7 DEGREES OF "RETRO"
Updated: Jul 13
In this article, we see how a "vintage effect" can be achieved to varying degrees by adding and removing certain elements from that tried-and-true staple of men's clothing—the suit. Special to My Vintage Lifestyle by friend of the blog and men's fashion enthusiast @lj_1965.
The inspiration for this short article came from an article by the prominent tailored menswear writer, Simon Crompton, entitled “Which Office Are You?”. In it, Simon illustrated a ‘sliding scale of formality’ in a contemporary office environment via a series of photos in which one garment is changed each time.
In this way, he progresses from a rather frumpy t-shirt/jeans/trainers combo all the way up to a quite tasteful navy jacket/shirt-and-tie/polished shoes one.
It occurred to me that it could be amusing to reproduce that sliding scale of formality with a sliding scale of ‘retrocentricity’, all within the confines of a man wearing a suit. Many vintage enthusiasts active on social media present an extremely polished and attractive finished product but in my experience everyone arrives there via an individual journey, strewn with ‘partial successes’ and outright howlers. Equally, while many of my retrocentric acquaintances positively revel in their anti conformism, other devotees of classic style are less enamoured with the ‘spotlight effect’.
So, in the spirit of innocent fun and absolutely no prescriptiveness, let us begin!
Fig. 1 shows a rather ordinary man as might be spotted, even these days, in many professional settings. Outside of working hours, passers-by might presume he has attended some sort of formal event (sic) but the individual items are not in any way noticeable: a grey, two-button, single-breasted suit, a white shirt and a tie. Trouser pleats are not currently fashionable but the cut of the suit is entirely contemporary.
Fig. 2 introduces a small variation: the collar has rounded points but the shirt is still plain white. In recent years, ‘club collars’ have been intermittently available from high-street, mainstream retailers. They are not exceedingly anachronistic, per se. They do get noticed and very occasionally remarked upon but they veer relatively slightly from the norm.
Fig. 3 shows a similarly semi-contemporary variation in that the suit is now three-piece, due to the addition of a waistcoat. Again, this is an item regularly sold by mass-market merchants. It is definitely noticeable but if that is the single point of departure from the regulation grey suit we would argue it remains within the confines of a fairly contemporary look.
Fig. 4 demonstrates the multiplicative power of stacking retro touches. Here we have the club collar and waistcoat together. The effect can only be described as studiedly retro and it is the sort of outfit that will invariably attract comment. Every individual item here is regularly worn by ordinary blokes who have no wish to project a Jazz Age image and yet the cumulative effect is profound.
Fig. 5 steps the previous standard up by one, small degree: the shirt is no longer solid white and sports a contrasting collar. This clearly reinforces the vintage effect. A striped shirt would have made a bigger difference and the same is true of a non-matching waistcoat. What else can we add?
Fig. 6 introduces a transformative element: a traditional hat. This single touch does more than any other to push any outfit out of the scope of mundane, contemporary attire. If you wore the combination in Fig. 1 plus the hat, it would still really stand apart. Note, too, that this is about the least vintagey ‘proper’ hat one can wear: a neutrally coloured, dark trilby with a narrow brim and low, tapered crown.
Fig. 7 ups the game a bit by replacing the nice but more commonly seen trilby with an elegant homburg. It is virtually the same colour as the softer felt hat but the stiffer block, high crown and bound edge make it more formal and certainly more retro-looking. This is about the most casual outfit with which one can ‘correctly‘ wear a homburg.
One could undoubtedly go further, of course. The suit could be of a more period cut; with a belted back, for instance. One could wear a watch chain on the waistcoat, etc.
Perhaps next time…
Meanwhile, let us recap the first and seventh degrees of retro by showing Fig. 1 and Fig. 7 side by side:
A special thanks to @lj_1965 for contributing this excellent demonstrative piece on vintage men's fashion. For more from him, please follow him on Instagram. Don't forget to subscribe to our blog, and of course, contribute! If you're living a vintage lifestyle in some way, shape, or form, please write to us using the form located under "Tell Your Story" in the menu above.