It has become fashionable to discuss classic clothing with the same cynicism once reserved for topics such as capitalism or the media. Across menswear message boards, posters frequently type out terms such as classic or timeless with alternating caps (cLaSsIc) or recurring spaces (t i m e l e s s) to signal that they're above such simple ideas. To be sure, traditional clothing has had a difficult decade. During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the first companies to file for bankruptcy were suit retailers, Brooks Brothers among them. Additionally, men who invested heavily in soft-shouldered sport coats ten years ago have since traded their Aldens for Nikes, as they've found that tailoring is too formal for their environment. Looking back, many of the things championed as timeless, classic, and trend-resistant ten years ago—slim suits, cutaway collars, and double monks—barely lasted more than a few seasons. Meanwhile, designer labels such as Margiela, Rick Owens, and Engineered Garments have been selling the same styles since the early 2000s, as their clothes are too niche, conceptual, or expensive to ever reach mass consumption and thus over-exhaustion.
Timelessness is often oversold, but in recent years, I think the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. It's a mistake to think that terms such as classic don't mean anything. Certain styles, such as trousers made with moderate proportions or oxford button-downs that fit and flatter the wearer, are relatively resistant to trends. Classic tailoring also holds a special place in our culture because it's the lingua franca of menswear—a language everyone understands, regardless of their background. Many designer aesthetics require specialized knowledge to appreciate, such as the shabby look of Kapital or the sculptural quality of Issey Miyake's futuristic creations. But almost everyone can appreciate how a man looks in a well-tailored, moderately proportioned suit because of what it represents in our collective memory.
When it comes to matters of taste, few people have a better record than beloved menswear author Bruce Boyer. I first saw Bruce online when Scott Schuman posted this photo of him on his site The Sartorialist around 2007. I was struck by the tastefulness of the outfit—a brown checked tweed with taupe trousers, a green striped tie, a light blue shirt, and a tan mac raincoat that reached Bruce's knees. The thing is, Bruce dresses the same today as he did back then, and in every other photo ever posted of him. On the inside of the dust covers for his books Elegance (1985) and Eminently Suitable (1990), you can find black-and-white author photos of a younger Bruce not only wearing the same things—a semi-spread collar shirt with rep striped tie and either a navy double-breasted blazer or houndstooth tweed—but even clothes in the same proportions. In a Permanent Style feature, Bruce flipped over the in-breast pocket of one of his sport coats to reveal an Anderson & Sheppard label typeset with his name and the date "9/5/83." Imagine never bricking a single fit for nearly forty years (possibly ever). So I asked Bruce: how does one develop good taste in clothes? His answer is below.Keep reading