Fred Astaire, Style Icon

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I recently alluded to Fred Astaire as one of the all-time best-dressed men, together with the Duke of Windsor.

G. Bruce Boyer called Astaire the “master of casual elegance.” In 1957 GQ published a long interview with Astaire on his style and philosophy of dress. I’ve mined it for quotes (arranged by topic below) but there is much more to read at the GQ archive.

On tailoring:

He believes that his measure of male dress is basically British. “You have to give them credit. They have been very stable in their designing and tailoring. They hardly ever change.”

On buttons and vents:

…he feels that all coats should have the British side-vents: “quite deep, about seven inches.” He favors two-button jackets, although he used to be an addict of three-buttoners at the age of 20. “I only button one,” he says, “and I think it looks better that way.”

On the double-breasted jacket:

One of the present-day fashions that roils him is the prejudice against the double-breasted suit. “It’s incredible how they have maligned that garment,” Astaire declares. “Abroad, you will see three or four double-breasted suits to one single-breasted.” For instance, he points out, he prefers the double-breasted dinner jacket—”for one thing, you don’t have to wear a vest or that hideous invention, the cummerbund. And I can’t comprehend red evening ties or fluffy shirt fronts or that sort of thing.”

On handkerchiefs:

Handkerchiefs should be flipped out and folded into the pocket with an appearance of casualness, Astaire thinks. He does not like the square or folded style, nor the puff type that he describes “like a range of the Andes.” Once, on a TV show, Ed Sullivan came to him and begged him to put his coat kerchief in properly. Astaire obliged. “I think it set a new standard for Ed,” he said. “At least he was still wearing it that way when he appeared weeks later on the show.’

On shirt cuffs:

He prefers a well-made buttoned cuff to French cuffs. In fact he never uses cufflinks except for formal dress, when he generally wears ruby-and-diamond studs and links or sapphire-and-diamond combinations.

On ties:

He has what seems to him to be a “thousand ties” but in reality only between 50 and 100. He likes a full tie, not the narrow ones. “I always like to use the Windsor knot,” he says. As for the collars, he dislikes the tab and prefers the button-down and the wide-spread collar— braced by staves. “Once I used to wear bow ties,” he says somewhat wistfully, “with polka-dots, too, and enjoyed it, but I’ve got away from that.” He explains his aversion for the narrow tie with a smile: “I’m narrow enough myself, too narrow.” He points out that thinness seems to destroy an essential quality of dress, its style, by misuse in ties or lapels. “Look at the thin rolled lapels with the double-breasted suits—they are atrocities.”

In his own ties, he prefers a dark color and a very small pattern. He has only a couple of striped ties, emblematic of the clubs to which he belongs.

On jewelry:

His daily jewelry is severely limited to a single gold-seal ring and the simples tie accessories.

On belts:

In the way of belts, Astaire likes to use silk handkerchiefs—purely for utilitarian purposes rather than theatrical. He has a 31-inch waist and loses pounds when he is dancing. The resilient silk allows him to draw his pants right. “I used to use old neckties for the same purpose but the handkerchiefs are better.” At home he will use a belt, usually shoving the buckle to one side, “simply to get it out of the way.”

On pant cuffs:

His trousers are cuffed and inclined to be a little shorter than most—”I don’t want them slopping over onto my shoes.

On shoes:

In the shoe department, Astaire possesses perhaps 50 pairs of professional dancing shoes and more than 20 pairs of his own. “It’s really very economical to have that many,” he asserts. “I have shoes today that are as good as when I bought them 20 years ago—and I assure you I have worn them many times.” A few pairs are slightly large for his feet and Astaire wears two pairs of wool socks with them when he goes walking. All his shoes are custom-made in London.

As for style and color, he prefers suede as a material and the loafer design. Most of his shoes, exclusive of the formal ones, are dark brown. “I don’t have any evening pumps any more,” he says. “I used to wear them ‘way back. Now they’re out of style. They were fun to wear but I don’t see any chance of them coming back.”

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