Gentleman’s Fashion: Our Dandy Visits the Beach

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There’s something about being abroad that seems to inspire an Englishman to ideas and gems he couldn’t have imagined had he stayed at home, and allows an otherwise cool demeanour to slip into something a little more comfortable.

Take for example the light-bulb moment for Freddie ‘Suicide’ McEvoy in the late 1930’s, when he realised that the flowered and brightly coloured shirts he encountered sailing around the South Seas might be introduced to the world as a new fashion; which turned out to be exactly the case.

McEvoy sailed, as well as racing his Maserati 6CM in the gruelling 1936 Vanderbilt Cup, competed in the Olympic Bobsleigh and was an ace on the Cresta Run. He lived with the first of his three heiress wives at the Palace Hotel in St Moritz and persuaded her to keep an extra suite to accommodate his new, much younger, girlfriend; she happily obliged, naturally.

He was probably a German spy, bootlegger and gunrunner, but the garish flowery shirts remain his most memorable accomplishment and are part of a chap’s summer attire to this day, albeit in an updated form.

Neil Munro ‘Bunny’ Roger invented the ‘Capri Pant’ on visiting the island in 1949 after fighting the war in the Mediterranean with face powder and a copy of the latest Vogue. I’ve noticed that the Capri trousers have made something of a comeback this year for men. I doubt that the highly domed bowler hat with the tightly curled brim, that became his trademark, will find such a modern rebound; few could carry that off, but notice how, yet again, this most lasting legacy came from some foreign inspiration.

From the early eighteenth century, a group that called themselves, ‘the dilettantes’ indulged in two things specifically. One, having been around Italy a bit, and the other, of being habitually, either in the company of others or alone, drunk. These rather wealthy youngish men became something of a bridge to the modern age yet stuck to some of the traditions of the pre-industrial era and society; such as ritual ceremonies, old-style melancholic masculinity, client-patron relationships, selectivity and, above all, a good excuse for a supreme knees-up involving getting mightily sozzled, which they could well afford to do without too much concern of the consequences.

Since then, the warm South is where we all seem to want to go to; the last umbrella furls up at Centre Court, moth balls replace the wads of betting slips in the morning coat, the English summer is turning its nose up at us, so we greedily follow the sun. Perhaps not falling into ancient excavations and tripping over antiquities as much as we used to, but it calls for an opportunity to dress a little ‘differently’.

The ‘Macaroni’s’ sought fashion and attention by imitating the languid style of the dilettantes, the connoisseurs or cognocenti without the means or the wherewithal to trip around those foreign parts, yet imitating the ripped shirts and breeches caused by scrambling across a rubble pile to inspect a fine statue of Minerva or a machicolated castle.

So, abroad it is, then.

First off, getting into shape. Two weeks of the Lester Piggot diet will do the trick; champagne and cigars and a boiled egg for lunch. Byron attempted to lay down the extra girth by playing cricket wearing seven sweaters…. and swimming in the Grand Canal wearing a top hat, his servant in a rowing boat holding an umbrella over him; and dinner, boiled potatoes in vinegar.

Falsified travel documents at the ready, off to the airport and we’re away.

Don’t wear the ankle high buttoned boots a friend of mine attempted to wear through security. With his button hook stored in the luggage, it took half an hour to de-boot, causing tailbacks to Hogarth roundabout.

The classic Gucci loafer, handy slip-on, is ideal in these travel circumstances and they serve beautifully for the beach.

Cordings of Piccadilly still do a masterly, but simple, lightweight cotton suit in oyster or pale tan with enough structure to hold together and it won’t ruck up like some linens. You’ll see them on their website and they’re good value for your money.

One thing you cannot ever skimp on is a panama hat, and it packs a lot easier than a boater (which I do see extant in New York from time to time but hardly ever in London), so it really has to be Lock’s on St James’s Street for your panama and bite the bullet; keep it safe and it will see you out and beyond.

I also quite like Geoffrey Boycott’s signature straw hat which you can buy at www.gnbooks.co.uk, £30.00 plus postage; the great man’s legend is emblazoned large on the headband so it may help to have some sort of Yorkshire connection in the family.

For an elegant traveller abroad I always cite Edward Fox in the 1970’s film, The Day Of The Jackal. The lightweight suits were fashioned by Johns and Pegg and what a brilliant cut they were. The shoes he wore throughout lace up at the side and you can still have them made for you from Foster’s on Jermyn Street, and I’ve always considered them to be the most perfectly beautiful men’s shoe ever. Bespoke only, they’ll be more than £1000 these days but they’re made to last. I believe he still wears them today. They are also the ideal footwear to wear with spats for which, I reckon, they were originally intended.

However, for those few of us who choose to stay at home, London can throw up some quite surprising treats. As I was strolling up the Chelsea Embankment in the July sun I was interested to see that the shadow cast by the decorated iron street lamps depicted a perfect silhouette of Gillray’s caricature of the Duke of Wellington. How brilliant is that! Or perhaps I may have had too much summer sun.

Happy Holidays!

John Springs

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