Saturday 19 December 2009
Dylan Jones: 'I shall not only be wearing my new double-breasted suit at Christmas, I shall be wearing it all winter
Talk Of The Town
The sociology of taste – even at Christmas – is now something of an industry, one lovingly kick-started in this country by Peter York, who both adopted and adapted Tom Wolfe's meritocratic barometer. But there were others before Wolfe, who also understood that the world was changing. In 1954, the culture critic Russell Lynes published The Tastemakers: The Shaping of American Popular Taste, a lengthy meditation on the nature of taste, which Lynes believed had supplanted class as the new social hierarchy. As it happened he was about a decade shy of the curve, but he could feel the rules beginning to bend.
Taste, Lynes argued, could be broken down into three very obvious categories: Highbrow, Middlebrow and Lowbrow, each with their own sub-sections. And quite naturally his meditation included a fair amount on clothing. A supplementary chart in The Tastemakers includes the following sartorial hierarchy: Highbrow = Fuzzy Harris tweed suit in town, same in country. Upper Middlebrow = Brooks Brothers suit and rep tie in town, tweed jacket and knit tie in country. Lower Middlebrow = Double-breasted suit and "splashy" tie in city, sport shirt and coloured trousers in country. Lowbrow = "Loafer" jacket and woven shoes in town, old army clothes in country.
What, hold on a minute! Did he just call the double-breasted suit middlebrow? I can understand how cartoon gangsters, door-to-door salesmen and zoot-suited pachucos soiled the DB's American post-war image, but over here, in Britain, where gentlemen still stalked the streets? Mr Lynes obviously didn't travel well.
However for the last 15 years or so, the Great British Suit-Wearing Male has given the DB a wide berth, and while there will always be a hopeful designer who will self-consciously send a few down the catwalk, neither the press nor the buyers are ever particularly interested.
But what do they know. This week I've taken delivery of my first double-breasted suit since 1994 – and I shall not only be wearing it at Christmas, I shall be wearing it all winter. If you want to call me middlebrow then just go ahead.
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'
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