The Rebel Wears Plaid: Matt Fox Brings Back the Dandy
Every generation rebels against the one before it. So it's only appropriate that more and more guys in their 20s are abandoning the ubiquitous T-shirt and jeans that have defined the Baby Boomers in favor of what some are calling the New Dandyism.
Fashion journalists (and those who like to sell more expensive clothes) are quick to point to a definite trend. They cite influences as far flung as "Mad Men"; natty actors like George Clooney and Hugh Grant; and the continuing influence of the Rat Pack and the Kennedys. (Not to mention all those fabulous morning coats at the Royal Wedding.)
Certainly, one of the reasons is desperation.
Maybe that's too strong a word, but these guys are facing the toughest job market in decades. Being well-dressed might, just might, give them a leg up on the next guy. Dressed to the nines makes a job applicant look a winner compared to a sad sack in a threadbare sport coat, untailored pants leg and faded rep tie. As Matt Fox, the proprietor of Fine & Dandy Shop, a website devoted to men dressing up, puts it, "The recession has made us all put our best foot forward. If the guy next to you dresses like a slob, you stand out."
Whatever the reason, it appears to be a verifiable trend. Certainly, living as I do in the middle of one of the country's Gayborhoods, Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen, I see a lot of younger men -- not just gay, but they're certainly a big faction -- in an outfit the French call tout ensemble, totally coordinated, put together.
Matt Fox may not be leading this sartorial revolution, but he's positioned himself to take advantage of it. Along the way, he gives advice. And he himself serves as a role model of the new well-dressed man.
Always a Clothes Horse
I’ve known Fox for a couple of years. He and his partner live in my building, and I see him, if not daily, then several times a week. In all the time I’ve known him, I’ve never seen not wearing an "outfit" in the most complete sense of the word.
Whether it’s a Lacoste-style shirt and slacks, a button-down shirt and jeans, or the full suit-and-tie, he’s never sloppy.
Fox had what many New Yorkers -- and many, many gay men -- would consider the dream career. He was working in the office of one of the top Broadway producers and theater owners.
But he had always harbored a dream of opening a menswear shop. New York City real estate being what it is, that dream would have required a great deal more principal than he could have mustered.
An Online Haberdasher
Like so many these days, he saw his best opportunity online. So, a year-and-a-half ago, he quit his full-time job to devote himself to his real passion: men’s fine clothing.
He prides himself on being in the forefront of the mini-revolution to take some care in how men dress. And being online only means he can keep prices more affordable than a "bricks-and-mortar" store can.
Rehabilitating the Dandy Image
The dandy originated in Regency England. Considered foppish, young men would spend hours dressing, fuss over tailoring and fold their pocket squares according to the most exact geometric rules. The most famous dandy was Beau Brummell, who set the standard for men’s fashion of the day.
But it’s worth remembering that men had long been the sex that wore the most elaborate clothes. Taking their cues from nature (it’s the male peacock that’s got that multicolored plume), men dressed in expensive and exquisite clothes while women dressed much more modestly. You have only to look at Van Dyke portraits done during the reign of Charles II or paintings from Renaissance courts to see that today’s cock rings have nothing on the enhancing features of those codpieces.
It was only in the modern world that men have been relegated to drab clothes. Fox considers himself an out-and-proud dandy and his line, he says, is "dandy inspired."
Re-Introducing a Classic: The Neckerchief
Fox has scoured manufacturers to find the most refined and well-tailored items for his site. Faced with not being able to find what he wanted, he has even turned to making them himself. He has contracted with mini-contractors in Manhattan’s garment industry for some original lines.
Consider the neckerchief, which has been long associated with the French. Just take a look at this neckerchief and try not to imagine the stereotypical Parisian -- baguette in one hand, Galois in the other. Or an Apache dancer grabbing his partner by the hair in some Montmartre dive.
But this sartorial item has a long history, dating back to centuries and popular among Boy Scouts, cowboys and sailors. "We like to think of it as neckwear for dandies," Fox says.
He is having an original line produced, and it’s on the site. Take a look.
Bringing Back Spats. Yes, Spats
Perhaps the most radically traditional items on the Fine & Dandy Shop are spats. Worn to protect shoes, these ankle-length accessories haven’t been popular since Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House.
Nevertheless, Fox is on a one-man crusade to bring them back into acceptance, if not exactly fashion. He has a line hand-made in Manhattan offered online. These are the only spats currently made, Fox says.
Just because Fox looks backward for style suggestions doesn’t mean that he lives in the past. He has already had two pop-up shops in New York -- those now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t instant stores rented out for a day or a week. He’s also looking into Brooklyn Flea.
He just got his first wholesale deal, with a Japanese label, United Arrows. A woman who visited one of his pop-up shops fell in love with the neckerchiefs.
So who shops on Fine & Dandy Shop? Everyone from Brooklyn and Silicon Valley hipsters to middle-aged men in Georgia. The site allows for give-and-take among the consumers, which has created a community. As to be expected, some of the arguments can get heated.
"I have a friend who’s 60 in London and dresses like he’s out of the 1950s -- top hat, cane," Fox says. "Then we have the hipsters. They’ll definitely butt heads sometimes. Purists can be offended by what some guys wear."
Thank heavens, Fox is no purist. He pooh-poohs people like menswear designer Tom Ford, who recently caused a stir when he said men should never wear shorts in the city. Fox gleefully admits that he had no formal fashion experience when he started the site and that keeps him both open and humble.
Jeans with a bow tie; no socks with saddle oxfords - Fox is down with it. He does, however, draw the line at flip-flops. Not fit for city streets. As anyone who ventured out in a big city in this beachwear while stepping in piles of food, dog waste, dirt and everything else, you know: This isn’t snobbery. It’s just good sense.