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Sprezzatura: Sunday musings…3/3/2024

This is just perfect. It’s as if the titans of journalism, the wizards behind the curtain at the Wall Street Journal and the New York times, looked into the ether, found the thread that contained my musings, and ordered me up a fully formed essay. Gift wrapped and delivered to my doorstep yesterday and today. My newspapers were even delivered on time, not a particularly frequent event. After reading yesterday’s WSJ Off Duty section on men who became icons of style without any sense that they cared one way or the other about style, my Sunday NYT arrived with a Men’s Fashion of the Times magazine laden with images of men bent double in the effort.

Seriously. Batting practice fastball. They even pre-installed the vocabulary.

The greats, the true icons of yore and near-yore fairly ooze style without seeming to make any effort whatsoever. Italians have a word for that: sprezzatura. It means the art of dressing in a nonchalant, tradition-flouting way (wording from WSJ). I like the use of flout, too. To openly disregard convention. Think James Dean and Steve McQueen. James Baldwin. Younger, more current examples per WSJ might be Brad Pitt or Keanu Reeves. I buy ’em all. Each of these men look like they’ve long ago run out of f^ck$ to give when they go in the closet to pull out the day’s look.

Which of course brings up the obvious question since nonchalant is the sine qua non of sprezzatura: is “chalant” a word and is it the opposite of nonchalant? I’m a words guy as you know and this is just fascinating. It turns out that the answer is no, chalant is not a word. Nonchalant is what is known as an unpaired word, one that sounds as if it should have an opposite, an antonym, but in fact does not (HT Quora). Our English word comes to us via the French “non” (not) “chaloir” (caring). Hence “nonchalant” is “not caring”.

Like I said, one f^ck short…

To be schooled in the polar opposite one could do worse than picking up today’s Men’s Fashion of the Times. Seriously, it is just littered with “too hard”, pretentious nonsense like transparent pants. And I’m not talking just the right wrong light transparent like the debacle that is the new MLB uniforms, I mean like cellophane trousers transparent. Where the sprezzatura stars might embellish their worn-in chinos with a thin chain worn over their tee shirt or a vintage wristwatch (think Paul Newman), the models in the articles and the celebrities in the ads are adorned with enough hardware to make Mr. T. blush. Michael Stipe wearing a bracelet that my Gama, she of the elegant jade bracelets, would find impossibly garish. A model wearing a string of white flowers in place of a tie to accompany a white suit coat and matching shorts.

And the logos. Oh my heavens, the logos! Again, in the WSJ a few folks on the street were interviewed and one of them just nailed the whole logo thing. JF, a 61 year old guy who offered that at his age “big logos just look kind of foolish”. Like me he prefers tiny logos, or even better, no logos at all. When I traveled to Ireland to embarrass myself on the golf course I discovered that I no longer owned any long-sleeve golf shirts. To my delight I was able to find a purveyor of men’s clothes that makes super high quality polos without feeling the need to let everyone know about it. They were perfect, looking like they were made by “somebody”, an implied logo (HT: JF). What a great phrase, “implied logo”.

The chaloir in the NYT? Goodness, they are literally buried in logos. I’m a huge fan of LeBron James. Not just the athlete but the man in full. But really? All those “LV’s” on whatever you call that outfit? If you looked quickly he just blended in with the luggage. Yup, all those logos and you had to look twice to see that they were worn by one of the most famous men in the world.

Now, you could reasonably say that I, a middle-aged White male, have no business looking at a fashion magazine filled with images of naked male models cavorting in nothing but a pea coat, and I would find your position reasonable. You could also say that I am hopelessly out of fashion, or that I have no understanding of modern fashion or the fashion mores of the young or the hip or the wealthy. Again, I would agree that you are on solid ground. I mean, come on, my professional sartorial calling card is a bow tie. Not exactly the strongest foundation from which to lob opinions in the direction of the “chaloir”, I’ll admit.

On the cover of today’s weekly NYT magazine is a picture of a model wearing the denim version of MC Hammer’s parachute pants and a statement that these pants says something about “us”. As you can imagine, this part of “us” won’t be trying that hard. And yet, I find myself somehow validated. Seen, you could even say. I grew up wearing tan pants made by Dickies and thought they were chinos. After an adult lifetime of searching for my next version of the perfect khakis, of wearing logo-free, sun-bleached monochrome polos until they are threadbare to the point of almost qualifying for a pic on a model in the NYT. Of disappearing from my professional self as easily as Harry Potter and his cloak, simply by removing my bow tie. I have found what for me stands for fashion, however aspirational it may be to become nonchalant to the point of truly not caring.

Perhaps, if I can somehow try very hard not to try at all, I, too, might be sprezzatura.

I’ll see you next week…

2 Responses to “Sprezzatura: Sunday musings…3/3/2024”

  1. March 3rd, 2024 at 3:44 pm

    Mark Steele says:

    Great post, DW!

    As I have observed in the mirror, there appears to be a direct correlation between sprezzatura and advancing age years. It is an earned right.

  2. March 3rd, 2024 at 3:50 pm

    drwhite says:

    And you gently corrected my spelling error! Thanks for weighing in. Comfort wearing implied logos = earned right!

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