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.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Finer Points of Wearing a Suit for College Men in 2014. . .

Let's make sure we look our absolute best in a suit by paying attention to those tiny details guys.

While I waited to meet my wife outside of her building on campus early this afternoon, for our semi-regular lunchtime cafe visit together, I noticed quite a few male undergrads dressed in suits.  Excellent!  Now, they might have been a new crop of fraternity pledges, or perhaps business students, attending some kind of future business leaders something or other.  I'm sure most were not dressing that way because they truly wanted to.  

Whatever the reason was, however, a few of the guys who crossed my field of vision looked quite good from a distance.  The rest, while I certainly appreciate their effort, didn't quite nail the intended look for one reason or another.  So, here are a few tips for younger men to keep in mind when wearing a suit in the form of a short Q&A.  Are you ready, Freddy?  Here we go!

1)  What's a good choice if a college guy can only afford one suit?
If finances are a genuine concern, and I vividly remember my own starving undergrad days, or you require just a single suit in your wardrobe, make it a navy, mid-gray, or charcoal single-breasted model with either two, or three buttons. . . and either a single, or double vents.  Say it with me, guys. . .   No black suits ever!  Don't risk resembling an undertaker or pastor.  Opt instead for less stark, more versatile colors.

2) What about dress shoes?
Whatever you do, stay far away from those terrible square-toed shoes.  Why are shoe stores still selling these?  And even worse, why in the hell are guys still buying them?  The 90s ended almost 15 years ago.  Choose instead a more classic design that actually flatters the shape of your foot and doesn't scream CHEAP VINYL or reverse grain leather! 

3) What kinds of shoes can be worn with suits then?
Various kinds of classic leather dress shoes will work with a suit.  Consider, for instance, captoe oxfords, Bluchers, long-wing brogues, short-wing brogues, etc.  As a general rule, however, avoid wearing ultra-casual (rubber comfort sole) loafers with a suit, which is considered a more formal garment by most of us in 2014.  That means, in most cases, you should wear shoes with laces, and they should have leather soles!  See my remarks and suggestions in items two and four.

4) What might you suggest where suitable footwear is concerned?
I'd go for leather-soled captoe oxfords in either black or a darker oxblood brown.  Short-wing wingtips are another good choice to wear with suits.  Long-wing brogues, while they look great with heavier weight flannel and corduroy pants during the late fall and winter, for example, might risk looking a bit heavy and clunky with typical all-season, light weight suits like most men wear nowadays.  Alden, Allen Edmonds, Church, Cheany, Ralph Lauren, and Brooks Brothers are some of the better quality brands to be had at reasonable prices via Ebay or thrift/charity shops.  Say it with me, boys, steer clear of crappy shoes!

5) How do I keep my dress shoes looking good?
Give your shoes a once over with a shoe brush before you put them on at the very least.  Always.  Shoes with dusty welts or visible scuff marks spoil an otherwise good look.  Oh, keep 'em polished at least once a month, once a week if you wear your dress shoes more often, and keep cedar shoe trees in them when they are not on your feet to help keep your shoes in shape and dry out between wearings.  You can go all out with shoe waxes, polishes, boning (spit shining) the toes and heels to a mirror-like finish, and so forth, but leather moisturizer or shoe lotion will keep your shoes supple, and the stuff buffs to a pleasant shine with a horsehair brush without too much time or trouble.  Don't forget either to keep your sole edges dressed with the appropriate black or brown sole dressing. You can find all of this stuff at any cobbler's shop, and it will be money well spent.

6) Anything else I need to know about keeping my shoes in tip-top condition?
It's also a very good idea not to wear the same pair of shoes every single day.  Give them a day off to recover, otherwise, even quality shoes will look beaten to death pretty quickly.  That means it's a good idea, eventually, to have at east two pairs of leather dress shoes in your wardrobe, so you can alternate between the two.   Assuming you need to dress up two consecutive days in a row during your four or five years on campus.  Highly unlikely from what I observe, but it could happen.

7) How about a belt?
As near as possible, match your belt to your shoes, and belts, like your shoes, should be leather.  Black with black, brown with brown, oxblood with oxblood, and tan with tan.  You've got a bit more leeway with the browns but avoid too stark a difference in color or shade.

8) What about suit pants?  How long should those be?
First, make certain your suit pants are a correct length for you.  Let's not argue the cuffs (turn-ups) versus plain hems right now.  But fewer things look worse than overly long suit pants puddling around your ankles.  That said, no break at all looks odd, so have your tailor, seamstress, or the store where you purchase said suit give you the safest option which is a nice medium break.  They'll know what you mean, or should, when you mention it to them if you find this a bit confusing and enigmatic now.

9) But how should the pants actually fit me?
Suit pants should not fit like low slung, skinny jeans.  They should be considerably less snug and sit at or just below your natural waist.  Ok, maybe you're worried about looking like your grandpa, with really baggy pants hitched up to your chest, but you're not a teddy boy either!  There is a happy medium, but it errs on the side of looser-fitting pants where suits are concerned.  That said, your suit pants should not fit like M.C. Hammer's pants fit him back in the early 90s.

10) What about suit coats?  How should they really fit?
Speaking of teddy boys. . . .  By the same token, you should avoid purchasing one of those currently trendy suits with an ultra short, too tight coat.  Unless you're part of an early Beatles tribute band, circa 1962-64, as I've suggested  before here at The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style.

11) But aren't suit coats supposed to be roomy?
Short answer?  No.  They shouldn't be too roomy.  When you coat is buttoned, you should be able to insert a fist between your belly and the buttoning point of the coat.  The coat should feel snug when you do this.  If you can still move your fist around, however, the coat is too big.  Lots of guys in the United States wear suit coats a size or two too large in fact.  As far as correct length goes, your suit coat should hang about to where your rear-end meets the top of your legs, or perhaps slightly longer.  This will differ a bit from person to person naturally.  A good rule of thumb (ha, ha) to keep in mind is that the bottom edge of your suit coat/ sports jacket/ blazer should be at or near the ends of your thumbs when your arms are hanging relaxed at your sides.

12) What about sports jackets?
Odd sports jackets are a bit different and can be a little bit looser, but ideally, a suit coat or sports jacket (or a blazer for that matter) should fit your torso and lay cleanly across your upper chest and upper back without either pulling too much at the buttoning point, or with excess material flapping in the breeze across the back or at the sides beneath your arms.  If the coat or jacket is too big on you, either try on a smaller size than you typically wear, say a 39R or 40R instead of a 42R, or a few minor alterations might also be necessary before you wear the suit or sports jacket in public.   In any case, have the sleeves shortened to allow 1/2" to 3/4" of cuff to show when your arms are relaxed and hanging at your sides.

13) How many buttons should I actually button on my coat?
Don't button all of the buttons on your suit coat.  For the standard two button suit coat that most men seem to wear in the United States these days, button the top button at or near your belly-button.  For a three-button suit coat, fasten the middle button.  Never the bottom button, although sometimes you might be able to get away with fastening the top button.

14) What about dress shirts? 
 Keep these simple and opt for either white, light blue, or blue pinstripes on a white background.  Avoid the dark shirt and necktie sets like the plague.  These just scream cheap and clueless.  Likewise, leave those busier plaid sport shirts for more casual blazer/sports jacket and odd pants combos.  Shirts like these rarely work well with a suit.  In any case, your shirts should be cotton, pressed, and tucked in, so learn to use an iron even if your shirts are these newfangled "non-iron" types.  Oh, and here's little secret that lots of young men seem to forget.  Periodically during the day or evening, you need to retuck your shirt to keep things smooth, neat, and comfortable.  Make it a habit whenever you visit the men's room.  Don't be one of these schlubbs, who walks around with his shirt tails hanging partially out.  That's almost as bad as forgetting to zip your fly.

15) I feel strangled whenever I wear a necktie.  What do you suggest? 
If you have shirts in your correct neck size, fastening the top button of your shirt and wearing a tie is not as uncomfortable as it sounds.  Whatever you do, though, make sure that the top button of your dress shirt is buttoned, and your necktie is cinched gently all the way up to cover that button.  Guys who ignore this particular point, and leave the top button undone, look incomplete.  You know.  Kind of like men who finish too soon in the boudoir.  Know what I mean?   Make sure to check and adjust your necktie periodically during the day or evening to keep things straight and neat.  Once again, make a habit of doing so whenever you visit the men's room.  

16) What about matching a pocket square to my necktie?
Your pocket square and necktie should not match. . .  contrary to what outlets like The Men's Warehouse might tell their customers.  Do not under any circumstances  purchase these items as a set.  As others have suggested elsewhere in Menswear Website-and-Bloglandia, at best, you look like a cheap Eastern European thug. . .  Or as my wife put it, you look like you're part of a high school musical production.  Neither one is the effect you want.  On the contrary, your square should compliment your tie without the two items matching.  You can even -- Shock!  Horror!  Gasp! -- have them totally different from one another, which is my preferred approach most days. Or go the really elegant route, and have a pressed, white linen handkerchief with hand-rolled edges peeking out from your suit coat pocket. 

17) Can I wear a bookpack with a suit?
Um, no.  Do not wear a backpack with your suit, guys.  This ain't a hike in the Norwegian countryside for heaven's sake.  For starters, a backpack over a suit looks stupid and spoils the overall visual effect -- sleek, polished, and sophisticated -- of wearing a suit in the first place.  Moreover, a backpack loaded down with books will ruin the shoulders and shape of your suit coat pretty quickly, and probably rub thin spots in the lining and outer shell of the coat at your tailbone.  It's just not a good idea.  

18) So, how do I schlepp my stuff on campus while wearing a suit?
I'd suggest purchasing a leather brief- or attache case or some kind instead of relying on your backpack.  Look around on Ebay, or in a thrift or charity shop, where you can occasionally find leather briefcases at pretty reasonable prices for carrying your papers and pens, laptop, tablet, or I-thingy on those days when you do wear a suit.  You'll be magically "transmogrified" from one more clumsy undergraduate guy, without much of a clue about anything beyond his own navel, into a  young, polished, white collar professional on his way up.

There you go!  There are, of course, other considerations to keep in mind to ensure that you look your best for those times when you wear a suit on campus, but these dozen or so pointers will go a long way toward helping you look like you've been wearing suits all of your life instead of just once or twice a year.  Besides, suits should be worn more often than just for the occasional funeral, wedding, or job interview.  Right?  

And I recently read somewhere online, that a sharp, classic suit on a man has the same effect for many women that lingerie does for many men.  A well-fitting, tailored suit, in other words, functions as an aphrodisiac of sorts.  If you need a concrete reason to wear a suit more than a time or two per year in our now woefully informal society, there you go.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Some young men out there get it. . .

An old Laurence Fellows illustration, showing, I believe, what male undergrads wore in the mid-1930s.

Mornings like this do a man's heart good.  Very early today, about 7:40am, while I was in the dining commons on campus enjoying a cup of fresh, black coffee before my first class of the day, a young man approached me to compliment what I had on.  Even more important and noteworthy was his own ensemble: a charcoal two-button sports jacket, a blue OCBD shirt with diagonal striped tie, creased khakis with a belt, and black bit loafers.  

Everything seemed to fit him pretty well and was worn where it should be worn rather than down around his knees.  I'm sure the student in question had a presentation or something for one of his classes today, but he looked damned nice at a glance as we spoke, which I let him know, and he had clearly made some effort to look not just presentable but actually good in a traditional, non-hipsterish way.  Nice to see a young man dressing without ironic intent.  Who knows?  There might be hope yet for some of these young bucks.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

This particular Fellows illustration is definitely on campus.  The background structures here have always reminded me of the Cathedral of Learning and the nearby Heinz Chapel on the University of Pittsburgh.  I studied Swedish at Pitt for two years and used to sing in the chapel with a Scandinavian choral group.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Shoulder Season Monday. . .

Yours truly at midday on Shoulder Season Monday.

A bright, crisp final day of Summer, and Autumn is definitely in the air today with temperatures hovering in the upper 60s Fahrenheit (about 20 Celsius).  Time then to pull out a slightly warmer, medium weight jacket, an oxford cloth button-down shirt, and a recently acquired pair of new brogue/wingtip shoes early this morning!  Here's the breakdown of the above items, most of which were thrifted, or, in the case of the jacket, purchased for a song on Ebay.  They are:

* Canali Wool Flannel Glen Plaid Sports Jacket -- Ebay
* Brooks Brothers OCBD Shirt -- Ebay
* Land's End Italian Silk Knit Tie -- Purchased on Sale
* Land's End Dark Tan Leather Belt -- Purchased on Sale
* Italian Silk Pocket Square (a bit wild here)-- Thrifted
* Mid-gray Worsted Wool Pants -- Thrifted
* Charcoal Marino Wool to-the-knee Dress Socks-- Free from Allen Edmonds
* Dark Reddish Tan Vintage J.C. Penney Goodyear Welted Leather Shoes  -- Thrifted

There we are.  A nice overall shoulder season look I think, despite the loony orange and brown polka dot square bursting forth from my jacket pocket, ably demonstrating how a guy can dress a bit better than average for very little money.  The most spent on any one item was in having the jacket altered slightly after hanging in the upstairs hall closet for only two or three years.  Now, if the weather cooperates, I can get out the tweeds, flannel, and corduroy, along with a couple of recently acquired fall/winter weight suits, in the next few weeks.  Bring on the cooler weather say I!

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Look forward to Time Alone. . .

There is nothing like fly-fishing in a lazy river or burbling creek for quiet contemplation, relaxation, and mental restoration.  This particular hobby is not my thing as an adult, but I certainly enjoyed doing it with my father 35-40 years ago.

Time alone is not something to avoid or fear.  Indeed, average guys working to kick up their everyday style several notches should consider having more time to themselves than has become typical in our over-connected, wired age when too many people seem to feel as though they are missing out on something if they are not always busy, busy, busy. . .  and social, social, social.  I'm hardly suggesting that anyone shun family and friends to become a complete hermit.  Let's not take my observation, or suggestions below, to extremes.  But downtime spent by oneself allows for vital recharging of the mental batteries, self-reflection, and the opportunity to enjoy those activities you enjoy, but probably don't have enough time to indulge as much as you might like.  

Think of it this way.  Thanks to technology, with all of its associated personal gadgets, and the fact that, for many of us, the clear distinction between work and home life has largely disappeared, we are constantly overstimulated by things and, yes, by each other.  Most of us lack the time to slow down, take in the scenery, and actually hear ourselves think.  The unfortunate result is that our internal seas are rarely calm anymore.  

It's very similar to when you brush a cat.  While "Fluffy" might love the attention and purr loudly as the brush moves through her fur and across her sides and back, at some point she becomes overstimulated and bites your hand.  The same thing happens with small children, who might enjoy the fun for several hours, whatever form that might take, but at some point, they too become overstimulated, and the inevitable meltdown follows close behind.

While adults -- most of us at least -- don't typically react like that, we too become overstimulated by the demands of work. . .  and family if we are honest with ourselves.  That is why time alone, an hour or two in the evenings during the week if possible, and longer during weekends or holidays, is so important.  Perhaps that is something too easily forgotten in the terminal rush that has become everyday life in the early 21st century when we allow ourselves to be pulled constantly in too many directions at once.  In that light, turning off, unplugging, and tuning out, at least for a while, is necessary for a person's well-being more now than ever before.  

Likewise, it is time for us to stop feeling guilty for saying "No, thank you." to invitations from friends and family to do this or that and, where the children are concerned, perhaps to say, "No" and "Not now" more than has become the accepted norm if articles online and in newspapers and magazines are anything to go by.  Constantly chauffering little Bobby and Cindy around to too many organized afterschool and evening activities is tiring for for parents, overstimulating to the children, and simply pulls everyone in too many different directions at once.  

An extracurricular pursuit, or maybe two, is fine if schoolwork does not suffer, and it does not begin to take over Mom's and Dad's lives.  However, the kids too need to learn that quiet, solitary pursuits are at least as important as the midget league soccer tournaments and tiny princess pageants. . .  if not more so.  Know what I mean?  Sure, activities like these have the potential to foster a range of useful skills and abilities besides being simple fun.  But let's stop overcompensating as parents for some imagined something or other by overscheduling everyone in the family.  It's not necessarily a good thing when parental anxieties drive the sheer number of activities that consume too many children and teenagers, along with their parents, in 2014.  Constant revving in high gear is more harmful than we might first think.

Whether you have a family, are in a committed relationship, or simply have a bunch of closely knit friends, you do not need to be joined at the hip all of the the time.  See a bit less of each each other and spend a little more time alone, engaged in those various pursuits for which we wish we had more time.  Allow each other to have some personal space and time.  Avoid being quite so wrapped up in the minutia of each others' lives and activities 24/7.  It is extremely healthy.  Honest.  Not only does routine disengagement enable you to recharge, but, at the very least, time away from each other, during which you are focused on other enjoyable things, permits more interesting conversation once you are together again around the dinner table in the evening when you can update each other on all of the cool, interesting things you've done recently.

Here's one important caveat to remember though.  Don't make the mistake of filling your downtime with TV, answering e-mail, Facebook, or other online social media, and/or computer games.  Those do not count.  They are too passive and too easy.  Give yourself a clean and complete break from that kind of thing for a few hours each week instead.  Longer if you can manage it.  Take a walk around town or the local park, go on a hike through the countryside, go fishing, hop on your bike for an hour or two or hit the slopes, pick up an actual, physical book (NOT your Kindle or Nook), or simply sit and watch the world go by in quiet contemplation for a few hours as you sip coffee, tea, or hot chocolate and read the paper at a local cafe.  

Or here's an idea.  Take the opportunity to develop and cultivate new consuming interests that you might enjoy by yourself for several hours each week.  There is no time like the present, but the goal to keep sight of is quiet disconnection from the usual activities and stressors of daily life.  You'll soon see that time to oneself is just as refreshing as ten hours of uninterrupted sleep, enabling you to return to the cheek-by-jowl activities of family, friends, and work with renewed interest, vigor, and focus.  

As for me, I'm off to do some painting, maybe get a bike ride in this afternoon, and, later this evening, read a chapter or two before turning out the lamp.  Of course, there will be family time in there too, but also Heinz-Ulrich time.  And that is ok.  Try it yourself.  I guarantee a bit more unplugged time alone will have a calming effect and improve your outlook on life.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dressing Nicely vs. Not Standing Out?

The late Fred Astaire, looking very natty in a double-breasted suit and hat.

I have no good answers for this one.  It seems generally accepted that the most elegant and tasteful approach to being what we'll call 'well-dressed' is the most subtle.  In other words, keep things fairly understated.  There's not too much going on visually  speaking.  Very much in keeping with the remark attributed to Beau Brummel that runs something along these lines.  If people stop and turn to look at you in the street, then you are not well-dressed.

The problem with this way of thinking is that it is difficult to dress well in the early 21st century without standing out and drawing attention since so many men leave the house looking like complete slobs.  Combine that with the fact that the mess, also known as business casual, that now holds sway in so many sectors and fields during normal business hours, and you see the dilemma.  Unless one is in the menswear industry where, presumably, other men dress well because they enjoy doing so and want to impress each other with their style acumen, a man will stand out most places in 2014 by simple virtue of the fact that he is dressed better than average.  

There are, of course, a few professions left where, in general, men are still expected to dress well.  As far as I know at any rate.  Certain law firms, the financial industry, corporate higher-ups, and so forth.  Though I suspect that even here suitable attire for the office might depend on organization size and culture, geographic location, the kind of work done or services provided, and whether or not the insidious virus that is dress-down-Friday-is-now-dress-down-Monday-through-Friday has infected the minds of those at the top.

As for me, I enjoy good clothing -- classic men's attire -- and dressing nicely, or attempting to do so at least.  I don't plan on stopping that anytime soon.  I am a vain, vapid poseur without a serious thought in my head after all.  In the vernacular of other times, a fop.  A silly macaroni.  A damned popinjay.  However, I am also well aware that I probably stick out like a sore thumb on even a fairly subdued navy blazer and khakis or charcoal suit day in my small Midwestern city, and on my small university campus, where lack of regard for occasion is the rule, fewer and fewer people have a clue about what is appropriate,  and most guys dress like farmers on a Saturday afternoon.  And their Sunday best hasn't really been very "Sunday best" for a long time. 

In my neck of the woods, extremely few men wear even sports jackets and neckties, besides attorneys in the downtown law firms, judges, a few doctors, university administrators and trustees, plus a few of the muckety-mucks on the top floor of the insurance giant that is based here.  Or even good quality leather dress shoes for that matter.  On those rare occasions when you actually spot a suit, more often than not it is black and boxy with sleeves that are far too long.

But reconciling the extremes here seems difficult.  I'm really not sure how average guys who want, and see a need, to kick up their everyday style several notches might do so in a way that does not turn heads.  It's just one more of the social conundrums of life in the early 21st century I suppose.  If you have any thoughts on the matter, please feel free to comment.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Shoulder Season. . .

"Take the picture!"  Clowning around on the way back to campus after lunch.

Today was one of those brilliant mid-September day that we never get enough of.  Bright, blue skies and cool temperatures without being chilly.  The perfect day for combining a few summer and fall items for an attempt at a shoulder season look.  Here's a breakdown of everything pictured above:

* Canali Houndstooth Wool/Silk Jacket -- From An Affordable Wardrobe
* Zanella Charcoal Wool Pants -- Ebay
* Orange and Brown Italian Silk Pocket Square -- Thrifted
* Green Bachrach Wool Tie -- Thrifted
* Land's End Shirt -- Purchased on Sale  
* Land's End Chocolate Brown Leather Belt -- Purchased New
* Allen Edmonds Chocolate Brown Suede Brogues -- Purchased New 
* Von Mauer Crazy Green and Blue Striped Socks -- Purchased on Sale

The jackets is a 40 Long and, accordingly, slightly long, but then my torso is slightly longer than average. It does not look too bad to my eyes, fitting neatly across the upper back and chest with only enough room for a balled fist against my stomach when buttoned.  I like it though I've toyed with the idea of having it shortened an inch or so, but haven't yet done so.  Often 40 Regulars are a tad too short on me anyway, so I have several "longs" in my wardrobe hanging beside a number of "regulars" too. . .  along with the odd 39L and 41R.  It just goes to show that there is little standardization of size across, and even within, brands.  

If you look closely, the left shoulder of the jacket looks a bit odd here given my quirky and exaggerated stance in the above photo.  My left shoulder was, in fact, also broken in a very bad car accident almost 30 years ago, and it is a bit lower than my right according to my tailor Mrs. V.  When I am standing up straight and still, however, the shoulders of this particular jacket hang cleanly straight down as they should without drooping or forming divots.  So, I don't worry too much about it having shoulders that are bolder than current tastes deem acceptable. 

The orange/brown pocket square goes with nothing else color or pattern wise as far as today's attire is concerned.  My current approach is to have one small item, usually the pocket square, that is a little off.  You know.  To avoid the dreaded GQ and Esquire matchy-matchy syndrome.  This particular square seems to work nicely with autumn and winter ensembles given its colors, so I pulled it from the pocket square jar on my dresser this morning, and away we went.

The combination of clothing above is not quite perfect, perhaps, but I received a couple of nice compliments today anyway, so I must be doing something right.  As with so much else in life, working to kick up one's everyday style several notches is an ongoing (and infinitely fun) journey. 

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dress like you mean business when you head to school. . .

Got a parent-teacher evening coming up on your calendar?  It's time to give serious thought to how you want to come across.

Buck the current trend among parents -- especially the fathers -- of dressing like complete slobs by at least taking the time to tuck your shirt into actual pants with a crease, put on a belt and some real shoes, and toss on a blazer or sports jacket before you either head to the car for a quick drop-off or pick-up of little Tyler and Taylor, or, alternately, before you walk them down the street and around the corner to the front door of their school.  Making sure you look presentable as a parent is just a good habit to cultivate whenever you head to school.  

"Why?" you might ask in protest, countering, "I don't have the time.  Who really cares anyway?"  My short reply would be, how can you think like that?  Why in the world don't you care?  You've got to get dressed anyway.  Have a little self-respect.  How is tucking in your shirt or putting on dark socks and leather shoes any more time consuming than, say, washing your face or brushing your teeth first thing in the morning?  You already do that, right?  How does tossing on a sports jacket before you head out the door take any more time than pulling on a badly pilled synthetic fleece, an old nylon windbreaker, or a food-stained hoodie?  Before we get carried away in our imaginary exchange, though, let's consider the issue in a bit more detail.

For starters, getting yourself pulled together in the morning before you send the children on their way sets a solid example for them.  There is nothing wrong with setting (and maintaining) high standards, for yourself and your offspring, through quiet example where personal appearance, attention to detail, self-discipline, self-respect, and awareness of occasion are concerned.  I would even be so bold as to suggest it is essential in rearing children.  However, few people seem to think about this now judging by the fact that you never, ever hear talk of setting a good example anymore.  I guess we have become so fearful of upsetting anyone in 2014, and almost anything goes anyway, that we've stopped having conversations like this.  At least audibly.  How sad that is for society.  Just one more baby thrown out with the figurative bathwater during the last, more or less, 40 years in our mad rush toward perceived greater egalitarianism I suppose. 

Returning to the subject of your public parental attire though, it's a damn good idea for the teachers of your children, and any lurking school administrators, to see you looking pulled together. . .  rather than the usual unshaven, uncombed shambling mound, dressed in the now all-too-common sweatpants/baggy dad jeans-windbreaker/hooded sweatshirt-sneakers/trainers combo.  Trust me.  It's one more instance where these people will react differently to you, when you look like you have at least a modicum of education post-high school along with a better level of grooming and attire than has become the accepted and pathetic norm in most places.  Where your children are concerned, surely you do not want to look like one more self-centered, wrinkled, and utterly clueless slob with few redeeming habits, practices, or knowledge of worth to impart.  

Keep in mind, an appearance at your child's school, regardless of the reason, is not the same thing as sitting alone in your TV room at home, flipping endlessly through the 157 channels of nothing -- with a nod to Mr. Springsteen-- at 2am on a Sunday morning.  Know what I mean?  Teachers and school administrators are much more inclined to take you, your questions, and concerns seriously when you leave the old, black  Harley-Davidson sweatshirt and ripped jeans for another time and, instead, turn up looking like you mean business.  It's all about coming across with a certain level of gravitas and setting the right tone for the interaction.  Looking like you come from something and somewhere besides under a rock helps here.

With that same idea in mind, it is also sound practice to suggest to your children's teachers and school administrators, when they almost invariably start on a first name basis in their interactions with you, that you would prefer being called Mr. So-and-so.  The current predilection for over-familiarity is never a good idea in formal settings, so don't be afraid to assert yourself here.  Too many adults are these days.  

Despite the fact that education seems largely to be presented as entertainment now, with teachers of small children routinely "high-fiving" their pupils and addressing their charges as either "Buddy," or "Honey," parent-teacher/administrator meetings are, and should be seen as, more formal, serious occasions.  Even when there is not a problem, and everything is hunky-dory.  After all, parents only rarely move in the same social circles with their children's teachers and/or school administrators.  It's not unheard of, of course, but rare.  

Keep in mind, we are not talking about a group well-acquainted adults sitting down to dinner on the weekend.  Neither are we talking about summertime backyard barbecues with members of your temple or church or close friends enjoying a few drinks on a non-work night once the children have been tucked in to bed.  Interacting with your children's teachers and school administrators is very similar to how you might intereact with your supervisor, manager, colleagues, and people beneath you at work.  It's a bit more formal than things are with your close friends in a non-work environment.  Be careful not to confuse the two.  Familiarity breeds contempt as my maternal grandmother used to remark, so it is really much better to keep even pleasant school meetings on a more formal footing.

Likewise, it is beneficial for children to learn early that different settings and occasions call for different levels of behavior and attire, and that a basic level of awareness, respect, and polite behavior help start off any interaction on a positive note.  Children need to learn how to navigate social interaction smoothly in order to avoid coming across as awkward in some way by the time they are teenagers and, indeed, adults.  Again, clothing and behavior, how we present ourselves to the world, are important parts of that.  Let's simply call it social literacy, and parents, or parental figures, must be the ones to impart this knowledge and ensure fluency on the part of their children.  

But it ain't all up to Mom.  Don't make that mistake.  We men have a distinct role to play in all of this.  Being a male parent, or parental figure, is not always about playing computer games together, buying one more overpriced blinking and beeping gadget,  coaching the midget league soccer team, or staring mindlessly at the TV while trading inane remarks and observations.  Are you with me so far?  Rearing happy, pleasant, reasonably well-adjusted children, who are socially equipped to move through life involves the demonstration and transferal of numerous less tangible skills and practices, plus a certain level of social awareness, that we help instill in them.  Hopefully. 

Finishing school is, sadly, not an option available to most of us,  Neither can we depend, on the public schools (in the United States), if ever we could, to teach proper behavior, manners, and etiquette to our children.  That must happen at home, and father figures (plus the examples they set) are far more important in this process than many might think.  Goodness knows there are already enough socially awkward, sloppy souls walking around these days, so let's ensure that our children learn early from us how to act and present themselves. . .  in public and in private.  It helps grease the wheels of their lives and make them much more pleasant individuals, both while they remain under our roofs and later once they are on their own.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Friday, September 12, 2014

Let's Stop Dressing Like Slobs When We Travel. . .

How it used to be. . .  When commercial air travel was, in general, still a special and comfortable experience, and your fellow passengers did not look (or smell) like they had just crawled out of a big, green, slimy garbage bin behind a restaurant somewhere.

Imagine my surprise, when I stumbled on this piece about NOT dressing like a complete slob when you travel.  Enough said?

-- Heinz-Ulrich 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Get a Grip on Yourself!

Tapping or drumming one's fingers on the table is just one common (and irritating) type of fidgeting.

If you'll pardon the blatant Seinfeld reference, are you master of your domain?  Ok, ok. . .  Settle down class.  Class?  Class?  Class!  Kidding aside, I'm talking about your ability to sit still whether you are alone or with others.  An inability to do so is as annoying in adults as it is in children, and fidgeting instantly betrays intense nervousness and uncertainty on your part.  

Besides learning how to dress and conduct himself more nicely, an average guy working to kick up his everyday style should also ask himself, "Am I able to sit still?"  If, after careful reflection, the honest answer is no, then here is a short list of typical nervous behaviors that you'll want to get under control:

1) Tapping or drumming your fingers incessantly on tabletops.

2) Biting or picking at your nails or cuticles.

3) Sniffing or clearing your throat constantly

4) Playing with your hair, face, or nose (ick!).

5) Bouncing or tapping your foot on the floor.

6) Waving your foot or lower leg when your legs are crossed.

7) Wiggling both knees back and forth rapidly when seated (as though your are three and desperately need to visit the bathroom).

8) Cracking your knuckles.

9) Clicking a ball point pen or drumming with a pencil.

10) Twiddling your fingers and thumbs or playing with small stuff within arm's reach (Zippo cigarette lighters, jingling the change in your pocket, etc.).

11) Chewing on your lip or the inside of your cheek.

12) Picking at your clothing.

Without a doubt there are additional nervous habits that I'm not thinking of at the moment, but these dozen commonly observed activities provide a useful starting point if you determine that your are indeed a chronic fidgeter who needs to rein himself in.  Barring Restless Leg Syndrome or more serious mental health issues, you need to get a grip on yourself if any of these habits are familiar to you.   

And if this particular post itself seems a bit irritating and persnickety, remember, the devil is in the details.  A stylish, sophisticated adult male has control over himself.  He is able to sit still, giving the impression, at least, of being calm, cool, confident, and collected regardless of the place, time, or situation.  After all, it's hard to picture genuine cultural icons like Cary Grant, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Sean Connery, or Michael Caine, for example, fidgeting their ways through their movies. . .  or their personal lives.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Don't Dominate Party Conversation. . .

One of Miss Holly Golightly's cocktail parties in the Truman Capote novel (and later a Blake Edwards film) Breakfast at Tiffany's.

When you find yourself in a social situation, say for example a cocktail or dinner party, or even a less formal backyard picnic in the summertime, don't be the guy who dominates any conversation of which he is a part.  Usually these guys are louder than everyone else too.  It's far better to get a grip on those jitters -- nervousness is usually the root cause -- calm down, and listen.  Wait until you can contribute something pertinent to the general chat around you, or until a question or remark is directed to you.  And, of course, if you can be wryly witty and amusing when your turn to speak arrives, so much the better.  

While you certainly do not want to sit there like a mossy bump on a log next to your spouse or significant other all evening, neither do you want to be that obnoxious blowhard, who takes over the room with vacuous talk that grows louder with each drink consumed.  You do not want to be the source of loud, raucous laughter either, or (figuratively speaking) end up dancing in a corner with a lampshade on your head by evening's end.  

It's not a pretty picture to observe and leads to hushed reactions like, "My God, who is that?" among the other guests.  Such behavior will almost certainly ensure that you are not invited back by your hosts the next time they organize any kind of gathering.  Instead, it is much better to control of yourself and avoid dominating party conversation.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Cultivate a C-L-E-V-E-R Sense of Humor. . .

Past masters of more clever humor and actual conversation: the late Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, and Jack Parr.  And dig Jack Parr's pocket handkerchief too while you're at it!

In our current era of stupid humor, based more on bodily noises, contrived pratfalls, and Macauley Culkin-esque "Agggghhhhh!!!" screams than anything else, it's worth pointing out that stylish men cultivate a quieter type of humor.  It is wry, witty, informed, and clever. . .  rather than stupid, puerile, and just plain gross.  Be sure you know the difference, and work hard to cultivate the former while avoiding the latter in those efforts to kick up your everyday style several notches.  Remember, guys, you're not 10 years old anymore.

-- Heinz-Ulrich.

A Wee Bit Dandy?

The ensemble for yesterday (Friday).  Maybe a wee bit foppish now that I look at everything again, but I still felt pretty good given the heat index yesterday.  Of course, the centrally air-conditioned buildings and classrooms on campus helped as the day wore on.

Ahhhhh. . .  Feel that?  Yep.  The hot temperatures have broken at last following thunderstorms early yesterday evening in my neck of the woods.  Time to break out some double-breasted jackets and even a few suits for the coming week.  While our summer has been extremely pleasant this year, of course the second half of August heated up right before it was time to return to campus, with its teaching and service duties, and leave behind the usual summer attire of Sperry top-siders, khaki camp shorts, and short-sleeved Madras or knit polo shirts.  

Not that we are required to dress in three-piece suits and neckties by any means.  You ought to see how terrible some of the other male faculty look throughout the academic year.  And no one bats an eye or says anything.  Were I in charge, there would be a minimum standard of decent dress expected for faculty and staff, but sadly I am not.  Still, I just cannot bring myself to turn up on campus during the fall or winter semesters in frayed khakis, an old t-shirt (invariably with faint food stains of some kind down the front), a pair of beaten to death comfort sole shoes, and/or cheap imitation leather jackets one the weather cools.  After all, how can you expect students, to say nothing of colleagues and administration, to sit up, shut up, and take what you have to say seriously when you look like a homeless person?  Know what I mean?

Nope.  I'm one of those irritating types who feels that work is work, and you dress differently for work, assuming it is in the white collar sphere to begin with, than you do for leisure.  Now, that's not to say that you can't have a bit of fun with your work attire along the way even if that fun is slightly unintended.  We can't take ourselves too seriously after all.  Which leads us to yesterday's combination of items pictured above.  

Now, I just can't bring myself to do a selfie with my digital camera, so you'll have to take my word that everything shown fits my 5' 11", 175 lbs. frame pretty well.  The Hickey-Freeman sports jacket, in particular, is one of my best -fitting odd jackets with nice waist suppression and a very clean fit along the shoulders and upper back.  On reflection, I might have toned things down somewhat with fewer patterns.  Maybe some charcoal socks and a white linen pocket handkerchief?  It was awfully early when I dressed yesterday morning, and I simply grabbed what was in the sock drawer and the silk pocket square jar atop my dresser.  A plain light blue shirt would also have helped tone things down a bit.  Ah, well.  Live and learn.

Keep in mind, during the journey to kick up your own everyday style a few notches, that some days will be hits and others (like yesterday) will be misses, but the fun comes in trying out different combinations without worrying about it too much.  Put on your clothes, go forth into your day, and rest confident in the fact that you will be dressed better that 95% of the other men you'll encounter in 2014.  Unless you're in Northern Italy or Paris of course.  The point is, you can't become so afraid of getting it wrong that you feel self-conscious about being dressed in adult clothes.  Trust me, that self-consciousness will show in how you move and your facial expression, which is hardly the effect you wish to convey

On a related note, I received a compliment from a student the other day, who remained for a couple of minutes after his class to ask a few questions about an upcoming paper assignment.  As he and a classmate left, he said, "Oh, and by the way, it's really nice to see a man who likes to dress up here on campus.  All of my other male professors dress kinda blah.  I've liked everything you've worn so far this semester."  Nice to know that there are still some young men out there who get it.

While I dress more for myself more than anyone else at this point in my life, it's still nice to hear occasional positive feedback from others.  Keep in mind, the attire on that particular day included the decidedly less dandy combination of a navy blazer, light khaki chinos, a poplin button-down shirt, silk knit tie, and a pair of dark brown penny loafers with a matching braided belt.  Nevertheless, those two or three days a year when a student, staff member, or fellow faculty member pays me a small compliment like the one above always stand out as better than average days.  Yes, extremely shallow of me I know.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Monday, September 1, 2014

Of Tan Suits and Shoulders. . .

Isn't there more serious stuff in the world to talk about at the moment than whether or not President Obama should, or should not have worn this tan suit the other day?

Looking around the menswear blogosphere, social media, and the online versions of the press the last several days, a few points have come up about President Obama's tan and presumably Brooks Brothers suit the other day that warrant some balanced response.

One, tan is a summertime suit color, and Washington, D.C. is still oppressively hot and humid at this time of year, late August-early September.   Good Lord, the man was dressed, wore decent looking shoes, and a necktie.  It's not as though he had an Italian silk paisley pocket square bursting forth from his outer chest pocket like some kind of silly popinjay.  The President actually looks kind of nondescript in his attire here, and isn't that what we should strive for, to some degree, with a suit?  Beau Brummel supposedly once remarked that the mark of a well-dressed man was not turning heads as he walked past.  Or something like that.

Two, there was a time when American presidents, male politicians, and those aspiring to political office appeared in different colored suits besides the now ubiquitous navy, charcoal, gray if we're lucky, or (shudder) black.  Or the dreadfully contrived rolled-up shirt sleeves, dad jeans, and no tie in an effort to resonate with the masses.  It wasn't always so however.  Find pictures of FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower to see what I mean.  They were also in office during tense, rather challenging times, and, as far as I know, no one called their leadership into question based on their choice of suit for a given day.   

Three, the armholes and shoulders do indeed look too large in the photo above.  No argument there.  But surely there must be a happy medium between a jacket or coat that is too large, and the current trend of guys with non-bodybuilder physiques walking around in sports jackets and suit coats that are far too tight across the shoulders, upper arms, and across the waist and hips, which invariably pulls into that dreaded X.  Right?  Or am I crazy?

Four, the length of this particular suit coat, to my eyes, looks about right on a tall, thin man like President Obama.  Once again, this is more in line with a classic look rather than the current and generic "H&M Trend" (for want of a better term) for short, skimpy, even tight jackets.  Let's not forget that current classic style luminaries like Dr. Andre Churchwell, Will Boehlke, and Luciano Barbera routinely wear suit coats and sports jackets that are longer than the current taste of the people as marketed to them by various fashion outlets around the world.  

Here's a little secret.  Fashion is not style, and only rarely do the two meet.  The former is fleeting and subject to the whim of designers and corporate marketing and advertising types, who change things up rapidly and sell it to the masses, most of whom part willingly with their dollars, euros, and yuan.  And then they toss the stuff out like sheep as soon as something new crosses their paths.  I read somewhere recently that the new cycle for this kind of thing is down to just a few weeks at a time in our globalized 21st century economy.  

That is fashion.  Style, by contrast, is more constant, refined, understated, individual, and developed over time.  The trick is to acquire enough knowledge that you become quietly confident where your own classic masculine style choices are concerned.  Doing so will enable you to walk your own path, turning your back on the mass produced, disposable, overpriced, and skimpy dreck that now floods the mass market.

Granted, someone at the store where Mr. Obama's suit was purchased should have suggested that he try the next size down for his coat, which might have helped where the overly large shoulders and chest are concerned.  He might also have had the coat waist suppressed a bit to do away with the baggy fit though Brooks Brothers stuff is notable for its traditional American sack cut, so perhaps that is a moot point.  

The President's coat sleeves look like they could be a tiny bit shorter too, but since the length of his trousers appears reasonable here, why the sleeves were left overly long remains a mystery.  I suspect it is just one more indicator that very few salespeople in clothing stores know what they are doing nowadays with regard to suggesting certain basic alterations that should be a matter of course with off-the-rack attire.

Ok.  But what's the point, Heinz-Ulrich?  Here it is.  Guys, when you purchase sports jackets and suits, make sure the shoulders fit above all else.  Many men in the United States, at least, wear jackets and suit coats that are far too large with sleeves and pants that are way too long.  Realize that, in many cases, you cannot depend on the sales staff to give you the right answers when you try on and purchase new items.  Most of these people in 2014 have no clue about proper fit and proportions, not to mention basic alterations to suggest.  You'll need to do your homework.  Increase your own knowledge base where classic male style and attire are concerned, so that you can make more informed decisions before you purchase anything, whether that is at thrift/charity shops, or at full retail prices. 

What does that men exactly?  Study the titles by Alan Flusser, Bernhard Roetzel, et al on classic male attire.  Examine countless pictures online of genuine style icons like Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, JFK, Steve McQueen, and countless others.  Get a real sense of classic proportions and silhouette.  And find a good tailor for at least basic alterations -- sleeve length, waist suppression, and inseam -- before you wear those newly acquired items.  

Don't bother with trendy periodicals like GQ or Esquire either for information on masculine style and attire.  These once relevant publications are now nothing more than glossy advertorial rags that push the latest trends, much more appropriate for the Axe set than for adult men of style, sophistication, and substance.  Whatever you do, don't become one of the many clueless guys walking around out there, who wear their  sports jackets and suits a size or two too large, to say nothing of appearing in public with overly long pants that puddle around one's ankles.  

Likewise, don't force your 44 Regular bodies into a 38 Short suit coats with floodwater length pants/trousers to match either like so many of the peacocks on display at various men's clothing events around the globe, for instance the annual Pitti Uomo tradeshow.  There is a happy medium between the the extremes of too large and too snug, but you need to be able to recognize it, and there is a small learning curve.  However, don't let that put you off.  The journey to that pot of gold at the end of the menswear style rainbow is more than half the fun.

-- Heinz-Ulrich