Monday, November 16, 2009

Tweed Riding the Vanguard of a Renaissance in Style, Elegance, and Manners

I've been feeling it for some time. It's a reaction to the extreme haste and the lack of manners, respect and depth found in current society. It's also due to the absence of any major definition between styles for men and women and a distinct lack of elegance in the metrosexual look in today's fashions. It's why so many women and young ladies are so drawn to fictional vampires who were born and raised in the Victorian and Edwardian Eras, yet still live in the present: Bill in the "True Blood" series and Edward in the "Twilight" series. It can be seen in the renewed interest in and use of calling cards with which we now provide others our phone number and e-mail address. It's why I'm so obsessed with the costume and production design of movies like "Out of Africa." It's the reason I began collecting antique furniture, bedding, and linen bath sheets, as well as antique and vintage hats; all remnants of a bygone era that I can still touch and to which I feel a distinct kinship.

The desire for the good taste, quality, noble causes, and old-fashioned respect and manners of earlier times is creating a renaissance of the classic tweeds, well-read intellectualism, thoughtfulness, and style of dapper men and elegant women. Those characteristics of bygone days are now being recreated by 20-somethings, as well as older gentlemen and ladies, in Tweed Rides on vintage bicycles through many cities across North America and in Europe. They are scouring vintage clothing stores, J. Crew stores, J. Peterman catalogues, and garage sales in their quest to find the clothing and vintage bicycles that create the look and feeling of those times.

In those days, manly men knew how to dance and recite poetry. They were admired, not only for being rugged, but also for being well-read, intelligent, and elegant. Now, those men who have the courage to exhibit many of these characteristics are often looked upon as "prissy." How did we reach this point? As women entered the workforce in larger and larger numbers right after World War II, and especially in the aftermath of the Women's Movement, they began to dress and behave more like men as part of their effort to break the glass ceiling in the workplace. So men's dress and behavior also changed in response, often becoming more rugged and less elegant. Eventually androgynous behavior and metrosexual fashion became the norm.

Now women make up half the workforce, have broken the glass ceiling, and are CEO's, CFO's and Heads of Households. Women no longer need to dress or behave more like men to achieve equality. In addition, many people simply want a change from the driven, conspicuous consumption, greedy, power hungry, scandal ridden, violent, I want it yesterday, all about me way of life of the past few years. The renaissance of the dress and genteel ways of the Victorian, Edwardian, Belle Epoque, and Gatsby/Jazz Eras is a reaction against all of this. Designers like Alexander McQueen have their finger on the pulse of this renewed desire for old-world style and elegance. The larger question is, will this romanticized renaissance extend past the Tweed Rides, a few designer collections, calling cards, and fictional vampires to make the transition into mainstream society?

I most certainly hope so. As I reminisce about my grandmother, I believe she would be extremely appalled at the lack of breeding and gentility exhibited by many people today. She did not define these characteristics as the result of a generous bank account or high social status, but by the caliber of a person's social skills, manners, integrity, and respect for themselves and others. My grandmother never did possess a large bank account or a place on the social register, however she never left the house without being polished. She would always modestly wear a slip under her skirt or dress, a hat on her head, and gloves on her hands. I never heard her curse, and she always had impeccably good manners. My grandmother had good breeding; she was a genteel lady. I'm truly hoping that there will be a renaissance of good breeding and gentility in mainstream society. This renaissance also gives us the opportunity to combine the equality and independence of modern woman, with the elegant dress, good breeding, gentility, and manners of bygone times. Those of us alive today are very lucky, because we can create the best of both worlds.

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