The art of sprezzatura

“I like the guys who make almost a wrong clothing decision but make it in the right spirit. That’s style, to me. Even if it’s a mistake, you walk with your head held high, smile and forget about it.”
Michael bastian. Sprezzatura is a word often bandied around within the world of fashion and style with reckless abandon. Much like other trademark words we use such as ‘essential’, ‘classic’ and ‘steez’ (which I hate, by the way), the definition of sprezzatura has come to mean many different and varying things, thanks to the general overuse and the lack of knowledge about the subject in general.

Regardless of whether you’re a beginner to the world of menswear or a seasoned pro, we can all benefit from a quick reminder of what sprezzatura really means and how it can be utilised in your own style. It’s an Italian word that first shows up in The Book of the Courtier by Baldassare Castiglione, where it is defined as: ‘a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or say appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.’ This essentially boils down to making difficult actions look easy while concealing the conscious effort that went into them. 

So it boils down to making it seem like you don’t care then? Well, sort of. The easiest translation of sprezzatura is ‘artful dishevelment’ and there is a fine line between achieving it and simply being sloppy. There’s a difference between hiding your effort and having none at all. The same applies to the writers and bloggers who claim putting any old combination of loud colours together is ‘sprezzy’ (another one I hate), because there’s a difference between knowing your colour wheel and looking like a five year old’s finger painting.

Sprezzatura Advanced Tips
Staying on ties, once you’ve mastered the side dimple, why not start knotting it so the tail end is longer than the main body? It’s a classic used by everyone from Sid Mashburn to Nick Wooster to Tommy Hilfiger. It’ll take a bit of practice but as long as you start with the tail end nearly the same length as the head, things should work out fine.

While you’re loosening up, why not actually loosen up? Undo that top button of your shirt and relax the tie there as well. The same can go for your shirt cuffs when wearing a jumper or a jacket – don’t worry so much about buttoning the cuffs, you want to keep it casual. No one does this better than Michael Bastian. The key to pulling it off is by nailing the other traditional ‘rules’ of style – such as fit, colour and texture – then letting one rule slide.

Your footwear can be given the sprezzatura treatment as well. A mini-trend that’s beginning to emerge is the lack of laces on your shoes, regardless of whether it’s your brogues, desert boots or wingtips. It’s a nice little detail that most people won’t notice on a well executed outfit until the second or third time they look. I often leave my double monk straps unbuckled when off out in the city.

Sprezzatura Master Tips
OK, now it’s time to separate the men from the boys and really bend some rules. This is the kind of stuff that only the brave will want to attempt and for good reason. The key here is subverting expectations and it definitely requires some thought.

Why not try having your belt buckled at the side? Or using one of your socks as a pocket square, because it’s such a great colour or pattern?

One of my little tricks is to take the cuff balls that you find in suit stores (or on French cuffed shirts) and placing them in the lapel button hole of my suits/blazers. The more contrasting the colour the better.

Or why not take a leaf straight out of the Agnelli playbook and wear your watch over your shirt sleeve but still under your jacket? Again, the reason he could get away with this was because every other aspect of his look was impeccable – dishevelled elegance.

It’s easy for those of us who are involved with men’s fashion to get carried away. Ideals can be taken to the extreme and concepts diluted so far that they have no real meaning any more. Sprezzatura is no different. True sprezzatura is about knowing classic style rules and then breaking a few cleverly selected ones – not throwing the whole rulebook out of the window. As I said, there’s a difference between looking artful dishevelled and looking stupid and/or sloppy.

But as always guys, it is not just about what I think. Do you already do any of these things in your looks? Or do you know of other techniques that I’ve not included? Or do you just think sprezzatura is simply ridiculous/pretentious? Let me know in the comments section below.