Member Focus

Member Focus: Urban Composition

By now, you’re probably familiar with Journal contributor Peter Zottolo, otherwise known as Urban Composition, whose expertise in the realm of classic menswear is second to none – although we’re sure he’d claim otherwise. Here, he talks a little bit about his past, his interests, and the birth of his own style.


Fortunately there don’t exist too many pictures of me in coat and tie as a teenager, otherwise I’d have to worry about blackmail.

It’s around that age that parents allow their children some autonomy in their choice of clothes, and the blame shifts squarely on the one who doesn’t know any better.  This is probably when parents begin to have fun with their kids, because the ridiculousness that children inevitably dress themselves in is not only entertaining, but responsibility can easily be waved away with a shrug: “Well, you know…I let them pick their own clothes, and there you go.”

When I was 13 I wanted a leather tie.  I already had the triple-pleated pants in that speckly/slubby fabric so popular in the 80s, the skinny suspenders, and a pair of black faux-alligator shoes with pointed, metal-accented toes. Shirt collars were impossibly small – at least one had a contrast collar – and all of my ties that weren’t solid knit had an iridescent sheen.  Sleeves were always rolled up.  In short, I probably looked like the unwanted, illegitimate son of Gordon Gekko and Duckie Dale, but so did all the other kids in the hall, except the ones that were still young enough not to care and so wore our old hand-me-downs of when our parents still dressed us in washable polyester suits.  Finally, after much pleading, my parents partially conceded me a small victory and allowed me a leather bolo tie, which I totally rocked for about six months straight, before it fell apart.

A few years later I really got into vintage clothing, specifically from the late 30’s and 40’s. Any earlier and you could get some obnoxious triple-colored stripe; any later and you’d hazard the atomic era with its shiny Dacron flecks.  For some reason, this 15-year period that happened two generations before my time resonated with me in the early 90s – different yet unimpeachably classic.  Old geezers and young chicks thought you were cool.  Grandpa dug it; the Bettys loved it.  Who wouldn’t want that?

Turns out the late 90’s revolted against the oversized trends that preceded it, so I sold my beloved Hollywood suits and exchanged them for Mod-era sharkskin to keep apace.  By this time I was married and fortunate enough to have a wife with common sense where I lacked.  “That hugs your butt too much,” I would often hear, and I was wise enough to listen.  Even now, when I see the throngs of well-meaning dudes that strive for the perfect fit and err on the side of sausage-cases and yoga pants, I wonder if they are as blessed as I (or are too obtuse to mind).

By the time I entered my 30’s I had experimented with the Ivy look (the more plaid, matte, chino’d version of Mod) and after acquiring what I estimated were the best vintage suits of the 60’s and their accompanying winklepickers, I wondered about the origins of square-toed shoes.  My online search led me to StyleForum, and before long I was suddenly entranced by stories and pictures of hand-wrought suits made with cloth woven from ancient looms in plaids only available in archived books tucked away in dusty rooms.  Users paraded their fully-canvassed good-taste bespoke suits, seven fold soporific ties, and hand-rolled ancient madder pocket squares from London, Naples, and Thailand (!), and I was hooked.  Suit and tie went from being a haphazard mishmash or decade-specific cosplay to a classically-based idea of proportion, fabric, color, season, and formality.  Clarity ensued.

I would be remiss to dismiss the knowledge of the old guard, such as Vox, Manton, RSS, Doc Holliday, and others that I am too lazy to remember, but if it wasn’t for them and the forum’s knack for attracting both the pedantic and the visceral, I would not be returning as I do.  Whereas there will always be throngs ready to ride the next trend – slim or roomy, tight or cartoony – personally I have benefitted from those who steadfastly bear the torch of classic menswear, as did many before them.

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Styleforum Editors

The Styleforum editors are a group of gnomes that actually do all of the work running Styleforum. Ari, and Jasper play air hockey, drink artisanal iced teas, and debate whether it's harder to get bolognese or bechamel out of grenadine ties, and whether either can be used to polish shoes.

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4 replies »

  1. Nice piece. I enjoyed reading about your evolution. Favourite sentence: “Suit and tie went from being a haphazard mishmash or decade-specific cosplay to a classically-based idea of proportion, fabric, color, season, and formality. Clarity ensued.”
    I’d really like some of that.

    • It’s a process, but a fun one. Expect to make mistakes, buy and purge various items, and experiment with other’s ideas while refining your own particular style. Soon you’ll find a comfortable set of parameters that still provide plenty of room for creative options.

      • Great advice. Jettisoning my matchy-matchy tie monotony has not been easy. Was there something from one of your style stages which you had a hard time letting go? Not the bolo tie, surely!

        • Many people, including myself, opt to swap their older accessories for newer ones, i.e. purging their ugly ties and replacing them with tasteful ones. It makes sense in a way; purchasing low-ticket items certainly costs less initially. If I were to do it again, however, I’d start with suits and shoes, and then move on to accessories.