The pithy, opinionated, and sometimes brutally frank Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke challenges average guys to embrace classic style in the broadest sense. It's time to stop behaving like barnyard animals at the trough and leave behind the perpetually sloppy man-child aesthetic of the last two decades or so. Enough is enough. Here is where you can learn how to present and conduct yourself like an adult with some grooming, finesse, and sophistication.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Classic Style in the Air. . .

An old travel ad notable for at least three reasons.  One, the people in it are dressed nicely rather than in Prole Drift sweats or the like.  Two, you'll observe an old Lockheed 'Constellation' in background, truly one of the most aesthetically beautiful flying machines of the pre-jet age.  My mom flew on one a few times as a girl in the 1950s.  And three, note the sadly departed (and for me, much missed) Trans World Airlines.

Great minds think alike as the overused and hackneyed expression goes, but imagine my delight when one of you suggested a post on dressing for air travel.  Since my family will spend 7+ weeks in Berlin, Germany this summer, I have mused about just such a post but have not yet written anything specific, and neither do I have personal photographs to share yet.  However, I can advise men who aspire to somewhat more stylish air travel attire than has become the typical, sloppy, and sometimes just plain gross norm in recent years.

I am old enough to recall a time before the airline industry was deregulated in the late 1970s.  Yeah.  Ancient.  I know.  One foot in the grave already and all that.  Uhhhhh!  Ok.  Got it out of your system?  Good.

Commercial air travel was not always awful.  It was a different ball of wax all together before about 1978, preserving some of its faded glamour of 25 years or so before,during the age of the jetsetters in the 1950s and early 60s.  Thank of personalities like Sinatra, Bardot, Bogarde, Hepburn, and Niven for example.  Even during my childhood, roughly a quarter-century later during the mid- to late 70s, and I remember this vividly, it was still possible to travel on a plane that was not packed to the gills with humanity, dragging along Hefty Lawn & Leaf bags (no kidding) in lieu of actual carry-on pieces.  Moreover, airline seats were somewhat larger and farther apart than is now the industry norm, so things were much more comfortable even in coach class on transatlantic flights.  Most notable, those with the means or reason to fly still dressed presentably, if not well, in those halcyon days of yore. There was smoking in-flight, granted, but that's a topic for another time.

How far we have tumbled in the last almost 40 years.  Commercial air travel now, unless you are lucky enough to be in first class, business class, or whatever a particular airline might call it, is akin to travel by a Greyhound bus.  A grungy, dirty Greyhound bus.  And then there are most of the other passengers.  Yep.  Less than pleasant.  While I have yet to reach the point where I simply refuse to fly all together, getting somewhere by air, in particular on an American airline, is an experience I neither look forward to, nor enjoy while in transit.  My last few experiences on American carriers have honestly been like being sealed in a Wal-Mart with wings for several hours or more as far as my fellow travelers, their appearance, and general behavior have been concerned.  Draw your own conclusions.

On foreign airlines like Mexicana, KLM, SAS, Lufthansa, and Air France, by contrast, the experience has been completely different from the higher caliber of flight attendants and the generally more pleasant demeanor of one's fellow passengers, right down to the more edible food. . .  Actual hot meals with utensils and wine rather than the now ubiquitous (and disgusting) cold breakfast or lunch "wraps" or little bag of unsalted pretzels with, if you are lucky, half a can of something to drink from a tiny plastic cup with a few pieces of ice floating around in it.  I could go on and on, but let's return to the original question and talk reasonably stylish and comfortable air travel attire for men.  

How can a man dress presentably and comfortably when it comes to air travel?  Off the top of my head, and based on my own practices, I suggest the following even when you are relegated to the bowels of tourist class travel:

* A navy blazer or subtly patterned sports jacket (not your very best one)
* A tucked in cotton button-down collared long-sleeved shirt of some kind with t-shirt underneath (necktie is optional)
* Pleated chinos, which will be a bit more comfortable than plain fronted, with a belt
* Understated socks in cotton or wool
* Loafers (easy to remove at security checkpoints) in a color that is close to your belt.  I have a pair of black tasseled ones by Johnston & Murphy that I travel in.
* Your briefcase with reading and writing materials, any paperwork that might need doing, a toothbrush and tiny tube of toothpaste or breath mints, maybe an electric shaver if you have a heavy beard, and a sleep mask.


There we are.  It's hardly James Bond in Dr. No, but functional, neat, and understated traveling attire nevertheless.  You'll be both comfortable and look better than 99% of the rest of the "boys" standing in security lines after check-in, milling around boarding areas, or those horrible morasses of humanity known as food courts, as well as on the airplane itself.  

Why bother dressing like you give a damn when you fly?  Respect for others first and foremost.  Respect for yourself after that.  And surely, you don't want to look like the hoi polloi whether you travel for business, or for pleasure.  Looking pulled together might also get you preferential treatment, or even a free upgrade.  You just never know.  Anything that might make commercial air travel less taxing in 2015 is worth it as far as I am concerned.  

I have experienced firsthand again and again, as but one example of this, how ticketing, gate, and plane personnel respond more favorably to a man who is dressed like an adult with places to go, things to do, and people to see rather than one more overgrown slob -- with McDonald's breath and a cut-rate airline ticket purchased at the last minute through Travelocity -- who arrives out of breath at the airport in sweats, pajamas, or the dreaded cargo shorts/flipflops/baseball cap combination with the waistband of his boxers sticking out for all the world to see.  We've all witnessed it.  Harsh and elitist, yes, but I make no apologies for my attitude toward this sort of thing.  Grow the hell up, have a bit more respect for yourself, and show a modicum of consideration for those around you.  Or stay home.

Oh, and as one more possible incentive for dressing well during those times when you fly somewhere, consider this.  Interesting people will strike up conversations with you as you kill time in boarding areas and on the plane.  When I was single and traveling alone, much more than I do now, any number of attractive fellow travelers of the female persuasion struck up conversations with yours truly during flights to one place or another.  Probably in part because I was dressed better than the average schlub who we see so often on airliners these days.  

To my utter astonishment, several of those ladies even purchased a drink or two for me in-flight and/or a sit-down meal once we were on the ground again between connecting flights, and a few of the more outgoing young women even surprised me by providing their contact information before we parted ways.  That actually happened a number of times during my 20s and early 30s now that I think about it, well before I met the Grand Duchess although I never followed up on any of it.  Whether you buy that, or not, I hope you might see that dressing presentably for travel by air does at least introduce the possibility of some distinct advantages during those otherwise pretty dull hours in-transit from one point on the compass to another.

In any case, being comfortable when traveling does not mean it is permissible (or necessary) to sink to the lowest common denominator when it comes to our appearance or conduct.  Too many people in 2015 do exactly that however.  Ugh!  On a final and related note, do not, under any circumstances, remove your shirt, shoes, or any other clothing -- except your blazer or jacket -- in-flight, and keep your damn feet off the seat or bulkhead in front of you.  Lay off the booze too after one drink since nothing is uglier than a drunk, especially a belligerent one on a plane.  And make no mistake about it.  The Captain will turn the plane around and taxi back to the gate, or make an emergency landing, to have federal air marshals remove your sorry ass from the flight if you cause any trouble, so don't push it.  

Behave yourself and act like an adult with some grooming and sophistication when you travel by air for the love of God.  Please.  Your fellow passengers will appreciate it.

-- Heinz-Ulrich




Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Classic Style for the Average Guy Is Moving. . .


"Well, Sir," as my maternal grandmother used to begin the occasional statement, good fortune has smiled on us here at Classic Style for the Average Guy.  Thanks to lots of hard work and crossed fingers, not only has my wife, the Grand Duchess, been offered a plum position at a Big Ten university, but they have also offered yours truly a full-time lecturer appointment, which seals the deal.   Extremely generous compensation in both cases, an ample moving allowance, excellent schools for the Young Master, further opportunities for professional development, more interesting service possibilities, and so on, and so forth.  The kind of opportunity that does not come around very often you might say.  

We will sell up, pack up, and leave our digs of the last seven years here in Central Illinois (where the Grand Duchess has been since 2001, and I since 2004) come mid-June for snowier environs (and more dependable skiing conditions) in East Lansing Michigan where we'll both join the faculty of  Michigan State University in mid-August, following a teaching stint in Berlin at the Free University for the Grand Duchess this summer.  Fear not.  The Young Master and I will keep her company.  Our friends there Tante Anita, Dani, and Robert are all ready for us.  

Lots to think about and take care of before then, however, but we are pleased as punch and terribly excited.  Giddy even, which is something to chuckle about given my sometimes rather dark Scandinavian soul.  Even I see the humor here. That same giddiness is a good thing too.  It is daunting when we settle down for a moment, and then realize that an entire house will have to be packed up in about 2.5 months, movers arranged, the house put on the market, another one found at the other end, etc., etc., etc.  

In the meantime, it's back to considering various points about classic style for average guys for a few more weeks before preparations for the coming move must take precedence.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Oh, the humanity. . .


I made a quick run to our local Target this afternoon to pick up a new matress pad for our bed, and, while the various sights that met my gaze were not quite what you might observe while shopping at a Wal-Mart here in the United States, they were uncomfortably close.  Cold weather at least forces more people to keep more parts of themselves, and their related body "art," jingly-jangly or otherwise, under wraps.  Oh, the humanity.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Strive for sophistication and imagination in your everyday style. . .

 

“It takes no imagination to live within your means."  -- Francis Ford Coppola

(courtesy of the Voxsartoria website)

 

-- Heinz-Ulrich 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Some things are better left unsaid. . .

Keep calm and keep it to yourself, please.

Yours truly enjoyed (no, really) an entire five days straight of midterm conferences with students last week for all of the courses I am teaching this semester.  During each confab, we discussed students' recent research topic proposals, related upcoming paper assignments, and so on, and so forth.  By and large, these are always enjoyable although after four or five days you do begin to feel like you are having the same conversation 60 different ways as you try to help most students focus their thoughts and topics into something manageable and/or actually worth doing for the remaining eight weeks or so of the term once Spring Break ends.  We'll come back to this in just a moment.

**********

During the weekend, I enjoyed puttering around the house doing largely nothing of consequence beyond a few domestic small chores and relishing the thought of a week without daily preparation for classes, the classes themselves, and reading/grading papers of any kind.  It's funny how the luxury of almost complete mental relaxation makes you feel lighter than a feather.  Of course, having the windows open for a few hours during the middle of the day on Saturday and Sunday, when it was warm enough to do so, helped too, and it made fairly dull activities like changing the bedsheets, making beds, gathering used towels in the bathroom, and replacing them with clean ones a bit less taxing.  

There was plenty of time for reading too, and I happened upon a short piece online about avoiding certain habits in marriage or close relationships.  Without rehashing that article in its entirety, the gist of it was, with regard to certain less than pleasant personal habits, that it is actually preferable in the longer term to maintain an air of mystery and keep some things to yourself.  Metaphorically speaking, keep the door closed.  There are some things that simply do not need to be mentioned -- much less done in front of -- or made the topic of conversation between you, your nearest, and dearest.  Which brings me back to the student-instructor conferences of last week.

**********

I had a sprinkling of students who, on sitting down across from me at the table in the dining commons where I typically stage these meetings, announced that they had either refined, or changed their intended research topics since writing their proposal papers.  Fine.  As I explain so often to my students, part of the early stage of all this is nailing down a (hopefully) precise focus and deciding on how to approach a topic and say something about it.  However, a few of these dialogues about revised topics disclosed rather more personal information than I either needed, or wanted to know. 

Fortunately, this time at least, none of these conversations involved the human digestive tract.  Pardon me for just a moment, but who in the hell thinks this kind of thing is appropriate to share with anyone but your doctor or healthcare provider. . .  much less your English professor??!!  I had a student (not the first) about a year ago in another course who routinely gave me details like this via email whenever he missed class.  Eeeewww!  There must be a lot of families out there where this kind of thing makes for routine breakfast table fodder over their cold toast and soggy Cornflakes.  That and too many people in 2015 are in the habit of just blurting out whatever half-baked thoughts drifts across their minds whenever and wherever with, apparently, little regard for what they say, where, and to whom they say it.  

On a related note, my parents and maternal grandparents, three of whom hailed from rural and small town North Carolina, used to tell my sister and me when we were very small -- and we managed to grasp their meaning pretty quickly -- "We don't talk about things like that."  Occasionally, that was amended slightly during mealtimes to, "We don't talk about that at the table."  My maternal grandmother, who prefigured Dame Maggie Smith's character on Downton Abbey in some ways, also had an even more pointed expression that she used from time to time, usually about people outside the family, "Familiarity breeds contempt."  There is something to all of these sayings as well as the attitudes and behavior they suggest, but you can, I hope, understand my thinking here.  

And yes.  The point of today's post certainly flies in the face of our current age of over-familiarity and false bonhomie in which, it seems, almost everyone overshares about everything in casual conversation, often with people we have just met for the first time.  You know, because we're all swine traveling in the same filthy, stinky boxcar, right?  So, why keep anything private anymore?  In any case, here goes.  

Let's try for a bit more reserved gentility everyone.  Not only in our appearance, but in how and what we talk about, our conversation in other words, and with whom we share rather intimate details not really suitable for public consumption.  Let's stop spilling our guts, to be perfectly crass, whenever the opportunity presents itself.  It does not matter whether your have ADHD and use medication to focus your thoughts, whether you are gluten and/or lactose intolerant, whether you are clinically depressed and on some kind of medication for it, or if you simply ate something for supper yesterday evening that didn't agree with you.  It's nothing to be embarrassed about, of course (that's not what I mean), but keep it to yourself.  

Many of the rest of us do not want to know these details about your life, and we certainly do not need to know them to interact with you in a polite and productive way.  Moreover, there is nothing remotely stylish or sophisticated about sharing this kind of information with everyone you meet.  Only your doctor needs to know. . .  if and when there is a problem.  Barring that, shut up about it!  There is plenty of other truly interesting, and even troubling stuff in the world to talk about, for example, besides things like bathroom habits or other intensely personal issues.  It is also worth noting that some of us, on being treated to this kind of TMI, think only, "That poor slob must not know any better.  Didn't his parents tell him not to broadcast information like that to just anyone?"  Guess not.

The same thing goes for those old fashioned stalwart topics that also should be played close to your chest in polite company.  Namely, we don't talk about money, sex, religion, or politics.  Believe me.  If people you barely know are at all interested beyond waving from across the street as you walk to your car, or politely nodding as your paths cross in the lobby, elevators, or hallways of your mutual workplace, they will figure it out before long.  

In short, the rest of the world does not need to know your most personal details or secrets, and often we don't want to know either.  After all, what business is it of ours if you like to wear your wife's or partner's negligees whenever she leaves town to visit her sister, right?  So, here is a modest proposal.  How about we take much of what has become public in recent years and make it a bit more private again, hmm?  Let's leave a bit more to the imagination.  By the same token, let's just leave other less than savory subjects out of what passes for conversation these days altogether.  It would sure help make our daily exchanges more pleasant for more of us.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Make it a double-breasted Formal Friday. . .

The always dapper surgeon, Dr. Andre Churchwell, one of my particular style touchstones.

Well, it seems the writing bug has bitten me today.  Hypergraphia they call it.  Amazing what the start Spring Break, and how that frees the mind for ten days or so, can do.

Since we are nearing the start of Springtime in my neck of the woods, the snow is now gone, and temperatures are gradually climbing, the days for heavy tweed and wool flannel suits are numbered.  That, and my general disdain for the abomination know variously as casual/ blue jean/ dress down Friday* meant that I decided on a clothing combination yesterday very much like the photograph above for my final round of midterm student-instructor conferences.  

I'm sure it scared the heck out of some of my undergrads, but that's not my problem.  Not everyone in the world, they will discover before long -- those who actually complete their degree programs. . .  the small liberal arts school where I teach shares similar problems with two-year community colleges -- lives and works 24/7 in grubby khakis and a knit polo shirt with the company logo on the chest, bagged out sweats, or jeans that have been preternaturally faded on the fronts and backs of the thighs.

No photographs of yours truly, sorry.  Dead battery in the camera yesterday.  However, my particular take on Dr. Churchwell's look above comprised a gray double-breasted Glen Plaid suit, in super-soft wool flannel, by Ermenegildo Zegna that I purchased about two years ago from Giuseppe at An Affordable Wardrobe, a light blue cotton dress shirt with a point collar from Land's End, a Royal Dublin Fusiliers regimental stripe necktie by Robert Talbott that I've had for a dozen years or so, and a pair of supple dark oxblood captoe oxfords from Allen Edmonds. . .  along with charcoal wool knee-length dress socks and a white linen handkerchief in the coat pocket, although I opted for a plain TV fold.  I wore braces instead of a belt with the pants, and the whole ensemble felt both comfortable and toasty warm.

Now, I realize there are lots of people out there who, for some reason, choose to view wearing a suit as, somehow, trying too hard and no longer necessary.  As something that breeds mistrust, somehow, a mark of "the man" who continues to oppress the poor and the proletariat, keeping both groups disenfranchised, and in their places. . .  who has his foot firmly on the collective neck of the hard-pressed middle class, keeping the increasingly elusive American Dream ever so slightly from its grasp. . .  blah-blah, blah-blah, blah-blah. . .  and so on, and so forth ad infinitum.  

A few of my students have been bold enough to suggest as much, albeit in clumsy, round about ways, in a couple of their early informal assignments, which had nothing to do with attire, so it remains not quite clear how two or three of them got to that point in their essays. A sign of our times and the preponderance of social media, I suspect, in which too many people seem to think their opinions about everything matter.  Oh, yes.  I get it.  The irony of that observation is not lost on me.

Anyway, to the anti-suit majority, I can only reply that this rather unpleasant attitude is, just possibly, a myopic misinterpretation and a misunderstanding.  The manifestation of a very human tendency to think or say unpleasant things about people who look, dress, or act differently than we do.  A variation of the tired, old passive-aggressive challenge, "So, whaddya think yer better'n me?"  In other words, a rather limited experience and world view is at the root of it and drives too many in thought and deed.  Step off, George.  Just step off.

Oblique Seinfeld references notwithstanding, there are still some men, I am one, who enjoy wearing a suit now and then whether it is required, or not and think nothing of doing so.  It is as comfortable, physically and mentally, as slipping into favorite old (clean) clothes that were previously folded and put away with care in the closet or dresser the last time laundry day rolled around.  A pressed, well-fitted suit simply looks pulled together, polished, and sophisticated in a way that very few other combinations of men's clothing do.  And who out there does not want to look as well-groomed as possible in his clothes?  Believe it, or not, suits can help with that. 

So, give wearing a suit a try when it is not required, i.e., for occasions other than weddings and funerals.  And who knows?  You just might find that it's more comfortable than you expected.  Heck, people might even pay you a compliment or two about your spruced up appearance.  It happens.

-- Heinz-Ulrich



*There was an amusing, very telling scene several years ago on the TV show The Office in which a middle-aged female character, not exactly in the first bloom of youth, showed up for work one Friday morning in an immodestly short dress without panties (blurred but unmistakable during the broadcast).  Each time a coworker turned away in embarrassment, or asked her not to bend over, she replied with great irritation, "But, it's casual Friday!"

Remove the TV from the Living Room!

Remember this?  A still from the old advertisements and TV commercials for Memorex cassette tapes, dating from the tail end of the 1970s, or very early 80s.  That's actually a stereo speaker in the picture, but hopefully you'll get the point.

Or hide the television in some way when you are not watching it.  You know the drill.  Too often, the TV dominates the living room in an apartment, or on the first floor of a house.  This has been a feature of life in many homes for decades, but televisions are bigger and somehow more obtrusive now than ever before.  Even flat-screen models.  And invariably, every single dang chair, loveseat, or sofa is arranged in such a way that all sitting places in the room face the one-eyed beholder.  

If you live alone, and that's how you like it, fine.  But the problem comes when you share your living space with a spouse, partner, and/or family, who might, just might, not share your tastes in decor, viewing habits, liking for car chases, shoot-outs, and explosion, or enthusiasm for crushing volume.  Know what I mean?  And even when the darn thing is switched off and not blaring at the very likely empty room, or people sitting there who really are not watching, that large dark, shiny screen with finger smudges all over it still manages to dominate the room in which it lives.

So, if you happen to be a guy who is aware enough to recognize why this is a problem, and if you have already made the decision to kick up your everyday style several notches. . .  and stop allowing your every waking minute at home to be dominated by that 60" Toshiba plasma screen monstrosity, I have a few suggestions.  Ready?  Here they are.

First, switch off the TV since most of the time in most households no one is actually watching it.  Television simply provides background noise that is, if we are honest, objectionable for a host of reasons.  Second, consider very seriously downsizing when it comes to screen dimensions and speaker systems. You really do not need a a screen so massive that you can see it from across the street, or audio that rattles the fillings from your neighbors' teeth each time you watch your favorite action blockbuster film one. . .  more. . .  time.   

Next, find some kind of unobtrusive, yet reasonably attractive cabinet with doors on it that will allow you to hide the television for those few hours a day it's not actually turned on.  This is a particularly good solution for apartment dwellers.  Finally, and if at all possible, remove the damn thing from your living room -- a television should not be the centerpiece of a tastefully appointed space if at all possible -- and set it up in a smaller room somewhere with a door, preferably at the rear of the house, or on the second floor in a spare bedroom or den.

If you follow these suggestions, you will actually get your living room back, family and guests will be more inclined to visit and -- SURPRISE! -- converse with one another.  Male guests will be much less likely to tune out and stare like drooling zombies at whatever sporting event is on at any particular moment, or engage in that completely charming habit of shouting at the TV each time the other team scores or the referee makes a bad call.  The TV is out of sight and out of mind.  Get it?  You will also be much less likely to disturb and annoy anyone who isn't as into the NFL and Da Bears, or the Packers as you.  

Remember.  It's not all about you.  Family, friends, and guests will actually have the chance to participate in somewhat more civilized social interaction -- or simply enjoy the quiet -- once the television has been removed in some way from the center of things.   Just think how different and, indeed, pleasant that might make birthdays and other special occasions, for example holiday gatherings like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the like.   Hopefully, you will serve something more sophisticated than Ritz Crackers (my particular guilty pleasure) and Cheeze Whiz though.

Now take off that disgusting football jersey that you've lived in since last fall.  You know?  The one with the sweat, beer, and salsa stains all over it.  Don't wash it. . .  burn it.   It's beyond hope.  And besides, the season doesn't begin officially until September, so it's time to wear something else for a few months when you are behind closed doors.  Oh, and wipe your nose.

-- Heinz-Ulrich