Showing posts with label Fred Astaire. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fred Astaire. Show all posts

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Autumn Astaire

There should always be praise for Fred Astaire's mastery of playfulness and propriety, for how else could he have played the 1960s young man's game of the similar/same coloured necktie-and-shirt so well?

Monday, 25 January 2010

The Bojangles Post

The Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson Monument in Richmond, VA

   Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson (1878 - 1949) is the perfect representative of a favoured archetype of mine; the energetic, sharply dressed, dynamic hoofer of the early 20th century. Alongside Gene Kelly, The Nicholas Brothers and, of course, Fred Astaire, he is also an ideal exemplar for the freedom, precise lines and pure élan of skilled tailoring. His capacity for generosity, dignity and rising up against all the odds that faced him are also excellent guidelines for living

   As a man of motion, his jackets gave him the freedom to perform his steps whilst looking his best. Look at how the low padded shoulders and the height of the armholes combine to allow him near-unrestricted movement without distorting the garment’s structure. The sweeping belly of his lapels and loosely structured fit add to his energy and agility immensely

   For those who appreciate my use of full cut trousers, this is where it comes from. What gives Bojangles the edge is that he has no need for my kaleidoscopic enthusiasm; his flamboyance lies in the cut, which is simply of its time


   There is any number of reasons as to why his style has not passed on into public legend, but he is as admirable to me as Cary Grant is to everyone else. Ever complimentary of other footwork talents, Astaire’s tribute to him in 1936's Swing Time may be history’s only relatively passable example of blackface, and I say that because I've no real reason to doubt Astaire's sincerity:

   Unexpectedly, his baton was taken up briefly in 2003 and 2004, by, of all people, in the ‘Hey Mama’ video and Usher in ‘Caught Up’, respectively. The choice of garments and silhouettes, along with the fact that both men use the videos to highlight their skill as dancers is indicative of inspiration, if not tribute

Dancing alongside Shirley Temple

   I wouldn’t go as far as to include myself as part of his legacy, although an uncle of mine teasingly referred to me as ‘Bojangles’ after I danced with everyone in sight at a recent wedding reception. I still can’t say that I’m not flattered

   Let's hear it for Mr. Bojangles

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The Cravat Post (and Other Knick Knacks)

   Prompted by a couple of comments on StyleForvm regarding cravat use amongst the young (the most specific being "How can I wear an ascot and not look gay kthxbye?"), I have taken upon myself to investigate this Scoobariffic mystery

   I'll begin by informing you that you're likely screwed if you wear them as ultra traditionally as possible, unless you are genuinely in costume or ridiculously full of elan. I own 3 and only trust myself to wear them to either a wedding, in character at a party or without a standard suit jacket/blazer/odd jacket, unless it's a three piece suit and a cravat that's sized more like a scarf

   Call me a sentimental young fogey, but I rather think the morning suit cravat holds up very well. I wore it as a groomsman last year, yet not only had I no say in the outfit (aside from relatively accurate fit), but when I arrived wearing the lilac cravat in a traditional manner with a pearl tie-pin, the rest of the four-in-hand cravat-sporting wedding party physically attempted to rearrange it whilst I was still wearing it. Good times

Via the New York Times , this J.C. Leyendecker look encapsulates elegance through illustrative prowess

Judy and Fred during the final scenes of Easter Parade, from a Telegraph featurette 

   But you want to know about less occasional and more down to earth usage. So make it casual. You need to refer to Apparel Arts/Esky and the Duke of Windsor on this one, and even if you are young, let Will at A Suitable Wardrobe guide you along the way (he also has the most comprehensive collection of Apparel Arts images in the menswear sphere)

   Instead of a regular cut jacket, try something a touch offbeat (I don't like reusing shots, so the link is necessary) or something more relaxed and informal like a cardigan (Will favours a safari-styled shirt jacket - colonial, yet still uncommon enough to be interesting). Or just get them in a particularly eyecatching size, tune up the nonchalance and colour match with extreme prejudice:

The DoW treats it as just another part of the ensemble by harmonising it with the rest of the outfit. Bold, bright and relaxed

   What I'm also driving at is using scarves instead. You get the combination of flash and practicality without the self consciousness. Some of you may remember this one:

   This would also look rather clean and somewhat exuberant with a waistcoat, either as part of a suit or a more informal ensemble - there's something of the lounge lizard about it. It's also rather enjoyable with a v-neck:

   You should also have noted by now that rather than the standard references of Lord Byron or early 20th century motorists, I'm actually interpreting something of a mariner look, which is far less overexposed and flouncy and much more enjoyable since it doesn't need to be worked at or overstated. Think also to the peacoats-and-flat-caps casual styles of the young Paul Newman but with decorative neckwear

   For those of you who don't want too much material but enjoy the look nonetheless, well, there's always a neckerchief; leaving the ends out is standard, though one can also sport them tucked in like so:

   For the upcoming seasonal change, look to the new collection of a certain Japanese designer whose name, I'm finding, is becoming rather redundant to type. You probably know who I'm referring to by now, and he's tackled this gilded age look with utter aplomb and a clear idea of how to make it natural today.

   As befitting JW's "new feeling for basics," the proportions are executed rather similarly to my own silhouettes, generally mixing slim-but-not-tight upper halves with flowing trousers and structured looks that utilise shorts to avoid severity, alongside some well mannered quirks and enviable pattern mixing

   Observe that the neckwear is even worn with polo and short sleeved shirts and without jackets. A perfect way to bring these Esky looks back into focus:

JW CdG Man S/S10 images from A full review may appear after its release next month

   If you don't believe that you have a flair for the look, the solution is very simple - find someone with a flair for it and take inspiration. After that, the rest seems easy

   As for the neckerchief with suits-look, let me get back to you when I've made it happen for myself. Oooh, excitement

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Loaded With Soul

   As well as being the perfect Sunday afternoon motion picture delight if one's in the mood for song, dance and gentility, genre classic Easter Parade is pure escapism, firing-on-all-cylinders showbiz creativity and catnip for satorial details fiends

   In my favourite sequence (with all due respect to 'Steppin' Out With My Baby' and 'We're Just a Couple of Swells'), Fred Astaire goes 'Drum Crazy' and exhibits the charm, aplomb, fleetfooted steps and stylistic nous that had the makers entice him out of retirement when his colleague, fellow icon and friend, Gene Kelly, was forced to bow out. Nearing 50 at the time, he does not approach his routine with the blink-and-miss rapidfire tapping of his younger days, but all of his hallmarks are present and correct - the warmth mixed with goofy, curious humour, his almost peerless agility and his command of body, audience and stage. Just look at his exit - total and intuitive awareness of his environment in full display, he performs a variety of cane tricks, finishing with his trademark spinning catch and exits with a wave and a smile in bounding, mercurial twirls

   Cheating a child out of an Easter Bunny never looked so admirable

   I also greatly appreciate the ease in which he performs in tailoring. The film is set in 1912 and was made in 1948; educated guesses aside, I have no idea who made Astaire's suit nor whether its Edwardianisms were more appropriate for the earlier or the later date but I'll be damned if the majority of the ensemble doesn't hold up today (I still can't forecast a spats return)

   Nor do I feel uniquely qualified to expound on the peerlessness of his looks - when there are not one but two excellent extollings at Dandyism and an essential tome (and a Sartorialist guest post pitting the dandy dancer against Cary Grant) by G. Bruce Boyer, there's no place for me in the running. But this walking, singing Leyendecker illustration-ensemble is one of the defining images of Astaire in my mind - simple, harmonious colours, the derby/bowler sitting nonchalantly on his head - a continent and ease of use away from the stereotype it became in the City of London - and a precisely tailored two piece that matches his range of movement so well, the notion of a suit as a second skin is wholly fulfilled. Everything that people miss when trying to bring a suit to life is here

   Working primarily with light accents, as dictated by the springtime setting, the hue of the two-piece's grey finds a natural companion in the white waistcoat, which, in turn, is complemented by the spats and even the pearl tie pin. The pink shirt adds a jaunty air; the black necktie works with the shoes and bowler to maintain balance through contrast. The blues that shade the other accessories are perfect. Befitting his successful Broadway star character - hardly a world away from Astaire himself - this is a somewhat patrician, but nevertheless relaxed and creative man, not a businessman. Everything is natural; everything simply works

   'Drum Crazy', the song? It was written by legendary composer Irving Berlin, which alone speaks for itself, but it boasts qualities not mixed together often enough - danceability, hummability, quotability. Oh, and a relentlessly playful sensibility, so refined that it works in all sorts of drum licks and drum kits with the randomness of a jam session yet never shortchanges the other instruments in play. Even the xylophone. And when it almost arbitrarily becomes a marching band stomp, it nevertheless feels right, because if there's anything that should be freewheeling, it's Fred Astaire in full flight