Hairstyles took a while to shorten but by 1923- barbers were offering the big chop for any women willing to dare. To get your hair bobbed or cropped was the utmost in fashion for any young woman. By the late 1920s, older women had succumbed as well and the short hair worn with various shapes of cloche hat was the general style. Paul Poiret , was without any doubt the most famous of the Edwardian and post Edwardian designers. He also of course a great self publicist – as was his American counterpart – Lady Duff Gordon of Lucille . His early start from selling cape and scarf designs to Madeleine Cheruit , a leading dress maker of the 1880’s brought him to the attention of Jacques Doucet and later to the House of Worth .
They work, my father’s fashion tips. That’s what’s funny about them, besides the fact that they are…well, funny in the first place. They work, or they worked, for him, for my father. They were cohesive and complementary; they spoke in a single voice; they were his manifesto. Take a look, for example, at a picture of my father standing in a group of his fellow salesmen at a Bar Mitzvah circa 1962. Take a look at the one man whose jacket sleeves cover his shirt cuffs, like the sleeves of a cassock. He does not look merely glum or sour; he looks defeated, whipped, scared , precancerous—a recessive man, with a receding hairline. Now take a look at my father, holding in one pinkie-ringed hand a drink and a cigarette. He is about 43 years old, and, by God, he is glistening , for he is in his prime, and all the elements are in place. He has a fresh burn, and he is wearing a shirt with a high collar. He is wearing a suit of midnight blue, single-breasted, with a silver tie and a handkerchief in the pocket (I’ve never heard him call it a “pocket square“), which he does not fold into regimental points but rather simply “throws in there,“ so that what shows is just “a puff.“ He is undoubtedly wearing bikini underwear, for anybody who wears bor shorts is “a square“ or “a farmer,“ as in, “What are you, a farmer?“; and he is undoubtedly wearing socks, or “hose,“ that go “over the calf, knee-high,“ for if there’s anything he hates more than long sleeves on a suit jacket, it’s “ankle socks,“ because “I can’t stand to see someone sitting down with their ankles showing—their white ankles and their black socks.“ His shirt has French cuffs, of course, and he’s showing plenty of them—“at least an inch“—and he looks sharp … and by sharp I mean avid, by sharp I mean almost feral, by sharp I mean that if this were not a Bar Mitzvah but rather a meeting of the Five Families, when the schnorrer in the long sleeves and the bor shorts and the ankle socks would be the guy fingered for a rubout, and the guy showing plenty of cuff would be the man commissioned for the kill. 1962: a good time for sharp dressers. 1962: Even the freaking president is a sharp dresser, and he’s just about the same age as my father, and as for him, as for Lou Junod, well, he’s still coming on , and if he looks, in this picture, slightly dangerous, in his own proud display, I also have no doubts that on this resplendent day he was one of the most beautiful men in the world.
Some nights I used to stand in the doorway of his bedroom, watching him thoughtfully edit the outfit he planned to wear to school the next day. He would lay out its components, making a kind of flat self-portrait on the bedroom floor—oxford shirt tucked inside of cotton sport coat, extra-slim pants (with the adjustable elastic straps inside the waistband stretched to button at the very last hole), argyle socks, the whole thing topped by the ubiquitous hat—and I would try to understand what the kid got out of dressing up every day like a pint-size Ronald Colman out for a tramp across the countryside of Ruritania. Did he like the attention—even if it was negative? Was he trying, by means of the clothes, to differentiate himself from the other boys, or were the clothes merely the readiest expression, to him, of his having been born different? Was he trying to set himself apart, or could he simply not help it?