Not everything is universally beloved. Nor should it be. There are classics, the platonic ideals of proportion and design. We may be running out them but they still exist. The Pazzi Chapel, a wooden Riva, that Dieter Rams calculator, the old lobby of the Okura Hotel.
But certain things take some getting used to. Sometimes you see a friend (or worse, an enemy) wear something you’ve been skeptical about and you’re forced to reconsider your opposition. You envy his fearlessness, analyze the situation and finally come around, whether it’s Wallabees, seersucker or bow ties.
There’s something invigorating about wearing something dangerous. This is how you expand your realm of sartorial influence and end up with a collection of kilts. Now you’re the person who shows other people that something works. That’s a strong position to assume. A daring overture, sometimes a whim, can turn out to be very good. I randomly wore a white sport coat back when I worked at Freemans. It was just a sample sitting around and I put it on at the last moment for a party. I ended up wearing it for years—you can probably find the photos somewhere.
Of course, some aggressive sartorial maneuvers turn out to be mistakes. If you’re lucky these afflict an entire generation, so you don’t have to shoulder all of the blame. But sometimes the error is yours alone and you have to take the loss. You come to your senses, acknowledge the mistake, refer to it as a phase and pray there’s no public evidence. This often has to do with aiming too high, dreaming too vividly. Regrets often involve stripes, patterns, goatees, clothes that are very tight, clothes that are very loose, any sneakers considered avant-garde, colors not found in nature or hats acquired on vacation. Not everybody can pull off a beret as easily as they can put one on.
Then there are acquired tastes that never quite get acquired. These have partisans, often vocal, who relish the fact that they’re part of a merry band of brothers. You just stay on the highway and never take the exit for Nehru collars, orange marmalade or Steely Dan. You move on with your life and that’s all right.
We refine our taste by asking if something new is possible. Coming to terms with that question is part of the path to self knowledge, always a good path to take. When something is unsafe but intriguing then you should pay attention. After all, you never know unless you try.
In that spirit here are some things I’m wrestling with. They tread that fine and unsettling line that can go either way. The verdict is still out.