Richard Torregrossa is a notable journalist and author of many books, one of which is the lovely Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style. He is also a soulmate of sorts, having been writing and speaking about the transformative effect of style for many moons.
Therefore, let’s just say I was more than a little pleased to have the opportunity to interview Mr. Torregrossa on the state of style and man.
The biography you wrote about the style evolution of Cary Grant focuses on how Grant self-optimized himself, how he clearly and consciously articulated what and who he was to the world via his presentation. What is the most important thing that a man, one who is just starting to think about his presentation in these terms, can do to become more aware about the state of his presentation?
Experiment with upgrading. And I’m not talking about spending a lot of money on designer clothes. For instance, switch from a sweatshirt or hoodie to a sports jacket and observe the reaction from others. I did. And it surprised me. I was going to a barbecue, a very informal event, and put on a sports jacket over a plain white V-neck T-shirt purely for utilitarian purposes. A sports jacket to me is like a briefcase. It cleanly holds my keys, cell phone, wallet, and other paraphernalia without any unsightly bulges like the kind you find when you stuff your pants pockets. As I stepped out of the house I ran into a neighbor who said, “Hey, Rich, where you going all dressed up?”
All dressed up? All I did was put on a sports jacket. I mean, I was wearing a T-shirt and jeans. But the sports jacket clearly made a transformative impression and it surprised me. I learned something that day. The slightest upgrade in your wardrobe and personal appearance will be noticed for the better.
Another suggestion is to find a style (or style icon) you like and try to emulate it but not slavishly. Add personal touches to make it your own.
I laud the many benefits of presenting one’s most attractive and authentic self to the world, and on an everyday basis. As a gal I know that the benefits of a lovely presentation are rich, with some of them unique to the female experience, such as the desire to feel beautiful. What benefits of enhancing or optimizing one’s presentation do you think are rather unique or specific to being a man?
Confidence. Being well dressed, especially on bad days, can boost your mood, make you feel your mettle, and psychologically enable you to feel just a bit more prepared to take on the world. Also, it is, at least for me, an exercise in discipline. And the more discipline we have, the greater our chances of success in our personal as well as our business relationships.
Are these unique to men? Probably not. Women know these benefits and get the most out of them. Men just need to catch up.
Lastly, in a piece you wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle you coined the phrase The New Gentleman to denote a “fresh approach to style” for men. Circa 2011, what is the state of The New Gentleman? How do you characterize this concept today, and do you think men in general are moving closer to it, or further away?
There’s a huge polarity. There are guys who are keenly interested in menswear who have mastered all the details such as stitching and fabric and cut and pairing it all with the right accessories. They also experiment with different pieces from different eras in an effort to create a unique style, a presentation that is comfortable, fashionable, and at the same time expresses something about them, a point of view, as it were.
Then you have the other extreme; the Hipster look, for instance. These are guys who think they look smart but are laughable in my estimation. Unmanly even. The most execrable ensemble in sartorial history is cargo pants with a T-shirt and flip flops. Yet, sadly, it is ubiquitous. The reason for its popularity is the comfort factor, a kind of spiritual laziness. And it should be banned along with the three-day growth of beard that to me just looks ratty and unkempt, another sign of sloth and a kind of faux hipness. Follow the pack and you end up looking beastly.
And it’s not fully the guy’s fault. Why aren’t women making them tow the sartorial line? I see couples out and about all the time exhibiting an odd disparity: the woman is beautifully groomed and attired while the guy looks like he just came from a Home Depot workshop. Why is this? Why don’t women put their foot down, demand that their boyfriend or husband show some respect for the event, for the evening, for the romance of going out by insisting that they dress better?
The smarter men are moving towards The New Gentleman way of being for a number of reasons. First, dressing well gives you a competitive edge, especially in this dour economy. It sends a subliminal message to bosses, HR people, and colleagues with whom you network that you’re pulled together, even though you might not be setting the world on fire just yet.
Second, it’s fun. The New Gentlemen are in on this little secret. They know the delight in finding just the right suit, vintage garment, pocket handkerchief, or casual ensemble that makes them stand a little taller, walk a little prouder, and enriches their sense of aesthetic pleasure. And when one New Gentleman encounters another New Gentleman there is an instant bond, a mutual respect that represents an ever-widening circle of networking opportunities.
Third, the ritual of dressing smartly brings order into a world that is chaotic, cold, and entropic. Most of life is out of our control, but dressing well is certainly within our reach, every day, almost under any circumstance, and that in itself is satisfying, a kind of small but important antidote to the sea changes that are roiling the culture right now.
In conclusion, there are certainly more slobs out there than New Gentlemen (and not much in between). But the New Gentlemen, in 2011, stand out in a crowd so there seems to be more of them. When men understand this, perhaps the scales will be tipped in favor of the New Gentleman. But right now, like the Marines, we are the few, the proud.
Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style Richard Torregrossa (Author), Giorgio Armani (Foreword) Michael Kors (Afterword)
“Consider this book a must-have for the style-conscious guy in your life–or the guy who needs a few tips.” — Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 3, 2006
Mr. Torregrossa is currently working on a line of apparel and a new book, this one on George Clooney. His website is richardtorregrossa.com.