Sprezzatura

Sprezzatura – What It is, DOs and DON’Ts

In the age of the iGent and Pitti Uomo, the casual elegance known as sprezzatura has become the Holy Grail for stylish men. But can the pursuit of casual elegance go too far and become simply outlandish? In this article, we’ll explore the limits of sprezzatura.

What Exactly is Sprezzatura?

Though it has been associated with the resurgence of interest in menswear fueled by the internet, the Italian word sprezzatura is actually quite old. It was first used by Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529)  in The Book of the Courtier, a classic of Italian Renaissance literature. Castiglione’s aim was to instruct noblemen on proper manners and comportment, and part of that was cultivating an elegant style while appearing natural and unrehearsed about it, whether in dress, dance or speech. He called this “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal design and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without thought.” Several centuries later, Castiglione’s concept of sprezzatura in dressing was taken to its greatest extremes by the infamous Beau Brummell, who supposedly spent hours in front of a mirror each day arranging his cravat to make it look like it was done with no effort at all. For Castiglione and Brummell, avoiding affectation in favor of sprezzatura was the absolute first rule for being a gentleman, an idea that seems to be upheld by those who relentlessly pursue it today.

Italian Sprezzatura and the Idea of Imperfection

During the last half-century or so, the practice of sprezzatura has focused mostly on the idea of imperfection or incongruity, inspired by the style of Italian industrialist Gianni Agnelli, who wore his wristwatch over his shirt cuff or his back tie blade longer than his front one. Agnelli consciously cultivated what can be seen as odd stylistic errors with outfits that were otherwise formal and correct. This emphasized a rakish personality and projected a lack of self-absorption in his appearance. Perhaps these little touches suggested he was too busy with business to be fastidious about his dress and was too important to care; maybe wearing hiking boots with a suit made him appear more accessible to the public even though he was the quintessential capitalist tycoon. Certainly, nowadays when anything but casual clothes can be perceived as a sign of pretension or vanity, displaying the imperfections of sprezzatura is a way to declare that you reject elitist dress codes while still dressing up. Sprezzatura is popular, especially among younger men, because it represents a sort of visual rebellion, not only against snooty traditions but against the monotonous business wear of office drones. Ironically, many sprezzatura converts spend a considerable amount of time and a conscious effort to look unconsciously casual.

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The Dangers of Sprezzatura

Adopting sprezzatura doesn’t come without risks. However you dress, you create certain impressions, so it’s important to know where you can go wrong to avoid the chance of committing a stylistic faux pas.

1. It has its time and place

First of all, recognize that sprezzatura is meant for specific situations: you can’t wear loafers without socks when attending the Queen’s Garden Party in Buckingham Palace. The same applies when you’re in court or climbing the corporate ladder. Sometimes, you need to follow the rules and dress codes unless you want to risk negative consequences for the sake of a stylistic statement.

2. Keep it low key

It’s also possible to go too far and end up looking ridiculous and contrived, so restraint is still the name of the game.  Today, sprezzatura tends to look more like the flamboyant style of Agnelli’s grandson Lapo Elkann than Agnelli himself. The incongruous elements are too numerous or so over the top as to be obvious efforts to get attention while sacrificing style, elegance and grace. In addition, if you display too many examples of sprezzatura, those who are unaware of the concept may think you just look sloppy while those who do understand it know you are trying hard, so it becomes insincere. Adopting one example of rule breaking while being well dressed is a good starting point. Do it regularly so that it becomes natural and associated with your style.

Lapo Elkann

Lapo Elkann

3. Try to be original

Lastly, sprezzatura is accomplished best when one’s nonchalance is unique, graceful and original. Following the examples you see in photos of Pitti Uomo can, therefore, become its own kind of conformity, and people will know it. When Agnelli did his thing, he was unique, but with thousands of people doing it on Instagram, we end up with the impression that everyone is copying Agnelli. It becomes an obviously self-conscious move, the total opposite of what sprezzatura should achieve. That being said, it’s fair to acknowledge that it is not easy to come up with a truly original take on sprezzatura these days; our best advice is to find something that appeals to you and wear it with confidence.

To be frank, it has become difficult to pull off sprezzatura without criticism these days because the concept has been promoted so much online. I’m reminded of a particular photo of George Wang, the owner of menswear boutique Brio Beijing, in which his shirt collar has folded back. He took it upon himself to declare that it wasn’t intentional to avoid being called out for a calculated sprezzatura, but commentators still expressed disbelief. So, remember the first rule is not to look like you’re trying too hard. The second rule is to not deliberately seek attention while feigning innocence of your own calculated style choice.

Brio owner George Wang in a Permanent Style profile showing a folded collar.

Brio owner George Wang in a Permanent Style profile showing a folded collar.

 

Ways to Do Sprezzatura

Now that you have a sense of the guidelines and principle of sprezzatura, let’s take a look at different ways in which men have tried to achieve it and whether these are successful. Ultimately, you can decide which approaches you find appealing.

1. Leave Buttons and Buckles Undone

A rare moment of British Royal sprezzatura. Prince Charles with an open double-breasted blazer (and a glass of Pimm's).

A rare moment of British Royal sprezzatura. Prince Charles with an open double-breasted blazer (and a glass of Pimm’s).

Many sprezzatura moves simply involve not fastening things. Perhaps the easiest and most natural is to leave your suit jacket or sport coats unbuttoned. Formal rules of dress call for you to button up whenever you are standing, but nothing says nonchalance like ignoring this. If you are wearing a double-breasted jacket, the move is even bolder. An open jacket allows you to showcase your shirt and tie, and, even though an appropriate fit is always best, leaving a jacket open can disguise fits that are either too tight or too loose. It will also hide the collar gap that appears with many off-the-rack jackets if one of your shoulders is lower than the other.

Collar Gap

Collar Gap

On a shirt, you have several unfastening options. One is not to button your shirt cuffs. Lino Ieluzzi of Al Bazar in Milan is known for doing this with double cuffs, but barrel cuffs would be more subtle. This probably looks best in summer, when the relaxed mood and need for ventilation make it seem practical rather than calculated.

Lino displaying sprezzatura - sunglasses, open shirt cuffs, wristbands, ring, sunglasses, cigarette, jacket on the shoulders, sleeve cuffs undone

Lino displaying sprezzatura – sunglasses, open shirt cuffs, wristbands, ring, sunglasses, cigarette, jacket on the shoulders, sleeve cuff buttons undone

A popular move online is wearing a button-down collar but not buttoning down the points. I am personally not a fan of this, as the buttons are more visible but hardly ornamental. If you have a nice collar roll with a long button-down, unbuttoning destroys it. Opening just one collar button is even worse because it creates an unbalanced look, though it does look more like you accidentally forgot to button up.

button down 2

button down

Interestingly, leaving your top shirt button undone while wearing a tie has never caught on among the style aware, maybe because it is so commonly done on television by beleaguered police captains or FBI agents to show some small rebellion against authority. It’s meant to convey that even though they’re in positions of authority they’re still hard-working blue-collar guys who only wear a tie because they have to, something a stylish gent would not agree with.

FBI agent Seely Booth, on the TV show Bones, often wore his top shirt button open with a loosened tie.

FBI agent Seely Booth, on the TV show Bones, often wore his top shirt button open with a loosened tie.

For the bottom half of your outfit, you could try leaving one buckle undone if you wear double monk strap shoes. Especially if you have to unstrap to put your shoes on, this might be an easy next step. It’s fairly subtle, though when I tried it, my buckles jingled as I walked–making it quite unsubtle in the end. This also trended on the internet recently, so it could be seen as calculated. I haven’t seen shoelaces left untied yet, but I bet you can imagine next year’s Pitti peacocks tripping as they pose for photographs this way.  Thankfully leaving things unfastened below the torso has not extended to leaving one’s fly open as a form of sprezzatura, though, with the internet penchant for the new and outrageous, we may see it when people run out of other ideas.

Bespoke Dudes Fabio Attanasio wearing the back buckle open

Bespoke Dudes Fabio Attanasio wearing the back buckle open

2. Play Around with Your Necktie

Ties are the most visible opportunities for sprezzatura, and it can be achieved in a variety of ways. The simple act of using an asymmetrical knot like the four-in-hand as opposed to a more ordered, symmetrical knot, such as the half-Windsor, will be more nonchalant. It may be tempting, especially if you are just getting into tailored style, to want to try a bunch of complicated knots like the Merovingian, but the fact is that the many elegant gentlemen use only a four-in-hand. The more artful and elaborate the tie knot, the more it shows conscious concern for dressing, which is the antithesis of sprezzatura. If you want to experiment with knots while maintaining an unpracticed air, try another asymmetrical knot like the Victoria or Nicky.

A second widespread sprezzatura technique is never to use the keeper, the loop on the back of your front tie-blade that holds and hides the narrower end of your tie, something that Sven Raphael Schneider also recommends. When you let the thin back blade of the tie hang loose, so it can be seen, the tie seems less formal. It’s especially good to make a narrower tie look wider, as the blades overlap. I, personally, like the two blades to be close together and dislike seeing them split widely to form a large flyaway V across my shirt because it appears unkempt, but some men prefer that look.

Not using the keeper allows you show the back blade of your tie. Also notice the folded collar.

Not using the keeper allows you show the back blade of your tie. Also notice the folded collar.

On the subject of tie blades, Agnelli was known for occasionally having his back tie blade longer than the front. This happens accidentally if you don’t adjust the length of your tie blades properly before tying your knot, so it can seem like a natural form of indifference–you made a mistake and left it like that. I don’t like to do it because it’s too apathetic for my taste and seems a conscious imitation of “l’Avvocato.”

Some men defy convention by wearing their neckties too long. The standard rule for proper tie length is to ensure that the tip ends just above your waist. However, wearing it considerably longer is a sprezzatura move, provided both blades are loose; otherwise, a single arrow dangling right over your crotch just comes across as vulgar. A tie that hangs long can happen normally if you wear high-waisted pants, if you are shorter than average, or if your tie has stretched, though some purposely buy long ties to create the effect.

tie blade tucked in

tie blade tucked in

A variation is to tuck the longer tie into your waistband. I tend to be more conservative and have never gotten used to the long tie look, though tucking it in would be more appropriate.

3. Wear Your Belt Long

Since we’re talking about the waistline, a belt can also be used for sprezzatura, specifically wearing one that is too long on purpose, just like a tie. The usual rule of sizing is to buy a belt one size larger than your waist measurement, such as a 36 if you have a 34-inch waist. However, some men go up two to three sizes and let the excess material at the tip hang down. This is actually a signature style of cashmere king Brunello Cucinelli. The result is even more obviously a phallic projection, like a Renaiss

Sprezzatura Do's and Don'ts

Sprezzatura Do’s and Don’ts

ance codpiece, that is best avoided as gauche. If a hanging belt is ever done, it would be with totally casual looks like jeans and a tee shirt.

belt too long

belt too long

4. Mix the Casual and Formal

Cucinelli is also known for wearing jeans with a tie and formal double-breasted jacket, similar to Agnelli’s work boots with a suit. These blends of casual and formal are characteristic of sprezzatura, and how to do this could be the subject of its very own article, but for now, we can say that chinos and jeans will generally work best with an unstructured sport coat, one that already has casual elements, like patch pockets, not flap, and a natural shoulder rather than a lot of padding. Footwear should probably tend more toward the formal–like double monks or derby shoes rather than sneakers, though the choice depends on your individual sense of what looks appropriate. Note that sneakers and a suit rarely look stylish together.

Cucinelli wearing jeans with jacket

Cucinelli wearing jeans with jacket

5. Choose Materials and Styles That are More Relaxed

The Neapolitan-style jacket with unpadded shoulders is itself perfect for sprezzatura because it’s less rigid (literally) and formal than its British counterpart. In general, select styles that are less business appropriate but still tailored.  For example, you might choose an unlined, untipped tie instead of a lined one, a cutaway or button-down shirt collar instead of a standard spread–the Ivy style is, after all, a comparable form of rebellion.  Similarly, certain fabrics project the desired unpretentious vibe more than others. A wool-silk-cotton blend sports coat is more sprezz than the standard worsted wool worn on the job. Shantung silk, grenadines or knitted ties are likewise better choices than printed silks. Try to envision the sartorial equivalent of distressed or antiqued furniture, something that has a comfortable beauty.

 

 

6. Don’t use Elaborate Pocket Square Folds

Beau Brummel may have toyed with his cravat for hours to get an unpracticed appearance, but the equivalent of this today would be creating a natural look with your pocket square. As with tie knots, you can find instructions for an abundance of elaborate pocket square folds. Yet, the more artful and complex the folds get, the further you move away from the principles of sprezzatura. A sense of nonchalance is obtained first by gathering up your pocket square and shoving it into your breast pocket, then by turning, twisting and fluffing it randomly until it looks pleasing yet arranged by chance.  Consider the beauty of a cloud in the sky as it randomly changes shape. Sure, there are occasions for the neatness of a classic fold or the arranged points of a crown fold, but if you feel like sprezzatura, rely on crumpling and stuffing your pocket square.

7. Relax Your Grooming

Lastly, as an extension of being more nonchalant in dressing, you can also be less fastidious with your grooming. This doesn’t mean abandoning the use of deodorant or letting your nose hairs hang out but rather something like showing stubble instead of going cleanly shaven or leaving your hair long and slightly tussled rather than neatly cut and combed.

Conclusion

In the nearly 500 years since the concept was developed, the nature of sprezzatura has certainly changed. Despite this, it should never be seen as an excuse for slovenliness or as a means of getting attention through over-the-top violations of stylistic rules. Nor should it ever become mere slavish imitation. However, if you adhere to the core ideas of sprezzatura you’ll be able to inject a bit of Italian rakishness into your classic style. Only you can decide how much or how little sprezzatura makes sense for your style.

Which sprezzatura approaches do you agree or disagree with? How far do you take it? Share your perspective in the comments below.

 

Summary
Sprezzatura - What It is, DOs and DON'Ts
Article Name
Sprezzatura - What It is, DOs and DON'Ts
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In the age of the iGent and Pitti Uomo, sprezzatura has become the Holy Grail for stylish men. But can the pursuit of casual elegance go too far?
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Gentleman's Gazette LLC
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66 replies
  1. Pietro Moreno says:

    Most imporatantly, if you use the word, pronounce it correctly .
    The “zz” should be prounced “ts”, like the “zz” in “pizza”, not as a “z” or an “s”.

    Reply
  2. Menashe says:

    A horrid look for pretentious, self-absorbed imbeciles. Ugly and dirty looking at best, indicating poor personal hygiene. At its worst this “style” makes one appear like a forgotten denizen of a mental institution.

    Reply
    • Jon Bromfield says:

      Totally agree. It’s anti-style “Look-at-Me” ugliness. Agnelli’s grandson is the inevitable clownish heir to grandpa’s pretentious and studied sloppiness.

      Reply
      • Menashe says:

        What I find amusing about such elitist dolts is that they are insulated from the many regular shmos one may see riding the subway who unconsciously dress in a very similar slovenly manner, wrinkled, rumpled,collars askew, the back of the tie protruding, wearing work boots or sneakers with a suit, belt undone and other sloppy ways of dressing, simply because that is how they half asleep throw on the clothes they need to wear for work.

        Reply
  3. Rollo says:

    If I remember correctly, Castiglione was using the term to the appearance of doing something difficult, that requires much training and effort and making it look natural. Dancing for instance, might require much practice and instruction. CAstiglione would suggest that a courtier take lessons and practice diligently, but not let anyone know. When the time comes to dance, claim you have never danced before and then wow them. Anyone can dance well with effort, but to do it naturally is more impressive.

    I never really saw the connection between the Sprezzatura of Castiglione and that of the fashion world.

    Reply
    • Dr. Christopher Lee says:

      Hi, Rollo. That dance scene is one that definitely stands out. Clothing and appearance also feature strongly for Castiglione. One example is “I do not think that it is less a vice of affectation to let the clothes fall from one’s back, than in care of dress (which also is praiseworthy in itself) to hold the head stiff for fear of disarranging one’s locks, or to carry a mirror in the peak of one’s cap and a comb in one’s sleeve, and to have a valet follow one about the streets with sponge and brush: for such care in dress and such nonchalance both touch upon excess, which is always offensive and contrary to that pure and charming simplicity which is so pleasing to the human mind.”

      Reply
  4. Rock G Taber says:

    Thank you! I didn’t realize it, but I think I do a form of this on a daily basis. When I am at my office sitting at my desk, I typically have my long sleeve cuff’s unfastened and turned under.

    Reply
  5. sgd says:

    When I was a young(er) gentleman, a haphazardly folded pocket square or poorly tied tie was a device used to allow a young lady to show her interest in him by folding or straightening the offending article during a casual conversation or interaction. It was likewise used for a mature lady of respect or hostess to show their approval of the gentleman when done in view of the guests.
    This interaction also displayed the humility and respect the young gentleman had for his contemporaries, elders and the social interaction of the event.

    Reply
    • Matt D says:

      sgd,

      Absolutely nailed it. This also carries incredible power when employed at sales presentations or client meetings. In/out the back of a cab, stuffed into a crowded elevator. It also seemed almost, unnatural to arrive spot ON time AND in immaculate presentation.

      In fact, if anything, it tends to queer with prospective clients. Is this guy a, robot!? Showing that you’re human disarms your audience. Even if it just unbuttoning your jacket, straightening your tie and shirt, then deftly putting it all back together again. Real advanced Don Draper-esque stuff here.

      Thanks for pointing that out. You may now deliver your proposal..!

      Reply
  6. William Mandelbaum says:

    If Agnelli weren’t rich and well known, his sartorial affectations wouldn’t be sprezzatura, they would just be foolish and sloppy. IMHO. The Beau? Might he not be the antithesis of sprezzatura? I don’t know, but it would be an interesting debate, Sprezzatura vs. Dandyism.

    Reply
    • Dr. Christopher Lee says:

      William, you raise an important point about socio-economics and how that affects perceptions. When the rich and famous do something, it becomes glamorous, something to emulate. My instinct is that sprezzatura is a cousin of dandyism, though I also would see dandyism as more precise and visibly polished with few signs of imperfection. Perhaps Brummell was the synthesis (and father) of both. He did go for polished imperfection (having spent a lot of time to make his cravats look nonchalant) and said one should not be showy (the famous “John Bull” quote attributed to him) but was also otherwise impeccable.

      Reply
      • Jon Bromfield says:

        Brummell’s “polished imperfection” for his cravats lives on when we deliberately make our tuxedo’s black tie a bit (but only a bit) askew. It shows it’s hand tied and not (heaven forfend!) a factory pre-tied fake

        Reply
  7. tom olofsson says:

    This is the style equivalent of the Zen concept called wabisabi. From Wikipedia: Wabi-sabi (侘寂) is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō), suffering (苦 ku) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (空 kū).

    Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.

    Reply
    • Dr. Christopher Lee says:

      Tom, excellent point. That connection struck me too, and in the West, I would also make an equivalence with the penchant for distressed furnishings (a la Restoration Hardware), though perhaps without the associated philosophical value.

      Reply
  8. RODNEY says:

    Fred Astaire used to occasionally wear his belt buckled just past the first loop of his trousers. I thought it was cool and used to do that sometimes….in the 70s. He also would wear a tie as a belt occasionally. But only Fred could do that. Cary Grant always wore tan socks, even if he wore a tuxedo. David Letterman, same thing. Nowadays, I like to tie my winter scarf in a cravat style. I don’t do it for style points, it just covers more neck and chest that way. Love your website!

    Reply
    • João Carlos Nolasco de Tavares Lobato Guimarães says:

      Neither is your language. Did you notice this is called “gentleman s gazette”? You might have missed the point of this website.
      The finnest style in the world won t survive bad manners.

      Reply
    • Dr. Christopher Lee says:

      Marcus, did you read the section closely? It discusses how wearing one’s top shirt button open with a tie has not been something done by those who follow sprezzatura. There’s a whole discussion of how this is a common TV trope for FBI agents. Please reread if interested.

      Reply
      • mysterioso says:

        The “top button open with tie” on TV is to give the impression of a hard working man in a suit who is either hot or just tired of a tight collar all day long. Its similar to politicians who campaign in blue collar states with coat off and sleeves rolled up. Kind of an “I’m one of you working stiffs” look.

        Reply
  9. João Carlos Nolasco de Tavares Lobato Guimarães says:

    Someone came to my house to pick me up. I had fallen asleep and didn t want to keep them waiting so i left the house with everything i needed but unarranged: untucked shirt, two front buttons buttoned only, unbuttoned cuffs under the blazer, danggling shoelaces, watch and belt in my pocket…
    Turns out I was just swiming in sprezzatura !

    In more realistic terms, the only touches of sprezzatura I enjoy are open cuffs under a blazer in the summer (because indoors i usually have my cuffs rolled up) and shirt cuffs roller over a cardigan halfway towards the elbow in the winter if weather is rather nice. I m rather young and it has a functional purpose, so it works more easily.
    Great article !

    Reply
    • Matt D says:

      Well, as long as you weren’t hungover.., let’s just say it was a fortunate encounter..! Lol, been there, done that.

      In my mind, a lot of casual ease centers around not only confidence, but also peril. Any time I’m listening to music, be it classical ( or classic rock ) if our virtuoso isn’t at some point, been placed in peril, there’s nothing to recover from! Zero showmanship.

      But when there’s a lagging.., [intentional] and a measure is expiring, it build anticipation in the lister’s ear. Once the money note finally resolves that tension, it’s almost eargasmic. Otherwise it sounds like you got drug to a prize student recital…

      Reply
  10. Michael Staryk says:

    Funny photos. Quite a bit of hilarity. “Nothing is new under the Sun”. This is 1950-60’s sloppy prep school style. Old stuff but copied well by some of these Euro Try-hards. How about Oxfords without laces. HaHa. The good-looking gentleman in the Title Page photo needs only to heed a lesson from ageless Barry Manilow…..Never wear your hair after a certain age so that one thinks they’re looking at their mother in the mirror!

    Reply
  11. Dr. Mark Bernheim says:

    The article by Dr. Lee is well-researched and interestingly stated. On the Concierge pages Mr. Schneider shows himself looking quite elegantly casual at times, and that is close to “sprezzatura” for me. I cover the Pitti Uomo menswear trade shows for an academic audience in Florence, and enjoy having students view the men displaying their original styles and then write about what they have observed for publication in English. If there are any readers of this site who might like to participate in the class in June or January when Pitti Uomo is on, the class carries with it university credits transferable to any school, if you need them. I’d be glad to welcome any new participants if you will be there. It is THE best way to see and participate in the world of sprezzatura first hand. Then the fine differences between true casual elegance (what sprezzatura really means) and going overboard into sloppiness becomes totally clear. I would enjoy hearing from others about Pitti at any time….Look forward to reading more by dr. Lee.

    Reply
  12. Pietro Del Buono says:

    If one wants to look like a clown, “sprezzatura” is an easy motorway to it.

    Look at Lapo. He copycats his grandad, but he misses Gianni Agnelli’s underlying message, which was simple: “I can, and you do not” (Note: the second part had to be inferred by the listener for Gianni was far too polite to even imply it).

    One who has gotten Gianni’s point is Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of FCA. He only wears an uniform of his own making: business trousers and black turtle-neck.

    Another one was Napoleon: look at his uniforms, then look at Murat’s: can you tell who’s boss?

    A third was Picasso: remember the horizontal stripes of his trousers, made for him by Mr. Sapone, then his tailor?

    To behave in this manner, one need that natual confidence and the recognized status of a leader.

    Sadly, many “cannot”, especially when they are convinced of the opposite. Then, they look like Lapo, or like the old guy, (photo above) with painted soles and dressed as a parrot.

    I cannot make up my mind on who’s more comical.

    Nothing, really nothing to do with Italian style.

    Reply
  13. Will Simmons says:

    I often feel that the nature of sprezzatura is being missed simply because people are trying to include it at all.

    To my mind, sprezzatura is achieved by being conscious of clothing, quality, and style and embracing the real world while doing it.

    I feel that the true nature of sprezzatura has been utterly butchered by #menswear. The point is to be comfortable and practical in your clothes while living your daily life. If you can’t be calm and natural wearing $1000 shoes and even more expensive suits without acting like a nervous nelly that a thundercloud may pass over the county, then you should consider whether you are wearing something that is natural for you or if you are posing in a costume.

    In real life, clothes get wrinkled, ties get askew, shoes get scuffed, and occasional surprise showers hit. Prepare for the day by choosing as wisely as you can in the morning. Watch the weather forecast. Then embrace the day after you walk out the front door. Don’t walk to the bathroom every 30 minutes to retuck, straighten, and comb. Move naturally. Don’t act like you are wearing a straight jacket. Don’t act like you can’t sit back in your chair. Don’t scowl at people if they accidently bump your shoe with theirs, or even look down to see if there is a scuff. It draws attention to yourself, and invites an apology that a gentleman shouldn’t seek. If your colleagues invite you to lunch, don’t even consider bowing out because the weather, or dining environment “might” lead to needing something dry cleaned later. This is sprezzatura. It is a confidence that quality clothing articles stand the test of time and use better than cheap counterparts, and using it accordingly. Proving it daily, through use. Even the sartorially ignorant spot a nervous nelly a mile away.

    Leaving certain elements unbuttoned, at its core is like forgetting to tie your shoes. It is silly, and nobody buys it. No adult does that, well dressed or poor, in the real world. You aren’t fooling anyone. Unbuttoned jacket cuffs is more likely to make a normal person think you’ve lost a button, if they notice to begin with. They aren’t going to swoon over how stylish you are when they probably don’t even realize that jackets with working cuffs exist in the first place. Or care if they do.

    Be practical, be natural, and enjoy your clothing hobby while doing it. Being a well dressed gentleman is often at odds with being a nervous nelly. They aren’t compatible. If you are having to withdraw from being natural, then there is significant cause to consider whether you should step back and consider why. If you can’t afford to live in your clothes, then you can’t afford the clothes you are wearing. Knowing if you can afford something is more than simply looking at your bank statement to see if the money is there.

    Reply
    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Great discussion here, I think you have several valid points. To me Pitti Uomo is always the height of forced nonchalance that does not have anything to do with the real world. But because you can experience it in such a density there, it’s quite interesting to watch.

      Reply
    • Michelle Alexis says:

      This is in my opinion is the most accurate interpretation of the spirit of sprezzatura (as well as the most eloquently presented) that I have seen here. Speaking as a woman, there is little that is more attractive than seeing a confident, well-dressed gentleman comfortable in his style, whatever that style may be. For a man (or a woman, for that matter) to be so absorbed in the wearing of his clothes is shallow. Pick the pieces with care, then go and live life. If it causes you to unbutton a collar, hastily replace a pocket square or miss a belt loop, so be it. Live your life as well as your style in the moment and let the world appreciate and (dare I say) envy your particular “je ne sais quoi.”

      Reply
  14. Oscar says:

    I can´t believe, that there are people in this world, who consider this as a style. It´s just simple sloppiness, nothing more. It´s nothing but mockery to a real good style from 20´s. People are dumb like hell copying this bullshit. This fashion didn´t represent anything like this in old days. Suit should be worn properly in old manners, so the one looks really neat and not like idiot. Why should I do something like this on purpouse just to look like I don´t try too hard. Are you people crazy ? If I wear a suit, I wear it in old ways with nice tie, dress shoes and from time to time even with fedora hat. There is nothing between, some stupid combination of ellegance and casual. The word casual is also one big bullshit. Mankind just made this up to make excuses for their mess in this terrible century. Everything is just joke nowadays and I prefer to dress up in old ways, where it had some logic.

    Reply
    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      I disagree with you in the sense that there is one logic that is right and everything else is wrong. Clothing is always subject to the Zeitgeist. Look at men’s clothing from the 17th century, it is very different from the 1920s but none is more logic than another.

      Reply
      • Oscar says:

        Well maybe one logic doesn´t work for everything, but I´m sure it does for a lot of cases in our lifes. There is a lot of choices people make believing it´s only a subject to something, but as we can see, most people don´t live satisfied lives and why ? Because they make wrong choices and there is only one good result for everything. People as a whole don´t know, how to behave in manners, that would create a perfect planet like in paradise. There is only one way and it is called PURITY. If everyone had 100% pure soul, then we would achieve the only good result, that this planet deserve. So there is usually nothing between, only good or bad, right or wrong. We can say, that ballance rarely exists. There are always choices, that are more proper than the others. I´ll give you a simple example. You are a smoker, is it good or bad ? There is only one correct answer and it´s of course bad. You destroy your own health for the money, so it´s not clever at all. Of course, there are a lot more difficult cases, than speaking about smoking, but everything has a proper result or at least better result. When it comes to clothing, I just meant, that old way suiting was far better, it was pure in it´s first kind. No sport fashion mixed up with ellegancy. So when suiting, old school way is the most proper one. If you put two men next to each other, one wearing sprezzatura and other pure style from 20´s. You can say for sure, who is dressed better. The man from 20´s of course. By the way, this sprezzatura is one big nonsense like Mr. Simon said. It´s only an excuse for sloppy and lazy dressers, so I´m not buying into this either.

        Reply
          • oscar says:

            As you wish Mr. Schneider. I just can say, that I know a lot of people, who think the same and then they are envious of my life, because they keep making wrong choices, while I keep making good ones. If they thougt, there were many ways, why would they be envious ? They don´t have to be, if my choices are only choices and not good ones, right ? What a nonsense I can tell you. Well, it´s your way of thinking, but I´m sure it doesn´t work that way in reality. We have brains and we have to use them to make good choices, so we don´t get into troubles. That´s the way it is. Anyway, this world is only one big mistake, since people are fake creatures pretending to be something they are not. Thanks for your conversation !

            Reply
    • Dr. Christopher Lee says:

      To piggy-back on what Raphael has said here, Oscar, maybe you mean something like “order” instead of “logic”? I think you’re really objecting to the post-modern ethos that there are no set rules.

      Reply
  15. George says:

    I find this article self-contradictory, to say the least. Sprezzatura ist a concept of indiviualism and originality. Real sprezzatura is effortless. In my opinion, it is definetly nothing you can achieve by copying what others, style icons or not, have done before. So writing instructions and giving specific and exact advice on what to do with your belt and what not to do with your shirt is the opposite of the very concept. As are the clownish costumes of the so called pitti-peacocks. Teaching sprezzatura is quite the oxymoron. The very moment you start asking yourself in advance if a certain way to dress can be qualified as sprezzatura or not probably spoils it.

    Reply
    • Dr. Christopher Lee says:

      Interesting philosophical angle, George. It reminds me of Zen Buddhism in its sense of teaching that one doesn’t hit the target by thinking about it. I’d say that copying has to take place on some level, if only unconsciously. The alternative would only be natural instinct, which I don’t think exists for sprezzatura. One sees it in others, like any aspect of dressing, and there seem to be certain defined aspects of it. Perhaps if one dresses well but has a certain natural indifference?

      Reply
      • Will Simmons says:

        I still cannot shake the feeling that this concept is being grossly over philosophied.

        There is a human guttural reaction to protect and cherish something that we’ve put a significant sum of money or time into. 

        The concept of sprezzatura is simply the idea that one can be natural and comfortable despite the fact that they have invested time, effort and money in their clothes. 

        Let’s take some similar ideas that may be relatable. 

        1. A man buys a significantly expensive luxury car, and parks it at the back of the lot where nobody will bump it or scratch it =no sprezzatura.  The same man parks his luxury car in the parking deck with all the other common cars, and embraces that it will get dinged through use in the real world = sprezzatura.

        2. A man buys an expensive couch and covers it with plastic or doesn’t allow anybody to sit on it but himself = no sprezzatura.  The same man puts his expensive couch in his living room and uses it for its intended purpose and may even allow someone to have a drink while sitting on it = sprezzatura.

        Clothes are meant to be worn, but way too many #menswear enthusiasts are guilty of moving like unnatural robots in their ensembles out of some reflex reaction that the investment must be babied, which leads to looking uncomfortable in your clothes. 

        The question should not be about what can you contrive to somehow “trick” the observer into believing you are comfortable.  The question should be what can you do to actually be comfortable, to wear your expensive clothes with the same relaxed attitude that you would if you had just picked them up at Old Navy.  If you can learn to do that, you will achieve sprezzatura. 

        For some, this just takes time.  The newness has to wear off.  For others, it has to be a realization that the expensive clothes aren’t as breakable as they think they are.  If they are that breakable, are they expensive for the right reasons?  Quality should stand up to use better than cheap equivalents.  Still others may need to face the harsh reality that they cannot afford the clothes they are trying to wear, which their stiff behavior betrays.  For these people, they either need to embrace a certain amount of stiffness, or they need to scale back their clothes into something they can be comfortable and natural in.  It comes down to the individual.

        Reply
  16. Bill Dickman says:

    As a 73 year old man who loves “traditional”, I’m going to skip this dress experiment; however I have admired and personally left my contrasting colored laces in my tennis shoes snuggly “un-tied” when wearing them with an appropriate outfit. Of course the laces should not be long enough for you to trip over!

    Reply
  17. J. Clinton Erkenbrack says:

    I enjoyed this article very much, and might have enjoyed the commentary more. I love how it turned from style ideas to the philosophy of Sprezzatura itself and I think some truly got the core of it.
    Early in the article I kept wondering why the men used as examples were even bothering. I mean, they were already rich and famous. Their attachment to eccentric style irregularities suggests not a casual indifference, but rather a concern that people might not think they are cool.
    Beau Brummell was not born a “gentleman,” and his efforts to look naturally graceful were designed to overcome that. His ascot was the equivalent to the pea under the princess’ mattress. Only a true gentleman could casually wrap an ascot around his neck and have it look excellent just the same. As someone who came from humble means and found myself thrust among those of great wealth and status when I was still a young man, I completely understand the fish out of water feeling, and the need to avoid looking like you don’t belong. Brummell needed to convince those of the class to which he aspired that he truly belonged there, and that he wasn’t simply middle-class in a fancy suit.

    Reply
  18. Simon says:

    No, no, no – sprezzatura doesn’t really exist. It is just a name made up by sloppy dressers. Sorry chaps, not buying it.

    Reply
    • Oscar says:

      I´m with you on that one, it doesn´t exist. The same as the term casual. Being casual also means, that you don´t give a shit about anything and don´t make an efford to put deep emphasis on anything. That´s the way it is. People just could be more honest about their lives, couldn´t they ? And as I say, if you are not honest with yourselves, then you are not honest with anyone. That´s why I don´t trust anyone and it´s really wise decision. Have a nice day.

      Reply
  19. Franklin John Kakies says:

    Actually the concept of Sprezzatura is very much akin to what the French once called deshabillé, that studied negligence that typifies the later 18th century.

    I am reminded of a poem by Robert Herrick (who lived a bit earlier, from 1591 to 1674):

    Sweet Disorder

    A sweet disorder in the dress
    Kindles in clothes a wantonness:
    A lawn about the shoulders thrown
    Into a fine distraction—
    An erring lace, which here and there
    Enthralls the crimson stomacher—
    A cuff neglectful, and thereby
    Ribbands to flow confusedly—
    A winning wave, deserving note,
    In the tempestuous petticoat—
    A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
    I see a wild civility—
    Do more bewitch me than when art
    Is too precise in every part

    And let us not forget that the erstwhile Lady Mendl, her hands made unattractive by arthritis always wore short white gloves, the left hand one of which had a little window cut into the cuff so that she could see her watch. Madly chic, but born out of practicality…

    Reply
  20. Carlo Verdi says:

    Sven Raphael,
    What a pleasure to hear “sprezzatura” pronounced correctly. I thank you; my ears thank you.
    Personally, I find sprezzatura so widespread that it is no longer a form of rebellion or individuality. This is why I choose to dress conservatively.

    Reply
  21. LAStyleGuy says:

    My comment is a bit far afield from the above thread, but a common lament of mine: Why do so many style sites, including this one, insist on including guys dangling a cigarette in their hands as a tacit nod to smoking being a cool part of sprezzatura? (To wit, the very first photo in the email, showing the man who’s a perennial Pitti Uomo peacock, with a cigarette?)

    I’m all for 16th Century sprezzatura continuing to affect how we consider dressing today. But in the 21st Century, after 60 years of incontrovertible evidence that tobacco kills, it’s time to ditch it as part of “the look.” And just to pile on, I don’t think there’s anything delightfully disheveled and attractive about yellow teeth, bad breath and stinky clothes—all “accessories” one “wears” when using tobacco.

    Reply
    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      I disagree, we can all make our own decisions. The WHO classifies red meat in the same category as cigarettes. If you want to smoke, go for it. If you want to eat steak, go for it. Will it likely shorten your life? Yes it will.
      We took a picture of Lino and he had a cigarette? Should we photoshop it out? If you feel so strongly about it, you always have the option to create your own guide 😉

      Reply
  22. John Reijngoudt says:

    Rafael,

    Sprezzatura is not working for north eurpeans nor for people with militairy background so you are right not to choose this for yourselfs

    Reply
  23. James de Saxton says:

    These days, it would seem that the absence of (big S) Sprezzatura , which really is always at least marginally affectational, fairly screams sprezzatura on its own.

    Reply

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