Monday, September 22, 2014

Shoulder Season Monday. . .

Yours truly at midday on Shoulder Season Monday.

A bright, crisp final day of Summer, and Autumn is definitely in the air today with temperatures hovering in the upper 60s Fahrenheit (about 20 Celsius).  Time then to pull out a slightly warmer, medium weight jacket, an oxford cloth button-down shirt, and a recently acquired pair of new brogue/wingtip shoes early this morning!  Here's the breakdown of the above items, most of which were thrifted, or, in the case of the jacket, purchased for a song on Ebay.  They are:

* Canali Wool Flannel Glen Plaid Sports Jacket -- Ebay
* Brooks Brothers OCBD Shirt -- Ebay
* Land's End Italian Silk Knit Tie -- Purchased on Sale
* Land's End Dark Tan Leather Belt -- Purchased on Sale
* Italian Silk Pocket Square (a bit wild here)-- Thrifted
* Mid-gray Worsted Wool Pants -- Thrifted
* Charcoal Marino Wool to-the-knee Dress Socks-- Free from Allen Edmonds
* Dark Reddish Tan Vintage J.C. Penney Goodyear Welted Leather Shoes  -- Thrifted

There we are.  A nice overall shoulder season look I think, despite the loony orange and brown polka dot square bursting forth from my jacket pocket, ably demonstrating how a guy can dress a bit better than average for very little money.  The most spent on any one item was in having the jacket altered slightly after hanging in the upstairs hall closet for only two or three years.  Now, if the weather cooperates, I can get out the tweeds, flannel, and corduroy, along with a couple of recently acquired fall/winter weight suits, in the next few weeks.  Bring on the cooler weather say I!

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Look forward to Time Alone. . .

There is nothing like fly-fishing in a lazy river or burbling creek for quiet contemplation, relaxation, and mental restoration.  This particular hobby is not my thing as an adult, but I certainly enjoyed doing it with my father 35-40 years ago.

Time alone is not something to avoid or fear.  Indeed, average guys working to kick up their everyday style several notches should consider having more time to themselves than has become typical in our over-connected, wired age when too many people seem to feel as though they are missing out on something if they are not always busy, busy, busy. . .  and social, social, social.  I'm hardly suggesting that anyone shun family and friends to become a complete hermit.  Let's not take my observation, or suggestions below, to extremes.  But downtime spent by oneself allows for vital recharging of the mental batteries, self-reflection, and the opportunity to enjoy those activities you enjoy, but probably don't have enough time to indulge as much as you might like.  

Think of it this way.  Thanks to technology, with all of its associated personal gadgets, and the fact that, for many of us, the clear distinction between work and home life has largely disappeared, we are constantly overstimulated by things and, yes, by each other.  Most of us lack the time to slow down, take in the scenery, and actually hear ourselves think.  The unfortunate result is that our internal seas are rarely calm anymore.  

It's very similar to when you brush a cat.  While "Fluffy" might love the attention and purr loudly as the brush moves through her fur and across her sides and back, at some point she becomes overstimulated and bites your hand.  The same thing happens with small children, who might enjoy the fun for several hours, whatever form that might take, but at some point, they too become overstimulated, and the inevitable meltdown follows close behind.

While adults -- most of us at least -- don't typically react like that, we too become overstimulated by the demands of work. . .  and family if we are honest with ourselves.  That is why time alone, an hour or two in the evenings during the week if possible, and longer during weekends or holidays, is so important.  Perhaps that is something too easily forgotten in the terminal rush that has become everyday life in the early 21st century when we allow ourselves to be pulled constantly in too many directions at once.  In that light, turning off, unplugging, and tuning out, at least for a while, is necessary for a person's well-being more now than ever before.  

Likewise, it is time for us to stop feeling guilty for saying "No, thank you." to invitations from friends and family to do this or that and, where the children are concerned, perhaps to say, "No" and "Not now" more than has become the accepted norm if articles online and in newspapers and magazines are anything to go by.  Constantly chauffering little Bobby and Cindy around to too many organized afterschool and evening activities is tiring for for parents, overstimulating to the children, and simply pulls everyone in too many different directions at once.  

An extracurricular pursuit, or maybe two, is fine if schoolwork does not suffer, and it does not begin to take over Mom's and Dad's lives.  However, the kids too need to learn that quiet, solitary pursuits are at least as important as the midget league soccer tournaments and tiny princess pageants. . .  if not more so.  Know what I mean?  Sure, activities like these have the potential to foster a range of useful skills and abilities besides being simple fun.  But let's stop overcompensating as parents for some imagined something or other by overscheduling everyone in the family.  It's not necessarily a good thing when parental anxieties drive the sheer number of activities that consume too many children and teenagers, along with their parents, in 2014.  Constant revving in high gear is more harmful than we might first think.

Whether you have a family, are in a committed relationship, or simply have a bunch of closely knit friends, you do not need to be joined at the hip all of the the time.  See a bit less of each each other and spend a little more time alone, engaged in those various pursuits for which we wish we had more time.  Allow each other to have some personal space and time.  Avoid being quite so wrapped up in the minutia of each others' lives and activities 24/7.  It is extremely healthy.  Honest.  Not only does routine disengagement enable you to recharge, but, at the very least, time away from each other, during which you are focused on other enjoyable things, permits more interesting conversation once you are together again around the dinner table in the evening when you can update each other on all of the cool, interesting things you've done recently.

Here's one important caveat to remember though.  Don't make the mistake of filling your downtime with TV, answering e-mail, Facebook, or other online social media, and/or computer games.  Those do not count.  They are too passive and too easy.  Give yourself a clean and complete break from that kind of thing for a few hours each week instead.  Longer if you can manage it.  Take a walk around town or the local park, go on a hike through the countryside, go fishing, hop on your bike for an hour or two or hit the slopes, pick up an actual, physical book (NOT your Kindle or Nook), or simply sit and watch the world go by in quiet contemplation for a few hours as you sip coffee, tea, or hot chocolate and read the paper at a local cafe.  

Or here's an idea.  Take the opportunity to develop and cultivate new consuming interests that you might enjoy by yourself for several hours each week.  There is no time like the present, but the goal to keep sight of is quiet disconnection from the usual activities and stressors of daily life.  You'll soon see that time to oneself is just as refreshing as ten hours of uninterrupted sleep, enabling you to return to the cheek-by-jowl activities of family, friends, and work with renewed interest, vigor, and focus.  

As for me, I'm off to do some painting, maybe get a bike ride in this afternoon, and, later this evening, read a chapter or two before turning out the lamp.  Of course, there will be family time in there too, but also Heinz-Ulrich time.  And that is ok.  Try it yourself.  I guarantee a bit more unplugged time alone will have a calming effect and improve your outlook on life.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dressing Nicely vs. Not Standing Out?

The late Fred Astaire, looking very natty in a double-breasted suit and hat.

I have no good answers for this one.  It seems generally accepted that the most elegant and tasteful approach to being what we'll call 'well-dressed' is the most subtle.  In other words, keep things fairly understated.  There's not too much going on visually  speaking.  Very much in keeping with the remark attributed to Beau Brummel that runs something along these lines.  If people stop and turn to look at you in the street, then you are not well-dressed.

The problem with this way of thinking is that it is difficult to dress well in the early 21st century without standing out and drawing attention since so many men leave the house looking like complete slobs.  Combine that with the fact that the mess, also known as business casual, that now holds sway in so many sectors and fields during normal business hours, and you see the dilemma.  Unless one is in the menswear industry where, presumably, other men dress well because they enjoy doing so and want to impress each other with their style acumen, a man will stand out most places in 2014 by simple virtue of the fact that he is dressed better than average.  

There are, of course, a few professions left where, in general, men are still expected to dress well.  As far as I know at any rate.  Certain law firms, the financial industry, corporate higher-ups, and so forth.  Though I suspect that even here suitable attire for the office might depend on organization size and culture, geographic location, the kind of work done or services provided, and whether or not the insidious virus that is dress-down-Friday-is-now-dress-down-Monday-through-Friday has infected the minds of those at the top.

As for me, I enjoy good clothing -- classic men's attire -- and dressing nicely, or attempting to do so at least.  I don't plan on stopping that anytime soon.  I am a vain, vapid poseur without a serious thought in my head after all.  In the vernacular of other times, a fop.  A silly macaroni.  A damned popinjay.  However, I am also well aware that I probably stick out like a sore thumb on even a fairly subdued navy blazer and khakis or charcoal suit day in my small Midwestern city, and on my small university campus, where lack of regard for occasion is the rule, fewer and fewer people have a clue about what is appropriate,  and most guys dress like farmers on a Saturday afternoon.  And their Sunday best hasn't really been very "Sunday best" for a long time. 

In my neck of the woods, extremely few men wear even sports jackets and neckties, besides attorneys in the downtown law firms, judges, a few doctors, university administrators and trustees, plus a few of the muckety-mucks on the top floor of the insurance giant that is based here.  Or even good quality leather dress shoes for that matter.  On those rare occasions when you actually spot a suit, more often than not it is black and boxy with sleeves that are far too long.

But reconciling the extremes here seems difficult.  I'm really not sure how average guys who want, and see a need, to kick up their everyday style several notches might do so in a way that does not turn heads.  It's just one more of the social conundrums of life in the early 21st century I suppose.  If you have any thoughts on the matter, please feel free to comment.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Shoulder Season. . .

"Take the picture!"  Clowning around on the way back to campus after lunch.

Today was one of those brilliant mid-September day that we never get enough of.  Bright, blue skies and cool temperatures without being chilly.  The perfect day for combining a few summer and fall items for an attempt at a shoulder season look.  Here's a breakdown of everything pictured above:

* Canali Houndstooth Wool/Silk Jacket -- From An Affordable Wardrobe
* Zanella Charcoal Wool Pants -- Ebay
* Orange and Brown Italian Silk Pocket Square -- Thrifted
* Green Bachrach Wool Tie -- Thrifted
* Land's End Shirt -- Purchased on Sale  
* Land's End Chocolate Brown Leather Belt -- Purchased New
* Allen Edmonds Chocolate Brown Suede Brogues -- Purchased New 
* Von Mauer Crazy Green and Blue Striped Socks -- Purchased on Sale

The jackets is a 40 Long and, accordingly, slightly long, but then my torso is slightly longer than average. It does not look too bad to my eyes, fitting neatly across the upper back and chest with only enough room for a balled fist against my stomach when buttoned.  I like it though I've toyed with the idea of having it shortened an inch or so, but haven't yet done so.  Often 40 Regulars are a tad too short on me anyway, so I have several "longs" in my wardrobe hanging beside a number of "regulars" too. . .  along with the odd 39L and 41R.  It just goes to show that there is little standardization of size across, and even within, brands.  

If you look closely, the left shoulder of the jacket looks a bit odd here given my quirky and exaggerated stance in the above photo.  My left shoulder was, in fact, also broken in a very bad car accident almost 30 years ago, and it is a bit lower than my right according to my tailor Mrs. V.  When I am standing up straight and still, however, the shoulders of this particular jacket hang cleanly straight down as they should without drooping or forming divots.  So, I don't worry too much about it having shoulders that are bolder than current tastes deem acceptable. 

The orange/brown pocket square goes with nothing else color or pattern wise as far as today's attire is concerned.  My current approach is to have one small item, usually the pocket square, that is a little off.  You know.  To avoid the dreaded GQ and Esquire matchy-matchy syndrome.  This particular square seems to work nicely with autumn and winter ensembles given its colors, so I pulled it from the pocket square jar on my dresser this morning, and away we went.

The combination of clothing above is not quite perfect, perhaps, but I received a couple of nice compliments today anyway, so I must be doing something right.  As with so much else in life, working to kick up one's everyday style several notches is an ongoing (and infinitely fun) journey. 

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dress like you mean business when you head to school. . .

Got a parent-teacher evening coming up on your calendar?  It's time to give serious thought to how you want to come across.

Buck the current trend among parents -- especially the fathers -- of dressing like complete slobs by at least taking the time to tuck your shirt into actual pants with a crease, put on a belt and some real shoes, and toss on a blazer or sports jacket before you either head to the car for a quick drop-off or pick-up of little Tyler and Taylor, or, alternately, before you walk them down the street and around the corner to the front door of their school.  Making sure you look presentable as a parent is just a good habit to cultivate whenever you head to school.  

"Why?" you might ask in protest, countering, "I don't have the time.  Who really cares anyway?"  My short reply would be, how can you think like that?  Why in the world don't you care?  You've got to get dressed anyway.  Have a little self-respect.  How is tucking in your shirt or putting on dark socks and leather shoes any more time consuming than, say, washing your face or brushing your teeth first thing in the morning?  You already do that, right?  How does tossing on a sports jacket before you head out the door take any more time than pulling on a badly pilled synthetic fleece, an old nylon windbreaker, or a food-stained hoodie?  Before we get carried away in our imaginary exchange, though, let's consider the issue in a bit more detail.

For starters, getting yourself pulled together in the morning before you send the children on their way sets a solid example for them.  There is nothing wrong with setting (and maintaining) high standards, for yourself and your offspring, through quiet example where personal appearance, attention to detail, self-discipline, self-respect, and awareness of occasion are concerned.  I would even be so bold as to suggest it is essential in rearing children.  However, few people seem to think about this now judging by the fact that you never, ever hear talk of setting a good example anymore.  I guess we have become so fearful of upsetting anyone in 2014, and almost anything goes anyway, that we've stopped having conversations like this.  At least audibly.  How sad that is for society.  Just one more baby thrown out with the figurative bathwater during the last, more or less, 40 years in our mad rush toward perceived greater egalitarianism I suppose. 

Returning to the subject of your public parental attire though, it's a damn good idea for the teachers of your children, and any lurking school administrators, to see you looking pulled together. . .  rather than the usual unshaven, uncombed shambling mound, dressed in the now all-too-common sweatpants/baggy dad jeans-windbreaker/hooded sweatshirt-sneakers/trainers combo.  Trust me.  It's one more instance where these people will react differently to you, when you look like you have at least a modicum of education post-high school along with a better level of grooming and attire than has become the accepted and pathetic norm in most places.  Where your children are concerned, surely you do not want to look like one more self-centered, wrinkled, and utterly clueless slob with few redeeming habits, practices, or knowledge of worth to impart.  

Keep in mind, an appearance at your child's school, regardless of the reason, is not the same thing as sitting alone in your TV room at home, flipping endlessly through the 157 channels of nothing -- with a nod to Mr. Springsteen-- at 2am on a Sunday morning.  Know what I mean?  Teachers and school administrators are much more inclined to take you, your questions, and concerns seriously when you leave the old, black  Harley-Davidson sweatshirt and ripped jeans for another time and, instead, turn up looking like you mean business.  It's all about coming across with a certain level of gravitas and setting the right tone for the interaction.  Looking like you come from something and somewhere besides under a rock helps here.

With that same idea in mind, it is also sound practice to suggest to your children's teachers and school administrators, when they almost invariably start on a first name basis in their interactions with you, that you would prefer being called Mr. So-and-so.  The current predilection for over-familiarity is never a good idea in formal settings, so don't be afraid to assert yourself here.  Too many adults are these days.  

Despite the fact that education seems largely to be presented as entertainment now, with teachers of small children routinely "high-fiving" their pupils and addressing their charges as either "Buddy," or "Honey," parent-teacher/administrator meetings are, and should be seen as, more formal, serious occasions.  Even when there is not a problem, and everything is hunky-dory.  After all, parents only rarely move in the same social circles with their children's teachers and/or school administrators.  It's not unheard of, of course, but rare.  

Keep in mind, we are not talking about a group well-acquainted adults sitting down to dinner on the weekend.  Neither are we talking about summertime backyard barbecues with members of your temple or church or close friends enjoying a few drinks on a non-work night once the children have been tucked in to bed.  Interacting with your children's teachers and school administrators is very similar to how you might intereact with your supervisor, manager, colleagues, and people beneath you at work.  It's a bit more formal than things are with your close friends in a non-work environment.  Be careful not to confuse the two.  Familiarity breeds contempt as my maternal grandmother used to remark, so it is really much better to keep even pleasant school meetings on a more formal footing.

Likewise, it is beneficial for children to learn early that different settings and occasions call for different levels of behavior and attire, and that a basic level of awareness, respect, and polite behavior help start off any interaction on a positive note.  Children need to learn how to navigate social interaction smoothly in order to avoid coming across as awkward in some way by the time they are teenagers and, indeed, adults.  Again, clothing and behavior, how we present ourselves to the world, are important parts of that.  Let's simply call it social literacy, and parents, or parental figures, must be the ones to impart this knowledge and ensure fluency on the part of their children.  

But it ain't all up to Mom.  Don't make that mistake.  We men have a distinct role to play in all of this.  Being a male parent, or parental figure, is not always about playing computer games together, buying one more overpriced blinking and beeping gadget,  coaching the midget league soccer team, or staring mindlessly at the TV while trading inane remarks and observations.  Are you with me so far?  Rearing happy, pleasant, reasonably well-adjusted children, who are socially equipped to move through life involves the demonstration and transferal of numerous less tangible skills and practices, plus a certain level of social awareness, that we help instill in them.  Hopefully. 

Finishing school is, sadly, not an option available to most of us,  Neither can we depend, on the public schools (in the United States), if ever we could, to teach proper behavior, manners, and etiquette to our children.  That must happen at home, and father figures (plus the examples they set) are far more important in this process than many might think.  Goodness knows there are already enough socially awkward, sloppy souls walking around these days, so let's ensure that our children learn early from us how to act and present themselves. . .  in public and in private.  It helps grease the wheels of their lives and make them much more pleasant individuals, both while they remain under our roofs and later once they are on their own.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Friday, September 12, 2014

Let's Stop Dressing Like Slobs When We Travel. . .

How it used to be. . .  When commercial air travel was, in general, still a special and comfortable experience, and your fellow passengers did not look (or smell) like they had just crawled out of a big, green, slimy garbage bin behind a restaurant somewhere.

Imagine my surprise, when I stumbled on this piece about NOT dressing like a complete slob when you travel.  Enough said?

-- Heinz-Ulrich 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Get a Grip on Yourself!

Tapping or drumming one's fingers on the table is just one common (and irritating) type of fidgeting.

If you'll pardon the blatant Seinfeld reference, are you master of your domain?  Ok, ok. . .  Settle down class.  Class?  Class?  Class!  Kidding aside, I'm talking about your ability to sit still whether you are alone or with others.  An inability to do so is as annoying in adults as it is in children, and fidgeting instantly betrays intense nervousness and uncertainty on your part.  

Besides learning how to dress and conduct himself more nicely, an average guy working to kick up his everyday style should also ask himself, "Am I able to sit still?"  If, after careful reflection, the honest answer is no, then here is a short list of typical nervous behaviors that you'll want to get under control:

1) Tapping or drumming your fingers incessantly on tabletops.

2) Biting or picking at your nails or cuticles.

3) Sniffing or clearing your throat constantly

4) Playing with your hair, face, or nose (ick!).

5) Bouncing or tapping your foot on the floor.

6) Waving your foot or lower leg when your legs are crossed.

7) Wiggling both knees back and forth rapidly when seated (as though your are three and desperately need to visit the bathroom).

8) Cracking your knuckles.

9) Clicking a ball point pen or drumming with a pencil.

10) Twiddling your fingers and thumbs or playing with small stuff within arm's reach (Zippo cigarette lighters, jingling the change in your pocket, etc.).

11) Chewing on your lip or the inside of your cheek.

12) Picking at your clothing.

Without a doubt there are additional nervous habits that I'm not thinking of at the moment, but these dozen commonly observed activities provide a useful starting point if you determine that your are indeed a chronic fidgeter who needs to rein himself in.  Barring Restless Leg Syndrome or more serious mental health issues, you need to get a grip on yourself if any of these habits are familiar to you.   

And if this particular post itself seems a bit irritating and persnickety, remember, the devil is in the details.  A stylish, sophisticated adult male has control over himself.  He is able to sit still, giving the impression, at least, of being calm, cool, confident, and collected regardless of the place, time, or situation.  After all, it's hard to picture genuine cultural icons like Cary Grant, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Sean Connery, or Michael Caine, for example, fidgeting their ways through their movies. . .  or their personal lives.

-- Heinz-Ulrich