A Fine Line Between Classic Style and Retro Caricature

Words by: Andrew Hodges

As the current readers of my blog, A Southern Gentleman, already know, and as my new readers here on MensFlair may soon discover, I am a proponent of classic men’s style. One may trace the roots of most of the best elements of male attire to the first half of the 20th Century, sometimes referred to as “The Golden Age of Style.” I do not mean to romanticize that era or suggest that it represents some utopia of male sartorial splendor. But it is an inescapable truth that, as a general rule, our ancestors dressed more stylishly than we do today.

When incorporating these elements of classic style into one’s daily wardrobe, I believe there is a fine line between dressing with style and merely becoming a caricature of an era. For example, a safari jacket, if woven properly into a summer wardrobe (a vintage Esquire illustration comes to mind), can add a classically stylish element to a man’s attire. One who instead pairs the safari jacket with a pith helmet and gurkha shorts risks being mistaken for an extra from Hatari! or a WWII military reenactor who took a wrong turn somewhere in North Africa.

A couple of years ago I picked up a handful of issues of a new magazine called Classic Style. The name of the magazine was promising, but unfortunately much of the content crossed that line into retro caricature. I recall one advertisement for a leather belt-worn cell phone holster (that’s a rant for another day). The model pictured in the advertisement was dressed in a gray double-breasted suit with high-waisted pleated trousers, a loud geometric-patterned vintage tie with a silver tie bar, a Panama hat and spectator shoes (apparently making spats unnecessary to complete the look). Individually, many of the elements of the model’s attire were quite stylish. Panama hats, spectator shoes and tie bars are all classics. But taken as a whole, the look was fatuous and outdated.

I encourage everyone to incorporate, in moderate doses, elements of classic style into their daily wardrobe, and to aspire to dress better than the t-shirt and flip-flop clad masses. But beware of looking like you just stepped out of a Wellsian time machine. It’s a fine line.