Book review: Clothes and the Man – Sydney D. Barney
35 years before Alan Flusser published his book Clothes and the Man in the US, Sydney D. Barney, one of the leading
personalities in the West End of London clothing trade at the time, wrote a book by the exact same title. The story about the creation of this book is quite entertaining: A well-known radio host once came to see Barney and told him that one day, he was waiting in a store when he overheard two ladies. One of them remarked:”Look, there’s XYZ sitting over there” the other one replied:”It can’t be, he’s not dressed well enough!” And so, Barney started making notes that would ensure that his clients would be well dressed at all times. Subsequently, his desk became piled with notes about how to dress well. After others saw and liked them, he decided to make them into a book.
The book consists of 124 pages and is divided into eight chapters, ranging from topics like “What should I wear and what should I spend?” to “CHOOSING A TAILOR” and “CHOOSING THE CLOTHES” to “CARE OF CLOTHES” and a “GLOSSARY OF MATERIALS”.
In the beginning, Barney points out that everyone must think about what he wants to represent – an English Gentleman, an ordinary fellow, a practical dresser – in order to be able to dress well. Moreover, he suggests that regardless of the style, one should focus on quality rather than price. He talks about style changes and the national character in clothes. In the following chapters, he explains the bespoke process, discusses cost and compares it to ready-made garments, pointing out the pros & cons of each approach. Just like Flusser, he suggests what to wear if you are short, tall, stout etc. In addition, he provides valuable information about the fitting process for bespoke garments. As expected, he argues in favor of high armholes, but also tells you how to stand, sit, and button the jacket in order to guarantee a good fit. Coats, waistcoats and trousers are all treated separately!
In the next chapter, he explains the importance of Character and Balance (as he writes it.) For example, a pure silk tie is “out of character” with a Harris Tweed sports suit and that quality should be combined with like quality when it comes to shirts, ties, suits, shoes, etc, respectively.
Barney provides detailed information about how to tie a double end- and a single end bow tie as well as a hunting stock. Similarly to Storey, he lists all kinds of noteworthy accessories. Interestingly, he also explains the right sizing for each item. In my opinion, this is excellent information, because even the most well made accessories look disadvantageous if they do not fit properly.
The “WHAT TO WEAR” chapter of this book is extensively detailed, covering Royal Functions, Livery Company Functions, Evening Dress, Formal Day Wear, Decorations, Wearing of Orders, Miniature Decorations and Medals with Full Evening Dress, Country wear, Sports clothing, Air travel…the list goes on. While the Evening Dress and Formal Day Wear sections are relevant even today, the other sections are rather unimportant for most men. However, if you happen to be a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, you should wear the respective ribbon to which your badge is suspended under the tie, which should be a bow, with the badge hanging about 0.75 inches below the bow.
The chapter about the care of clothes does not really reveal anything new, however the “Glossary of Materials” at the end of the book gives a good basic overview about the different fibers, fabrics and weaves used for men’s clothing.
Altogether, Sidney Barney’s almost 60 year old book is a valuable little guide for men who have an interest in clothes, despite some obsolete content. The humorous sketches throughout the book are good way to keep the reader entertained. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get one’s hands on the book. Occasionally it pops up on eBay, Amazon or Abebooks so you have to check from time to time. With a little bit of luck, you should be able to find a copy for a few dollars.
Clothes and the Man – A guide to correct dress for all occasions by Sidney D. Barney, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons LTD – Tailor & Cutter, 1951