This almost needs no introduction – almost. Astaire’s Puttin’ on the Ritz song and dance routine in Blue Skies (1946) looks deceptively easy and effortless but it took five weeks of painstaking preparation and rehearsal according to the dancer in his autobiography. Astaire was known for his total dedication to dancing and his dance partners throughout the years often struggled to keep up. That was not a problem of course in this solo routine.
At first glance, it may appear that Astaire is wearing an evening tailcoat (i.e. white tie) but he’s actually wearing formal daywear, i.e. a black morning coat, ascot, wing collar shirt and formal striped trousers.
Much of the commentary about Astaire, particularly his clothes and style, falls under one of two types. One school of commentary says he is one of a kind, sui generis. In other words, he is inimitable but a sartorial standout worthy of admiration and historical study. The other viewpoint says he is a sartorial icon for Everyman. Any fellow wishing to dress well should imitate and study very carefully what Astaire wore, dressed and looked like. The former regards him as purely an historical artifact, the latter as a timeless icon of style transplantable to any era. Both are wrong.
I plan to elaborate further on the precise appeal (and relevance) of Astaire in my book. Here are a few Youtube user comments on the video:
- “this is so different from Taco’s version in the 80’s” (Ha, indeed!)
- “he is the man”
- “enorme. puissant. geant. genial.”
What is the basis for Astaire’s enormous appeal, some 60 years after he tapped out his routine for the film? From a style perspective, I would argue this his appeal is not so much the clothing itself (which is exemplary of course) but the way he approached and thought about his clothes – their function and purpose – and his relentless pursuit of what I would call “clothing-unto-dancing.”
In other words, his genius lay in the fusion of what he wore with his formidable talents in song and dance. Hence, the key to understanding his style is unlocking the why rather than the what. In fact, Astaire fits into one of several archetypes of style that I have come across in my research thus far.
From a practical standpoint, what is interesting is that Astaire is neither sui generis nor a ubiquitous sartorial model suitable for Everyman. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to providing a more complete explanation of what I mean by this.