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Does wearing an ascot making me a pompous fool?

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The question

I have chosen ascots over neckties for many years. Do I look like a prat?

The answer

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First, the terminology: Prat means fool, but connotes pompousness, an air of superiority. An ascot is, in North America, a long piece of printed silk that's narrow in the middle. This narrow part goes around your neck (inside the collar, against your skin) and the wide ends make up a simple knot in front. In Britain, it is also known as a cravat. Several 1970s icons of British gentlemanliness – David Niven as a military officer, Edward Fox as the Jackal – wore it. At that time, an ascot was considered casual: You would wear it with a blazer rather than a suit. It is now only worn by dandies or ironists and still looks uncomfortably retro.

I propose loosening it up a little, replacing it with a regular rectangular silk scarf (a foulard) knotted in any way you like, as a neckerchief. That's more rakish. There are, in fact, all sorts of acceptable variations on silk neckwear now: Worn inside the collar or over it, scarves of any shape are a creative way of elevating a casual outfit out of blandness. Just keep them loose and expressive, not tight and prim, like a bloody prat.

Russell Smith's latest novel is Girl Crazy. Have a fashion question? E-mail

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