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.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Recondition Your Dress Shoes!

The newly arrived reconditioned Allen Edmonds shoes, courtesy of Allen Edmonds, along with a few unexpected customer appreciation gifts.

Readers of The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style will know that I generally advocate thrifting and watching for sales as cost-conscious ways of building one's wardrobe.  And the same goes for footwear.  I've been lucky enough to spot half a dozen pairs of Allen Edmonds dress shoes in two local thrift stores and online during the last couple of years, building a small but respectable collection of very nice dress shoes for a fraction of their retail cost.  Some among you might be able to acquire a good basic collection of dress shoes more rapidly if you have more and better thrift shops in your area, but I suffer from smaller than average feet for a guy, and narrower too.  So, it has taken a bit longer than I thought it initially might to find and add several pairs of quality dress shoes to the wardrobe.

The pair of Allen Edmonds shoes pictured above were purchased this winter via Ebay for US$15 and arrived looking pretty worn, scuffed, and dried out with several coats of old, cracked cordovan polish on them.  Not ripped, torn, or beyond repair, mind you, but definitely not in wearable condition either. However, the Allen Edmonds company, based just outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, offers an array of recrafting packages for their shoes.  And since I paid such a cheap price for the pair above to begin with, I thought, why not spend a bit to get them looking really good once again?

The finished shoes arrived by FedEx a little while ago, and I cannot say enough good about them.  I did not opt for the top of the line Prestige reconditioning package, but the next notch below that, the most popular Standard option.  In a little over three weeks, the shoes have been fully restored: old coats of wax stripped away, moisturizer applied to the leather, redyed to their original color (more or less), and newly polished.  The welting, soles, and heels have also been replaced along with the cork bed below the soles and with new waxed laces too.  

The verdict?  The shoes look exquisite to my eyes.  A tan-brown color with a lovely patina to them that I was not expecting.   The shoes do not look brand new by any stretch of the imagination, but rather loved, worn routinely, maintained, and with a history behind them. Oh, and a wonderfully soft suppleness has been restored to the leather as well.  I am, as the British might say, pleased as punch with the AE cobblers' work.

On top of that, those savvy folks at Allen Edmonds tossed in a US$35 gift card, good toward the future purchase of their products or shoes (I'll need to watch their upcoming online sales) plus a couple of pairs of dress socks, one in cotton and one in Merino wool.  All of that is, of course, terrific incentive for clients to continue doing business with Allen Edmonds directly, but I absolutely cannot wait to wear these shoes come Monday morning.  Talk about adding a spring to your step as you leave the house!

For all of my teeny-bopper fan-boy gushing about Allen Edmonds, their products,  and fine customer service, the main point of all this shoe-talk today, gentlemen, is that you should never overlook a potentially great purchase just because that pair of shoes you're ogling in a thriftshop or online looks a little (ahem) down-at-the-heels.  Especially where quality footwear is concerned.  

Sometimes, it makes good sense to make what amounts to a ridiculously inexpensive purchase anyway, and then follow up by spending some additional money for skilled reconditioning like that offered by Allen Edmonds.  You won't be disappointed.  To paraphrase those annoying television commercials for the Men's Warehouse, you're going to like how your feet look and feel. . .  I guarantee it!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Sartorial Faceplants. . .

Perhaps the ultimate in skiing faceplants.  How did they get him (or her?) out?

Some days, just nothing seems to go right, and that has certainly been the case so far today with regard to clothes and the pretense of attempting to dress stylishly.  To wit:

1) Already too late early this morning to take the time and head back upstairs for a different sports jacket or blazer, a brass button (the buttoning point button) came off my mid-blue blazer this morning as I rushed out the door.  The first time this season I've worn that particular blazer too.  Should've known right then that the stars were not aligned properly today.  Sigh.

2) Mid-morning, during office hours to which students rarely come (unless you make them visit you by making it count as part of their grade), one of those tiny metal pins that keeps leather watch straps attached to the actual wristwatch broke on my Bulova watch.  This is really maddening since it has not been three months since I had the pins and strap replaced at the jewler's.  Argh!

3) While chekcing my appearance in the mensroom mirror late in the morning. I noticed what looks like powdered sugar residue in two highly visible places near the crotch of a pair of Luciano Barbera pants that I've worn maybe three times before today.  Since the pants went to the dry-cleaner's after I found them in a thrift shop, and I never eat anything like powder sugar doughnuts when I am dressed nicely, these spots are vexing to say the least.  WHAT are they from, HOW did they get there, and do I really want to know?  Hopefully, no students or colleagues noticed, but it's unsettling to say the least.  Grrrr. . .

4) A pick-up of several items at the dry-cleaner's on the way home revealed that, apparently, no special attention was given to removing a small spot of car door grease from a pair of gabardine dress pants when I dropped them last Friday although I pointed out the spot, and the clerk put some red tape next to it.  Today, not only is the original spot in full evidence, but a second spot has materialized a few inches away.  #$%&#*!

Hopefully, that's the last of it, but I think I'll ask my wife to avoid making any dishes with tomato sauce this weekend.

Faceplant -- In skiing and snowboarding, a kind of fall where your face is planted unceremoniously in the snow for all to see and chide you about later.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Swing of the Sartorial Pendulum

The cast of AMC's Mad Men.  While this particular business dress aesthetic might not be to your taste, do you really want to leave the house for work five days a week dressed like you're going to push a broom somewhere?

You might not need to dress in a three-piece suit and necktie within your particular line of work.  But neither do you want to drift aimlessly into the ill-defined, amorphous mess that "business casual" has become most places.  Why risk straying dangerously into slob territory? 

Like it, or not, a slovenly appearance, implies a boatload of negative things to clients, co-workers, supervisors, and even strangers you pass on the street.  You don't care about details.  You can't be bothered.  It's too much trouble.  You're too busy.  It doesn't matter.  Others just have to deal with it.  You'll wear and do what you want.  You're not putting yourself out for anyone or anything.  Tough luck, buddy!  The list goes on and on.

Sorry guys.  Hate to break it to you, but that kind of self-centered attitude no longer carries any weight in the professional world, or, indeed, within what used to be called polite society.  Especially in tough economic times when competition for scarce jobs and promotions is fierce.  It ain't the 1990s anymore before the tech bubble burst.  It's just not smart leaving the house for work in 2013 dressed in saggy jeans, dirty khakis, and ill-fitting fleeces or zip-up sweat jackets.  Items you might wear to rake leaves or clean the garage on a Saturday afternoon.  

Sadly, many of the male employees I observed early this morning, from the courtesy van of my local auto repair shop, schlepped aimlessly into the corporate headquarters of a nationally recognized insurance giant wearing precisely the items I describe.  CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS!!??  Office jobs.  You would have thought from their appearance, though, that most of these guys were headed to punch the clock on the way to operate heavy manufacturing equipment during their shift.  If you aspire to more than simply the bare minimum in life and career, however, a little thought and effort concerning your appearance and what it conveys is vital. 

Some easy suggestions for more fitting business casual attire for men (and the ladies too).

So, set yourself apart from the drones in the cubicles around you just a bit.  Take a little time to spruce up your wardrobe.  Make an effort to look like you give a damn and are up to any professional challenges or opportunities to lead that might come your way.  Keep an eye open for sales (Land's End, L.L. Bean, or J. Crew for example), or hit the thrift shops and acquire a few good quality sports jackets, a navy blazer or two, several pairs of medium weight wool dress pants in grays, charcoals, and taupes with maybe a navy or charcoal suit for special meetings or social occasions.

Endeavor to own more than a single necktie with Pepe LePeu on it.  Visit your tailor for minor alterations to make sure everything fits you well.  Ditch the sneakers and square-toed vinyl shoes for a few pairs of lace-up leather shoes, along with some classic loafers in oxblood for those less formal days.  Don't forget to match your belts to your shoes either.  Demonstrate to the world that you have some broader knowledge and sophistication beyond the book learning of your college years.  You are an adult member of the white collar world now, presumably something you wanted since you took the time to earn at least one degree, so make the effort to look like a professional with some expertise and grooming.

Along those same lines, make sure your physical appearance is impeccable.  Don't worry.  No one is asking you to become a vain pretty boy, but get your hair trimmed a bit more often.  Opt for a conservative, masculine cut and leave the mousse to the junior high boys.  Comb and part your hair post-shower.  Shave five mornings a week.  Avoid dousing yourself in cheap aftershave or cologne.  Exercise some restraint.  Keep an eye on the eyebrows, nose, and ear hair too, and trim when needed.  Check your appearance in the men's room mirror occasionally during the day.  

 A casual, but nonetheless extremely sharp Paul Newman,  Notice.  Leather shoes.  No tie.  Informal jacket.  Yet he still looks great.  This is how to do it.

Here's an equally important related, though often overlooked, point to remember.  There are about a thousand different ways of expressing your thoughts, whatever those might be, without peppering your professional and casual conversation with four-letter words every two seconds.  So, watch your mouth too.  Sure, the very occasional clever (is there such a thing?) dirty joke might be one thing when you're with the guys. . .  away from the workplace.  But constant swearing doesn't make you appear edgy or cool.  Just ignorant.  Without much to say that's of any consequence at all.  And that's on a good day.  Get into the habit of looking and acting like you are someone special, a cut above the herd, who is worth having on the team and knowing personally.  Even on your own time away from work.

Done the right way, your clothing (and behavior) can accomplish a lot for you, both professionally and socially.  As noted writer and dresser Gay Talese stated in a 2011 Wall Street Journal article on the now discernible shift away from ultra (re: slob) casual attire toward more formal clothing once again, "Dressing conscientiously is exalting in the act of being alive. . .  It's an act of celebration [signaling] that you're here."

A much younger Michael Caine, looking casual, yet sharp, and ready for anything with nary a suit, tie, or backwards baseball cap in sight.

So, remember guys.  How we dress and act -- at work and in our private lives -- speaks volumes about the kind of people we are.  Regardless of what we might pretend to ourselves, or proclaim loudly to others.  While Mom and Dad might not be there to remind us anymore, let's strive to put our best foot forward in every situation.  Always.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dandy Friday. . .

My somewhat dandified get-up worn last Friday. 

Casual Fridays?  Ugh!  Hate the entire concept.  Too many people get it wrong.  So very wrong.  I mean, how can you give clients, people you supervise, or students and pupils you teach the impression of knowledge, expertise, capability, and skill when you wear things like grubby, wrinkled Dockers and an over-sized golf shirt, or frayed jeans and cheap square-toed shoes that fell out of fashion 20 years ago?  No, it's preferable to dress better than you are required to and keep it classic.  Clothing, after all, coveys a message whether we choose to admit it to ourselves or not. 

So, In my neck of the woods, I've rechristened these now ubiquitous dress down days as Dandy Fridays and dress accordingly.  One of the few benefits of being in academia.  No one hassles you about bucking the current company culture, or flaunting the team player "guidelines" laid down in the employee handbook by dressing like you actually give a damn.  After all, you haven't just tumbled off the back of the turnip wagon on market day.  Anyway, here is last Friday's ensemble above, which included the following items:

1) Brooks Brothers red & white micro-check all-cotton button-down -- A gift.

2) Corbin 3/2 Roll wool sports jacket with minimal shoulder padding -- $5.99 thrifted.

3) Land's End Dress Chinos (they keep a crease) in dove gray -- Purchased on sale.

4) Allen Edmonds black wingtips -- $39.99 via Ebay.

5) Land's End Necktie -- Purchased on sale.

6) Alfani Socks in charcoal gray with mid-blue polka dots -- Purchased on sale.

7) Land's End leather belt in black (not shown) --  Purchased on sale.  

8) Black and Gray Paisley Italian Silk Pocket Square with Handrolled Edges-- $1.99 thrifted

My point in sharing this particular combination of garments?  Well, there are two actually.  Or is it five?  First, it's easy to look good and feel comfortable, and do so at reasonable prices, if you a) make the effort and b) purchase clothes that fit without straying into the realm of the terminally over-sized look sported by far too many American guys.  

You want to go to the opposite end of the size spectrum either, and opt for the currently trendy tight Pee Wee Herman look.  A normal, comfortable fit is what you're after.  Neither are dress pants supposed to fit like snug jeans, guys, nor are suit coats and sports jackets meant to hang from your frame like extra large Hefty lawn and leaf bags.  

Minor alterations at the tailor's after you've made your purchases always help, but you've got to get your basic sizes right to begin with.  So, guys, get over yourselves and try on things BEFORE you buy them.  And whatever you do, keep you pants at your waist (where they are SUPPOSED to be) with a belt.  And, surprise, that should match your shoes in color as closely as possible, which is easy with black.

Next, have some fun with your look and don't be afraid of adding a little color, pattern, or texture to it.  No one is suggesting that you go completely over the top, but not everything in your closet needs to be in solid dark charcoal or navy either.  And for gosh sakes, whatever you do steer clear of black suits!  You'll look like a Secret Service agent, junior grade. . .  or, more likely, an out-of-work undertaker.

By the same token, black dress pants will make you look like a waiter.  Far better to go for more neutral colors like gray, charcoal, taupe, or light tan, which can be mixed and matched with virtually any blazer or sports jacket, giving you a wide array of more pulled together ensembles without always resorting to the (wrongly) perceived buttoned-up, nailed down  tight formality of a suit.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Restrained Monday. . .

The "look" for Easter Monday.

My love for tweed and wool sports jackets in bold houndstooths, herringbones, and tartans notwithstanding, sometimes it's nice to throw colleagues and students a curveball and wear something more austere once in a while.  And so it as with today's ensemble, which included:

Wool Flannel Pants by Corbin -- $3.99 (Thrifted)
Navy Wool 'University Club' Blazer by Polo -- $7.99 (Thrifted)
Wool Necktie -- $1.99 (Thrifted)
Silk Pocket Square -- $1.99 (Thrifted)
Shoes, Belt, and Shirt -- Purchased On Sale at Different Times in 2010.
Socks -- Purchased On Sale September 2004.

I was particularly taken with the unintended matching of the green socks with the tiny green flecks at the center of the gray floral designs on the tie.  A nice surprise when I realized it later.  In any case, it's just one more example of how average guys can put together an above average ensemble for pennies on the dollar.