”Dressing interested me then for the same reason it does now.
How you present yourself to the world, how you convey
what matters to you, what you aspire to (and what
you don’t) – these things are never indifferent.
And in the ideal case it’s an expression of self-knowledge.”
I was introduced to David Coggins’ book, Men and Style: Essays, Interviews and Considerations, by Todd Ritondaro (a regular guest on Classiq) who interviewed David on his podcast. I ordered the book immediately after I listened to the episode and one of the first things that came to my mind after just starting to read it was why is it that there is such great writing about men’s style and so little about women’s style – I think women’s style (yes, style, too, not only fashion) is so wrongly approached. That’s exactly why all the style books in my home are about men’s style. Because that’s where I take my style advice from. Because it is men’s style that has taught me that style is about so much more than clothes. Because it is men’s style and men’s talk about style that have taught me that it is not trivial to talk about clothes. I can not and will not do small talk with my girl friends about clothes and fashion (and I do what David does: “I would prefer that people aren’t able to tell where my clothes are from. And I don’t usually tell them.”) They know where I stand and avoid the subject. But I will, at any time, engage in any discussion about style with my husband, my father, my brother or any of our male friends.
There are many definitions of fashion vs style. And every man and woman with a strong sense of dress and self that I admire is perfectly right in their opinion. But none of them has sounded more true than Glenn O’Brien’s words in the forward to this book: “Fashion is industry; style is culture. That’s why this book is important… It’s about ideas and themes, arts and rituals, the things that constitute culture.” Style is culture. And indeed, that is why this book is so important. It does not teach men what style is, what they should wear and what they shouldn’t. It instead shows that the only rule to great style is authenticity.
With dry wit and self-deprecating attitude, David writes about situations, traditions, rituals, manners, aging, imperfection, and, yes, about clothes, but always in a bigger context. He writes about why he has always driven a car with manual transmission, about the intimacy and pleasure of another person’s company that a long lunch provide in today’s world lived on fast-forward and in the social media hum, about why a man should have enough cash for his evening on the town, about Ralph Lauren, about being “suspicious of any man who doesn’t have a weakness for books”, about the fact that all good things take time. Style is in the details, in the way you conduct and present yourself, in knowing certain unwritten rules.
“The best dressed men create their own sartorial world
with its own internal logic and controlled anarchy.”
Coggins’ contributors (some of the world’s most dapper men whom he interviewed for the book) examine their lives, talking about their fathers, childhood, school uniforms, college, mistakes, their first cars, their first crush, drinking, sports, music, cooking. They talk about the examples set by their fathers, about learning from their mistakes, about bettering themselves. Because style is about hard-earned individuality (you are not born with it, nor is it acquired in a day, nor, thank God, can it be bought), it is a long path towards self discovery, it is about refining your sensibility and not about constantly reinventing yourself, it is the slow distilling of culture that, only in time, seeps into our being and gives us a sense of who we are.
Men and Style tells us about how the world views of this group of stylish men (from the author to his interviewees and editorial guests, including Gay Talese) have been shaped, providing the perfect space for them to pass on their knowledge, appreciations and sense of selves. Men and women alike have something to learn from that.
David Coggins is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in Esquire, Interview, Kinfolk and The Wall Street Journal, and he is a contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler. He is one of the world’s most respected men’s style writers and his second book, Men and Manners: Essays, Advice and Considerations, the follow-up to this one, was published last year.