The first thing you notice about G. Bruce Boyer is that he dresses as well as you'd expect him to. No peacocking, just khaki trousers, brown calfskin lace-ups, a blue button-down shirt and a silk tie – but man does he make it look good. His trousers are high-waisted and cuffed just so, shoes immaculate, and shirt soft and fresh – despite the summer heat – as to imply some kind of black magic at work.
Author, columnist and renowned sartorialist, Boyer is to fashion writing what Bill Cunningham was to fashion photography: an outsider with a keen eye, a sponge-like brain and an unrelenting curiosity for the world around him. Boyer's essays attempt to explain not just the what of men's wear, but the why, referencing Chaucer as easily as Errol Flynn, diving into how we got here and the myriad ways we are what we wear. He's a men's-wear writer for people who don't particularly care about men's wear.
Boyer was in Toronto earlier this summer for a reception at Leatherfoot Emporium's new Yorkville boutique, where I snagged an hour alone with one of the world's foremost men's-wear experts. At 75, Boyer is sharp as ever, a gentleman of the old-school and his advice on getting dressed is for the ages.
How important is clothing in our lives?
I think if you're a good accountant you ought to be able to get dressed easily in the morning, go to work and do your job well and you shouldn't spend four hours worrying about whether your socks are coordinated with your pocket handkerchief. Clothing is, when you boil it down, a tool like any other – like good manners, like a sense of humour, like a sense of propriety and etiquette. It's helpful.
What's the purpose of fashion?
A few years ago I was in the atelier of New York's most expensive tailor. This guy, [William] Fioravanti, if he were in business today, his suits would probably start at about $10,000. One of his customers came in and the tailor introduced me to him, and this guy was the president of a very large American bank. And he said to me, "Mr. Boyer, do you know why I wear Fioravanti's clothes?" I wanted to say, "Because god gave you too much money?" But I didn't, I said, "Why?"And he said, "Because when I walk into the boardroom I want everybody to understand, even before I open my mouth, who's in charge here. And his clothes do that for me." There was a great truth in that, all the way around.
So what's style, then?
It's elusive. Style for me is when you take what's out there, fashion and other things, and you bend it to your personality. If you look at an old Fred Astaire movie, Astaire wore white tie and tails like you and I wear pajamas. He was completely at home in them. He made that outfit his own.
Who are your style icons?
When I was a kid I used to go see Astaire movies and he was a great style icon for me because he showed how you could wear a tailored outfit comfortably. Up to that point, a guy put on a suit like he put on a straight jacket: He lost his sense of ease and comfort. There was good reason for this – the idea of masculinity had to do, in great measure, with dignity and respect, and this is the way you got it. Astaire implied, "I can find a way to get respect and still relax in my clothing."
What about modern celebrities?
I can't think of too many well-known celebrities who dress well. People, when they're hard-pressed for an answer to that question, they thrash around and eventually we all say, "George Clooney." Well yeah, he wears a black suit all the time and a white shirt and a black tie, black shoes, and he's well groomed and he looks decent, but I just wouldn't consider him incredibly stylish. He's a good-looking guy.
Who's interesting in men's wear these days?
I recently met a fellow in Philadelphia, Walé Oyéjidé. He was a lawyer, but he decided his true calling was making men's clothes, so he started a company called Ikiré Jones. He makes tailored clothing with a kind of Neapolitan silhouette, soft construction, beautiful workmanship, but he uses Nigerian fabrics. His stuff is incredibly beautiful. I'm thinking about commissioning a dinner jacket – I think it would be cool in the summer to wear something like that. It's really kind of different.
Do you ever wear shorts?
I will wear shorts at the beach, but not in the city. I don't think men look good in shorts in the city.
What's the best piece of style advice you've ever come across?
Buy the best you can afford, whatever that is. Take care of it, keep it forever, don't let your wife throw it out. That would be my first advice. If I had to come up with a second one I would say, dress the best you can for your age. I hate to see 50-year-old stockbrokers trying to look like their surfer sons. It used to be that children imitated adults, now it's the other way around.
Are there any fundamental rules with regards to getting dressed?
Not many. There probably are a couple of rules related to physiognomy. It's probably not a good idea for a person with a slight build to wear huge patterns. Or if you're going to wear a shirt with a collar, probably the smaller your face, the smaller your collar should be. Things like that. I think guys should experiment and find out what works for them.
This interview has been condensed and edited.