High life

Once upon a time, when a poor farmer came to the big city he put on his only suit

How we dress today reflects the extinction of human decency

29 November 2014

9:00 AM

29 November 2014

9:00 AM

The leaves are falling non-stop, like names dropped in Hollywood, and it has suddenly turned colder than the look I got from a very pretty girl at a downtown restaurant. I was dining with the writer Gay Talese and had gone outside for a cigarette. Two men and a lady came out looking for a cab. The scene was straight out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story: ‘I love you, I’ll take you home,’ said one of the young men. ‘I love you more, let me take you home,’ said the other. Both were well dressed and spoke proper English. There was nothing else to do but to butt in, and I did. ‘I love you the most, and I’ve got a car and driver waiting,’ I said to her. That’s when I got the cold stare, although to their credit the two preppies laughed. The three of them wandered off into the cold night looking for a taxi. I went back in and had a very good evening with the writer and a beautiful African-American model. Such are the joys of the Big Bagel. Anything can happen at any moment.

Speaking of Fitzgerald, a new musical adaptation of his 1920 novel This Side of Paradise has opened on 42nd Street, one I plan to see if I could only find the girl that gave me the cold look on that freezing night in Soho. She looked like an upper-class flapper, a perfect companion to share a pre-jazz age cocktail and then hit the Great White Way and enjoy Scott’s autobiographical novel set to music. The review I read said that the musical takes place in Princeton’s ivied halls, and if memory serves I read the novel when I was at prep school. Amory Blaine, the hero, is in hot pursuit of a New York debutante called Rosalind.

Fitzgerald called himself ‘a romantic egotist’ in the novel, one that put him on the map at an age when his contemporary Papa Hemingway was a starving unknown living in a cold flat in Paris. We tend to forget how unbearably young and attractive those writers were back before the booze got to them. And how well dressed! And what perfect manners they affected. Today’s scribes tend to equate slovenly dress and boorish manners with talent. The aforementioned Gay Talese is an exception, but he is 82 years of age. Gay is a dandy, and during dinner he recounted how his father was an Italian immigrant who became a tailor but who never managed to save any money because he insisted on tailoring beautiful suits with very expensive material few people could afford. (His mother kept the family afloat.) I have never seen Talese in the 30 or more years I’ve known him without a perfectly cut suit and waistcoat, and he always wears a hat, the way men used to do when manners were still more important than money. One thing I’ve noticed recently, on some more or less ugly types, is pork-pie hats, which they never tip or remove indoors or in the presence of ladies.

That’s something Joe Alsop would not have been caught dead doing. Alsop was an American aristo and a very powerful columnist of my political persuasion. He was a relation of Teddy Roosevelt and his Sunday night dinners in Washington were more sought after than a White House invite. I met Joe in Greece on a couple of occasions when he covered the Colonels coup d’état, and he was as charming a cosmopolite as ever there was on this side of the pond. He was also a closet gay who, when honey-trapped by the Soviets in Moscow, immediately went to the CIA and told the truth. A sharp dresser, he was obviously envied by lesser hacks on account of his background and good connections, and although he’s been dead a long time, here’s a review by one Louis Menand of a book about the Cold War period when Joe and his brother Stewart reigned supreme in Georgetown: ‘When he showed up for work at the Herald Tribune in the middle of the Depression, he was “wearing a bespoke suit, silk shirt, and hand-sewn shoes from Peal in London.”’ Sticking the knife in without getting blood on one’s hands, I call it. What’s wrong with wearing a bespoke suit or silk shirt, as the hack intimates? He also writes about the ostentatious air of upper-class refinement that Alsop affected. Well, not with me. Joe liked me and thought I was cute 45 years ago. He once drank quite a bit in an Athenian taverna and started to look me up and down. I said to him, now, now, Mr Alsop, no funny business, it wouldn’t be fair to Greek girls, and he burst out laughing and bade me goodnight.

Once upon a time, when a poor farmer came to the big city he put on his only suit and his best foot forward. As Tom Fleming wrote, it was only criminals, hooligans and wasters who went out in public dressed like slobs, in order to make spectacles of themselves. Back then it was also considered unmanly to display too much emotion. Now the opposite is true. People dress as badly as possible — I call it contrived dishevelment — and cry at the drop of a name. Modern man looks like a homeless bum, lets it all hang out and openly reveals things one wouldn’t tell a shrink. In the meantime, human decency, which in reality comes down to good manners, has gone the way of the dodo, whatever that is.

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  • jjjj

    Of course, rich playboy Taki can say whatever he wants to people. And his butting in to the conversation mentioned above is a jolly jape, what? But wait a minute. If the person rudely interrupting as Taki had had done, been of a certain ethnicity…you know…the one he likes to spew bile at…Well, Taki would be laying into him on these pages as an example of the cosmic enemy. Talk about hypocrisy. But I suppose when you are Taki, you can write any old guff.

    • Doggie Roussel

      God, you are one boring, opinionated jerk… you have to bring race and prejudice into every one of your inane witterings

      • jjjj

        You still wasted your time responding…

        • gaudiumcertaminis

          You respond to everything that might impute your comments… so let’s have a little less persecution complex crap from you and a bit more cogent argument.

          • jjjj

            Taki’s acolytes out in force today lol

          • Malus Pudor

            If it only puts you back in your cardboard box… so much the better, you pretentious jerk !

          • Kenny Fraser

            pretentious? moi? oh malleable pudding you betray your affliction with DOG syndrome.

          • jjjj

            ‘impute’ comments? Wassat? ha ha

      • Kenny Fraser

        far from it, it is your post which is boring and predictable forelock tugging subservience to those who do nothing to deserve it.

  • Guest

    The world changes, is normal, it’s human. To judge a man by his clothes is primitive and limited. There are old sayings that confirm this shallow notion as ignorant and the opposite of worldly.

    My work takes my to San Francisco regularly, and some of the smartest, most talented and most admirable young minds I have ever come across, dress in jeans, sneakers and t-shirts. There is nothing wrong with that, and they could buy and sell you Taki. Several times.
    Today, the ones who overdress seem provincial and inexperienced. Or old fashioned and over the hill (cough cough). It is the small town rich ones who come to the big city, and dress like they’re at La Scala for Pavarotti’s opening night – at least the ladies do. I once went to a small town in Russia, to get some financing, the couple had 1960’s teeth, crater skin, and barely spoke english. They made their fortune in metals. The wife greeted me in a Chanel evening gown, for lunch at her house, dripping in jewels, and with hair worthy of Oscar night. She looked like an idiot.

    The big city has turned the rich into comfort seekers, understated and non showy. Private and confident. There is nothing wrong with that.

    Try a detox Taki, maybe you will make more sense next time.

  • Anonymous Coward

    I thought the first one was charming, the car and driver story, but then praising Fitzgerald and Hemingway for their manners? A bit puzzling since both were alcoholics and both acted disgracefully quite often, for example, wasn’t Hemingway always getting into fights with people?

    The rest of the column recalled Brecht’s saying from the 3 Penny Opera:

    “Erst kommt das fressen, DAN gibt die Moral!”

    If you have a society where 1% are living like pigs, looting the world economy through inter-locking financial oligarchies, what kind of example does that set for everyone else? How are people supposed to behave in such a world?

    • Malus Pudor

      Hemingway was best described by Cyril Connolly: The bully on the Left Bank, always twisting the arm of the milksop….

      A lot of Hemingway’s bullying and venom were directed at Fitzgerald, whose talent he envied. He was always mocking Fitzgerald’s literary abilities and manhood… a nasty twerp when he considered he was not getting enough of the limelight.

      Yes they were undoubtedly both alcoholics, along with two other American literary greats: O’Neill and Faulkner…

      • Kenny Fraser

        cyril connolly= failed author,reverted to being a literary critic,something that requires no talent whatesoever. unlike hemingway.

    • Fritz123

      Lets ignore or fight them. As long as we have enough to eat we are free to decide.

  • edithgrove

    There was a moment a year or so ago when I saw young men wearing quite tall top hats. I thought they looked wonderful but I don’t see that any more, at least not in Paris. It reminded me of a report of the first men to wear these hats in the 18th century, arrested for disturbing public order.

    Thank you for your observations and reminiscences Taki

  • sabrina mark

    I want to appreciate Dr.Kasee of ONIMALOVESPELL@GMAIL.COM for bringing back my husband who left me and the kids for almost 2 years. i never taught i would never get him back untill i saw a comment online about dr. Kasee and i contacted him, after following all instruction given to me by Dr.Kasee, my husband came back begging for forgiveness within the space of 48hours. Thanks doctor your spell is really great. For those of you who have marriage/relationship problem should contacct him for hel via onimalovespell@gmail.com . And experience it your self.

    • Kenny Fraser

      if you look as good as your pic,and have an equally beautiful character,i’m surprised he even left in the first place!

  • gram parsons

    this photo by august sander comes to mind.

    “young farmers on way to market

  • Fritz123

    Very distinguished Jewish fb-friends et voila: http://streeteasy.com/building/550-park-avenue-new_york

    • jjjj


      • Fritz123

        An old NYC building, too old?

  • Barbouze

    You wear a suit these days and all you get is ”been to a funeral?” or ”been to court?”. I’ve got two but rarely wear them. Taki’s right on that, we do dress badly/lazily these days. Women also.

    • Kenny Fraser

      i dont think many people give an arial sexual intercourse about dress standards these day,because generally they have far more impotant things toi worry about,such as how they can afford their mortgage on iniquitous “zero hour” contracts,how they can afford the constantly rising costs,and basically how they can survive on diminshing living standards.

      • Barbouze

        Over doing it a bit aren’t you. Seeing as that is what the article is all about. And there is no excuses for looking like a tramp.

    • Jethro Asquith

      My reply is usually something along the lines of ‘are youoff to do a spot of plumbing’

  • A dandy, you say?

    Good lord, there are some terrible responses in regard to this article. Yes, one can overdress and it is the provincial types who over do it for certain, especially when ‘in town’. However, understated smart appearance should not be undervalued and the flip flops and polo-shirt brigade of silicon valley belong there and not in our more refined international cities. I proudly continue to wear a suit, shirt and tie to the office. I consider it to be part of my uniform and reflects a state of mind. I am still south of 40 (just) and take pride in wearing bespoke suiting. We have let standards slip elsewhere, let us please not deprive ourselves of sartorial elegance.

  • Fritz123

    Maybe it fits here.

    There are those Ukraine style Russian oligarchs, that have — on the other side — at least the taste to go to certain places while Poledancers and so on rule at home, see also Miss World on the Krim next year.

    But there is also the exact opposite in an incredible way. Allthough they speak English and not French as in War and Peace. Aspects of beauty. It starts allready in Bulgaria. If beauty has any meaning, aspects of life.