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, May 11, 2013

Hardy Amis says. . .

The late Hardy Amis.

"I am quite aware that I shall annoy some people by my insistence on correctness based on tradition in the choice of certain articles of clothing; that I shall be called a snob and out of date. My reply again is that the suit is the dress of a gentleman. If you are one, you will instinctively, almost unconsciously, uphold its standards. If you are not, you might like to be helped. Don’t forget, I was not born a gentleman. But I was born with sharp eyes that noticed what a real gentleman wore and a curious mind which enquired into the origins of his style. What I learned I am trying to pass on."

-- Hardy Amis (from the Voxartoria blog)

Accessories: Those Smaller Bits of Classic Style. . .

A few smaller bits of classic style: a lovely old watch of good quality, a cigarette lighter, and pair of interesting cufflinks.

Often, in our quest to kick up our style a notch or three, it's easy to become fixated on clothing and shoes.  But there is a bit more to classic men's style than that.  "Accessories" also have their place in the more stylish guy's wardrobe.  With that in mind, here are a few suggestions that you might add to your own quest for classic style in the direction of Grant, Astaire, McQueen, Caine, Connery, and the Duke of Windsor among others.

1) A Chest Wallet or Money Clip 
 Why throw things off when you wear a snappy suit or sports jacket and dress pants by placing an over-stuffed wallet in your rear pocket?  Your look will become much (ahem) smoother with a chest wallet that you carry inside your jacket and/or a bill clip that you carry in a front pants pocket.

2) A Leather Cigarette Case
You hardly see these around any more, but you can find cigarette cases of various types via Ebay.  And they are a cool way to carry around your smokes (if you do), and an even cooler way to transport your own and others' business cards.  Again, carry this inside one of your suit coat or sports jacket pockets, NOT in your back pocket.

3) A Stainless Steel Cigarette Lighter
Zippos will do nicely although you can certainly find fancier and more expensive brands on the market.  It sure beats pulling a cheap Bic disposable out of your pocket to light up your own or someone else's smoke.  And even if you don't indulge, there are all sorts of unexpected uses for a cigarette lighter besides the obvious, for instance burning secret government documents, confusing enemy agents in the dark with false signals, and lighting campfires among them.

4) Collar Stays
A soft, relaxed button-down collar is one thing, but every guy ought to have at least two or three shirts with dressier spread or point collars hanging in his closet.  And you'll need collar stays to keep these shirts looking their best throughout the day.  Plastic collar stays will certainly do the trick, but metal ones last longer, hold their shape better, and their tiny bit of added weight ensures that your collar points stay where they should -- just touching the uppermost part of your chest.  By the way, wear spread and point collar styles ONLY with neckties.  They look stupid without.

5) A Wristwatch with a Leather Band
These might be considered unnecessary in the era of I-phones, but a decent quality, nondescript wristwatch lends an air of classic finish and sophistication to your overall look.  I'd suggest avoiding the larger, more ostentatious sporting watches with metal bands though.  Keep things understated with a slim dress watch of some kind worn with a leather band.  And remember, that leather watchband should match your shoes and belt for the day, so it's a good idea, eventually, to have at least two wristwatches on top of your dresser. 

 A few of the accessory items that go in my own pockets or on my wrist Monday through Friday each week (and sometimes during the weekends too).

6) A Good Quality (Leather) Brief or Attache Case
A expensive item when purchased new, but you can find decent brief and attache cases used on Ebay, or watch for retail sales in stores or online.   You might also be lucky enough to inherit one from a retiring or deceased male family member.  However you do it, though, make sure to acquire a brief or attache case and leave the Kelty bookpack behind.  For one, you'll ruin the shoulders and lining of any jacket (in the vicinity of your tailbone) that you wear said bookpack with.  Second, you'll resemble an overgrown junior high school boy, a look you presumably want to leave behind since you are reading this blog!  At some point, you might want to have two such cases, one in brown or tan and one in black, to coordinate with your shoes and belt for the day.

7) A Small Pocket Knife
An item you might not need often, but pocketknives are handy for opening envelopes and other occasional uses in the office and at home.  I'm partial to pocketknives made by Buck, Victorinox, and Wenger, but there are plenty of other decent brands out there.  Oh, one more thing.   Save yourself the frustration, and leave your knife at home when you are traveling by air, so you avoid having it confiscated by those charmingly over-zealous TSA agents who have populated U.S. airport terminals sine 9/11.  Clearly the Homeland Security Act of 2002 was a boon for the severely undereducated and otherwise unemployable.

8) A Leather Dress Belt. . .  or Two
If you are working hard to assemble a small but good quality wardrobe of menswear items in an effort to kick up your style a notch or three, you'll want to compliment it with at least one belt in brown (with a brass buckle) and another in black (with a stainless steel buckle) to match with your shoes, watchband, and briefcase for the day.  Good leather belts aren't cheap, but they look much better for much longer than plastic or vinyl.  And, here again, you can find gently used belts in thrift shops and online through outlets like Ebay.  It just takes some time and digging around.

9) A Good Quality Ballpoint Pen
You can add another layer of finish and sophistication to your newly found sense of style by making sure to carry a decent quality ballpoint pen (with blue or black ink) in an internal suit coat or blazer pocket.  You can pick up a stainless steel Parker pen fairly inexpensively at any office supply place like Staples, Office Max, or Office Depot that will look fine and serve you well.  If you want to spend a bit more, there are plenty of interesting models by Cross, which is my own preference.  If you really want to go all out, though, get yourself a fountain pen of some kind, but make sure you know how to load and unload the refills correctly.  Nothing is more frustrating than discovering an ink stain on your shirt and jacket that might be difficult or impossible to remove.

10)  A Pressed White Cotton Handkerchief
Another handy item to have along in your jacket pocket for cleaning eye glasses, discretely dabbing watery eyes or a runny nose on a cold day, or handing to a lady friend to dab off a small piece of mascara from the corner of her eye.  But, as mentioned here in a recent post, DO NOT make a habit of noisily honking your nose into that same handkerchief, wadding it up, and stuffing it back into your pocket several times a day.  Being discrete is part of kicking up our personal style several notches, and that means not drawing attention to ourselves through obnoxious and obtrusive behavior.  Take care of any nasal congestion issues brought on by colds or allergies by: 1) buying over-the-counter medication to help dry up the problem, and 2) retiring to the safety of the mensroom to blow your nose in private.  Whatever you do, don't treat everyone in the office/elevator/restaurant/classroom/elsewhere to your impression of an angry, charging bull elephant.  It's not attractive.

And there you have it.  Add a few, or all, of these accessory items to your daily wardrobe, and you'll kick up your style several rungs as you climb the style ladder from perpetually sloppy man-child to charming, urbane, and well-groomed adult male.  Try it. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Feel Like a Million Bucks!

Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke models a vintage summer weight Corbin suit, Brooks Bothers necktie, and recrafted Allen Edmonds shoes.

No doubt about it, men.  When you wear a suit you enjoy (with alterations of course) along with the right shoes and accessories, you feel like a million bucks.  Even when the various elements comprising that ensemble come in at well below that price.  The items featured in today's photograph include:

1) A vintage U.S.-made (w/union labels) summer weight glen plaid suit by Corbin @ US$30 (thrifted)

2) Suit Alterations @ US$20

3) Allen Edmonds Shoes @ US$15 (thrifted)

4) Brooks Brothers Necktie @ FREE (from Mr. Midwester, a fellow menswear enthusiast)

Not custom-made bespoke British or Italian items of course, but not too shabby either relative to how so many men look these days.  Even those who work in ostensibly "white collar" office positions.   This particular ensemble certainly put an extra spring in my step as I walked to campus at lunch and home again later in the afternoon.

And an interesting thought drifted across my mind during the return trip.  It dawned on me how much I enjoy dressing nicely, and how good that makes me feel, both physically and mentally.  Sports jackets and dress pants certainly achieve that for me, but it is a suit, in particular, that really does it.  Silly, vapid, and superfical?  Maybe.  

But consider this.  If more men realized how much dressing nicely can positively affect one's mood, outlook, and attitude about oneself, one's work, and life in general on any given day of the week, these same guys might be more willing to snap out of the perpetual slob man-child aesthetic that dominates the landscape in so many places in 2013.  They might, just might then make more of an effort in how they present themselves to the rest of the world.  Just some sartorial food for thought.

In any case, when you wear stuff that fits your body type and have a little fun with patterns, you'll find that being dressed up is actually fun, comfortable, and makes you feel especially good about yourself and abilities.  So, why not dress up more often than most of us in most walks of life need to these days?  It certainly beats the alternative.  Likewise, it makes our own lives, and those of people whose paths we cross, just a bit nicer.  And isn't that reason enough to leave behind the sagging sweatpants, year-round cargo shorts, flip-flops, unbrushed hair, and backwards baseball caps?  As I say, just food for thought.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Pleasures of Thrifting for Menswear. . .

Heinz-Ulrich the Mannequin.  This exaggerated, Frankenstein's monster-like pose shows how things fit after some minor alterations to the jacket and pants.  Looks like a bit of waist suppression would help the jacket fit better.  Sigh.  Back to the tailor's!

Rooting through places like Goodwill and thrift shops, while a largely thankless task that doesn't yield much for roughly 90% of the time, can occasionally turn up some gems.  For instance, the clown in the photo above is wearing:

1) A summer weight, double-breasted sports jacket in wool by Alan Flusser, thrifted for US$7.99

2) Summer weight Giorgio Armani wool-silk pants made in Italy, thrifted for US$2.99.

3) A cotton Madras tie by Rooster, thrifted for US$5.99.

4) Land's End cotton dress shirt, purchased on sale several years ago.

5) Tasseled loafers by Cole Haan, purchased on sale in the summer of 2010.

6) Matching black leather belt, purchased on sale at Macy's in 2010.

So, there you have it.  Three thrifted items combined with three new retail items, purchased at a discount.  Despite the need for some waist suppression on the jacket, I felt pretty good in today's ensemble.  Normally, I wouldn't purchase a black sports jacket -- my wife thinks it is actually midnight blue -- but it has a very subtle mustard yellow windowpane pattern that I really liked when I found the jacket last fall.  And, hey, it's a Flusser, something we don't find too often here in my extremely style-challenged corner of the American Midwest.

Here's a slightly more relaxed pose, less obviously gothic and more Shakespearean this time, in which I deliver yet another soliloquy to the throngs of adoring fans, who have convened on my patio simply to hear me hold forth about old movies.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

12 Tiny Bits of Style You Don't Want to Overlook. . .

A neat old Laurence Fellows illustration that calls to mind summer travel destinations and a more relaxed approach to dressing. . .  while still retaining some sense of classic male style.

Attention to our clothes and shoes is all well and good -- and shouldn't be ignored -- where the quest for classic male style is concerned.  However, there are some elements of style that are less visible, less readily apparent, or just easier to forget.  With that in mind, here are a dozen finer points that you don't want to overlook in your effort to kick up your style a few notches.

1) Match the color of your belt to your shoes as near as possible.  I've mentioned this point elsewhere, but so many guys seem to forget about it.  Making sure your belt and shoes match will, however, instantly pull your look together regardless of how casual or formal it is on any given day.

2) Make sure your necktie, if you are wearing one, is cinched up enough to hide the top button of your shirt.  Needless to say, that button should be, um, well, buttoned.

3) Your necktie, when tied correctly, should come to the middle of your belt, or slightly below it.  Any shorter or longer, and you'll look like a goofball.

4) Neckties should be solid, striped, paisley, foulard, or subtly polka-dotted.  Absolutely no novelty ties.  No one looks good in these.  Got it, Elmer Fudd?

5) Unless you are at the beach, pool, gym, or mowing the backyard, your shirt should be tucked in at all times.  The only notable exceptions might be a short-sleeve polo knit golf shirt in warm weather, or a long-sleeved rugby top in the fall and winter.

6) Pants should sit at your natural waist, somewhere at or just below most guys' belly-buttons, and be kept there with a belt, which will help keep your shirt tucked in.  Funny how that works!

7) Don't cinch your belt too tightly though, something that can make even very thin guys look like an overstuffed sausage about ready to burst.

8) Make sure your zipper is up BEFORE you leave the men's room.  Why risk becoming that guy?

9) Carry a pressed white cotton handkerchief at all times, folded neatly in an internal jacket or coat chest pocket.  Clean your glasses with it.  Dab tearing eyes on an extremely cold winter's day.  Present it to a lady to dry her eyes during a tearful scene in a movie.  But don't, repeat don't, make a habit of honking your nose loudly into it in public.  Ick!  Excuse yourself and take care of any nose issues in private, out of earshot.  Please.

10) Keep any leather dress shoes you own well-maintained.  That means, routine cleaning and shining with polish, cloth, and horsehair shoe brush, and buffing any dust or street debris off with said shoe brush before heading out the door in the morning.  Fewer things look worse than scuffed up shoes with dust in the welts. . .  except maybe Tasmanian Devil or Sylvester the Cat novelty ties.

11) If you are not wearing a suit, make sure that your blazer or sports jacket contrasts with the dress pants you select for the day.  A great version of this look that passes for being VERY dressed up in many places these days is the wool navy blazer with khakis, or tan wool dress pants in an appropriate weight for the season.  Classic with a blue button-down shirt worn or without a tie, with lace-up dress shoes, or more casual loafers.  It even works for some guys with jeans and cowboy boots during the weekend.

12) Skip short-sleeve dress shirts unless you live in an equatorial climate.  Instead, find and purchase several all-cotton, lightweight and long-sleeved dress shirts.  Since most offices are climate controlled in many parts of the world nowadays, being too warm isn't much of an issue.  And you can always roll up the sleeves neatly to your elbows if you want to demonstrate to the rest of the office just how swamped you are with paperwork.  But fewer things look dorkier than a short-sleeve shirt worn with a necktie.  

A Special Bonus Tip. . . 
In the same inner chest pocket of your sports jacket, blazer, or suit coat, always carry a decent quality ballpoint pen and a small black plastic comb.  That way, you'll never be caught without something to write down an important new phone number or e-mail, sign a check or bill, or give your own contact information to a new acquaintance.  And the comb ensures that your hair will always look great, even on a windy day.  Just remember to duck into the men's room quickly to check your appearance in the mirror before meeting people socially or for business.

There you have it.  Surely, there are many other minor points of style to remember and observe -- an, no doubt, those will be brought up here in a future post here at The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style -- but these twelve tips are a good start to becoming a better-dressed, more sophisticated man who has his act together in every respect.  Too many guys out there in 2013 make the mistake of thinking that acquiring and maintaining a classically stylish appearance is too much work and beyond their financial reach, but nothing could be further from the truth.  True style, as opposed to fleeting fashion, is simply about learning and making the effort to remember what works in various situations, and how to present your best side to the rest of the world at all times.  And who in his right mind can argue with that?