28 October 2013

Some thoughts on quality, snobbery and sartorial indifference

I am often amazed by the lack of attention many people seem to pay to their appearance and equally amazed, or annoyed, by the way people have no appreciation for quality. I believe it is in a gentleman's nature to have a genuine appreciation quality and craftsmanship and I am frequently frustrated by the diminishing importance craftsmanship and quality have in society. There are two areas where this is particularly evident: food and clothes. I'm not going to say much about the food situation, but with such a large proportion of the population living on fast food and ready meals, unable or unwilling to prepare their own meals, I do wonder how it's going to end. The funny thing is that people wonder why so many are overweight or obese. Enough said about that, what I actually want to discuss in this post is different people's approaches to clothes and appearance.
In very general terms, I think people can be categorised into four main groups when it comes to the way they dress and buy clothes.
  • The ones who don't care, or pretend not to care about the way they dress.
  • The ones who follow the latest fashion trends but are less concerned with brands and manufcturing.
  • The ones who follow the latest fashion trends but are mostly concerned with brand and price.
  • The ones who are mostly concerned with quality and lasting style.
The first group who don't pay much attention to their appearance is the most curious one. This is for the simple reason that I don't really think many people go through life without caring about how they look. Thus, I'm fairly certain that there are other reasons behind this apparent lack of care. Two factors are certain to play a part here: fear and opposition. For many men, fear is likely to be a reason not to care about how they look. Unfortunately, an interest in clothes, shoes and accessories are frowned upon by many men, and men with such interests are often depicted as less manly or gay. This is probably enough reason for many men to shy away from making an effort in the dress department. The other reason for giving the impression not to care may be to establish an opposition to society. This is mainly reserved for younger people who feel the need to protest against one thing or another. These people who dress in clothes I wouldn't wear if I got paid for it are, paradoxically, the ones who pay a lot of attention to what they look like. Dolly Parton have said that "it costs a lot of money to look this cheap" and the same goes for the opposers, it takes a lot of effort and consideration to look like you don't care about the way you dress. So, although I wouldn't dress in any rebellious manner, it can't be denied that these people actually care a lot about how they look, and that is a fair bit better than indifference.

The second and third group contain the people who are very eager to fit in and are continuously led by trends and clothing companies. There is no doubt that these people care about their appearance but, as far as I'm concerned, largely for the wrong reasons. Following fashion trends means that your style will change quite frequently and it will be very difficult to really develop your own characteristics. None has a quicker wardrobe turnover then the fashion followers, which means it's quite expensive (even if you buy the cheaper brands), and it is also doing the environment no favours. It is also regularly revealed that the conditions under which many of the fashion items are produced are less than satisfactory. In many cases the working conditions are so repulsive that it really should put you off these clothes altogether, but it doesn't seem to have much of an effect. Cheaply produced clothes are as popular as ever. These are just some of the reasons why I think it is better to develop a lasting style than being a fashion follower.

Among the fashion followers, there is a sub group which goes against everything I believe in and that is the people who are mostly concerned with brand and price. You meet them every now and then, people who are so eager to show off the brands of their clothes and to point out how expensive it was. I think some of these would wear the price tag if they could. This group is probably spending the most money on clothes but, unfortunately, have generally little concern for either quality or craftsmanship.

The last group contains the people who are mostly concerned with the quality of what they buy and that it should last. It should last in the sense that it won't break or be worn out any time soon, but also in the sense that it won't go out of fashion for a good while. In my opinion, this is the sensible approach to clothes and appearance. That's why, for example, I am reluctant to buy a double breasted suit. I know they are on their way back but the single breasted suit will outlast the double breasted once again as it did in the late eighties when the double breasted suit faded into the background and disappeared. I like to buy clothes and shoes which I can wear year after year, and for that I am willing to pay a little extra. Even though some of the clothes and shoes I buy may seem expensive to some, I am fairly certain I spend less money on such things than the fashion followers.

There are several reasons why I think this is the sensible approach and I will briefly point out these in the following:

  • There is no certainty that quality products equals better conditions for the people working with the production of the items, but I believe there is a greater likelihood that products of high quality and a higher cost is the result of more ethical production than the cheapest items on the market. To be absolutely sure one should really ask before buying, but I know this can be difficult. One of the best ways of making sure your items are ethically produced is to buy bespoke products.
  • Buying products of high quality which last longer means that you are likely to buy less items. This is definitely good for the environment.
  • When buying long lasting products you will get the chance to really develop your own style.
  • The feeling of wearing well fitting quality clothes is something I would like everybody to experience. 
  • Although quality comes at a price, I also think this is the cheaper approach in the long run. 


  1. A good article and I agree with everything you say. The fear of being perceived as 'unmanly' for caring about your appearance is definitely alive and well where I am living in North America! Very sad.

    I would also add under your first category the impact 'grunge' dressing by so called celebrities has on society. If multi-millionaire movie stars dress like homeless people it is hardly surprising it becomes a trend. Interesting though to consider when movie stars were perfectly groomed and tailored in the 1930s to 1950s so was society!
    Thanks again for a good article.


    1. Thanks for your comments. You're of course right about the influence celebrities have on what becomes fashion. There are examples of well dressed celebrities, but, as you say, many aren't really worth following. It may be a better idea to look back in time for inspiration. You never saw Cary Grant wearing torn jeans or a hooded top.

  2. The most significant influence on how people dress is generally going to be the cultural norms of were a person lives. Here in Alberta jeans anywhere at anytime is the cultural norm. Albertans don't dress this way because they don't care: they do it because it's generally acceptable. I'm doing my best (in small ways) to change that but fighting cultural norms is dangerous work so I have to pick my battles carefully.

    1. The same is the case where I live. I usually wear a suit and always try to dress the best I can, but I'm among a small minority. I work at a university and I guess less than 10% wear suits, and ties are hardly seen at all.
      I applaud you for trying to make a difference. There are definitely more exciting garments than jeans. Best of luck!