Sprezzatura is a word often bandied around within the world of fashion and style with reckless abandon. Much like other trademark words we use such as ‘essential’, ‘classic’ and ‘steez’ (which I hate, by the way), the definition of sprezzatura has come to mean many different and varying things, thanks to the general overuse and the lack of knowledge about the subject in general. Luckily, this is where FashionBeans comes in.
Regardless of whether you’re a beginner to the world of menswear or a seasoned pro, we can all benefit from a quick reminder of what sprezzatura really means and how it can be utilised in your own style. It’s an Italian word that first shows up in The Book of the Courtier by Baldassare Castiglione, where it is defined as: ‘a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or say appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.’ This essentially boils down to making difficult actions look easy while concealing the conscious effort that went into them. Or as Yeezy would say – ‘what? This old thing?’
So it boils down to making it seem like you don’t care then? Well, sort of. The easiest translation of sprezzatura is ‘artful dishevelment’ and there is a fine line between achieving it and simply being sloppy. For example, lots of people like to think good old RPatz has sprezzatura when, in fact, he’s just a big old sloppy mess. There’s a difference between hiding your effort and having none at all. The same applies to the writers and bloggers who claim putting any old combination of loud colours together is ‘sprezzy’ (another one I hate), because there’s a difference between knowing your colour wheel and looking like a five year old’s finger painting.
For great examples of sprezzatura, look to the guy’s who really are the definition of it – Gianni Agnelli, his grandson Lapo Elkann, Michael Bastian and Tommy Hilfiger. These are gentleman who clearly understand how to dress well and all the rules that come with style. They are also gentleman who know that some rules were made to be broken. Here is an example lookbook to help you visualise what we are trying to achieve, before we break it down for all levels of ability:
Before jumping in at the deep end, let’s ease ourselves in gently with a few simple twists and changes. Here at FashionBeans we’re always talking about the details making the gentleman, so let’s start there.
For a dash of sprezzatura, why not start twisting your tie knot? Trade in that perfect dimple for a side one, and start pulling the tail of your tie away to the side of the main body.
The same applies to your pocket square. Forget about that perfectly lined up peep of hanky and go full on messy. Throw that bad boy in and then forget about it for the rest of the day.
Give your iron a bit of a rest too. Nicely pressed shirts are great for job interviews and weddings but for day to day stuff, looking a little bit rumpled and relaxed (especially when it’s an Oxford cloth shirt) can be just what you need. Finally, chill out and go sockless every now and then – our article on the tassel loafer details the perfect spring/summer shoe to do this in.
Below you can find my two favourite videos for nailing that sprezzatura tie and pocket square look.
Staying on ties, once you’ve mastered the side dimple, why not start knotting it so the tail end is longer than the main body? It’s a classic used by everyone from Sid Mashburn to Nick Wooster to Tommy Hilfiger. It’ll take a bit of practice but as long as you start with the tail end nearly the same length as the head, things should work out fine.
While you’re loosening up, why not actually loosen up? Undo that top button of your shirt and relax the tie there as well. The same can go for your shirt cuffs when wearing a jumper or a jacket – don’t worry so much about buttoning the cuffs, you want to keep it casual. No one does this better than Michael Bastian. The key to pulling it off is by nailing the other traditional ‘rules’ of style – such as fit, colour and texture – then letting one rule slide.
Your footwear can be given the sprezzatura treatment as well. A mini-trend that’s beginning to emerge is the lack of laces on your shoes, regardless of whether it’s your brogues, desert boots or wingtips. It’s a nice little detail that most people won’t notice on a well executed outfit until the second or third time they look. I often leave my double monk straps unbuckled when off out in the city.
OK, now it’s time to separate the men from the boys and really bend some rules. This is the kind of stuff that only the brave will want to attempt and for good reason. The key here is subverting expectations and it definitely requires some thought.
Why not try having your belt buckled at the side? Or using one of your socks as a pocket square, because it’s such a great colour or pattern?
One of my little tricks is to take the cuff balls that you find in suit stores (or on French cuffed shirts) and placing them in the lapel button hole of my suits/blazers. The more contrasting the colour the better.
Or why not take a leaf straight out of the Agnelli playbook and wear your watch over your shirt sleeve but still under your jacket? Again, the reason he could get away with this was because every other aspect of his look was impeccable – dishevelled elegance.
It is has always been about the small details and effortless touches you can give your outfit:
Here are some key accessories you can play around with to give your looks that shot of character you require:
It’s easy for those of us who are involved with men’s fashion to get carried away. Ideals can be taken to the extreme and concepts diluted so far that they have no real meaning any more. Sprezzatura is no different. True sprezzatura is about knowing classic style rules and then breaking a few cleverly selected ones – not throwing the whole rulebook out of the window. As I said, there’s a difference between looking artful dishevelled and looking stupid and/or sloppy.
But as always guys, it is not just about what I think. Do you already do any of these things in your looks? Or do you know of other techniques that I’ve not included? Or do you just think sprezzatura is simply ridiculous/pretentious? Let me know in the comments section below.
P.S. For the best current collection based on sprezzatura, check out GANT Ruggers A/W 2012 collection. Hitting the nail on all kinds of heads.
Until next week,
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