Personal Style, Part I: Know Your Roots 

This is the first installment in a series about events that shaped the way I dress. These stories may or may not be relevant to you but hopefully they offer a perspective that isn’t often seen on the internet. 

One mantra we all hear a lot in the #menswear community is the importance of finding your own personal style and to avoid being “dressed by the internet.” There is a huge amount of knowledge out there, to be sure, but it can lead to a canned sense of ‘personal style’ if you only wear what people tell you to.

I grew up with no style influences whatsoever, be them from within my family or pop culture. My parents had little money and no interest in classic style and my small hippie west coast town had nothing to add to the equation. I always had a strong desire to dress well, but no knowledge or resources to help me properly execute this interest. Since my father wasn’t able to teach me how to shop for suits or tie a four-in-hand, I turned to the internet for guidance. I learned quite a bit, but I still felt disconnected from this new world of luxury items and father-to-son knowledge. My relationship with men’s style was a hollow connection; I wasn’t Italian, I didn’t go to boarding school, and I had no friends that held a similar interest. Clothing had become a great hobby, but at times it felt inauthentic.

My grandfather, on the other hand, had a very different upbringing. He grew up in the Midwest in a privileged family, spent his youth at Andover Academy, and ended up attending Notre Dame after a stint in WWII. After a long and successful business career he settled in Wyoming, where he was known for his outdoor prowess, horseback riding expertise, and deadly golf skills. He passed away several years ago and I always knew him as a grand adventurer, charming cowboy, and loving granddad.  It was not until recently that I began to see that we had more in common than I had once thought.

During a trip home a while back I happened upon my grandfather’s old wardrobe in the back of my own childhood closet, dusty and untouched for years. I was startled to find that every item I saw was immediately recognizable with my newfound knowledge: gray flannel suit, Harris Tweed sport coats, OCBDs in all the right colors, a Brooks Bros. blue blazer, gingham shirts, khakis, leather-soled shoes, a white linen pocket square, hell, even an Omega Seamaster that he wore every day. It was as if a #menswear list of essentials had appeared in my closet during my absence.

I dug up some old photo albums to verify what I hoped to be true but refused to believe. In doing so I found hundreds of vintage photographs portraying my grandfather in beautiful sack suits, perfectly tailored tweed blazers, and dozens of bowties (apparently as my grandfather aged he refused to wear traditional ties – it was bowties or bolo ties every day). I reached out to my relatives to confirm; was it really true? Was my own grandfather really the stylish rouge I was seeing in these photographs, long before the internet and #menswear even existed? Friends and family from all over confirmed my suspicions and added their own stories of my grandfather’s infamous classic taste and preppy style. It was an emotional moment for me; I was deeply saddened that my grandfather and I could not share in this common passion during his lifetime, but the discovery left me happy to learn that my new hobby was not as separated from my heritage as I had once thought. Finding someone in my own family with the same desire to present themselves well – even if only through vintage photographs and old tweed jackets – was more than I ever could have hoped to discover.

Don’t be afraid to look in the closets and photo albums of your own family; just because your crazy uncle only wears sweatpants and sneakers now doesn’t mean that he never had a classy streak himself. Look into your own past and you might just stumble upon some treasures of your own.

Above: my granddad in his youth wearing herringbone tweed, a white polo collar shirt, and a black (or navy?) grenadine tie. Some styles really do transcend our own generation.

For J.A.P. Jr, 1919-2008