In the middle of L.A. Fashion Week, 8-year-old Arlo Weiner showed up at a party with his parents ("Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner and architect Linda Brettler) rocking a tweed jacket and a bow tie -- and trying desperately to hold a monocle in his right eye.
The second-grade fashion plate has a walk-in closet stuffed with the kinds of clothes that a Vegas magician would envy: a white tailcoat, a gold lame suit jacket with notch lapels and black contrast taping, vintage aloha shirts, crisp new seersucker suits and pink oxford cloth shirts. Drawers are crammed with colorful clip-on ties, and shelves overflow with board games like Sorry and Score Four that commingle with fedoras and collapsible top hats. The bookshelf boasts both the adventures of Tintin and Eyewitness Books' illustrated guide "Costume" ("Discover the history of costumes -- from ancient loincloths and Roman togas to bustles, bonnets, and haute couture").
Last month, the curious case of Master Weiner's wardrobe went viral; after GQ posted an online style profile dubbing him "America's most stylish eight-year-old," websites weighed in. "Finally someone tops Kanye!" one noted. "This kid is my hero. I must adopt him," decreed another.
Arlo can easily pinpoint where it all began. "It was a few weeks before my third birthday, and I saw this movie where a guy wears lots of hats, so I asked for a top hat and a monocle for my birthday," he says. "But I don't remember the name of [the movie]."
His mother can't remember exactly either. "I think it was 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' or one of the old Abbott & Costello movies," Brettler says. "But I remember that he could barely speak and he told us that's what he wanted."
Five years later, if not exactly a clotheshorse, Arlo Weiner is definitely a clothespony, a budding dandy who still takes his cues from classic films, has a penchant for red and black, mixes patterns with abandon and has been known to wear a tuxedo to school. And with little prompting, he'll dispense fashion advice for his classmates, his father, "Mad Men's" Don Draper and SpongeBob SquarePants.
It would be easy to simply credit the influence of the show his father created, set in the advertising world of the early '60s with a rich period wardrobe. But while Arlo appreciates Frank Sinatra ("I like his hat, the way he dressed, and I like his singing"), most of his wardrobe hearkens to an earlier era. "I like old movies, 'Picture of Dorian Gray' has really cool frock coats, Boris Karloff dressed really cool, and I liked the way the guys in 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' looked." His mother says the old movies the family watches are a constant source of inspiration.
"He saw 'Willy Wonka' and wanted a purple frock coat. He'll watch a Sherlock Holmes movie and want one of those hats."
"I think he gets part of it from us," Brettler says. "Matt and I have always loved old clothes -- I wear mostly old clothes to events and parties. . . . We also like to encourage the kids to pursue their interests." (Arlo has three brothers: Marten, 12, Charlie, 10, and Ellis, 5.) But she says Arlo has always been interested in things from a different generation. "We joke that his favorite candy is Coffee Nips -- he really likes the Victorian stuff, the ruffled collars, the dandy look."
Some items in Arlo's collection are gifts -- designer Shelli Segal made him a custom frock coat, another family friend found the monocle online, and Brettler found a red fez with black embroidery at an Arab market in Jerusalem. But most of Arlo's wardrobe came from resale shops such as Jet Rag, It's a Wrap! and Iguana. "It's a Wrap! is a huge treasure trove," Brettler says. "They've got all the studio wardrobe pieces -- that's where you can find things like suspenders and breeches for kids."
Despite what you might think, Arlo and his mother both say his wardrobe choices don't result in much flak from his classmates. ("Someone might ask why I'm dressed so fancy in a mean way, but I just say I dress this way because I want to," he says.) When it's pointed out that he must enjoy the attention he gets from, say, strolling into a fashion week party sporting a monocle, tweed jacket and bow tie, Arlo half-smiles like an 8-year-old with his hand caught in the cookie jar. "I don't like it," he says, "but I don't dislike it either."