The Sartorialist, by Scott Schuman

by Rebeca on November 16, 2009

The Sartorialist by Scott SchumanThe Sartorialist
By Scott Schuman
Penguin Books
512 pages

Reviewed by Randall Radic

 “The clothes make the man.”  An old, old adage, which, depending upon the amount of chemical-electrical activity in your prefrontal cortex, might be true.  For beautiful clothes, or a beautiful person caparisoned in beautiful clothes, reflect achievement and affluence.  Yet withal, clothing is highly personal, thus it also reflects taste. 

Beautiful clothes have an indirect impact upon physical beauty.  Clothing serves to enhance and influence beauty.  And the bizarre thing is this:  clothing evokes feelings of beauty rather than defining or pointing to beauty.  That is, beautiful clothing arouses feelings of beauty both in the observed and the observer.  Or try putting it this way:  beautiful clothes give action to beauty, which means that for many simply being beautiful is not enough — for beauty, in and of itself  is quite static, from some perspectives.  Thus beauty, in its erotic pursuit of esteem, seeks to place itself in evidence, i.e., give itself action, for esteem is awarded only on the basis of evidence.  In this sense, then, the artful display of beauty is an achievement — an achievement which itself is a form of beauty. 

What we’re talking about then is the beautiful display of the beautiful.  Beauty within beauty — beauty surrounded by beautiful taste and beautiful fashion — all presented beautifully.

Texture, color and light.  These elements aid beauty in acquiring status.  To that end, St. Thomas Aquinas asserted that beauty abides in the realm of the transcendental; and that beauty is “good” because it affects that perfervid ambience that mankind has designated ‘the soul.’  Indeed, St. Thomas went so far as to actually define beauty:  “Beauty is the splendour of form shining on the proportioned parts of matter.”  Saint Augustine said of beauty, “unity is the form of all beauty …. If beauty delights the mind, it is because beauty is essentially a certain excellence or perfection in the proportion of things.”  In other words, to these acknowledged men of holiness, we enjoy beauty because we like and admire unity, order, and brightness or clarity of color.  St. Thomas listed four qualities of beauty:

1.  perfection of proportion.
2.  integrity, and unity of form.
3.  brightness and clarity in color.
4.  degree of splendour — something luminous in itself.

And according to St. Thomas, deciding that an image or a person is beautiful has its provenance in judgment, not in intuition, and involves “a dialogue” with beauty.  Beauty, then, is what pleases when it is seen.  And to touch beauty is apotheotic, an ascension to God.  For the truly beautiful is ‘whole,’ or ‘complete’ in all its parts and proportions.

The French have termed this ‘completeness’ elegance — that which is gracefully refined and luxuriously attired.  And the term includes, but is not limited to:  line, grace in movement, and a harmony between person, costume and environment.

In other words, the dialogue between beauty and mankind is found in clothing.

Scott Schuman’s book – The Sartorialist – presents in photographs what the reviewer has attempted to present in the above paragraphs – the action that beautiful clothes give to beauty.  Some of the photos depict clothing of the most bizarre and disparate type, but the effect when viewed as a whole is wonderful and may truly be designated as “sartorial elegance.” 

The photos were taken in locations all over the world.  And they demonstrate the distinctiveness of nationality and ethnic taste.  In the end, though, as one flips through the pages, the reader is led to a singular conclusion:  sartorial beauty is a universal concept.  No one person or ethnic group or nation has a monopoly on elegance.  In fact, the photos prove that elegance has many faces:  conservative, outlandish, somber, and colorful.  And many times elegance is most pronounced when displayed with unabashed extravagance. 

When perusing The Sartorialist, do yourself and favor and pay particular attention to the shoes being worn.  The evidence is obvious to even the most myopic – shoes can make or break one’s fashion statement.  As can hats, scarves, and handkerchiefs.  

The Sartorialist is a gem of a book.  It is without peer.  For it provides a glimpse of just how important clothes are in human interactions.  Wearing just the right dress, a woman can shout, “Here I am!” without even opening her mouth.  And for a man, the perfect hat can speak volumes about his masculinity, his personality.

On the Lookyloo-O-Meter, which ranges from 1 star (squint in pain) to 5 stars (gaze in rapture), The Sartorialist beholds 5 elegant stars.  Don’t miss this one.  Simply having it on your coffee table will let everyone know how elegant you really are.


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