May 30, 2013 by Ville Raivio
‘I am 43 and work as an evangelist. I have degrees in history from the University of Kentucky and the University of South Carolina. I’ve been married to my lovely wife Traci for 18 years. We have three daughters, ages 13, 10 and 7. They are generally tolerant to supportive. One of my sisters doesn’t like bow ties, so I try to wear them around her as much as possible. My mother fears that any true luxury item, even when thrifted or purchased at steep discount, is “too nice.” I’m sure Paul Fussell would have a field day with that. I first became interested in clothes during high school, but I had no real direction. As with most teenagers there was quite a bit of fashion, virtually all of it bad. This was pre-Internet so I had no access to any good information.
By inclination I have an appreciation for the classic. I’m innately conservative, well, reactionary, in most everything. Ask yourself, how embarrassed will I be in twenty or thirty years to see myself in a picture wearing this? I hope that in twenty or thirty years I’m still wearing many of the same clothes I wear now. The turning point for me was finding a copy of Bruce Boyer’s book Elegance on remainder at a local bookshop when I was in college. I had never heard of Boyer, but I inhaled the book, reading and re-reading it. I happened to be studying abroad in England that summer so I packed the Boyer and took it with me. I walked Jermyn Street and Savile Row. I purchased some ties at Gieves & Hawkes that I still own, and my first bow tie at Harrod’s, which I wore out.
A fellow summer student at Oxford who was from Yale taught me how to tie the bow tie. He was having a bespoke sportcoat made on the Row that summer. I was very jealous, of course, but that was far outside of anything I could afford. I also purchased an umbrella from James Smith & Sons, a shop Boyer featured in Elegance. Again, this was in the early ‘90s, before Internet shopping. Boyer had a list of mail order companies so I started sending off for catalogs. I ordered my first Brooks Brothers oxford button-downs, and I’ve been wearing those ever since. I began dressing in more of a classic Ivy way, although without any real self-consciousness of Ivy qua Ivy. Still, there was a limit to how far I could take things with the income of a student then later as a minister. It wasn’t until I found the clothing forums in 2003 that I could really put everything together.
I did a search for some now forgotten, and I’m sure mundane, clothing topic a decade ago. I stumbled across AAAC and was floored by the depth of knowledge. There was only the main forum then. I read my way back through it. This was what I consider the Golden Age when a lot of knowledgeable members who no longer post were there. It was before the forums sank into irony, cynicism, and snark. The forums, AAAC and SF, as well as The Fedora Lounge, were all very good to me. I learned a great deal. I don’t post much on any of them these days. I do my own blogging and follow some things on Twitter, but I have other things going on that take up my time. A lot of the same things are, of necessity, rehashed on the forums. There are only so many times you want to discuss the same topic. I think they can be a great starting point for someone wanting to learn.
[My style is] traditionally eclectic. While I am probably most identified with “Trad,” my actual dress transcends that. I have a strong streak of Anglophilia, but also enjoy quality offerings from the Italians. The best Italian stuff is really Anglophile in its roots. What allowed me to dress as I do on my (limited) budget was hitting thrift and consignment stores, the forum buying and selling sections, and sales. That approach of necessity forces one into what’s available rather than what might be one’s absolute favorite. It’s a slow process, but after a decade I have too much, really. I was also given a huge boost to my wardrobe by the generosity of my good friend and forum legend Kenneth C. Pollock of Atlanta. His taste is impeccable.
At the core of what I have is Brooks Brothers, Oxxford, and Ralph Lauren, both Polo and Purple Label. Because I was in Kansas City for several years, I ended up with quite a bit from Venanzi, a high-end shop in New York City. Venanzi went out of business, and Rick’s of Kansas City purchased their liquidated merchandise. It’s all extremely high quality from the best Italian and British makers. I also enjoy the vintage Norman Hilton pieces I have. My favorite dress shirts are from Guy Rover and Charvet. I have quite a few Nicky ties. I also love Drake’s.
With shoes I have more from Alden than anything else. My pride and joy are a pair of brogue boots from Leather Soul Hawaii that were made based on my design. Leather Soul had a shoe design contest. I was blessed to have won. I have some Edward Green, Crockett & Jones, and a pair of Grenson Masterpiece from the legendary Bennie’s sale. I also own several pairs from the now-defunct, but wonderful vintage maker, Nettleton. One of my most worn pairs are a casual ranger moccasins from Rancourt of Maine I had made last year.
I have particular weaknesses for outerwear, cufflinks, and briefcases. I’ve tried to limit those as much as I can. Most of what I have are vintage (used/vintage outerwear can be a steal on eBay), and include a vintage camel hair polo coat, a J. Press Chesterfield from the 1930s, a Gieves & Hawkes double-breasted Chesterfield, a couple of Barbours. Likewise my cufflinks are mostly vintage, double-sided links from the art deco era. I have several pairs of lovely Belais links. The modern pair I prize are sterling knots from Hermes. I sold off some extra links I had to fund them a few years back.
I’ve picked up various briefcases over the years, but my go-to bags are a Filson 257 and an English bridle leather bag from R.F. Clark Saddlery. Clark was a discovery by my friend J. Mark Bertrand. He worked at Swaine Adeney for years and now has his own shop. You can find him at Etsy. I like to wear hats. My favorite is a vintage Disney from the 1940s that I found in a thrift shop in Chattanooga. Art Fawcett refurbished it for me. Art has made custom hats for me, both felt and Panamas. I have some Borsalinos plus other odds and ends.
After all this time I’m still loyal to the one who started it all for me: G. Bruce Boyer. He really embodies the kind of relaxed, comfortable style I aspire to. Just take the first dozen or so Google images for Boyer and that’s about all the style direction you need. The old Fellows Apparel Arts/Esky images are a perpetual source of inspiration and guidance. Luciano Barbera is another wonderful exemplar, and, to me, embodies a similar approach to Boyer. None of this is original, but originality in dress is usually overrated. I really enjoy voxsartoria’s stream of images on his blog/Twitter, and of all the #menswear personalities, he dresses how I would if I had his disposable income. My old forum friend RJ does nice work over at A Suitable Wardrobe. He and I share an interest in sartorial obscurata and little known super villains. Our dressing styles are not the same, but his taste is always spot on.
I think style is presenting yourself tastefully and comfortably. Modern dress embraces comfort, or perceived comfort, to the exclusion of anything else. We live in a more casual time, and there’s no chance of completely reversing that. We have to find ways of navigating declining formality while maintain good taste. We can also make strides in reviving classic styles without appearing anachronistic or costumey. As a Christian I spend a lot of time with my church. My wife and girls have a great deal of my attention, of course. I have an interest in books and reading, particularly Southern (American) literature. I do a little collecting of first editions. I enjoy college basketball and (American) football. I have a great appreciation for Bluegrass music, and am a bit of a failed mandolinist. I enjoy food, particularly barbeque, and sampling barbeque from as many dives and vendors as I can.
Well, believe me I was not born with rakish relatives. I would say start slow, make incremental changes with quality purchases. Upgrading to top quality ties is an easy change to make, but can have a profound impact. Add in linen pocket square. Buy a pair of Goodyear-welted shoes and take care of them. It can be intimidating and overwhelming when you see fit pics of men with bespoke everything when you know that’s out of reach for you. Hand in hand with this is the development of good taste. First, one must accept that there is such a thing, then you have to train your eye and your preferences. This isn’t the same thing as buying into group think, but imitation of exemplars is the place to start.’
Pictures: © Alan Cornett