Victorians are Always En Vogue

Portrait of William Walton, 1886

James Carroll Beckwith, "Portrait of William Walton," 1886.

If you happened upon today’s NY Times Thursday Style section, you may have noticed a front page spread on a Victorian revival in menswear. Partially spurred by Guy Ritchie’s re-envisioning of Sherlock Holmes, the 1800s inspired bowler hats, military coats, three-piece suits, and suspenders now en vogue seem an appropriate return to masculinity in a fashion world otherwise dominated by slightly effeminate hipsters. When we think of Victorians and fashion, corsets, bustles, and hatpins are what typically come to mind. What we forget is that the American male identity — the cowboy and the power-broker, the rugged frontiersman and the rough-edged urbanite — was effectively created in the years following the Civil War, in the Gilded Age. (Hello, J.P Morgan!)

I find an interesting irony in this revival in style. With last fall’s economic collapse, we witnessed the death of another Gilded Age. Wednesday’s Times featured articles on the post-meltdown retraction of philanthropic giving. Yet interior decorators and menswear designers have turned to the 1890s, an age marked by opulence, extravagance, and the birth of American philanthropy as we know it. What are designers trying to tell us? That things are looking up? Or have they found a sense of humour?

Whatever the case maybe, I’m quite happy to have this revival of old-school haberdashery. I don’t know about you other women out there, but these skinny jeans on anorexic men is just not my idea of sexy.

Now, what about the new Sherlock Holmes?

I once told three sharp women to “Leave Auntie Jane [Austen] Alone.”

Now I’m going ask Guy Ritchie to leave Sir Arthur Conan Doyle alone. I’m going to hold my tongue and not call Guy Ritchie one of the most overrated upstart directors of the last decade. I’m not going to call him a one-hit wonder (really, all he had was Lock, Stock… Snatch wasn’t up to snuff). But I will ask, does he really think turning history’s most beloved uber-sleuth into stuntman is a good idea? Does he really think Robert Downy, Jr. is the best man to embody a character marked by his “extraordinary powers” of deduction? Maybe Ritchie was thinking about Holmes as a cocaine addict when he was casting. Holmes is a dandy, not an action hero. He’s an intellectual who’s just a wee-bit feminine, and most importantly, he’s a social outsider, who as Watson tells us “loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul.” Somehow, Downy, Jr.., with his 8-pack, is just a little too cool for the Sherlock Holmes school… and don’t get me started on Jude Law as Dr. Watson.

One thought on “Victorians are Always En Vogue

  1. Just true. I only saw a trailer of Guy Ritchie’s new Sherlock Holmes and thought ” Holmes a super hero? With superpowers?” No, thanks! Have you seen him flying out of one of the windows of Westminster Palace and diving into the Thames? That was enough!

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