Sunday, January 3, 2010

Trad Indifference

I don’t think the Kennedys thought too much about their clothes. But isn’t that one of the keys to having an element of enviable style? Not caring too much about your clothes? I’ve settled on calling it Trad Indifference. This feeble little concept came to me when I was reading Esquire magazine last night. You can be crazy about clothes but not give too much of a hoot regarding how you put them together and to me, that’s the trick. I’d say that the Duke of Windsor was clearly that way and my hunch is that the Kennedy clan operated from a similar position.

Adolph Menjou will always be my example of one who obviously spent tons of money on clothes but always looked too contrived in them. He was the opposite of Trad Indifference. I’d say he was Savile Row Retentive.

You don’t have to be a sartorial historian to conclude rather quickly that the Kennedys were subject to bespoken clothes at very young ages. But then again, even middle class folk had their clothes made at the turn of the century-but from less elite tailors.

Indifference only yields such style when it is manifest through Trad suppliers.  Indifference to other genres of clothing would yield less than impressive results I’d say. I mean look at JFK the hell did he tuck that shirt tail in like that? My bet is that even he couldn't tell you. Why? Because he was indifferent. And, he had to hurry back from taking a pee pee to jump into the picture with his brothers. Bobby has at least three layers on and I bet those khakis were on his bedroom floor that morning.

Shawl and Peak formal wear. It's all good and correct. But how correct would it need be? I bet there was never an angst laden debate between the Kennedy boys about how correct their formal attire was. Never did you have Bobby stammering and stamping his feet saying to young Teddy..."But we can't leave yet-tell the driver to wait...the grosgrain width of my bowtie doesn't match the grosgrain scale of my lapel". If Jack had heard this exchange he would have given Bobby a wedgie and admonished him to get his "faggy ass in the car".

As for off the peg items one can assume that the piles of Kennedy clothes came from J. Press, The Brethren, probably an item or two in the later years from Charlie Davidson’s Andover Shop and of course, most folks know that Chipp made JFK’s suits for a time. Look at the buttons on Kick's overcoat. Massive-the size of gas caps or Aunt Tootie's aereolas-not that I've seen them. Tintin told me.

And just what is it about Bobby's refusal to wear belts? Remember the picture of him in slippers and those checkiddy pants sans belt?

And Trad Indifference wasn't lost on Black Jack-Jackie's daddy. Turn those britches legs up when you need to.

Hard to see in this picture but JFK is wearing the Bass Weejun with the two eyelet tie. I'd kill for a pair of those. I'd kill and maim for a pair in Navy Damn Blue. Shut up-for the first time in twenty oh ten.

And of course the ubiquitous JFK Wayfarers.

I loved hiring kids right out of undergrad when I was a hiring manager in the pharma industry. I wasn't much more than a kid myself-being a prodigy and all. The guys I hired sometimes had the proper clothes for the job but often times they didn’t. When they were lacking, I took them to Brooks Brothers and on my own dime would buy them the requisite Trad Starter Kit. Even if they didn’t like clothes or didn’t relish spending their own money on them I would teach them quickly that if they simply went to The Brethren or back then, even Joseph A. Banks, they wouldn’t end up making mistakes. My gesture usually contributed to a very loyal and hardworking new hire as well. So the lesson I see in Trad Indifference is that the source of the things about which you are indifferent make all the difference in the world regarding whether you will eventually look interestingly shabby or just flat out stupid.

French cuffs and a tie slightly askew. Additional evidence of Trad Indifference.

The Kennedys certainly had the genetic and physical predisposition to wear clothes well but I remain settled on the fact that when grabbing togs to play outside in Hyannisport or when dressing for a political rally-the cogitation was brief. After ten minutes of ruminating, your sibs would be giving you shit. JFK's sportcoat above was most assuredly bespoken. The collar fits-hugs too well for this to be an off the peg contrivance.

Espadrilles on JFK. Damn. Talk about indifference….even I, the man of a thousand slippers wouldn’t touch this rig with a ten foot pole. I gasped with such force when I saw this picture that I blew snuff all over the back of LFG’s head.

Sartorial utility is another trait of Indifference. Wearing a sportcoat and tie-as evidenced here by JFK with his brothers above. And below we see JFK with, I think, the same sportcoat on with buttoned up knit shirt, being followed by that spineless sycophant asshole Robert McNamara. I know why McNamara slicked his hair back so thoroughly. It made easier the task of getting his head so far up JFK's and LBJ's asses. Yes, I have opinions. Notice also the two button sleeve-Chipp maybe?

So here’s my deal with regard to Trad Indifference. You need to care about how you look and how you carry yourself. But not too much. You need to buy quality and remain loyal to the stalwarts that provide said quality and style. The Brethren, J. Press, Polo, the small artisanal craftspeople that create one of a kind adornments and of course, your tailor of choice. But when you are standing before your aggregation-ruminating over which pieces of the pile to extract and swath yourself-limit your cogitation to seven and three quarters minutes.



Kent said...

I have a photo of myself in espadrilles from the 80's that's equally cringe-worthy. I imagine if JFK saw that photo of himself today, he'd be thinking the same thing we are.

As for the whole "contrived" vs. "effortless" style thing, I know a lot of people who spend way too much time trying to look like they aren't trying. The real deal is almost always easy to spot, however.

James said...

"Nail on the Head" award goes to you. A great job of illustrating the true essence of trad dress.I really enjoyed this post with my morning coffee. Hope LFG got the snuff out of her hair!

Patrick said...

"Savile Row Retentive" is very funny.

Toad said...

Perhaps part of the time warp is involved. Once upon a time you could shop at the Bretheren and never set a foot wrong. Today you would look like a clown. Knowledgeable retailers and bespoke makers are rare and need be cherished. Trad Indifferent or not, style rarely comes from indifferent clothing.

ADG said...

James....just added your link to my faves list. Can't believe that I forgot to do so. I sent LFG back to her mom with the snuff therein. Gotta keep things controversial you know.

Kent...I've got some espadrilles but their ain't no pictures of me sporting them.

L.A.S said...

Absolutely fantastic. That is all.

LPC said...

My father the professor has indifference down. Savile Row worn because that's all he could find in his closet. I must add, hair is critical. See that Kennedy hair? It's the secret sauce.

~Tessa~Scoffs said...

Enjoyed this. Happy New Year.

Gail, in northern California said...

Whoa. You're on a roll now.

Git while the gittin's good -- any chance you might be willing to tackle "Charlotte-circa 1996" now? Before you hit the road again? If that post would require a certain frame of mind or mood, I'm willing to wait but, I don't want you to think for a moment that I've forgotten.

What can I say? Today's post is outstanding..."snuff in LFG's hair" will have me smiling all day.

TWA said...

ADG I must agree with James here. I love your blog and have been reading for a while and by far this is my favorite post ever. Nail on the head indeed sir. I think JKF got all the fame but bobby was the real sartorial mind of the trio. You can spot trad indifference a mile away and its that effortless style which is to me most admired. Well done sir.

Anonymous said...

Though I'm only in my second year of college right now, I can only hope and pray I have a mentor like you when I enter the job market. Though I am fairly well equipped in the wardrobe department, a gesture such as taking a young hire out to buy some proper work clothes (some of my friends could benefit from such an excursion) would mean the world to a young hire I'm sure. Best of New Years greeting to you and yours and I look forward to the blog in 2010...

Pigtown-Design said...

Somewhere I stumbled across another picture of JFK in his Stubbs shoes. If I find it again, i will scan and send it to you.

happy new year, hon!

Paul said...

Those last two photo of JFK in this post - looks just like what my Dad would wear - but he was J. Press all-the-way and some Rosenburg's (both on York St., New Haven).

JFK and my Dad were the same age.

SFTrny said...

Throwing a few elbows in this post, aren't you? A blatant one for Tintin and a less obvious one with the grosgrain. Yes, I caught that one. :-)

CeceliaMc said...

An Ebay seller recently sent me an item wrapped up in the pages of an ancient Ladies Home Journal.

The page contained an interview with actress Arlene Dahl (who seems to have been famous for being one of the wives of Fernando Lamas.)

The interview was after JFK was dead, and Dahl talked about having met him by being seated in a plane next to a young senator in a wrinkled suit who she just knew was going to be the next president.

I don't know if Kennedy ended up impressing Dahl with more than his intelligence, but I do think JFK looked like he didn't care, because he truly didn't care. '

George Burns said that the secret to acting is sincerity and if you can fake that you've got it made.

You can fake sincerity with more ease than you can fake trad indifference. In always ends up still looking joozed.

To point out the opposite archetype from the enfant trad indifferent, I think your picture of Gus Peterson (from an older blog) illustrates the fact that one's attire can look as plotted as D-Day, but still done up with such wit and obvious pleasure that it defies any sense of contrivance or stuffiness, in the way that an intricate watercolor from an artist's hand defies it. In fact, the effort is all the more enjoyable because of the joyous creativity applied to it.

Whatever the style, sartorial grace seems to flow from a man's sense of ease and from his enjoyment of beauty. From his enjoyment too of himself and of others.

Things that you seem to have come by naturally.

Anonymous English Female said...

ADG - Great post - wonderful pictures! I always loved the Kennedy brothers I-never-look-in-the-mirror nonchalance, not to mention the humour to wear espadrilles like that.

Mrs. G said...

First time commenter here. I could read you for hours. Actually I think I just did. Thanks for the great entertainment. As a poorly educated blogger that relies heavily on pictures to tell my stories, reading blogs like yours and, my other favorite, LPC is inspiring me to loftier goals.

I know we just met but...

Maybe if I keep reading I will develop a more interesting signature.

tintin said...

I thought Aereola was a Lancia?

Former Senator from Iowa, John Culver, gives a beautiful remembrance at Teddy's wake. You can see Part II here:

After which, you will want to see Part I (unless your Republican swine).

Culver mentions picking up a little salesman from the Andover Shop to crew on the boat for a race the summer of '53. It had to have been Mr Davidson.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the partly tucked in shirt, given what revisionist historians have taught us about JFK, maybe he was off doing something else beside taking a pee pee.

As someone over at AAAC reported, the iconic JFK sunglasses were actually American Optical Saratogas, similar to Wayfarers, but with a thinner sidearm.

I'm a little too young to have drunk the Kennedy KoolAid, but agree these are looks for the ages.

NCJack said...

Your last paragraph pretty will summed it up for me. Life's too short to agonize over "today's fashion statement" every morning.

I've occasionally been accused of being "old fashioned", but not of being poorly dressed, and after of few basic decisions, made decades ago, it's pretty much effortless.

LPC said...

Thank you Mrs. G., *she says, piping up from the sidelines* but never underestimate the value of a good picture:).

Memphis88 said...

That issue of Esquire is definitely a keeper. I was simultaneously shocked/highly amused by some of the quotes and moved by others. All of the pictures are great, too. Anon is right about the sunglasses. I have tried in vain to find a pair of those things and have come up empty for a few years. One of these days.......

ADG said...

Toad...I seem to be more focused on the past-style and deportment wise-than ever.

L.A.S ...Thanks. As always.
Absolutely fantastic. That is all.

LPC ...Kennedy Secret Sauce…yep…hair and teeth.

~Tessa~Scoffs ...Thanks!

NorCalGail...I will take a shot at the Charlotte posting sometime soon. I’ve been avoiding that one and one about my father ‘cause I know they are gonna take a lot out of me.

TWA ...Many thanks for your kind words!

Luke...Mentoring….it’s a karma thing as far as I’m concerned. Happy New Year to you as well.

MegTown...Thanks and back at you hon! When are you moving?

Paul...Happy New Year. Send me the Paul’s #5

SFTrny...Happy New Year! The elbows were thrown in the spirit of fun and facetiousness. No harm intended!

CeceliaMc...You are well spoken, witty and kind as usual.

AnonEngFem...It would take an ass load of humour to get me in those strappy espadrilles!

Mrs. G...Thanks for commenting and happy New Year to you, Sue.

Tintin...My brother-Aunt Tootie used to drive a Lancia. Thanks for the link. I also like what one of Teddy’s granddaughters said about getting up early-real early and sitting on the porch with him in a selfish effort to get one on one time with him. She said at that moment…”all the world seemed right”. That’s sublime. I’d love to see a visual schematic of The Andover Shop/Charlie Davidson’s relationships. George Frazier-Kennedys-Miles Davis-Richard Merkin-Flusser…….

Anonymous...I never drank the Kennedy Kool Aid either-not that it wouldn’t have been tasty. And yes, JFK was quite the swordsman-as was his dad.

NCJack...I’ll take old fashioned any day.

Memphis88...Does American Optical not make those anymore?

CeceliaMc said...

Thanks, ADG. You're kind too.

If pressed, I'm sure you would guess me as being from Maine or Vermont...but surprise... I'm really a long-winded southerner...

Probably like everyone here, from a little child I have had incessant and vivid dreams of beautiful things-- places, buildings, rooms, clothes, possessions.

In Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga, an elderly character reminisces on seeing a breathtaking woman who he never sees again, but thinks about daily ever after. (I think Orson Wells appropriated the same imagery in Citizen Kane)

Entrenched in middle-age now, I've been contemplating this life-long enthrallment with the pleasures of the eye, in the sense of it being an innately spiritual call (in artist and art maven alike)from our lost Eden.

A nice thing about blogs is that no blog owner has a gun to his head forcing him to publish all comments, and readers are just as duress-free from having to read them.

Thank you for your liberality, ADG. And thanks again for your lovely blog.

Memphis88 said...

Unfortunately, it seems American Optical is limiting themselves to aviator style frames these days.

Victor said...

ADG, you're spot on, Trad Indifference was the Kennedy Way. I can't find the exact article, but I recall a Kennedy friend mentioning how in Jack's younger days, his habit was to wear a favorite wrinkled crewneck.

Funny thing, I do care about wrinkles and such, admittedly, I wear BB non-irons. The "indfference" I encounter is often feigned amongst my younger generation (wiki Hipsters). While one never wants to try to hard, making sure everything is well pressed and well fitted is important. When I see someone wrinkled and disheveled I can't but think negatively of them. Finding the balance of caring enough but not to much is often difficult.

Quick question: Do you think its acceptable for politicians to go sockless, ever, or say on a Sunday for coffee or beer? Or would voters find that...a turnoff?

Happy New Year!

ADG said... should blog.

Memphis...have you tried eBay? the sockless politician thing...I think it depends on where you are. Miami...probably ok....NYC...probably not....Arizona/New tell me brother!

Patsy said...

My Dad always called the look they are sporting in Hyannisport, Cape Cod Casual.

Anonymous said...

As an SC native, you should know better! Isn't it, "arrogantly indifferent" or "trad shabby"?

I found your blog when I googled Belgians. As a mom to 8 year olds, I love reading about your daughter. I divorced out of Florence, SC, and my ex went to USC in Cola. I've been in pharma sales for years. And to top it off, my brother owns a haberdashery in Charlotte. It's a small world!

Anonymous said...

Nice set of pictures, but seriously -– who refers to himself as a prodigy?

ADG said...

Patsy...C3...makes sense to me!

AnonSCNative...I'm sure we know people! I lived in Charlotte years ago. Lived in Columbia too. the Prodigy thang....seriously...I do. It's like Dizzy Dean said..."It ain't braggin' if you done it". I am.