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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A brisk morning walk. . .

Noted cad, bounder and style maven Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke modeling the ensemble described below.


Enjoyed a brisk morning walk around the neighborhood with my small son this morning.  As the calendar takes us toward December and the start of Advent and the Christmas season, my thoughts for this cold, late November day are as follows: Vintage Harris Tweed.  Corduroy.  Navy wool necktie with tiny orange and grey paisleys.  Windowpane button-down shirt.  Brown suede wingtips.  Orange and brown Italian silk pocket square stuffed carelessly into pocket.  Photo to follow later.  

Yours,

Ulrich von B.

Friday, November 23, 2012

"But I feel so uncomfortable when I'm dressed up!"

This classic menswear illustration by the late Laurence Fellows shows two gentlemen simply relaxing and enjoying themselves in each others' company.  And what do you notice?  Why, they're dressed of course.

A common complaint heard from many average guys is that they feel physically and psychologically uncomfortable in situations where they must dress up.  But what does "dressed up" mean anyway?

Dressed up means unwrinkled, clean adult clothes with decent leather shoes and a matching leather belt with some kind of blazer/sports jacket and wool or khaki pants combination at the very least, or even a suit for those more formal occasions.  A silk, linen, or cotton pocket square is optional for those more adventurous sartorial souls out there.  

Moreover, when you are dressed up, your creased pants should sit at your natural waist (in the vicinity of your belly button), NOT down around your hips or rear end with the crotch between your knees.  Your necktie, if you are wearing one, should be comfortably cinched up high enough to cover the top button of your fully buttoned long-sleeve shirt.  Finally, its front blade should be long enough to end at the very middle of your belt.  Too much longer or shorter than that, and you look like a goofball who hasn't a clue.

Dressed up does not include in any way the following items: sneakers, sweatpants, t-shirts, an untucked "going out" shirt, jeans or cargo pants, shorts, flip-flops, or anything resembling a baseball cap.  That's dressing down, and very few people can pull it off well beyond the gym, basketball court, beach, pool, or backyard where those kinds of garments are actually appropriate.  Get it?  Got it?  Good.

Let's make a serious and concerted effort to eradicate the strange phenomenon of the perpetually sloppy and eternal man-child by getting our collective act back together and sprucing ourselves up beyond the bare minimum.  Ok, guys?  A highly effective way to do that is by dressing like we're adults more often than has become the accepted norm over the last 20-odd years. In a word, let's dress and behave like grown men with some grooming, taste, and sophistication.

With that out of the way, how can we address the perceived comfort issue?  There are two related ways to feel and appear more comfortable and at ease when you are dressed up.  Pay attention.

First, as I've indicated here in a recent post, get clothes that fit.  Get your precise measurements taken at a tailor and purchase garments that come as close as possible to those measurements.  Thrift and consignment shops are a great way to do this without breaking the bank.  Where and however you buy your clothes, yes, you'll need to try them on and check yourself out in the mirror to ensure proper size and fit.  Get over it!  Make your purchases once you've picked out a few good quality items and then revisit your tailor for any necessary alterations (sleeve and inseam lengths, minor waist alterations, etc.).  Remember, about the only thing tailors cannot do is alter shoulders in jackets.  So make sure a jacket fits there before purchasing it.  If it does not, walk away.

Second, once you've assembled a modest wardrobe, wear your clothes.  Don't keep them in your closet, saving them for those two or three special occasions a year.  Pick up and dust off your self-confidence, put on some good looking threads, and go forth!  Leave the house.  See and be seen.  Join friends for a drink in the evening at your favorite watering hole and do it dressed.  Or throw on some loafers, tuck in your shirt and grab a sports jacket  before you meet that special someone for a coffee and something sweet at your local cafe on a Saturday or Sunday.  The point is, wear and enjoy your clothes.  Caring about appearance and making a modicum of effort to look acceptable for public consumption -- the world ain't your living room after all -- will have all kinds of explicit and implicit benefits for you. 

For starters, you'll find that by actually wearing dressier, ADULT male clothes, you begin to feel less self-conscious and more comfortable in them, soon forgetting them altogether.  That's how you look and feel comfortable in your clothes.  Call it nonchalance or sprezzatura, an Italian word that's enjoying a lot of popularity right now.  In any case, when you look comfortable  in your clothes, you also project an incredibly strong aura of self-confidence that's hard to ignore.  Women, co-workers, and supervisors to name just three groups with whom you interact routinely will pick up on your improved appearance immediately.  Not to mention sales clerks, restaurant greeters and waiters, plus ticketing/gate agents in airports  and flight crews.  People, whoever they are, pay attention to those who appear pulled together and at ease in their dress, speech, and behavior regardless of the situation.  Calm power, or the appearance of it, is an aphrodisiac as the saying goes.  Trust me.


And here's a photo of that well-known style maven, notorious cad, and bounder Ulrich von Boffke in an equally relaxed setting earlier this fall, sitting around the house DRESSED.  No sweatpants or ratty cargo pants in sight.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

For special occasions, how about dressing for dinner?

Of course, you don't necessarily need to wear a suit for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner -- even though that is the example my father and grandfather set for me -- but for Heaven's sake, don't turn up to someone else's house where you are a guest, or your own holiday table, in sweatpants and a t-shirt!

For those special occasions that come up between mid-November and January 1st each year, including Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner,  how about leaving the jeans, t-shirts, and sweats behind for a few hours?  Demonstrate that you have a little taste and grooming by tossing on a pair of khaki pants worn with a leather belt and loafers, a blue button-down shirt (tucked in of course), and nice sports jacket or blue blazer.  And don't you dare wear a hat to the table, baseball or otherwise!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

An Uncomfortably Preachy Topic: Table Manners. . .

Hopefully, when you sit down to a meal with others, your table manners are better than this guy's.

In the blogosphere right now, you'll come across many blogs that talk at length about men's clothing style, grooming, appearance, and how these things contribute to our being/becoming/conducting ourselves as gentlemen.  But there is one hugely important and related topic that no one seems to mention on the many blogs that I read daily.  What is it, you ask?

Why, table manners of course.  Shock!  Horror!  Gasp!  Yep, I said it.  And I'm making no apologies.  Table manners should be as much a part of our personal style as our attire and grooming, if not more so.  Average guys ought to keep that in mind.  Even when we are at home with the door closed.  Newsflash!  Our close family is just as deserving of polite behavior as people we work with, ride public transport next to, or pass on the street.

However, because table manners are, perhaps incorrectly, associated with upbringing and/or perceived socio-economic class, they are an explosive issue, prompting accusations of snobbery and arguments about elitism.  Regardless of your position, basic table manners are clearly a challenge for many these days based on what you'll observe in most any restaurant or dinner gathering in which people from different backgrounds come together socially.

Sadly, lots of people labor under the delusion that manners in general are stiff, overly formal, old-fashioned, and outmoded with no place in modern society.  And if that's your attitude, fine.  I can't change it.  But let me make a few relevant points.  We aren't talking about state occasions, bowing to our social superiors, curtseying to the Queen, shrimp forks, or finger bowls here.  Just common decency and ensuring that we remain pleasant to have around.  We are not cavemen, dogs, or farm animals eating from troughs after all.  Moreover, actions speak louder than words.  And just like our attire, our behavior speaks volumes about us and conveys a great deal about where we come from, and the kind of person we are beneath the fancy clothing, excessive education, certifications, and impressive-sounding titles.  

Of course we want to make a good first impression with the various people we meet and those we work with.  But we also want to maintain that positive initial image over time.  Likewise, we want to remain attractive, likeable, and desirable to our chosen mates and partners.  Why risk spoiling that with crude behavior?  Finally, if we have them, we want to set solid examples of decent behavior for our children.  We want to teach them to be gentlefolk with good grooming and at least a modicum of refinement and sophistication.  Basic table manners are a part of all that like it or not. 

So, without belaboring the point any further, here are a dozen tips to remember that will go a long way in helping us average guys to be pleasant dining companions -- and more gentlemanly -- whether we are around the family table, having a working lunch with colleagues, or meeting that special person's parents for the very first time with a sit-down dinner as part of the equation.  Here we go:


1) Above all, use the words, "please," thank you," and (if necessary) "excuse me" liberally.  Don't forget it!

2) Sit up in your chair with both feet on the floor in front of you.  Don't bend one of your knees and rest your foot on the seat of the chair with your bent knee at face level.

3) Keep your elbows off the table and your napkin in your lap during the meal.  Oh, and you might want to use it to wipe your lips gently when necessary.

4) Ask for things to be passed to you.  Don't reach.

5) Cut your food -- or if eating a roll or bread, break it -- into bite-sized pieces.  Don't force huge hunks of food into your mouth.  Ick!

6) No one will take your food away from you, so don't slump over your plate with an arm around it, picking through your food with your fork.

7) Slow down!  Don't gobble your food as fast as you can.  This is not a pie or buffalo wing eating contest at a summertime county fair.

8) Don't slurp, burp, or make other noises at the table.  Chewing with your mouth closed might help.

9) Likewise, avoid (like the plague) talking with your mouth full.  No one wants to see that. And just imagine how embarrassed you would be if you spit out bits of food in the direction of a dining companion.  Chew it up, swallow, and take a drink before you say anything.

10) Remember not to gesture or point at others with your eating utensils.  We're nearing the end of the meal here, guys, so stay with me just a bit longer, guys.

11) When you finish, don't wipe up your plate with a piece of roll or bread.  Just place your silverware to one side on your plate (the right side in the 10 o-clock-4 o'clock position), and leave any remaining food residue where it is.  By the same token, DON'T lick your utensils clean.

12) Finally, please don't pick food from your teeth with a toothpick or finger while you are still at the table.  I actually witnessed a young woman engage in the latter yesterday in the dining commons of my small college where I was holding late-semester meetings with students.  Ugh!  If you find yourself with food stuck between two teeth, excuse yourself from the table for a few moments to take care of the problem quietly in the restroom.

An extra special Bonus Tip to keep in mind. . .
While at the table, there is certain subject matter (illnesses, certain surgeries, anything having to do with the bathroom, or bodily functions, etc. ) that is best left for another time.  If you absolutely need to discuss it at all.  Talking about thing like that during meals is crass and will probably put at least one other person at the table with you off of their food.  Our mothers raised us better than that, and we are no longer 10-year old boys at summer camp trying to show our friends how gross we can be.  Hopefully, we have left that behind by now.


So, there you are.  Make the pointers above habitual, live and die by them, and you will be well on your way to becoming an extremely pleasant dining companion in most situations you'll encounter.  And, as I indicated previously, if you take issue with what I've said here and persist in in ignoring it, that's fine.  We are certainly permitted our different points of view.  But there is probably little danger of us sitting down to enjoy a meal together anytime soon.





Let's find some nice middle ground in our attire. . .


Hugh Bonneville in character as Lord Grantham on the popular period piece Downton Abbey.  Although this photo shows only his top third, he is clearly in extremely formal "white tie" dinner attire.

We here at The Average Guy's Guide to Style are all for smartening up our collective appearance as a society.  And finding a nice middle ground in our grooming and attire is a start.  

But a common complaint many guys have is about feeling uncomfortable and constricted when they are dressed up in anything beyond jeans and sneakers (or shorts and flip-flops).  Well, here's a little secret.  If your clothes -- in particular your collar, chest, shoulder, and waist measurements -- are sized and fitted correctly, discomfort will no longer be an issue.  It's very hard to take accurate measurements of yourself though, so get thee to a tailor and have him or her do it for you.


Confidence is another issue related to the perceived level of discomfort that many average guys complain about.  Well, if your clothes are clean, fit you well, and feel good to you, your confidence level will go through the roof.  But be careful.  No one wants to be THAT guy in a blue blazer and white yachting cap at a relatively informal backyard picnic and barbecue in the summer.  And you certainly don't need to put on a suit and necktie to visit the mall on Saturday either.  No, no, no.  But let's ditch the sweatpants, tracksuits and basketball shorts, guys.  There are lots of nice middle ground clothing options between the two extremes that will help you to look like an adult male and avoid resembling an overgrown boy.
 


Common sense is what is called for here.  Use a little of it and dress for the environment, situation, or event in which you'll partake.  Sure, ratty looking, rumpled, over-sized clothes are fine for raking leaves in the back yard or maybe flopping down on the sofa with a plate of goopy home-made nachos to watch the big game on Saturday or Sunday afternoon.  But otherwise, let's all tuck our shirts back in, hitch our pants up to our waists where they belong, and put on belts before we head out the front door, eh? 



 At the other end of the spectrum, here is a basket of rumpled laundry. . .   which calls to mind the appearance of so many guys we see in public these days.  Whether, or not the tech boom of the 1990s is entirely to blame for the degree of sloppiness that now prevails, haven't we lost something as a society in sliding to such appallingly low standards of appearance and behavior?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Have Fun with Patterns and Footwear. . .

Even in black and white, this photo of the late Duke of Windsor provides a good idea of his sartorial eccentricities.  We here at The Average Guy's Guide to Style are certainly not suggesting something so outlandish for you.


But don't fear adding a little bit of pattern to your wardrobe either.  An item like this subdued houndstooth jacket -- modeled here by that notorious jet-setter, bounder, and cad the Prince Ulrich von Boffke -- will add a bit of visual interest and flair to your wardrobe without going over the top and straying into more flamboyant territory.  Not that there's anything wrong with that!


Shoes and socks are another place where average guys can shake things up a bit and add some pizzazz to their appearance.  Suede wingtips along with a subtly striped pair of charcoal socks are sometimes just the ticket.  Tasseled loafers, too, will work equally well with dress jeans, khakis, or creased wool pants like those above.  Just make sure keep it fairly simple in relation to the rest of your clothes that you put on in the morning.  And be certain to match your belt as closely as possible to your shoes.

A little bit of style goes a long way. . .



A little bit of care put into your personal appearance goes a long way.  And you don't even need to be as pressed and starched as Don Draper (played by John Hamm) from Mad Men.

“Since the time it was introduced in the seventeenth century, the modern suit has been about two things: power and sex. If you doubt us, try this simple experiment. Some evening, go to a nice hotel bar where you don’t know anyone, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. The jeans don’t even have to have holes in them, and the t-shirt can be clean. Now, return to the same bar the next evening wearing a nice suit. Take note of the difference in reaction from the bartender and of the other patrons in the bar. Remember them.” - Esquire Style Handbook
 

Well, I don't know about the power and sex bit.  But, I have noticed how a blazer or sports jacket with a clean shirt, a clean pair of jeans worn with a belt, and some kind of LEATHER shoes (or even cowboy boots), to say nothing of a suit and tie, still wakes people up and gets them to pay attention. Fast. 

Service people of all stripes snap to it quickly. And everyone else you cross paths with -- women in particular, though my wife refuses to believe me -- will react much more favorably to a guy who looks like he's got his act together than might otherwise be the case. I've experienced this everywhere from university campuses to airports, on planes and in trains, from Barnes&Noble bookstores to the hospital, from large cities to small towns. 

It's amazing how just a smidgeon of care about -- and effort put into -- one's personal appearance and the message it conveys will grease the wheels of life.  Considerably.  Try it yourself and see.