As a young, London-trained barrister, Mahatma Gandhi wore traditional business attire and pulled it off with aplomb. But it wasn't until he shed his suit and tie in favor of simple hand-spun sheet of locally produced cloth — aka khadi — that he emerged as a world-changing force. While rulers and revolutionaries alike typically signal their power and/or aspirations to power through crowns, brocade, epaulettes, sashes, and other ostensibly dazzling sartorial semaphores, Gandhi went in the complete opposite direction. His entire wardrobe appeared to consist of a bedsheet.
But if clothes make the man, it's also true, though much rarer, that the man can sometimes make the clothes. Gandhi donned a simple sheet and established himself as an icon of understated but indomitable will. His message was so true, and his convictions so strong, that he didn't need to clothe them in anything more elaborate than plain white cloth.
Now let us be clear here. We're not saying everyone — or really even anyone — should dress like Gandhi. If we said that, we'd never sell another belt or tie. But talk about artful dishevelment! Talk about not trying too hard! While Gandhi's wardrobe lacked variety, it had style to spare. And that's why, today, on Gandhi's birthday, we are breaking out the Bulleit and the Laphroaig and toasting the father of an independent India — and the father of business casual. Before Hef went to work in a bathrobe, before Steve Jobs prowled the hallways of Atari in bare feet, before Mark Zuckerberg taught mankind to share everything in a hoodie, there was Gandhi, showing the world you don't always need a power tie to be powerful. Our glasses are raised in his honor.
Once Google Glass hit the streets, we knew it was only a matter of time before monocles experienced a resurgence. It's Newton's Third Law of Fashion: For every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction.
So when some people start wearing computers on their faces, others will move in the opposite direction, donning crippled glasses. Inevitably, the monocle is having a moment. According to the New York Times, the one-lensed eyepiece is a certified "mini-trend."
Is this particular fashion moment one you should take part in? On the one hand, the monocle is archaic, Anglophilic, and even when providing vision correction, characterized by a senseless lack of utility. On the other hand, it's an extreme affectation, a facial prop for men who don't think bow ties are fussy enough.
To help clarify where we ultimately come down on the issue, we've created a new decider.
Q: At a cocktail party last night, an acquaintance pointed out that the lacing on my trusty oxfords was mismatched: the right shoe, straight bar (courtesy of the shoe shop) and the left, crisscross (courtesy of me). Before I correct this four-years-old case of absentmindedness, I thought I should consult MB. What is your recommendation for lacing methods, lace type and end length? (And just what is your thought on the bi-color lacing I see in the magazines?) —Brian
There is a thin line between senseless lack of utility and trying too hard, and it can be found at Ian's Shoelace Site. While we admire attention to detail in unexpected places as much as anyone, we also have a thing for simplicity. Nine out of ten times we do Criss Cross or Display Shoe. With a dressier shoe we'll sometimes mix in Straight Bar, which requires a bit more effort for its streamlined effect but isn't so complicated that we suddenly feel like we're crocheting instead of getting dressed.
Specific lace types depend on the shoe, of course. We like natural laces (cotton, rawhide) over synthetic options, and stay away from any lace that's fat enough to qualify as a skinny tie.
Regarding end length, Professor Shoelace's obsession is instructive here. As his illustration suggests, a 10-inch end length leaves with you a fairly neat bow, and a 12-inch end length crosses into droopiness. For maximum artful dishevelment, we aim for 11 inches.
As for bi-color lacing, we classify that the same way we do dressing up for Halloween: Best left to children and chain-restaurant waitstaff.
As for the monogrammists' arguments, they speak for themselves, like Howard at Ask Any About Clothes who posts, "I like monograms sometimes. It represents the feeling of being important and professional."
Q: Naturally, an MB attracts the opposite sex at any time of day or night whether he is going outside to pick up the paper or waiting in line at the DMV. But, for those of us that like to go out to clubs and bars at night to meet women, what is MB-endorsed night party wear? --Amir
A: We recommend Mark Nason boots, distressed jeans with a bunch of shit on the back pockets, and an untucked striped sport shirt.
Amir, we're just fucking with ya! Only wear this if you want to look like a participant in some sort of local university's toolbag cloning experiment.
Anyhow, the whole "club wear" concept is foreign to us and feels very TTH. On the contrary, you want to look like you didn't really try at all; you and some friends had dinner and just happened to end up on the floor, fist-pumping like Vinny from Jersey Shore.
Q: What does MB think of David Beckham and Fabio Capello's Umbro suits for the 2010 World Cup? Is this a winning look? --Brennan
A: Nicely proportioned lapel, two button front, four button (which we presume to be functioning) cuffs, double rear vents in the traditional British style, and a three-lion crest. If you can excuse the creases in the pants, there is a lot to like here -- but unfortunately FIFA doesn't award any points for the amount of fearsome wildlife on your breast pocket.
With England currently 0-0-2, with just one goal to its credit, and unlikely to make it out of the weak Group C, the suits are looking a little TTH, like Beckham and Capello spent more time preparing their wardrobe than their team.
Q: We can all agree Wayfarers have peaked in popularity and aren't even a consideration for sunglasses this summer. Aviators are timeless, but not original. What's the recommendation to separate from the Wayfaring pack and be able to say in a few summers, "I've been wearing those for years." --Sean
A: If you own any Wayfarers, send them to a needy Third World celebrity. Even in the Risky Business era we never wore 'em, and never will. Aviators, on the other hand, are like black boots: every MB should have at least one pair in his wardrobe.
But if you're wanting to be out ahead of the trend curve -- and it sounds like you do -- put tinted lenses in a pair of horn-rimmed eyeglasses. Done most famously by Cary Grant in North By Northwest more than 50 years ago, and restared 5 years ago by Johnny Depp with his pair of vintage Tart Arnels, they're trending. See Robert Downey Jr. at the Oscars (in the Oliver Peoples Sheldrake), and Bradley Cooper in The A-Team, opening next month (in the Allyn Scura Legend). But skip the blue lenses for brown or green. They're TH (Too Hollywood), or just plain TTH.
Q: Sneakers with suit...what's the MB take? I know the Prada sport line is great as are most Sabelt, but what about Adidas Samba or similar? --Brooke
A: Great question. The closer you get to a footwear brand's "originals" the harder it is to pull off (and risk looking like you're TTH). Lots of guys can wear Puma Sport Fashion with a cool, casual suit. But are you up to combining that suit with Puma Suedes?
In the May 2009 GQ Will Arnett clearly made classic Adidas Rod Lavers work with a $100 cotton H&M suit (left). The comparatively schlubby Jason Segel did the same with Chuck Taylors on the red carpet in 2008's Forgetting Sarah Marshall (right). So what can be learned?
* Only attempt with slimmer, casual suits
* Wear flat front, and preferably un-creased pants
* Pair with a polo or artfully disheveled woven
* Occasionally do a little dancing and hand gesturing
Q: What's your take on "creative black tie"? I am a traditionalist, but I f#$@ing hate wearing a tuxedo. Is there an acceptable MB-worthy solution that eliminates the need to wear a tie? --Johnny C.
A: Johnny, what you call "creative black tie," we call "a slippery slope to looking like Brett Michaels."
Opting out of a tie for black tie is a high-risk proposition. Even the sartorially gifted and adventurous Adrien Brody flopped spectacularly with the open shirt/medallion look at the Oscars a couple of years ago (inset). About the only successful untied look we've seen is David Beckham in an ascot. And he's David Beckham. With Posh Spice at his side.
A tuxedo is designed to be formal and somewhat generic. So trying to get creative with it is like trying to turn a pizza into a doughnut. You can do it, but you're probably going to end up with a funny-looking doughnut. Know when to pick your spots, or in other words, follow this MB Rule: Going against the flow doesn't mean pissing against the wind.
Q: I like the look of high/riding boots, but think it's too much to wear unless you're in the English countryside or riding. The other day I saw a guy wearing a nice pair of leather ankle boots, like a ferragamo or gucci boot, with his pants tucked into them. I couldn't decide whether it looked ridiculous or courageously cool. What say you? --Tom
A: Tom, we answered your question about a year ago, calling it TTHTLLYS (Trying Too Hard To Look Like Yosemite Sam), and still oppose this overly affected style. Weather the pant-tucking trend for now as it will be completely gone by next fall, except on re-runs.
Pour 2 fingers into an empty tumbler, 3 if you're not alone.