You can’t watch the Academy awards. Not in person, in any case, unless you’re a seat-filler. It’s by invitation only, to Academy members, and the Academy determines the guest list. So how do you get to be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences? Why, your name is endorsed by your Academy branch’s executive committee, then you are sponsored by two existing Academy members, and membership is by invitation of the Board of Governors. So when it seems like the judging criterion is a bit biased, that’s because it is, thank you very much. And if you don’t like it, well, we’ll just pass you over for membership this year.
But they do throw a heck of an awards show. Actually, they throw four, but only one is televised; because who wants to see overweight, balding technicians get Oscars for Science and Technology?
The Oscars is supposed to be a classically formal affair. Dinner dress has been the norm, but full dress has not been unheard of. (On the Awards Parade Formality Continuum, the Academy Awards fits in somewhere between the snooty Tonys and the extravagant Golden Globes.) Before we go further, let’s set the bar high with Kirk Douglas at the Oscars in 1950. That’s how it’s done.
No one opted for dress suits at this year’s Oscars. Well, host Billy Crystal tried. (No, Zach Galifianakis and Will Farrell, presenters in all-white dress suits and cymbals, don’t count.) Billy Crystal’s suit was just awful. The jacket was cut well enough, but everything under it was four shades of wrong. White tie is an exacting mistress who will not tolerate tepid commitment. Crystal could tell something was wrong, too; he seemed uncertain and ill at ease wearing it. It seemed as if the clothes themselves shamed him into dressing down into a less-distracting dinner suit for the second half of the show. That’s too bad, really; Crystal’s age and gravitas have grown him into the role of Oscars host, one who should be able to confidently wear proper white tie. The brash young outsider joking his way through the show has matured into a latter-day Bob Hope, who gives the Oscars the self-deprication it so desperately needs to be accessible to Joe America, and keep it from sinking into a self-congratulatory event for Hollywood insiders who take themselves far too seriously.
So where were the dandies tonight? It’s difficult to say: such a large part of dandyism is insouciance, and being at ease with yourself and your surroundings. An event like the Oscars will rattle the sternest man: the crowds, the chaos, the glaring lights and forests of cameras, tend to be off-putting. The actors will tend to strike poses and put on airs, and the technicians will tend to cower from the direct attention. Still, as the dross is burned away in the glare, some nuggets of gold remain to be examined.
Here’s a fine example of the evening’s dandy vexation. Brad Pitt doesn’t look bad, really. His dinner suit is cut well, it fits him, and is fairly stylish. But men’s wear works as a background upon which the women’s dresses act. Pitt is overshadowed, emasculated even, by his proximity to Angelina and her right leg, which apparently got a separate invitation and insisted on being seen throughout the evening. There is no balance between the two outfits: in fact, anything less than a bespoke dress suit would have been insufficient.
Compare this to George Clooney and Stacey Kiebler. Would this pairing have worked better in a dress suit? Yes, of course. But Clooney can do what Pitt can’t — take up the disparity of a dinner suit with an evening gown with an insouciant presence.
In a similar vein, (or should I say vain,) we have Puffy Diddy Daddy. Sharply dressed, we have no doubt. Insouciant? So it would appear. But the Did-man made a fatal dandy error — and it was caught on camera for everyone to see.
He had his own team of handlers to dress him. Armed with lint rollers, he was thoroughly de-dusted, primped and straightened, on the red carpet. A dandy gives the appearance he puts no effort into his clothes, but merely looks as he does as a matter of course. Seen being dressed and prepped, like Mother used to do to you before the school play? Deal breaker. Sorry, D. Next time leave Gerome at home.
Before I unleash my dandy rollcall upon you, notice I have said nothing about “who” these people are wearing. That’s because I don’t care. Designer names mean nothing. Designers are not tailors. Unless you wear a sandwich board that reads “I know I look like a d-bag but it’s okay because it’s a Tom Ford” — you’ll just look like a fool in a silly tux. I am much more impressed with a man who can respond to “Who are you wearing?” with, “You’ve never heard of him. He’s an old man near Savile Row, and he made this tux just for me in four weeks all by himself.”
Now for your consideration, I present four possible dandies. My criterion: their deportment whilst on-camera must show a degree of dandy restraint. This unfortunately must disqualify many otherwise well-dressed fellows that simply aren’t comfortable staring into the business end of a camera in front of thousands of people. They must demonstrate through their appearance that they are knowledgeable of their mode of formal wear. And they must wear that formal wear distinctively; in other words, they must know how far to bend the rules without breaking them. Who they “actually are” outside of this venue is irrelevant — we’re solely concerned with their appearance, here, tonight, and how accurately it depicts a dandy ideal.
First, the old lion who finally got his big break: Christopher Plummer. He wore a light ivory placket French-cuffed shirt with soft cutaway fold collar, under a midnight blue velvet smoking jacket with piped edges and flapped hacking pockets. His bow tie was silk, tied beautifully, with a generous butterfly in a proportion that suited him well. His only accessory was a small lapel pin. It takes a man of a certain age to pull this sort of casual-formal off well, and Plummer, with his silver hair and pencil moustache, certainly looked the part.
Second, presenter Tom Hanks. You don’t see many double-breasted dinner suits nowadays; especially one with a shawl collar. This was one of the most breathtakingly beautiful bespoke suits of the evening, a button-2 show-6 with jetted pockets, and the ever-so-subtle sheen of matte silk on the revers and buttons. Turn-back cuffs are a nice Edwardian touch, and the shaping of the shoulders, lapels, armscyes and sleeves, and the suppression through the waist are all sublime, a seamless blend of the traditional and the fashionable, the present and the past. His bow tie is just casual enough to offset the exactitude of the jacket’s lines and his T.V.-fold pocket square. His shirt is French, with attached collar, and his lapel pin inexplicably shows him to perhaps be a fan of The Prisoner’s Patrick McGoohan.
Third, Pharrell Williams. His three-piece dinner suit is fashion-forward, but without going over the top: a slim-fit button-two with silk-edged notch lapels. The going trend among the hip young designers is the minisuit: short in length, trim of leg, narrow of chest, with teeny little lapels. Williams cleverly avoids the trap of looking like he’s stolen a third-grader’s tux, by taking advantage of a relatively high button stance, generously wide lapels, and a fuller cut through the leg. The jacket has jetted pockets, and the high buttoning charcoal grey waistcoat has silk edging to match the jacket. The result is a small shirtfront, but nevertheless a harmonized ensemble. The rakish velvet bow tie is a good finish, and a chunky ol’ watch adds a bit of bling.
And finally, Jean Dujardin himself. The natty, winning Frenchman appeared thoroughly Continental and thoroughly correct in a classic dinner suit. He sported a starched, detachable wing collar on his placket shirt, with a loosely-tied and, dare I say, insouciant, silk bow tie. His button-four, low cut, slipped waistcoat would have been grand if anyone had seen it, but he kept his jacket buttoned the entire evening. Bad Jean. The jacket was an immaculate one-button peak lapel with matte silk revers. And those lapels! There’s nothing more glorious than a well-shaped and proportioned peak lapel. Well, almost nothing.
Que es mas dandy, citizens? The casual formal velveteen look of Chris Plummer, the back-to-the-future touches of Tom Hanks, the newer-is-better fashion of Pharrell Williams, or Dujardin’s traditional dinner suit? Or have I completely missed the boat? Chime in and let your voice be heard.