Tweeding Frenzy: Old-School Dandies Disparage Shrunken Blazer Crew

For the record, Michael Haar would like you to know that he lives in Queens, not Brooklyn.

The 29-year-old self-described “ragtime barber” isn’t a fan of the dandy label, preferring to call his clique of Lindy Hop dancers, vintage musicians, and sideshow and burlesque enthusiasts “the Nostalgia Crew.” He cuts hair at F.S.C. Barber, the Horatio Street branch of the hip Freemans Sporting Club clothing store franchise, hosts a Vaudeville radio show on EastVillage-
Radio.com and deejays live events using a pair of vintage phonographs.

But while the details might lend themselves to caricature—down to the Hungarian mustache wax he uses—spend any time in his chair and Mr. Haar reveals himself to be a thoughtful man of considerable charm. The double-phonograph act, for example, grew out of volunteer work entertaining the residents at his great-aunt’s seniors’ home. Ask him about his tattoos, and his explanation begins in the late 19th century, when the vogue jumped from France to America.

“I think of my style as Fred Astaire, but in the 1890s,” said Mr. Haar, who appears as recurring extra on Boardwalk Empire, wearing his everyday clothes. “I think of myself as always dressing appropriately for the occasion, but in a style of 100 years ago.”

His path to the Grover Cleveland administration began as a teenager, when he became interested in music from that era. A passion for old movies followed, and eventually so did the wardrobe. Still, he agreed with the older dandies’ complaint that some younger people involved in the scene can be perceived as callow.

“You can come across like you’re forcing it,” he said. “Some 22-year-old will say something like, ‘Oh, I felt like such a cad the other day.’ And you’re like, ‘You don’t really talk like that, come on.’ There are people who use it as a costume party, and there are people who are this way all the time.”

Mr. Haar, who is straight, said age and sexuality don’t matter to the Nostalgia Crew. “It really is one of the most accepting crews for anyone who’s into an alternative lifestyle,” he said. “The ages range from 18 to 68—a total mix of hes, shes and everything in between.”

Nathaniel Adams can see both sides. He’s the general manager of Against Nature, a men’s custom tailor in Greenwich Village. He said that folks like Mr. Haar serve a cultural purpose: inspiring non-dandies to dress better. “Because he’s brave enough to dress without inhibition, that might inspire the average man who lacks self-confidence to try a little harder to express themselves through clothing,” he said.

Mr. Adams contributed the text for a book, to be published this fall by Gestalten Press, based on photographer Rose Callahan’s website DandyPortraits.com. That online space is one of the few places outside the Easter Parade where dandies can be seen side-by-side with the Nostalgia Crew generation, and Ms. Callahan has shot dozens of men on both sides of the divide.

“I think the issue with new school versus old school, and the two not necessarily banding together as one might hope, is because of the nature of peacocking,” she said. “Put a bunch of highly individual men with strong tastes and opinions together—well, you can just imagine.”

And if you can’t, Patrick McDonald will hold his monocle up to the point.

“It gets to be disconcerting sometimes, when someone will say ‘I’m the dandy about town,’ or ‘I’m bringing back hats,’” he said, irritation creeping into his voice.

“Really? Well, what have I been wearing on my head for two decades? A tea cozy?”

editorial@observer.com