The Globe and Mail: Style
The rise of the grand-dandy: How dressing like an octogenarian has become an expression of style
Dylan-Thomas Childs is 29. But when the Toronto DJ and writer arrives for our interview, his personal style channels someone decades older. He wears a green L.L. Bean raincoat, loose blue chinos, a relaxed blue and white striped oxford shirt and a brown trilby. The look is half gentleman farmer and half mod extra from the 1970s British cult film Quadrophenia.
“I’m usually most comfortable in a cardigan, tie and a button-down,” he says. “I have slippers for around the house but otherwise it’s either brogues or loafers.” Childs is among a dedicated minority of younger men who have adopted the fashion leanings commonly associated with the sort of guy who hangs out at lawn-bowling clubs and legion halls. These grandfather dandies (grand-dandies?), who sport high-waisted trousers, tweed jackets and wide neckwear accumulated on frequent visits to Brooks Brothers and vintage shops, channel style icons like Chet Baker and Tom Ripley. They’re worn without irony, but out of appreciation for a time when men’s fashion had the ease of a uniform, formality mattered and fit was forgiving.
For Pedro Mendes, a former CBC Radio producer-turned men’s-wear blogger at The Hogtown Rake, adopting a habit of natty suits, fedoras and pleated slacks was an exercise in dressing for a part. “I wanted to be a role model for my son but I didn’t know what being a grown man actually meant.” His journey led him to dive headfirst into the world of classic men’s-wear, ditching his sneakers and soccer jerseys in favour of suits from Toronto’s century-old Walter Beauchamp Tailors. The purposefulness of clothes from the first half of the twentieth century allows him to dress like the man he wants to be. “I’m not suggesting we go back to a time when there were strict rules and you had to abide by them,” he says.
“But having those ground rules is what I needed.”
There are plenty of examples of current collections drawing inspiration from a mature man’s wardrobe (for example, Richard James’s update of the Savile Row suit or Engineered Garments’ steampunk meets–preppy aesthetic), but few labels cater directly to the man who wants to dress exactly like his grandfather did. Brooks Brothers, which started selling clothes in 1818, is a rare exception.
“Many of the traditional styles and fabrics that we introduced during the 20th century continue to remain very popular, including the navy blazer, the oxford button-down shirt and madras,” says Robert Squillaro, Brooks Brothers’ director of men’s tailored clothing and dressed furnishings. While these things appeal to the grand-dandy’s obsession with authenticity, Brooks Brothers has been challenged by the need to carry classics while also catering to younger customers who prioritize a slimmer fit and middle-aged men in search of basics. There simply aren’t enough men wearing seersucker and repp ties to warrant a large selection.
If he doesn’t want to shop exclusively bespoke or vintage, the grand-dandy’s best strategy is to track down labels that reinvent men’s-wear standards.
“Whenever you are referencing the past, you want to evolve the reference into a modern setting and purpose,” says New York designer Billy Reid, who made his mark with collections that channel vintage southern Americana (think Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird with a modern edge). “It’s not about a literal replication. It can simply be the way a closure is constructed, a particular fabric or even an attitude.”
Still, both Childs and Mendes express dissatisfaction with the ever-changing, frequently contradictory whims of the fashion world and, for the most part, operate outside of it. As the industry continues to nudge men towards the quick style cycle women have been faced with, it’s possible they might find themselves among more like-minded grand-dandies, fighting over the world’s finite supply of high-waisted trousers.