I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to discuss the relationship between music and menswear and how it applies to me. Get ready for a great podcast episode and a full essay that’s tangentially (at best) related to clothing.
This is going to be an essay where what I write definitely branches off from the pod discussion. Seriously. If you want a more general discussion about music and how it relates to classic menswear, listen to the podcast episode! It goes through a lot, from classic menswear’s love of jazz to why folk music resonates so strongly with guys who wear milsurp and workwear.
The pod also reiterates that many of our favorite dressers in the menswear industry have an affinity to punk and rock music of varying degrees (some even played hardcore): Jake Mueser/Grantham, Ethan Newton, Brian Davis, Ben Philips, and Tony Sylvester to name a few. Natty Adams even wrote about this very phenomenon. Simon Crompton recently had a few words on his love of rock. Anglo-Italian has a pretty cool playlist and Chase makes sure to compile a few songs for The Grange on a regular basis. As you can expect, all of this is delightfully contrarian to what the “mainstream” (a term I’m using loosely) expects from a guy in tailored clothing. You can really see this “rebelliousness” in their own take in tailoring as well as the attention to details and admiration of subcultures, showing that you don’t have to be stuffy to be into menswear.
I mean if you look at fashion in general, people like to take style cues from musicians all the time, perhaps to signal taste or how they associate with a subculture. Jazz musicians are brought up frequently to illustrate slouch in ivy clothing and to show that tailoring can be creative. Bob Dylan’s quirky style in the late 60s-70s (as well as other folk singers) certainly inspired some of the bohemian takes on menswear you see in workwear/milsurp circles. In an epic episode of HandCut Radio, Andre talks about Miles Davis’ style, and how he seamlessly went from ivy to his eccentric looks over time, not simply as a style exercise but to progress in his career. in the pod, Spencer notes how folk musicians routinely took cues from their audience and mixed ivy with workwear/milsurp-Americana, a move that he continues to do to this day as he constantly adds to his style and music taste; Leon Bridges is a great example of that mixture in our contemporary times. The relationship between music and menswear has always been present, with a constant back-and-forth osmosis over inspiration.
On an obvious level, rock stars literally have lead the way with black leather jackets, raw hems, and chelsea boots- I assume that whenever I see these pieces incorporated into menswear, it’s about dressers being inspired by the musicians they like and like we say in the pod, current menswear leans heavily into rock varieties. After all, the mainstream world still loves SLP. But I’ve always had a slightly different approach, perhaps one that it is needlessly convoluted and probably unique to my own experience in music.
So please listen to the pod below before reading my thoughts on the subject.
Let me begin by saying that music has been (and continues to be ) incredibly important in my life. I listen to it, analyze it, and play it. In fact, I always tell people that if I didn’t get into and write about menswear, I would definitely write about it- this essay might be the closest I’ll ever get to it, though you may have seen a few of my musical deep dives on my IG story.
As I state in the pod, my favorite (or most listened to) genre of music is film score. There’s just something so great about music written specifically for the screen. It’s so creative and original, yet slightly anachronistic in the modern day. I say that latter point because I tend to prefer symphonic film scores instead of the minimal tunes that grace The Social Network or Interstellar. A lot of people say that there isn’t room for an orchestral score in modern cinema, echoing the pushback I get about my preferred mode of dress.
Now film score is a weird beast because it’s so disconnected from other styles of music. Most songs, whether folk, jazz, or rock are mainly written by original inspiration- they are [usually] not meant to be tied to another art form. In effect, the songs are often standalone; even pieces from the same album don’t carry the same melody (unless its a concept album). Film score is different. Compared to most other forms, it’s on the silly side, yet serious at the same time. Sounds like me!
On the forefront, film score is meant to lift the visuals and narrative of a film. Once the story beats and spotting is established, it’s up to the composer to fill in the rest and do w. Themes are developed and like characters, they are augmented and changed as their situation changes. Some of the best film scores even develop themes for abstract things, like love or hope. In major scenes, they’re presented overtly; however, the real fun for me was to dive deep into the film score on it’s own, listening to the musical narrative erupt at the will of the composer. It’s also a great way to see how different musical tropes can spring forth, allowing you to experience a multitude of genres in an interesting way.
Monsters Inc. provides a fun swing-band sound as a backdrop for it’s quirky universe; James Bond spearheaded the unique combination of jazz and surf rock to codify spy music. Home Alone does a spin on Christmas music; John Williams even wrote a few original songs to interweave amongst the classics. Writing for Memoirs of Geisha allows him to branch into traditional Japanese instruments, where as the Terminal (of all movies) brings an opportunity for a small French nod for a comical scene. To me, film score is just so much fun, with a variety of music that is related but technically separate from the original roots, almost being post-modern in a sense due to being built on references. It’s a different approach from regular concert hall work (which I do enjoy, but not to the same intensity). To be clear, I don’t think film score is the epitome of all music, but a genre that fully encapsulates what I want from it. It has the “sound”, whatever that means.
As I stated in the pod, I like to analyze film scores quite often. I’m not explicitly musically trained outside of a few piano lessons, but it was enough for me to follow along other people’s analysis and posts. JWFan, the John Williams fansite, is great for this as they mix musical theory discussion with narrative and thematic use. I also love watching score reductions to follow the music with the sheets; many of the reducers also add notations that thoroughly explain what’s happening thematically and musically (which helps because I’m not classically trained in the slightest). To me, this wasn’t just an exercise in analysis or musical chops but in determining POV, at least musically. Obviously a score by John Williams is different than one by Hans Zimmer, John Powell, or Jerry Goldsmith. Those differences can be done by analyzing and scrutinizing their sound, which encompasses orchestral texture and voicing (instrumentation), compositional style (is this melody Prokofiev inspired?), and even just how they utilize their themes. None of these are inherently “better” than the other, though I definitely have my preferences. In short, it’s always fascinating and inspiring to read these analyses (and watch score reductions on youtube).
It seems that my love of orchestral film music prepared me for becoming a hardcore menswear enthusiast, at least in the way you all know me. Quite obviously, it taught me to pay attention to small details, which was incredibly helpful when discerning the sartorial differences between eras, tailors, and brands. No stone was left unturned: a lapel , shoulder, and even a collar would point to something specific- even if the garment was modern, you could tell what era or regional style a garment was pointing to.
This is obviously quite apparent in film score (and some orchestral) composers. On the surface, Williams (my favorite) clearly has a general style that is informed by Prokofiev and Stravinsky….again, on the surface. However, depending on the film, this style is changed. The Lost World’s use of drums and parallel chords reminds me of some of the cues in Max Steiner’s King Kong (or any pulp jungle adventure that followed). His score to Sabrina has a Rachmaninoff concerto-meets-piano lounge vibe to evoke an updated midcentury romance. And as an obvious move, the motif for The American Process in Lincoln has an hymnal, Americana-Copeland feel to represent a positive force as the President and his supports push to abolish slavery.
I’d also like to point out that despite his fame for big symphonic scores like Star Wars or E.T, John Williams actually has a much more diverse style. Some of my favorite film works from him are more subtle films or ones that require less straightforward bombast. The score to The Post is a good example of his minimalist sound while his score to the BFG allows for a joyous return to carefree symphonic narratives (that are not an epic). All still compositionally complex in their own way, but different in presentation and listening.
Obviously, you might know him for his various fanfares for the Olympics or the theme for the NBC Nightly News, but I actually love him for his other pieces for the concert hall. His piece “Soundings” for the opening season of the Walt Disney Concert Hall is exceedingly complex and has a very early-to-mid 20th modernist approach. You can tell that it’s much less straightforward than the Indiana Jones theme, though the various orchestral textures and augmenting of motives is very inherent to his personal style that mainstream people may not notice. A listen of his piano concerto “Conversations” also mixes his more random concert hall sounds with nods to jazz, which coincidentally is his background. I really suggest listening to his elegys and other concertos if you want a more holistic version of the John Williams “sound” apart from blockbusters- it’s a lot more complex than a straight forward fanfare, though I love those too.
To be clear, I definitely have an appreciation for quite a few film composers. Randy Newman is great for having an Americana/jazz sound in his scores. John Debney is delightfully quirky without sacrificing orchestral complexity. James Newton-Howard is fantastic. Elfman (at least in his prime) classified the gothic-yet-eccentric sound for film scores. Joe Kraemer is a composer to watch, as he was able to “update” (if you can call it that) Mission Impossible sound without being too on-the-nose. Zimmer is expected to be epic or minimal, but it’s quite nice to hear him do something a bit more traditional; it’s weird that he decided to show his chops on The Simpsons movie of all places, but he does have an army of ghost writers, so it may not even be him to begin with. However, I will say that Williams is my favorite, and constant analysis of his work has formed my opinions on what I like from other composers. This is quite similar to my POV with vintage clothing (specifically 1930’s tailoring and 1960’s ivy style) where in basis it’s specific, but in practice, it’s actually quite broad!
The scoffs I get from being into film score due to it’s real world connotations of being a cringe-y pop culture junkie or neckbeard was (and is) pretty prevalent. I don’t get to connect with real musicians because film score composers aren’t as disciplined as other classical composers (or ones who only write for the concert hall); mainstream listeners didn’t get the nuance I was after. Looking back, I find a lot of similarities to the reaction I received on my own style, being in the middle of contemporary and vintage, with many still not understanding the details I liked from both. I liked suits, but I wasn’t exactly GQ/Esquire and nor was I a swing dancing fiend. Both of these, lead me to find ways to accurately describe what I was into and share it in an effective way, which really lead to this blog. In terms of music, I’ve recently made it a point to find non-film score pieces that contain the same sound I’m after, again, not in the same pomposity as Star Wars. Not that I’m moving away from film score, but because I’ve found that I like the compositional approach, rather than simply the fact that the piece was written for a movie. Just as I like tailoring for more than just being formal, it helps to get more specific with why you enjoy things.
Getting back to the topic, I think that the Williams’ diversity in compositional style (and other similar composers I enjoy) was formative in the importance of having a POV and adapting it to certain situations. I clearly have a predilection for classic and vintage menswear. However, depending on what I want to reference (or what I’m doing), some of the details are changed. White socks can help indicate ivy when worn with a navy cotton suit. A spearpoint collar references the 1930’s (overtly) even if it’s worn with a modern Neapolitan jacket. I’ve spent countless essays on each of these moves and how they can be played into or be subverted.
In fact, that’s how a lot of the film score analyses go. Let’s just take this essay about the score to Lincoln. The author introduces the film and explains the context. Next, he goes into all of the themes we can expect to hear (or at least keep an “eye” out for). Then the meat of the article is about how exactly Williams uses the themes and supports/subverts them with other incidental music, all dependent on the context of the film and the thematic development. Pretty similar to how I write about menswear, huh? I’m not a big fan of reviews and small blog entries- I always require in-depth analysis and exploration.
As you can see, film score is not simply about copy and pasting the theme whenever a character shows up, but altering it to fit the mood. Sometimes it’s hidden and played in a minor mode- other times it’s presented positively, but the instruments chosen to voice it could show just how developed it is. I’m not a huge fan of simply copy and pasting (or even temp tracking at times); I liken it to buying a Drake’s tie or shirt and wearing it exactly like the lookbook shows. Inspiration is one thing, but copying rubs me the wrong way (and yes I understand the line is quite fuzzy with any artistic expression).
Here are some examples I like. Indiana Jones’ theme gets a Lawrence of Arabia-esque fanfare (block 5th chords in brass) when you see him on a horse, starting a pursuit on the Nazi caravan; you’ll notice that the phrasing and melody is a touch different (the intervals are augmented so it’s sound uncertain) than how you hear it presented normally (and confidently) later in the scene. One of Superman’s themes (the “A” one to be exact) is presented modestly here; in this cue you hear it positively, but incomplete, surrounded by rhythmic strings for favor; and of course you get that iconic interval repeated over and over until it finally resolves confidently in Chasing Rockets.
While it isn’t always written exactly the same way as the main titles, your ears recognize the notes and what it represents. The way the composer handles it can show how the character is feeling and what they’re experiencing in that particular situation. I think that’s pretty cool, especially since you seldom get that narrative treatment from overly minimal or electronic scores. The score to the The Social Network is fantastically suited to the film, but each of the cues are independent of each other and read more like a soundtrack (a collection of songs chosen by a director, like Guardians of the Galaxy or a Tarantino film) rather than a narrative score.
Putting this into practice and actually composing music was my first ever creative endeavor, because as you know, I didn’t get into menswear until I was almost done with high school; writing and photography came even later (the blog started in 2015, my senior year of university). It allowed me to put all of what I learned into practice; afterall listening countless scores should instill some form of creativity, just like when saving outfit inspo images. Do I channel John Barry in this Bond-inspired piece, or is it more appropriate to get some David Arnold in there (he composed some of the newer Bonds). Can I juxtapose a hymn along side deep electronic bass and harp reverb in the minimal main theme for short film about PTSD? How can I juggle my love of Williams-ism (voicings, woodwind/brass stabs) in this playful cue about kids running from their bullies through a school fair? There’s actually quite a few themes (about four themes reoccur and develop) and key changes in that one, as it’s the most complex thing I’ve ever written (and was inspired by this and this). Overall, all of these are in pursuit of a “sound” that I enjoy.
And like I said earlier, film score just isn’t about vibes, but the actual development and progression of the themes you create for the film. For example, at 0:13 here, the descending melody played by the flutes represents the memories of the main character. At 1:40 in this cue, the theme has a robust, romantic quality as it’s associated with an engagement before turning somber through the strings as the couple gets some bad news. It later gets anxious in the first 20 seconds of this cue, with the Memory Theme closing the score in an open ended vibe after a melancholic presentation of the love theme on solo piano. Don’t even get me started on how I utilized motifs from Avengers: Infinity War, Time Crisis II, and a Bee Gee’s song to create this testosterone driven piece that plays in my head when I play COD: Warzone.
Even the podcast theme is a good example of this in practice. In the original one the electronic organ/piano 7th chords in the beginning are a clear nod to the Wii Shop Channel music. I kept those psuedo bossa nova vibes going when the piano starts playing the melody, which actually was inspired by the piece Love is Love by the Blackbyrds; the mixture is something unique to my POV, resulting in the music you hear at the beginning of every podcast episode. However, the special orchestral arrangement I did for this episode provides a different “aesthetic”.
The chords and key are the same, though the 7th chords are presented in bombast orchestral fanfare, with pitched percussion, strings, and woodwinds outlining the chords in 8th notes. The main melody is presented almost per usual, though the tone is softer with less improvisation. To give some accent between melody runs, I have a brief motive played in the woodwins and glocks, which to me is a shout out to the “call and response” method done by John Williams in a few of his non-film score works. This one in particular was inspired by a similar woodwind section in The Mission. Being able to utilize references and original melodies is a big reason why composing (and menswear) resonates so strongly with me.
I’m pretty grateful for my background in composing, because without it, I really don’t think that I could have had such an open mind about classic and vintage menswear. The idea of augmenting and developing themes is similar in my head to wearing a repp with a DB (hidden) or with khaki chinos and a Navy Blazer. Even then, the cut of the chinos plays into what specific vibe you want to create. I tend to judge film scores on their use of motifs and thematic development (as I hate “tracking” or copy and pasting existing music), so everything detail wear has to point to some sort of aesthetic, even if I’m the only one who knows it. Wearing white socks or a beret a great example of that; seeing how they are translated across different styles of fits, just proves my love of narrative evolution. And just like my approach to film scores, I’m a much bigger fan of being a maximalist instead of being overly minimal. I just think that slouching with more pieces is a fun challenge rather than trying to slouch with a minimal selection of pieces, though it can be done (through attitude rather than the clothes themselves).
Hell, this could be used as the foundation of not only developing a specific POV, but even how Casual Ethan came about, as it’s about taking the ideas of classic tailoring and applying them to non-tailoring things. That creative basis, similar to how photographers and painters have great style, is something that I think is helpful in breaking out of the stuffy roots of classic menswear.
After all, I think that composers for both film and the concert hall, are aware of how their music is perceived. To the outside, both the orchestra and classic menswear are seen as stodgy and conservative. However, to the inside, it’s all a boundless avenue of creativity, albeit confined to orchestra (or tailoring). I’m sure there is plenty of rule of cool here as some compositions can be badass while others can be quite mediocre.
Hell, sterile minimalism is also a problem in this space, as I tend to connect Hollywood (and the mainstream’s) preference for sleek, sound design scores to the explore page styles of white Common Projects knock offs and skinny navy suits. Sure, you could argue that Reznor/Ross and Zimmer are the “good” ones, just as P. Johnson and Saman Amel kill the game in minimalist tailoring, but it’s just not for me, at least for regular listening (or styling, if we want to keep the clothing analogy going). The maximalist orchestration of Williams, Kraemer, and the greats like Shostakovich and Prokofiev seem effortless despite the amount of notes and layers of texture. It just seems more fun! My opinion on that seems to echo my love of brown checked jackets, pattern mixing, and how the third dimension of a tie seems slouchier and fun than not wearing one. It’s not to say that I don’t do minimal scores and clothing, but my mind typically works in a maximalist way.
Rule of Cool also seems to apply here, though like menswear, it is very loosely defined and completely subjective. Personally, I like John Williams because he’s got a great sound. It’s complicated, but in an approachable way that feels natural and easy, as if each note was destined to follow each other. And despite the “maximalist” orchestral texture (that lends himself to having an “old school sound”), it doesn’t feel stuffy or even cheesy. It’s a small thing to notice, but I tend to think that other orchestral composers, don’t get that rule of cool, opting for layered orchestral bombast without the natural charm that Williams has.
For example, Michael Giacchino chose to blast some cringy trumpet blasts for Krennic’s arrival at Vader’s castle in Rogue One– the effect sounds like some B-movie effort in a monster flick. I have no idea why he thought repeating the phrase three times was a good choice. Let’s compare it to this scene in Revenge of the Sith. John Williams utilizes melody in the cue, even if it’s for a short time, making the music feel a part of the scene, rather than the basic way of blasting minor chords. Don’t get me wrong, Williams does do it, but it’s not as static as simply repeating the “monster movie sound” the way that Giacchino does. For lack of a better phrase, it just feels cooler. You could compare this to why I think a slouchy suit worn by Mark Cho does miles better than whatever you see on your Instagram explore page.
We can even utilize a comparison to Hans Zimmer. The infamous, ghost writer abusing man still writes a few great scores and his sound (particularly for action cues) utilizes a lot of repeated rhythmic strings. It’s definitely a nod to his predilection for Rock ‘n Roll, but his approach (with minor melodies played in brass) has definitely characterized a lot of mainstream film score. It happens all over, from King Arthur, The Dark Knight Rises, and Pirates of the Caribbean to Kung Fu Panda and Megamind. It’s a very testosterone/masculine driven way to approach scoring; I definitely see why people enjoy easily, since it sounds epic and fairly straight forward.
Let’s explore how John Williams approaches this. His earlier action scores utilize a lot more melody and swashbuckling feel, like The Asteroid Field, which has a theme for the particular scene. However, his modern stuff is comparable to Zimmer in terms of frenetic rhythms devoid of a theme specifically for the action, but it diverges the further you get into the cue. Anderton’s Great Escape utilizes a fast rhythmic motive in strings, but it doesn’t get overly repetitive- it soon starts to get random stabs in brass/woodwinds to change it up and make it more of a complex listen; some of the trumpet runs (and the strings/horn in the background) even feel like jazz by how wild they get. The Jungle Chase (expanded here from the official soundtrack release) starts with a similar treatment and also gets wild, not staying in the same area the entire cue. As a contrast, the Chase Through Coruscant is also quite something to analyze to, adding in orchestral chaos to echo the visuals. Even this cue from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is hyperactive, with musical interjections at any given moment; it’s definitely less straightforward than the motorcycle cue in The Last Crusade, which like the Asteroid Field, builds on a defined theme for the action. Though let me be clear, Williams has always shown spades of this turbulent orchestral writing since the 1970s. And when he does more straightforward Zimmer-ish music, it’s still much more developed than a typical blockbuster-action score; 1:21 onward is built on a struggle motif, that climbs and climbs (with the Williams’ trademarked brass interjections) until a hyperspacial conclusion.
This “random” sound is done everywhere, presumably stemming from his jazz background (a lot of older composers share this, compared to the rock-roots of modern ones). The latter half of Soundings is built on this. Happy Birthday Variations puts a spin on the classic tune in odd ways, including fun chromatic run with woodwinds before echoing this in brass. Summon the Heroes seems like a normal fanfare but incorporates wild woodwinds (again) with a wonderfully agrestral percussion part, all before returning to the main theme.
I would think that a mainstream listener would think that many of Williams’ cues and compositions feel “wrong” or at least slightly unpleasant as music, but to me, it comes across as carefully considered despite the complexity (at least when mainstream film scores are concerned). It’s the “Williams tropes” above that make me enjoy his work the most, and seek out other composers (both film score and not) that approach composition in the same way. My overall methodology to menswear is pretty similar, considering the pieces and style cues I do can seem out of place on paper , but when you see it out and about, the cues feel cohesive and natural. At least, I hope it does!
When it comes to my oft-repeated mantra about how I like the idea of slouching with a tie rather than not wearing one, I’m reminded of how Zimmer and his crew play two note chords passionately over the course of five minutes. It might sound epic and cool (it certainly is appropriate for Nolan’s finale for Inception), but to me it comes off as a bit contrived and basic. I rather like how Williams gracefully plays the piano part in his own theme from Sabrina. Sure there may be more notes, but everything flows so well, providing that three-dimensionality that I like from wearing a tie with slouch. Hell, you could also argue Bernstein looks incredibly slouchy when composing the turbulent positivity of his overture to Candide.
It’s obvious that the interconnectedness of these two passions comes to play with how I take inspiration. As you can probably tell, listening to film scores for years and analyzing what I like and don’t like lead me to start composing for myself. I mean, what good is knowledge if you can’t act on it? Even now, listening routinely to my giant library (that is even filled with cues and recording sessions that are not available on commercial releases) continues to inspire new pieces of work, similar to how perusing my giant inspo albums always seems to invigorate something within me, eventually leading to outfit pics and full blown essays certain garments and style cues. The sad part is that composing music takes a long time; the good thing is that composing an outfit is a lot quicker. Though like I said on stream, the plethora of inspiration does lead to a long backlog of outfits.
The drive for composers to constantly create new pieces for the screen and concert hall was also quite formative for me in menswear, because you guys know that I seldom wear the same thing twice. This isn’t because of pressure from social media or capitalism, but rather due to the fact that I’m used to a constant state of of creating.
Back in high school and early college, I’d write a new piece nearly every two weeks, all with different sounds and themes; it’s a side effect from listening a diverse amount of film scores on the daily. Now, I look at menswear in my Discord, Instagram, and the plethora of inspo albums in my bookmarks. As a result, new ideas for outs spring forth all the time, ranging from vintage inspired tailoring and ivy to milsurp and workwear. There always ends up being a backlog of ideas in my head, both for music and clothing, that is always at least a few details removed from each other. Every resultant outfit is a bit different, even if the overal themes are quite similar! Isn’t that the basis of a cohesive style?
Now despite all of this, I don’t think I dress outwardly like a composer, at least a modern one. I think you can chalk up their lack of good style (I mean, they obviously have a style) to the Steve Jobs effect, where creatives tend to have different output than their clothing; all the decision making and inventiveness comes through in the music. Many of these composers tended to look better in their younger days, wearing variations on ivy-trad mixed with some 60s-70s flair; nowadays, it’s pretty basic “old man” attire, with tee shirts, dad jeans, and ill fitting suits. It’s definitely different than Miles Davis and Woodie Gurthrie, who like many musicians now, dress for the stage; composers are in the background, which I definitely identify with, as I’m someone who spends his time writing in his room and blending into an event, snapping photographs at cool candid moments.
I will say that if we continue talking about codifiers and what “guy” we dress like, I’d say that I definitely keep composer in mind. By that I mean that if you learned that I compose in my free time (or at least produce one or two pieces a year), you wouldn’t be surprised by how I dress. I won’t lie- some of my slouch comes from being inspired by artists in their element, whether it’s a composer at their piano, a photographer in his darkroom, a painter in the studio, or a writer at their desk. I don’t think I dress to look overtly creative, but rather in the same considered looks that are typical of a composer or a more understated artist. Fading into the background and yet is interesting when you notice it is a vibe, both for film score and menswear.
Looking over all my fits the past few years, I’m a little sad that my style doesn’t have overt connotations to the music I grew up listening to. With my taste, it was always going to be a losing battle to incorporate exterior elements of my musical taste. It’s not as easy as wearing black jeans and chucks to be like your favorite punk group (or the band you actually played with in the past) or rocking the runaway collar to be like the Rolling Stones or the Bee Gees. There is no merch shirt to wear with tailoring like Newton does nor are there even pins to attach to a denim jacket. Hell, as soft rock and folk gets bigger representation from menswear enthusiasts, you can see a lot more sawtooths and workshirts being combined with tailoring. At times, this incorporation of musician-style elements in classic menswear presents a slight “fuck you” attitude when compared to how lawyers/finance guys dress or at least to the image of a “man in a suit”.
This makes the most sense to a lot of the guys I mentioned at the start of the article: if you’re used to looking for denim jackets and levis for punk shows and figuring out how to dress to fit in to the “scene”, tailoring and milsurp/workwear make sense as a style progression, though with a twist. Unfortunately for me, I’ve had to detach my style from my musical taste, as both of these niche interests (at least in the way I do apply it) is pretty far removed from the typical menswear approach. But this essay proves that isn’t the case.
Maybe I should take it back my point from a few paragraphs ago- I do dress like a composer. That’s because I am one.
The mindset of composing and crafting outfits is pretty cohesive (as I hope I’ve explained) and despite a concerto not “feeling like a foulard”, I think it makes sense if you come at it from writing music. The more I think about it, the more I realize that my musical taste (what I listen to is far beyond my writing capability) makes sense when evoked in a 20th century, lightly bohemian take on classic/contemporary tailoring. After all, the older composers do wear a lot of what I do: wide cut suits with spearpoint collars and geometric ties. It’s academic, but not in a prep school way. It’s artsy, but not overly so, like a painter or a photographer. It’s contemporary, but not too modern or old. It’s expression of pure taste rather than picking something noticeable (which is probably why I don’t wear merch). Overall, my music taste makes sense for how I dress, even if it isn’t exactly visible on the get-go (and requires some explanation in thought process). But film score and 20th century compositions are not the only music I listen to.
If you’re a recent convert to the pod/stream/blog, you’ll probably have heard that I’m also into indie rock, which also is quite a general word. It comes from me trying to expand my tastes from just film score, similar to how I’ve advanced beyond just tailoring. I also realized that this is the genre that I can identify with that isn’t an academic or creative endeavor. In short, it’s what I listen to for fun. To relax to. To connect with others with similar music tastes, buy merch, and attend concerts for.
And compared to film score, this musical genre (which also alienates me from what my friends listen to) actually has influenced my style and I think you can see it. If you don’t count my messy hair, I think that the increased use of sneakers, baggy sport shirts, and expanded suit alternative looks all stem from my indie music taste. After all, many guys I know who do wide, Japanese-Americana, minimal fits all listen to some form of indie music and go to concerts regularly (at least pre-pandemic). In fact, the only non-Star Wars merch shirt I own is from Miniature Tigers, which was my first ever non-orchestral concert! However, this all makes sense to my menswear background as indie style is quite related to workwear, milsurp, and even prep, though it’s all very loose and not as straightforward.
I’ll finish off this essay in saying that what I think the through-line here, from the film scores, composing, and indie music is that I’ve always been after a sound (a POV). I don’t like thinking of things in a general sense: I’m not into suiting for suiting’s sake and I’m not into every piece of music that is written for a film. I at least can share with you my playlists and you can see what I’m into. The indie sound is pretty easy to determine (all my friends simply call it just hipster music as an umbrella term), especially after you listen to Miniature Tigers, Alvvays, and Roar, and this cover of Mamma Mia. I do think there’s a bit of a relation to my taste in film score and menswear: indie/alt builds on the traditional rock that came before it, adding in references in a modern sense. Like I say in the podcast, the indie/rock listenership is getting bigger in menswear (as well as rap and hip hop) and probably attributes to the casual vibe we’ve been seeing in menswear lately, especially with the love affair with the late 60s-70s and the 80s prep revival. I mean, that sound is similar to the recent playlist made by Brandon (manager at NYC Drake’s).
The orchestral sound is a bit harder, especially if you compare the pieces from the film score one to the non-film score one. Both are great, though I’m trying to expand my non-film score playlist so that you can better understand what I’m into. (It’s also unfortunate that I can’t share my true film score list, as Spotify doesn’t have my favorite pieces). With a few pieces like Lewis’s Jig with octaved strings, the jaunt of Korngold’s Holzapfel und Schlehwein, the wildness of Williams’ Conversations II, the precise orchestrations of Elgar’s Military March No. 4, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Obviously I wrote about Williams a lot here, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate other composers as well, both for the film and the concert hall. It’s simply that Johnny’s sound is what I most identity with and continue to judge others on, just like me with 1930’s menswear and brands like Drake’s, Bryceland’s, and The Armoury.
Either way, there is taste involved, able to be tied together and can be analytically codified in terms of POV. Unfortunately, despite my years of composing, I can’t tell you exactly what that is from a musical theory standpoint. I’m not classically trained at all and can only share pieces that I like! But luckily for you, I’m much more coherent in talking about menswear, so that’s what you’ll continue to get from me. After all, I didn’t let a lack of a fashion education or “real” experience in the industry (at least compared to my other contemporaries) stop me from taking part in this hobby and writing about it until the cows come home. I just wanted to experience both music and menswear in a way that made sense to me and have a bit of an avenue to share it with the rest of you.
Looking back, I’m still not sure whether my taste in music truly lead to my love of classic menswear if my approach to menswear only reinforced how much I like what I like. In both cases, it hasn’t changed all that much in the past few years- it’s only gotten more specific, with a few branches that still feel cohesive with my past. I know that my personal approach to music is a bit different and less overt than dressing like a Rockstar or a folk singer, but one thing is for sure: music definitely plays a big part into how I wear clothing. Even if it’s all mindset and not the specific pieces themselves.
This is probably why I’m comfortable with mixing and matching menswear aesthetics. Not only is it because [most] film score is rooted in referencing other things, but because even if it’s not technically correct when compared to the root, it can still sound great and serve as a form of artistic expression. Why should menswear be any different?
Discord Discussion Addendum: After posting this in the discord and discussing this with my friends and patrons, I realize that this essay was quite a hard read, especially if you don’t think about composing or outfits in this way. But I want to challenge you and say that you probably do! The idea behind this was discuss how I approach clothing from a seemingly separate interest- I believe that others do it the same way, from whatever lifestyle choices, hobbies, and interests you have. For example, Producer Matt relates this composer-approach to menswear to his love of alt-comedy and stand up comedians, whose style is not as straightforward, but still effectively funny! Obviously music (of all kinds) is the most straightforward and easiest hobby to relate to personal style, but the same connective threads can happen with any other aspect of your life.
I think that encouraging this deep introspection is a great way to find out what really calls out to you, either by altering your attitude to modes of dress or searching for new things to incorporate. The paradox of clothing and its roots literally signaling status can make it seem like certain clothing choices, styles, and cues are only for a certain person. The thing is that you are that person! Every stylish person I’ve ever talked about on the blog and the pod are shining examples of it. As JTR in our Discord says, you find that self actualization by “removing yourself from the expectations of aesthetics associated from your interests.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. It looks like we may have to do a separate podcast (and essay) about dressing for authenticity, whatever that means.
- 0:50 – Clap Talk
- 5:35 – “If MILF stands for Mother I’d Like to Fuck, MIF stands for Mother I’m Fucking, you’ve already done it.”
- 6:40 – Music, Menswear and Muffs
- 7:15 – “I don’t know if anyone listens to music and thinks ‘this feels like a foulard to me.’”
- 8:00 – “Musicians are creative, and creative people tend to be better dressers.”
- 13:00 – Spencer’s Journey with Music
- 13:10 – “I’ve always liked music. Songs, you know – those things where you make sounds that fit well with each other.”
- 19:45 – Ethan’s Journey with Music
- 27:55 – “Finding film score cue-by-cue taught me to be very specific with other interests like menswear. While film composers have their vintage musical influences, I tend to like the film composers work better as it’s more modern and applicable to me. It’s why I appreciate Fred Astaire but go to Ethan Newton more often, it’s just easier to get into.”
- 29:55 – Typical Menswear Music
- 30:05 – “Menswear tends to be very rule-based, which makes it harder to signify what you’re into.”
- 34:35 – “There are many uniforms in different genres of music, and if you get into menswear, you’re able to make your particular look much more unique.”
- 45:00 – Emulating Musician Style
- 45:55 – “I can’t dress like the musicians I like, because film composers dress like shit!”
- 49:35 – “It’s still not cool to say ‘I listen to film score.’ It’s not great to mention that I listen to film score because I compose music for animal crossing island.”
- 53:50 – “These composers’ creative outlet is composing, not clothing.”
- 1:01:00 – Do We Dress Based on Musical Genre?
- 1:01:35 – “Is it the music I listen to that influences the way I dress or the other way around? You don’t think of the clothing by itself, you think about the people who would wear it. It’s the same with music, whether it’s the musicians or the listeners.”
- 1:03:00 – “I’m able to detach my lifestyle from the clothes that I wear and lead a totally different life than the typical menswear guy.”
- 1:12:45 – “I can get really picky with what’s on my playlists. Some are larger so I don’t get repeats but some have six songs for a specific mood, nothing else fits that sound I’m after. It’s harder to describe that abstract tangential thing than with clothing because clothing is physically tangible and it’s not the same with music.”
- Painter Style
- Simon Crompton on Music
- Die Workwear – A bit on Coherence (who names his garments after jazz musicians)
- Put This On – The Photographs of Milt Hinton
- Put This On – The Lovely Thing About Jazz Guys
- HandCut Radio –
- Spencer’s Spotify Recommendations:
- Ethan’s Spotify Recommendations
- Ethan’s Original Compositions & Film Scores
- Descension in D, for Piano and Violin – Performed live
We also did a follow-up stream on Twitch, with a bunch of our regulars: Producers Matt & MJ, Jason, Ivan, Henrik, and Matt (a new one). All of us briefly go into the music that we’re into and how it does (or doesn’t) affect our style. Producer Matt mentions that his experience working in musical theatre is what spurred him onto vintage menswear. The idea about “being the main character” is what Producer MJ put forth, where you have to listen and wear what hypes you up to feel confident; presumably, this similar to the “cinematic” world building method done by Ralph Lauren. Of course the others have their own opinions about music and style, so you’ll just have to watch to see what they think!
Thanks for listening and reading along! Don’t forget to support us on Patreon to get some extra content and access to our exclusive Discord. We also stream on Twitch and upload the highlights to Youtube.
The Podcast is produced by MJ and Matthew.
Always a pleasure,
Big thank you to our top tier Patrons (the SaDCast Fanatics): Seth Peterson, Austin Malott, Eric Hall, Philip Gregard, Audrey Jessica, Shane Curry, and Jeremy Osztreicher.