Long-time readers of An Uptown Dandy will remember a few of my earlier posts which focused on some of the forgotten style icons of the twentieth century. While the sartorial proclivities of Hollywood's leading men of the 1920s-1940s have been preserved via film, publicity stills, news reel footage, and personal photographs, there is not much of a historical record remaining to memorialize the efforts of the stylish dandies who filled the tabloids of the day with tales of their stylish attire and illicit activities.
While there are a variety of primary and secondary sources that one can sift, the focus tends to be on various gangland intrigues. I had never come across any work that focused entirely on the sartorial aspirations of the racketeers of the Roaring Twenties and Depression-Era Thirties actually. Initially, I began trying to create a collection of some of my favorites images. I then began reaching out to private collectors as well as newspaper and photo archives. I then wrote several essays or profiles on some of the more stylish characters from the underworld of the 1920s and 1930s.
Out of all that came The Best Dressed Man In The Room: A Photographic History of the Sartorially-Inclined Goniffs, Gamblers, and Gangsters of the Interwar Years, 1920-1945 (the title is taken from a statement made by New York City Police Commissioner Lewis Valentine when Murder Inc. gunman Harry "Pittsburgh Phil" Strauss arrived at Police Headquarters for questioning in yet another unsolved murder).
A few years ago, Ralph Lauren paid for a small collection of Australian mugshots, featuring some well-dressed criminals from Sydney - the images were used to decorate flagships shops in the US and UK, and were used as inspiration for his 2011 RRL look-books. But Mr. Lauren needn't have looked quite so far and wide for impeccably attired - he really didn't even need to look much farther than his old Bronx neighborhood.
And that was another part of the appeal of this project - it tapped into the history of New York City on a personal level for me. Many of the young men in these photos roamed the same East Harlem and Bronx streets that I grew up in.
Another aim of the book is to contradict this incorrect notion of "gangster" style. What comes through in these images is that the racketeers of the early part of the twentieth century enjoying dressing in a variety of styles of the day. Fedoras and chesterfields abound, to be sure, and there are a few pairs of spats to be seen as well, but those were staples of any well-dressed man's wardrobe in that era.
Several images are quite rare, and all stand out for the timelessness of the ensembles featured. There is a photo of one Giuseppe Doto, standing for a 1937 police identification photo and displaying all of the arrogance and swagger that led him to adopt the nickname Joe Adonis. While Adonis sports the fedora and high-waisted trousers which were popular during that era, he also shows off some elements of men's fashion that are still tell-tale signs of a well-dressed man today: the wide lapels of his single-breasted three-piece suit, the last button on his vest left undone, and the requisite sliver of shirt cuff protruding from underneath his suit jacket sleeves. The photo is grainy, but the pockets of the suit jacket are clearly patch pockets with a bellows, or pleated, feature - which is actually very similar in design to a travel blazer that Simon Crompton commissioned a few years ago from Gieves and Hawkes (you can see close-up photos of the handsome pockets on Mr. Crompton's jacket here).
After working on this project for the last two years, I'm happy to announce that the book will be available for sale to the public via Blurb.com. Tentatively scheduled for release on Tuesday, September 24, 2013, The Best Dressed Man In The Room will be available in a hardcover in dark grey linen with a dustjacket, a deluxe edition with a wrap-around hardcover and matted-finish premier hard-stock paper, as well as an ebook edition.
More details on launch parties and book signings to follow throughout the fall. For now, please check back here at An Uptown Dandy for more updates, or at The Best Dressed Man In The Room's facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BestDressedMan. I hope that you'll "like" the page, "share" it with your facebook community, and help to spread the word!
(An Uptown Dandy)