I like to walk through the National Gallery’s Renaissance collection on occasion and stare at the portraits, not because I’m nostalgic for a time before comprehensible memory, but because I like to look at their clothes. I really enjoy it. Its indirect inspiration gleaned from staring upon hardened generals in ruffled collars and turquoise lapels.
These paintings comprise the ultimate look-book for any season. The portraits of regal men in immaculate dress looking at you through their oil-paint eyes can make anyone look down at his or her khaki shorts and feel a little embarrassed. The grace and feeling of a time before socks and under shirts could wick sweat from your body, and when suits were truly custom made, is truly something to behold.
This gentleman, depicted by Joseph Wright in his 1770 work, Portrait of a Gentleman, is a great example of power conveyed through grace as well as attitude. The first thing that catches the eye is the wide, turquoise lapels, bordered by golden ribbon leading to the subject’s face. And while the lapels, brass buttons and red collar are elegant on their own, it is his gaze that should inspire you. This is a man looking towards the future with an unshakable confidence that never goes out of style. Coupled with the nonchalance of his folded arms, it seems he’s not only confident about the future, but also pretty certain about the present.
That attitude will always be modern.
I selected this piece because its style is hyper-masculine, yet refined. One should try and replicate this attitude every day, but also reflect on other elements of his dress. The playfulness of colors can be applied the modern man’s business dress. Despite the propriety conveyed by his suit, the color palette would be considered bold by today’s standards.
For a more modern frame of reference, take this look from Prada’s Fall 2010 collection. Notice the color and confidence. While this look might not be appropriate for the office every day, it would be perfect for more casual Fridays and could easily transition into happy hour and well beyond. While most of us won’t be able to look at a Prada price tag without a quick twinge of nausea, this is a look that most men can put together with pieces they already own. Try different colors, khaki suit with a light weight pastel sweater for summer, experiment with shades until you find a look that suits you. And then, by all means, wear it with confidence.
This attitude is evident in the style of many portrait subjects at the National Gallery. So, take a long lunch, or set aside a Saturday afternoon, walk to the museum and stare into the unshakable eyes of the past. Admire their clothes, the tailoring, the individuality and the grace. But, more than anything admire the refined confidence that is evoked and take that back to the office.