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.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Keep Things on a Formal Footing. . .

Jay North as Dennis "The Menace" Mitchell and Joseph Kearns as his crotchety neighbor Mr. Wilson from the old TV show Dennis the Menace.  Mr. Wilson was always "Mr. Wilson" to Dennis and his pal Tommy.  He was also "Mr. Wilson" to Dennis' parents Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell.  A teensy bit of respect and formality for people older than you are, and people you don't know well is a nice thing and should be cultivated more than has become the sad norm.

Being presumptuous with people you have only just met or do not know that well might be common in current social interaction, but that does not necessarily mean it's a good thing.  

A better practice to follow, in professional and business settings at least -- and when you have service people doing things for you around the house -- is to use the formal form of address (Mr./Ms./Mrs., etc.) until invited to do otherwise.  Now, that might strike some as incredibly stuffy in 2014 when almost everyone seems to be on a first name basis right from the start, but hear me out before you change the channel.

When various service and repair people visit your home, or you take the car at the local garage for an oil change or some other kind of service for example, and money is changing hands, it's best to keep things on a slightly stiff, more formal footing than has become the norm in recent decades.  Here's why.  

As often as not, there will be a problem, an inconvenience, an unforeseen hiccup.  Something will not be done quite like you requested and thought was understood.  Or, and this one is my personal favorite, the person or people you have hired to provide some kind of repair or service on a given day and at a given time will simply not turn up.  And they fail to let you know via the telephone, leaving you hanging, sometimes for several days, even after repeated calls to schedule a new date and time.  We've all experienced this kind of thing at one time or another in some capacity. 

So, it's much easier to navigate and resolve an issue like the kind I suggest as soon as possible when that invisible wall of formality remains in place.  It's also much harder to get some service people to get on the ball and finish what he (Sorry ladies, but many are still men.) was asked to do in a timely manner when you are simply "Eddie" and "Al," or "Dave" and "Mike" to each other, behaving as though you are old buddies, who go way back, when in fact you might never have seen or spoken to Eddie before he turned up on your front step.  

Not everyone is like that, of course, but too many people seem less conscientious about their work and about getting it done (and done right) when the interaction is extremely laid back from the very start.  Save the relaxation for when you get home after work and wind down with a Gin&Tonic or Scotch&Water before supper.  Otherwise, it's perhaps best to keep things on a slightly more formal footing.

On a closely related note, and once more bucking the current trend, children should be taught to call adults (outside of the extended family) by either Mr./Ms./Mrs./Miss So-and-so, or the appropriate professional title until invited to do otherwise.  It's just the polite thing to do.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Strident E-mail. . .

A restored Pennsylvania farmhouse, not unlike the one in which I spent most of my formative years.

"Just where do you come off telling others what clothes to wear and how to live their lives?" began the rather nasty e-mail I received the other day.  "And who the blankety-blank-blank do you think you are?"  It continued on in that vein for quite some way, but you get the general idea.  Sigh.  This was a first for me.  E-hatemail.  Isn't the relative anonymity of the web great?  I guess if you stick your head up above the crowd, especially online, someone is bound to take a pot shot or two at it sooner or later.  It's easier now than ever before to do that.

Ok.  The following probably will not win me many friends, but here you go.  I'm the 40-something son of an upper middle class WASPy family (mostly Episcopalians, some Methodists, and one Southern Baptist who liked his whisky sours) that stretched from Massachusetts and Rhode Island through the Poconos in Pennsylvania to the Philadelphia area and adjacent nicer parts of New Jersey plus Maryland and Virginia, all the way to Central North Carolina, where the roots and some of the family have remained.  

My sister and I were brought up in southeastern Pennsylvania ourselves (District Township in Berks County, two hours outside Philadelphia), the products of a reasonably good (at the time) semi-rural public school district.  Our grandparents' generation spoke with a soft, educated North Carolina accent that you'd almost miss if you weren't paying attention.  Certainly, it was nothing like the imagined pronounced redneck accent that those unfamiliar with The American South think everyone below the Mason-Dixon Line has.

The various male figures in the extended family were, in no particular order, two corporate VPs in the financial (my father) and building materials sectors, two surgeons, a clergyman who later earned his Ph.D. in Theology and Philosophy and is now a professor, another professor (my step-father), an attorney, plus military and naval higher-ups who simultaneously worked within the National Security Agency (NSA).  Another Navy officer in the family finally became an admiral and had charge of a base in the Pacific before retiring as a 30-year man 20 years ago.  Still another male family member was in the furniture industry, and there was one who owned his own printing and stationary factory.  One more was a county commissioner and owner of several car dealerships, while another was a teacher and later an elementary school principal back when that meant more than it seems to now.  

The women were either what we used to call housewives, who also kept busy with organizations like the National Episcopal Church Women (NECW), or they were nurses and teachers.  Pretty traditional roles for the time.  Typically, most of them (my grandmother's generation) had help come in a few mornings a week to do laundry, ironing, general house-keeping, and some occasional cooking.  One or two of the great aunts in the family still in North Carolina had a house-keeper six days a week.  My divorced mother was the notable exception.  A trained painter and sculptor, she worked in the retail end of the garment industry, as a buyer and store manager until my sister and I were out of high school.  My own wife is a college professor by the way.

As youngsters at home, we had horses and ponies with weekly riding lessons (Mom rode well and did so until recently when a knee began giving her trouble), along with dogs and cats, plus some chickens and geese for a while.  We also looked after the ponies and sheep that belonged to Mrs. Conrad, a widow who lived half a mile or so up the country road where our homes were located.  

My sister and I attended YWCA/YMCA summer camps for a few weeks each summer for several years (with swimming, riding, and tennis lessons among other things) until we developed other interests as teenagers.  It's worth noting that we came into contact with lots of different boys and girls there, who came from a diverse array of social backgrounds and even other countries around the world.  Back at home, horse shows, country fairs, and auctions were also part of our family routine during spring, summer, and occasionally early fall weekends for many years.  

Much of the extended family spent a couple of weeks each summer on the Chesapeake Bay, or along the Carolina Coast, either the NC Outer Banks, or near North Myrtle Beach in SC.  I mentioned that elsewhere at The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style a few weeks ago.  Quite a few of the adults, the men especially but not exclusively, played Bridge until the wee hours every night and enjoyed their particular medicinal drink of choice (G&T, scotch and soda, scotch and water, or bourbon, rye, or gin and orange juice for instance) during these almost round-the-clock card games.  There were always three of four Bridge tables set up in the large living-dining space on the first floor of the beach houses for example.  

Yet even with all of that drinking, there was no bad behavior, no habitually loud voices, and no swearing.  Off color stories might be told once in a great while by the men, but only if and when the ladies were out of earshot.  That meant outside on the beach well away from the houses or cottage.  If and when a family member had more than he or she ought to during the evening hours after supper when the adults returned to the card tables, they were just put quietly to bed -- face down of course -- and checked later to make certain everything was all right.  For all of that, gentility really was the unspoken rule.  Even in the middle of the night as the last of the evening's Bridge players traipsed stealthily, if somewhat unsteadily, off to bed.

At these annual beach gatherings, a couple of great aunts ran the kitchen with an iron hand and kept a lid on three generations of men and boys on summer vacation.  With one notable exception.  An unreformed practical joker, Great Uncle Syd used to pinch the exposed Achilles tendons of the adult women in the family (everyone wore leather or canvas deck shoes, flip-flops, or white Keds without socks at the beach) without warning and make loud yapping barks like a small dog as he did.  

"Oh! Syd!!!"  they'd exclaim and stamp their feet in anger.  "Go away!"  The older generation of women hated these hijinks, but my mother's generation and we kids thought they were hysterical.  

Uncle Syd also scared the life out of Aunt Marnie another summer with one of those cheap rubber hands from a joke shop, hiding it in a kitchen cabinet just over the counter one year, where it was visible but just barely.  And it's a wonder the police or beach patrol didn't knock on the door given the volume of her screams once she noticed it peeking out at her from behind some coffee mugs and stacked salad bowls.  Practical jokes aside, there was always lively conversation about this or that, and family stories handed down from one generation to the next.

The girls and younger women of various ages in the family behaved pleasantly in those days (with one notable exception who was a royal pain in the neck. . .  and still is as an adult) and had little to do with their more clueless and goofier male siblings and cousins.  As recently as the 1980s, there was no such thing as slutty "ladette" behavior among the girls in our family.  That particular concept had yet to manifest itself across much of society.  Nope.  Ours were all nice, refined southern gals even if they hadn't lived in the region for years.  Very funny and warm, good conversationalists, some of them quite interesting, but all well-mannered and reserved though genuinely nice cousins, (great) aunts, and mothers.

Finally, we were either taught outright as children, or simply picked up through osmosis, a certain quiet, understated way of being and dressing along with a reasonable amount of what used to be considered good taste with a healthy dose of finesse thrown into the mix.  We never labelled it as Trad, or Preppy, or WASP, which seems to be the practice in much of cyberspace on the various blogs and websites that espouse that kind of thing.  We never thought about it at all actually.  It certainly wasn't talked about.  It's just the way things were and, to some extent, how they remain for some of the extended family at least.  Within the generation below mine, however, those in their late 20s-early 30s, things have slipped somewhat, and some are, well, a bit crass with what passes for acceptable conversation topics and conduct when in a mixed group, but I digress.

Oh yeah.  Almost forgot.  Yours truly had long and BIG 1980s hair and played the electric guitar or bass in several different bands into my early twenties, yet I managed to stay away from drugs and the problems that go with them.  I also worked a blue collar job in a non-union supermarket for much of that same period until I decided to return to school at 25, finally cutting my hair a couple of years later, you know, to get with the program.  As an adult, I realize that I didn't really fit in there as hard as I might have tried at the time.  

But no Ivy League here, so don't throw that large rock in your hand at me just yet.  My own post-secondary  education comes from three degree programs at two large public universities in the Upper Midwest, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Minnesota (where I met my wife).  Starting at a community college for five semesters, I worked hard to get into both universities, finance everything, and managed to kick some serious academic ass at both places, thank you very much, even winning a Fulbright Scholarship between my M.A. and Ph. D. programs for further study and archival work at a large Norwegian university.  On a related note, I also speak, read, and/or write three other languages well besides English. . .  and can make sense of six others.

For the most part, our existence is and was extremely comfortable and happy, for which I make no apologies.  Not everyone enjoys a life like that.  It is and has been "idyllic," in a word, a way of living and being that many insist never was. . .  except in the minds of TV and movie scriptwriters.  Let me assure you, that life did and does still exist to some degree.  My own family was and remains extremely fortunate compared to many others in the world.  I never forget that.  But let me point out that the good fortune I describe, across several generations, came, in every case, through hard work, scrimping, and saving plus some lean times.  It wasn't handed to anyone. . .  contrary to what many might want to think. 

So, there you are.  That's who I am, where I come from, why I approach things like I do in my personal life, and why I offer the kind of advice and guidance found at The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style.  Take or leave what you choose.  You might disagree vehemently with much of what's on offer here, but, hopefully, you might also find a few small things that are useful in your own efforts to kick up your everyday style several notches.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Be Handy in the Home. . .

The upstairs bathroom in-progress.  While I like the color red, I have always felt that it was the absolute wrong color for this particular room.  Ugh!

An average guy working to kick up his everyday style a few notches should attempt to be handy in the home.  Even fairly simple procedures like hanging pictures and painting count, so you needn't risk life and limb scaling 40' ladders or handle live wires as you attempt install wall receptacles.  Yours truly has been, for example, busy the last week or so repainting the upstairs bathroom, front hall downstairs, the front stairs, and the hallway landing at the top of those stairs.  I've also been busy uncluttering (decluttering?) the living room and library on the first floor.  

Of the two adults in our family, I am the more domestic.  While the Grand Duchess makes some fantastic things in the kitchen, it's me who does our laundry each week, makes the beds, and keeps the first floor of the house straight and vacuumed.  It will come as no surprise then that it has occurred to me in the last 18 months or so that the rooms on the first floor would look better with some careful rearranging and through putting away various smaller items.  You know, getting rid of that cluttered late Victorian over-decorated look.  Bare surfaces, free of encumbrance are attractive, make a room feel more open and airy, and almost zen-like by comparison.  

And let's face it.  Unless one is fortunate enough to live in a 20-room house, you just can't display everything -- the nick-nacks, the trinkets, the tschatschkes, the STUFF you acquire in adult life -- on every surface without it beginning to look junky after a while.  No matter how skillfully it might be arranged.  You know, like the set of Sanford and Son on TV back in the 1970s (the American version of Steptoe and Son to you British and Commonwealth visitors).  Nope.  Clutter is the devil.  The devil.

So, I've moved a few things, put lots of stuff away, hung a large, heavy mirror above the fireplace mantle in the living room put up several new pictures, and rehung several others in the front hall.  Then, I stepped back, examined things, reconsidered, and started again before finally getting it just right.  I moved the lion's share of the books from the living room shelves into the the library where the Grand Duchess likes to work on her laptop while reclining on her maroon and gold fainting couch.    

Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately?), I sold and/or gave away about four additional boxes of non-fiction and fiction books pertinent to my subject area the summer after finishing with graduate school back in 2003, so that particular task was not quite as arduous as might otherwise have been the case.  Whew!  I now wish I still had the books, naturally, but the fewer one has to move, individually or in boxes, the better.  Your lower back will thank you later in life.   

Anyway, all of this work was meant to surprise the Grand Duchess, who returned late Monday evening with our son the Young Master from three weeks visiting her parents in the Pacific Northwest.  Our eighth anniversary was on Tuesday (yesterday), the day after, and while I had a small gift for her to open, my various interior decorating activities were intended as part of that.  I said nothing about it when we spoke on the telephone, and luckily the Grand Duchess approved of my activities once she caught her breath and had the chance to look around late Monday evening.

The finished bathroom the next day.  Not half bad if I do say so myself.

The subdued green used in the photographs here (Olympic Latex -- Green Tea Leaf in a satin finish) is a delight once two coats have been applied and everything has dried.  I did a bit of research online to learn about authentic colors for craftsman style houses, and this particular green was the one I liked best.  Not too dark, yet visually interesting.  Green is also a calming color, which is something I want and need more of in my life.  Calm that is.  The color also suggests cool, something we need more of during the summers here in the American Midwest.  Even with the central air-conditioning system, July and August could use a little help, so cool colors it is.  

I like this green so much, that I also used it to repaint the walls in front hall downstairs and along one side up the front steps to the front area of the upstairs hall.  An odd (and cheap) honey cocoa tan was the previous color.  Everywhere.  The previous occupants of our house, college students whose parents lived in another city and actually purchased the place for their son (and friends) to live in during his university 'experience' -- Talk about spoiled! -- painted most of the first floor in this same color.  It isn't bad, necessarily, but when every single room on the ground floor has it on all four walls, well. . .  The previous painting was done rather sloppily too, so after six years of living in the house ourselves and making mortgage payments to our bank, it's time to fix things and do the job properly.  Like it should have been done in the first place.  Know what I mean?  

Two pointers to keep in mind when it comes to do-it-yourself interior painting though.  First of all, purchase the best paint you can afford.  Avoid cheap paint at all costs.  You'll regret it later.  Decent mid-level  or slightly above will do it.  Top of the line is even better.  Apply it full strength and use two coats regardless of what the salesperson of package marketing lingo claims about a single coat being all you need.  That way, you'll end up with thorough coverage, true colors, and an attractive paintjob that should last quite a few years before it's time to redo everything again.  I've done this kind of thing a fair amount for 30+ years in various kinds of dwellings, so I have some idea of what I'm talking about here even though I am not a professional house painter.

On that note, find and purchase a couple of decent mid-grade 2" angled sash brushes to cut in neatly around windows and wood trim first before any other painting.  Make an effort to be careful and do not apply your paint sloppily.  Results are much better and clean-up is a lot easier when you are all finished.  It is then extremely fast work to fill in the remaining areas with a roller and paint pan.  Finally, have a window fan set on high nearby to speed drying times.  You can then apply a second coat before too much time has elapsed, clean up everything, rehang your pictures, arrange the room as it was, and presto!  You're all done.  

Yep.  Being even slightly handy around the home is a good skill to acquire.  You don't need to walk around in one of those leather tool belts, ala the character of Schneider on another old 1970s TV show One Day at a Time, but being able to handle a few simple repairs and/or home improvement tasks is a good thing.  Spouses and domestic partners appreciate it too, and it's a pretty good feeling to have when you realize that you've made someone happy through your efforts.

Next summer, the living room (currently also honey-cocoa-tan) is slated for repainting.  I'm thinking a very light off-white champagne color to keep things bright and open, especially since the room is on the north side of the house.  The Grand Duchess is on board with those plans too, so I'm already excited about it.  Be sure to tune in again for an installment about that particular home-improvement project in a year's time.

-- Heinz-Ulrich. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

An Evening out with the Guys. . .

Had a good time yesterday playing pool, enjoying a few beers (Stella Artois for me), and losing quite a few games of Nine Ball with a couple of good male friends, a chemical engineer and a poet/English professor.  While I did finally manage to win two games by evening's end, more through dumb luck than any great skill, the conversation during all of this was priceless.  We covered everything from critical theory and psychoanalysis (I know, I know.), to Vietnam and Iraq/Afghanistan war literature, to sci-fi movies, to 1960s garage rock, and bebop vs. cool jazz among other things.  

Before we knew it, four hours had elapsed, and it was time to say goodnight.  However, we've decided to do it again before too long, and our English professor friend has even invited us rock climbing, something I've never tried before, but one must be open to new experiences.  Oh, and all three of us were dressed decently for a summer's evening.  Very casual and nothing particularly outstanding or outlandish, but comfortable and certainly acceptable for a neighborhood bar/pool hall here in the wilds of Central Illinois.  It was, by all accounts, a delightful evening.

As far as shoe style goes, our English professor friend was wearing a pair of navy Toms on his feet, which seem to be a modern take on the classic espadrille.  The entire line of footwear and accessories can be viewed at  Prices seem reasonable, the company also offers a variety of accessories although some of these strike me as a bit hipsterish.  In addition, the company seems to have its mindset in the right place though I must admit that I remain more than a little skeptical of companies that make their "green" stance such a prominent part of their marketing efforts.  

Navy linen Toms like the kind worn by one of my friends during our pool and B.S. session yesterday evening.  I like these.  Photograph lifted from the Tom's website.

In any case, the shoes pictured above look good for very casual summer footwear and succeed in hiding the otherwise unattractive male foot -- with its typically hairy toes, calluses, and yellowed toenails in dire need of a trim -- covered during the warmer months.  I might just have to add a pair of these linen numbers in navy blue to my own summer shoe rotation.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Random Photographs from the Week. . .

Like father, like son.  

Start 'em young on the road to dressing nicely as I've mentioned here before at The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style.  Even when things are extremely casual.  The Young Master wore this year's red leather dock-siders to his grandparents in the Pacific Northwest where he and his mother are right now.  So, it's been blessedly quiet for Dad here at home the last 1o days or so, miss 'em though I do.

My new Sperry Top-Siders  arrived this week. . .  since the Land's End ones shown above are starting to wear through (and fall apart) on the soles.  They'll remain in the summer rotation as long as possible though.  

The new footwear arrivals above need to be scuffed up a bit through normal wear, but they were instantly comfortable and have better support than the old ones.  These kinds of shoes, or their canvas deck shoe cousins, were standard summer wear for most of the men (and many of the boys) in my family during the evenings and weekends.  And whenever the extended clan gathered on either the Carolina coast or the Chesapeake Bay for two weeks each summer (usually July or August) during the 1940s-1980s.  Great Uncles Baxter and Zeb continued to wear their wingtips and dark knee-length dress socks with Bermuda shorts however!  

Sadly, those kinds of summer vacations fell by the wayside quite a few years ago now.  The final such one for yours truly was in August '96.  The houses and cottage have long since passed from family ownership as the older generations have died and younger family members have dispersed to other areas of the United States as well as other countries around the world.  Back at home, Northern Minnesota and The Upper Peninsula of Michigan are great places for summer vacations, assuming it's not a Black Fly year, but they aren't quite the same thing.

Dress for an evening out say I.  

Another ten days or so to go before the Grand Duchess and son return home, but don't despair for ol' Dad too much though.  While wife and child have been away, I've kept busy with various things here at home, hanging yet more family photos and some actual real live art plus attending to various other household tasks on the waiting list. . .  and even indulging a few hobbies of long standing that I have less time for now in the midst of adult and family life.  A couple we are close friends with also invited my to supper yesterday evening.  It was a typically casual Friday evening affair, but I opted more dressy gear -- appreciated by the Italian-born wife of the pair -- since the semester ended in early May, and I've otherwise lived in khaki shorts, polo or Madras shirts, and dock-siders ever since.  While their cat Darwin and I get along very well usually, he was not happy about this particular Kodak moment.

While I normally keep myself to myself, it was fun to converse about this and that before the meal, at the dining table, and in the living room afterwards, where the three of us and cat gathered once again for coffee and dessert.  And as with all truly good conversations, we wended our way aimlessly throughout the evening from one subject to the next, covering frivolous things like annoying spousal habits, the astounding real estate prices in the Northeast, and appropriate interior colors of Craftsman style houses, to more serious  stuff like the ongoing budgetary crisis of our small university and its associated falloutThe evening ended far too soon, as most good things do, but it's always better to leave people wanting to see more of you than not, so I excused myself and returned home at about 10:30pm.  "Good stuff!" as the late Cary Grant was wont to remark.

Time for a trim on top, but the authentic Madras necktie (thrifted) and recently purchased (on sale) Dapper Classics socks look nice.

To close, lest any of you visitor to The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style get the impression that I'm a completely hopeless, unapologetic, and elitist snob worthy of facing the firing squad when the Revolution comes, hold on to your hats.  The husband of said couple and I, along with a third mutual friend, one of the coolest poets and English professors you're likely ever to meet, plan to slum it a bit one evening this coming week.  Yep.  The plan is for us to get together for some pool and a few beers at a local dive, something I haven't done in quite a few years.  I'm looking forward to it.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Thursday, June 12, 2014

How About Casual Neckties?

 A selection of my own more casual (and warm weather) neckties in wool, silk, cotton, and wool-silk blends.

The old necktie gets a bad rap these days.  Especially during the warmer months of the year.  And lots of guys moan about them being unnecessary and uncomfortable.  But hold on a second.  Let's consider the issue more closely for a moment.

First of all, look around you.  What do you notice?  Yep.  In many, many instances, the leaders  -- the decision makers, the ones calling the shots, the higher-ups, the muckety mucks --  within the educated white collar world still wear neckties with their suits, or blazers and sports jackets for those less formal days/events.   Let's just not talk about those high-profile terminal adolescents like Mark Zuckerburg and Richard Branson, or the more sloppy male academics, all of whom who eschew normal educated professional attire.  

Let's also ignore some of our male political leaders and hopefuls here in the United States, who now and then attempt to come across as "of the people" by appearing without neckties and in shirtsleeves.  That's a strange bit of political campaign artifice whose perceived appeal, while I understand the misguided rationale behind it, I'll never really grasp.  It's certainly not a move that resonates with me. 

In any case, emulating the better dressed professional and social leaders as well as practicing (at least some of) their clothing habits is not a bad thing.  Dressing well for public consumption -- and yes, that includes your family at home too -- should be encouraged as far as I am concerned.  Neckties are a part of that, men.  Upward mobility, aspiration, and improving oneself in all areas of life, including attire, are just fine.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  It's high time we stop making excuses about the imagined benefits of schlepping through life in over-sized t-shirts, bagged out sweatpants, and ratty cargo shorts.  Dressing nicely and feeling good about it isn't something to fear.  Neither should we feel the need to apologize for it. 

Fine.  But what about the complaint that neckties are uncomfortable?  Not true.  If you are doing things right, ties are anything but.  

To begin with, make certain that the neck measurement of your shirt is correct, so when the top button of your shirt is fastened at the collar, you don't feel like your head will explode.  Second, don't cinch your necktie as tightly as it will go around your neck.  Sure, the knot needs to be drawn up far enough to your neck, so there is no discernible gap between it and your buttoned shirt collar.  But it's not a hangman's noose either.  Make sure the knot is where is should be without tightening it so much that the blood supply to your head is cut off.  Remember to check your tie occasionally in the men's room mirror, straighten it, and adjust the knot if needed during the day or evening though.

An added plus of neckties, which many tend to forget, is that they are an accessory that enables you to impart a bit more personality to your attire.  So, you won't quite resemble all of those other men in suits or sports jacket and odd pants combos if that is a concern.  One caveat though, and I've talked at length about this before here at The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style, absolutely no cartoon character or other types of novelty ties, ok Sylvester?  I actually witnessed this in a corporate setting once, and it instantly set the guy apart from the rest of us men in the room.  And not in a good way either.  Clothing and accessories signal a great deal about a person to others, like it or not. 

Finally, try some more casual necktie styles like the kind shown above if you are worried about feeling too stiff or formal.  This approach works especially well for the summer months, weekends, and more relaxed, less formal events.  The Italians, for instance, are masters at producing delightfully floppy, breezy, and comfortable ties that work well for this kind of thing.  Authentic cotton Madras neckties from India are also ideal for the warmer months, especially with a navy blazer and khaki pants.  

So, for average guys working to kick up their every day style several notches, try wearing neckties more often. . .  and during the summer months too.  And who knows?  Contrary to what you've always thought, you might actually find that you enjoy wearing them.  And that ain't necessarily a bad thing.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Give what you can. . .

Don't be indiscriminate, and research the charitable organizations before you send that check or donate online if there is any question about how your donation(s) might be used since there are, apparently, a few bad apples out there.  That said, give what you can, when you can, to help your fellow humans in need wherever that might be.

As an average guy working to kick up his everyday style several notches, it's important to keep in mind that one of the most stylish things a man can do is to support various charitable organizations, either by volunteering one's time, or with an occasional cash donation.  It's not something you need to talk about or volunteer in general conversation, and quiet sanctimony isn't permitted either.  Helping the greater good should simply be something you do when you are able.  

Pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps is part of our national myth in the United States.  And the idea is all well and good.  But at the same time, we can't let people fall through the cracks or do without basic necessities either.  Allowing that to happen does nothing to help improve the state of the world, which seems to be in pretty sad shape in many areas and respects these days.  It is important to remember that there are many people less fortunate who could use the help, either locally, nationally, or internationally.

Hmm.  Another post that has little to do with menswear, accessories, or shoes.  This could be habit forming.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Monday, June 9, 2014

Find Pleasure in the Small Things. . .

A calm Norwegian meadow in full summertime bloom.

Average guys who are aware of the need to kick up their everyday style several notches realize that it's about more than clothes, shoes, and how you conduct yourself at the dining table or with colleagues on the job.  Being a stylish adult male in the broadest sense also includes slowing down, disengaging, and taking pleasure in small, often overlooked activities as a way of recharging the mental batteries.  Here are just a few activities that help yours truly:

1) Doing the wash, folding, hanging, and/or ironing it and taking silent pride in a job well done.

2) Reading the paper on a Sunday morning.

3) Enjoying a quiet afternoon at home without the TV blaring or sitting before the computer.

4) A quiet walk around the park or your neighborhood with your spouse or significant other.

5) Time spent in quiet, calm interaction with your child (or grandchild).

6) A good book and a cup of fresh coffee, or an occasional nip of something medicinal.

7) Preparing and cooking a really nice meal at home (NOT microwaveable food either).

8) Writing a handwritten note, or even letter, to an old friend or close family member.

9) Taking comfort in quiet time alone to reflect, collect your thoughts, or simply allow your mind to go blank.

10) Taking care of a few small errands for the one you love most without waiting for a request to do it, or a thank-you for having done so.

Without a doubt, there must surely be many more ways to slow down and smell the roses, figuratively speaking, but these ten points will help get you started.  Be sure to leave a comment or two with additional suggestions that I've neglected to include here.  Thank you in advance.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Keep Your Eyes Open. Always. . .

Brand spanking new with original tags, apparently never worn before, all leather, US-made J.C. Penney full brogue wingtips with Goodyear welt construction.  Maybe not US$2000 hand-made shoes, but at less than US$10, I'm not complaining.  The uppers are delightfully supple and the aroma of new leather and its related squeakiness is music to my ears.  Yes, I'm clearly a shoe nerd.  I see that now.   

Whether you assemble a classic wardrobe through careful thrifting, the occasional E-bay purchase, or you've got enough spare cash for new items at retail prices, it pays to keep your eyes open.  Always.  For instance, I found the tan wingtips above at my best local thrift/charity outlet earlier this afternoon after weeks of seeing nothing there.  Absolutely nothing.  

And then. . .  Boom!  I walked into the shop on a whim today, turned the corner toward the shelves where shoes are displayed, and there they were.  Just my size, a US 9.5A.  Truthfully, I can also wear a 9D and an 8.5E, depending on the brand and style of shoe.  Anyway, the pair above is slightly snug across the vamp at ball of my foot, but not uncomfortably so, and a few weeks of breaking them in should render that minor issue null and void.  They fit like my favorite pair of Dan Post cowboy boots when they were new.  Incidentally, those are also tan.

The pair of shoes below were a find at the same shop a week ago for less than US$5.  L.L. Bean kiltie loafers in US9.5C.  They may be newer, cheaper corrected grain leather, although the creasing and wear to the finish looks pretty good all things considered.  Nowhere near as bad as long-term wear I have experienced with discarded pairs of Bostonian tassled loafers for example, where the shoes simply fell apart at the vamps once the plastic finish cracked.  Not good.  In any event, these loafers should serve very nicely as rainy day shoes in the fall and maybe also when I toss on a blazer and khakis for an occasional dinner out with my wife (sans the Young Master) once college classes and cooler weather resume in the late summer and early autumn.

It seems, though, that I need two new pairs of cedar shoe trees now.  What a problem to have.

Worn, comfortably broken in L.L. Bean kiltie tasseled loafers also with Goodyear welt construction.  They might be corrected grain, but they will serve very well for those less clement days this fall and next spring, and they are a step up from my very plasticy Johnston & Murphy rainy day loafers.  A bit dressier too, which is fine by me.

Finally, a related and important point for average guys working to kick up their everyday style several notches.  Ready?  Pay attention.  

Guys, unless you want to resemble a gang banger wannabe, or you honestly weigh 500 pounds and can't hold your legs together, stop that strange duck waddle and WALK.  Put one foot in front of the other, alternating with your right and left foot, and develop a purposeful stride forward.  You don't have to power-walk at a rapid pace necessarily, but stop with the aimless shamble, swaying your upper body side to side from the waist.  

If no one ever told you before, you look really stupid when you do this.  It's not 1974, and you're not The Fonz.  You aren't an ├╝berbutch lesbian with a huge chip on her shoulder either.  And neither are you Snoop Dog, Tupac Shakur, or any other hip-hop artist, dead or alive, mugging and posturing for your homies, hoes, and fans in a music video. . .  or on a street corner.  Stop acting like it.  

It's not clear why so many guys of various ages and backgrounds waddle around like this, but it does seem to be a peculiar American trait.  It's something that has jumped out at me in various other places around the globe whenever I've spotted (usually after hearing them first) a group of Americans traveling together.  It's hard to miss.  And the "man waddle" is rampant at home within the U.S. too.  Why?  Can anyone tell me?  Surely, not everyone aspires to look and move like street gang thugs or the background extras on Yo, MTV Raps during the early 90s.  Or am I mistaken?  Maybe it's just a matter of pulling up your pants, assuming they aren't five sizes to large, and wearing a belt.  

Nah.  That couldn't be it.  Too easy.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day Style. . .

June 6th, 1944.  A fascinating, amazing, and frightful feat in planning, logistics, and cost of human lives on both sides.

When you stop to think of things like the 1939-45 war and the allied invasion of Normandy in June of 1944 -- to say nothing of the various conflicts that have arisen in the years since -- suddenly things like leather dress shoes and the precise fit of a man's shirt or suit seem completely frivolous by comparison.  Since my wife and I have German, Japanese, Russian, and Muslim friends, colleagues, and acquaintances (all perceived as "The Enemy" at one time or another), I am always of two minds whenever these significant anniversaries come around.  Rejoicing seems wrong somehow and quiet reflection preferable.  What horrible and unspeakable things we are capable of thinking about, saying, and doing to each other.

-- Heinz-Ulrich