Why are we so fussy about what to wear? Essentially, our costume serves two purposes: It makes us feel comfortable about ourselves. And it makes people surrounding us feel comfortable about themselves. The latter cause is often overlooked in the fashion system, but it plays a big part in how we choose to dress. Dressing too conspicuously posh can pose a threat to people around you. When discussing communication skills, Jim Rohn once addressed: “The first mark of civilization to be in a civilized society is the restraint of your emotion, the restraint of your words, the restraint of your power.” So it is in civilized styling, as our clothes communicate our identity and thoughts, our style should be restraint of being so striking that you blow somebody away.
For its restrained aesthetic and discreetness, the English style has long been considered the orthodox in tailoring menswear. And who can encapsulate the English way of dressing better than Sir Edwin Hardy Amies? Who once famously said: “A man should look as if he had bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care and then forgotten all about them.” For most of us who genuinely enjoy fashion and style yet are naturally shy, you can perhaps relate to a situation when spending a fortune on some garments but are bothered by the self-consciousness whenever you wear them out. Making yourself comfortable both physically and mentally is crucial to achieving good style. Even I love to occasionally put on a dashing avant-garde designer piece for events and admire the flamboyance of some Italian gentlemen in the city (Florence, where I’m currently based). But, most days, I feel more comfortable dressing in a rather Londoner’s way, wearing garments made of quality fabrics in darker neutral tones with some tailoring details. Blending in on the street and never being pompous to distract anyone’s eyes.
Hardy Amies noted that “correct dressing is only another form of good manners, and good manners are only another form of mental comfort”. If we can’t master the subtle art of not giving a f*ck, it is reasonable to suggest that the art of “forgotten all about them [your outfit]” is where we should work on. In order to shrug off the uncomfortable self-consciousness, being “intelligent” about what to buy and being “caring” when putting them on is the key. Being the perfect incarnation of this dressing rule, Hardy Amies is undoubtedly the man to learn from for anyone who wishes to bring comfort to both themselves and others.
As an English fashion designer and illustrious debonair, Hardy Amies is best known for being the official couturier of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. He was the longest-serving dressmaker to the Queen from the years when she was still the Princess until his retirement in 1989. Hardy Amies’ discreetness in both design and manner contributed significantly to this long-lasting friendship with the Queen. During World War II, Amies used to serve in Winston Churchill’s secret army — the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Although he rarely talked about his military past, which is evidence of his discreetness, Amies became the head of SOE’s T-section in August 1943. He was responsible for planning and executing missions in occupied Belgium to help the local resistance to fight against Nazi Germany. He supervised the training and recruiting of secret agents to be sent to Belgium for guerrilla attacks, sabotage and propaganda under the pressure of Germany’s formidable counter-espionage system. This extraordinary military experience makes Amies a thorough thinker and planner: “In the dress-making world, I had a more tidy mind than most people do,” he told Mavis Nicholson in a 1984 interview. The training as a war officer gave him an organized mind, which enabled him to forecast trends and envisage designs for his fashion career. If you are interested in this military history, here’s a link to a documentary film about Hardy Amies’ SOE years that I found enjoyable.
Hardy Amies has left a glorious legacy in both menswear and womenswear design. Shrewd in business, his namesake fashion house on No.14 Savile Row offered bespoke tailoring for both men and women, dressing clients from Virginia Cherrill (American actress, Gary Grant’s first wife, the main sponsor of Hardy’s business) to David Hockney and Ronald Reagan. Although considered a wonderful snob, Hardy Amies didn’t set his ambitions on serving the privileged only. He is a trailblazer offering ready-to-wear lines for men through licensing and staged the world’s first catwalk show for men’s RTW in London’s Savoy hotel. Amies attributes his achievements to his inclusiveness: “I feel that some of the success I have achieved in designing clothes for men, in a very wide market, is because I have been able to become a bridge between men of the established classes and those who shop in the High Street”, he noted. This inclusive mindset also led to the publication of the style bible ABC of Men’s Fashion (1964), which came from columns he wrote for Esquire magazine. Many of the suggestions in the book are still relevant for today’s style enthusiasts.
Hardy Amies also designs for the silver screen. He made the costume for one of the greatest sci-fi movies, 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick. But even for the costume to be worn on a spaceship, Amies’ design was very restrained of being too futuristic. As Austin Mutti-Mewes, the curator of Hardy Amies Archive, explained, “He did that because he didn’t want the film to date. Amies was a great believer in the understated – he wanted clothes that worked in the city, the country and on the spaceship.” For country clothes, Amies once wittily noted that “you wore clothes that blended with the colours of the countryside so that you did not frighten the pheasants”. After all, being understated in dressing serves both the manner and the versatility, “day clothes must look equally as good at Salisbury Station and at the Ritz bar.”
There’s nothing wrong with being adventurous in style, especially at an early stage of fashion exploration. Yet your clothes should always reflect who you are. “To attain style in dress, you must look perfectly happy and relaxed in your clothes which must appear part of you rather than a wardrobe you have just donned”. A penchant for vintage style doesn’t mean one should end up looking archaic. Likewise, the love of advanced fashion doesn’t mean Rick Owens will suit your vibe. Of course, tons of self-education and subtlety is involved in the process, but that’s precisely where the fun hides. When asked what he revealed through his clothes, Hardy Amies replied, “I think I’m rather careful, and I’m a bit self-conscious. I’m not absent-minded about my clothes.”
Among numerous suggestions in his book, Hardy Amies’ advice on the subject “Care of Clothes” will always be true: