The concept of “sprezzatura” is kind of a thorny one in the world of menswear.
For those who aren’t aware, the term sprezzatura, as it applies to clothes, means “studied nonchalance” or a kind of purposeful, artful chaos. Think of a stylish guy whose outfit is in a slight, “just so” disarray as if he just tossed it on without much thought.
When I first started really caring about how I dressed, it seemed like articles on sprezzatura were everywhere (and I guess I’m contributing to it with this article!).
At the time, I thought to myself, “Is it really that important?”
Kind of like when we were kids and we all thought quicksand was much more common than it actually is. Same thing.
What I have come to realize about sprezzatura is that it is impossible to master, so don’t even try. Its definition of “studied nonchalance” is, itself, a contradiction anyway.
Sprezzatura isn’t something you can do; it just happens.
But what are we all after when it comes to sprezzatura? Why is it so desirable?
It’s really about comfort. We want to appear comfortable and easy in what we wear. We don’t want to look awkward, like our middle-school selves when we had to put on a nice shirt for the choral concert.
But here’s the thing: if you’re trying to look natural, you won’t be.
Real sprezzatura happens when you live in your clothes. Your clothes accompany you on the business of life. They aren’t an end themselves. The little imperfections that happen along that journey? Those are real sprezzatura (“sprezzaturas”?).
When you live your life in your clothes, sprezzatura naturally happens to you and you look comfortable and easy in whatever you’re wearing. It’s not something you can fake. It’s not something you can force. It’s not something you can do in the mirror in the morning.
Real sprezzatura is the frayed collar on my old OCBD that I refuse to get rid of. It’s the dirt on my pants from grabbing the trash out of the back of the truck before heading out to lunch. It’s the wear and tear on an old, but loved, wristwatch. It’s the sloppy tuck job on your shirt from wrangling the children.
These aren’t things you can plan.
Here are some examples of bad sprezzatura that you’ll see on the internet. Please don’t do any of these things. They will mark you as a style noob or worse, a fussy dandy.
Bad Sprezz #1 – Purposely leaving the buttons undone on the collar of your button-down shirt.
This one gets to me because the picture is always accompanied by one of two comments. Either it’s, “Oh, I guess I totally forgot to do up the buttons on my collar! I was in such a rush and didn’t notice.”
Really? You “didn’t notice” that the buttons were undone on the collar around which you fastened a necktie and then took a picture of? I don’t buy that. No one forgets to button the collar on a button-down shirt.
The other comment you’ll see in this instance is, “I didn’t button the collar because I just like the look of a regular point collar.”
Again, I call BS. If you really prefer the look of a regular point collar, then why did you opt for the button-down shirt?
No, what you were doing was trying to shoot for sprezzatura and didn’t want to admit it.
Bad Sprezz #2 – Unfastened monk straps.
This one goes hand-in-hand with the guy on the morning train who has his untied tie hanging around his neck… with a fresh cup of coffee in his hand.
Really? You were just so busy that you didn’t have time to tie your tie but you had time to stop to get coffee? Your morning can’t really be all that rushed, now can it?
Not fastening your shoes just looks infantile. Trust me, you won’t look like a tycoon who is too busy closing deals to care about his appearance. You’ll just look like you are too immature to manage your time in the morning.
Bad Sprezz #3 – Wearing a watch over your shirt cuff.
This is a thing because a million years ago a rich guy named Gianni Agnelli did it and, because he was rich and Italian, people thought it looked cool.
In reality, it looked like shit. But again, he was rich so he got a pass.
Don’t do it. Moving on…
Bad Sprezz #4 – Tying your tie so that the thinner end is longer than the wide end.
This isn’t always bad. Just usually bad.
I’ve written before about things you should and shouldn’t worry too much about when it comes to menswear. And sometimes the thin part of your tie will be a bit longer than the wide part. That’s ok. I have a tie I love that ties a pretty small knot, so I need to make the thin end longer so the knot is large enough. I could tie a larger knot using a half-windsor or a double four-in-hand, but the tie is textured and I find it difficult to make those knots look good. So, the thin end is about two inches longer than the wide end. I doubt anyone ever notices.
Long story short: I tie the tie however I need to and then go about my day. I’m not purposely tying it that way to achieve some sort of look or to fool people into thinking I am just so rakish and aloof.
So, if your tie ends up a little uneven, don’t worry about. But don’t spend your time trying to make it look uneven.
I have even seen men wearing bespoke ties that have the thin end longer than the wide end. They specifically commissioned a tie to be uneven. That’s a bridge WAY too far.
Bad Sprezz #5 – Unbuttoning one button on your jacket cuff.
This gained traction because, back in the day, having working button holes on a jacket’s sleeves was a sign of good tailoring. Off-the-rack jackets pretty universally had faux button holes so that your own tailor could adjust the sleeve length easily. Leaving one of the buttons undone on your jacket cuff was a way to show off the fact that you were wearing a nicer jacket.
There are two problems with this.
One, is that working button holes on jacket sleeves are no longer a sure-fire sign of quality. Many low-cost, ready-to-wear companies (Charles Tyrwhitt, for example) offer working button holes. So you aren’t going to fool anyone into thinking your jacket is some original Savile Row creation since the cat has been out of the bag for some time. Maybe this would have worked thirty years ago, but it doesn’t now.
The other problem with this is that people who can actually afford very high-end clothes don’t feel the need to signal to other people that they are wearing high-end clothes. Why? Because it’s tacky.
My point with all this is that we dads don’t have the time to worry about silly things like sprezzatura. If you’re trying to achieve it, you’re trying too hard.
Simply get dressed in the morning and tackle the day. Your clothes will reflect you: an active and engaged father.