In 1996, American columnist Tom Junod wrote a legendary article called “My Father’s Fashion Tips” for the men’s magazine GQ. “I am a son who has squandered his inheritance,” he wrote. “You see; I am incomplete in my knowledge and practice of matters hygienic and sartorial. And yet … I want to know.”
The secrets he revealed (for example, that “the turtleneck is the most flattering thing a man can wear”; “always wear white to the face”; and “make sure to show plenty of cuff”) were part of the family’s sartorial heritage − the thread connecting father and son that has always been central to the history of men’s fashion − which seems to have been lost in recent generations.
“My father believed, absolutely, in the old saw, at once terrifying and liberating, that ‘clothes make the man,’” wrote Junod, “and so did his friends, and so everything they wore had to tell a story … That’s really my father’s first fashion tip, come to think of it: that everything you wear has to add up, that everything has to make sense and absolutely f’ing signify.”
In certain respects, contemporary Western culture has indeed forgotten all those lessons. Since the youth rebellion of the 1950s and ’60s, fathers have been seen as representing the Old World; their suits and button-down shirts have been replaced by jeans and T-shirts. Fathers no longer teach their sons how to tie a tie, and conversations about dress habits, personal style and social etiquette have been replaced by discussions about the stock exchange. In his anarchistic book “Do It!,” written in 1970, Jerry Rubin – one of the prominent political activists of the time – wrote, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” thereby summing up the spirit of the times: The world belongs to the young.
In Israel this oedipal rift was even greater. The pioneering culture rejected the clothing of previous generations almost totally, considering it bourgeois and part of the Diaspora, and therefore objectionable. Since the ’60s, as the world of fashion began to rise to prominence − especially American designs − Israel adopted the general youthful spirit, but remained, as in the beginning, without any formative father figure in this arena.
But all that has changed in recent years. The growing interest in men’s fashion and vintage items has burnished the prestige of “the fathers’ generation,” and stirred up longings for the traditional wardrobe and for symbols of style from an Old World that is no more. Icons like Steve McQueen and Gary Cooper have once again begun to take their place in popular culture, and in their wake old-school haberdasheries and old-fashioned barbershops have begun to crop up in the world’s big cities (but not in Israel).
In recent years, men’s fashion has been trying to learn the secrets of the metaphorical fathers – men created from a model with a rich world of classical items of clothing around it. The figure of the new man is being shaped under the influence of this model: a combination of iconic items from Father’s wardrobe with the essential updates originating in such places as the western neighborhoods of Brooklyn.
U.S.-made chino pants, masculine jackets from the ’50s, bow ties and dandyish pocket handkerchiefs − are all being sold in the finest international stores and appearing in the right magazines. Meanwhile, fashion advice from the previous generation has become journalistic bon ton. This is also turning the blogosphere on its end.
Family tradition has also become one of the values disseminated by prestigious fashion houses, which base themselves on crafts and knowledge that have been passed down from father to son, as part of the “heritage” of recent years. At a time when the “fast” fashion chains relied on passing trends and were based on mass production in the Far East, fashion houses whose fame stems from tradition and creative work boosted their reputation, and brands such as J. Barbour & Sons and others emphasized a familial dynasty and authenticity that has been maintained over generations.
The men’s clothing website Mr Porter, which is celebrating its first anniversary, began to publish photographs of the sons and grandsons of famous men, with the idea that style and chic are inherited. Among those photographed is the son of Led Zeppelin soloist Robert Plant, the grandsons of Marlon Brando and Gregory Peck, and other family members of male icons of the 20th century. The Japanese fashion magazine Free and Easy annually publishes an edition entitled “Father’s Style,” and all over the Internet there are sites devoted to offering paternal tips to contemporary young people.
Blogs that document street fashion have also begun to see older people as a reliable source for everything related to dress style. On the successful blog The Sartorialist, stylish fathers are occasionally photographed; its editors conduct competitions in which surfers are asked to send old pictures of their fathers. The fashion world is beginning to understand that it doesn’t belong only to the young.
The way to wear clothes, the nuances of individual style and the proper way to behave in the world are part of the fathers’ subtle legacy − things that are difficult to learn alone, despite thousands of YouTube clips that teach one how to tie a tie. The secrets of proper shaving, cuff links and drinking habits, just like those related to classic suits, accumulate layers of meaning with the change in generations, and absorb the history of gentlemanly behavior and the changing concepts of masculinity and fatherhood.
We asked four pairs of fathers and sons to be photographed for this project in order to examine what happens to fashion and style when they are transmitted from one generation to the next. And although most of the interviewees don’t talk much about these subjects, their pictures and their responses indicate that something is in fact handed down: the way they see the world and themselves, the same casual look of their shirts, the way in which they wear a jacket, or look into the camera and at each other. Each pair has a specific style, even if it’s hard to put into words.
At the end of Junod’s GQ article he wrote: “As I walk into my life I walk into his, into the gift he gave me, his first and final fashion tip: the knowledge that a man doesn’t belong to anyone. That he belongs to his secrets. That his secrets belong to him.”
Some of these secrets are revealed through the pictures, and others will continue to be handed down from fathers to sons, as with every generation.