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, October 30, 2014

A Little Late October Style. . .

Yours truly, looking a bit reflective and/or tired by late afternoon the day before Halloween 2014.

A chilly, gray, and slightly drizzly late October afternoon, so let's liven it up a bit with some seasonally appropriate garments.  Above, the full ensemble, including a thrifted  houndstooth tweed jacket with 'natural' shoulders by Corbin, a Phi Kappa Phi necktie that I trot out once in a while to remind myself of my membership in the society, those recently acquired Allen Edmonds 'longwing' brogues yet again, and a brand new pair of Merino wool socks from Dapper Classics, in an orange & brown herringbone pattern, that I purchased on sale earlier this week.  Dapper Classics is, by the way, offering all of their orange socks at 25% off through midnight on October 31st as part of their Halloween sale.  Be sure to check it out, and use the promotional code TREAT.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

And here is a close-up of the socks.  These are not simply Halloween novelty socks, but they will look good with various sports jacket and odd pants combos thoughout the remainder of fall.  You know.  Autumnal colors and all.  I like them, but, more important, my wife REALLY likes them.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Casual Need Not Mean Slovenly, Part II. . .

Heinz-Ulrich strikes a pose before burying wife and child in a shower of crunchy fall leaves.

It's amazing how something as simple as tucking in your shirt and putting on a belt can make a guy look a lot more pulled together for a weekend outing with family or friends.  Nothing new or particularly expensive here.  An old, comfortable blue oxford cloth button-down collar shirt, some old cotton shorts, a battered, old hat that I've had for about 20 years, an equally old leather belt, and the recently acquired, but now well broken in Sperry Tops-siders.  Perfect for an extremely relaxed and warmer autumn afternoon.  Yet more proof that dressing presentably need not cost scads of money, require lots of time or effort, or be uncomfortable.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Saturday, October 25, 2014

An Ideal Autumn Afternoon. . .

The latest acquisition (for less than US$8), a Harris Tweed jacket by Land's End when they still produced their items in the United States.  A medium weight 40 Long with moderate shoulders, fully lined, a working boutonniere hole in the lapel, and just roomy enough for a thin sweater underneath.  How could I pass it up?

Every once in a while, you have one of those incredible fall days.  You know the kind I mean.  Besides the bright sunshine and warm temperatures, it has been breezy, quiet, and calm.  After a quick trip following lunch, to browse my best local thrift/charity spot (where I found the jacket above), we loaded into the car and rode five minutes over to a large local park where we usually ski and toboggan in the winter.  

Once there, the three of us spent a glorious 90 minutes or so there, walking the paths, playing in the leaves with the Young Master, taking some pictures of him, and letting him run up and down the huge hill where we toboggan in the snow before we piled into the ol' jalopy yet again and headed to our favorite cafe for some coffee, hot chocolate, and milk along with a couple of large cookies.  The Young Master, who turns five on Monday, suggested that we sit at one of the tables on the sidewalk out in front, and the three of us lazed away there for an hour before coming home.  

It is now just after 4:30pm here.  The Young Master is reading quietly on his bed for his daily "quiet time."  Richard Scary's Best Storybook Ever was the choice for today.  The Grand Duchess is making a list before running over to the supermarket for a few things, and yours truly is enjoying a bit of time to himself here in Zum Stollenkeller.

Two moderately amusing stories from today to share.  Just bear with me.

First, the jacket above was actually handed to me by another shopper (trailing along behind his wife) at my favorite local thrifting haunt.  He was a tall, trim, handsome man, around 50, with lots of silvery hair, who must've spotted me perusing the racks of suits and sports jackets.  He walked over and handed the jacket to me, saying ,  "Here.  Try this on.  It's a Harris Tweed."  Ah, I thought to myself.  A kindred spirit.  There aren't many in my small Midwestern city.  

Since my anonymous helper had apparently just tried on the same jacket, my guess is that he had also determined it would not fit his frame.  He was, after all, somewhat taller and a bit heavier than me.  Well, what could I do but try it on right then myself?  Since the fit was so nice, it took no internal dialogue whatsoever with myself before I thanked my fellow sartorial voyager and waltzed up to the cash register to pay for the item in question.  The jacket needs the usual dry-cleaning and sleeve shortening, care of my tailor Mrs. V., but what an addition to the autumn and winter wardrobe!  I'll never turn up my nose at a Harris or Donegal tweed sports jacket.

The Young Master and yours truly, fooling around with late October leaves in the park on a beautiful, quiet Saturday afternoon.

Much later this afternoon, as the Young Master and I waited at our sidewalk cafe table for the Grand Duchess to join us with the beverages, I began speaking to him in German, the language his mother has spoken to him since he was a baby.  Although he is effectively fluent in that language at this point, the Young Master answered me in English with, "Dad, please speak in English."  When I countered in German, reminding him that he and I can also speak together in German, plus some Norwegian, he replied in a humorous yet firm tone, "Yes, but we don't want to right now!"  Sigh.  Young Master -- 50. . .  Dad -- Zilch.  

It is worth noting that the Young Master's response did provoke considerable laughter from us.  This latest linguistic defeat notwithstanding, it has nevertheless been a truly wonderful family weekend afternoon.  Happy, contented sigh.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Mindset of Dressing Nicely. . .

The late Cary Grant (nee Archibald Leach) remains, in the minds of many, the very embodiment of urbanity where attire, actions, and personality are concerned.  Perhaps somewhat ironically, his origins were decidedly humble and somewhat less than happy.

Besides making the decision to start dressing better than average and acquiring the various skills and items to make that possible, average guys with more than a passing interest in kicking up their everyday style several notches need to develop a particular mindset when it comes to dressing nicely.  

 "Dressing nicely" might come across as a somewhat arbitrary and subjective concept, so let's clear the air and define our terms before continuing further.  What I mean by "dressing nicely" is when a man presents himself in such a way that he comes across as having a bit of polish and sophistication behind him.  More directly, he ain't coarse.  Naturally, a guy doesn't have to come from a privileged background to be polished and sophisticated either.  It is entirely possible, and even desirable, for a guy to make a concerted effort to improve himself, learn the ropes, and become well-versed in how best to present himself.   A bit of personal upward mobility is key in all of this however.

Right.  With that out of the way, let's consider the mindset of dressing nicely.  Off the top of my head, there are at least eight things for a guy to consider and keep in mind as he makes the sartorial journey from clueless slob to polished sophisticate:

1) Develop an awareness of how good a guy can look when he is really dressed.
You don't have to walk around looking like you just rolled out from beneath a pile of stinky, dirty, wrinkled laundry. Open your eyes a little and look around you.  Start noticing the men who tend to dress better than average.  They really do exist, you just have to look for them.  Start noting how these guys do it, and what sets them apart.  Ask yourself what might work best, and, conversely, what doesn't quite do it.  Is it how they combine colors and patterns?  Is it how their clothing fits them?  Or is it a clean, uncluttered, almost sombre and yet elegant look?  What kinds of shoes do they combine with what clothing combinations?  What are their manners and behavior like?  How do they conduct themselves with others?  Pay attention to details like these and imagine how you might do it yourself.  Because you are, or you are about to.

2) Cultivate deep curiosity about classic men's attire.
Learn about what's out there, how men (at least some of them) dressed in the past, and how you can improve your own daily look ten-fold in the present.  In other words, read widely, but don't limit yourself solely to authors like Alan Flusser, Bruce Boyer, or Bernhard Roetzel alone.  There is actually lots of relevant, albeit low-key, material on classic masculine attire to be found on the 'net these days too, but you have to find it and sift out the more garish, trendy I-gent chaff.

3) Maintain a whimsical sense of humor.
Others might rib you occasionally about your attire and, perhaps, make fun once in a while.  So, it's a good idea if you learn to laugh along at yourself and maintain a sense of humor about working to kick up your everyday style several notches above that of most guys in 2014.  Keep your sense of fun and don't let things get too heavy in your sartorial journey.  Besides, if others see that you don't take yourself too seriously, it becomes less interesting to razz you about your gear.

4) Be willing to experiment and try new things.
Don't let the idea of color, texture,  and pattern scare you off.  The world of classic men's attire is more than simply grey, navy, or black.  What about houndstooth, herring bone, chalk stripes, and plaids?  The point is to maintain an open mind and be willing to try new and different things once you've made up your mind to start dressing better than is now required of most men in most walks of life.  Realize that some days you'll nail it, and other days you won't quite get there with a particular combination.  No matter.  The fun comes in trying and learning what works best for you. 

5) Learn to recognize what works. . .  and what doesn't.
As suggested above, do your homework here and read up a bit on classic male attire to learn what it is, what it most definitely is not, what kinds of clothes are appropriate for certain situations, and how you might put together various ensembles for various occasions.  Much like professional musicians develop their ears through practice, a guy interested in kicking up his everyday style should make the effort to train his eye through both reading and examining illustrations and actual photographs of men wearing classic attire.  But steer clear, by all means, of the ├╝bertrendy online "mimbos," invariably in jackets and suits that are too sort and too tight, which abound in the 'net.  Physical publications like GQ and Esquire also feature too many guys dressed like this, so best to cancel your subscriptions, or simply let them run out.

6) Maintain the sartorial precedent set in your family.
If dear ol' Dad, or another male family member, set an example for you at a young age by dressing well for work and (possibly) at home, or at least better than average, your own internal journey to dressing better than average becomes easier.  There is no psychological baggage to lose, or chains to break free of, before you can allow yourself to jettison certain habits and, perhaps, also negative attitudes about dressing nicely.  This particular point helps when a young man decides that it's time to kick up his own style several notches, naturally, but, as I indicate above, it is not entirely necessary.  Even if a guy lacks this sartorial precedent, a wee bit of perspective and awareness on his part will certainly help as he embarks on his sartorial journey.  Geeze Louise!  This is beginning to sound like a Bildungsroman.

 7) Get a set of brass cajones.
No explanation necessary, but it helps if you've got some chutzpah (self-confidence in other words), so that you don't feel and therefore appear self-conscious and uncomfortable in those newly acquired clothes.  The easiest way to get that self-confidence, if you don't have a bit of it already, is to wear your clothes.  Put 'em on, wear them most of the time, and make 'em part of your usual scenery.  If you see yourself dressed in, and others see you wearing, nicer clothing and shoes all of the time, those items will stand out less over time and draw less attention. You forget they are there, your spiffier attire becomes, again, part of the scenery, and your clothes become simply an extension of you.  You have finally reached that coveted nonchalance. . .  Oh, this old thing?
8) Stay focused and steer the course.
Don't deviate from your aims and remain firm in your resolve to dress and act better than has become the sad, accepted norm in many (most?) places.  Not everyone will necessarily get it or appreciate your efforts though.   Be aware of that from the start.  Some might even be openly hostile, in one way or another for one reason or another, but don't let that put you off.  See my previous point and continue to cultivate better dress, more polished behavior, and urbane interests and attitudes.  The "civilized" world needs more of all four in 2014.  Oh, yeah!

To my mind, that's the mindset a guy needs to turn things around and kick up his everyday style several notches where clothing and personal habits are concerned.  As always, I'm interested in your comments and opinions, but let's keep it clean, please.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

All Creatures Great and Watkyn Bassett. . .

Tristan and Siegfried Farnon?  The Earl of Grantham?  Or Tuppy Glossop?  Nope.  It's Heinz-Ulrich, channeling his best 1930s country gentleman on the way to the local village fete.

Going for a 1930-ish English country vibe today. . .  although sadly my horse, riding boots, and pack of hounds are nowhere to be found.  The above combination of clothing consists of various items all anchored by an old tweed jacket that I found almost right off the bat when I began visiting thrift/charity shops in the summer of 2010 and discovered that there was all kinds of good quality classic menswear for the taking at rock bottom prices.  

Here's a breakdown of everything:

*Hunting Horn brand Harris Tweed Jacket (thrifted)
*Land's End Sweater (seasonal clearance)
*Land's End Dress Chinos (new in 2005 or '06)
*Club Room Oxford Cloth Button-down (a sale item in late '06 pr early '07)
*Rooster Plaid Wool Necktie (thrifted)
*Allen Edmonds Long-wing Brogues (Ebay)
*Italian Silk Pocket Square (thrifted)
*Ralph Lauren Charcoal and Olive Argyll Socks (new some years ago)
*Land's End Tan Leather Belt (new in '04)

The jacket is, admittedly, a bit long on me, but I think it still looks pretty good all things considered, and it's always fun to pull it out in mid-October and wear it during the colder months.  Speaking of which. . .   It has been a cool, gray fall day outside today, so the Grand Duchess and I had a few minutes of fun snapping three or four photographs before heading our separate ways back to opposite ends of campus for our respective afternoon classes.  

My particular batch of undergrads did nicely this afternoon.  We had another student-led discussion today, this time on the John Landis horror-comedy An American Werewolf in London (1982), and the two young ladies in charge ran a good session.  Of course, it always helps when the rest of the class has an "on" day, and indeed, there was lots of lively discussion, commentary, and laughter about the movie and related readings.  You can't ask for more than that.  I always have one group of students per year that I genuinely enjoy spending time with thanks to just the right mix of personalities, and this is the group for this semester at least.

I also touched base briefly with an old professor of mine, via telephone, at UW-Madison for a few minutes, and it was nice to hear her voice after so many years.  A good afternoon all the way around, and tomorrow is a fairly easy day, so no lesson planning or related course preparation this evening.  Who knows?  I might just enjoy a wee bit of single malt after the Young Master's bedtime before turning in early myself.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Stand still, will ya??!!

Normally, I'd button my jacket, but it seems a shame to hide such a pretty sweater, and it wasn't quite that frigid outside this afternoon either.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Damnable Popinjay, Part II. . .

"Unchain my heart!  Baby set me free.  Unchain my heart!  For you don't care about me. . ."  Doing my best Ray Charles on the way back to campus for a late afternoon class today.

Double-breasted suits, despite apparently being trendy once again from what I see here and there online, still get a bad rap.   Apparently, lots of people feel they are the preserve of old, fat guys like the late actor Sydney Greenstreet, early-mid 90s Frasier and Niles Crane wannabees, or guys aspiring to resemble a young Jimmy Spader, who wore some double-breasted stuff in a few of his late 80s-early 90s movies. 

On the contrary, double-breasted suits are classic garments with a long history.  Indeed, many public figures -- celebrities, politicians, and the like -- wore double-breasted suits during the mid-20th century.  So long as you wear a jacket or suit coat that actually fits you, they are not the huge, lawn&leaf bag monstrosities that some maintain.  Instead, double-breasted suits and sports jackets enhance the male figure in a way that single breasted models do not.  I like double breasted suits and have three in the fall-winter rotation.  The Italian number shown above is, however, the only 4x1 in the mix.  The other two hanging in the ol' wardrobe are 6x2 suits.  I've also got several 6x2 double-breasted sports jackets and a couple of blazers that I wear often during the fall, winter, and early spring months.

While the suit coat pictured above could perhaps use a wee bit more waist suppression, it has a good shape already, and fits cleanly across the chest, back, and beneath the arms without being tight.  The buttoning point, by the way, is just below my naval at my waist.  Maybe a bit low, but not too much.  I am therefore reasonably well pleased with the suit and trot it out on cooler days given its relatively heavy weight.  A nice, thick wool flannel.  While natural shoulder Ivy/Trad/Preppy purists might scoff at the fairly strong shoulders of this suit coat, it certainly doesn't call Joan Crawford to mind in my book. . .  or even Crockett and Tubbs on Miami Vice.  In any case, I routinely mix bits of American, British, and Continental style in my daily dress. . .  but no wire hangers ever!!!

All kidding aside, and as I say here sometimes, I still manage to look nicer than most other male faculty and staff walking around loose on campus.  So, if someone does not like my shoulder pads, well, that is his or her prerogative.  My clothes make me feel good, and if they are somehow amusing to others, that's fine.  I certainly get occasional compliments about my clothes, so I must be doing something right most days even if the occasional detail is not quite in line with whatever dreck GQ, Esquire, H&M, Abercrombie, Aeropostale, or Old Navy are dictating and/or serving up at the moment.  

To paraphrase a now sadly deceased professor from Denmark, with whom I studied during my undergraduate and Master's programs, feel free to write a paper (or blog post) about your irrational fear of my sartorial choices.  In the meantime, I've got a stack of undergrad papers to read and grade for a morning of mind-numbing student appointments tomorrow.  Sigh.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Keep Your Mind Nimble. . .

How does an average guy, who is working to kick up his everyday style several notches,  exercise his mind and keep it nimble?  Not by dulling out on whatever loud and lengthy professional sporting event happens to be on the idiot box, or online, at any given moment.  Neither do you keep your mind in fighting trim by surfing internet porn sites, or killing 'people' and stealing their virtual stuff with any of the apparently hundreds of computer games available for Playstation or Xbox (or their online cousins).  Nope.  How about instead trying the following to raise your level of mental acuity, maturity, engagement, and awareness, making yourself a more interesting and well-rounded person in the process?  

1) Readings is fundamental.
As the old RIF public service announcements on Saturday morning kids' TV used to say.  Reading is an excellent way to engage and broaden your mind, but read books about something else besides sports, the American Civil War, Vietnam, or anything by Dean Koontz or Lee Child.  All are done to death.  There is a great deal of interesting and thought-provoking fiction and non-fiction out there, and that's just considering what's available in English.  And by the way. . .

2) Learn another language.
And learn it well enough to have an unscripted conversation in it.  Ths will take a few years, but doing so will open up new worlds, experiences, and ideas to you in the meantime, and enable you to make better sense of your own mental place in the world.  It might be better to take a few classes to get started though.  Self-study is also an option, but beware of the various DVD packages on the market.  Not all are created equally.  Rosetta Stone packages are, for example, pedagogically weak and overpriced.  Since the advent of the web, accessing actual cultural materials, so called 'realia', is easier than ever, and along with the right kind of self-study tools, they can be really helpful in learning the ins and outs of another language and, by extension, culture.  In any case, listening to online radio and TV in your target language (even when you don't understand much at first) as well as looking at online versions of newspapers, magazines, and catalogs will support your class time/self-study efforts.  Before you know it, you'll be able to do more in Urdu or Swahili than simply ask for a beer and where the nearest public toilet is located.

3) Do crossword puzzles.  
Not always easy and sometimes maddening beyond belief, but you learn as you go, get better over time, and add appreciably to your working vocabulary, which ain't necessarily a bad thing.  Nope.  Not at all.

4) Have more conversations.  
Actual conversations where you are looking at the other person or people involved and truly listening rather than talking at each other as you stare like moon-eyed zombies at the flat-screen TV mounted on the wall.  Sound familiar?  I encounter men of various ages all of the time, who have difficulty with even simple conversations.  My wife and I often chuckle about a student trip we led to the annual German Christmas Market in Chicago about ten years ago, which concluded with a lovely evening meal at an old German restaurant downtown.  At my end of the long table, I sat next to a charming young lady of 22 or 23, from our own university, on one side and her high school boyfriend, who attended a different university in Chicagoland, on the other.  She was gregarious, amusing, full of plans for her future, and could easily carry on a conversation.  He, on the other hand, was like talking to a tree stump.  Monosyllabic responses about Baseball and his upcoming Certified Public Accountant exam were about it.  No more than that.  The point is, you've got to be able to carry on interesting conversation for longer than 90 seconds.  And don't you dare talk about sports or whatever tripe you've heard recently on talk radio.  Speaking of which. . . 

5) Listen to something else besides talk radio.  
Ever tried to have a conversation with someone who subsists on a steady diet of talk radio?  Regardless of whether their particular source of infotainment is slanted politically to the left or the right, these people seem able only to parrot back whatever the latest on-air rants might be for a given week.  Not only does this kind of programming provide the absolute wrong kind of model for public discourse and discussion, but for God's sake, moderate your sources of information and resist the tendency to use talk radio as a form of self-affirmation!  You know the sort of thing I mean.  "My own uninformed, poorly supported, off-the-wall opinion MUST be right because there is a radio host who says so, and there are other ignorant, narrow-minded wackjobs calling in who think the same way!"  Try, instead, getting your information about the world, events, developments, and people from various different sources once in a while instead of continuously listening to the blowhard-of-the-moment who is pushing some kind of bizarre, unbalanced, and one-dimensional sociopolitical agenda.

6) Broaden you palate.  
Sure, we've all got our favorite foods and drinks, but there is so much else out there that's tasty and interesting.  Food and beverages are interesting subjects in their own right.  So, how about eschewing the usual beer, burgers, pizzas, and generic Olive Garden food for a bit, hmm?  If you want something different, it's also a good idea to skip microwaveable crap like Hot Pockets, Slim Fast meals, or Pizza Combos.  Likewise, you might want to look beyond the ubiquitous Chinese and Tex-Mex too.  How about considering slightly more esoteric cuisines like Nepali, Thai, Indian, Turkish, Persian, Afghani, Korean, East African, North African, or Middle Eastern instead? All of these look delicious and smell delightful when they are brought to the table, and the various flavors will knock your socks off.  That's not to suggest the level of piquancy, necessarily.  It's simply a figure of speech.

7) Develop several different consuming interests.  
I've mentioned this before here at The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style, but it bears repeating.  You need something to think about  and occupy your mind besides work, TV sports, or mindlessly surfing the web.  Average guys working to kick up their everyday style several notches should keep that in mind.  And no.  Sorry, boys.  Sex doesn't count either.  Unless you actually aspire to be like Dirk Diggler in the film Boogie Nights.  Then by all means.  Carry on.  Kidding aside, there's actually lots else out there in the world that is interesting and will help you develop and maintain a nimble mind.  Just look around.  Take some enrichment classes in the evening at your local college, university, or community center, go to museums, take up fly-tying, learn to paint with watercolors, join a book discussion group, or visit your local library if you're coming up empty.

8) Volunteer your time.  
How about giving freely of yourself without expecting anything in return?  Churches, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, community centers, scouting, boys clubs, animal rescue centers, adult literacy programs, elder hostel programs, Habitat for Humanity, and the like are all viable options for volunteering.  All might welcome an extra set of hands and/or mind and simultaneously provide you with interesting new perspectives about the world and the people in it. . .  plus your own life and values.

9) Work with animals.  
Training animals like horses and dogs is highly interesting and immensely rewarding.  I urge everyone to give it a try and make a concerted effort to learn how it's done properly.  And hey, one less untrained dog leading its owner by the leash down the sidewalk would be a step in the right direction for everyone concerned.

10) Listen to different kinds of music than you usually do.
Popular forms of music are fine, and there are many terrific artists, past and present, out there.  But how about giving jazz and/or classical music a try.  They are infinitely complex, challenging, and demand active engagement on the part of listeners.  I guarantee you'll hear something new each time you give a listen to Coltrane, Mingus, Baker, or Desmond.  Or perhaps Bach, Strauss, Mozart, and Vivaldi are more to your liking?  Of course, you could always try your own hand at learning to play an instrument well yourself.

There we are.  At least ten different ways to keep your mind nimble regardless of your age and specific interests.  And remember.  Your mind is much like a muscle.  If you don't use it and challenge it beyond what is comfortable, it will atrophy, and you too will risk turning into that very tree stump I describe above.  Push yourself to try, accomplish, and achieve new things in your personal life.  Always.  Now, what are you waiting for? 

-- Heinz-Ulrich