The Genteel
December 15, 2017
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Savile Row protesters. Source: gentlemansgazette.com.

The street demonstration is a quintessential London activity. Last month it took on a uniquely polite and dapper sheen as besuited individuals elegantly protested along the iconic Savile Row.

Amongst the perfectly fitted three-piece suits, there was a passionate yet restrained objection to the proposed opening of an Abercrombie & Fitch retail outlet on the world's foremost street for bespoke tailoring. Does this development represent a truly definitive moment in the hoodie's dominance over the well-cut suit? 

A most elegant and mild-mannered
demonstration against the proposed
Abercrombie & Fitch store due to open
on Savile Row.
Source: glamour.com

For over two centuries Savile Row has been called on by a stellar cast of the world's leading men, from legendary British maritime heroes and royalty to rock 'n' roll stars and Hollywood stars. Lord Admiral Nelson, Edward VII, Frank Sinatra, Rudolph Valentino, Fred Astaire, Sir Winston Churchill, Mick Jagger and Elton John have all been drawn to the Savile Row experience and have helped make this small but perfectly formed street in London's West End the premier "go to" destination for tailoring excellence.

Organised by The Chap magazine, a Journal for the Modern Gentleman, the protest against the opening of an Abercrombie & Fitch children's store in amongst the masters of the tape measure and doyens of fine materials, took place on St George's Day morning, April 23rd.  Although the demonstration was directed at the American chain-store retail giants, in a wider sense it could viewed as an exercise in resistance to the invasive "one size fits all" mentality gradually eating away at the notion of quality and individualism.

An ill-fitting suit ... is like dust in the lens - you grow accustomed to the dust and it starts building up.

Though bequeathed in history, Savile Row has maintained a finger hold on the modern world through tailors who have recognised and encouraged the connection between their craftsmanship and fashion. In the 1990s, Ozwald Boateng was the youngest and first black tailor to open up shop on Savile Row and became a cipher between the "old school" discipline of tailoring and high-quality haute couture in his role as creative director of Givenchy. With his signature style of razor sharp cut suits blended with a striking use of exuberant coloured fabrics, Boetang's designs brought a touch of "cool" to the image of the three-piece.

When Boetang talks about menswear, it certainly pays to listen. "The idea of an ill-fitting suit is something I cannot register," Boateng told GQ.com in an interview last month. "It's like dust in the lens - you grow accustomed to the dust and it starts building up," he added. 

The lens of perception is a key component in the evaluation of how men view themselves in regards to their wardrobe choices. Someone like Boeteng, who is steeped in the traditional virtues of bespoke tailoring, would probably don a suit to pick up a newspaper on a Sunday morning. The feel of a well-measured suit provokes an appreciation of the uniqueness of an individual's shape, of the time and effort taken to produce something of quality, and of the image it presents to the external world. Although a hoodie may be the easier option, it is often less personal and thorough than a made-to-measure jacket and can signal a lacklustre approach to life and less than rigorous mental attitude in the wearer.

Ozwald Boeteng on Savile Row.
Source: luxist.com. 

As author Malcolm Gladwell contends in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Penguin) that, "there are lots of situations...when our snap judgments and first impressions offer a much better means of making sense of the world." First impressions gleaned from what someone is wearing end up as a conclusion on whether you view that person in a positive or negative light. A theory no doubt shared by the demonstrators on Savile Row.

A study into the theory of how clothing styles affect first impressions was undertaken at Istanbul Bilgi University in Turkey last year. According to the Hürriyet Daily News, two lecturers, of psychology and fashion respectively, conducted an online survey of 308 participants to investigate the correlation between clothing worn and the judgments people make about one another. Quantifying the aims of their research, they told the newspaper, "Little attention has been paid to the influence of how the clothes have been cut or tailored (for example, bespoke as opposed to off-the-peg suits)." Participants were shown four images of a man (two in a bespoke suit and two in a regular suit - both in the same fabric and style) and four images of a woman (varying between images of a skirt suit and trouser suit), each for five seconds. Afterwards, they were asked to score their reactions in relation to the perceived confidence, success, trustworthiness, salary and flexibility of the wearer pictured. The study found that the off-the-peg number worn by the men consistently produced negative results in comparison to the similar bespoke suit. Their results also suggested that women, who scored higher in the skirt suit, have to try harder in order to create a more favourable impression. The devil in the detail or the God of small things - either way, people do notice.

Sapeurs of Congo
Dandies from the Congo Republic sport
suits with European flair.
Source: tmagazine.blog.nytimes.com.

It is not only in London where sharp-suited men are resisting the downward pressure of the omnipresent menace of loose fitting leisurewear. In Brazzaville, the capital city of the Republic of Congo, members of Le SAPE have been asserting their elegance ever since the country was ruled by the French. Self-confessed dandies, Le Sapeurs take their inspiration from the gentlemen of 1920s Paris, in manner as well as attire, and parade like triumphant peacocks amidst the economically deprived areas of the city.

One such dresser, Willy Cavory, told Sabotagetimes.com, "It is our way of life and not just the dressing." They combine an assorted mix of bespoke menswear, outrageously vivid colours and the smoking of large Cuban cigars, to accentuate their individuality and refinement in the ordered monotony of existence. They are revered by local people for their joie-de-vivre and exhibitionism, and their embracing of the finer things in life. Being a Sapologist, as many often refer to their discipline, is not just a way of life, it is also a state of mind.

However tenuous, there is a connection between the Congolese Sapeur and the genteel placard wavers on Savile Row. They are both fighting for the right to use their clothing as a means of expression despite facing a tide of suffocating factory-made apparel that aims to strangle the life out of individuality and the value of quality.

It wasn't that long ago that London rioters looted trainers from Footlocker, whilst high-profile shops such as Gucci, Stella McCartney and Louis Vuitton stood unscathed nearby; a clear example of a society in which the notion of quality has clearly disappeared. However, a fitted suit is not just for weddings, funerals and court cases. It is there to be worn every day, even when simply popping out for a quick coffee or buying the daily newspaper. 

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