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, September 28, 2013

A Few Thoughts. . .

The very picture of calm, cool sophistication.  The late, great Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957).

As has been written here before at The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style, there's more to kicking up our everyday style a few notches than simply swapping out those ratty sweatpants, flipflops, and worn cargo shorts for tweed jackets, flannel pants, tan wingtips, and natty wool ties.  In fact, the lion's share of the change must come from within.  With that in mind, here are 10 related ideas to ponder. 

1) Strive to be well-rounded. 
A narrow guy is an uninteresting guy.  Conversely, a guy with broader interests and knowledge, a guy who looks beyond the end of his nose, has at least the potential to come across as a more interesting individual.  So, make an effort to become acquainted with a lot of different things, ideas, concepts, people, places, art, literature, and events.  In other words, do something more than simply sit in front of the TV watching sports.  And for God's sake, find something to do besides filling your evening hours with various Play Station or Xbox games.   

One of the implicit aims of The Average Guys Guide to Classic Style is to help guys, who might realize the need, to become more multifaceted individuals.  They might want to kick up their everyday style, broadly speaking, yet not know where to start in the process of increasing their level of sophistication and degree of cultivation. A good place to start is by working to become a more fully developed, well-rounded, as opposed to a flat, character.  My apologies to E.M. Forster.

Think of it like this.  Given the choice, would you like yourself to resemble a slice of toast with butter that's gobbled in a hurry while standing over the kitchen sink?  Or, would you prefer to resemble a sit-down dinner, consisting of several courses, wine, dessert, and coffee, capped off with a small glass of brandy or cognac and a fine cigar to conclude the evening?  Throw in interesting company and the good china on white or cream table linen with candles, and what's not to prefer about the latter?  

2) Be pleasant to have around even when it's just the close family. 
Say good morning with a smile.  Use please, thank-you, and excuse me always.  Don't be a P-I-G pig (figure it out).  Answer anyone who speaks to you in complete sentences rather than monosyllabic grunts.  Look at people when you speak to them, and they speak to you.  Don't simply stare like a zombie into the TV or your I-phone during a verbal exchange.  Don't fool with portable electronic devices at the table during meals.  Offer to help out around the house or apartment.  Stuff like that.   

What else?  Pick up after yourself, and, assuming it was neatly arranged in the first place, leave a room looking like you found it.  Fix dinner for everyone else from time to time.  Volunteer routinely to do necessary chores like taking out the garbage, running the vacuum cleaner, or loading and running the dishwasher.  Or, here's a concept, unload the dishwasher when the cycle has finished.  Don't wait to be asked to do these things, and don't argue about it when you are asked.  

A word of caution however.  Don't do a shitty job on purpose in the hope that you won't be asked to do a particular chore again if you make a hash of it now.  You're not seven years old anymore, and life isn't a Three Stooges episode.  

3) Master the lost art of conversation.
Many people seem to be really very highly skilled when it comes to blabbering incessantly about themselves in most social settings.  I suppose this is not a recent development.  And maybe it's all down to extreme nervousness, and seizing/maintaining control of a group is how that manifests itself with a lot of people?  Pay attention the next time you are with a group of friends or acquaintances, and you'll very likely see what I mean.  

Often, there will be one person who talks rapid fire about a whole lot of nothing, never gives anyone else a chance to speak, but, when someone else does manage to mention something pertinent -- or worse tries to head the topic off into another direction that might allow more people to participate -- the offending talker stops momentarily, looks nonplussed or even mildly annoyed, and then resumes his or her long-winded narrative.  I've noticed this problem with friends, family, and work colleagues, and it makes people who hold forth like this crushing bores.  Or should that be crushing boors?  

In any case, true conversation is a two-way street.  Listening -- really truly listening -- to the other  people involved in a group, responding, and asking appropriate questions fosters true two-way exchanges that might be slightly more interesting and entertaining than suffering through one more endless monologue from a friend or family member about the Mastiff-Pitbull mix she is fostering at the moment and the related trips to the dog park.

4) Be a little more reserved in your interaction with people.
You see and experience it everywhere these days.  Service people and receptionists in doctor's and dentist's offices immediately address you by your first name on the phone and in person.  People you've met only a time or two are your best friends, blurting out and/or asking about all kinds of personal details before you know one another well at all. Everyone is in each other's face, and in each other's business at the drop of a hat.  

These people probably think they are being friendly, but it's actually off-putting, to say the least, and even a bit patronizing and intrusive.  Perhaps this is a strangely North American phenomenon, but it's not pleasant in any case.  As my maternal grandmother used to say, "Familiarity breeds contempt."  

I certainly don't suggest being cold like the characters in so many Ingmar Bergman films during your interactions with people.  A warm persona is certainly something we should all try to cultivate more of in the fast-paced 21st century.  However, letting up a bit with the rampant false bonhomie and leaving a bit more of ourselves for later would be an extremely good idea if you ask me. 

5) Make an effort to practice more self-control.
On a related note, reining ourselves in a bit is also highly desirable.  That might be the case with uttering or exclaiming certain four letter words in reaction to every unexpected, and usually minor, setback.  It might have to do with how much beer or liquor we drink in a social setting.  The cultivation of greater self-control might also have to do with how much food we heap, or rather shouldn't heap, onto our plates at the dinner table. 

My particular pet peeve, when it comes to the apparent lack of self-control so many people exhibit,  involves bodily noises.  Not that many years ago, it seems like people attempted not to hiccup or burp out loud, and passing gas in public -- as well as laughing about it afterwards!!?? -- was definitely not on.  All three used to be considered  extremely rude and very embarrassing if one accidentally let it happen.  Today, that seems to be a different story, at least in my neck of the woods, when you might even notice women and girls making these social gaffs if you're unfortunate.  What changed?  Or has that always been acceptable behavior for the masses?  I had a grade school teacher when I was about 9-10, a very interesting guy, who was a former army officer.  Mr. Fred Gansel fought in WWII (European Theater), took part in the Berlin Airlift, was later in Korea, and very early on in Vietnam as a military adviser.  He used to tell us, "If you can't control it, excuse yourself and go to the bathroom to take care of the problem."  Sound advice if you'll pardon the very bad pun. 

The point is, it might be a good idea for us average guys, who are striving to kick up our everyday style several notches, to become a bit more self-conscious in our speech, habits, and behavior.  Doing so will positively affect how we come across to others and, I hope, help us to appear somewhat more polished and well-groomed in the process.  That's not a bad thing.  Unless, of course, you actually want to go through life behaving like you were raised in a barn.  Then, by all means, go right ahead and do so.  But let's not hang out together if our mutual paths ever happen to cross, hmm?

6) Be curious about and aware of  what's going on around you.
And I don't simply mean peeking furtively through your front blinds at the sexy new neighbor across the street, who happens to be single and has a nice derriere!  What I'm talking about is the world, so pick up a news and current affairs magazine from time to time and read it cover to cover. Online outlets like OMG! and Yahoo News are -- Surprise! -- not real news.  Sorry to drop that bomb in your lap if you didn't know already, but there it is.  

That's right, guys.  The antics of Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Snookie, the pathetically sad Mylie Cyrus, and the Desperate Scousewives in the U.K. ain't real news.  Most so called "news" items on showbiz personalities like these are inconsequential drivel, lack depth, and seem more intended to whip up fear, hype, and hoopla than to inform people about stuff that really matters.  The quality of writing on sites like these is also abysmal more often than not.  They have become the grocery store checkout lane tabloid newspapers of the early 21st century.  Subscribe instead to an actual Sunday edition of a major newspaper and read the main section as well as the Week in Review section.  Barring that, make a habit of frequenting websites like those of the BBC or Deutsche Welle where you can explore the news and events of the previous week.  

Make it your business to learn a bit more about the ongoing song and dance in the Middle East.  Find out about China's own economic issues and how that might conceivably affect the Pacific Rim countries, or even the rest of the world.  Become better versed in global affairs and their broader implications.  Finally, whatever news outlet you might seek, avoid simply looking for a hard copy or online source that does nothing more than confirm and support the opinions you hold already.  Try taking a broader view of the world than that, and challenge yourself by seeking at least two sides to every story.  Why bother?  See my opening remark in Point #1 above. 

7) Make an effort to be well-read.
Detective thrillers and Stephen King novels are great.  But if that's all you ever read, you're missing out on an awful lot of other potentially very interesting things.  The same thing goes for just about any other subject matter or author.  I get it though.  If you're really interested in a topic, or you love a particular writer or genre, you want to read everything by an author or about a particular subject.  But that's the fast track into a deep rut that might hard to get out of.  Sorry guys, but Dean Koontz and Lee Child novels aren't the be all end all of great prose.  It's time to look farther afield. 

It's much more interesting in the long run to vary what we read in the name of multidimensionality.  So, jumble up what's on your nightstand a bit.  If you read a lot of non-fiction most of the time, how about trying on some of the greats in fiction for a while?  What about Ibsen, Strindberg, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Conrad, Chekov, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Cheever, or Updike for example?  Never had much of an ear for poetry because it strikes you as too flowery and effeminate?  Then how about reading some work by figures like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon?  

Love male-authored detective fiction?  How about trying stuff by Martha Grimes or Sara Paretsky?  And don't forget authors like William S. Burroughs or Kerouac, who defy easy description.  What about those works of non-fiction though?  It's fine to be steeped in WWII, Vietnam, or the American Civil War military history of course.  But how about putting those to one side for a couple of weeks and reading some economic history by Niall Ferguson?  Whatever new reading material you might try on for size, however, the point is to get out of your rut and expose yourself to something new now and again.  It's healthy for the ol' mind.

8) Try to be more patient, considerate, and helpful.
Our world has become so fast-paced, that virtues like patience, charity, and benevolence very often seem to fall through the cracks of life.  So many of us seem to be in so much of a hurry so much of the time.  It's easy to become frustrated and bark some sarcastic putdown in the direction of that mother with three small children ambling along an airport concourse in front of us as we race to make a connecting flight.  I know, I know.  Same thing with an older couple slowly deliberating about what to leave behind at the checkout counter in the grocery store because they can't afford to purchase everything during their weekly shopping trip.  

What I suggest is that we suck it up, keep unkind remarks to ourselves, and, oh, I don't know.  Maybe offer some assistance?  Most people will be surprised and extremely appreciative.  Trust me.  And will it really ruin your day to take a moment and help someone wrestling with a  heavy suitcase, or open your wallet and offer a couple of dollars to someone in obvious need?  I'm not talking about chronic street panhandlers either, which are often a different case all together.

9) Exchange the brash cockiness of youth for quiet, mature self-confidence.
Having confidence in one's abilities and skills is fine.  But routinely bragging about it, or drawing attention to it in every other conversation is another thing entirely.  No one likes a braggart or loudmouth for long.  Once again, it's far preferable to keep people guessing and leave a little to their imaginations in personal, social, and occupational interactions.  

With that in mind, there's no need to constantly remind others about the various projects you have been placed in charge of at work during the last eighteen months.  Moreover, you needn't mention again and again that certificate of recognition you received for selling the most units in all four business quarters of 2011.  Likewise, keep the sizable raise and/or impressive year-end bonus you received to yourself.  

I'm certainly not suggesting constant self-deprecation on your part, but a little humility in what we share about ourselves, and how we do so, goes a long way in how others perceive us.  And if people want to know, they'll ask. . .  although hopefully not about monetary things.  A safe answer when faced with those kinds of tacky and tasteless questions is, "Enough."

10) Don't fear showing a little self-respect and self-assertiveness.
Finally, don't let others walk all over you in life.  Being a figurative punching bag or doormat should not be in the job or life description of anyone.  That does not suggest you go looking for altercations and fights.  What it does mean is that you shouldn't take attitude, grief, and/or gobbledy gook from anyone.  The sales associate on the telephone, the checkout clerk in a store, waitstaff in a restaurant, or a co-worker.  It doesn't matter.  Call them out on their behavior and ask to speak to a manager, the person in charge, or a supervisor.  

And if that doesn't work, go above their heads.  Rinse, wash, and repeat until the situation is resolved to your satisfaction.  The squeaky wheel gets the oil as the saying goes.  But don't be a jerk about it.  Keep a smile on your face as the issue at hand is sorted out.  If you prefer to be addressed as Mr. So-and-so rather than by your first name, for example, ask politely and move on.  Where services and retail transactions are concerned, you can always vote with your feet and take your business elsewhere if a situation is not resolved.  But don't avoid sending your meal back to the kitchen in a restaurant when it's not right -- and sooner or later that will happen -- because you don't want to ruffle any feathers.

 Same thing for more personal friendships and romantic entanglements.  Don't let someone walk all over you again and again because she has pretty eyes and a nice figure, or he is tall and really buff.  No self-respecting person deserves being emotionally dismissed, manipulated, or taken advantage of.  If the way someone treats you makes you feel crummy, and what that person says to you sounds like a load of stuff, it probably is.  Know when to say "enough" and walk away. 

Without a doubt, there is much more that might be said about each one of these points, but we'll leave that for another time.  Hopefully, average guys looking to kick up their everyday style a few notches might consider and aspire to all of these qualities in an ongoing effort to come across as a well-groomed and sophisticated man.  You're with me on that of course.  Aren't you?

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Friday, September 27, 2013

Hey buddy, lighten up!

The bottom half on a warm Friday in late September.

Every average guy who wants to kick up his everyday style a few notches eventually needs a more playful pair of lighter-colored leather dress shoes in his wardrobe.  I submit for your review just such a pair, some Allen Edmonds spectator shoes in tan leather and sage-olive green cloth.

These were purchased via Ebay late last winter for only US$9.99 plus negligible shipping and handling charges.  All they required was some moisturizer, a good shine, and some new new heels, the last of which my local cobbler was happy to supply, before they were ready to put on and go forth into the world.

I don't wear them too often, chiefly because they strike me as hot weather shoes, and I don't teach from the end of May until mid-August each year.  Must be nice, right?  It is.  However, for those warmer spring, late summer, and early autumn days on and off campus, they're just the thing to round out a more casual sports jacket-odd pants combo. . . with a long-sleeved dress shirt and necktie of course! 

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Good Clothes Affect One's Mood for the Best. . .

Jeeze Louise!  All that's missing are Jazz Hands.

No doubt about it.  Kicking up your everyday stye a few notches affects how you feel as you go through the day.  Imagine bounding from the kitchen through the dining room and into the living room, brimming with enthusiasm and verve, while serenading your wife or S.O. all the way with some silly song.  And all because you feel great despite whatever frustrations might be on your pate at the moment. . .  For the record, a momentarily stalled course proposal, an extremely challenging Developmental English class, and nailing down a time for a recurring film course next semester, to ensure maximum student enrollments.  Grrr. . .  

No matter.  Decent attire will help you glide through the day no matter what life throws at you.  Something I discovered in my first teaching position post-grad school ten years ago.  I  landed the job and realized that it was time to set aside the jeans, Dan Post cowboy boots, and untucked madras shirts of my graduate teaching assistant days.  Time to start wearing that tweed jacket and blazer already in my closet more often along with those few pairs of creased dress pants and tasseled loafers, which foresighted parents had suggested, several years before, that I purchase and have on hand.

Here's a little something I picked up on quickly.  To get a room full of people to sit up, shut up, and pay attention, you can't continue to dress like an undergraduate who rolled out of bed twenty minutes ago.  It just doesn't work.  In a professional setting, you can't look and behave like people's best buddy when you are teaching or supervising them.  There are plenty of people in all walks of life who pretend to themselves that's not the case, but they are mistaken.  When you look and act like you are in charge, it becomes much easier to command attention and spur people into action.

With that in mind, I decided that it was time to grow up a wee bit and get with the program.  Fortunately, my father and maternal grandfather wore suits five days a week, sometimes on a Saturday evening or Sunday morning too, depending on the occasion, so I had something on which to base my own efforts. 

For those of you who are interested, this particular ensemble shown above consisted of the following items:

* Hickey Freeman window pane wool sports jacket (from An Affordable Wardrobe)
* Luicano Barbera wool pants in charcoal gray (an incredible steal from Ebay)
* Land's End Hyde Park Oxford shirt (purchased on sale)
* Smith handmade silk necktie (thrifted)
* Allen Edmonds captoe oxfords in chocolate brown (a steal from Ebay)
* Land's End leather belt in chocolate brown (purchased on sale) 

A student asked me the other day where I found my clothes and why I dressed, in his words, "so fancy?"  "Why not?" I replied before starting class.  And seriously, why the heck not dress better than has become the accepted norm in so many facets of 21st century life?  I especially like journalist and author Guy Talese's observation that dressing well signals one is alive.  That ought to be reason enough for an average guy to kick up his style a few notches more than is absolutely necessary.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dress Shirt Basics. . .

A grouping of fairly basic dress shirts hanging in the basement here at Stollen Central.  A mix of button-down and straight collars, in cotton oxford cloth and lighter weight cotton poplin.

For average guys looking to kick up their dress shirt style a few notches, I'd suggest keeping things fairly simple.  That means you want to have more than just a couple of ugly, smelly man-made fiber shirts hanging in your closet.  We aren't cheap, Eastern European street thugs scoping out the blond babes in a Norwegian disco after all!  And yes, before you ask, I've actually observed this a few times in another life.  Clearly, even the remotest possibility of money, ill-gained or otherwise, talks to some women.

Returning to the point at hand though, stick to basic mid- to light blue and white with most of your shirts.  These colors look good on just about anyone and provide a fairly neutral palette on which you can hang busier neckties and/or jackets without too much thought or angst about standing out in the wrong way.  Regular visitors to The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style might recall that I am a fan of Land's End shirts.  The company offers decent quality, off-the-rack, cotton shirts in an array of colors and patterns, plus Land's End offers regular sales, promotions, and overstock at sometimes ridiculously low prices.  

For my money, the Land's End Hyde Park Oxfords, while a bit pricey, are very good heavy cotton shirts that iron up well and look good all day.  Best of all, they are not treated with the same chemicals as the rest of the  current, non-iron dress shirt offering from Land's End.  Sadly, their original oxford, which was a steal at US$19.99, no longer seems to be available.  No matter.  You can still come away with some extremely good deals on new shirts if you shop the website routinely.

I'll be the first to admit that I like shirts and have too many of them really, but let's keep things very basic as suggested already.  Six or seven long-sleeve dress shirts in your closet, pressed and ready to go for the week should do the trick for most guys who don't absolutely need to wear a jacket and tie everyday.  If you want something a bit sportier for Fridays or the weekends, add a shirt with a windowpane pattern, a classic pink oxford cloth model, or muted plaid to the mix, all three with button-down collars.  

Plan on making these shirts work with a sports jacket and tie, however, so don't get too outlandish in your choice of patterns.  And make sure you've got a solid color necktie or two hanging on your tie rack.  Navy, dark green, and/or gray wool will work nicely.  By the way, the sort of shirts I describe here (the button-down collar sort) look super under a navy blazer -- worn with or without a necktie --  that is paired with jeans, khakis, or creased wool dress pants. 

What about those more formal occasions, which do arise from time to time even though much of work and social life in the United States has become so. . .  What's the word?  Ah, yes.  There it is.  Slovenly.  For those more formal times, add two plain white shirts with straight collars to the mix.  Spread collars are equally acceptable.  Again, stick to cotton shirts here.  It's just best to avoid anything else, blends or otherwise, for comfort reasons.  Yours and the people around you.  Why risk stinking like you ran ten city blocks on a late August afternoon -- in 90% humidity -- from the office building to the train station on your way home when it's only 9:30am? 

There are lots of more expensive, higher quality shirts out there than those offered by Land's End.  But for average guys, who don't necessarily have heaps of money to spend on just shirts alone, yet still want to kick up their everyday style and leave the sweatpants and cargo shorts behind forever, the company offers a quality product.  Of course, depending on where you are, there are many good long-sleeve, cotton dress shirts to be had in thrift shops too.  I seem to find a lot of great Books Brothers shirts in my neck of the woods, but sadly these are almost always far too big for my own 15"x33" dimensions.  But I digress.  Stick with the basics outlined above, and those 7-12 cotton shirts will serve you in good stead for a long time.  

One final thing.  To minimize wear and tear, I also suggest that you launder the shirts, hang them to drip dry from plastic hangers, and press them yourself.  Dry-cleaners don't do a reliably good job in many places, their detergents and chemicals are very harsh on natural fibers like cotton, and then there is the cost over time for below par services.  You'll just be happier with the results long term if you do it yourself.  So, it might be wise to invest in an iron and an ironing board.  Yep.  You heard right.  You're a big boy now.  And it's not 1950 anymore either.  About time you learned how to use an iron, son.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Fall Is on the Way!

Please excuse the rumpled, unmade bed!  Here's a shot of the attire yours truly selected for and wore yesterday 
(Friday, September  13th).

Ahhhh. . .  That special late, late summer sound of crickets.  That faint, dry aroma before the leaves change color and drop to the ground in October.  The lower angle of the sun in the sky just before the Autumnal Equinox arrives.  Yes, the beastly hot weather in my part of the world has broken, at least for the next several days.  The central air-conditioning has been switched off and the windows opened.  Fall, my favorite season of the year, the time when ol' Heinz-Ulrich feels the most alive, is on the way. 

Best of all, the cooler weather means that one can look pulled together and wear some slightly more substantial clothes without breaking a sweat.  The temperatures yesterday remained just below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 21C.), so you can imagine how thrilled I was to pull out some stuff I haven't worn since last April.  Here are the details of the items pictured above:

* Ralph Lauren Polo cotton oxford cloth shirt in lilac (thrifted)
* Brooks Brothers double-breasted wool blazer (thrifted)
* Corbin wool flannel pants (thrifted)
* Florsheim vintage wingtips (Ebay)
* Huntington necktie (thrifted)
* No name silk pocket square made in Italy (purchased new nine or ten years ago)
* Land's End leather belt in tan (on sale)
* Socks from Target (on sale)

While it will be October before I break out the tweeds, flannels, and corduroy in a big way, the cooler weather means that other double-breasted wool jackets in my closet have suddenly become a comfortable possibility once again.  For example, Thursday's attire included just such a jacket, an Alan Flusser in black with a faint mustard yellow windowpane pattern and a lighter weight, loose weave pair of Giorgio Armani pleated wool dress pants in a sage-gray color (both thrifted) along with a pair of black Allen Edmonds wingtips (Ebay).  

The shirt was a vintage Brooks Brothers button-down, featuring an unlined collar (given to me by my wife for our anniversary two summers ago) in white with a smaller faint green windowpane overlay, while the tie was an Italian silk number by Kuppenheimer in pink with smallish mid-blue and golden-yellow paisleys.  Finally, the pocket square that day was an old gold and tan no-name, Italian-made silk number with a small foulard pattern all over it.  I felt like  a million bucks!  It was, needless to say, terrific to walk home from campus comfortably with the double-breasted jacket buttoned up as it should be.

So, for all of my grousing here recently about standards of dress and behavior, the main thing to remember is to dress for yourself once you decide to spruce up your appearance. Have a little fun with it and don't be afraid to stand out from the herd.  You will these days. But in a good way.  And you'll even get the occasional unexpected compliment from time to time, which is always a nice plus. It's those little things that make day-to-day life a bit more pleasant.

Finally, a special "Hello" to the men who are following the Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style blog as well as others, who clearly are dropping by from time to time.  It's nice to know that there are people on a similar wavelength out there.

-- Heinz-Ulrich   

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Personal War on Casual?

The late John Lennon in 1980.  He was about 39 or 40 here.  What do you notice?  Yep.  Extremely casual, but no sign of sweatpants or  the dreaded backwards baseball cap.  He looks good.  Like an adult male dressed for a relaxed day in the city, or at the recording studio.  We can't see Mr. Lennon's feet, but I'll wager he wasn't wearing flipflops either.  And he even seems to be hitching up his pants as he exits the car.  Imagine that!
Hardly.  But a war on guys dressing like they are terminally 11 years old, or the corner methamphetamine dealer?  You bet.  It's time to make the distinction between the perpetually sloppy on the one hand and a more pulled together casual look on the other.  Let's get some clothes and real shoes that fit, tuck those shirts in, purchase a few belts to keep the pants up around our waists where they belong, and ditch those godawful backwards baseball caps.  

Certainly, no one is saying that you need to shower, shave, and dress to the nines before making a late-night trip around the corner to the nearby convenience store for that half-gallon of milk.  But there's a happy medium between getting all gussied up ala Cary Grant and routinely looking like you spent several nights sleeping rough under some shrubs in the local park.  Wouldn't you agree? 

There's a a lot to be said for taking a little time to learn how we might improve our appearance and then making the effort to do so.  At the very least, the "I don't care what anyone thinks. Screw 'em!" attitude has been done to death over the last 40+ years.  It's high time to up the ante and stop letting it all hang out, men.  Let's get with the program once more and start dressing like we give a damn.  Even when the dress code is casual. 

First and foremost, let's demonstrate to ourselves and the rest world that we have, on reaching adulthood, acquired a little grooming, taste, style, and sophistication where our attire, daily behavior, and worldviews are concerned.  There is nothing whatsoever silly or effeminate about making the effort to do so if the example was not part of one's upbringing.  You know what?  It's ok to be upwardly mobile in one's personal as well as professional life.

I'll go way out on a limb here and assert that genuine attempts to spruce up the presentation of oneself are preferable to the alternative.  Perhaps if more guys made a slight bit of  effort with their attire and demeanor -- and no, neckties don't always need to be part of that -- they might feel better about themselves and mind their social Ps&Qs more closely in their interaction with others?  Even when doing something as innocuous as killing time on one's I-phone or Blackberry while using public transport.  

And who knows?  Human society, which leaves quite a bit to be desired in many instances if we are absolutely honest with ourselves, might improve a bit over time as a result.  Imagine how pleasant that could be.  A simplistic point of view?  Horribly naive?  Maybe so.  But there is, nevertheless, something to it with regard to our observing basic levels of civility.  It starts with appearance and behavior.

At its root, my attitude about the kind of clothes we as men wear, how we conduct ourselves, and the way others see us as a result is simply about basic self-respect, a smidgeon of  self-discipline, and consideration for others.  It's about a fundamental level of awareness, realizing what is appropriate, when, and where.  With that in mind, my thinking is about putting our best foot forward whether we are by ourselves, at home with the family, or out amongst the public in some capacity.  It is an indisputable point.  Old-fashioned?  Perhaps.  Out of step with much of society at present?  Certainly.  But outmoded?  Never. 

What are your own thoughts on the matter?  I'm interested to know.  Please take a few moments to leave a comment, but, please, let's keep it clean and civil.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Sunday, September 8, 2013

There's No Excuse Not to Look and Act Your Very Best. . .

 Young Sean Connery as James Bond in Dr. No (1962).

 Terrence Stamp in the early 1970s.

 The Quarrymen, featuring (left to right) a teen-aged George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and friend.

 Beatle John in a relaxed moment.  And notice the knit tie cinched all the way up like it should be.

 Beatle Paul, looking laid back and even slightly wrinkled, but he's still very presentable.

 A young Bill Cosby and cigar, looking very cool and very together in a relaxed, casual way.

Sidney Poitier, appearing extremely cool, and even a bit dangerous, while still projecting a casual yet pulled together aura.

 Young Michael Caine wandering the streets of London in a very casual ensemble, yet he still looks pulled together.

 A relaxed Michael Caine in cufflinks and tie, looking very at ease nevertheless.

Young Terrence Stamp.  Easy to see here why so many young women fell into his, ahem, arms during the 1960s.

Today's post features a random number of photographs, showing acting and musical personalities, who first rose to prominence during the 1960s.  All of these men, even in old age or death, still exude cool in my book, and all are personal favorites.  

Besides that, what ties these men together is that they were all average guys, who came from modest or even extremely humble backgrounds -- all decidedly working class save for John Lennon, "the working class hero" himself, who grew up in suburban middle class comfort -- before their respective stars took off.  Yet they all got with the program and dressed well, even when they weren't in front of the cameras.  And in some cases, they had some idea about how to dress long before they were famous.  See, in particular, the third picture in today's sequence as evidence of that.

My point?  Regardless of one's particular socioeconomic origins, there's really no excuse to allow ourselves to sink to the lowest common denominator with regard to appearance and behavior.  It's just poor form to leave the house wearing sweatpants, cargo shorts, or saggy, ass-exposed-to-the-world-pants.  Do we really want to go through life holding up our jeans by the crotch because they'll fall down otherwise?  Same thing when it comes to backwards baseball caps, wife-beaters, hooded sweatshirts, flipflops, over-sized white sneakers, or just wrinkled, sloppy, dirty, and ill-fitting clothes in general.    

Which is not to say that men must don ultra-formal evening wear or a suit, necktie, and bespoke shoes every waking moment.  But I'll be blunt.  The kinds of garments mentioned in the paragraph above, when that's all a person ever wears in public, make him seem like a guy who's going nowhere fast.  Like he doesn't care.  Like he has little awareness, self-respect, or respect for others.  Like he doesn't count for, or come from much.  Like he might not be worth knowing and better kept at arm's length.  But is that really how we want others to perceive us?  Because whether they admit it, or not, many will do so based on the message that kind of clothing typically sends.  

Think of it like this.  However much character, smarts, and education or training a guy might have, regardless of whether he possesses the gift of gab, when someone makes a habit of looking like he spent the night on a park bench somewhere most of the time, he ain't going to be taken seriously.  A sloppy appearance, along with the perceived lack of basic social and professional skills that image implies, will work like an invisible barrier both in our personal and professional lives.  To circumvent that, you've gotta be able to walk the walk and talk the talk as the cliche goes.  Extremely cynical?  Perhaps, but the fact that we are judged by our appearance and actions is true nevertheless.  

So, how does an average guys project a more positive and together image?  Pay more attention to the details of attire and demeanor for starters.  Let's do our utmost to elevate ourselves and get it together.  Our clothes and behavior are two ways to do so.  Education is the third.  Let's do our very best to improve on all three fronts and continue making that effort throughout our lives.  Not because anyone or anything tells us to, necessarily, but because we want to.  Besides, having a bit of grooming and sophistication at our disposal, however we might have come by it, and contrary to what some people might argue, is nothing to feel badly or embarrassed about.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Novelty coffee and tea mugs, however, are perfectly all right. . .

Here's one of my "novelty mugs," featuring a likeness of Prussia's Frederick II, aka Frederick the Great.  This afternoon, it holds some sugary North German tea, purchased during June 2009 when my wife and I were last in Bremen, Germany.

For all of my railing against novelty clothing and accessories in the previous post, coffee and tea mugs are one area where it's safe to indulge in this kind of lunacy, advertising one's affiliation with various institutions and support of favorite teams.  My novelty mugs include the one featured above plus a red and white one from the University of Wisconsin and a mustard yellow one, that my wife mostly uses these days, from the University of Minnesota, where, coincidentally, we met as graduate students right about 13 years ago.  

Unless you're attending the big Homecoming game and showing your team spirit, however, I still maintain that it's best to leave the novelty neckwear buried deeply at the back of your closet.  But, a few less public items of memorabilia to enliven one's workspace or office at home are just fine.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Novelty Ties and Other Social Faux Pas. . .

If you're above the age of 12, and even that's pushing things a bit, it's high time to find and eradicate any and all novelty neckties from your closet, including the Tasmanian Devil, Peppy Le Peu, Wylie Coyote, and the like along with items like Green Bay Packers or Chicago Bears neckties and belt buckles.

The title says it all.  For you edification, a faux pas is a French term meaning literally a "false step."  In addition, however, the term has also come to mean a social blunder, usually of the worst kind.  Hence the title of today's post.  In our ongoing effort to kick up our everyday style, there are certain things us average guys want to avoid doing ANYTIME we have been invited to an organized and more formal social occasion.  Got it?  We aren't wild dogs and have not been raised in barns after all.  So, let's do our best always to demonstate some grooming and social grace.  Without further ado, then, here are ten related social P&Q's for average guys to ponder.

1) Invitations
Ok.  You've been sent an invitation to a semi-formal or formal event, like a wedding, a special dinner, an evening corporate event, or a similar occasion.  What do you do?  You'll notice the abbreviation somewhere near the bottom, which specifies R.S.V.P.  That simply is a fancy French way of asking you to "Please Respond."  After checking your schedule for the day or evening in question, you need to do this as soon as possible.  Don't forget!  You don't want to be one of those people, and there are many sadly, who never acknowledges the invitation whether they intend to be present at an event, or not.

Before you return the enclosed reply card that was included with the invitation, do not, repeat do not do the following.  First, do not plan to bring along a guest unless "and guest" has been specified on the invitation.  Second, do not alter the number of guests on the response card if it has been made clear that you and only one guest are expected.  Last, do not telephone and ask the host(s) if you may bring along other people (including children) who have not been included by name on the invitation.  

Behaviors like these are major social blunders and just rude.  Don't do it, even if it's for a fairly informal occasion.  All three actually happened in connection with our wedding in 2006.  Frankly, given who the people in question were -- all distant family, but not distant enough -- we shouldn't have been surprised, but it still left us more than a bit nonplussed at the time.  Please don't put your hosts in a similar and equally uncomfortable position. 

2) Attire Requirements
 The correct type of dress should be crystal clear since we are talking semi-formal and formal events and occasions here.  If you are in doubt, however, and attire is not mentioned specifically on an invitation, it's a good idea to call the host(s) ahead of time (several days before the event) and inquire specifically what sort is expected.  No one can fault you for asking, so don't feel silly about doing it.  

Imagine how embarrassed you'd feel (or should) if you were to show up in wrinkled khakis and a short sleeve dress shirt with a novelty tie and no jacket of any kind, only to find that every other male in attendance, save for one additional oddball, wore either a suit and tie or sports jacket and odd trousers along with said necktie.  This too happened at our wedding.  

Neither do you want to show up horribly overdressed for a backyard barbecue and pool party.  That's not what I'm saying.  I'd suggest within reason, however, always going to any event dressed slightly better than one absolutely needs to be. 

3) Suits, Blazers, Sports Jackets, Etc.
Here's the deal, guys.  For semi-formal and formal events: sports jacket or blazer, creased dress pants, and tie for the former, and a suit and tie for the latter.  An ironed tucked in shirt, recently shined leather dress shoes, and a matching leather belt in either case.  Don't get caught short and arrive looking like a doofus because you aren't dressed in accordance with the event and occasion.  

If you are an adult above the age of 18, make it your business to have, at the very least, one charcoal or navy blue suit hanging in your closet along with a navy blazer (blazers have brass buttons), a subtly patterned wool sports jacket, an odd pair or two of creased wool dress pants, plus a decent pair of leather shoes with replaceable leather soles.  And two pairs would be better.  As I have mentioned so often before, you need not spend piles of money either.  Thriftshops and Ebay are great for finding quality garments and accessories at cut rate prices.   And sometimes for even less than that.

Be sure, though, to have whatever you purchase altered by an alterations tailor before you wear the garments, so that the fit is good.  Make sure jackets aren't too big in the shoulders before you buy though since it's difficult, if not impossible, to alter that area satisfactorily.  The jacket waist, sleeve length, and trouser waist plus inseam should be altered to fit your body though.  Otherwise, it will look like you've borrowed your grandfather's suit.  Not quite the impression you want to make after leaving college or university, is it?

4) Dress Shirts
When the invitation is to a semi-formal or formal event, we are talking long-sleeved dress shirts with collars and buttons -- without exception -- beneath our suit coats or sports jackets.  If you are an adult male, it's a really good idea to have more than just one or two of these.  Ideally, you ought to have five or six long-sleeved dress shirts, in pale blues and white, clean, pressed, and hanging in your closet, ready to go at a moment's notice.  Always.  Even if you don't wear them everyday.  

Unless you live in the Southern United States, or a tropical area, do not leave the house for a (semi-) formal event in a short-sleeved shirt.  You'll look like a boob without a clue.  And no,  those insipid untucked "going out" shirts don't cut it either unless you're holding up the bar in a juke joint with a dirty concrete floor along a county highway somewhere.

5) Novelty Ties
You shouldn't ever bother with these stupid things once you've left junior high.  But the number of poor, sad schlubs who continue to do so well past the age of 25 is pathetic in the extreme.  I've actually seen a guy, who was more than old enough to know better, show up to a shortlisted job interview at the corporate office, wearing a Roadrunner necktie, when the instructions that were sent out had specified clearly "business formal."  Other men, who clearly are without a clue, will unwittingly wear novelty ties to weddings, which happened when my wife and I were married.  

For God's sake, guys, show a little sophistication.  It's ok.  Really.  Go get yourself a selection of five or six real neckties of various patterns in silk and wool.  They are easily and cheaply found at most thriftshops if money is an issue.  By the way, I'd also suggest wearing a tie whenever you have on a sports jacket.  It just completes your overall look.  And if you have on a suit?  You should always wear a necktie with it.  Wearing a suit without a tie just makes it look like you don't know any better.

6) Place Cards
If these are on the various tables at the semi-formal or formal event to which you've been invited, please don't start moving them around before taking your seats.  Chances are that your hosts have gone to considerable trouble to plan the event and put certain people together.  Why, you might ask? 

For starters, they wish to ensure that people like business contacts, family, friends, and old acquaintances have the chance to visit.  It's also highly likely that your hosts want to incorporate more distant family members, newer friends, and acquaintances seamlessly into the social activities and mealtime conversation that naturally occur at semi-formal and formal events.  So, don't touch those place cards if you'd be so kind.

What if you are seated next to someone you don't like, or who seems a bit ponderous?  Well, don't be rude and ignore them.  Show some grace and attempt to engage that person, including him or her in the general conversation around the table.  They'll long remember how warm and gracious you were to them, which ain't necessarily a bad thing.

7) Dining
Remember your table manners at semi-formal and formal events.  I've written numerous times here at The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style about the importance of table manners, and it's no different at wedding receptions or other organized events where there might be a sit-down meal, or at least hors d'oeuvres.  

I'll spare you the grand list of do's and don't's here, but those who are interested might like to review an earlier post on table manners from last year.  Suffice to say, you should make certain that you don't commit any social blunders during the meal or while nibbling finger foods.  So, be aware of what you are doing, and how you might look or sound to those around you, who are trying to enjoy their food.  If you gobble, slurp, and burp your way through a meal, or a paper plate of Dim Sum while standing in a group, trust me, it will turn off those unlucky enough to be near you in a hurry.  Ick!

Here's a good rule of thumb to keep in mind.  If there is any question in your mind about whether or not something you are about to do might possibly offend those around you, don't do it.  Know what I mean, Sherlock?  Finally, when serving yourself, take smaller portions rather than heap piles of food onto your plate.  Gluttony isn't pretty, and you can always come back for seconds if you are that ravenous.

8) Alcohol
As far as social occasions of any kind are concerned, nothing is more obnoxious, and potentially more embarrassing than a guest who drinks too much, becomes louder as the evening continues, and is potentially combative if and when someone else asks that person to rein in his bad behavior.  The possibility of public sickness also rears its ugly head in cases like this.  And no one, absolutely no one, should have to witness that.  It should, therefore, go without saying that you do not want to be that person.  

So, pay attention to your alcohol consumption, and it might be a sound idea to go much lighter with it than is usually be the case.  You aren't a street drunk or a college freshman off the leash for the first time after all.  Demonstrate instead that you are an adult, who can handle himself, and show consideration to your hosts as well as fellow guests, Tiberius Vomitus Maximus.  Presumably, since you are reading a blog like The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style, you want to be something more than a terminally childish "dudebro" or "lad."  So, in no way should you allow yourself to become a sad, disgusting spectacle where alcohol is concerned.  

Self control is the name of the game here.  And if you absolutely must have a glass of something sparkling in your hand to feel at ease, ask the bartender for club soda over ice.  No one will know you aren't drinking something with booze in it unless you spill the beans and tell them.

9) Children
Unless they have been specifically mentioned on an invitation, it's a better idea to get a sitter and leave the little darlings at home.  Or simply send your regrets.  It's unfair to your hosts, and exceedingly presumptuous on your part, to turn up with kids in tow when they have not been invited.  I'll repeat myself here.  Do not call your hosts and ask if you may bring children when they have not been mentioned specifically on the invitation.  

Contrary to what the Madeline Bassetts of the world and their mothers might think, and the two are legion, it is neither cute, nor funny to have a screaming tantrum unleashed in the middle of a wedding service, reception, dinner party, or, indeed, any other carefully planned and organized social event.  Sadly, that kind of behavior isn't limited just to the toddler and preschool set either.  Moreover, lots of people find children who have been excused from the table, yet continue to hover around or below it, obnoxious in the extreme.  This odd phenomenon seems to be especially prevalent in the United States, Land of Permissive Parenting, but I've occasionally noticed it elsewhere too.  

And you not-yet-but-soon-to-be-married guys? Think long and hard before you agree to include any pre-school flower girls and ring bearers in your wedding parties.  Don't be afraid to say "No" firmly and stick to your guns.  There is a reason why, not all that long ago, children were rarely, if ever, included in adult gatherings.  

Sadly, that distinction seems to have disappeared during the last 25-30 years, but I suggest strongly that we work hard to reintroduce the practice.  An informal church or temple picnic, a backyard family gathering in the summer, or a birthday party specifically for Junior and his fellow second graders is one thing.  But a wedding, country club, or corporate event, as well as a more adult sit-down dinner at home with two or three other couples in attendance, is something else entirely.  And you know what?  It ain't going to kill the kids not to be included in absolutely every activity to which Mom and Dad have been invited.

10) Don't Wear Out Your Welcome
The number of people who don't seem to get this point is astounding.  Of course, you don't want to rush out after only 25 or 30 minutes, which might seem to be extremely rude.  On the other hand, it's difficult to specify a precise length of time one should remain in attendance at an organized gathering.  

That said, I'd suggest somewhere between ninety minutes and three hours, depending on the type of event, occasion, and how well you might know your hosts or the honorees.  But, you absolutely do not want to be the last people to leave at 12:45am, hours and hours after the event began.  We once had a small dinner party several years ago, during which one particular couple clearly enjoyed themselves.  Naturally, they were not the most exciting conversationalists, and it was almost 1am before they finally said their loooooong goodbye and mercifully left, quite some time after everyone else. 

Fine, but what's your point, Heinz-Ulrich?  Here you go.  Even if you are having a really nice time, it's always better to leave your hosts wanting to see more of you rather than less.  Be sensitive to this fact, and once a few other guests take their leave, it's safe for you to do so too.  You don't need to engage in the dreaded American Midwestern Goodbye, or its close cousin The Welsh Goodbye either.  In other words, don't spend 90 minutes on your feet in the doorway taking your leave.  A quick, "Thanks so much for including us this evening!  We had a lovely time and will be in touch soon," will do just fine.  Collect your overcoats from the coat check room, or the hall closet, and leave already!

There you have it.  Without a doubt, there are other polite social conventions you'll want to learn about and practice as you work to kick up your everyday style a few notches, but these ten points are a good place to begin and will serve you well.  If I've neglected to include any additional and key social niceties here, please be so good as to leave a comment and enlighten us.

-- Heinz-Ulrich