The Sartorial

While I was on the Trail, I dreamed – a lot – about things to buy. I thought about what I wanted to own. Things to define myself. Things to wear. I spent a lot of time on hostel wifi looking at shoes and watches and suits.

This is somewhat natural. When in A, dream of B. When in a wet tent, dream of a dry house. When in Altras, dream of Allen Edmonds.

I’m sure it also sprung somewhat from the fact that I hadn’t packed enough audiobooks and podcasts (and oral arguments galore). A situation which I am working very hard to remedy for Te Araroa. Thank you, 512GB MicroSD card!

But most of all, it originated from my desire to, like, work for a living. To be working towards something. Making progress. Making anything.

Dreaming of the work itself was – is – too painful, at this point. So I dreamt of the life.

The big problem with this – outside of the numerous practical problems which need no belaboring, I promise you – is that it’s actually a bit counterfactual. If I had a fulfilling job, I would want to treat myself to shiny things the less, not the more. And the more fulfilling the job was, the less I’d care about other things – or things at all.

Indeed: the more luxurious my income, the less I’d want to spend it on luxuries. Because when you have very little money, it is perfectly acceptable to dream of treating yourself. To big things. To little things. What’s the difference? Whereas if you have a lot of money, you have enough that you can actually use it to knock some bodies down. You can work towards guaranteeing your security. Your retirement. The undertaking of projects that are orthagonal to work – hobbies, ventures, cough thru-hiking cough-cough-cough. And beyond that, you can put the money to use – to underwriting new ventures, to endowing charitable works, to – in short – making things.

Having a lot of money is not just an improvement over having a little; it is qualitatively different. Because being in the upper middle class may be luxurious – but it is not powerful.

This is not to say that I disdain – or wish I could disdain – fashion, or fabric, or the owning of things. Not at all. Not were I rich, not were I poor. Even emperors need clothes. I just wish my desires, my daydreams, did not exist in a vacuum – that they could complement a life, rather than supplement it.

Much of my attention towards fashion has been practical. My interest in how I present myself sprung from a desire to maximize my odds of success in a business interview. This is important. It pains me that I am only now pursuing it. But it is not creative. It is about surveying what other people are wearing and trying to match course. It is not about self-determination, it’s about guessing what will look ‘okay’ to a 23-year-old HR rep from Mineola. It is observational, barely analytic, and not at all generative. It doesn’t require daydreaming. It doesn’t even allow it.

There is a case to be made that this, then, is an area wherein I should not bother daydreaming. That I lack context, and to dream of self-presentation without specific context is to shout into the abyss – or pee into the wind.

But if I can dream up an outfit, I can dream up a context, too.

If I had a forty thousand dollar a year legal job in rural Maine, what should I wear? Probably the answer is “it couldn’t possibly matter less.” No help there.

Doesn’t mean it would be a bad life. It would be one that would cost me perhaps $100 a year in broadcloth button-downs and AmPrime khakis; certainly it would be economic! But for such a life, I might as well never have learned the difference between twill and tweed. Not only would it be unnecessary, it would not be of benefit – and could very, very easily be counter-beneficial. As I’m run out of town on a rail for sins against the sumptuary.

I think this context is probably representative of the majority of middle-class jobs that I could enter into. It encapsulates the better part of ‘business casual’ – which encapsulates the better part of the working world.

Whereas, if I had a partner-track job somewhere, the answer to “what should I wear?” would remain rather asymptotic to “whatever everyone else is wearing.” The inputs would change; the algorithm would not. I would still have to study others; it would not give me much opportunity to study fashion, and even less to study myself.

Whereas, if I achieve even a modicum of success – as an entrepreneuer, as a businessman, as a financier, as a lawyer further down that partner track – then I can wear whatever I jolly well want. Then I have freedom. Which allows me – requires me! – to actually make hard choices for myself, backed by research, paying opportunity cost at every turn. It would give me the freedom to work harder – freedom of my favorite kind.

There is, in short, little need for me to daydream about fashion or Things, outside of concurrently daydreaming that I have a great and fulfilling job that has made me rich.


So – let’s pretend that I am rich. That I am successful. That I am fulfilled, day to day.

What do I wear?

I think that larger conundrums can be brought into focus by looking at wristwatches. Not the least because, I know watches way better than I know… anything else, really. Shut up.

Let us look at two wristwatches: the Breguet Type XX, and the Breguet Tradition

The dieselpunk chrono:

Breguet is the house that invented the wristwatch (as well as the self-winding watch, the modern balance spring, the tourbillon) back during the ancien regime and then the Empire. During the World Wars, they were called upon to produce ‘tool watches’ for the military effort. Most luxury houses did the same – Rolex (e.g.) for the British officers; Lange and IWC for the German pilots; Panerai (with Rolex movements) for Italian divers; etc. As a result, some of these timepieces showed lesser or greater amounts of luxury influence. The Breguet Type XX and Type XXI chronographs, made for French pilots, were somewhat at the zenith of this. They are still made today, and are still beautiful watches – and excellent timepieces. Much like Panerai still make the Radiomir, IWC the Pilot’s Watch, and Rolex still, of course, makes the Submariner and GMT-Master that brought us victory and glory in Vietnam. They are functional, attractive, manly I dare say, and full of history.

They are also a watch that was made for a specific context, which is now seventy years gone, and to which I have no connection, nor particular desire for one.

The problem is – this thinking would apply to the vast majority of watches. And… I think it does.

So let us look at a modern marvel of a timepiece.

The steampunk skeleton:

The Breguet “Tradition” is, of course, nothing of the sort. It falls, I think, under the categories of ‘needless ostentation’ and ‘baroque maleficense which aggravates underlying socialist tendencies’. Skeletonized watches always have this effect on me. And I am quite fine that they do. On an intellectual level, they are at best the very model of diminished returns; more likely they are simply and entirely indefensible. They are without function. They gild the lily with abandon. In point of fact they take a (pretty perfectly) good thing and make it more delicate and more difficult to upkeep. It’s not that they aren’t worth the money; they shouldn’t even exist in the first place.

If this is true of skeletons, it is squared and cubed for tourbillons.

On the other hand, these mechanical marvels do inspire in me an, ah, unconscious physical response, the likes of which my forebears might describe as reproductive in functionality.

Why do I like them, if I hate them so? Is it just a response to good branding? Is it just a vague love of the mechanical?

Stepping back, I think it is natural result of wristwatches having become a pure luxury item. Whether it’s there for your pleasure, or to show off to others, is rather immaterial; a wristwatch is an item of the decorous. If you’re going to buy one, buy a nice one; if you’re going to buy a nice one, buy a very nice one; if you have the resources, you might as well skate down the slippery slope, and give Thorstein Veblen a clockwork handjob at the bottom.

In which case, skeletons and tourbillons aren’t just absurdities themselves; they are a reductio ad absurdum argument against mechanical watches in general. They are a blistering indictment of any wristwatch which is not powered by quartz & cased in steel or titanium. They say “if you want to spend $500 on a watch, then you want to spend $5,000, or $50,000, or more. If you don’t, it not from lack of desire – only lack of money.’

To which I might reply: ‘There ought to be more standing between you and being a Wicked Witch of the Wrist than your ability to pay. You should spend your money on other things. Travel and tailor and the tawdry. Spend it. Invest it. Donate it. Give it away. Don’t pay someone to make something that, in truth, ought not to be made. Buy a quartz-powered Seiko, with a sapphire crystal and a bit of WR, and tell M. Breguet to stick his squelette straight up his escapement.”

This is, I think, the perfect representation of my thoughts concerning the sartorial. If I have a cheap job… who gives a fuck. If I have a true Profession, a Career… I will do what dother people do. Even if that means I have to buy a fucking Rolex. But if I were successful… fulfilled, and flush o’ cash… I do not think I would wear a Very Expensive Timepiece. Not a Rolex, not a Sinn. I think I’d probably choose not to wear a mechanical watch at all.

Maybe an SBGA081. Maybe a Snowflake, if I wanted variety. If only the VHP were a little dressier… BUT I DIGRESS.


This logic, I think, applies equally to clothing.

Look at shoes. Leather is archaic. At best it pays homage to naturalism, in a way that reminds me far too much of the renfaire. Mostly it simply showcases our inability to redefine the fashionable apart from the definitions of a previous generation – one part hipsterism, ten parts cowardice.

On the other hand, what are you gonna do, crush hi-tech sports shoes day-to-day? Why?

It’s the chronograph and the skeleton again. Rejection of the ancien-for-the-sake-of-the-ancien does not require us to embrace the self-consciously moderne. They should both be rejected. In favor of practicality. Elegance. Simplicity.

What should I wear? Good slacks. Tailored dress-shirts. A pair of jeans. A killer sweater or three. Merino polo when it’s hot, LL Bean flannel when its not. Seriously – what more does one need?

Really, I should just wear Altras forever.


~ by davekov on 26 September 2018.

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