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.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Stylish, Understated, and Masculine. . .

Not cheap, but certainly not as expensive as some, the various scents in the Royall line are one of the best kept secrets in the world of men's fragrances.  Not pictured are Royall Bay Rum and my new favorite, Royall Vitiver.

For average guys, kicking up our style a notch or two involves more than just clothes and shoes.  At some point, you'll want to think more seriously about things like aftershave and cologne.  Now, there are lots of these on the market at all price points from the horribly cheap to the frightfully expensive.  Moderation in most things, however, is a good route to travel, and that also holds true true when it comes to male fragrances.  Don't worry.  It's not necessary for you to load up on Axe body wash, spray, and aftershave (Ugh!), or dip into your savings account to afford a bottle of exclusive Aqua di Parma. 

Very often, you can find nice, unique aftershaves and colognes in the US$25-60 range, and that's the case with today's feature.   Royall Bermuda Limited produces a collection of understated, masculine fragrances that are within easy reach of most pocket books.  Even better, these are a well-kept secret that many men don't seem to be aware of.  So, using one will be a truly unique addition to your style arsenal and help you stand out from the legions of Axe-wearers who plague our public spaces these days.

My maternal grandmother first presented me with a bottle of Royall Lyme one Christmas in the md-1980s, and I have been a fan ever since.  For our recent wedding anniversary, my wife gave me a new one to try, which I have fallen instantly in love with. . . Royall Vitiver, which has a spicy yet simultaneously clean aroma unlike anything I have ever experienced.  Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, it is much easier to track down and purchase items like these than once was the case not too many years ago.  So, if and when you are seeking a new fragrance, to help you kick up your own style a notch or two, give one of the Royall Bermuda Limited lotions shown above a try.  You won't be disappointed.

One final important note though.  When we have a scent that we really like -- and I sometimes stray close to this territory myself -- it's occasionally too easy to splash on a bit too much of your favorite aftershave or cologne.  And we've all been in an elevator with THAT guy, or behind him on the street.  Know what I mean?  Aftershave and cologne are things that only a spouse, partner, or lover should be able to smell when they are up close.  You don't want to apply so much of the stuff that people can small you across a room, and the aroma lingers in the air after you have left the building.  Less, is more here, Elvis, so resist the urge to drown yourself in that new Royall Musk you just bought.  Believe me.  Others will silently thank you for your consideration.

Friday, June 15, 2012

An Eye-Opening Lesson in Men's Style. Or Lack Thereof. . .

Part of the cast from the sadly concluded TV program Boston Legal, looking extremely spiffy, confident, and capable.

This particular blog post was to have been about pants alone, but after an experience I had this week, it made better sense to make a slight detour and discuss some common style gaffs that we see again and again, though I was surprised to observe them given the environment in which I found myself, and the situation of which I was a part two days ago.

On Wednesday, I endured my civil duty for the day and reported for potential jury service here in my small-to-medium-sized Midwestern city.  While I won't go into the details of the case (extremely distasteful), or why I was, ultimately, excused from service, the experience was eye opening with regard to men's style.  There wasn't much in evidence, and if the the men discussed below were striving for a well-groomed, sophisticated professional appearance, they fell far short of the mark.  

Given the gravity of the situation, I was surprised that no one seemed to make the effort to dress more seriously in view of the task potential jurors would be asked to perform if selected to sit on the jury.  Of the 31 people present that morning, about a third of whom were men, I was the only one wearing a jacket and tie besides the judge, four attorneys, and the bailiff.

On that note, the lawyers and bailiff, who ranged in age from approximately 30-60 years old, exhibited a number of style gaffs that average guys who want to kick up their own look a notch or two should do their best to avoid.  So, I'll briefly enumerate the problems I noticed right off the bat as we sat in the courtroom, waiting for the judge and attorneys to start their interviews of potential jurors and the weeding-out process:

1) Pants that were too long
Much of appearing stylish has to do with fit.  And ill-fitting pants are probably one of the first things most people will notice.  Three of the four attorneys in question had on pants that were far too long, exceeding even 'full break' length.  They might have been wearing $5000 suits for all I know, but they still looked sloppy, and like they were wearing castoffs from a dead great uncle or someone else.  Make sure to opt for a medium break when you have your own pants altered.  It's classic, timeless, and your pants will look like they fit you. . .  not some former college basketball player who didn't make the pros.

2) Pants that were too short
The fourth attorney wore pants that were too short, almost highwaters, and he looked like a dweeb.  Sure, this is a really trendy look right now, but unless you're trying to channel your inner Pee Wee Herman (and you know what he was arrested for), don't go there.

3) Suit coats that were too big
All four attorneys and the bailiff had on coats that were far too big in the chest and/or shoulders.  The unfortunate result was that their respective garments hung from their frames like winter coats tossed carelessly on a coat rack in the front hall.  Again, it made them appear as if they were dressed in someone else's clothes, and they all looked somewhat less than pulled together.

4) Suits or sports jackets that were too shiny
One of the four attorneys in the courtroom wore what was clearly a summer-weight, casual suit in some kind of shiny sage color.  Now, I'm a fan of silk and silk blend sports jackets in many colors and color combinations.  As long as they don't exhibit a visible shine that is.  But this guy's suit was S-H-I-N-Y.   Shiny!  It probably cost him a pretty penny too, but it looked cheap and screamed slimy, small-town lawyer.  There is, after all, a reason why we have this particular stereotype, and this individual fit it well.  Make sure to avoid a similar situation when you add items to your own wardrobe.

5) Neckties that were tied too loose or tied too long/short
When a necktie is tied properly, you should still be able to slide a finger or two between your collar/tie and you neck.  The knot should be cinched up to meet the top edge of your buttoned shirt (the top button should not show), and the large end of your tie should hang to the center of your belt, assuming your pants are sitting on your natural waist (not sagging down around your hips).  Oh, and tuck the small end of your tie into the label or special loop for this purpose on the rear of the large end.  Keep in mind, neckties need to be checked two or three times during the day (in the men's room mirror) to tighten the knot and make sure your tie is hanging straight.  Make that a habit whenever you don a necktie.

6) Necktie and dress shirt worn without a sports jacket or suitcoat
The defendant wore a decent looking light blue dress shirt and solid color dark tie, presumably instructed to do so by his defense attorney in an attempt to appear less threatening and more credible.  A real stand-up guy.  What was missing, though, was a suit coat or subdued sports jacket.   Sorry, but someone who puts on a tie without adding the requisite suit coat (or sports jacket) just succeeds in looking like a high school-aged greeter at The Olive Garden.  To be fair, the defendant clearly has bigger problems than how he was dressed for his trial the other day.  

7) Casual shoes that looked like workboots worn with a suit
The number of men who seem to think this is an acceptable look is astounding.   Even if you have on expensive clothing that has been properly altered to fit you well, when you add footwear like Clarke's to the ensemble, you resemble an Amish farmer gone to town to sell his harvest of turnips and potatoes from the back of his horse-drawn wagon.  Get some decent pairs of leather dress shoes guys!  One of the attorneys the other day sported what was obviously a pair of Clarke's with his black suit, and he looked ridiculous.  How can the rest of us take him seriously?  As an aside, avoid black suits like the plague and opt instead for charcoal gray.  It will impart a much more refined appearance, and you won't look like an undertaker or funeral director.

8) Dress shoes that were scuffed and/or with visible dust along the welt
The bailiff and three of the four attorneys present on Wednesday morning wore leather dress shoes that were scuffed and/or dusty.  Something that was readily apparent from quite a distance away.  Regardless of the cost of your gear, you've got to maintain it by caring for it routinely, or it will look shabby very quickly and wear out much sooner.  Have at least two pairs of dress shoes to alternate day-to-day, so that they have time to dry out and regain their shape for 24-36 hours.  Add considerable life to those same dress shoes by storing them with cedar shoe trees inside, giving them a weekly shine with leather balm and polish, and brushing them off at day's end with a horsehair brush.  Keep an eye, too, on the wear you put on soles and heels, taking your shoes to the cobbler for repairs sooner than you think you should.

9) Shoes and belts did not match 
Say it with me!  You shoes and belt must, must, must match in color and (preferably) degree of shine.  I don't think there was a man present on either of the legal teams who obeyed this particular style rule, but doing so will dress up your own look instantly.

10) Neckties and shirts that were the same or very similar in color
When your shirt and tie are the same or similar color, you look like you bought a cheap shirt-necktie combo at Target, T.J. Maxx, or Kohl's.  Worse, you also resemble a cheap thug from Tbilisi with a unibrow, who sells fake Gucci handbags, pirated CDs, and smacks around his three different girlfriends once they start asking when he's going to make honest women out of 'em.  So, it's definitely a look you want to avoid as you work to reconfigure your own wardrobe and kick up your style a notch or two.

11) Pants that weren't pulled up high enough
Ok, if you've got on a suit (or a sports jacket-odd pants combination for that matter), your pants need to be worn at your natural waist and kept in place with a belt.  The saggy prison chic look that exposes your boxers and/or buttocks to the world has no place when you're dressed for public consumption.  End of discussion.  This particular issue involved a younger (25-28 years old maybe?) clerk of some kind, who was in and out of the courtroom during the morning, not one of the attorneys.  Still, why hasn't someone taken this guy to one side and quietly provided some gentle but firm guidance?

12) Shirts that were not tucked fully/smoothly into the waistband of dress pants
Since none of the four attorneys or the bailiff were anything approaching overweight, this point, in particular, baffles me.  If you're trying to make a positive impression and hope to convince others that the case you make for your client is worthy of a jury's consideration, how hard is it to get your shirt tucked in smoothly when you dress in the morning?  It's not a look that guys interested in kicking up their style a notch or two should emulate.  So, make sure to tuck in your dress shirts NEATLY when you put on your clothes each morning.  Be aware, too, that the occasional check or 'retuck' might be necessary during the day, and that is easily accomplished in the men's room, taking you what?  Maybe 30 seconds before you zip up? 

My call for potential jury duty was eye-opening and provided 'a teachable moment.'  I've shared the experience because the popular conception of attorneys is that they know how to dress and present themselves, thanks to perceived high salaries (not always the case actually), much like the characters seen on TV shows like L.A. Law and Boston Legal.  And maybe that image holds true if a lawyer is in a large city and fortunate enough to be a junior or senior partner in a high-profile firm.

From what I've seen in my little corner of the world, however, the law schools from which these attorneys graduated need to coach their students in better dressing.  It can only help them in both their personal lives and professional careers in much the same way that dressing more nicely and with more flair can help us average guys in our own endeavors.  The main point here is that a poor appearance gets in the way of your message, whatever that might be.  So, it is vital that we men make the effort to present ourselves to the best of our abilities.  To put our best foot forward as an older generation might have phrased it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

You've got your measurements, now what?

A selection of Brooks Brothers button-down shirts.  True classics in the word of menswear.

Alright.  After braving that all important visit to the tailor, what's next on the agenda for average guys, who are interested in kicking up their style up a notch or two?  Well, once you have your exact measurements, you'll want to begin by purchasing a few long-sleeved cotton shirts.  Avoid shirts that are sized as small, medium, large, or extra large.  Opt instead for shirts that are as close as possible to your precise collar and sleeve size.

Keep it simple for now and pick up half a dozen dress shirts to start.  A good mix is one white, two  blue, and three patterned or striped ones  (keep the patterns and stripes understated) with button-down collars.  This type of shirt is extremely versatile and will work with a tie and sports jacket or blazer, or without.  If you are in the United States, button-down shirts can also be paired with the right kind of suit for that traditional East Coast ivy league preppy look if that's your thing.  In any case, whether you ever wear a tie or not, be sure that your shirts are always clean, pressed, and tucked in (you'll need a belt or two).  You’ll look more pulled together instantly.

 A prime example of how the simple act of tucking in a correctly fitted, clean, and pressed shirt will instantly kick up your style several notches.

Now, how can you begin adding shirts (and eventually other things) to your wardrobe without breaking the bank?  Watching for sales at you local department stores or menswear store is one way.  Even better, shop online at places like Land's End  or L.L. Bean and check out their overstocks or clearance pages.  You can, of course, find and purchase much more expensive shirts, and there are many possible options, but those available from these two outlets are decently made, affordable, and will last for quite a while with normal care and maintenance.  Occasionally online sellers like these will run sales or other kinds of special promotions that will allow you to save big bucks.

Remember though to think the purchases of sale items over carefully before you part with your hard-earned cash.  The guys at Put This On have a number of interesting things for you to consider about clearance sales, both the kind that are offered in the physical and the virtual worlds.  On that note, Ebay and Etsy are also good online sources for clothing if you don't mind gently used items.  The only difficulty here is that you might not be able to find five or six shirts in your size all at once, so it might take a few weeks for you acquire everything.

A fourth option, and the most fun one, is to find and frequent your local thrift or clothing consignment shop, your local Goodwill, or the Salvation Army store.  Usually, those located in more affluent neighborhoods will have a wider variety of higher quality items to sort through.  Naturally, you'll need to examine the stock carefully and wade through lots of less-than-stellar clothes, but occasionally you'll strike gold.  When you find those sought after items, buy them right then, because they won't be there when you come back later.

A blue cotton oxford cloth button-down shirt like this one will go with anything from jeans to suit.  You can't go wrong with a few of these hanging in your closet.

The subject of thrifting effectively can fill a book, and if it appeals to you, have a look at An Affordable Wardrobe (link at right).  The guy behind the blog has an encyclopedic knowledge of thrifting and tailoring tips.  He also offers some amazing clothing finds for sale in his online shop.  Check it out.

One final word on shirts for today.  Stay away from the short-sleeved variety.  Unless you will be at the beach or around the pool, these always scream 'guy who doesn't know any better'.  And before anyone wonders about it, never, ever, EVER pair a necktie with a short-sleeved shirt.  Why risk looking like a goofball?  Otherwise, it's got to be long-sleeved 100% cotton shirts since these are the most versatile kind to own and the most comfortable.   You can always roll up your sleeves (neatly) should warmer weather warrant it, and most places are air-conditioned these days anyway.

Next time, here at The Average Guy's Guide to Style, we'll talk pants.  Tune in then!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Think long-term and visit a tailor. . .

A few tools of the tailor's trade.

A few related style points to make today.  First, dressing better and overhauling your personal style takes a little bit of time.  There is a small learning curve to consider.  In addition, few of us average guys have enough extra cash on hand to do this in one fell swoop.  So, developing a nicer appearance, and the wardrobe that will eventually go with it, takes time.  But getting there is half the fun.

Ok, let's get down to business.  Think of kicking up your style as a process, and here's the first part of it.  Go to your bedroom and examine what's hanging in your closet, folded in your dresser drawers, or at the bottom of your laundry bag.  Take a good hard look at each piece.  Identify and filter out the over-sized stuff (or the things that are slightly too small), the ragged, worn items, or anything with huge logos, brand names, or cartoon characters.  You might not be able to do this all at once, so think long-term, and plan to donate or otherwise dispose of the worst offenders first.  In short, unless you plan to sleep in that massive Tasmanian Devil t-shirt that comes almost to you knees, out it goes!

Chandler explaining to Joey what makes his tailor a bad man during season two of Friends.  Don't worry!  A visit to the tailor isn't this weird in real life.

Then, find and visit a local tailor, to get your measurements taken.  Don’t feel intimidated by this.  Lots of men and women use seamstresses and tailors for repairs and alterations to their clothing.  An initial visit to get your measurements doesn’t take long or cost much, and it makes the rest of the style process easy because you'll then be able to find and purchase clothes that come much closer to actually fitting you.  

 A few simple measurements are all you'll need to begin kicking up your style a notch or two, and it's best to have an experience tailor take these for you, so that you are armed with accurate information about your physical dimensions.

At the very least, make sure the tailor notes your correct neck, chest, and waist sizes, your sleeve and inseam lengths (these may differ slightly between your right and left sides).  A really good tailor may also suggest a few other measurements that will assist you in your purchasing decisions and subsequent alterations.  In any case, ask the tailor to write down your physical dimensions on an extra piece of paper for you to take home.  Put that information somewhere safe where you can consult it (or better yet, take it with you) later when it actually comes time to buy stuff.

Alright.  You've got some measurements, so what do you do with 'em?  Well, next time, we'll start considering the clothes themselves that will help you kick up your style a notch or two and where you might find them.  See you then!