Nostalgia and Ideals

Posted by: on Jun 9, 2010 | No Comments


First off, I want to say thank you to everyone who left comments on my piece about travel and inelegance two weeks ago. I’m glad to know I’m not just being a sour puss, and others feel the same way.

Of all the comments though, the one that stood out from the rest was that of the reflective Mr. Flibble, who pointed out the distorted view we may have of the past and its mores. While I don’t want to use this as an opportunity to directly deal with only his comments, I do think he raises questions that bear more exploration. So for all of you who thought I was simply ignoring your comments, I was most certainly not, and here is your reply.

Mr. Flibble focused mostly on issues of decorum and manners, only touching on dress at the end of his analysis. But, while I could write books (that I would be totally unqualified to write) on the subject of manners and behavior, I will take this chance to focus on the ways in which his comments apply more broadly. While I would agree that the Gilded Age was not a time without poor conduct and poor attitudes (far from it), I find the romanticization of this era, or any era at that, to be a helpful tool in creating a more elegant future. No age is perfect, nor anywhere close for that matter, but we can always learn from those who came before us, whether it be from their successes or their mistakes, and then seek to make our own lives more enriched.

If we look to art for an analogue, Neo-Classicism is a prime example of this process. Were Ancient Greece and Rome perfect places, full of artistic and athletic purity, celebrated through colorful festivals, and devoid of hedonistic and immoral practices? No, absolutely not. And, moreover, I do not believe that those who attempted to “emulate the ancients” did so fully believing this fallacy either. It was their ability to look to something in the past, draw its finest qualities away from the dregs, and aspire to create a greatness they thought was lacking in their own lives through artistic means. Titian’s paintings are both astounding and probably nothing like Ancient Greece; it is the historically inspired ideal that is valuable, not only the historicity itself.

If those of us who frequent the men’s style blogosphere were living a hundred years ago, I would be willing to bet we would probably be lamenting the new, naff short dinner jackets becoming all the rage, rather than the slashed denim and logo T-shirts we rail on now. Rather than thinking what we might be inclined to think now, that all men were elegant in their suits, ties, and correspondents, we would probably all find other details and quirks to mourn. Most of us are “classically” inclined, and that requires a certain historic tendency – I think this perfectly healthy, as long as we are able to reflect and admit our position.

Now, finally, I hope I have not offended anyone in my musings. They are just that. If you feel like this does not represent your ideas, please comment and let me know. Or worse, if I misinterpreted your previous comments, please set me straight. For me, this is one of the biggest questions in classic men’s dress – when do ideals and inspirations become out of touch, out of date, or simply misguided rather than pleasantly nostalgic and practicable?

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