By Tim Mureau -
G. Bruce Boyer is a man who doesn’t need much of an introduction. He is a legendary menswear writer who has been active in the field for over 50 years already. Some amazing books were published from his hand and many people learned from him how to understand clothing. Bruce's style is the perfect mixture of British and Italian style with a little American influence. One thing is key in his way of dressing; he looks really comfortable in his clothes, while being the most elegant person in the room.
In the 1970s, Bruce began to write about menswear, first mainly for the famous Town & Country magazine, for which he was sent all over the world. This way he discovered the bespoke artisans in London and Italy, but also tweed mills on the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Bruce saw it all and opened this world for the loyal readers of Town & Country magazine. A lot of those old magazines you can still find via antiquarian bookshops and are definitely worth getting and reading! Bruce also started to write books over the years, through which he gained a reputation as an expert on classic menswear. The books Bruce has written on menswear over the years include "Elegance", "Fred Astaire Style", "Gary Cooper: Enduring Style", and "True Style". These books have become must-reads for anyone interested in classic menswear and have cemented Bruce’s reputation as one of the most knowledgeable voices in the industry.
After some years of writing for Town & Country, Bruce also began writing for a number of other magazines and so there have been publications from him in for example Esquire, The Rake and Cigar Aficionado amongst many other magazines. He also helped with various exhibitions on clothing in New York and attended a lot of podium discussions about men’s style. Bruce has always had a big heart for the artisans that are creating bespoke and ready to wear garments and items. He has therefore always been in touch with a lot of them and always follows what is happening on that field. We might sometimes forget, but even before the social media there was a way to be passionate about menswear, and usually people like Bruce were making it able for you to do so. We are extremely honored that Bruce agreed on doing an interview with us, and are very excited about the answers we got from him. We hope you enjoy his contribution to our blog series, and if you haven’t read any of Bruce’s books yet, we really encourage you to do so!
Tim Mureau (TM) - For more than half a century you have already been active in writing about menswear. How did you first discover the world of menswear? Can you take us back to that moment?
G. Bruce Boyer (GBB) - I’ve been aware of clothing since I was a child. I grew up in a lower middle class neighborhood in a small city, and I noticed very early on that a sense of respect was an important aspect of life, and that deporting oneself well was one way of achieving that. I also noticed as a child that certain adults were given more respect because of their style, the manner in which they dressed and deported themselves. In short, I became aware that how a person dressed and carried himself could be a tool to gain acceptance.
When I went to public school some boys were respected because they were natural leaders, some because they were athletic, some because they were very intelligent, others because they were physically attractive, and some because they were strong and fearless. We all have to find the tools that we can use to make our way in our communities. For me the tool was style, and clothing was an obvious exterior manifestation of that.
Not only the clothing themselves, but the way in which they were worn was important. Perhaps some day I’ll write a book on the style and philosophy of wearing clothes. In my young days I started by imitating what the older boys were wearing and how they wore their clothes, experimenting with different approaches to see what would work for me. I went through a number of phases between the ages of 12 and 18 – rebel style, zoot suit, Ivy League, Italian, and British dress – before settling on a version of Ivy style mixed with Savile Row and a touch of Italian. Most of my ideas came from the movies and the actors: Fred Astaire and James Dean, Cary Grant and Gary Cooper, Marcello Mastroianni, Dirk Bogarde, and the wonderful character actor Dennis Price.
By the time I was 20 I’d made all of the adaptions to my choices, and I’ve really never changed at all in the past 50 years and more.
(TM) - Did you see a big change in menswear from the moment you started to be interested until now? Or do you have the feeling that there are still a lot of similarities?
(GBB) - The changes I see in menswear are both good and bad. On the good side, I note that there are many more choices for men today. Because of the internet and online shops, a person can shop anywhere in the world from his own home, so it becomes easy to dress in a great variety of ways. When I was young, people shopped where they lived, from stores in their own communities and towns, so there was little opportunity to dress in any way other than what local shops were carrying. If you wanted something different, you had to travel further afield.
The other big change is that people generally have much larger wardrobes than when I was young. People bought fewer but better-made clothes, today many people buy a great deal of cheap clothing. I’ve always believed it made more sense to buy fewer but better for a thousand reasons, not the least of which is that ecologically we cannot support the pollution and waste of cheap clothes for very long. “Fast Fashion” must inevitably become unsupportable for the environment. I always believed that one answer to sustainability is to buy better-made and fewer clothes and maintain them as long as possible.
(TM) - Do you remember the very first time you had something made at a tailor? Can you take us back to that moment and describe how your experience was?
(GBB) - When I graduated from public school at 18, my mother and grandparents bought me a Made-to-Measure suit which I was allowed to design myself. I picked a West-of-England dark grey flannel cloth, and had single-breasted styling: two-button front, side vents, peak lapels; narrow, plain-front trousers with no cuffs, as was the custom then. It was English cloth with a bit of Italian styling. It was a suit that would see me through much of college, and I’ve had a grey flannel suit in my wardrobe ever since.
(TM) - After that moment you must have had a lot more experience with craftsmen over the years to have garments made bespoke. What was the most unusual product you ever had made bespoke?
(GBB) - I’ve never had anything really unusual or exotic made for me, I suppose I’m too conservative in my dress for anything outre. I do remember once bringing home a length of grass green tweed from a trip to Scotland, and wondering what to do with it. I finally decided on an overcoat, and took the cloth to New York City’s Leonard Logsdail. He made me a handsome balmacaan coat, nice and roomy with slash pockets and saddle shoulders that made me feel like Sherlock Holmes on the Dartmoor moors.
(TM) - You must have been one of the very first menswear writers who also discovered the craftsmanship for anything menswear in Italy. How did you get to learn about Italian craftsmen so many years ago? And what were you first experiences with that?
(GBB) - I first experienced Italian fashion from films. La Dolce Vita was a tremendously important film here, and I thought Marcello Mastroianni dressed beautifully, but I was also taken by some of the other male actors as well. I noticed that the Italians dressed with a great sense of sprezzatura, that art of carefully dressing to appear nonchalant. I watched for this in other Italian films by Visconti, Fellini, Antonioni, DeSica, Rossellini, and others. How the actors mixed the casual and the formal was a revelation to me. In 1957 the “Continental Look” first came here and Brioni had its first fashion show in New York City. The Italians were trying to push the influence of the British aside with a new, leaner styling and bold colors. Many young men fell under the spell of Italian clothes. I tried the Continental silhouette, but quickly reverted back to an Anglo-American approach. This experiment did, however, teach me to put a bit more color in my wardrobe.
(TM) - If you look at the menswear world today, do you still see Italian craftsmen playing the same role as so many years ago? Or has this changed in your opinion?
(GBB) - Italian craftsmanship is still vital and important today. Italian culture still insists on uniqueness and quality at the highest level. For much of the world, technology is pushing craftsmanship aside, just as industrialization started to do 200 hundred years ago. But the Italian whom I know in the clothing business have been trying to keep craftsmanship in areas where craftsmanship and artistry work best, while still using the most advanced technology in those areas where technology works best, they try to effect a marriage of the two. I notice this in Asia as well. The Japanese culture still admires craftsmanship and wants to keep it alive, even while technology has firmly taken root there. There’s a great similarity between Italy and Japan in this regard, and I think there’s a great deal to be learned from these two cultures and their respect for the craftsman.
(TM) - How important are accessories for you?
(GBB) - Accessories are not as important to me today as they were in the past. When I was young man I was more interested in the accessories - collar pins, cuff links, tie bars, pocket squares, wrist watches, that sort of thing - than I am today. My knowledge has grown and my tastes are more subtle. I think true taste changes only insofar as it corrects itself and refines itself. Today I worry more about cut and silhouette. My awareness of silhouette and cut, of the subtle shaping of shoulders and lapels in tailoring or in the shaping of the fore quarters of a coat or leg of a trouser become more important to me now. The shape of the collar or cuff of a shirt is more important to me. Also, over the years I’ve simplified and minimalized my clothes. I find I don’t have the time to worry about trying to make everything work together, I want to get dressed and go about my business, and still know that my appearance is acceptable. My wife says that all my sports jackets, trousers, and suits look almost the same, and she’s right. I want to be able to wear my tailored garments with any accessories and know that the combinations will work well together. A brown tweed jacket, a blue oxford cloth button down shirt, a knit silk tie, a pair of grey flannel trousers, and a pair of brown suede oxford shoes seem to adapt themselves to any accessories easily.
(TM) - That you like ties we can deduct from the fact that we can see you wearing one in many of the pictures there are from you. Did you by chance ever count how many ties you own?
(GBB) - I came to my love of neckwear early because when I was young I couldn’t easily afford a new suit or sports jacket, perhaps not even a new shirt. But a new tie was affordable and would renew an old suit and give it a new look. I came to see ties as an inexpensive way to make an old outfit seem new. And ties are also used to bring a spot of color or innovation to a look. My suits have almost always been plain and conservative because they’re expensive and must last, but ties can be bought on a whim. I don’t know at the moment how many ties I actually have, but I’m sure I’ve bought hundreds and hundreds over the years, and I’m always amused that I still find new ones to give me inspiration.
(TM) - What have been your favorite kind of ties throughout the years?
(GBB) - I think I first saw a silk knit tie when I was perhaps 12 years old, and I’ve liked them ever since.Some men find them difficult to knot, but I don’t and I find them suitable for almost any occasion. There’s a certain casualness about them that I find appealing, they have the texture of grossa grenadine but without the formality. I also like woolen ties, tweed, Fresco, or flannel. Cashmere ties are very nice, but the cashmere must be of a high quality. Cheap cashmere tends to pill easily. British repp stripes are also an old favorite.
(TM) - If you could choose two or three products from the Amidé Hadelin collection, which products would they be?
(GBB) - Well, since I just mentioned my favorite tie is the silk knit, I suppose I’d choose one of those. Amidé Hadelin has a well-curated selection in both the spotted and plain colored variety. I tend to like country clothes and colors, the browns and greens rather than the bolder and brighter colors, so I’d probably pick the light brown and olive knit ties which I could easily wear with anything in my wardrobe. I’ve always liked tattersall checked shirts, and these knit ties are perfect with them. I’m hoping Amidé Hadelin will start stocking a few checked shirts.
(TM) - At Amidé Hadelin tweed is a beloved material and we know it is a material that you like a lot as well. However, many people don’t find it easy to start wearing anything in tweed as they don’t know how to wear it. What advice would you give somebody who is new to the world of ‘’tweed’’?
Because there’s so much variety in the colors and woven patterns of tweed, as well as weights, I’d start with a medium (12-14 oz.) tweed in a simple brown color and plain weave. It’s a coat that can be worn with any type of trouser from jeans to corduroy, grey flannels, and cavalry twill. With either a dress or sports shirt, or pullover knit, and with any sort of neckwear. It seems that a neutral brown tweed coat never “fights” its accessories, but always is friendly to them. I do notice that Amidé Hadelin is as fond of tweed ties as I am, and in winter I like them both plain and patterned, a nice English country-house look. Tweed ties look particularly distinguished in a casual way with a simple flannel suit to soften an outfit.
(TM) - Could you describe us two types of outfits that you would wear in two different situations. What would you wear for example during a day of writing at home? And what would you wear when going to town for a lunch meeting with somebody you haven’t met too often before?
(GBB) - I do most of my work at home, writing at a computer in my study in the morning, and editing after lunch. So comfort becomes essential, and I tend to wear a pair of old khaki trousers and a blue chambray workshirt, perhaps adding a Shetland pullover in winter. But when I go to town on business I’ll wear either a suit or sports coat and tailored trousers. I find I don’t wear suits as much as I used to, but I always have a grey flannel - either single- or double-breasted - in my wardrobe for colder weather, and a single-breasted grey or brown Fresco suit for warmer weather. I have several navy blue blazers in different weights - one in heavy flannel, one in lightweight Fresco cloth, one in linen - which I like especially for travel because I can dress them up or down with accessories. I have a few other sports coats of various weights and cloths - an off-white linen for summer, and a mid-weight (11-oz) worsted wool one for autumn and spring - and that’s really all I need. My clothes are conservative and made well, so I can maintain them for years as long as my own weight doesn’t change. Buying good clothes is the best diet.
I always wear a tie with tailored clothing, with the exception that I might wear a scarf (ascot) or bandana with a sports coat if I’m meeting a friend for lunch, but never for a business meeting.
(TM) - You have written so many good books which are all a must to read when you want to learn more about clothes. But is there any book that you enjoyed most doing the research and the writing for?
(GBB) - My personal favorite would have to be Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s (Yale University Press, 2014), which I wrote and edited with Patricia Mears, the Deputy Director of the Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.) in New York City. The Museum and F.I.T. did an exhibition of men’s and women’s clothing from the 1930s and the book was an adjunct of that exhibition. I did research by going to both London and Naples, and even helped to mount the clothing. It was both a great honor and wonderful experience for me to be working with such scholars as Ms. Mears on that project. I should also say that the exhibition was a great critical success.
(TM) - Another big passion of you is music. In how far are music and menswear connected do you think? And did you have those two passions come together sometimes?
(GBB) - I’ve just written a short book on the music I love, and which has just been published by Blue Heron Book Works (June 2023). It’s really what is now called “memory history” rather than traditional history because I’ve tried to write about the musicians I’ve listened to when growing up in the second half of the 20th Century and the thrill of hearing them. It’s titled Riffs: Random Reflections on Jazz, Blues, and Early Rock. I’ve always been fascinated by the style of jazz musicians, not only because of their art, but the way they dress and talk and live their lives, and I’ve tried to get my enthusiasm for that into this book. Riffs is really about style. For me, music and clothes go together because they show the style of the individual, the personality and creativity that is at its best beyond the fashion of the times. I’m not particularly interested in the trend of the moment, but I am interested in how a person takes what’s available and makes it a personal style that reaches beyond the moment.
(TM) - Did you ever have a style icon who influenced you? And if so, who was it and why did his style appeal to you?
My early style icons were my uncles who dressed with a sense of confidence, and later I studied the older boys in our neighborhood who showed a sense of style.
When I started to see films, I was immediately attracted to the nonchalant elegance of Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper - I’ve written about both of them - and a few of the other Hollywood stars of the time, and then to more international stars such as Marcello Mastroianni and Sean Connery. Then, in 1973, when I started to write about clothes for Town & Country magazine, I met quite a number of elegantly dressed men: the American designer Bill Blass was an early favorite and friend to me, he seemed effortlessly elegant and could wear a Savile Row suit or jeans with equal distinction. Then I went to London and had clothes made by Anderson & Sheppard; first Colin Harvey, then John Hitchcock were my cutters, both of whom schooled me on the proprieties of the finer points of details. Later I met Luciano Barbera and Francesco Barberis Canonico and Mariano Rubinacci, of whom I noticed a sophisticated sense of color and the ability to wear their clothes with a certain insouciance.
An English friend who has great taste is Michael Drake, such an artful sense of combining colors. Most of the well-dressed men I see are or were in the fashion business in one way and another: Charlie Davidson, who founded The Andover Shop; George Wang, who is the creator behind Brio in Beijing; Douglas Cordeaux of Fox Fabrics; and Michael Jondral. Of the younger guys who have style I’d include Jake Grantham of Anglo-Italian, the photographer Stephen Pulvirent, Michael Hill, the creative director of Drake’s of London, and fashion journalist Eric Twardzik.
(TM) - Are there any books from other menswear writers that you enjoyed reading and that you would recommend beside your own books?
(GBB) - Books on clothes and fashion have traditionally fallen into two different camps: one type of fashion book wants to tell you what you should wear, a simplistic guide for correctness; the other sort are scholarly books which are usually written only for those who have deeply studied the field. There are still very few who write intelligently for a non-scholarly audience. But of the books I’ve read recently, I’d recommend (in no particular order):
- Nick Hilton, A Tailor-Made Man
- Christopher Breward, The Suit: Form, Function & Style
- David Kuchta, The Three-Piece Suit and Modern Masculinity
- Brent Shannon, The Cut of His Coat
- W. David Marx, Ametora
- W. David Marx, Status and Culture
- Richard Thompson Ford, Dress Codes
- Sofi Thanhauser, Worn: A People’s History of Clothing
- Shahidha Bari, Dressed: A Philosophy of Clothes
All of these books are serious, well-written and well-researched studies.
(TM) - Have you ever seen a movie in which you were impressed by the sartorial quality of the clothes the actors were wearing?
(GBB) - The movie that I keep returning to when I think about stylish films is A Month by the Lake. This 1995 film directed by John Irvin is taken from a story by the English writer H. E. Bates, and tells the story of a small group who gather for their summer holiday at a hotel on the shore of lake Como on the eve of World War II. The scenery, costumes, and setting are gorgeous, and the acting sublime. The male lead is played by British actor Edward Fox, who wears his costume of simple-but-elegantly cut clothes with panache and an urbanity we seldom see these days. The way he wears a simple fedora is worth the whole film alone.
(TM) - What do you think of the newly crowned King Charles III and his style? Is this one of the best dressed Kings we have ever seen in history? Or was the Duke of Windsor who has been King only very shortly still more elegant?
(GBB) - There have been many elegantly dressed British kings: Charles I and his son Charles II were both elegantly dressed, George IV was known for his vast wardrobe, and George V was considered a very properly dressed monarch. His son, last known as the Duke of Windsor (the uncrowned Edward VIII) was thought a fashion plate and even wrote a book about fashion. Charles III seems to have taken a middle road, as correctly dressed as George V, not as flamboyant as Edward VIII. He dresses like a well-turned out international businessman, which is probably for the best. Almost never seen in public in anything but a double-breasted suit and tie, he wears sports clothes in private and on holiday, and aims to be unobtrusively appointed except when he wears a uniform. He represents the modern man of a certain age. What I like about him is that he has a philosophy of sustainability about his clothes: he keeps and maintains his wardrobe for years, a very good example for the rest of us.
(TM) - What two pieces of clothing would you advise any man to have in his wardrobe if he pursues dressing in a timeless/elegant manner?
(GBB) - A good navy blazer is an essential of the man’s wardrobe. If I were buying one for the first time, I would go for a single-breasted model in a mid-weight Fresco cloth. If we’re talking about a winter wardrobe, I’d want a good tweed (or loden cloth) field coat that could be worn with a pullover or even a suit. If summer, then a linen or seersucker sports coat.
(TM) - Would you like to shine your light on the future of menswear? Do you think we can expect some major changes in the way we buy clothes and dress ourselves in the next 10 years?
(GBB) - The two words I see most often now in fashion writing - as in almost any other sort of writing as well - are globalization and sustainability. Both of these concepts will have to be addressed by fashion designers, manufacturing, and sellers of clothing in the future. “Fast Fashion”, as it is called, is completely out of step with our ecological concerns, and fashion will have to be re-purposed in order to reduce the pollution and other harm to the atmosphere. I’ve always advocated buying fewer but better made clothing and maintaining it as one form of sustainability, but the whole idea of fashion will have to be re-examined and re-evaluated for the future.
Tim Mureau – was born in Holland, and has always been travelling around the world looking for the finest artisans. He’s interested in all things handmade, and can’t stop talking about fine watches and menswear. He has worked in various menswear stores, has been a sales representative for a number of artisanal clothing manufacturers, and is now active as a journalist focused on watches and menswear.