Book Review: True Style by G. Bruce Boyer
Building up to the 2015 Proper Kit Trunkshow, Styleforum’s Derek Guy wrote that Bruce Boyer is “arguably the best menswear writer of our time.” Boyer, a former fashion editor at Town & Country, has written for L’Uomo Vogue, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Forbes. His most notable publications are Elegance: A Guide to Quality in Menswear (1985) and Eminently Suitable (1990). In anticipation of meeting him, I preordered a copy of True Style. I am more than satisfied with my purchase. Boyer’s book consists of succinct essays on a broad variety of subjects that range from ‘Boots’ to ‘Fragrances’ to ‘Maintenance.’ He discusses not only specific styles and items, but also the philosophy of dress.
Boyer’s mantra gives the gist of his philosophy: “if you like it, wear it” (xvi). But that doesn’t necessarily mean he is a moral relativist for fashion. In the introduction, he writes that clothes should be worn in accordance with context: the occasion, audience, and purpose (xvi). You might like sweat pants and sneakers, but you should not wear either item to a gala. Dressing well does actually matter. Boyer writes: “if a man is dressed effectively, confidently, and comfortably, he’ll be judged on other criteria—talent, productivity, merit, skill, loyalty—which is the way it should be” (27). He offers a helpful framework of guidelines:
1) Simplicity is generally a virtue.
2) Buy the best you can afford.
3) Insist on comfort.
4) Dress appropriately to the occasion and company.
5) Fit is the most important criterion.
6) As a general rule, never wear anything cheap, fancy, shiny, or synthetic.
7) Society hires investment bankers who look like investment bankers.
True Style, however, is not about ‘rules’—it is about sprezzatura. Boyer defines sprezzatura as “the conscious attempt to appear natural, the affectation that seems uncontrived, the studied casualness and feigned indifference that is intended to indicate a greater worth.” As I understand the concept, it basically means don’t try too hard. Be a tool without coming off as a tool. I want people who see me to think that I care about how I present myself. I don’t want people who see me to think I spend 25 minutes doing my hair ever morning (I spend less than five). One of my favorite tidbits from the book is Boyer’s best on sprezzatura: “A few good wrinkles always separate the men from the boys.”
Specific products and brands are not discussed significantly in True Style, but Boyer does recommend that men treat clothes as an investment.
“I’m not advocating that men should buy a lot of clothes, or that they should buy the most expensive. Actually both of these approaches are wrongheaded. [. . .] The best bargain is the definition of quality.”
Boyer’s True Style is a terrific book that I would recommend to anyone with a decent interest in men’s style. However, it is not without its faults. The structure is strange: chapters are organized alphabetically. ‘Ascots’ are the first topic; ‘Maxims’ on style come towards the middle; ‘Weather Gear’ wraps it all up. On one hand, I like how this approach constantly switches it up. The reader learns about ‘Summer Fabrics’ and then about ‘Turtlenecks.’ On the other hand, this approach is sort of haphazard. Regardless, the chapters contain a treasure trove of information on menswear: history, philosophy, and practical advice. And they are delightful to read. Writing for No Man Walks Alone, Réginald-Jérôme de Mans describes True Style as a “fireside conversation with an immensely knowledgeable and charming old friend.”