Bruce Boyer is my style icon, my favourite writer and, I’m honoured to say, a reader. We recently had a conversation – following the coverage of Pitti on Permanent Style – about experimentation, classic dress and personal style.
In order to try and illustrate that conversation, I asked Bruce to comment on a few of my favourite photos of himself, in typical combinations.
“It’s funny when I think about it, but I still experiment a bit with my clothes, albeit in small ways. My general style, I find, was formed by the time I was 15 – the great American novelist Willa Cather said that most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired by that age anyway – and I really haven’t deviated much from a conservative Anglo-American approach in all the intervening years.
My feeling has always been that a man should get to know himself, set his style, and then work at perfecting it. My other feelings about this are that he shouldn’t have to sacrifice comfort to look well dressed and groomed, that simplicity is indeed a virtue (Diana Vreeland famously said that real style is refusal), mixing town and country clothes can be fun, and that a person should dress his age and have a concern for quality (which means I have a veneration for old clothes).
So my experiments take the form of small details: a two-button jacket instead of a three-button perhaps, a bow tie in place of a four-in-hand, a brightly colored scarf or pocket square, maybe a pair of pink socks or cordovan tassel slip-ons. I will probably never try cowboy boots, bowling shirts, tight black jeans, or a knit cap with a pom-pom. Although I shouldn’t say never.
Some people are very good at imagining spatial relationships in their minds (interior designers for example), or food tastes (all good chefs can do this). I just happen to be able to put together outfits in my mind. I don’t take any credit for this, it seems to be a natural ability. So I can be in bed at night and put together an outfit in my mind for the next day, get up in the morning and simply grab the various components from my closet and get dressed. But sometimes I lay out clothes on the bed the night before simply to try combinations I haven’t previously worn. Would this orange pocket square go with the brown herringbone jacket and grass green tie? Or the small check shirt with the chalk-striped suit? Do I dare?
And of course you learn from others. I’m not particularly adventurous, so I rely on getting new ideas from watching what others wear, and I find I’m particularly impressed by young guys who have high taste levels, I mean guys who have a respect for tradition but put things together in new ways. I’m bored to tears with the guys who are more into costume and following some ancient rules. I’ve seen all of that and it’s soul-smotheringly predictable.”
“This cashmere balmacaan topcoat is almost old enough to go out at night by itself. A couple of years ago I had it shortened a bit. It’s fairly lightweight but warm, roomy and comfortable as an old bathrobe, and I love its’ slightly rough-looking finish and neutral but vaguely military olive drab color. I think a coat like this needs a bit of accompanying color, so I tend to wear it with scarves that are brighter and have a smoother finish for a bit of contrast. My odd trousers are almost always either gray or tan because those colors can be worn with any jacket. I like brown suede shoes for the same reason, they can be worn with anything (even a navy blue suit).
“I have to confess that I don’t pay much attention to what colors might suit me, I simply wear colors I like. And I happen to like browns and greens, particularly in sports jackets. It’s simply that those colors are capable of so many shades of variation – from ash, fawn, and ecru to lovat, emerald, and teak – and can be intermixed so easily. As I’ve done here. I suppose this outfit looks a bit studied, but I really just randomly combined brighter and drabber greens with neutral tans, perhaps getting some variety from the textures of the rough tweed coat, semi-smooth cavalry twill trousers, to the smooth cotton raincoat and slightly lustrous silk repp tie.
“I’m addicted to tweed sports jackets – there are so many wonderful patterns, the colors are so subtle, sports jackets are so easy to wear – and this is one of my favorites because it combines unique colors – lovat green and burnt orange – in a subtle, muted, almost patinated way. The shirt, pencil-striped blue and white – is a default garment that I wear with anything, here I’ve tried to punch it up a bit with the blue striped tie, chosen because the orange stripe echoes the orange windowpane overcheck in the jacket.
“This is me at my wildest, which is still pretty staid because everything is traditional country wear: corduroys, tweed jacket, wool tie, checked shirt. The yellow trousers are unusual for me, as is the tartan checked shirt because I find I have to think a bit more when I wear something like that than I really want to. The solution for me here was to use only one boldly patterned garment and keep the others plain. Blending patterns takes time and reflection, or you can end up looking like a Mardi Gras parade. But an idiocyncratic touch of boldness here and there can do wonders.
“This is a decidedly basic, simple, and trad outfit. Since it’s a summer outfit, the d-b navy blazer is a polished cotton; I always use plain black buttons on my blazers because I like the simplicity of them and don’t like any sort of jewelry except my wedding ring and discreet wristwatch. The shirt is white oxford cloth, the tie tobacco brown silk knit; knit ties always seem more casual to me, and provide a nice dressed-down effect. The trousers are light gray cords (jeans cut, with no turn-ups). I remember I wanted to wear yellow socks with this outfit, but I couldn’t find them in my sock drawer in time. The slip-ons are simple and unadorned in keeping with the rest of the outfit. I’m a big fan of the blue-brown color combination, which I learned long ago from the Milanese.”
With thanks to Rose Callahan and Zach Jobé for two of the images
Hero. Great write up.
Wonderful stuff! Boyer is, as you say, an icon and an exceptional writer. His Elegance is probably the best book I’ve read on the subject of menswear.
It must be a great feeling to know he follows your work 🙂
another great piece. Love the pictures and Mr. Boyer’s impeccable style.
Lovely to see this kind of post Simon with fantastic pictures – Mr Boyer looks great in every single outfit! Off topic, do you know anywhere I can have a Guernsey jumper made? I ideally want MTM or bespoke (required to get a perfect fit around the chest and shoulders), but it must be authentic (produced on Guernsey) and made from traditional oiled wool. Any help you can offer would be much appreciated.
DE, while I appreciate the desire for authenticity, it would be a shame to discount the fact that Guernseys (or “Gansays”) were worn by fisherman all around the British Isles and there are other great producers outside of Guernsey, such as Inis Meain.
As for getting a MTM or bespoke sweater, I think is going to be pretty difficult to find – your best bet would be to buy one RTW in a size that fits your shoulders and then have it taken in to fit your chest by a good alterations tailor.
BTW, my experience with MTM knitwear hasn’t been great – at Loro Piana (for The Rake) and one or two other makers.
Most tailors won’t be able to work with knitwear, but you can do it yourself relatively easily. (Posts on that around the blog)
This is a man who dresses for himself. It’s the total opposite of the pitiables at Pitti.
All those ’50 Best Dressed Men’ lists in GQ etc make me laugh. The best-dressed men in the world are not popstars or actors (with their attendant stylists). Stylish men don’t need stylists. They buy bespoke and style themselves. Like Bruce, they don’t spend a week planning what to wear!
I like the bottom outfit best.
I think the interesting thing, as Bruce alludes to, is that ultimately high quality can make even the simplest of outfits ‘magic’.
This is the key thing that I believe has gotten lost in the past 2 decades – people, even those who can afford better, believe that because H&M, Primark etc produce nice designs cheaply, * all * clothes should be dirt cheap. So most people have no understanding that the quality has been greatly sacrificed in the race to the bottom of pricing. They are just looking at the design alone.
Where you can afford to with disposable income, when you buy even the most simply designed garments like the above, a wool coat, plain navy blazer etc, the best quality you can afford, you will look good. Then pretty much any combination works well, because every piece is good.
Paul, I disagree with you a little:
Prince Charles and Tom Ford regularly top / make the best dressed lists of such magazines, both of whom dress superbly in my opinion.
Of course the latest popstars and footballers etc are largely just in anything they have been given to wear.
That’s very true J, but you know what I’m getting at! I know men who’s wardrobes would make your jaw hit the floor. The’re successful but they’re not ‘celebrities’. Pitti, no doubt, has plenty of well-dressed men amongst the show-offs. Simon being one of them.
Does the white oxford shirt in the 5th picture have a spread collar? I would admit that a spread collar would be unusual but I’m not sure if it really looks like a button down.
I don’t know Luigi – if I have a bunch of questions I’ll ask them to Bruce together….
Are Bruce’s sports coats, suits, and shirts mostly bespoke?
Good question – one for the list. I know a lot (probably all) of the sports coats are.
Any more questions for Bruce?
Simon, I’d be interested to know what Bruce thinks about people’s dress generally in NYC. How does it differ to Europe?
Another for the list if you have a chance Simon – in Elegance Bruce talks about what to take when travelling, and how to look after ones clothes on the road. Would he update or change that advice now?
(To be honest I could probably fill a notebook with all my questions for him, but I’ll spare you that!)
Thanks – that’s four questions. Room for one more from anyone.
The promotion of Bespoke is understandable, however, it’s not a place that every man can go or should go. It certainly depends on affordability. While I would love to even have a “bespoke basic” like a wool navy suit, I don’t think it makes sense for me to ever venture “above” a made-to-measure option given my income. Even with an income over $190,000 (US), I don’t feel comfortable buying a suit that costs more than $1,200.
And don’t tell me that $1,200 can’t buy a nice-looking suit. It certainly can.
It certainly can Chris, yes, it just depends how much you care about fit, structure etc. The more you spend towards bespoke, the better that can be
Better in what sense? If those around you can’t discern between a garbage bag and Liverano, would it make sense to spend so much? I suppose it’s in the eye of the wearer.
I think it’s worth reading some more about the virtues of bespoke Chris. The nice thing about is that pretty much everyone notices how well a bespoke suits fits, or how flattering it is, without it being something showy
I wonder how Bruce Boyer looks at the recent resurgence of interest for classic menswear? How he looks at cheap producers of classic items in the Far East (e.g. Luxire, Meermin), which many young dressers buy because of the price tag or because it gives them the possibility to vary their wardrobe every day? Should one rather build up a wardrobe with 1 or 2 bespoke pieces a year, given the fact that there are so few craftsmen left located in few city centres? Also, I wonder how Bruce Boyer recalls the 1970ies, 80ies and 1990ies as to the menswear scene. Was he astonished or flabbergasted? How did he feel when many men around him and esp. younger generations dropped jackets and ties, not to say bespoke. Has he ever felt alone in the desert or did he find fellows? What made him chose to continue that desert walk? Given the fact that he is so fond of sports jackets, when would he wear a suit? Many questions, I know… but it’s so interesting. Thank you!
Simon, I have many menswear books but none of Boyer’s. Which would you recommend?
Always worth having a search on the blog:
More pieces like this please: a suitably stylish person; a few outfits of theirs; their thoughts on how/why they chose them with some insight into their wider philosophy. Thanks.
I agree with Will 100%. Mr. Boyer’s outfits 1 and 5 are my favorite in this series,love his topcoat!
This is one of your better articles,just excellent!
I’ve written about Mr. Boyer a few times for A SUITABLE WARDROBE, and I’ll tell you what he beats the entire world at: he is the absolute master of subtlety. He can ‘see small’ in ways that surpass even noted dressers from Milan and Naples. Unfortunately a lot of the guys, especially at Pitti, hear the word ‘subtle’ and their brains translate it into ‘boring.’ As Alan Flusser once said, “Subtlety is NOT silence.”
It would be nice to see some new photos of Mr. Boyer on the web. We could all use the instruction and inspiration. If memory serves, I believe I once said that Mr. Boyer dresses closer to Fred Astaire than any man living. I still stand by that assessment.
Thanks Barry. Your articles on Bruce were great (and well-written, as with all your pieces I’ve seen).
I’m talking to Bruce about the follow-up and we hope to dig up some new pictures.
Simon, thanks for this wonderful conversation with Bruce. His is truly a model for men seeking an example of how to dress well by actually dressing well. I do have one small question for him if you can add it in – is that a Ghurka leather bag he is carrying in a few of the pictures? I can’t quite tell.
Terrific article & photos. Another question: what brand of glasses is Mr Boyer wearing?
Prof. Boyer’s eyeglass frames are made by Anglo-American. Sold by Ben Silver as the “Liberty” model”, and by every other optician as AA 406.
Fantastic article, Simon, thanks.
Among the many inspirations in this article, perhaps my favorite from Bruce is, “My feeling has always been that a man should get to know himself, set his style, and then work at perfecting it.” This clearly transcends just a man’s wardrobe…inspirational, indeed…
Very nice read indeed Simon. In all the pictures you have chosen, Bruce is wearing odd jackets, not a suit. Does he have a preference for odd jackets over suits? Any particular reason?
Smashing article, Simon. One of your finest ever.
Simply put, Bruce is the man.
For DE… try Guernseyknitwear.co.uk or Guernseywoollens.com. As a style they are widely copied but the only authentic ones are made in Guernsey.
This is a very interesting post indeed! Funnily enough, I had seen these pics prior to this post while googling for “Bruce Boyer + jacket”, “Bruce Boyer + shoes”, etc. etc.
So with this post, you have provided the elaborate sense of style behind these outfits. Digging into this sense with the outfits as background is really a great idea. To me the #3 and # 5 remain the most inspiring!
Bruce said something very profound here, and frankly I had never heard of before; namely that a sense of style is acquired at the age of 15. After reading it, I sat down quietly and looked back at my own past. And lo and behold, I still love suede shoes and corduroy trousers among other things as I did when I was … 15! Mind you, I was living in Africa at that time, and hence with ABSOLUTELY no idea at all of what they could mean as items of style! It simply just happened that I loved them and could afford buying them! This is utterly stunning!
A more general observation: somehow I have come to think that it’s easier to recognize a man with a real sense of style when he happens to wear a jacket rather than a suit. How he manages to combine it with other items such as shoes, shirt, tie, etc. that’s where we can spot his signature as a man of style.
Thanks again, Simon, for this excellent post!
No sense of style or panache — nothing original in how he puts himself together.
He dresses well — classic style, but nothing to set him apart.
Of course you can make such a statement once you rely exclusively on these pics. There are hints in this interview that you should consider too before jumping to such a conclusion.
Hi David, although I like many of the same things as Bruce, our styles are very different. It’s inevitable. It’s like two chefs using the same ingredients to produce different dishes. Simon’s style is different to his too. Classic style means its timeless and beyond fashion fads. It’s not meant to be original.
I think ‘originality’ is hugely over-rated. That’s a fashion mentality and often results in people wearing ridiculous outfits just to be unique. Bruce’s style isn’t necessarily to everyone’s taste but it’s hard to criticise it.
You may prefer a different cut, different accessories, etc, but I’m sure you’d still find some common ground with him.
What a great article. It’s good that David has an opposing viewpoint (I wish he would expand a bit) but to me every picture I see exudes panache. I think this is also down to Bruce dressing considerately for his age and physique. It certainly made me think twice about sticking with a boring navy suit for the office.
PS: an additional info suggested by a friend for you, David: Bruce’s DB blazer (#5), you see here looks like any Summer DB. But actually it does’t. It’s a piece you would be hard pressed to find as RTW, let alone to buy it. Will aka A Suitable Wardrobe has a few words about it. You could retrieve the post by browsing through the archives of his website.
Hooray for Boyer
Balance with colour harmony in a relaxed style. Pefect.
Nice idea of getting a write up such as this Simon. Can we expect a book based on this theme from Mr Boyer? If so put my name down.
Bruce actually has a new one coming out later in the year. Details and exclusive bits here nearer the time
Loved this piece. Thank you Permanent Style and to Bruce for the great insights into his personal taste. I’d love to know if he’s ever considered having his own exclusive Harris Tweed created or maybe a Boyer tartan?
Each to their own I suppose, personally I’m not a big fan of any outfit that incorporates a jacket, shirt and tie as the starting point…..I’d love to see what he wears for a more informal look. All credit to him though, he certainly carries off his look rather well, good for you Bruce. As he mentioned in his article, he has found his look and is now fine tuning it to great effect.
The brown shoes and lightish blue socks in the last photo however do look rather good together and no doubt the colour scheme can be suitably replicated elsewhere in a chap’s outfit to good effect?
Love this site Simon, have picked up some great tips down the years…thanks
Mr.Boyer has a great philosophy and excellent taste!
More articles about real people that have an innate sense of style would be most welcome.
In keeping with others that haunt this hallowed cyber hall I find the GQ best dressed list suitable only for the read and laugh file!
GQ have overlooked Mr Boyer but have Wayne Rooney down on the ‘Best Dressed…’ list this year… Some mistake perhaps?!
Thanks Robin for proving my point about those ridiculous ‘best dressed’ lists! Rooney? Give me a break.
Men like Bruce dress to please themselves. They spend years discovering what they like and dislike. Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch could be the Cary Grants of our generation. They veer from okay-ish bespoke to awful R-T-W one day after the other. They are badly advised and, sadly, more motivated by publicity. Great actors, but an opportunity wasted.
There’s nothing wrong with RTW per se. Not everyone can afford sterling 4.5k suits from Anderson and Sheppard. And you can spend 6000 bucks on a RTW Kiton coat. I was in a NYC store a couple of weeks ago and saw a short stroller type Cucinelli topcoat for the toe curling price of 21k US (admittedly it did have a bit of fur around the collar!). I have Chester Barrie off the peg items I bought 30 years ago that look and feel better than bespoke from a certain well known name (not A&S I hasten to add). It’s really hard to generalize although I wouldn’t disagree with your overall strictures about stylists whose end product is usually pretty bad.
The whole GQ list was pretty derisory but that inclusion in particular was a complete side splitter. I needed oxygen after I read that one.
Ultimately style is in the eye of the beholder but I do think that the refined taste of a gentleman like Mr.Boyer wins out every time. He simply ploughs his own furrow and adjusts and experiments within his own frame work.
Not everything he does floats my boat but it works for him. Personally, I never wear pocket squares but they work for him.
Then again, I’m definitely from the less is more school.
Great article as always Simon! Brilliant insight on casual and summer dressing the a gentleman.
Finally, someone who is inspiring in the matter of dress. I’ve been a fan of Bruce since I saw a pic of him on the back of one of his books. He wore Houndstooth sportcoat with a rep tie. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him and would let him choose my clothes!
Just in case you can cram in one more question to Mr Boyer, could you find out where he got the leather case he’s sitting next too on the first picture. It looks fantastic.
Could Mr. Boyer let us know what “discreet wristwatch” he prefers?
So refreshing to read and view images minus the usual brand names. A true gent with honest style.
Delightful! I love hearing him talk about imagining putting together outfits. I’ve never heard him talk about this!
Along with Luciano Barbera, the Prince of Wales, and a couple of others Bruce is one of my style icons. Probably because, purely coincidentally, I’ve more or less dressed like him since I was in my 20’s which is a long time ago. What I like about these guys is they are incredibly stylish but they are not completely over the top and becoming theatrical or worse. It’s a very fine dividing line, it’s even possible to cross it occasionally (white gabardine pants, spectators, Panama hats in the summer), but you have to have a rough idea of where it is. Bruce gets it perfectly. Even that slightly Bohemian Greenwich Village novelist on the loose works very well.
I fully agree that Bruce gets it perfectly.
Now, if we could only find out what discreet wristwatch he prefers, we could benefit from his inspiration in that direction, too.
Take a look at the Malvern slim line by Christopher Ward. Simon, have you seen this watch? The company is British with a very interesting story.
I know them, yes. Not a huge fan of the styles myself
Any opinion on the Nomos watch? I’m taking a hard look at the Ludwig model.
Like their styles very much.
Have you read my three posts on watches? Worth a look
I just read them again and I agree completely. I really like your choices of the Reverso and Tank,always tasteful and appropriate in any situation.
To my mind, the ultimate minimalist wristwatch is the Timex 20501:
What exactly does Bruce mean by “people who are more into costume”?
Dress that is so outdated or inappropriate to the occasion that it becomes costume. Wearing spats to the park
Or wearing a Fez to the Rake party?
Spats in the park is a bit of reductio ad absurdum. There is plenty of theatrical costume around at those Italian menswear shows and none of it involves the wearing of spats. I suppose if you’re in the business there is a bit of a competition to get noticed but a lot of these folks go over the top. Far too much Freddie Flowerdew I’m afraid.
I like the look of outfit 1 as I am in the market of a balmacaan but in tweed.
I’m having difficult in picking the colour- grey or brown…..
From your experience, which colour would be the more versatile piece paired with flannels and denim?
Brown I would say…
Pat, if I may say so when it comes to the Balmacaan coat it’s time to push the boat out and to hell with the consequences. One of those heavy tweeds (which can be a herringbone base) but with a heavy overcheck. Look at the Johnsons of Elgin book and it makes your mouth water. That 30’s illustrator (Fellowes?) did some great pictures of Balmacaan coats. Mind you if you go into a menswear store and ask for a Balmacaan the don’t know what you’re talking about. If you’re having one made don’t stint on the detailing of tab closures. If off the peg Cordings offer some nice choices.
Is there any chance you know the tailor of the jacket in outfit #3? The lapel line in fantastic!
I think it’s Anderson & Sheppard but I can check with Bruce. Certainly English, given the belly on the lapel