John Bowers — What a Man Should Not Wear (1927) 🇺🇸

John Bowers — What a Man Should Not Wear (1927) |

January 08, 2024

John Bowers, was explaining to me the difference between really correct form in wearing apparel and what was supposed to be smart and up-to-date fashion. “That,” he pointed out for example, “is considered by many what a fashionable man ought to wear.”

by William H. McKegg

I looked in the direction indicated and became nearly color blind at the sight of a most hideously hued sweater, worn by a young extra. His golf knickers and stockings — the colors in the latter outdazzling those of a tropical snake — stood out in grotesque contrast to each other. The youth, however, was obviously quite unconcerned about the striking effect of what he considered his fashionable attire. One of his companions was dressed in similar style but in quieter colors. He looked more — correct.

“Many believe,” said Bowers, “that being well dressed simply means wearing the latest fads. I myself do not care for anything ultrafashionable.” He was wearing a plain white suit and a silk shirt of the same color, open at the neck. “A conservative taste in clothes gives a man a better appearance than if he is decked out in exaggerated modes, which, though they happen to be the craze of the moment, suggest the Winter Garden chorus. For sports — such as golf, tennis, yachting — nothing looks so becoming as plain white. I wear golf knickers and a sweater myself — but not the loud variety.

“A blue serge, double-breasted jacket goes well with white flannel trousers, a white straw hat, a dark tie and black shoes, or a light tie and white shoes. Just a matter of taste. Some go even so far as to wear white in the evening — believing it to be correct.”

I had an uneasy recollection of having committed a similar offense once or twice in my own young life.

“And brown shoes,” my criterion went on, “should never be seen on a human being after six o’clock in the evening.” Another inward gasp of dismay from me. “Out here in Hollywood, however, correct form in dress is disregarded more than in any other place. The climate is partly to blame for that.”

My choice of John Bowers as the right person to discourse on what a well-dressed man ought to wear had resulted from several incidents. The first occurred some time ago when, as I was coming from a showing of Confessions of a Queen, in which Bowers played the part of a prince, my companion — a former young noble under the late czar’s regime, now working in pictures, but still a great connoisseur of exact form in dress — remarked that Bowers wore his clothes correctly.

As a matter of fact, I could easily have formed that opinion myself, even though Bowers plays mostly in parts that give him little opportunity for fashionable dressing. Such pictures as Rocking Moon, Laddie and Pals in Paradise, for instance, all belong to the great outdoors. But there is no one who looks any better or dresses more correctly than John Bowers does in society roles, or when at such places as the Montmartre or the Ambassador.

Perhaps the fact that he has always been used to wearing the proper kind of clothes, and that he has a very large wardrobe of suits, explains why he doesn’t care whether or not he plays “dressy parts” in pictures. But in private life Bowers is a stickler for correct form.

One evening he came home late from the studio. Some friends called to pick him up on their way to the Montmartre for dinner. Not having the time to change into evening clothes, Bowers refused to join the party. His friends urged him to come as he was, but he wouldn’t. Many a man in movie circles would not have hesitated about going in an ordinary business suit, but to John Bowers it would have been bad form — a breach of etiquette.

“I believe in wearing the correct thing for the place you are going to,” he says. “If you have worked hard all day and feel too tired to change, you ought to remain home and not make yourself conspicuous by going somewhere where you would look out of place.

“Once, while dining out, I sat at a table next to some picture people I knew, among whom was a director who was looking very uneasy in his ordinary day clothes. We all joked about it. But he remained out of sight as much as possible by keeping his chair close to a palm tree. His wife and his friends had literally forced him to join them just as he arrived home from the studio. I am sure he wasn’t enjoying himself. He knew that his attire was distinctly out of place.

“Not long ago, at another cafe, where every one was in evening dress, a young man in sports clothes got up and danced with a young lady in a beautiful evening gown. Yet he paid no attention to the contrast he was creating, though I thought the young lady he was with seemed somewhat embarrassed by it.

“When you make an engagement with a young lady, you should remember that she takes it for granted that you will be dressed correctly for the occasion. Possibly the young man I saw was kept late on the set. That often happens in the studios. Yet even so, I do think he should have had sense enough to keep in a secluded corner and not have made himself so conspicuous by getting up and dancing.

“Since the war, it has been customary and correct to wear a dinner suit in the evening for all social functions. But you often come across a person wearing the wrong kind of hat or coat with the suit. With a tuxedo, for instance, you should never wear a high hat. Yet even in New York I have seen men arrive at the theater looking very fashionable in their European cloaks, white gloves, silk scarfs, and opera hats, who, on taking off their cloaks, have revealed tuxedos underneath. For full evening dress that kind of outer garment would be correct, but with a tuxedo a black fedora is worn and not a top hat, not white but gray gloves, not a cloak but a coat. A cane, however, is quite correct.

“I personally prefer to wear a full evening suit whenever there is an occasion to don one. I don’t consider it good form always to keep to the dinner suit. It takes a little more time perhaps to change, but in my opinion, it’s worth it.

“I think it is very bad taste, though it is often done, for a man to wear a soft shirt front with a tuxedo. A stiff shirt front, with one stud in the center, looks far better than a flimsy soft silk shirt. Recently, the white waistcoat, with no points at the bottom, came into fashion as being correct with a tux. Now the black waistcoat with pointed ends has returned. I think the white looks better, however, as it relieves the blackness of the tout ensemble.

“Another mistake you often see men make is to wear black patent-leather pumps with a tuxedo. Pumps should be worn only with full evening dress. Black patent-leather shoes are correct with a tuxedo. These little things may be just details, but they do make a difference.

“Possibly that is why, in pictures, more so to-day than ever before, great attention is paid to correct detail and proper form in clothes. It is a well-known fact that Madame Elinor Glyn insists on exact habiliment for every man and woman in her pictures. That may or may not be entirely necessary, yet in the finished film it does give a good effect. You feel, when viewing the production, that you are seeing the And I think it’s just as necessary in real life for us to pay marked attention to correct form. It is really no more trouble.

“Von Stroheim goes so far as to demand that the slightest cord or knot of braid on every military uniform be just so. Perhaps that again is going a little too far for an undiscriminating public, but what other court or military scenes in films have just that certain éclat that Von Stroheim gets into his pictures?”

You will usually find that men who have the means to be fashionable and, moreover, have always been used to correct form in dress, do not insist on being like tailors’ dummies in everyday life, but when there is occasion to dress correctly, they always look the real thing.

John Bowers is well to do. The new home that he recently had constructed cost him, with its furnishings, nearly half a million dollars. You may well surmise, then, that John can afford to pay for the latest styles every day without turning a hair. But instead of being ostentatious in his clothes he is conservative and correct — correct to a detail.

“Many pictures,” my well-dressed informant continued, “make it look as though people in what is called high society entertain in homes with interiors equal in size to those of a palace. The guests are dressed up like a circus parade rather than in the conservative manner of the class they are supposed to represent.”

A young man who met Bowers in New York, and who had never been in the East before, kept begging him to point out a certain society leader. She appeared one afternoon in a hotel tea room where they happened to be, and Bowers pointed her out.

“What, is that Mrs. —?” asked the young fellow, rather dismayed. “She doesn’t dress like a fashionable society lady.” When asked what his idea of a fashionable society lady was, he described something in lace, frills, and silks.

“Another amusing thing,” Bowers commented, “is the way movie actors, when called upon to dress for a certain kind of scene, all conform to exactly the same type, without any variation. I recollect seeing a picture featuring in part a race track. All the leading male characters of the story appeared at the race course in almost identical attire. Now at races you can wear several styles of clothes. The race scene would, to my belief, have been more like the real thing if at least one of the men had worn a gray Prince Albert and a gray hat. That is one of the correct forms to wear at races. Yet not one of those actors thought of that. They all wore exactly the same style — the customary morning suit.

“Never in Hollywood, by the way, do you see the proper morning suit — a black cutaway, gray-and-black-striped trousers, and black silk hat — such as you often see worn by prosperous business men of the Wall Street district of New York. The climate out here would, even in winter, be against such a style.”

John Bowers is not a fashion plate sporting the latest fads; rather is he a person whom you instantly take for a well-groomed gentleman. An example of his choice of the correct garb for the correct occasion was given in The Dice Woman. The scene being laid in the Orient, he wore the Oriental evening dress — short white jacket and black silk sash.

If Hollywood wishes to introduce an Oriental style into the Occident, I suggest that they adopt this form of evening wear. English styles always lead for men — French for women. Why should not the movie center turn into a center of style by mixing the fashions of all countries? I put the suggestion to John. He smiled and said:

“Oh, I don’t think that would be very correct form.” 

John Bowers — What a Man Should Not Wear (1927) |

An example of John Bowers’ adherence to correct dress was given in this scene with Priscilla Dean in The Dice Woman. The locality being the Orient, John wore the white Oriental evening jacket.

A stiff shirt, not a soft one, and shoes, not pumps, should be worn with the tuxedo, says John.

John Bowers — What a Man Should Not Wear (1927) |

Loud-colored sweaters and sport stockings are in very poor taste, says John, whose own sport outfit above is in quieter tones. The picture shows Marguerite de la Motte and himself in their new home.

John wouldn’t dream of wearing a business suit out to dinner, though many men, when pressed for time, do that very thing.

John Bowers — What a Man Should Not Wear | Harry Langdon — Well, Sir, He’s a Scream | 1927 |

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, April 1927