAND, TO WHICH HE WAS
ATTACHED DURING HIS 20 YEAR
ASSOCIATION WITH 20th CENTURY
AIR POWER.
THE MESS KIT WAS IMPRESSIVE AND
EXTRAVAGANT.
LIKE ALL MILITARY DRESS
UNIFORMS, A COMBINATION OF
EVENING WEAR AND MARTIAL REGALIA.

An old family picture shows a man in a formal military suit next to a woman in a pink gown and white gloves.

Mark continues THE BLACK BOW TIE WHITE SHIRT
AND CUMMERBUND WERE STANDARD
ISSUE TUXEDO, BUT THE BLUE-GREY
MELTON JACKET WAS CUT SHORT,
AND SCALLOPED IN THE BACK, WITH
TROUSERS THAT WERE HIGH, TIGHT
AND STIRRUPPED, A GOLD STRIPE
DOWN EACH SIDE, ENDING IN
GLEAMING WELLINGTON BOOTS WITH
ELASTIC SIDES AND A LEATHER
LOOP ON THE HEEL.
THE JACKET HAD GOLD BUTTONS ON
THE CUFFS, SILK FACING ON THE
LAPELS, A PAIR OF GOLD
NAVIGATOR'S WINGS, SMALL
EPAULETTES WITH HIS CAPTAIN'S
INSIGNIA, AND THE MINIATURE
VERSIONS OF HIS TWO DECORATIONS.
BRITISH AND COMMONWEALTH ARMED
FORCES BEING AT LEAST, AS
COMPARED TO AMERICAN, AND
ESPECIALLY IN PEACETIME, STINGY
WITH WHAT SERVICE PEOPLE CALL,
"FRUIT SALAD."
THERE WERE WHITE COTTON GLOVES,
CLUTCHED, RATHER THAN WORN, AND
NO HEAD GEAR.
THE MESS KIT RESIDED MOST OF
THE TIME IN A THICK PLASTIC BAG
IN MY FATHER'S CLOSET.
THE GLOVES, DECORATIONS, AND A
PAIR OF WHITE BRACES WERE KEPT
IN A SEPARATE PLASTIC
SARCOPHAGUS IN MY FATHER'S TOP
DRESSER DRAWER, ALONG WITH
VARIOUS CUFFLINKS, AND TIE
PINS, OFTEN OF EXOTIC
AERONAUTICAL DESIGN, ONE IN THE
SHAPE OF A FRENCH MIRAGE
FIGHTER, ANOTHER FASHIONED
AFTER THE DISTINCTIVE DOUBLE
DELTA SILHOUETTE OF THE SAAB
VIGGEN.
THIS DRAWER IN HIS DRESSER WAS
A SOURCE OF CONTINUAL
FASCINATION FOR ME, EXPLORED
EXTENSIVELY DURING PERIODS OF
PARENTAL ABSENCE.
CONTRARY TO CONVENTIONAL
NARRATIVE, I DISCOVERED NOTHING
DISTURBING THERE, NO CONDOMS OR
PORN MAGS, OR LETTERS FROM
WOMEN, NOT MY MOTHER.
JUST THE DETRITUS OF MASCULINE
DRESS THAT JANGLY HARDWARE OF
MALENESS.
THE DRAWER SMELLED OF
AFTERSHAVE, AND WOOD AND LEATHER.

Pictures of military coats flash by.

Mark continues BECAUSE MY FATHER WORE A
UNIFORM OR FLIGHT SUIT EVERY
DAY OF HIS WORKING LIFE, HE
DIDN'T SEEM TO ME TO POSSESS
ANY OTHER CLOTHES.
THE UNIFORMS CHANGED OVER THE
YEARS, FROM THE BELTED ROYAL
CANADIAN AIR FORCE TUNICS IN
GREY-BLUE WOOL,
INDISTINGUISHABLE FROM THE ONES
TO BE SEEN IN FILMS LIKE,
633 SQUADRON, THE BATTLE
OF BRITAIN OR
THE DAMN
BUSTERS,
TO THE MEDIOCRE
GARAGE ATTENDANT GREEN ZIPPER
JACKETS AND TROUSERS OF THE
UNIFIED CANADIAN FORCES OF THE
1970s.
WHEN THE RCAF WAS ABSORBED INTO
THIS FORMLESS MASS IN THE
1960s, IN A MISGUIDED ATTEMPT,
IT SEEMED TO ME, AT
REPUBLICANISM, IT LOST ITS
ROYAL PREFIX, AND MY FATHER'S
ROMANTIC RANK OF FLIGHT
LIEUTENANT, WAS MODIFIED TO THE
UNREMARKABLE, CAPTAIN.
IF THE UNIFORMS HE WORE WERE
NOT ALWAYS AS SARTORIALLY
INTERESTING AS THE ONES
DESIGNED BY GIORGIO ARMANI FOR
THE ITALIAN AIR FORCE IN THE
1980s, FOR EXAMPLE, OR HUGO
BOSS' SHARP SILVER AND BLACK
OUTFITS FOR THE GESTAPO IN THE
1930s, THEY NEVERTHELESS
PRESENTED A STOPCTION ESSAY
IN MALE ATTIRE AND ITS POSSIBILITIES.

A picture shows a mannequin in a museum, dressed up in a Nazi suit, with the orange armband.

Mark continues AND WHEN MY FATHER EMERGED,
PERIODICALLY, IN THE FULL GLORY
OF THE MESS KIT, A PEACOCK
FANNING TO DISPLAY, HE WAS A
BRILLIANT REMINDER OF THE
BEAUTY MASCULINE CLOTHING CAN
ACHIEVE WHEN ITS VANITIES ARE UNCHECKED.
THE MILITARY UNIFORM, IN THIS
SENSE, IS THE UR SUIT, THE
SOURCE OF THE NORMS THAT HAVE,
FOR ALMOST TWO CENTURIES
GOVERNED THE PRESENTATION OF
MALE FORM IN EVERYDAY LIFE.
IT SPANS BOTH THE RANGE OF
ORDINARY WORKING CLOTHES, FROM
THE OVERALLS OF SAPPERS, TO THE
TEE-SHIRTS OF NAVAL GUNNIES,
AND THE HIGH END, ALMOST
FOPPISH FINERY OF THE DRESS
UNIFORM, AN ENSEMBLE THAT, IN
ITS WAY, IS THE INTRUSION OF
DANDYISM INTO THE SERIOUS MALE
BUSINESS OF KILLING PEOPLE.
THE SPECTACULAR MILITARY
UNIFORM IS A KIND OF SUITED
REPRESSION, IN OTHER WORDS, AN
INCONGRUOUS MIXTURE OF THE
LOVELY AND THE DEADLY.
AND SO, AN ENCOUNTER WITH THE
UNIFORM, WITH MY FATHER'S
UNIFORM, IS THE FIRST STEP ON
THE ROAD TO THE RICH AND EDGY
TERRITORY OF THE DANDY.
PERHAPS THE DISCOVERY OF A
PERSONAL SENSE OF STYLE, A LONG
OVERDUE REVIVAL OF DANDYISM AT
THE DAWN OF THIS NEW CENTURY.
THIS IS NOT SIMPLY A MATTER OF
THE UNIFORM ENFORCING A
MINIMUM LEVEL OF PRESENTABLE
POLISH, THOUGH THERE IS THAT,
AS THE MOVEMENT OF THE UNIFORM
INTO OTHER AREAS OF LIFE AMPLY
DEMONSTRATES.
FROM THE CHAOS PREVENTION
PROGRAMS OF BOYS' HIGH SCHOOLS,
LIKE MY OWN, WHERE WE HAD TO
WEAR JACKETS AND TIES, TO THE
CASUAL SEEMING, BUT ACTUALLY
QUITE RIGID DRESS CODES OF
CONTEMPORARY WAIT STAFFS AND
CHAIN STORE EMPLOYEES.
LIKEWISE THE COMMON
UNDERSTANDING OF THE BUSINESS
OR SO-CALLED LOUNGE SUIT, A
UNIFORM OF COMMERCIAL LIFE.

A picture shows a common gray suit, white shirt and gray tie on a headless mannequin.

Mark continues THE STANDARD ISSUE DUDS FOR
WALL STREET, OR BAY STREET, OR
INSIDE THE BELTWAY.
IN THESE WAYS, THE UNIFORM,
WHATEVER ITS DETAILS, IS A
BULWARK AGAINST THE UNEVEN SEAS
OF INDIVIDUALITY, OR SO IT
SEEMS AT FIRST GLANCE.

Another picture shows two different suits, one with a frock coat and another one with a double-breasted jacket.

Mark continues A MITIGATION AGAINST UNSETTLING
VARIATIONS IN TASTE OR INCOME.
BUT THE UNIFORM IS,
PARADOXICALLY, BOTH DEMOCRACY
AND ELITISM IN ACTION.
AND THE RELATIONS BETWEEN
MILITARY UNIFORM AND SUIT, ARE
MORE PROXIMATE STILL.
FROM THE CUFF BUTTONS,
ALLEGEDLY INTRODUCED TO PREVENT
NOSE WIPING DURING THE
NAPOLEONIC WARS, WHEN EUROPE'S
ARMIES FIRST FULLY REALISED THE
HEADY COMBINATION OF VIOLENCE
AND REGALIA, TO THE SILK
FLASHES AND CRAVATS THAT ONCE
INDICATED REGIMENTAL
MEMBERSHIP, AND NOW SIGNAL, AT
THEIR BEST, PERSONAL STYLE IN
THE CHOICE OF NECKTIE OR THE
DECISION BETWEEN SHAWL OR
POINTED COLLAR, DOUBLE BREASTED
OR SINGLE BREASTED, VENTS, OR
NO VENTS.
IN THE SHADOW OF THIS
DECLENSION FROM FUNCTION TO
DECORATION, MY FATHER CONFRONTS
ME, AS AN IMAGE OF HIMSELF,
REDUCED TO HIS EVERY DAY
UNIFORM, COMPLETE WITH USE
DRIVEN POCKETS AND EPAULETTES,
HIS NAME, MY NAME, CARVED IN
WHITE ON A BLACK PLASTIC NAME
TAG, PINNED ABOVE THE LEFT
FRONT POCKET.
THESE NAME TAGS, WHICH WERE
SECURED WITH TWO SPRING-LOADED
TABS, WERE SCATTERED AROUND THE
HOUSE, INCLUDING THAT SEDUCTIVE
TOP DRAWER IN HIS BEDROOM.
THEY WERE LITTLE CHUNKS OF
IDENTITY, MEASURING THREE
INCHES BY 3 quarters OF AN INCH, AND
NAMING US BOTH.
ALSO LYING AROUND THE HOUSE WAS
THIS SENSE OF ORDER IN MALE
CLOTHING, THE COMPLETENESS OF
THE UNIFORM, AND, INDEED, THE
BEAUTY OF IT, WHEN GOT UP IN
ITS FORMAL VERSION.
I THOUGHT FONDLY OF MY FATHER'S
MESS KIT THE VERY FIRST TIME I
DONNED A BLACK TIE DINNER SUIT.
I WAS AN USHER AT THE WEDDING
OF MY COLLEGE ROOMMATE, TIM
BAKER, AND WE RENTED OUTFITS
FROM A FORMAL SHOP ON YONGE
STREET IN TORONTO.
21, A SLIGHTLY BUILT
UNDERGRADUATE, AT 5'10, AND
ABOUT 155 POUNDS, I LOOKED
BOYISH, AND I THOUGHT, RATHER
DEVASTATING IN THE TUX.
SNUGLY FASHIONED IN EVERY
IMAGINABLE PLACE, FROM
CUMMERBUND AND BRASSES AND
LINKS.
I FELT LIKE I WAS ACTUALLY
WEARING CLOTHES FOR THE FIRST
TIME IN MY LIFE, STRAPPED IN
TIGHT FOR WHATEVER THE WORLD
HAD TO OFFER.
OUR RIDE TO THE CHURCH IN TIM'S
BEAT UP BLUE TOYOTA, SUNROOF
AND WINDOWS WIDE OPEN, BRUCE
SPRINGSTEEN, INEVITABLY,
BLARING ON THE STEREO, WAS FOR
ME, ONE OF THOSE CRYSTALLINE
MAGIC MOMENTS OF LATE BOYHOOD.
WE HONKED THE HORN, AND WAVED
AT PEOPLE WALKING SLOPPILY
ALONG BLOOR STREET, THE LORDS
OF FORMAL WEAR ACKNOWLEDGING
THESE PEASANTS OF CASUALNESS.
IN THE END, THOUGH, I DIDN'T
FOLLOW MY FATHER INTO MILITARY
SERVICE.
I THOUGHT ABOUT IT, MORE OR
LESS CONSTANTLY DURING THE
FINAL YEARS OF HIGH SCHOOL, BUT
I HAD A REAL TWINGE JUST ONCE,
AT A CHRISTMAS DAY ROMAN
CATHOLIC MASS IN 1979, A FEW
MONTHS BEFORE I WAS TO GRADUATE
AND GO OFF, AS I PLANNED AT THE
TIME, TO STUDY ENGINEERING AT
THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO.
MY DECISION, BY THE WAY, TO
SWITCH TO PHILOSOPHY AND
ENGLISH, CAME LATER IN THAT UP
AND DOWN YEAR, DURING AN EARLY
SUMMER VACATION WHEN, FLOATING
AIMLESSLY IN MY UNCLE'S
SWIMMING POOL, LIKE DUSTIN
HOFFMAN IN
THE GRADUATE,
THE WORD,
"METAPHYSICS," NOT PLASTICS
CAME SWIMMING TO MIND, AND I
CHANGED MY MAJOR.
THIS CHRISTMAS EVENT WAS OF
ANOTHER ORDER ALTOGETHER.
IN JEANS AND AN OLD FOOTBALL
JERSEY, NUMBER 60, FOR MY HERO,
BUBBA BAKER OF THE DETROIT
LIONS, I SHUFFLED INTO CHURCH
WITH MY FAMILY.
I HAD ARGUED WITH MY FATHER,
EVEN AS WE WERE LEAVING THE
HOUSE, AN OLD ARGUMENT THAT
NEITHER OF US REALLY CARED FOR
ANY LONGER.
HE WANTED ME TO DRESS BETTER
FOR THE HOUSE OF GOD.
"GOD DOESN'T CARE WHAT I WEAR,"
I HAD SAID.
"GOD DESERVES YOUR RESPECT," HE REPLIED.
AND SO NOW WE WERE IN THE
CHURCH, ANGRY, RESENTFUL, IN MY
CASE, FRUSTRATED IN HIS.
IT WAS POPE JOHN 23rd, IN THE
WESTWOOD SECTION OF WINNIPEG,
AND AS WE SAT THERE, THERE WAS
A COLLECTIVE TURNING OF HEADS
AT SOMETHING BEHIND WHERE I WAS
SITTING WITH MY PARENTS AND TWO
BROTHERS.
I LOOKED BACK.
A YOUNG MAN IN THE BELTED RED
TUNIC AND BLACK TROUSERS OF THE
ROYAL MILITARY COLLEGE, CLEARLY
BACK FROM KINGSTON, ONTARIO,
FOR THE HOLIDAYS, WAS WALKING
UP THE NAVE, HIS MOTHER ON HIS ARM.

A picture shows a mannequin wearing the described uniform.

Mark continues HE WORE HIS WHITGLOVES, AND
HAD HIS PILL BOX UNDER HIS ARM.
HE WAS UPRIGHT AND TALL AND
BEAUTIFUL, AND I SUDDENLY FELT
LIKE AN IDIOT IN MY FOOTBA EAR.
FATHER NOTHING, OF
COURSE, BUT I COULD FEEL HIM
RADIATING, "I TOLD YOU SOs,"
DOWN THE PEW, AND I THOUGHT,
YEAH, I WANT TO LOOK LIKE THAT.
I WANT TO BE THE YOUNG WARRIOR
AT HOME.
I WANT TO WALK UP THE NAVE,
EARNING ADMIRATION AND ENVY AS
I FLOAT THROUGH THE CROWD OR
CONGREGATION.
IT WAS MY MOTHER WHO TAUGHT ME
TO TIE MY SHOES, AND LATER, TO
BAKE AND TO COOK.
BUT IT WAS MY FATHER WHO TAUGHT
ME HOW TO TEND TO MY BODY AND
ITS ACCOUTREMENTS, HOW TO
PREPARE MYSELF FOR PRESENTATION
TO THE GAZE OF THE WORLD, HOW
TO DRESS.
I LABORIOUSLY COPIED HIS
DEMONSTRATION OF HOW TO CREATE
A CHUNKY FULL WINDSOR NECKTIE
KNOT, THOUGH I WAS NOT
COMFORTABLE ENOUGH WITH IT, TO
DO IT EVERY DAY AT MY CATHOLIC
BOYS' SCHOOL.
LIKE MOST OF US, I KEPT A
KNOTTED TIE IN MY LOCKER AND
SIMPLY PULLED IT OVER MY HEAD
EACH MORNING BEFORE I WENT TO
CLASS.
WHEN I DID START TYING TIES
REGULARLY, I WAS SO FIXED ON MY
FATHER'S INSTRUCTION, THAT I
STUCK WITH THE FULL WINDSOR
KNOT WELL PAST THE POINT OF
FASHION, ONLY SHIFTING DOWN TO
THE SLEEKER HALF WINDSOR SIX OR
SEVEN YEARS AGO, AND NOW, AS
THE DANDIES AMONG YOU WILL
KNOW, THE FULL WINDSOR IS BACK
IN FASHION AGAIN, AND I CAN'T
TIE IT ANY MORE.
NOWADAYS, I SHOP FOR CLOTHES BY
MYSELF, OR IN THE COMPANY OF
ONE OR TWO TRUSTED FEMALE
FRIENDS WHO CAN BE COUNTED ON
FOR ACCURATE FLATTERY AND GOOD
ADVICE.
BUT IT WAS MY FATHER WHO TOOK
ME TO BUY MY FIRST SUIT FOR
SCHOOL.
AND WHEN I WAS IN UNIVERSITY,
ON A RARE VISIT TO TAKE ME OUT
FOR LUNCH, HE OFFERED TO TAKE
ME SHOPPING AFTERWARDS AT HARRY
ROSEN ON BLOOR STREET.
IT WAS 1984, AND WITH THE
POPULARITY OF THE,
BRIDESHEAD REVISITED
TELEVISION SERIES, THE FASHIONS
WERE ALL ENGLISH AND
COLLEGIATE.
LONG ROWS OF STRIPED TIES, IN
GARISH COLOURS, ARRANGED LIKE
CONFECTIONS IN WOODEN GLASS
CABINETS.
THE SHIRTS WERE FANNED OUT LIKE
THAT SCENE IN
THE GREAT
GATSBY,
IN SWATHES OF
PASTEL BROADCLOTH, MULTI-HUED
COUCHES OF COTTON.
AND THINKING OF TOM CRUISE IN
HIS UNDERWEAR IN
RISKY
BUSINESS,
AND MY THEN
GIRLFRIEND'S RECENTLY
COMMUNICATED FANTASY, I PICKED
UP THE PALEST PINK OXFORD CLOTH
BUTTON DOWN I COULD FIND.
MY FATHER SMILED AND GOT OUT
HIS CREDIT CARD.
I KEPT THAT SHIRT FOR YEARS,
WEARING IT THROUGH AT THE
COLLAR AND CUFFS, FADING IT
ALMOST TO WHITE WITH MANY
LAUNDERINGS, AND FINALLY LEFT
IT IN A CLOSET DURING ONE OF MY
MANY MOVES IN MY LATE 20s.
IT NO LONGER FIT ME AT THE NECK
OR ACROSS THE CHEST.
I WAS NO LONGER THE BOY MY
FATHER HAD TREATED THAT DAY IN TORONTO.
THERE IS ALWAYS A DEPTH OF
UNREALISED FEELING IN MALE
ATTITUDES TO DRESS, I THINK.
MY FRIEND RUSSELL SMITH, A
NOVELIST, FOR A COUPLE OF YEARS
WROTE A WEEKLY NEWSPAPER COLUMN
ABOUT MEN'S FASHION.
HIS SARTORIAL ADVICE WAS TART
AND PEREMPTORY, BUT TO MY MIND,
ALMOST ALWAYS ACCURATE.
NO SHIRTS WITH PAT QUINN'S
SWANKY DESIGNS ON THE COLLAR.
NO BACKPACKS, NO CRUMBY SHOES.
HE RECEIVED VOLUMES OF MAIL,
MUCH OF IT INTEMPERATE TO THE
POINT OF DERANGEMENT, FROM MEN
WHO FELT SLIGHTED BY HIS
PRONOUNCEMENTS.
HE SPECULATED THAT THE REASON
FOR THIS LAY IN THE FACT THAT
THESE MEN, LIKE ALL MEN,
ACQUIRED WHATEVER BASIC
UNDERSTANDING OF FASHION THEY
POSSESSED FROM THEIR FATHERS,
OR FROM ROLE MODELS TO WHOM
THEY STOOD IN SOME KIND OF
QUASI-FILIAL RELATIONSHIP.
AND SO TO CHALLENGE WHAT THEY
THOUGHT OF AS STANDARD AND
ACCEPTABLE, WAS TO PUT THAT
RELATIONSHIP INTO QUESTION.
THE PHENOMENON WORKED IN THE
OTHER DIRECTION, TOO, WHEN
RUSSELL STRUCK A CORD WITH A
MAN, BY RECOMMENDING, FOR
INSTANCE, A BURBERRY RAINCOAT,
HE RECEIVED LETTERS SUFFUSED
WITH LONGING AND NOSTALGIA.
MINIATURE AND OFTEN HALTING
PAEANS TO LOST FATHERS WHO HAD
WORN THAT VERY SYMBOL OF MALE
SOPHISTICATION.
THE COMPLEXITY OF THIS
RELATIONSHIP OVERWHELMS MOST
OF US, I THINK.
BUT THERE IS CLEARLY A FILIAL
HOMAGE IN PLAY EVERY TIME I PUT
ON ONE OF MY SUITS, EVEN THOUGH
THEY ARE NOT THE KIND OF THING
MY FATHER WOULD EVER WEAR, EVEN
AS A YOUNG MAN.
TOO EXPENSIVE, HE WOULD SAY,
TOO STYLISH, TOO DANDYISH.
BUT MY OWN DANDYISM, WHICH
PROCEEDS MORE PROXIMATELY FROM
CINEMATIC HEROES LIKE CARY
GRANT OR GARY COOPER, IS
NEVERTHELESS IMPLICATED IN
THOSE GLIMPSES OF THE RCAF MESS
KIT FROM MY FATHER'S CLOSET.
MY CHOICES MIGHT RUN TO A FENDI
SILKEN WOOL THREE-BUTTON IN
DOVE GREY, A COUPLE OF CLASSIC
CUT ARMANIS, BUT EVERY TIME I
COMPLETE THE ENSEMBLE OF
ELEGANT MALE ATTIRE, I FEEL THE
SENSE OF FULFILMENT, THAT THE
FRENCH WORD FOR SUIT,
COMPLET,
CAPTURES SO
MUCH MORE ECONOMICALLY AND
TRULY THAN THE BORING WORD IN
ENGLISH.
SO WHILE IT'S TRUE THAT YOU CAN
WEAR A SUIT LIKE AN EVERYDAY
UNIFORM, THE WAY BANKERS AND
DOWNTOWN LAWYERS DON THEIR NAVY
PINSTRIPES, AND WHITE SHIRT,
RED TIE IDENTI-KIT URBAN
HOMINID CAMOUFLAGE EVERY
MORNING, YOU CAN ALSO WEAR THE
SUIT AS A DRESS UNIFORM, AS A
KIND OF STRETCHED CANVAS, A
BLANK SLATE.
A SUIT DOESN'T ALLOW ANYTHING
AT ALL, BUT WITHIN ITS LIMITS,
LIE NASCENT THE POSSIBILITIES
OF WIT, AND DASH, SEX AND
SEDUCTION, AND EVEN A KIND OF
SOCIAL CRITIQUE.
THE CONSTRAINED FREEDOM OF
ASSEMBLING THE ELEMENTS IN
FELICITOUS COMBINATION, MAKES
THE SUIT A MODERN NARRATIVE, A
STORY OF DOWNTOWN LIFE WAITING
TO BE TOLD.
BEAUTY AND UTILITY EMERGE
CONJOINED IN THE POCKETS AND
BUTTONS AND PADDING THAT CREATE
THE QUINTESSENTIAL MALE
SILHOUETTE.
AND A TRULY GOOD TAILOR CAN
GIVE BACK SOME OF THE ELEMENTS
THAT CONVENIENCE AND MASS
PRODUCTION HAVE MOSTLY TAKEN
AWAY FROM US, I MEAN THINGS
LIKE FUNCTIONAL SURGEONS' CUFFS
THAT CAN BE UNBUTTONED AND
FOLDED BACK THE WAY JEAN
COCTEAU USED TO WEAR HIS SPORTS
JACKETS, OR THE RIGHT LAPEL
BUTTON THAT WILL BE RECEIVED BY
THE LEFT SIDE BUTTON HOLE,
WHOSE USUAL FLOWER, IF PRESENT
AT ALL, JUST PLAYS WITH AN
ORIGINALLY ORDINARY WAY TO
ACHIEVE MORE PROTECTION, AS
SEEN, FOR INSTANCE IN AN OLD
PHOTO OF A WILLOWY FRANK
SINATRA.
THE SUIT IS AN IDEA, A SET OF
ASSOCIATIONS.
IT COMES TO US IN IMAGES,
STILLS AND MOVIES, AND
LITERATURE THAT REFLECT ITS
PRESENCE IN MALE LIFE.
THE RECEIVED WISDOM SAYS THAT
WHEREAS MOST MEN LIKE TO
IMAGINE WOMEN NAKED, WOMEN LIKE
TO IMAGINE MEN IN SUITS.

A picture now shows an 18th century blue suede suit with gold thread embroidery and a white vest.

Mark continues THE SUIT FINISHES THEM, PUTS
THEM IN PROPER CONTEXT.
IT SMOOTHES OUT THEIR
IMPERFECTIONS, AND PADS THEIR
DEFICIENCIES.

Another picture shows a gray suit with a red vest and a red kilt on display.

Mark continues IT IS ARMOUR AGAINST THE
CONTINGENCIES OF A HOSTILE,
JUDGEMENTAL WORLD.
AND YET, THE LAST FEW DECADES
HAVE SEEN A STEADY DECLINE IN
NORMS OF DRESS IN NORTH
AMERICAN SOCIETY.

Now a picture shows a black and white tweed suit with a polka-dotted shirt and white tie.

Mark continues WITH THE ALMOST UNIVERSAL
DISAPPEARANCE OF EVENINGWEAR,
THE NEARLY COMPLETE BASEBALL
CAPPING OF THE POPULATION, THE
TENDENCY OF GROWN MEN TO DRESS
LIKE SIMULACRA OF BART SIMPSON.

Another picture shows a black tuxedo.

Mark continues DANDIES, MEANWHILE ARE ALMOST
UNIVERSALLY DISDAINED.
CONSIDER FRASIER CRANE, THE
FUSSY TELEVISION PSYCHIATRIST
MOCKED SUCCESSIVELY IN THE
PRIME TIME COMEDY SHOWS,
CHEERS
AND
FRASIER.
HIS FASHION SENSE AND AESTHETIC
DISCRIMINATION ARE AT ONCE
DISPLAYED AND UNDERMINED.
HE IS FREQUENTLY TAKEN FOR GAY.
IN A TYPICAL SCENE FROM THE
LATTER SHOW, FRASIER, OFF TO
MEET AN ATTRACTIVE POLICE WOMAN
AT A COP HANGOUT BAR, RUSHES
OFF TO HIS BEDROOM FIRST,
SAYING, "I'VE GOT TO PUT IN MY
NEW COLLAR STAYS, AND OOH-OOH,
I HAVE A FABULOUS NEW CASHMERE
JACKET I'VE BEEN DYING TO PREMIERE."
HIS LONG-SUFFERING REGULAR GUY
FATHER, A COP HIMSELF, SIGHS,
"YEAH, THIS IS GOING TO WORK."
HERE, A SENSE OF STYLE IS
EQUATED WITH BEING EDUCATED
BEYOND SENSE, BEING A KIND OF
POINTY HEADED IDIOT.
AND GIVEN ALL THIS, IT'S
NEVERTHELESS DISMAYING HOW
OFTEN THE SUIT, WHEN IT IS WORN
AT ALL, IS WORN BADLY, OR IS
SIMPLY A BAD SUIT.
I WANT TO SUGGEST TO YOU THAT
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO HAVE A SUIT
THAT IS TOO NICE.
THE IDEA IS A CONCEPTUAL
NON-STARTER.
BUT IT IS EASY, ALL TOO EASY,
TO HAVE A SUIT THAT CREATES
DEFICIENCIES RATHER THAN HIDES THEM.
SOMETIMES, AS FOR THE CHARACTER
BEN, IN LOUIS BEGLEY'S NOVEL,
THE MAN WHO WAS LATE,
LOOKING FOR THE SUIT BECOMES A
TALE OF LIFE-LONG
DISAPPOINTMENTS.
MINIATURE TRAGEDIES OF CUFF
WIDTH AND SLEEVE BUTTONS THAT
MIRROR A DEEPER EMPTINESS.
SURELY PART OF THE REASON THAT
SO MANY SUITS ONE SEES ARE BAD
SUITS, IS THAT THEY ARE
RESENTED BY THEIR WEARERS.
THIS IS SELF-DEFEATING AND
UNNECESSARY.
AT ITS BEST, THE SUIT IS THE
OUTWARD SIGN OF INTELLIGENCE
AND ATTENTION.
IT TAKES ITS PLACE IN A
LEXICON OF SOPHISTICATION.
AN ELEMENT IN A GROWNUP WORLD
OF TRAVEL AND BUSINESS, IN
WHICH, ACCORDING TO MY
FANTASIES ANYWAY, THE BARTENDER
ALWAYS KNOWS YOUR FAVOURITE
DRINK, THE DRIVER BEARING A
SIGN ALWAYS MEETS YOU AT THE
AIRPORT, DOCUMENTS AND
TELEPHONES ARE ALWAYS BROUGHT
TO YOUR TABLE IN THAT
RESTAURANT, AND EVERY RENTAL
CAR IN EVERY VISITED CITY, IS A
CONVERTIBLE.
THIS FANTASY OF MALE SUCCESS
AND SOPHISTICATION, WHICH
SURELY CANNOT BE UNIQUE TO MY
DAYDREAMS, HAS VERY LITTLE TO
DO WITH THE MORE ROBUST
PURSUITS OF AN ERNEST
HEMMINGWAY, OR A TED WILLIAMS,
I SUPPOSE, THE FISHING AND
HUNTING AND HORSEBACK RIDING OF
THE MASCULINE IMAGE.
AND NEXT TO THOSE, THIS OTHER
IDEAL OF MALENESS MIGHT SEEM
SLIGHTLY EFFETE.
BUT ITS ROLE MODELS IN
LITERATURE AND FILM ARE,
ARGUABLY, ANYTHING BUT.
THE DARING FLANEURS OF THE
SYMBOLIST MOMENT, FOR EXAMPLE.
DANDIES LIKE WILDE, AND
BEARDSLEY WHO WERE WILLING TO
EXTEND THEMSELVES INTO SOCIETY
AND TAKE THE PUNISHMENT THAT
CAME.
THE YOUNG DISRAELI, RONALD
FIRBANK, DIAGALEV.
SLIGHTLY AMBIGUOUS FIGURES LIKE
CARY GRANT HIMSELF.
CONSIDER, IN THAT LAST REALM,
GRANT IN A WIDE LAPELLED
PINSTRIPE, IN HITCHCOCK'S FILM,
NOTORIOUS.
A DANDIFIED SPY FALLING IN LOVE
WITH INGRID BERGMAN IN RIO DE
JANEIRO.
OR EVEN BETTER IN MY FAVOURITE
CARY GRANT FILM, AND PERHAPS MY
FAVOURITE FILM OF ANY KIND,
ROGER THORNHILL IN
NORTH BY
NORTHWEST,
WHERE GRANT
PLAYS THE SUAVE MADISON AVENUE
ADVERTISING EXECUTIVE THROWN BY
MISTAKE INTO COLD WAR INTRIGUE.
HE IS ONE OF AMERICAN CINEMA'S
GREAT UNLIKELY HEROES, I THINK,
ROGER THORNHILL.
A MODERN PARAGON IN SLICK HAND-
SEWN DRESS.
HABITUALLY CHARMING, EVEN GLIB,
"IN THE WORLD OF ADVERTISING,"
HE SAYS, "THERE IS NO SUCH
THING AS LYING, THERE IS ONLY
EXPEDIENT EXAGGERATION."
THORNHILL IS URBAN MAN POLISHED
TO A HIGH GLOSS.
HE IS TWICE DIVORCED, DEVOTED
TO HIS MOTHER, HE FAVOURS COLD
MARTINIS, FRENCH CUFFS, AND
MONOGRAMMED MATCHBOOKS.
IN VIVID TECHNICOLOR, HIS
EXQUISITELY TAILORED SILVER
BLUE SUIT, A THREE BUTTON WHOSE
LAPELS, NEVERTHELESS FALL INTO
A FASHIONABLE DEEPER GORGE,
PRECISELY MATCHES THE
DISTINGUISHED GREYING HAIR AT
HIS TEMPLES.
IN THE FILM'S OPENING SCENES,
THORNHILL EMERGES QUICKLY AS A
FUSSY NARCISSISTIC, APPARENTLY
SUPERFICIAL MANNEQUIN.
BUT UNDER PRESSURE, HE ALSO
PROVES TO BE AGILE, WILEY,
RESOURCEFUL AND BRAVE.
WHEN A TYPICAL HITCHCOCKIAN
TROPE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY
SPINS HIM INTO A WORLD OF
ESPIONAGE AND BETRAYAL, HE
MANIPULATES ALL THE APPARATUS
OF MODERN LIFE, TELEPHONES,
HOTELS, TRAINS, TAXIES, BAR,
AND NOT LEAST, BANTER, WITH
ENVIABLE GROWNUP ASSURANCE.
AND IN THE VERTIGINOUS WORLD
RULED BY THE URBANE MENACE OF
VILLAINS JAMES MASON AND MARTIN
LANDAU, WHERE HITCHCOCK'S
UNEXPECTED OVERHEAD SHOTS AND
THRILLING SIGNATURE SEQUENCES,
THE STRAFING CROP DUSTER, THE
SCRAMBLE ON MOUNT RUSHMORE,
SEEM TO REFLECT A SORT OF
COGNITIVE IMBALANCE.
IT IS THORNHILL WHO FINDS HIS FEET.
THE FILM'S TITLE EVOKES
HAMLET'S DESCRIPTION OF THIS
FEIGNED MADNESS.
IT SAVOURS DECEPTION, MISTAKEN
IDENTITY, THE YAWNING CHASM
BETWEEN APPEARANCE AND REALITY.
BUT IT IS ALSO, IN ITS OFF
KILTER WAY, A ROMANTIC COMEDY.
HOW IRONIC, BUT HOW FITTING,
THAT THE PROFESSIONAL DECEIVER,
THE GLIB NARCISSIST SHOULD
CARRY THE DAY, AND ALSO CARRY
OFF EVA MARIE SAINT, THE
BEAUTIFUL DOUBLE AGENT WHO
ENTERED THE PICTURE ON A
MISSION TO DECEIVE HIM.
UNDER THE SUIT LIES A MAN, AND
A PARTICULARLY APPEALING AND
POWERFUL MAN, TOO.
THE SUIT HERE, DOESN'T DISGUISE
THESE PROPERTIES SO MUCH AS
REFLECT THEM, ALLOW THEM PLAY.
IN OUR OWN SOCIETY, OUT HERE IN
THE REAL WORLD, DANDYISM COMES
HALTINGLY, WHEN IT COMES AT ALL.
IT IS ALMOST ALWAYS A FUNCTION
OF EARLY ADULTHOOD, I THINK.
IN THAT FIRST BLUSH OF MATERIAL
SUCCESS THAT FREES A MAN TO
CLOSE THE FRUSTRATING GAP SO
TYPICAL OF POST-GRADUATE LIFE,
BETWEEN TASTE AND MEANS.
THE UNSPOKEN TRAGEDY OF URBAN
LIFE IN OUR CENTURY IS THIS
CONSTANT STRUGGLE TO AFFORD THE
SELF-PRESENTATION WE DESIRE.
AND DON'T MISTAKE THIS FOR A
MIDDLE CLASS, OR WHITE, OR
ELITIST FETISH, EITHER.
I DON'T HAVE TO WANT THE BAGGY
CONVICT WEAR AND BRAND NAME
JACKETS OF THE URBAN SCENE, TO
APPRECIATE THE YEARNING EVIDENT
IN THE STARTLING STATISTIC THAT
THE AVERAGE INNER CITY AFRICAN
AMERICAN SPENDS 2,440 dollars ON
CLOTHES IN A YEAR, COMPARED TO
THE 1,508 dollars CONSIDERED
SUFFICIENT BY THE AVERAGE U.S. CONSUMER.
THAT'S ALMOST 2,500 U.S.
DOLLARS A YEAR.
I WOULD CONSIDER IT ROLLING
PRETTY HIGH, PERSONALLY, IF I
GRANTED MYSELF AN ANNUAL
CLOTHES BUDGET THAT HIGH.
IT'S NOT ABOUT HOW MUCH MONEY
YOU HAVE, IT'S ABOUT WHAT YOU
CHOOSE TO SPEND YOUR MONEY ON,
AND WHAT DESIRES THAT MAKES EVIDENT.
FICTIONAL ACCOUNTS OF YOUNG MEN
AT PLAY ARE JUST AS COMPELLING
AS REAL WORLD OR CINEMATIC
EXAMPLES, MAYBE MORE SO.
FROM JOHN BARTH'S POST MODERN JAPE,
THE SOT-WEED FACTOR,
WHICH INCLUDES A DESCRIPTION OF
THE RITUALS AND VARIABLES OF
18th CENTURY DRESS, TO MAKE THE
MOUTH WATER, TO, CLASSICALLY,
SEBASTIAN AND CHARLES, IN
EVELYN WAUGH'S
BRIDESHEAD
REVISITED.
CHARLES' PRIGGISH COUSIN JASPER
REMONSTRATES WITH HIM ABOUT,
AMONG OTHER THINGS, HIS
LUNCHTIME DRUNKENNESS AND
FLASHY HABITS OF DRESS.
"WHEN YOU CAME UP, I REMEMBER
ADVISING YOU TO DRESS AS YOU
WOULD IN A COUNTRY HOUSE,"
JASPER SAYS.
"YOUR PRESENT GET-UP SEEMS AN
UNHAPPY COMPROMISE BETWEEN THE
CORRECT WEAR FOR A THEATRICAL
PARTY IN MAIDENHEAD, AND A GLEE
SINGING COMPETITION IN A GARDEN
SUBURB."
CHARLES, FOR HIS PART, IS
UNDETERRED BY THIS PRECISE
INSULT.
"IT SEEMS TO ME," HE SAYS OF
HIS UNDERGRADUATE FLOWERING,
"THAT I GREW YOUNGER DAILY,
WITH EACH ADULT HABIT THAT I
ACQUIRED.
NOW, THAT SUMMER WITH
SEBASTIAN, IT SEEMED AS THOUGH
I WAS BEING GIVEN A BRIEF SPELL
OF WHAT I HAD NEVER KNOWN, A
HAPPY CHILDHOOD.
AND THOUGH ITS TOYS WERE SILK
SHIRTS AND LIQUEURS, AND
CIGARS, AND IT'S NAUGHTINESS
HIGH IN THE CATALOGUE OF GRAVE
SINS, THERE WAS SOMETHING OF
NURSERY FRESHNESS ABOUT US THAT
FELL LITTLE SHORT OF THE JOY OF
INNOCENCE."
WAUGH'S REGARD FOR STYLE
TRANSFERRED ITSELF EASILY INTO
THE UNIFORMED MILIEU OF WARTIME
ENGLAND, OF COURSE.
THOUGH, AS AN OFFICER IN THE
EXTREMELY FASHIONABLE,
HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY, OR BLUES, HE
HAD ONLY CONTEMPT FOR THE ROYAL
AIR FORCE UNIFORMS I GREW UP
ENVYING.
READERS OF WAUGH WILL KNOW THAT
AIRMEN COME IN FOR ALL KINDS OF
SUPERIOR JOKING IN HIS,
SWORD OF HONOUR
TRILOGY, FINALLY DEPICTED AS
CULTURELESS NEAR MORONS IN THE
CONCLUDING VOLUME,
UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER.
LIKE ALL WRITERS OF HIS
GENERATION AND CLASS WHO SERVED
IN THE WAR AND WROTE ABOUT IT,
ANTHONY POLE AND HIS ROMAN
FLEUVE,
DANCE TO THE MUSIC
OF TIME,
OR SIMON
RAVEN, AND HIS,
ALMS FOR
OBLIVION,
INDEED, LIKE
MOST SOLDIERS OF THIS TIME,
WAUGH WAS OBSESSED WITH THE
RELATIVE SMARTNESS OF ENGLISH
REGIMENTS.
FROM THIS POINT OF VIEW, THE
COLD STREAM GUARDS, OR CORPS OF
RIFLES ARE HONOURED LESS FOR
THEIR PROWESS THAN FOR THEIR
FINE RED TUNICS OR FROGGED
GREEN JACKETS, RESPECTIVELY.
THIS IS WAR TO THE TUNE OF
INVIDIOUS SOCIAL DISTINCTION,
ALL PASSED FOR JUDGEMENT IN
BRIGHT COLOURS AND BADGES.
IN THOMAS MANN'S,
THE MAGIC
MOUNTAIN,
HANS CASTORP
RETELLS HIS PARTIAL SEDUCTION
BY THE PERFECT TURNOUTS AND
SLICK STYLE OF THE HUMANIST,
SETTEMBRINI, AND WHO CAN RESIST
THE PULL OF THOSE HARD COLLARS
AND SPATS, THE CREAM COLOURED
SUITS AND HIGH WAISTCOATS OF
SPA LIFE FASHION?
EVEN THE COMMITTED CYNICAL
NARRATOR OF GRAHAM GREENE'S
NOVEL,
THE COMEDIANS,
CANNOT CONCEAL HIS ADMIRATION
FOR A POVERTY STRICKEN DANDY,
WHO, DESPITE LIVING IN NEAR
SQUALOR, IS SO FASTIDIOUS ABOUT
HIS SUIT THAT HE COVERS HIMSELF
WITH AN EXPENSIVE HANDKERCHIEF
WHENEVER HE URINATES.
IN MY LINE OF WORK, WEARING
SUITS IS NOT NORMAL.
AND SO SOME OF THIS PLAYFUL
FROM THE ADOLESCENT ATTITUDE
CONTINUES AVAILABLE.
UNIVERSITIES ARE SITES OF
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT ANYWAY, SO
A PROGRAM OF STYLISH ADOLESCENT
REBELLION OFTEN SEEMS TO ME,
CALLED FOR.
BUCKING THE PATCHED TWEED AND
HAIRY SWEATER NORM, IN FAVOUR
OF SOMETHING A LITTLE MORE
GLAMOROUS, MAYBE A LITTLE MORE
SUGGESTIVE OF THE OUTSIDE
WORLD'S VAST POTENTIAL FOR
BEAUTY AND PLEASURE.
I THINK MY STUDENTS UNDERSTAND
THIS VERY WELL.
THEY CARE VERY MUCH ABOUT HOW
THEY LOOK, AND LIKE ANYONE
ALIVE TODAY, THEY ARE PAST
MASTERS OF THE NUANCES OF
BRANDS AND MODELS, STYLES AND
OPTIONS.
THIS IS SOMETIMES ENERVATING,
BECAUSE IT SO OFTEN ISSUES IN
CONFORMITY RATHER THAN
INDIVIDUALITY, BUT AMONG OTHER
THINGS, IT ISSUES TO ME IN A
SURPRISING AND PLEASING DEGREE
OF INTEREST IN MY OWN CLOTHES.
SO IT'S NOT UNUSUAL FOR SOMEONE
TO ARRIVE AT OFFICE HOURS TO
FIND OUT WHERE I BOUGHT MY
WATCH, AS WELL AS TO TALK ABOUT
ARISTOTLE OR SPINOZA.
TO COMPLIMENT ME ON MY SHOES AS
WELL AS TO DISCUSS THE
CARTESIAN FOUNDATIONAL DUALISM.
EVERY PROFESSOR REALISES SOONER
OR LATER, THE VAST ATTENTION
THAT STUDENTS GIVE TO EVERY
DETAIL OF HIS OR HER
APPEARANCE.
A POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR I
HAD IN COLLEGE, WORE JUST TWO
SUITS, A BLUE AND A GREY,
WHENEVER HE APPEARED TO
LECTURE, PROMPTING THE GUY NEXT
TO ME TO SPECULATE THAT HE
ACTUALLY HAD MORE THAN TWO
SUITS, HE HAD A CLOSET FULL OF
IDENTICAL SUITS, LIKE SUPERMAN
COSTUMES.
MY COLLEAGUE ALLAN, RECEIVES ON
HIS COURSE EVALUATIONS, LONG
PAEANS TO HIS IMPRESSIVE
WARDROBE, AND SUGGESTIONS THAT
HE SHOULD GO INTO ACTING OR
MODELLING.
THE HALF FORMED DANDYISM OF
THESE STUDENTS, SO DEPRESSINGLY
CONFORMIST SOMETIMES, AT LEAST
COMPARED TO THE
FIN DE
SIÈCLE
WONDERS OF THE
LAST CENTURY'S TURN, SO
APPARENTLY DRIVEN BY
CONSUMERISM AND BRANDED FREE
ADVERTISING, NEVERTHELESS
CONFESSES A DEEPER DESIRE.
THEIR YEARNING SPEAKS LOUDER
THAN THE BRIGHT COLOURS OF
THEIR FUBU SHIRTS, THE NEED TO
INDIVIDUATE ALL THE MORE
INSISTENT FOR BEING DIVERTED
INTO A BACK TURNED KANGOL CAP
OR WHATEVER THE CURRENT
EQUIVALENT IS.
NOW ALL OF THIS CONCERN WITH
CLOTHING STRIKES OTHERS AS
UNSEEMLY, OF COURSE.
ESPECIALLY SINCE IT SEEMS TO
SIT ODDLY WITH THE OTHERWORLDLY
AMBITIONS OF MY SUBJECT,
PHILOSOPHY.
HOW IS IT POSSIBLE FOR SOMEONE
TO BE ENGAGED IN LOFTY THOUGHTS
WHEN HE IS CHECKING THE CREASES
ON HIS TROUSERS, AFTER ALL.
NOW CAN CONCERN WITH THE
IMPLICATIONS OF THE HABERMASIAN
IDEAL SPEECH SITUATION BE
RECONCILED FOR CONCERN FOR A
PRECISE COLOUR MATCH BETWEEN
TIE AND SOCKS?
WELL A SIMPLE ANSWER TO THAT
QUESTION IS THE ONE THE FORMER
PRIME MINISTER, PIERRE TRUDEAU,
HIMSELF A STYLE MAVEN OF NO
MEAN GIFTS ONCE GAVE TO
REPORTERS IN AN OTTAWA PRESS
SCRUM.
"JUST WATCH ME."
BUT SOMETIMES, MORE SERIOUSLY,
I REFRESH THE MEMORIES OF MY
KNIT-BROW COLLEAGUES WITH
MACHIAVELLI'S ACCOUNT OF HIS
ENGAGEMENTS WITH THE ANCIENT
AUTHORS DURING POLITICAL EXILE.
THIS IS A PASSAGE I HAPPILY
UNDERLINED DURING AN
UNDERGRADUATE POLITICAL THEORY
COURSE TAUGHT IN THE LONG-AGO
YEAR OF 1981, WHEN WE ALL
THOUGHT THE END OF THE WORLD
WAS MUCH CLOSER THAN WE DO NOW,
AT LEAST BY CERTAIN MEANS.
MACHIAVELLI WRITES, "WHEN
EVENING COMES, I RETURN TO MY
HOME AND I GO INTO MY STUDY.
AND ON THE THRESHOLD I TAKE OFF
MY EVERYDAY CLOTHES, WHICH ARE
COVERED WITH MUD AND MIRE, AND
I PUT ON REGAL AND CURIAL
ROBES.
AND DRESSED IN A MORE
APPROPRIATE MANNER, I ENTER
INTO THE ANCIENT COURTS OF
ANCIENT MEN, AND AM WELCOMED BY
THEM KINDLY.
AND THERE I AM NOT ASHAMED TO
SPEAK TO THEM, TO ASK THEM THE
REASONS FOR THEIR ACTIONS, AND
THEY, IN THEIR HUMANITY, ANSWER
ME.
AND FOR FOUR HOURS, I FEEL NO
BOREDOM, I DISMISS EVERY
AFFLICTION.
I NO LONGER FEAR POVERTY, NOR
DO I TREMBLE AT THE THOUGHT OF
DEATH.
I HAVE NOTED DOWN WHAT I HAVE
LEARNED FROM THEIR
CONVERSATION, AND COMPOSED A
LITTLE WORK,
DE
PRINCIPATIPUS,
WHERE I
DELVE AS DEEPLY AS I CAN INTO
THOUGHTS ON THIS SUBJECT."
WOULD THAT WE ALL POSSESSED
MACHIAVELLI'S JAUNTINESS IN THE
FACE OF WORLDLY ADVERSITY.
TO DRESS UP, EVEN IN EXILE, TO
SPEAK TO THE ANCIENT VOICES.
AND HIS SENSE OF THE FINERY'S
SIMULTANEOUS SIGN OF RESPECT
AND BARRIER AGAINST THE
MISFORTUNES OF HIS LIFE AT THAT
TIME.
MY BUDDY MARK THOMPSON USED TO
OWN AN EXPENSIVE CUTTING EDGE
TAILORED SUIT THAT HE LIKED TO
WEAR TO JOB INTERVIEWS, NOT
BECAUSE IT WAS SUITABLE FOR
THEM, BUT PRECISELY BECAUSE IT
WASN'T.
THIS WAS A SUIT THAT WAS
BEAUTIFUL BEYOND THE
EXPECTATIONS OF THE WORKING
WORLD, A SUIT TO WEAR WHILE
STROLLING IN THE PIAZZA SAN
MARCO.
A SUIT TO WEAR ON A DATE WITH
ELIZABETH HURLEY.
MARK CALLED THIS SUIT HIS,
"FUCK YOU SUIT."
WHEREVER POSSIBLE, YOUR SUIT
SHOULD BE A FUCK YOU SUIT.
IT SHOULD SOMEHOW, VERY
SLIGHTLY IRRITATE THE MUNDANE
PREJUDICES AND ROUTINE
POMPOSITIES OF THE COUSIN
JASPERS OF THE WORLD.
YOUR SOCKS SHOULD BE A LITTLE
TOO SKY BLUE, AS FRED ASTAIRE
USED TO WEAR THEM, OR CHAMPAGNE
COLOURED, AS CARY GRANT DID.
YOUR TIE SHOULD BE A SMIDGE TOO
UNUSUAL FOR WHERE YOU WORK, THE
SHIRT SHOULD BE TOO LAVENDER,
OR CITRON, THE SILHOUETTE A
LITTLE TOO EXAGGERATED.
AND YOUR RAINCOAT SHOULD BE, AS
MY FRIEND ALLEN'S IS, THE
RESULT OF A WEEKS LONG QUEST IN
PARISIAN BOUTIQUES FOR THE
PERFECT WHITE COTTON, NAVY
LINING AND DASHING TURN BACK
CUFFS.
IT HELPS, OF COURSE, IF, LIKE
ME, YOU DON'T HAVE TO WEAR A
SUIT EVERY DAY, DON'T HAVE TO
WEAR A SUIT AT ALL.
BECAUSE THEN THE SUIT CAN
FLOWER AS THE DRESS UNIFORM AND
NOT JUST THE WORK-A-DAY
UNIFORM.
THE SUIT IS A COSTUME, AND
EVERY FORAY INTO THE WORLD CAN
TAKE ITS PROPER PLACE AS A KIND
OF URBAN ADVENTURE, A COMPLEX
ENCOUNTER OF BEAUTY WITH
UGLINESS, OF STYLE WITH
BOREDOM, OF YOUTH WITH TIME.
AND THUS ARRAYED, YOU MAY GLIDE
THROUGH YOUR DAY IN YOUR, AS IT
MIGHT BE, TODD OLDHAM QUASI-
EDWARDIAN FROCK, IN PURPLE RAW
SILK, YOU MAY SKIM THE SIDEWALK
IN YOUR CHUNKY
COMME DES GARCONS
SHOES, YOUR
BRIGHT BLUE TIE MAY BILLOW AND
FLAP OUT BEHIND YOU, AND AS YOU
WALK, THINK OF THE DANDIES OF
ANOTHER ALLEGEDLY MORE DECADENT
AGES, AND WONDER WHY WE DON'T
ALWAYS SET OUR BAR SO HIGH
MOST OF THE TIME.

A picture shows an ornate green suede frock coat embroidered with colourful flowers, and a pearly white vest with an intricate pattern of leaves and flowers.

Mark continues WONDER WHY WE ALLOW OUR
DECADENCE TO BE ONE ALL OF THE
MIND AND SPIRIT, A DECADENCE OF
MEDIOCRITY AND ACQUISITIVENESS,
RATHER THAN WHAT IT WAS MEANT
TO BE, A CHALLENGE TO RECEIVED
WISDOM AND BOURGEOIS
SLUGGISHNESS.
AND THINK, FINALLY, AS YOU
WALK, OF YOUR FATHER, AND HIS
SENSE OF STYLE.
THINK OF WHAT YOU HAVE
BORROWED, WHAT YOU HAVE
INVENTED, WHAT YOU HAVE
PAINFULLY THROWN OFF.
BEHIND THE CAREFUL TAILORING
AND COLOURFUL SILK, THIS STROLL
IS A PRIMAL ENCOUNTER OF YOUR
CULTURE AND YOUR UPBRINGING.
IT IS A PERSONAL STORY, NOT YET
FINISHED, A NARRATIVE OF SELF
CREATION WAITING TO HAPPEN.
YOU ONLY GET ONE CHANCE TO TAKE
THIS PARTICULAR WALK, DON'T
WASTE IT.
YOU ARE, IN MIND, AT LEAST, THE
YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS.
DON'T SEEK APPROVAL, DEMAND
ONLY RESPECT.
BE A MAN, BE A DANDY.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

[Sustained applause]

A black slate reads "A co-production of TVOntario and ROM's Institute of Contemporary Culture."

Watch: Mark Kingwell - Lecture