This opening essay, Behind the Veil of Style, is an introduction to J.A. Shapira as a person and as a writer.
It was previously published on April 8, 2017, in France’s most celebrated style magazine for men : Parisian Gentleman.
BEHIND THE VEIL OF STYLE
by J.A. Shapira
As he walks the storybook streets of France, an otherwise ordinary Parisian man strikes a svelte silhouette, wearing a rakish ensemble. His bespoke double-breasted suit pairs exquisitely with a bold ascot beneath his slightly opened shirt. Like a symphony of elegant apparel, each accessory seamlessly harmonizes with his overall look. From the shine of his loafers to the pocket square which plays off the hues of his necktie, to a boutonnière worthy of Pierre Elliott Trudeau—every aspect of his attire is thoughtfully crafted like a coveted painting gracing the vaults of Paris’ most celebrated galleries. Splashes of bold color, textured fabrics, and various hand-stitching add a touch of Italian sprezzatura which serves as testimony that he didn’t steal his outfit from Fashion Week’s runway show. Yet, despite being somewhat dandy-esque, he remains as classic and evocative as a British aristocrat from the 1920s—the quintessential international man.
While many may characterize this gentleman as a merry-andrew, peacocking in continual pursuit of attention, there’s far more behind the veil of his apparel than meets the eye. The modern world might classify his attire as being too formal for the conveniences of ‘accepted fashion’. However, it may surprise you to realize that from his ascot to his loafers, he showcases a casual sophistication that is still not nearly formal enough for even the most solemn of affairs!
STYLE MATTERS : PAST AND PRESENT
The substance of men’s style dates back to the dawn of modern civilization when style became an annex of proper etiquette and politeness. For example, in the Edwardian era, a gentleman didn’t dare attend dinner without a tailcoat. At the time, elegant presentation was a way to honor hosts and guests alike. The same approach applied to frequenting the theater or any other event deserving one’s finest attire. After all, the orchestra, the actors, as well as the playwright put tremendous effort into entertaining their audience, and the least a gentleman could do (besides paying his ticket) was to dress up.
Few today approach men’s fashion as a form of gallantry. The neglect of dressing up not only ignores the importance of the occasion, but also snubs the practice of etiquette-itself, a practice which seems to be lost somewhere in the pages of the history books.
As a result, many-a-contemporary-man exists in an unprecedented world of egocentric fashion where he spends time with others while not actually being in the presence of others—opting instead to communicate in separate locations through the use of modern technology.
It’s become the norm in the first world to see people glued to their cell phones at a restaurant taking pictures of food (when not texting or using social media) or at the theatre taking endless ‘selfies’ with a grand backdrop, with no regard to the context of the show.
Nor is it uncommon to find professionals wearing chinos and polo shirts to the office. All in all, what was once a cathedral of formality in regard to one’s occupation, is now a leisurely escape. Barristers and solicitors reserve suits for court; physicians and surgeons don denim jeans under white coats; and the most formal of bankers and executives attend client and board meetings wearing attire once-reserved for repose in the privacy of one’s home.
As today’s craftsmen go to great lengths to make such things like Neapolitan jackets which can be put into the washing machine and even dapper jackets designed specifically for cyclists, with a little knowledge and effort, such occupational style hazards as described above, can be easily addressed.
In the days of yore, fashion as we know it today didn’t exist. There were no brand names, designers, or bold clothing ridden with labels, logos, and designs intended to showcase one’s worth. It didn’t matter if you were a nobleman wearing bespoke attire from Savile Row or a laborer who inherited a tweed jacket from an elder sibling. Regardless of wealth, social status or opportunity, men dressed in the finest attire they could, not only for the personal satisfaction of looking one’s best, but also as an actionable sign of respect for the men and women around him (unlike today’s version of seeking admiration through gestures such as wearing T-shirts blasted with Versace logos).
STYLE, ETIQUETTE AND COMFORT
I know of two separate stories of men who work from home who proudly proclaim that they ‘video conference’ in a dress shirt with their bottom-half unclothed (to what extent I do not wish to know). On the flip-side, I prefer to dress up everyday and am still surprised when neighbors and nearby friends frown upon my persistence of wearing a suit to work every day, even when I’m working alone with no scheduled meetings. When met with words like “Why don’t you just wear comfortable clothes like jeans or sweatpants?”, I feel a certain sadness when my efforts to dress well aren’t valued, but also feel great personal satisfaction and a boost of confidence when I dress as well as I can, and when I buy the best clothes I can afford.
With the continual advent of portable (and wearable) technology, most of us communicate with our friends and family through social networks, video chats, and instant messaging. Rarely do we spend time face-to-face together , and even when we do, smartphones are ever-present, negating the purpose of gathering together in the first place. Thus, no longer are we inspired to dress for other people in our lives. We interact online on the couch or in bed, wearing pajamas or perhaps less, since the only part of us to behold is limited to where we aim the lens of our camera.
A voguish life of leisure has little resemblance to what our modern ancestors experienced. Indeed, in those earlier days, one dressed with consideration—even inside the home, interactions were in-person, and wearing only a shirt to a meeting wasn’t an option.
Getting together took effort from both parties and required dressing up as a way to show respect for each other, whether it be for the proprietor or the guests of the said establishment (not to mention the personal satisfaction of feeling great because one looks great).
Even going out for dinner isn’t reason enough to dress up anymore. A friend at a fine dining establishment with a rudimentary dress code revealed to me that lately, a larger number of male patrons require the loan of a jacket for admittance, than those who do not !
Gentlemen who prefer to dress-up instead of dress-down in a tech-driven industry, simply view their way of dressing as a critical and voluntary part of daily life. Even so, the well-dressed gentleman is oft chastised as an attention-seeker. Such harsh judgement is barely different than a schoolyard bully tormenting an astute pupil — out of fear — fear of the power loss at stake when someone dares to defy popular opinion.
There are different types of well-dressed men. But even if peacocking and classic style are two different animals, it really doesn’t matter whether a gentleman’s personal style leans more towards discretion or outward expression, the intention to dress well is simply to respect others, boost one’s mood, and to experience the inner satisfaction of wearing quality clothing which honors generational craftsmen who toil with love to create art through the making of a fine shoe or a tailored suit.
In my case, when I put on my finest attire and take the time to tie my favorite bow, it’s because being in your company is worth it. Rather than tossing on a pair of khakis and a 1980’s band T-shirt, I try to curate my outfit with you in mind, and as a bonus, I usually feel better about myself for making the effort.
Of course, there still remains those who use their energy to try to judge and degrade others who like to wear a good suit or jacket with name-calling like ‘try-hard’, ‘dandy-wanna-be”, or ‘peacock’. Yet, for the man who prefers to express classic style, the practice of dressing well is just a way of everyday life and has nothing to do with theatrics.
This way of living is embraced by gentlemen who value the practice of good etiquette and believe dressing well for others (who earmark part of their day for such a meeting) is more important than acquiescing to the status quo of “comfort and convenience”…keeping in mind that etiquette and elegance cannot be divided, or both will cease to exist.