The Dictionary of Dapper
“A man should look as though he had bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care, and then forgotten all about them.”
– Hardy Amies.
ABC of Men’s Fashion is brilliantly concise little guide devoted to classic western men’s style. Written by Hardy Amies, and first published in 1964, it is an alphabetical summary of all that any man should know about classic men’s dress. I say classic because, though when it was written it may have been a thorough reminder of early to mid-20th century standards, by 2016, and in our men’s style revivalist times, it’s a throwback to when such standards mattered to men.
And a call to make it so again.
From “Angola Yarn” to “Zip Fasteners,” and “Camelhair” to “Willow Calf” (a type of brown shoe leather), Amies runs through all that a man should classically know about himself, his clothes, and the style he shows the world.
So who was Amies, and why did he know so much?
It’s difficult to summarize.
Suffice to say he was a dressmaker, clothing designer, entrepreneur (Hardy Amies LTD.), soldier, spy, knight (twice over, Belgium and the UK), regular columnist for Esquire, and the official dresser to Queen Elizabeth II, from her accession until his retirement in 1989.
It may now seem rigid and trite to have rules, or itemized lists, of men’s fashion pieces and approaches. Maybe even somewhat clichéd “classic British,” that is, being proper, traditional, and defined by procedures (read: stiff).
Yet, the argument to be made in favour of a book such as this is the same argument to be made in favour of suits, and/or dressing well itself. Despite people’s tendency to see suiting as a rigid practice, uncomfortable, or at worst challenging, and far from modernly practical. Let’s not forget that the point of a suit is in fact to be functional clothing.
That is, clothing that functionally exists to make you look fucking awesome.
So, when we consider a book like this, with its itemized pieces, directions, and recommendations, let’s remember that it is not a rule book.
This is a dictionary of style.
It is especially important because it is a dictionary of classic, timeless style. So while we have the looks of the day always top of mind, here is the “Webster’s” of classic men’s style for us to explore, to play with, to take each alphabetical item as an individual word, and to explore their, in some cases forgotten, meaning as stylistic experimentation. More importantly, to explore their approach both with items from the other pages, and styles that have come since its publication. All for the purpose of making an individual statement of style.
Now, there may be an initial sense of irony about the seemingly overcomplicated nature of an itemized, alphabetized book of style – something that is supposed to appear natural – but remember, the book is a vocabulary of self-expression through style, style and dressing is an art, and when done right it looks effortless.
Or, as Hardy says, it should look as though you had “forgotten all about” it.