The Rise of Fashion: A Reader

By Daniel Leonhard Purdy | Go to book overview

“Men's Fashion” and“Men's Hats” (1898)

ADOLF LOOS

Adolf Loos's 1898 newspaper articles on men's fashion summarize most succinctly the nineteenth-century philosophy of the dandy. Loos enunciates sartorial axioms that date back to Beau Brummell, and does so with the disdainful absolutism that one has come to expect from a dandy. Loos is so slavishly exacting in his respect for London style that the reader is either humbled by the writer's example of fashion discipline or suspicious that Loos gains a masochistic satisfaction from knowing that he, and other Austrians, can never quite live up to the handsome standards set by the English. At the very least Loos has the satisfaction of knowing that he will never be truly elegant, whereas the average Viennese gentleman will continue to stumble around, believing he is fine when he most certainly is not. Loos is writing with the bitter self-criticism of a provincial who yearns to live in the center of style but cannot. He adheres so rigorously to the principle that modern male dress emanates from the Prince of Wales (clearly a nineteenth-century conceit) that, even if he were living in London, we imagine he would still be painfully aware of his own datedness.

Pointing out how strict Loos is when defining men's style does not mean that he is wrong. Fashion may be a tyrant, but so be it. There is only one correct way to dress, and critical reflections of even the most philosophical sort do not excuse bad clothes. For Loos points out that fashion is ruled by rules, not by critical arguments. If German Idealists such as Vischer occasionally invoke aesthetic principles to complain about a particular style, their comments have no relevance to the question of whether one should wear it. Fashion, Loos points out, concerns dressing correctly, not beautifully. One should not stand out, a position D'Aurevilly credited to Brummell himself. Loos twists this rule around so that it works against the myth of the dandy as the origin of style. A dandy merely conforms more perfectly than others, he states, revealing what little value he places on innovation in menswear. The fact that London is the center of an empire means that the dandy's standard of obedience

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