Weekly Roundup: You’re So Fancy Edition

It’s been a tough couple weeks for the sort of men who crave the male gaze. Anna Silman took an oyster spoon to a former Esquire editor, then Sniff Petrol administered a thorough beating to babbler-slash-photographer-slash-unaccomplished-son-of-accomplished-father Ted Gushue. Both articles lampoon, with various degrees of bitterness, the heavily traveled intersection of cars/watches/clothing/travel that has proven so irresistibly magnetic to so many wealthy and near-to-wealthy men over the years. Silman writes:

What is it about being a fancy man that seems so uniquely joyful? Surely being a fancy woman, or even a fancy child, might have its perks as well. But when I think of the platonic ideal of a career — one that combines intellect and aesthetics, gravitas and iconoclasm, the cerebral and the tactile — being editor of a fancy men’s magazine takes the cake.

SniffPetrol then drops the guillotine on the Gushue parody with the last few questions of his “interview”:

What most surprises people about you?
I guess how humble I am.
Freddie, thank you.
Yes, it’s a 1967 Patek Philippe Caltrava reference 570 in white gold.

We’re all meant to understand that being a “Fancy Man” is somewhere between contemptible and beneath contempt — but why, exactly? What makes the Fancy Man such a figure of fun? Why are we supposed to laugh at Jay Fielden but genuflect before, say, Paul Newman? Every single writer I know responds to the mention of Ted Gushue with “Oh, that guy” — but David E. Davis rode a similar shtick to near-universal acclaim. What’s the difference?

Don’t worry, I’ve figured it out. That’s what you pay me for, right?

If you rattle around the liberal-arts side of a university long enough, you’ll eventually come across the concept of signified and signifier. It’s a simple idea on its face. Ford’s “Blue Oval” is a signifier. It’s just a drawing, a badge, a picture, with no intrinsic worth of its own. If you arranged to e-mail a Ford logo to the aliens of Alpha Centauri, they wouldn’t have any use for it.

Here on Earth, however, the Blue Oval stands for — it signifies — everything associated with Ford. The man himself. The Model T, the River Rouge. Jeeps in World War II, GT40s at LeMans. The Explorers that killed people and the F-150 in your driveway. There’s a lot of significance in the Blue Oval, enough so that it has financial value of its own. It was used as collateral in the famous 2006 loan that saved the company.

By itself, however, the Blue Oval can’t make a car, win a race, pull a trailer. It’s empty. It is what computer-science people call a “pointer”, which means that it can point you in the direction of real data but it has no meaning in and of itself. (For a rare counter-example of a “pointer” having actual physical existence and usefulness on a computer, read The Story Of Mel.)

We can take this idea of “signifier and signified” all over the place. A West Point ring is a signifier; the officer wearing it is “signified”. If I buy a West Point ring at an estate sale, I don’t automatically become a “ring-knocker” second lieutenant. I’m just a mook wearing a ring I haven’t earned. That Chinese tattoo on your deltoid that you think means “strength” but really means “chicken noodle soup”? That’s an example of signifiers gone wild. The fellow who puts Gulf or Martini race livery on a tired old 911SC? He hasn’t made his car a race-winner by doing that.

‘Twas not always thus. During prehistory, the relationship between signifier and signified was clear and direct. The person in your tribe who possessed the magic bones and potions? He was the shaman. The guy with the biggest shield and spear? He was likely the chieftain. The Roman emperors wore purple, so “wearing the purple” became shorthand for “being the emperor”. Most medieval societies restricted the ownership of certain types or armor and weapons to the people who were entitled by birth or title to use them. If you saw someone wearing a knight’s armor, he was very likely to be a knight. (Which is, of course, the plot of a Heath Ledger movie.)

If you’ve had the pleasure of watching “Downton Abbey”, you know that the nobility are easily distinguished from the regular folks by the extent, quality, and use of their clothing. Lord Grantham wouldn’t have dreamed of wearing an open collar to dinner and his tenants on the pig farm wouldn’t have presumed to dress as if they were “riding to hounds”. Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains Of The Day plays wonderfully on the fading class distinctions of postwar Britain by having a scene in which an elderly butler, traveling across rural England, is mistaken for nobility by the residents of a country tavern. They see his tailored attire and assume that he is someone. Reluctant to give offense, and perhaps charmed by the idea of being important for his own sake, the butler plays along. When the local landowner arrives, of course, he recognizes the butler immediately for what he is and chides him gently for operating above his station. A butler in a Savile Row suit is still a butler, you see.

Not so across the pond. The American aristocracy which developed in the nineteenth century was usually built on money new enough to have the smell of fresh ink on it. This presented a bit of a social problem because yesterday’s paperboy could be tomorrow’s industrialist and vice versa. Absent the structure of title and birth, it was virtually impossible to keep an accurate tally of status and place. The Social Register was one attempt to solve this issue. Another was to lean heavily on signifiers. If you dressed well, owned a proper carriage, and could claim a desirable address, you were Someone. Simple as that.

As our society evolved, the signifiers became increasingly complex and bizarre: affected accents, secret societies, “go-to-hell pants”. We also experienced a diversification of rules and behaviors; for example, Catholic men are generally permitted to wear jewelry but WASP men in society are generally not, which is why Rolexes and the like are so popular as a wealth marker for people who are socially unable to wear something like a heavy gold link bracelet. The Rolex “President” and a five-ounce gold link bracelet are two different ways of conveying the same message, acceptable in different groups.

This American notion of costume-as-signifier is now baked pretty thoroughly into all of our brains. It’s easy for most of us to understand that you might want to “signify” differently to spectate the Pebble Beach Concours and, say, a Gus Macker 3-on-3 basketball tournament in Philly. That’s because we live in a society where people are comfortable with “signifying” two different ways. An English aristocrat of the fifteenth century would not have this core assumption. He would be offended at the suggestion that he adopt a costume to be a baseball fan or a wedding guest. He dressed to signify himself, not to fit in with a particular occasion.

We’re starting to see a recurrence of this, by the way, in the universal exercise wear of the West Coast tech elite; they are now powerful enough to “maintain state” in everything they do. The aristocrats dressed well because it was a consequence of their station, the nouveau riche dressed well to emulate the aristocrats, and the tech crowd dresses badly to emphasize their superiority to both breeding and society. Lyndon Johnson was famous for receiving visitors while seated on the toilet; he would also frequently walk around with his dick out. Both of those behaviors were meant to display raw power. Wearing Lululemons to a charity ball is a similar bit of crassness: this event depends on my money, so I can wear yoga pants and nobody can say a word.

Alright, enough about society. Let’s talk about Fancy Men. The Fancy Man wears and owns certain things which are intended to create a particular image. He arranges for himself to be photographed wearing Patek Philippe or Versace, standing next to a Ferrari or a Singer, at remote destinations with perfectly coordinated outfits. Why does he do it, and why is it ridiculous?

What I want to suggest here is that the Fancy Man is someone who has mistaken the signifier for the signified, or someone who is trying desperately to force the signifier to stand in for the signified. Let’s look at two photos:

And this:

The first photo is of the actor Jack Nicholson, whom some of us will remember from Heartiste’s “Spot The Super Alpha” piece and from, ah, some movies. The second photo is a tribute to the first photo, taken at the request of Jay Fielden and put on Jay’s instagram. You can see the similarities between the two: the general mood of the clothing and the luggage, the body language. These signifiers are very similar — but what are the signified truths behind each one?

The first photo was taken by someone who wanted a photo of Jack; the second, by a man who wanted a photo of himself. (Which, in and of itself, is deeply pathetic.)

The first photo is of a man in a spontaneous moment; the second is a self-conscious re-creation of that moment.

The first photo shows a movie star at the height of his imperious fame; the second is an attempt to recapture that savoir faire in a departure from a company that has been doing some heavy bloodletting lately.

So although the signifiers are similar, what they signify is deeply different. Let me ask you: is there an adult man alive who would prefer being the person in the second photo to being the person in the first? Of course not.

The Fancy Men, therefore, are people who appropriate the signifiers of celebrity, wealth, power, fame, prowess, et al., without necessarily possessing or even understanding the signified personalities behind them. They believe that they can become interesting or compelling men by simply assembling a collage of trappings and possessions attached to genuinely interesting or compelling men. It is little different from the childish belief that we could become better sandlot baseball players or backyard football quarterbacks by wearing a replica jersey. Although I, personally, did hit better in softball games as a teenager while wearing my #18 Strawberry Mets practice jersey. Here’s a famous joke from the era: How did Lisa Strawberry convince Darryl to stop hitting her? She told him she was left-handed.

A Fancy Man thinks he has some of Steve McQueen’s mojo because he wears a Heuer Monaco or because he drives a 911 to work, which is ridiculous. I have the same tailor as Jude Law but Jude Law is a movie star and I’m an unexceptional dad from flyover country. You cannot become a celebrity, or an aristocrat, by aping the trappings of celebrity or aristocracy.

It’s worth noting that every man has a desire to emulate, or imitate, other men whom he admires. All of us start off with heroes both near and far. I do a lot of things because my father did them. I’ve written some original music but when I pick up a guitar on a whim I tend to play the music I admire. I want to sing like Robert Plant — and he wanted to sing like Johnnie Ray. John Mayer riffs on Hendrix who in turn riffed on Ike Turner. Mayer, by the way, is responsible for this great quote: “It’s my failure to sound like my heroes that’s allowed me to sound like myself.” Which makes perfect sense. We start by emulating our heroes and end up becoming ourselves. Very few of us ever completely lose the habit of hero worship, but most fully-formed men reach their mid-thirties with an internal compass to obey rather than a masculine north star to follow.

The Fancy Man never gets past the emulation stage. He is the well-heeled version of the fifty-year-old man who wears a Tom Brady jersey in parking lots during the weekends. He can look the part, but he can’t play the part. The products of his mind will always be derivative, will always pay obeisant homage to a brighter light. The Fancy Men of automotive journalism are very big on the hashtag #DriveTastefully, which is ridiculous on its face. Driving is supposed to be joyful, not tasteful. It’s supposed to be an expression of individuality and defiance, not an act of cosplay or homage. The same is true for these other “manly” pursuits of sport or collecting or travel. You’re supposed to follow your own inclinations, not imitate others.

Oh well. There’s an ecosystem to maintain here. The Fancy Men keep a lot of good businesses in business. They make it possible for not-so-fancy men to afford nice things thanks to economy of scale and planned obsolescence. And they are doing a brilliant job of keeping my old 911’s value well above what it would fetch in a world without Loofa-Geh-Kults and whatnot. Here’s to you, Fancy Men. May your lives be spent in perfect, and flawlessly gilded, emulation. May you always dress and comport yourselves like other, vastly more interesting, people. John Updike once put these words into the mouth of his antihero, “Rabbit” Angstrom:

“If you have the guts to be yourself, other people’ll pay your price.”

He meant that any functioning society would have to yield to any desire that was expressed in sufficiently strong and unrepentant fashion — but I like to think of it in the Fancy Man sense. If you have the guts to be yourself, then someday Fancy Men will pay to look just like you. Who knows? Maybe I’ll finally get around to writing the Great American Novel, thus becoming the Papa Hemingway of my generation. In that case, you’ll want to stock up on the 2006 IWC Ingenieur Titanium. The most period-correct examples will have alcohol-related scratches. Don’t miss out.

* * *

This week, for Hagerty, I wrote the decidedly non-fancy tale of electric pollution.

38 Replies to “Weekly Roundup: You’re So Fancy Edition”

    • Avatardejal

      The dictionary has a photo of Davis when you search for poseurs.
      Houndstooth? Yup.
      Stupid hat? Yup.
      Patches on sleeve? Yup.
      Bespoke guns? Yup.
      Bespoke guns that you had to go to England for? Yup.
      Praising stupid priced booze? Yup.
      Beard (yeah I know – facial scars) to have some kind of passing resemblance to Papa Hemmingway.
      A real man would have gone with the full Niki Lauda attitude.

      And he was going to tell you about it and you were going to like it!!!!

      I’m surprised he never did a story about insisting his cars be washed with Pierrer water.
      Maybe because of the carbonation would leave mineral deposits.

      Davis was “That guy.” He was a pretentious ahole.

      • AvatarBaconator

        I never got the sense that David E. Davis was a poseur. He wasn’t pretending to be anything. He was a genuine snob, and genuinely believed in the superiority of certain accoutrement for certain activities. In the same way that Brock Yates would prattle on about his supercharged Jag and some sort of six-figure hot rod that he kept in the shed out back. He was just really into it.

        These skinny-jeaned millennials paying $75k for Porsche 964s are … well, probably not that. But I can’t argue with their desire for 964s. They’re extremely nice cars.

        This Hearst Media jagoff with the Louis Vuitton bag, on the other hand, radiates the opposite of Big Dick Energy.

  1. AvatarSightline

    Didn’t you write an article about our cultures’ obsession with Steve McQueen and Paul Newman that had the same tenor as this? I.e. people paying a tremendous amount of money to emulate men far more accomplished than themselves.

    It’s not really different from, and just as pathetic as, IG influencers aping the habits of the ultra wealthy. A man who is always pointing to someone else as an example isn’t really a man, is he?

  2. Pete D.Pete D.

    Sniff’s guest appearance on this week’s Collecting Cars podcast with Chris Harris was, like the Gas Dandy bit, a good laugh and, unlike the Gas Dandy bit, better insight into Richard Porter’s extensive career. I hadn’t realised Sniff was anything other than a MAD Magazine writer gone rogue.


  3. AvatarJohn C.

    Here’s to the cosplay fancy guys, without them we might forget what the style best really is. What could we possibly learn from that spittle spewing woman, or our tech and Chinese overlords with their fake money. Soon there will be no remains of the day and we will sink into the muck clutching our phones. I got my C/D renewal and they offered to through in Esquire for $4. I didn’t take it, I assumed by now it would offend more than inspire me.

  4. Tom KlockauTom Klockau

    Well, I drive a 157,000 mile Town Car, wear fedoras to protect my bald spot from sunburn, and wear my dad’s weathered 49-year old Wyler Incaflex. Feel free to emulate, ifin you’re so inclined… 😀

    • Avatar-Nate

      Oh yeah, _hats_ ~ I really dig some of the hats I see but Pops went bald @ 19 Y.O. and several doctors told me that hats cause baldness so no hats for me dammit .


    • AvatarGreg Hamilton

      Tom does sure seem to “point” (some programming humor there) to some rather unusual an interesting information. I thought I knew a lot about watches since my father worked for Bulova when the Accutron came out, but I had never heard of the amazing Wyler Incaflex. You never know what you don’t know a wise man once said and it is true. So today I learned of the Wyler Incaflex thanks to Tom and Watchonista. I used to service and maintain the many Accutrons in my collection however over the years and the many moves they’re now gone. Tom is a wiser man than I (me?) keeping his Wyler Incaflex. Maybe he is the one to emulate after all.

  5. Avatar-Nate

    Spot on as usual Jack .

    Come to Glendale, Ca. where you’ll see a specific group of men wearing $3,500 suits and tank tops, no shirts, they don’t often bathe either .

    Better to be a Blue Collar schlub IMO .

    BTW : judging by what you write of John’s exploits and learnings I’d say you’re a damn sight better than most of the fathers I know.

    I like how I look in a tux but where the hell could I ever wear one ? .


    • Avatarjc

      Well, you could get a job as a waiter or maître d’.

      I’ve worn a tux more hours than most, in my position as a musician in society bands. I never wear a tux any other time.

  6. Avatarjc

    Meantime, the actual top-out-of-sight wealthy continue to wear their (high quality) clothes till they wear out, drive 10 year old Buicks, and wear stainless steel Seiko quartz watches.

    My very favorite photo example of this was the picture of President Franklin Roosevelt’s bathroom that was published in a Life magazine photo essay around 1936. When he was sitting in front of the mirror brushing his teeth or shaving in the morning, this American aristocrat sat in an old wooden chair that had been broken and repaired by the handyman with some pieces of strip steel and screws, clearly visible in the photo. Someone of his background would not bother himself with the state of his chair. Similarly when he had an automobile converted to hand controls (decades before this was common), it wasn’t a Lincoln or Mercedes; it was a Ford Model A.

    Similarly with the incident of the Reagans and Queen Elizabeth attending some kind of racing meet on a soggy day; the Reagans disembarked from their limousine and Nancy Reagan teetered over the wet muddy ground in her high heels and a few minutes later the Queen drove her own Morris Minor onto the field and squelched over to greet the Reagans while wearing green wellies.

  7. Avatarrambo furum

    Paul Fussell made an aside about aside about “legible” and/or branded clothing and people’s hope that the status of some sports team or name brand would rub off on them. All this seems to be much the same except with a much narrower focus.

    • AvatarMdm08033

      I read Mr. Fussel’s book, Class: A Guide Through the American Status Systemin the mid 80s when I attended a blue collar city university. The book cured me of brand aspirations. I dress what I like, and feel comfortable in my skin.

      • Avatar-Nate

        What pisses me off is the difficulty in removing those damned “dickies” tags without damaging the clothes =8-^ .

        Not a thing wrong with looking sharply dressed and being a clothes horse, just don’t rub anyone else’s nose in it .


  8. AvatarJMcG

    The last thing I ever read by Davis contained a remark to the effect that, “In a better time and place, I’d have had my gun bearer give him a good thrashing”
    I threw the magazine in the garbage can and never read another word by that smacked ass.

    • Avatardejal

      You are a person of culture and good breeding for having that opinion.

      His shtick worked for a very long time.
      Could see having that assclown as your father?
      I wonder if he could ever turn it off?
      I’m betting he couldn’t.

  9. AvatarNewbie Jeff

    For a while now, I’ve had this fleeting daytime fantasy that one day I’ll be on the TeeVee somehow, and wearing all the old track day t-shirts I’ve accumulated over the years. There I am, getting interviewed by Celebrity Man, and wearing my shirts that say “Find Your Apex” or “One Track Mind”. I’ll set shabby-chic on fire. You track rats will be able to sell your old track day t-shirts for hundreds of dollars on e-bay… bidders will trip over each other for the real deal. It will be bigger than the John Deere hat thing. All thanks to me. You’re welcome.

    • AvatarJohn C.

      Yes idiotic and perhaps even toxic. Imagine the idiocy of taking pride in one’s appearance like his present father taught him. Patriarchy at work. The multi-racial absent father bunch with their sweatpants and faded tee shirts around Duong understand that sloppy self loathing is the only way forward today. Thinking a preacher man might have a listenable message, crazy, just put your fingers in your ears and make fun of his shoes while you go barefoot. Our cat lady commissars might give you bonus points.

  10. Avatarhank chinaski

    see also dandy, fop
    Piling on these guys is almost as much fun as hating on furries, and as warranted.

    Heh. The Au I would sport back in the day could buy a respectable used car now. Fuhgeddaboudit.

    Was luring Engineering Explained to Hagerty your doing? Nice.

  11. AvatarNYCFinanceGuy

    The thesis as I understand it: Real Men where the clothes that help them get shit done; Fancy Men where clothes imitating Real Men but Fancy Men don’t get shit done.

    The problem with this thesis is that it assumes that the clothes aided in the success of Real Men.

    In actuality, fancy watches and clothes are always kind of bullshit, no matter who’s wearing them. When I see someone wearing an expensive watch or clothing, I just think “It’s too bad that middle class person spent their money on crap instead of using their money as a tool to escape poverty or do something good for themselves or society.”

    • AvatarCJinSD

      If you’re a thirty year old guy working too many hours in Manhattan to even think about the gym membership you paid for eighteen months of after your last visit, expensive clothes and accessories can allow you to fill your free moments with willing female company instead of video games or paid female company. Especially if you’re so jacked up on stimulants to cover your working hours that you have little chance of being particularly charming or sane. Good times. I still left with about two thirds of every penny I earned while I was there.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      That assumes that money has greater value than time. If I’d invested the money I spent on a Ninja 600 back in 1994 I would have Huracan money now and 918 Spyder money in 20 years.

      I enjoyed that Ninja more in 1994 than i would enjoy a Huracan now or a trip to Tuscany now or a gold plated hospital bedpan in 30 years.

      • AvatarNYCFinanceGuy


        Balancing our limited resources of time and money certainly is an important trade off. I’m glad you got to experience the Ninja in your youth, but I’m sad that one of the world’s greatest writers fritters away his days at corporate IT jobs.

        In terms of wearing expensive clothes or watches recreationally, I just don’t see how they improve your life. When I meet a new group of people, I want to make friends and relate to them. Expensive clothing makes that harder. It may allow the wearer to feel wealthier or superior but this isn’t a good way to live life.

        • AvatarTootincommon

          “I’m sad that one of the world’s greatest writers fritters away his days at corporate IT jobs.”

          One of the best comments on this site, ever.

        • Avatarsabotenfighter

          “In terms of wearing expensive clothes or watches recreationally, I just don’t see how they improve your life.”

          Go from wearing the cheapest fast fashion “button down” to a bespoke Turnbull & Asser shirt. The difference in the comfort and feel improve your life in ways that others couldn’t understand.

    • Avatardumas

      I’m a bit conflicted about this. In one sense you are quite right, of course. It’s just that something like a Rolex is made by a team of skilled craftsmen being paid fair wages and with good job security. It’s the sort of working life I’d like many more people to have. Also, a Rolex or a Grand Seiko are designed to last, and to be repaired when something goes wrong. That’s something I’d like to see more of as well. I can’t say the same for a lot of the cheaper options in fashion, cars, etc. That is unfortunate in its own way.

  12. AvatarDomestic Hearse

    Then there’s the conspicuous anti-fancy fancy man.

    Shia LaBeouf has basically defined himself by scrounging in pawn shops, Salvation Army and Goodwill stores, creating a look that is so random, street worn, and mismatched, it’s now high fashion.

    In fact, Kanye basically aped every picture ever taken of LaBeouf and created Yeezy, where the same worn out Goodwill hiking boots or sneakers or tattered sweatshirts are sold new for $500+.

    #normcorefashion #shiaoutfits, etc etc

    I don’t get it, as I’m in my 50s, and have never, ever wanted to be fashionable, or fancy. I have (and had) some expensive pursuits/hobbies where I invested in quality gear and equipment, but expensive clothes and luxury cars are not my thing — and paying hundreds of dollars for a garage sale hoodie seems even more absurd.

    Can someone explain this subset of Fancy Man to me. Cuz, if I’m applying the logic correctly, it signifies a homeless person. But as signifier, it’s a Hollywood dumpster diver and a rapper with significant mental health issues. Why is this a thing?

  13. AvatarDomestic Hearse

    As for Rolex, I have a friend always pushing me to buy a Rolex.

    His logic (and he has, at any given time, a dozen Rolex watches): You buy it, wear it five years, then sell it for what you bought it for — and if you’re lucky, even more. You’re paying yourself to wear a luxury watch. (He’s flipped many.)

    It seems to make sense, but for myself, it always seems artificial. Everyone who knows me would wonder why I’d lost my senses and spent $10k on a Rolex — not that I can’t afford it, it’s simply not me. I love the brand, and in high school and freshman year of college, worked in a high-end jewelry store which had several hundred in stock. My workspace as an engraver was between the jeweler and the watchmaker, and I learned a great deal from both. I saw my betters come and go as customers, with the store’s diamonds on their fingers and watches on their wrists, and imagined one day, I’d wear a Rolex, too. Perhaps the Rolex signifier/signified math just doesn’t add up when applied to me, as I once imagined. Seiko Monster diver suits me just fine.

  14. AvatarAoLetsGo

    Never been a fancy man.

    I have always tried to set my own style and failed miserably most times if you ask my ultra-Waspish wife.

    Last weekend I went to a friend’s 50th birthday party. I had gone mountain biking earlier that evening and did not feel like dressing up like my town’s minor nobility that were at the party. It was a garden party and fairly causal so I put a hoodie (albeit high-tech) on and went in slides, crazy socks and MTB shorts. The women loved it and only one guy gave me a hard time (big mouth, insurance guy) I just half-jokingly told him to shut up or I would kick his preppy boy ass.

    On the other hand we just got back from a couple of weeks in Italy and with my trekking pants, hybrid down jacket and Salewa boots most locals took me for Italian – until I spoke. On a cycling and car note we watched two minor bucket list events; a stage of the Giro d’Italia and the Millie Miglia enter Siena.

    My advice to my son is that if it is a wedding, funeral, or important business then you dress to fit in. Otherwise wear what makes you feel good, as long as you’re not a dirty, slob.

  15. AvatarKeith

    Fancy man is the male equivalent of feminist career woman. Each tries to succeed in a way that is traditionally for the opposite sex.

  16. AvatarBill Malcolm

    And back in England for the several centuries before WW1 and Downton Abbey, the fake types were known first as fops and then as dandies, though the first term never went away. I note another commenter also brought up those terms. There is an entire Wikipedia page devoted to fops and also one to dandies, some parts of either are a hoot to read if you re-order the context in your mind to the present day and this intriguing Baruth article.

    Perhaps the existence of such men rather takes away the notion expressed in this article that people always used to dress to their station in life and knew their place. It might also reduce the deception Americans seem to live with that they were exceptional and classless while the Brits weren’t. The vast majority of wealth created in Britain was in the industrial revolution, which in practical terms means the 19th century. George Stephenson was brought up in a hut yet invented the practical steam loco, built railways around the world, designed bridges and died a multi-millionaire. There were literally thousands like him all over the north of Britain, none of them aristocrats by birth – they were despised by the hereditary classes for having money and impinging on handed-down privileges, plus they were derided for speaking unintelligibly and disturbing the ladies. Nevertheless, the business class essentially took over the country and were accommodated into “society”. The only difference in the US was the lack of aristocracy to take over, and thus was born the idea/fable that somehow it was a purer place, which still seems to be spouted to this day. Money trumped and displaced old stock aristocracy for power in Blighty without batting an eye, merely under protest from the hereditaries who lost. The latter were even forced to allow Lords of this and that for life to be created out of the commoner pool by fiat of monarchy – or else face the music and lose everything. The hereditary aristocracy caved in.

    The birth myths behind America were valid for the time and place, but within a decade or two, the old Britain the Yankees complained of was being internally radically changed and quite unlike the society they had fought to separate themselves from. Yet to this day, the American narrative speaks of a Britain as if it never changed after the US formed. Better for a spot of chest-beating patriotism and navel-gazing, I suppose, if one decries something that no longer exists! Were the sweat shops of America to which immigrants were drawn any better than the sweat shops of Britain?

    Gutenberg has great e-books written by Samuel Stiles as biographies of the better known engineers and entrepreneurs like the Stephensons, Watt, the Brunels, Maudslay, Naismith and Bessemer.

    As for the socially less-privileged copycat power dressers of today, nothing new under the sun. The author just didn’t go back far enough in time for his comparisons, but through compelling writing makes it all sound as if it were a new revelation and the standard on the subject. It’s a huge talent and because of that organized writing that I come back to read Baruth. Unlike any other blog I read, I’m fascinated and interested in the writing not the comments, my rare ones included. It is much harder to be original than to do as I’ve done here and dispute some points afterwards, none of which occurred to me in logical fashion until I read the article. So that’s an advance in my thinking that was not self-generated. Thanks for being thought-provoking.

    • AvatarStephen

      Currently reading the Master and Commander series by Patrick O’Brian. Wonderful word I found there that describes these “men”. Coxcomb.


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