The pithy, opinionated, and sometimes brutally frank Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke challenges average guys to live a life less ordinary and embrace classic style in the broadest sense. it's time to rise above the trite, the boring, the predictable, the mundane, the banal, and the commonplace. 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. It's time to learn once again how to present and conduct yourself like an adult with some grooming, finesse, and sophistication. And here is where you can learn how.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Close your mouth, or flies with get in!

From let to right, in case you're not up on your American pop-culture, "Hoss" (Dan Blocker), "Captain James T. Kirk" (Denny Crane himself. . .  the GREAT William Shatner) and "Gomer Pyle" (Jim Neighbors).

I was reminded of this point while in the waiting room at the ophthalmologist a few days ago watching people come in and sit down after they checked in at the reception desk.  For the love of God, keep your mouth closed when you aren't talking.  Sitting there staring into space (or, more likely, your I-phone) with your mouth hanging open ain't a good look on anyone.  It does not exactly make you look intelligent.  You need to be a bit more aware of what your body is doing and how you look to everyone around you.  Close your mouth.

-- Heinz-Ulrich von B.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Are you a crass doofus?

Whatever you do, you don't want to be this guy.

Yes?  No?  Hopefully not.  But even if we pretend to ourselves that we are not, I'll wager that there are many more instances of terminal, or even occasionally unintentional doofusism, than many men would care to admit to themselves.  Especially when it comes to visiting the men's room.  It's ok though because in most instances a guy can avoid coming across to others like a crass doofus with just a tiny bit of care, forethought, and, yes, consideration for others.  Here are thirteen tips that might help when nature calls.  Ready?  Here we go. . .

1) When answering the call of nature, simply excuse yourself for a moment without loudly announcing "I'll be right back.  I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM!"  Is there anything worse than hearing some loudmouth broadcast to the world that his bladder is full and/or bowels need to move?  I cannot tell you the number of times I have overheard similar pronouncements while out and about during the roughly last 30 years of my adult life.  Jeeze Louise!  You'd think I would know better by now and not continue to be surprised, but I am always and without fail taken aback by the base level of many men's general behavior.  And this is just such a case.

2) Once you finish in the men's room, and whether you're wearing jeans, chinos and sports jacket, or a full suit, it should go without saying that you check twice to make sure your pants are zipped up before washing your hands and returning to the rest of the world, boys.  I mean, come on!  You don't want to be that boob -- We've all met 'em -- who walks around for hours totally unaware that  the barn door is open, and the cow is about to bolt through it at the first available opportunity.

3) On a similar note, make sure there is no toilet paper, an errant gum wrapper, or other trash stuck to your shoes before you leave the restroom.  Or, Heaven help us, trailing from the waistband of your pants.

4) It might also be a good idea to take a gander in the mirror to be sure your shirt collar and jacket lapels are not rumpled or sticking up in the back.

5) And if you're wearing one, it might be a good idea too for you to glance in the bathroom mirror and straighten your necktie as and when necessary.

6) Likewise, double-check your face and address any issues.  Just think how embarrassed you would feel (or ought to) if someone quietly took you aside and informed you that you had something hanging from your left nostril, food in your beard or 'stache, or a crazy corkscrew hair sticking out of one ear.

7) It used to be -- before the world, it seems, began going through waking life with perpetually rumpled bed head. . .  or those ridiculous Bob's Big Boy-Ed Grimley fauxhawk hairdos -- that guys checked their hair in the mirror and made the necessary adjustments.  Come on, boyos!  All it takes is a small pocket comb and 30 seconds to restore your part and smooth out any cowlicks or rumples.  Check your hair and comb it if necessary before leaving the men's room in other words.

8) And don't forget. . .  Straighten your suit coat or sports jacket, Maynard.  Especially if you have had to remove it to, ahem, take care of business while using the facilities.

9)  Once in a while, even if making a routine quick stop in the men's room, if might be a good idea to re-tuck, or smooth your shirt and hitch up your pants before fastening your belt and washing your hands.  When you spot a guy with a tucked in shirt and actual belt these days -- an increasing rarity it seems -- as likely as not, part o the shirt has come untucked, exposing either his t-shirt, or flabby belly below.  This has to be one of the most common doofussy looks around.  But it can be an easily remedied problem if a guy simply cultivates the habit of checking his appearance while in the men's room and fixing things if necessary.  And no.  Paying attention to the details of your personal appearance makes you neither vain, nor effeminate for the love of God.  Get with the program!

10) This is a less major point, perhaps, but it is always a plus when your necktie, belt buckle, and shirt placket line up neatly.  That way, you don't look like you've camped out at the airport for 36 hours because you missed the flight out to Kuala Lumpur or Jogjakarta, yet you were too cheap to book a hotel room during the interim beore the next one. . .  you suave international man of mystery and intrigue, you.

11) Here is an important point that many guys seem to forget.  Respect others' mental and physical space while in the men's room and avoid bothering others.  Yep.  In other words, give people some privacy for a few minutes.  Ok?  Not everyone wants to carry on a conversation about the weather or whatever while standing at an adjacent urinal, or in the next stall despite the apparent habits of late president Lyndon B. Johnson.  Ugh!  Take care, instead, of whatever you need to, wash your hands, and leave the premises without launching into a soliloquy on whatever arcane thought drifts through your mind at that particular moment in time.  Continue, for instance, your monologue on George Brett's batting average during the 1981 baseball season later, once everyone has reconvened elsewhere, for Pete's sake!

12) Following a visit to the men's room, under no circumstances should you discuss your activities therein once you return to your company.  Were you raised under a rock?  While that habit might be the norm in some families, believe me, most of us don't really want to know why you went to the bathroom, or what transpired therein.  Keep your spastic colon to yourself, thank you very much. 

13) Finally, here's a bonus tip for those of you still reading.  Don't, whatever you do, clip your fingernails, toenails, or perform other grooming rituals in public!  It's really far more pleasant for everyone if these kinds of things remain behind closed doors.  Know what I mean?   I would even argue that these are activities best attended to at home, in the privacy of your own bathroom, rather than in a public restroom.  Or, as I have sadly witnessed on more than one occasion, in places like boarding areas in airport terminals and. . .  in seminar rooms during allegedly professional meetings (Shudder).  It's judgmental, yes, but clearly there are people on the loose among us who just don't know any better and behave as though they were raised in a barn.  That's not really how we want to come across now, is it?

There you go.  As always, there might be some additional relevant points I have failed to bring up here, but those I mention above will go a long way toward helping you to avoid being a crass doofus.  Remember, style, grooming, and sophistication have more to do with how we conduct ourselves than they do with the precise length of our sports jacket, structured versus sack silhouettes, single-breasted versus double-breasted versus three-piece, or whether we wear tasseled loafers with a suit.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Recrafted Dress Shoes. . .

A package was waiting by the door this afternoon!  My maternal grandfather relied on split-toes and wingtips/brogues for his dress shoes all his adult life until his death ten years ago at 89.  My grandmother followed a year later.  It's funny, but there has not been a day since that I don't think about them.

A couple of years ago when Wisconsin-based shoemaker Allen Edmonds was purchased, there was some concern in the menswear community that it was the start of a long, slow, inevitable decline that would eventually end in cheap, plastic-like shoes being produced in sweatshops outside the U.S. with no customer service to speak of.  

Thus far, that has not happened, and both the company's products and customer service remain second to none.  Very helpful, polite, and professional people on the telephone when you call with a question by the way.  The company pays the return postage too.  Anyway. . .

Today, a pair of split-toe oxfords I purchased cheaply on Ebay a year ago returned home from AE where I sent them just five weeks ago for recrafting.  Like new!  I splurged and opted for the premium package which included new soles, heels, cork footbed, complete refinishing of the leather in its original color, along with AE shoe trees and flannel shoe bags.  They look great, and I'll wear them on the first day o classes in three weeks when the autumn semester begins here at MSU.  Hopefully, the pair of dark chocolate suede wingtips I also sent to AE for similar treatment will turn up in a day or two.

The point of all my shoe blather is this: Purchase quality items when you build your adult wardrobe gents, and not only will they last you a long time, but they can be refurbished, repaired, and will stay looking good for decades as part of your clothing, shoe, and accessory rotation.  Just say "No!" to fast fashion.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

FYI. . .
There are plenty of more expensive men's dress shoes made around the world, but Allen Edmonds are about the friendliest to your wallet, and the company's customer service is, once more, stellar in my experience. 

 And two days later. . . these beauties awaited me at the front door following their complete recrafting by the good folks at the Allen Edmonds factory just outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  There is nothing quite like the aroma of (almost) new, quality leather shoes. I wish I had taken a "before" photograph.  It's hard to believe these are the same shoes sent off across Lake Michigan just five weeks ago.  Dare I say it?  I cannot wait for Fall.  These will look super with a tweed sports jacket and a pair of corduroy pants.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Who in the world ever. . . ?

Just one of the pairs of so called casual pants on offer from L.L. Bean.  How much better these would look without those awful cargo pockets on the thighs.

Cargo pants have been around for quite a few years now among the general populace.  And while they certainly have a place in actual police and military settings, I simply don't get it when it comes to the rest of us.  I'm certain my question will bring out the internet trolls, who will accuse me of this, that, and the other, but. . .  Who in the world EVER thought this might be a good look for casual wear??!!

Oh yes.  I enjoyed a pair of honest to goodness woodland camougflage BDF pants, purchased from a genuine military supplier, way back in the early 90s in homage to Sting and David Lee Roth (yes, I know, I know. . .), both of whom were photographed wearing British paratrooper pants a decade before that.  Fortunately, that stage ended abruptly, when I arrived in Madison in August 1994 and moderated my appearance a bit to fit in more with the academic direction my life took at that point, re: haircut and serious wardrobe reappraisal.

The first time I noticed people (young men) wearing the kind of garment shown above as casual pants was several years later while studying in Norway in 1999-2000.  There, everything was always black.  Or faded black.  Occasionally gray.  Never tan, khaki, or stone however.  Sticking out from the crowd is not something Norwegians like to do.  But at least the cargo pants I noticed among the male student throngs didn't puddle around their wearers' ankles, were pressed, and held a crease.   I can't say that the addition of the cargo packets added anything to the overall look though.

Fast-forward 17 years, and I cannot ever remember seeing a guy in the U.S. wearing these things pressed.  It does not matter how they look online or in the pages of that J. Crew, L. L. Bean, or Land's End catalog, or on the racks in Old Navy, The Gap, or J.C. Penney for example.  Invariably, so called cargo pants when worn by guys in real life are rumpled, wrinkled, and look -- forgive me, trolls -- like hell regardless of the age or build of the guy in them.  If one is a soldier on patrol in Afghanistan, well, I suppose you've got more pressing things to worry about than rumpled pants.  But for us civilians?

The same is true when it comes to the related cargo short.  It's just not a good look on anyone.  You might as well go for that 70s porno vibe and dress in snug, elastic waist gym shorts, knee-length white tube socks with two or three stripes around the top, and mirrored aviator sunglasses. . .  along with cultivating a John Holmes mustache.  Or wear the overly long, current variety of knee-length, thin nylon baggy basketball shorts that leave as little to the imagination as their briefer 1970s cousins.

No.  Casual pants are fine in theory, but it's time to leave the damnable cargo pockets behind, gents.  When it comes to casual pants, it's far better to stick with normal khakis/chinos, jeans that actually fit, or perhaps something in linen (rumples and wrinkles permitted) or wool depending on the season.  And hey, if you protest that you need some place to keep your pack of smokes and Bic lighter, well, roll 'em up in your t-shirt sleeve.  Isn't that what it's for?

As I said, who in the world ever thought cargo pants/shorts were a good idea??!!

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Friday, July 22, 2016

12 Tips to Make Your Living Space More Stylish and Inviting. . .

Gentlemen, remember to do something about the wall wart plugs and the morass of cords that entangle our 21st century lives to make your living space more stylish and inviting.

The Grand Duchess and Young Master have been away for a few days in Chicago while yours truly mans the fort and deals with disassembling and reassembling the various rooms of Totleigh-in-the-Wold on either side of a visit by the carpet cleaners.  Exciting stuff.

Here's the short version of the story.  And please keep in mind that I like dogs.  Little dogs,  big dogs, and those in between.  The following is in no way meant as a broad indictment of dog-owners and their homes.

The house we purchased last fall is great in that spacious, quiet suburban way.  Sure, it lacks the character of our 1925 Craftsman-style house in Illinois, but it's not bad for a mid-1980s vintage, the surroundings are wonderful, and after looking at something like 20+ houses around the East Lansing area between April-September of last year, really the only option short of venturing into the dreaded McMansion territory.  Fine and dandy.

But.  And there is always a "but."  The previous owners clearly had some kind of huge, old, sweaty dog with bladder control problems.  This issue, while not in evidence when we moved in last December, or during the rest of Winter and into Spring, emerged with a vengeance in May as the temperature began to warm here in Mid-Michigan.  With the change in weather, an unmistakable big dog funk, especially up the carpeted stairs to the upper floor, the hall upstairs, the landing in the foyer, and the master bedroom became blatantly apparent.  Ugh!  I say again, ugh!  First possible solution?  Have the carpets professionally cleaned.

So, wife and child visited Chicago for a few days of sight-seeing this week while yours truly got to move everything out of four rooms and a roll up some area rugs in advance of the carpet cleaners, and replace everything this morning, 24 hours after they finished.  Amazingly, it took only about one hour to put things back in place after my usual mug of early morning coffee once I established that the wall-to-wall carpeting was indeed dry.  

While doing so, it occurred to me that there are a number of very simple things we men, single or otherwise, can do to make our living spaces a bit more. . .  well, stylish and invitingTo be brutally honest for a moment, more of us guys ought to strive for living spaces that are more adult in nature, and I'm not talking about the porno kind of "adult" either.  I mean quiet, understated taste and sophistication.  At its most basic, picked up, straight, with nothing apparent that screams, "Overgrown high school or college kid on the loose for the first time!!!" 

Off the top my head, there are a dozen things you can do easily and without too much expense that will make your living space look more stylish and inviting.  Here we go:

1) Keep your space picked up and free of clutter.  Don't allow mail, discarded clothing, newspapers, magazines, TV remotes, or other junk to pile up on surfaces, against walls, or in corners.  Throw away or recycle disposable stuff, and keep your things picked up and put away.  You aren't 12 anymore.  Likewise, resist the temptation to cover every single table or shelf surface with small knick-knacks (sports memorabilia, travel souvenirs, trophies, etc.).  If you still can't part with some of that stuff from your boyhood, pack it up carefully and put it away in the attic or on a high closet shelf. 

2) For the love of God, put all of your shoes away in a closet and close the door!  Fewer things look worse than a pile of assorted footwear left in an entryway.  Even shoe shelves don't look that great if we are honest.  That sort of thing belongs in your hall or bedroom closet.

3) Hide all of those cords from computers, lamps, and appliances, or at least coil up the excess with plastic zip ties so it looks a bit less awful beneath your computer desk.

4) Lampshade seams should not be visible.  Make sure these face the wall, or window if the lamp(s) are before a window.

5) Straighten your lampshades and pictures now and then.  Air currents within a space and natural settling, to say nothing of the occasional big truck rumbling by outside, will cause these to shift incrementally over time.  Keep an eye on your space and fix these issues as and when needed. 

6) If any of your windows have shades or horizontal blinds, make sure these are straight, i.e. parallel to the sill/floor.  It's just one more free way to keep your space looking a bit nicer than average, but whatever you do, don't simply yank the cord and pull these all the way to the top of the window in question.  Open the shade to just below the half-way point, or, if adjusting horizontal blinds, angle the blinds to let in, or block the daylight depending on your preferences, time of day, angle of the sun, etc.

7) If you are beyond college dorm room/first shoebox apartment age, discard any and all torchiere floor lamps and remove those NFL, NASCAR, bathing beauty, or any other kind of posters from your walls.  Forthwith.  Replace the former with table lamps and end tables (think in pairs here), desk lamps, and those unframed, dog-eared posters with more interesting, tasteful, understated pictures or prints that have been matted and framed professionally.  In an ideal world, wall hangings should have something to do with your interests and travels.  Hopefully by now, these are broader and more cultivated than just professional sports, naked airbrushed women, and late night trips to Wal-Mart for over-sized buckets of generic Rocky Road ice-cream near its sell-by date, which have been, accordingly, reduced in price by 75%.  Take a gander at publications like Architectural Digest for ideas if you're drawing a blank.  Be willing to spend some money when you address this particular issue (lighting and wall treatments that is).  You'll thank yourself later.

8) Similarly, and whatever you do, do not furnish your living space with careless purchases from stores like Target, Michael's, or Hobby Lobby.  Unless you are going for a dorm room style with a tacky, kitchy, campy vibe.  But do you really want to live in a space that looks like a Technicolor combination of the Brady Bunch house interior ca. 1972 and the video for the B-52s song Love Shack?  I didn't think so.  IKEA, with extreme caution, is ok at a stretch for some things.  But have a distinct plan in mind.  Random purchases and haphazard room  arrangements will not achieve the result we desire. . .  tasteful, understated, sophisticated, and inviting.

8) Keep all cabinet, cupboard, and closet doors closed when you are not actually retrieving or putting something away.  It costs nothing.

9) If at all possible, figure out a way to hide or disguise that flat-screen TV when you are not watching it.  I'll risk stepping on some toes here, but fewer things look worse than a flat-screen TV mounted on the wall.  And above a fireplace??!!  Puh-leeze.  It's right up there with that pile of shoes in the front hall.

10) Run the ol' Hoover vacuum cleaner over any heavily trafficked areas once a week where carpeting and areas rugs are concerned, and wipe up any spills or drips from floors, kitchen counters, or table surfaces when they happen.

11) When it comes to the bathroom, boys, several points come to mind.  First, if your parents somehow never told you, make sure your pee IN the toilet, not on the floor around it.  The number of guy out there who can't seem to master this very basic skill is astounding.  Why do the women in their lives put up with that nonsense?  On a related note, wipe off the rim of the toilet with a tissue or a few sheets of toilet paper before your flush after urinating.  And I hope you've remembered to put up the seat!  Third, when you have finished using the toilet, put the lid down and keep it that way when not in use rather than leave it up all the time like a great, gaping maw just waiting for someone to rush in at the last possible minute to do his or her business.  Fourth, if you insist on camping out with magazines while using the facilities, pick these up and put them away out of sight when you finish.  Don't leave them scattered all over the bathroom floor around the throne.  Finally, leave the counter around the sink -- as well as the shower or bathtub for that matter -- clutter-free and wiped clean for the next person.  That means no stray hairs, whiskers, toothpaste, soap scum, drops of water, or whatever.  Clean up after yourself, Gilligan!  It helps to keep a roll of paper towels and a spray bottle of Windex or similar beneath the sink or in the bathroom linen closet.

12) Finally, if you have pets, are a smoker, use Axe products, or a you are a fan of Patchouli oil, be aware that the aromas you no longer notice might be extremely unpleasant (and even offensive) to others forced into close contact with you.  Take the necessary steps to make ding-dang sure that these odors, and others like them, do not build up over time.  That might be as simple as walking Fido more often, changing the ferret cage in your living room more than once a week, emptying your overflowing ashtrays, or realizing that just because a bit of something smells good (to you) that somehow dousing yourself in it is an even better ideaIt ain't so, Beaver.  Just ask Wally.

There we are.  Almost all of the dozen suggestions above cost nothing, but they go a long way toward helping to make your living space, regardless of size, more stylish and invitingRemember, it's all about self-respect plus showing a little forethought and consideration for those around you.  Addressing these all-too-common issues will make your apartment, flat, condominium, or house a little bit nicer for you, your family, and those occasional guests.  Even if they can't quite work out what is different about your particular residence versus many others.  

And I hope our little carpet cleaning adventure eradicates all evidence of THE DOG.

-- Heinz-Ulrich