Out of Style

Once I finished complaining last week about the Americans’ inability to put together a comprehensive proposal, I realised that they were compensating by being the worst dressed people on this side of Ukraine.

By Sir Taki Theodoracopulos

J.Crew has been in the news lately because the company has changed hands again, with journalists nostalgic for the preppy style and all that 60s stuff. All I can say is, how can they understand it? Journalists wouldn’t know what style was; they even thought Gianni Agnelli’s unbuttoned button-down shirt was due to carelessness.

The last American journalist with style was Joe Alsop, long gone, a cousin of Roosevelt and a Washington insider who, unlike the motley group of imposters and “awakening” journalists assembled by the Bagel Times (NYTimes), was born a gentleman. Style is the most overused word in English, usually attributed to fashionable people who lack it, Vogue’s Anna Wintour being a prime example. Style is an elusive quality and no one is able to buy it or fake it. It is abstract in nature, and one either has it or one doesn’t. Now more than ever, and especially here at Bagel(NY City), there is a lack of style, especially at the top.

Women used to dress up to be admired by men. Now they dress to be comfortable, and they look much poorer for it. Some look like women – Soviet snipers from way back, others like homeless girls, but one thing is for sure: No one will whistle at them, even if whistling wasn’t a crime punishable by imprisonment. Still, the idea that it’s written about men’s fashion instead of women’s fashion tells us a lot about the state of America.

The “awakened” culture has an unyielding stranglehold on style. This is because fashion was basically invented to reinforce the strutting female ego. But strutting is forbidden in the climate of the “awakened” at the moment. Dressing not formally is in, and to hell with beauty, style and elegance. But back to prep style: it never actually existed, but it was popularized in the movie “Love Story” more than fifty years ago. The boys in American prep schools, like their counterparts in British public schools, all dressed a certain way: sport coats with khaki trousers, button-down shirts and loafers. Those who didn’t were called greasers, because they dressed and sounded like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Yes, they were snobs, but so what? Greasers became preppy after a while, and so on. Throughout the past week the newspapers and other media here in New York City have been full of stories about the paradoxes of prep style – written by those who never went to prep school but have seen the movie. Most of what was published was outdated, because one of the defining oddities of the era is the desire to wear name brand clothing. That syndrome came later, much later, after preppies like Taki wore khaki jackets and penny loafers under the clock at the Biltmore, which is no longer with us-the hotel, not Taki.

America’s changing attitude towards fashion now leans towards leisure uniforms, overalls and leggings, along with oversized bags for women, bulky dark jackets and sagging large trousers for men. Dressing not formally is in and to hell with charm and style. In a lengthy NY Times article his author admits he wasn’t familiar with prep style growing up, but became familiar – he or she, I couldn’t tell the gender from the name – through the movie in which Ali MacGraw calls Ryan O’Neal a “preppie”. The author somehow brings WASP privilege and other tired clichés into the news, as expected. What the article gets wrong is Ralph Lauren. Lauren, born Lipitz or something in the Bronx, was never a preppy icon. His clothes were too pretentious, the stripes too loud and too far apart, and so on. One of Lauren’s earliest and most recognizable ads was called “Polo” and he committed, in my opinion, the greatest faux pas of all time by showing a left-handed hit with the sport’s hammer. Lefties are not allowed in the game of polo because they mess up the line. But how was Lauren supposed to know that, n’est-ce pas?

Brooks Brothers, now gone with the wind, was the original supplier of anything preppy, along with J. Press. I suspect Ralph Lauren was inspired by them, copied their style but went overboard, at least in my opinion. His clothing was also very expensive, and WASP culture rejects conspicuous consumption. When she was young, my daughter was a big fan of the J.Crew catalogue, along with many imitators, filling my house with their laundry lists and asking me incessantly for money.

Once we entered the university, a university founded by the greatest of all Americans, Thomas Jefferson, fraternity pledges like us would outdo each other prep style while looking around like candidates for political office. In my fraternity house, the only one who wasn’t preppy had fought with distinction in Korea, so he was free to look like a greaser, even though he was an old-school gentleman.

This all sounds rather snobbish, but still, so what? Snobby is supposed to mean without civility, sensa nobilita, or something like that, but preppy was never about where you come from – that was invented by Hollywood types and journalists whose ancestors didn’t exist before the great aristocrat Donald Trump. Preppy was a school uniform for boys who stood up when a lady entered the room , returned a wallet they found on the street, and didn’t talk about what they did in bed the next morning. Nothing special, except being part of a lost America.