If you were checking in with Irving Berlin around 1927, he would insist that you join the Rockefellers with just a walking stick in your mitt while putting on the ritz. These days, the once proud baton is no longer a fashion accessory that signals well-being and more of a false affectation for the contestants or cosplayers Pimp of the Year at Comic-Con.
However, the author of a new and complete record of walking sticks suggests they could return to the elegant’s hands. In A visual history of canes and walking sticks, Anthony Moss splits the devices between useful and decorative, while insisting that the cane as an elegant status symbol will not fade into history forever.
Calling his book “the ultimate guide to (possibly) the world’s first fashion accessory”, Moss identifies the mid-19th century as the pinnacle of the golden age of the walking stick in the US and UK.
“From about 1850, a man was considered undressed if he didn’t carry a walking stick,” says Moss. “In the Art Nouveau era from 1890 to 1915, there was a social fashion guideline that dictated that a rustic cane, made of knotty wood with a leather braid, should be worn in the morning, but not used after 10”
According to Moss, the turn of the walking stick rules of the previous century got complicated. The gentleman’s peers would question his taste if he showed that rustic cane during the work day. The busy fashion horse would transition to a business day cane. If a man wanted to be fashion conscious, he would “wear” a pistol grip cane with an ivory knob. Finally, a theater cane “with a thin, straight ivory pommel” would prove appropriate for the evening.
Of course, in an era before PETA, none of these were good news for elephants or their tusks. If a man wanted to show some stylistic finesse, he could involve an unhappy rhino and bring the “ultimate prize” of the rare and expensive horn-handled cane.
“During that period, the sculpted heads, tondi or handles of the work (L-shaped) were outdated,” adds Moss. “However, a classic model still remains in fashion: the crutch, which you can hold tightly or hang on your arm when you light a cigarette.”
The author identifies 1915 as the year in which the walking stick gradually stopped beating the bricks and started hitting the bricks culturally.
“The automotive era of 1915 canceled the daily walk where he usually sported a cane and the umbrella became king,” he explains. “Even though the 1920s were still the era of the walking stick, which basically lasted until the start of World War II, the world was changing.”
Moss argues that a fashion subculture that keeps the stick alive is a continuation of 17th-century dandyism, advocated over the decades by the likes of Noël Coward, Andy Warhol and Quentin Crisp.
“Today’s ‘dandy’ or ‘dude’ is elegant, consistently well dressed and original,” he says. “He shapes his ways perfectly, giving particular importance to refined language and pleasant hobbies. Many modern dandies still wear a cane to complete their outfit ”.
Calling himself “A Great British Dandy”, Robin Dutt is an art curator, writer and lecturer working with The Guardian, Elle, Marie Claire and the BBC World Service. He is currently working on a book that explores the legacy of the dandy.
“A walking stick is the elegant companion of the night, particularly during a visit to a theater or opera,” says Dutt. “It adds a sense of occasion. With the dandy in mind, the cane is an extension of the wearer’s personality, style, intent and balance.
In defense of the dandy division, Dutt insists that the walking stick has been devalued in the hands of a “gentleman or dandy”. He defines them as examples of 18th and 19th century male types who “simulated their superiors, but destroyed the effectiveness any rod could have” because of the way it was carried.
“A lot of fashion and pop videos pair really well with that pimp excess of oversized furs and hats and swagger to prove a point,” adds Dutt. “But the object itself is lost in translation. A gentleman will always be a gentleman, no matter the abundance of his purse. Carry a cane with ease and people know it. “
Like Moss, Dutt partially blames the umbrella for cutting the stick from regular use.
“Inevitably, time interferes with everything,” he says. “The disclosure of the umbrella had a lot to do with the disappearance of the staff because, although special sticks could house a sword, map, musical instrument, watch, compass or a tot of brandy, it was a one-dimensional artifact. to help you walk. An umbrella is a dual-purpose cane that provides support and shelter. “
In the age of cell phones and smartwatches, Moss wonders if sticks could return to popularity if upgraded with a bit of tech.
“In my new book, there are a lot of walking stick patents and illustrations of multipurpose walking sticks or gadgets,” he says. “They include torches, musical instruments, music boxes, artist watercolor sets, cameras, measuring instruments and devices. Hence, the miniaturization can easily accommodate tracking devices or music players if there is a market for a modern gadget walking stick.
Citing the decorative and functional identity of the cane, Dutt states that a pedometer, calorie burner, satellite radio, telephone or other gadget we use today can fit into the knob of a very contemporary cane, perhaps equipped with a light for hail a taxi, a chip to enable purchases, or a recording device to dictate a business report or new pages.