This column is about Gentleman’s Style and it’s various forms of expression as they intersect the experiences of pipe smokers and all lovers of fine tobaccos.
Why a style column?
There is currently a resurgence of interest in men’s fashion.
You can find variations of this statement more and more frequently these days across the media spectrum. You may have also noticed the increasing attention the media is focusing on the apparent growing popularity of the pipe hobby among young adults. Though possibly coincidental, I believe there is a subtle, if tenuous, relationship between the two.
From the Victorian period forward to the late 1960’s, pipe and cigar smoking among men was quite common and ubiquitous. We all know this. During these same times men (and women ) were far more attentive to the proprieties that expressed respect and grace in social interactions. This respect shown in civil discourse was echoed in a gentleman’s ( and lady’s ) style and dress as well.
All this fell away in the late 60’s with the “Let it all hang out” attitudes that set the coming tone and style for society over the next fifty years.
Pipe smoking is a talisman of that bygone era; an era remembered to have been a calmer and more civilized time of gentlemanly behavior and style. Dressing well also harkens back to such times. I recall that my father never went downtown without a nice jacket and tie if he wasn’t wearing a suit. And always with one of his small brimmed fedoras that were so popular at the time. This was to show respect and also to present himself, at a glance, as the gentleman he was. He invariably was smoking his pipe as well.
In today’s atmosphere of vitriolic political wrangling, banking frauds, terrorism, the NSA and a perceived growing lack of respect for one’s fellow man, folks may indeed be longing for the civilities of days gone by.
Everything old is new again
It is interesting to note that at the 2014 Pitti Uomo, a highly regarded twice yearly men’s fashion industry event in Florence, Italy, a significant number of the stylish and splendid attendees were seen smoking pipes and cigars. Pipes in particular seemed to be incorporated into outfits and employed as an expression of style. It is also important to note the happy fact that these sartorial devotees were actually smoking said pipes and cigars.
These individuals, acutely attuned to image and their own expression of style, have high regard for pipe and cigar smoking and demonstrate how well these align with a gentleman’s style. For many years, smoking was absolutely considered a sophisticated activity because it went hand in hand with style, individuality and freedom of self expression.
Given all of the above, a column on gentleman’s style seems quite timely.
What is style?
I believe that everyone has a sense of style. Some are more developed and clearly expressed than others, but we all have it. And, it can be enhanced and refined when one takes an interest. Just as in music and art, there are rules, guidelines and principles of style that can be learned and followed. A person developing their style, having mastered these principles, may then reinterpret them in ways that create a unique personal style. Look at the author Tom Wolfe, the actor George Clooney and star Frank Sinatra.
Each succeeded quite well in expressing their tastes and sensibilities while simultaneously defining themselves to the world. Tom Wolfe is formal and refined, but not too serious about it, hence; the white suits. George Clooney is subdued, elegant and casual all at the same time. And Sinatra? Well, Frank was just cool. Period. Three very different men presenting three very different styles, but gentleman all.
Fashion vs. Style
"Fashion fades, style is eternal." - Yves St. Laurent
The terms "fashion" and "style" are frequently used interchangeably. They are not the same. One can purchase fashion. Style is crafted by the individual and cannot be bought or hired. A great Harris Tweed sport coat may be purchased from Brooks Bros. and you have fashion. Style is choosing the pocket square that perfectly accents your tie and also picks up the subtle tones in the coat’s weave.
Gentlemanly style is when you, unbidden, slip that coat around your lady’s shoulders because you noticed she was cold. An important aspect of gentlemanly style is the consideration of others.
Judging a book by it’s cover
"You only get one chance to make a first impression."
It has been shown that the vast majority of information we take in during face to face communication is visual. Style is a subtle and often powerful element in that communication. In case you were wondering why you should give a damn about style, there’s your answer.
Our focus here
"Looking good isn’t self-importance, it’s self respect." - Charles Hix
A gentleman’s style is expressed in his choice and style of garments, but it also includes footwear, grooming, the cars we drive and even the pipes we smoke.
Style also extends to our choices about entertaining, the sports we play, TV, movies, music and so on.
The focus here will generally be sartorial concerns, as there is plenty to cover.
We are not only concerned with the wardrobe, but with how to wear, care for and preserve fine garments and footwear. There is also where and how to purchase pieces, what looks well with what, proper attire for special occasions, how to judge fit, what elements make a good shirt or suit, the value of a good tailor, and even esoteric concerns such as what pipe shapes look well with your face.
When timely and appropriate we will no doubt look at fine liquors, elegant dining, watches and jewelry, and perhaps more kinetic subjects like fishing, performance driving and the shooting sports.
We will also work to fit in a useful tip in each column so you always come away with information that is practical and proven.
Your comments and questions are invited and will be appreciated.
The Gentleman Smoker’s tip:
Spring is on the way before long, so now is the time to think about storing your woolen garments. If you retire the heaviest items first and as the weather warms continue to the lighter ones, you can avoid the sticker shock at the dry cleaner in June. Try this: immediately after cleaning, store the garment in a large and heavy zip lock type plastic bag like the ones for storing pillows and blankets. If they are clean and zipped up airtight you can forget about moths destroying your favorite herringbone tweed trousers. Do not use vacuum “space saving” bags, as you may damage the construction of jackets and set in God awful wrinkles.
Photos of Steve Morrisette by Steve Morrisette
Steve Morrisette is an artisan pipe maker, relentlessly snappy dresser, and self-confessed Virginia gentleman. He makes artisan pipes for discerning collectors, and scours the internet and shops of all types seeking information and fine garments, hats, watches, shoes, and jewelry - anything related to the gentleman’s lifestyle. Steve also spent several decades as a working drummer and photographer/photojournalist. You can find his pipes at www.smpipes.com, and catch his style photos and latest pipes on Facebook and Instagram.