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.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Keep Yourself to Yourself. . .

A section of an old fieldstone wall from my old stomping grounds of southeastern Pennsylvania.


Mending Wall -- Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors." 



It strikes me that one hallmark of a stylish adult male is knowing how to keep yourself to yourself.  In other words, be sensitive to the fact that others, some of them anyway, like and need their space.  So, when you meet people for the first time, it's perhaps best to leave a little for later.  In plainer language, resist the urge -- largely a nervous American one it seems -- to spill your guts, overshare, and jump into a new acquaintanceship or friendship up to your eyebrows.  

Naturally, most of us experience a friendly enthusiasm  with both new acquaintances and old friends and wish to make people feel at ease, which is fine.  And cold aloofness is not what I mean before anyone misinterprets my point here.  Rather, instead of throwing the doors of your life open wide and volunteering all kinds of information about yourself, your family, activities, and affiliations right off the bat, with the implication that the same is expected in return, how about saving a little something for later?  It's really preferable to rein things in just a bit, keep yourself to yourself, and let those (potential) new relationships develop and mature overtime.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Casual Attire. . .

From the Land's End website, a men's short-sleeved Madras sport shirt.  I discovered these almost 20 years ago when I finally cut my hair and joined the adult world. 

We are in the midst of the long Memorial Day holiday weekend here in the United States, traditionally seen as the start of the summer season although we actually have about a month to go until the summer solstice.  

In any case, it's a quiet, pleasantly cool late Sunday morning at the von Boffke residence, and here is my suggestion for decent looking, yet totally comfortable summertime attire.  Today, I'm wearing a short-sleeved Madras shirt on top much like the one shown above, faded well-worn chino shorts on the bottom, and a pair of extremely well-worn leather boat shoes on the feet.  No socks obviously.  Perfect for lounging around the house, backyard, or even a quick run to the supermarket before a later afternoon barbecue.  You know.  For the hamburger or hotdog buns and a large bag of ice.

My father and maternal grandfather had a few such Madras shirts in their wardrobes and wore them during the summers.  The self same item has also been a permanent feature of my own summer attire since the mid-90s when I finally concluded, after a year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, that my continued adherence to stereotypical rocker attire was not in line with my intended life trajectory.  But that's a subject for another time.  

Since those heady days, I've found that it's hard to go wrong with a Madras shirt during the warmer months.  It is a versatile item and looks good with khaki camp shorts, creased chinos, and even jeans.  Ahhh. . .   Time for another cup of coffee I think.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Add Some Pizzaz to Your Wardrobe!

A relatively young Humphrey Bogart, looking a bit menacing here, in a double-breasted Glen Plaid suit.


The always dapper Cary Grant wore a Glen Plaid suit in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest.


Gary Cooper looks dashingly relaxed in his double-breasted three-piece Glen Plaid suit.


 And of course, who could forget the great Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger?

Recently, I've written of my enthusiasm for Glen Plaid (a.k.a. Glenurquhart Plaid, Glenurquhart Check, or Prince of Wales Plaid) sports jackets and suits here.  I've recently acquire a sports jacket and a couple of suits in this pattern, one in blue and one in gray, that are waiting simply for me to take them to the tailor's for minor alterations.  Since I do not teach between May and late August, there is sadly no hurry since truly snappy dressing is not necessary during the warmest months of the year where I live.  Sadly, as I say since I actually enjoy shaving and putting on attractive classic menswear five mornings a week during the academic year.  Dressing well is not a hardship by any means to my way of thinking.  But back to the Glen Plaid.

Assuming you've already got at least one solid color (more or less) suit hanging in your closet, you need or want to add a second to the mix, and you are on the lookout for something not seen everyday, why not consider one in Glen Plaid?  You cannot go wrong with it.  The pattern is visually interesting without being over the top.  At the same time, it is a bit less formal than solid colors or pinstripes/chalk stripes.  The pattern is thus bit playful while still helping a guy look very pulled together, yet you won't look like a clone of every other suited up guy in your office or at a semi-formal event.

Be sure to keep everything else very understated when you wear a Glen Plaid suit however.  Take your cue from Sean Connery above and keep your shirt, necktie, and pocket handkerchief combination restrained.  Far better to come across as elegant in your suit rather than as a pronounced dandy, who is trying too hard to be noticed.  Know what I mean?  It's already difficult enough not to stand out when you are well dressed given the preponderance of slobs walking around in 2014, so cultivating an understated look might take a little doing, but the results are worth it.

You might occasionally spot a Glen Plaid suit in larger cities in the United States with true business and financial districts like New York, Boston, D.C., Chicago, or perhaps the rare more formal corporate office on the west coast.  But in smaller Midwestern cities like my own -- with all of its uniform small town-ness still so blatantly apparent -- when you spot suits at all, they are more often than not black (shudder), sometimes sold charcoal, or once in a great while navy.  And men almost always wear suits that are far too big.  An average guy who is in the midst of kicking up his everyday style several notches would to well to add a suit in Glen Plaid, tailored to fit his unique physical dimensions, to his wardrobe and wear it with aplomb.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Civility. . .

Hopefully, you conduct yourself better than these young children.

Civility -- polite, reasonable, and respectful behavior.  Courtesy.  Politeness. (Miriam-Webster Online).

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Monday, May 19, 2014

Thinking ahead to Autumn Already. . .

This lovely, and very heavy, Southwick 3/2 suit arrived today.

It pays to be foresighted when assembling an adult male wardrobe.  While we haven't even had any hot weather (and only a few warm days) to speak of this spring in my neck of the woods, I already find myself thinking ahead to late fall and next winter.  Why?  This vintage Southwick beauty by arrived with the mail earlier today.  A fairly reasonable 'Or Best Offer' Ebay purchase when you consider that it's a full suit with several quality features.  

Made in the U.S. of A., the suit is sized as a 40 Long.  The coat fits cleanly across my back, chest, and sides without being too snug or hanging on my still reasonably trim frame.  The pants, while far too long currently, are fully lined to the ankles and have brace buttons already on the inside of the waistband, so I'll have the belt loops removed and wear the suit with braces.  Best off all, it is very comfortable.  Delightfully soft and HEAVY wool flannel with a gray, charcoal, rust, and teal houndstooth pattern.  Gorgeous up close, yet still understated.  Perfect for those chilly autumn or colder winter days when I want to dress up a bit more than the usual tweed sports jacket with odd flannel or corduroy pants.

Of course, a few minor alterations are necessary (a bit of sleeve shortening and adding cuffs/turn-ups to the pants), but that's not a problem.  The coat already has a nice silhouette with a bit of waist suppression, but I might see about having a tiny bit more added later depending on what my tailor Mrs. V. has to say.  Far too heavy for summer or early fall, but I can't wait to put it on when we have our first really chilly morning in about five or six months' time.  I'm very pleased to add this suit to my wardrobe.

Fine, but so what?  Well, the point to take away here is that you need to think long term when adding items to your wardrobe, and don't simply make purchases based on the current season or whatever the legions of menswear I-gent fashionistas out there might deem the current flavor of the month.  Think farther afield than that and make your purchases, instead, with the aim of bucking trends.  Go for timeless items that you'll break in and enjoy wearing for years.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Class. . .

Wayne Station along the Main Line outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The concept of "class," to my mind, has less to do with the material assets your family might have and considerably more to do with polite manners, education, refined tastes, and (hopefully) a concern for the common good.  If you are fortunate enough to have all of those bases covered AND have scads of that mean, mean green, fine.  Contact me offline, and you can donate two or three million to the cause.  Or at least help us set up a trust fund to ensure our son's university education when the time comes.

All kidding aside, even if your background and means are more modest, there is no excuse not to acquire some grooming, sophistication, and gentility by the time a guy has reached his early 20s.   Let's also toss in the concepts of trustworthiness, honor, grace, poise, responsibility, tolerance, (self-) discipline, understatement, and character while we're at it.  Average guys who want to kick up their everyday style several notches would do well to acquire, practice, and polish these half dozen or so traits in all aspects of their lives.

Aspirational?  You're damn straight!  But before anyone dismisses that with a snide thought or remark, remember it's not a matter of aping the behaviors, real or imagined, of old money.  It's simply a matter of ensuring that one becomes, is, and remains a pleasant and interesting individual.  Capiche?

-- Heinz-Ulrich 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Proper Wedding Guest Style. . .

You might be able to get away with jeans and one of those awful untucked "going out" shirts at your workplace, at the local bowlong alley, or at a bar on Saturday night, but they are not correct wedding attire.

The wedding season is (almost) upon us.  With that in mind, here is a vital bit of information for average guys who want to kick up their everyday sense of style several notches. Are ya ready boys?  All right fellas, let's go!

Unless it has been specified on the invitation that an upcoming wedding, to which you are invited, has an ultra casual, southwestern, or (God help us) a country and western theme, the correct attire for male guests at a wedding is an understated suit (gray, charcoal, or navy) with a necktie and recently polished and shined leather dress shoes.  Newsflash!  Weddings are formal occasions.  Jeans are not formal wear.  

While most people in most places around the world now wear them, and some pairs of jeans retail for an obscene amount of money, their origins are decidedly proletarian and nothing more.  They have no place in a formal setting unless of course you are part of a Hee-Haw themed event, and the bride has decided to model her appearance on the late Minnie Pearl. 

My knee-jerk suspicion is that, for some bizarre reason, there are an awful lot of people in 2014 who don't know any better.  So, let me set the record straight.  To all of those average guys out there who don't want to show up for their college buddy's big day looking like a clueless rube, remember this.  Please accord the bride and groom, as well as their families, a high degree of respect on this special (and stressful) day.  Attend the festivities in the appropriate clothes, that is an understated suit (gray, charcoal, or navy), a necktie, and pair of polished and shined leather dress shoes.  

Even if you mistakenly denigrate and dismiss items like these as markers of the much maligned "rich" upper class, set those working class hero principles to one side for a few hours and demonstrate that you have at least a modicum of grooming, sophistication, and good taste.  Show that you know what is appropriate and when.  Why stick out like a sore thumb with a pathological dislike of formal occasions and attire?  There are such people, of course, but that sort of attitude is not the way to win friends and influence people.  Instead, suck it up and wear what you should to formal events like weddings.  It ain't goin' to kill ya.  

Now, say it with me one more time.  For weddings, proper male guest attire includes an understated suit (gray, charcoal, or navy), a necktie, and pair of polished and shined leather dress shoes.  There now.  That didn't hurt, did it?

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Honest Toil. . .


My mother told me, "There is nothing wrong with good, hard work," on the day I started as a 19-year-old part-time stock clerk at a local supermarket in October 1986. . .  for slightly less than US$4 an hour.  This was after my grandfather delivered the ultimatum to me -- I had been out of high school roughly 15 months -- of choosing either school or work.  I could not hang around doing nothing anymore. 

For the next five years, I developed callused hands unloading 50' (about 15.25 metre) trucks three (early) mornings a week, occasionally four, with an old-fashioned manual pallet jack.  I also stocked shelves in the dry grocery, frozen food, dairy, and produce departments, bagged grocery orders when the store was busy, mopped filthy floors, cleaned and maintained refrigeration equipment, and gathered up shopping carts in all kinds of weather year round, shoveled snow outside the store, cleaned public toilets as well as all kinds of other tasks associated with working in a non-union supermarket.  

Usually, I spent about nine hours a day on my feet, six days a week.  Overtime was a routine occurrence, and sometimes there was the occasional 18-hour day.  I remember many late afternoons when I was so tired that I'd collapse on the sofa after arriving home around 5:30pm, only to wake at 11:30pm, head straight for bed, and fall back to sleep.  The clock radio came on all too soon at 5am.  Even the eventual promotion to "department manager" at 20 for the princely wage of US$4.75 an hour didn't change that, or the duties expected of me.  When I finally left a few years later, to begin studying full-time at a community college, my pay was US$7.50 an hour.

Fine.  But what's the point in this rosy walk down memory lane?  Here you go.

It strikes me that far too many average guys in 2014 have an aversion to hard work, whether that effort is physical or mental, manual labor or more academic in nature.  Too many guys of various ages and backgrounds seem content simply to sit on their hands, cry foul, and blame others for adversity.  They seem content to wait for someone else to fix their problems, and all the while whine about their particular set of hardships.  

You know what?  That's life, and life ain't always easy.  Unfortunately, it's true that some people have it easier than others.  Some might be born smarter and more analytical, and end up knowing more.   Some might be blessed with greater manual dexterity or athletic prowess.  Still others might simply just seem to be in the right place at the right time and manage to make good use of opportunities that arise through the gift of gab and a keen eye.  And some people are simply born into more fortunate circumstances all the way around.  But let's not hate them for it.  Resentment is an ugly, ugly thing, and you don't want to be like that.  

Here's my suggestion to average guys on how to advance through life.  Instead of begrudging the mental or material affluence of others, how about some hard work with a bit less attitude on your part?  Stop wasting time and energy grinding away about how others somehow owe you something.  Why not take charge of your own life instead?  How about taking responsibility for yourself?  What about helping others with a kind word and a smile whether you are on the clock, or not?  How about showing some initiative, seeing what needs to be done, and taking care of things before you are asked to do so?  Why not make a habit of thinking things through more carefully before you act rashly and screw up not only your life, but the lives of those around you?  How about cleaning up your own house first and keeping it that way?  

Change, advancement, and progress can only come from within.  No one else can do that for you.  Success in life cannot be superimposed from above.  Achievement comes through your own hard work, which -- Surprise! -- can and does transform one's life and situation for the better.  All that's needed is a little time and some effort.  Dig deep and find that initiative within yourself.  Refuse to accept and wallow in the status quo.  Aspire, instead, to become something better.  Don't tolerate anything less from yourself.  Or those around you.  And don't expect things to be handed to you on a silver platter in exchange for nothing.  Average guys who want to kick up their everyday style several notches should keep that in mind.

-- Heinz-Ulrich 

Friday, May 16, 2014

10 Easy Ways to Give Your Attire That "Lived In" Look. . .

The real James Bond -- author Ian Fleming, looking relaxed and at ease in a suit and bowtie no less..

And we're not talking rips or tears. . .  or  beer, ketchup, or guacamole stains down your front.  That's not what I mean.  As an average guy making the effort to kick up his everyday style several notches, you want your clothing to look its best.  And clothes look their best when they look lived in.  Here are ten easy tips that will help you achieve that.  Ready?  Here we go!


1) You must wear your clothes.
Don't leave your good stuff hanging in the closet or folded in your dresser.  Put it on.  Make a habit of wearing nice things.  You'll begin to feel quite comfortable in them fast, which will make you look relaxed and, wonder of wonders, give your clothes that coveted "lived in" look.

2) Don't fret over a few wrinkles.
Barring accidents with food, ink, or blood, once a year dry-cleaning is fine for suits, sports jackets, and odd dress pants.  In the meantime, put on these items and take pleasure wearing them.  When you take pleasure in using something, you become comfortable with it and considerably less aware and self-conscious about it.  Hang your garments up at the end of the day or evening. Let them air out for 12-24 hours before returning them to the closet.  If there are a few minor wrinkles on the insides of elbows or the backs of the knees, so be it.  Besides, these will gradually lessen as the item(s) hangs in the closet until the next time you pull it out to wear.

3) Avoid standing/moving like a mannequin.
You can always spot the guys who don't wear their nice suits and sports coats-odd pants combos often.  They look self-conscious and uncomfortable.  Plus they move like the stiff, rusty Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz.  Neither are you the Scarecrow with a broomstick for a spine.  R-E-L-A-X!  Have fun.  Sit down and cross your legs.  Lean over and rest your elbow on that nearby table or desk.  Flop down on the sofa in your office if you are lucky enough to have either.  Move like you would in a pair of pajamas or your favorite jeans and t-shirt.  A casual, nonchalant bearing will help you and your clothes feel AND look better.

4) Some minor fraying on cuffs and collars of shirts is fine.
It usually takes mine between 6-10 years to develop this subtle feature.  Some slight fraying shows that a shirt is loved and not brand spanking new.  This is also when a dress shirt is at its most comfortable, and that will translate directly into how you feel and move in the shirt, making you feel at ease in your clothes and helping everything to looked lived in and enjoyed rather than taken out of the closet only for those two or three occasions a year when your mother, spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend forces you to get dressed up.  Or the occasion demands it.

5) Instead of ironing your shirts. . . 
Toss 'em in the dryer with a few fabric softener sheets, and hang them up when the cycle is over, and they are still warm.  They'll look just ever so slightly more nonchalant and less like they've had the life ironed out of them.  And on that note. . .

6) Avoid over-starching shirt cuffs and collars.
Some gentle ironing here is preferable if and when you absolutely must looked impeccably pressed, but routine starching makes these parts of a shirt wear out faster.  And more important, your shirts will feel stiff and uncomfortable when you put them on.  And that will make you feel and come across as stiffer and less natural as you move through your workday or evening out on the town.

7) Don't bother learning fancy pocket square folds.
Unless you are going for that Sean Connery-era James Bond (or Don Draper) TV Fold with a white linen handkerchief.  Otherwise, don't fuss with your more colorful silk or wool pocket squares.  Just take one from the drawer, stuff it in your pocket, arrange so that a little shows, and forget about it.  And don't you dare match the pocket square to your necktie too closely.  You risk looking like you bought the two as a set, or (as my wife jokes) like you are part of a high school chorus production.

8) Polish your shoes routinely.
Not only will this help them to last longer and look good, but over time, especially with tan and brown shoes, a wonderfully variegated patina will develop.  Black shoes, on the other hand, will develop an increasingly deep, rich shine.  And of course, actually wearing those dress shoes will mean that they conform to your foot and develop some slight creasing unique to your particular stance and gait.  Once again, don't relegate your good shoes to the back of your closet except for twice yearly wear.  They'll never break in that way.  Put 'em on!

9) Avoid an overly coordinated look.
The dreaded matchy-matchy approach always looks to my eyes like: a) you're a GQ model mannequin, b) you've left it to a salesperson or personal shopper, or c) your mother still purchases your clothes for you.  Not quite the effect you want, is it?  Except for the most conservative of occasions -- business, weddings, funerals, or state when simple, understated elegance is (or ought to be) the rule -- I suggest instead always having one item that does not quite match everything else.  The easiest things to do this with are neckties, or pocket squares, or sometimes socks.  But exercise some care and common sense here because it's all too easy to get carried away with not matching.  Why risk attracting attention to your attire because you resemble one of the various incarnations of Dr. Who?

10) Don't fear making the odd little style mistake now and again.
Occasionally everyone gets it a little bit wrong.  For example, back in early April, I left the house in a certain pair of loafers that I thought would look fine with a tweed jacket and corduroy pants.  Halfway through the day, I realized that those particular shoes most certainly did not, and I felt self-conscious for the rest of the day even though I am pretty sure no one else noticed or cared.  Mental note to self: DO NOT repeat that specific combination of clothes and shoes.  The point is, don't be so afraid of making a sartorial mistake once in a while that you are paralyzed by that fear.  It will show in your face, and in the way you move.  In turn, not only will you look miserable, but your clothes will not come across as lived in and an extension of yourself.  Know what I mean?  Half the battle of looking good in your nicer clothes is feeling comfortable in them.  And when you feel self-conscious, you're going to feel and look uncomfortable, whch will be apparent in how you carry yourself.


There we are.  Undoubtedly, there is much else to say on the subject of  how to achieve that "lived in" look with your attire, but the tips outlined above make for a solid starting point.  Average guys working to kick up their everyday style several notches would do well to give them more than a little consideration.  Until next time then.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Thursday, May 15, 2014

15 Absolutely FREE Life Tips for Average Guys. . .

Problems and disappointments in your life?  Um, it might be more you than anyone or anything else.

Disappointed with how things are going?  Lots of us have been there (I certainly have), and too many average guys find themselves in that same boat now and then.  But however crummy you might perceive the current situation to be, and before you complain too loudly about the unfair hand life has dealt you, consider the following:


1) It might be you.
You might need to grow up.  Being an adult means that a person must accept responsibility and learns to exercise self-control in all areas of his life.  A lot of average guys, whether they are 20 or 60, seem to forget this.  And yes.  You are correct.  Growing up is not always fun, but there you are.

2) You are not the center of the universe.
The world does not stop turning on its axis just because you have had a bad day or some imagined disappointment.  If Mom and Dad have led to to believe otherwise, they've done you a disservice.  Wake up.

3) The world owes you nothing.
It's always amzing to me the number of people whose attitudes and beavior clearly indicate they think the world, in fact, DOES owe them something.  Don't be that kind of guy.

4) There are no guarantees in life.
The pie in the sky visions that are constantly spoon fed to us are, very often, just that.  Pie in the sky.  For example, it's not really possible to, "Earn a bachelor's degree in your spare time!" if you are already pulled in too many other directions with work and life.  Develop a healthy skepticism and don't swallow everything your see, read, or are told hook, line, and sinker.
 

5) No one likes a whiner.
That's not the way to win friends, influence people, or change anything.  Punkt.

6) Stop blaming everyone and everything else.
Often, we are our own worst enemies and do more to create and/or exacerbate our problems than anyone else.

7) Change can only come from within you.
It is no one else's responsibility to change your life or situation.  Stop telling me it is. 

8) Take charge of your own life, and become self-reliant.
On a related noted,  you cannot depend on anyone else to fix your problems or just outright screw-ups.  A willingness to recognize and acknowledge that is the key.

9) Put a stop to your own negative behaviors and attitudes.
This might require that you slow down, take serious, realisitic stock of your life and habits, and get that runaway train back on the rails.  Know what I mean?

10) Seek help if and when you need it.
There is nothing wrong with asking for assistance, regardless of the situation in question.  Forget all of that macho garbage you might be weighted down with.  It's a millstone around your neck, and it's drowning you.  Let it go, and get help if necessary. 

11) Life ain't always a bed of roses.
Life ain't always life the movies.  Metaphorically speaking, sometimes, in spite of doing everything right, the good guy doesn't get the money or the girl and ride off into the sunset.  Get used to it.

12) Sometimes, life throws you curveballs.
Suck it up and move forward, cowboy.

13) Ultimately, you are responsible for yourself.
If you are no longer living under Mom and Dad's roof -- Surprise! -- you need to accept responsibility for yourself and your actions. 

14) Recognize your own shortcomings and stop repeating the same mistakes.
Open you eyes to recurring patterns and self-destructive behaviors on your part.  To varying degrees, a lot of us have them.  Stop letting them hold sway over your life.

15) Don't be afraid to make any necessary changes.
You might need to shake things up and make some tough decisions about the people and situations in your life.


Hard advice.  Not fun or pleasant to hear.  Looking at ourselves can be exceedingly uncomfortable much of the time, and most of us resist doing so to one degree or another.  Yours truly included.  Nevertheless, it's necessary from time to time.  In particular when things never seem to go right and fall apart over and over again.  It just might be due more to you and the choices you've made than because of outside influences.  Time to break out of that trap, take stock of your situation, and make some lasting changes.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Don't Get Carried Away. . .

When someone invites you to, "Make yourself at home!" better to err on the side of caution and consideration for others and not take this ubiquitous phrase quite so literally.

When you are invited to someone's house, even if the event is very informal, resist the urge to let it all hang out.  I'm talking specifically about things like removing and leaving your shoes and coat in a heap on the floor just inside the front door when you arrive, resting your feet on the furniture, and putting your cup or glass directly on a table while ignoring the coaster you've been given, or worse (use your imagination).  

Newsflash!  You are a guest in someone else's home.  You are also an adult, so demonstrate respect for your hosts, their home and property as well as your fellow guests if there are any.  You might well have been invited to make yourself comfortable by your host(s) on arrival, but don't take that hospitality to unintended (and often undesired) extremes.  In plain language, that means keep your shoes on unless invited to remove them, get your stinky feet off the coffee table, sofa, or armchair, and don't touch anything before asking.  It does not belong to you.  To reiterate, you are a guest in someone else's home.

This particular point is a vital part of learning how to be a pleasant dinner, party, or house guest.  Sadly, that's something few people seem to remember in 2014, and I'm inclined to think they just don't know any better based on many years of inviting people into our home for small gatherings, larger parties, or sit-down dinners.  It's blatantly apparent that too many people have no idea how to act outside of the safe confines of their own TV room when they are guests in others' houses.  You, on the other hand, want to be the kind of guest who people will actually want to invite and see again.  So, be sure to act like an adult with some grooming and sophistication.  And keep yourself in check. 

You might  have some habits that seem ok to you in your own space, but it's probably best not to assume it's ok to behave that way when you are out.  Know what I mean, Jayden?  Average guys who are making an effort to kick up their everyday style several notches should keep that in mind.  Remember, style is about much more than just clothes, shoes, and accessories. 

-- Heinz-Ulrich


Follow-up. . . 

I had a private comment from a friend and former colleague earlier today, who mentioned that she appreciates it when people remove their shoes at the door.  So, let me say a few more words about that.

I understand if one's got antique carpets and slippers are lent out, or if the host(-ess) actually asks guests to remove their shoes. And when there is deep snow outside, like there was in much of the Unted States this winter, and everyone is trudging around n boots. t's a different story.  All bets are off.  I get it.  But it drives me nuts when people automatically pile their shoes in the path of incoming/outgoing foot traffic in the front hall -- as if they've walked through mud and manure to get to the front door -- without being asked to do so. Especially when everyone is "dressed." It's also an imposition to your guests, especially if they have arrived "dressed," to expect everyone to remove dress shoes and run around in their socks or pantyhose for the evening.  Unless, of course, you make a routine of handing out carpet slippers and keep extras on hand for guests.

Japanese cultural practices notwithstanding, shoe mountains at the front and back door seem to be a Midwestern thing because I never, ever encountered it as a child or young person on the east coast of the U.S. whether the occasion was formal (and there were some such events once in a while), or less so.  At home, our shoes were on our feet most of the time during the day, except in the hottest summer weather, and everyone kept their shoes upstairs in their bedroom closets (where they belonged) rather than piled by the front or back doors.  Jackets, coats, and schoolbags also resided in the hall closet.  The one notable exception as far as shoes went was in the home of a German-Yugoslav couple, whose daughter was a school friend and playmate of mine. The Meyers had large antique Turkish rugs everywhere, and Mrs. Meyer had the family and any guests wear carpet slippers when in the house.  No big deal was made about it.  It was simply what was expected.  End of story.  Mrs. Meyer kept extras in various sizes in a box just inside the large hall closet as you came into the entry hall. 

The main issue, though, is guests (not always and exclusively doofus guys) who fail to treat someone else's home with a bit of care and respect during a visit.  Too many people behave instead as though they are in their own basement rec room with a bunch of other ill-mannered boors.  In other words, they mindlessly put unprotected wet glasses down on flat surface and leave behind rings on any surfaces.  Um, hello?  You are not in a bar/pub, so use coasters or cocktail napkins beneath your glass.  It's not like undergoing a root canal at the dentist for Pete's sake.  Likewise, it's not a good idea to leave empty beer bottles everywhere but the recycling bin in the kitchen when you are a guest in someone's home.  Assuming you drink from the bottle and not that new fangled invention called. . .  a glass.  Be careful, too, not to drop finger foods (what used to be called hors d'oeuvres in polite circles) or chocolate onto the sofa or armchairs and then smear/grind it into the upholstery with your backside.  Watch what you are doing and be careful.  And finally, don't touch things when you are a  guest in someone's home.  Ask beforehand if you spot something that you absolutely must pick up.  

However informal you might understand the event to be, mind your social P's and Q's when you are a guest.  It's just the considerate thing to do.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Put on a pair of REAL pants!

If you're going to leave the house, unless you're headed to the gym or the basketball court just down the street, put on a real pair of pants.

"Sweatpants are a sign of defeat.  You lost control of your life, so you bought some sweatpants." -- Karl Lagerfeld


That sums it up very well.  Time to think about what you are saying to the rest of the world with all of those excessively baggy, over-sized clothes that you think are so comfortable.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Friday, May 9, 2014

Just Say No. . .

Archie Bunker (played by Carroll O'Connor), who personified boorish, crass, and ignorant attitudes and behavior during much of the 1970s on Norman Lear's TV series All in the Family.

A grad school friend of mine, currently living and working in Budapest, recently lamented the apparent absence of manners, tact, and style (in a very broad sense) across so much of society.  She felt that there are now many who long for greater civility and decency in the way we behave alone and in the company of others.  Indeed, it seems that too many in 2014 see nothing wrong with boorish, crass, rude, ignorant, and just plain stupid behavior. . .  if they don't celebrate it outright. . .  which many do.  At least that is how things seem too much of the time and in too many places. 

That's especially true where popular entertainment is concerned, much of which seems to glorify the offensive and the ignorant.  Think of TV over the last 40+ years from programs like All in the Family in the 1970s, or still later in Rosanne and Men Behaving Badly during the late 80s and 90s, to more recent shows like The King of Queens and Jersey Shore for example.  No wonder so many people behave so awfully. . . and seem proud of it.  

As Emily Nussbaum suggested in her article on the phenomenon of All in the Family and it's protagonist Archie Bunker, which appeared in The New Yorker at the start of April this year, far too many average people identify with -- and even worship -- these so-called actors, their characters, and/or personalities.  Viewers misunderstand and misinterpret what they are presented with on TV, film, and online, instead seeing the ignorant attitudes, uninformed opinions, and crass behavior as, somehow, an affirmation of their own foibles rather than as offensive and somewhat less than worthy of emulation.  

It should come as no surprise, then, that the attitudes and behavior of many people mirror what they see in the media.   After all, why bother to aspire to anything better or change oneself when people with foul mouths and loud voices -- often enough media darlings who inexplicably are accorded star status -- not only get away with but are actually paid to spew out coarse language and engage in offensive behavior, right?

However, life need not remain at the level of the lowest common social and behavioral denominators.  We could go a long way toward improving our everyday style quite a bit were we simply to refuse to continue behaving like the goons on Jersey Shore and expect better of ourselves.  Average guys with more than a couple of brain cells to rub together, and who realize the need to kick up their everyday style several notches, can reverse this disturbing trend and make a move in the direction of greater civility, starting with their own attitudes and actions.  

How might you do so?  Easy.  Just say "No!" to the continued glorification of the boorish, the crass, the rude, the ignorant, and the stupid.  Let's make every effort in our own lives and interactions not to be that way ourselves.  Grooming, manners, tact, finesse, and sophistication are the goal.  Their cultivation, practice, and perfection won't solve all of the world's problems, of course, but society might gradually become a wee bit nicer in the process.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Basic Alterations 101. . .

A skilled tailor can work miracles with making the fit of your clothes more exact.

As many have pointed out elsewhere in the menswear and men's style blogosphere, 'fit' is the most important thing when it comes to kicking up your everyday style several notches.  And there are all kinds of things that a skilled tailor can do to make your off-the-rack, vintage, or thrift/charity store finds fit as if they were top of the line, custom (bespoke) garments.   I'll refer you to websites like Ask Andy About Clothes for a more complete discussion of the magic of which tailors (the good ones at least) are capableJust dig around the various fora there.  

In the meantime, here are four simple alterations that will help average guys look a million times better in their suits and blazer/sports jacket-odd pants combos.  If you are just such a guy, pay close attention.


Tailors hard at work somewhere along London's Saville Row in the mid-1940s.


1) The Jacket -- Sleeves
First of all, make sure a suit coat or sports jacket fits in the shoulders BEFORE you purchase it.  This is one area that cannot be altered successfully without spending lots of money, and even then the results might not look right.  

Once you have something that fits your shoulders and have bought it, get the sleeves shortened on your a suit coat, sports jacket, or blazer according to your arm length(s).  Be sure to wear a clean, pressed dress shirt with exact measurement (not Small, Medium, or Large) to your fitting, so that your tailor can ensure there will be 1/4 to 1/2, or even 3/4, of an inch "linen" (your shirt cuffs) showing when your arms hang relaxed at your sides.  

I prefer something between 1/2" to 3/4" of linen showing from the end of my jacket sleeves.  Whichever you prefer, make sure the sleeves of your jacket do not come all the way down to your knuckles.  You'll look like a rube.


2) The Jacket -- Waist
This is another fairly simple alteration that will make your suit coats and sports jackets look miles better.  Ask for slight 'waist suppression' when trying your jacket at your tailor's for a more tailored look.  Even those suits and jackets with the American "trad" sack cut will look better (less boxy) with some waist suppression, especially on trimmer guys.  

Ideally, you want to be able to slip a flat hand comfortably between your buttoned jacket and your tummy.  Your balled fist should make things feel a bit tighter.  But your torso should not be swimming  in miles of cloth.  In other words, your suit coat or sports jacket needs to fit more snugly than a trenchcoat or clergy vestments.  However, and despite current trends, neither should it fit so tightly that you have x-creases forming across the front when the jacket is buttoned.  

And yes, your suit coat, blazer, or sports jacket should be buttoned when you are standing.  Double-breasted jackets, on the other hand, should always remain buttoned even when you are seated.

 

Let's close with an amusing cartoon from the late 18th century.


3) The Pants -- Inseam
Stop wearing your dress pants too long, boys!  That means you need to have a correctly tailored inseam and keep the darn things pulled up where they belong.  Wear dress socks, dress shoes, and take a belt to the tailor's when you visit with dress pants in need of alteration, so his or her measurements are correct. Hitch your pants up to your natural waist (at or just below the belly button) before the tailor measures your inseam (Relax, Joey!).  

Depending on your preference, ask for either a full break, medium break (the safest option), or no break at all.  I prefer an inseam length long enough to give me something between a medium and a full break.  A true full break risks looking sloppy to my eyes, but ultimately, the choice is yours.  Listen to your tailor, who often can provide some real guidance and insight here, which should help you decide.


4) The Pants -- Waist
A decent pair of dress pants should enable a tailor to adjust the waist and seat by about one to two inches either way.  More than that risks throwing off the proportions of your pants with regard to things like distance between rear pockets and so forth.  In any case, make sure that the waist of your pants is tight enough for the pants to remain up around your waist by themselves without a belt, yet loose enough to permit motion and remain comfortable.  

By the way.  Your dress pants should not fit like loose, orange prison garb though, ok?  They should not bunch up and puddle around your ankles.  Pull 'em up, boys!  If belts drive your crazy, or if you are a heavier guy, a good solution is to have brace buttons sewn into the inside of your waistband by the tailor, obviating the need for a belt and constantly having to hitch up your pants all day.  

Moreover, a suit just looks smoother and more finished without a belt bisecting your body, so braces are the way to go here as far as I am concerned, and a tailor can easily remove the belt loops from your pants.


Conclusion
Ok.  There are all kinds of additional things a good tailor can do for the fit of your clothes, for instance jacket length, narrowing pants and removing pleats, and various other tricks to make your clothes look their absolute best on your particular body.  However, if that's more than you care to think about, just remember that these four basic  alterations will instantly make you and your garments look much, much better. 

Here's one final rule of thumb.  Don't wear anything without the necessary alterations to customize it to your body first.  The most expensive attire in the world won't look good on you if the fit is somehow off, or if it looks like you donned those clothes on right off the rack.  It's also best to select items that fit already your body pretty well to begin with, minimizing the number and kinds of alterations you'll need.  That not only makes your tailor's job easier and faster, but it also saves you money in the long run, which is a good thing since most of us aren't swimming in the mean, mean green.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Don't Forget These in Your Quest for Better Everyday Style. . .


Make sure you get enough sleep, among other things.  It will improve your appearance, productivity, and outlook on life to no end.

For all of the talk about clothing, shoes, accessories, and personal conduct here at The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style -- and elsewhere in the menswear blogosphere -- it's important not to overlook smaller things that can help a great deal when an average guy makes the decision to kick up his everyday style several notches.  Here are ten tips that come immediately to mind: 


1) Hands
Keep 'em clean, clip your nails once a week, and file any rough edges at once.  Don't bang up your hands in the yard or garden either.  Wear work gloves.  Don't bite your nails, keep your cuticles pushed back with an orange stick, and be sure to moisturize!

2) Toenails
Is it really necessary to say that you need to keep these clipped?

3) Face
Shave daily, or, barring that, Monday through Friday at least.  The bleary-eyed, three-day growth, and perpetual undergrad look has been done to death already.  Know what I mean?  And if you insist on anything approaching the Long John Holmes look, then at least keep your beard and/or 'stache trimmed neatly.  Get a good facial cleanser if blackheads or blemishes are a problem and wash your face with it twice a day.  Don't squeeze zits or pick at your face.  Keep those eyebrows trimmed if necessary, and be on the lookout for any stray nose and ear hairs.  You can buy a specialized battery operated clipper for these at your local drugstore or pharmacy.  Finally, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!  You should also be aware that smoking and too much booze will, over time, have a negative effect on your face (and the rest of your body).  Care and moderation are the keys here.

4) Teeth
Again, hopefully it's not really necessary to say this, but I will anyway.  Brush at least twice a day, floss, and use fluoride mouthwash.  See your dentist routinely for check-ups, cleaning, and any necessary work, the latter of which, hopefully, will not be that often.

5) Hair
Keep it trimmed neatly.  Don't go overboard with any particular product or of-the-moment style.  And here's a newsflash for you trendier boys.  That way cool fauxhawk really makes you look like Ed Grimly or Bob's Big Boy.  In other words, you look like a goober!  If you're over the age of 12, and your life/career goals include moving into and navigating the white collar world, get a man's haircut with a sharp side part.  And I'm telling you this as someone who used to rock a killer early 80s era Eddie Van Halen 'do way back when, ok?  There comes a point when you've got to grow up a bit.  Unless you actually want to go through life looking like Billy Ray Cyrus when Achy Breaky Heart and country line dancing were all the rage, then by all means. . .

6)  Aftershave or Cologne
Don't overdo it with the aftershave or cologne.  Less is more.  Unless you want everyone else you pass on the sidewalk or in a room to know that you have purchased a new bottle of Axe that is.  Pee-eew! 

7) Body
In the shower or tub, use a loofah or back 'n' body brush or scrubber to exfoliate and invigorate your skin. . .  all over.

8) Sleep
We all have occasional late nights for various reasons, bet get plenty of sleep when at all possible.  It not only affects your appearance for the better, but ample rest also influences your general mood and outlook on life.  Trust me here.  Recent personal experience has reinforced the importance of this point.

9) Food
We've all got our favorite things that we eat too much of, but make every effort to watch what and how much you eat.  Moderate your intake and don't go overboard with even the healthy stuff.  Exercise some self-control here.  Of course, it should go without saying that you should avoid sugary carbonated beverages at all costs.  They'll make you put on weight, ruin your teeth, and destroy your stomach lining in the process.  And regardless of current misguided efforts to endorse fat acceptance and love your body as it is -- bowing to the almighty gods of self-esteem yet again here in the U.S. of A. -- there is no doubt that a reasonably trim figure is more healthy in the long term.  Your body also looks better and is easier to clothe.  There.  I've said it.

10) Exercise
It's not necessary to go whole hog and do the Rocky Balboa routine up and down the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art before sunrise every morning, but even something as simple as an hour's walk five evenings a week will help to keep you trim and agile in our otherwise sedentary digital age.  Of course, if you can find the time and inclination for something more vigorous like regular jogging, swimming, bicycling, roller blading, or (snow permitting) cross country skiing, or even sex a few times each week, then so much the better.  Exercise that body and burn some calories, darn it!


There we are.  Without a doubt, there are other points that will occur to you when you think if over.  However, these ten should go a long way in helping you to kick up you style quite a bit.  Best of all, they cost little to nothing to incorporate into your daily life and routine.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Style Question. . .


 
 A belt worn with braces?  Don't do it! 

This morning, I had a question posed by a former student of mine from quite a few years ago, who is now in law school and a Facebook friend.  He wrote:

"Style question for you: if you're wearing a suit with braces, is it necessary (style-wise) to also wear a belt? I would think not (and I often prefer the more classic look of braces) but of course the braces are typically concealed by one's jacket, and so it may appear that one has simply forgotten the belt."

This very question has been addressed often elsewhere in the menswear blogosphere, but here is my take on the matter.

If and when you are wearing braces, as I hope you are with a suit, definitely do not add the belt. It's not necessary and looks silly. You might also consider having a tailor remove the belt loops from said suit and simply wear braces when the suit is necessary.  Or you just feel like wearing it.  

Removing the belt loops makes for a smoother, more finished look in the case of a suit, which is desirable.  That is something I ought to do myself, since I have several pairs of dress pants plus a few suits with brace buttons on the inside of the waistbands, and I categorically never wear a belt with these items.

-- Heinz-Ulrich 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Make it a Double-breasted October. . .

Recently arrived from An Affordable Wardorobe.  Too bad, school is over until late August, and it probably won't be cool enough to wear this suit until mid- or late October once the heat of the summer and early fall have left us.  This photo comes from the AAW blog.

Here's a post for the real menswear nerds out there.  Two or three days ago, a new item was deposited on our front doorstep.  This Ermenegildo Zegna double-breasted suit in super-soft wool flannel, purchased from Giuseppe Timore at An Affordable Wardrobe, and to which I treated myself when an outstanding payment for a recent translation arrived.  It was still a steal.  Here's the description, taken directly from Mr. Timore's blog:

"Double breasted suit in grey glen check flannel, (black and soft off white check). 40L.  Broad European shoulders, draped chest, 6x4 double breasted front, four button cuffs, no vent, fully lined. Trousers [feature] double reverse pleats, brace buttons, soft cut. 100% wool, made in Switzerland by Ermenegildo Zegna."

I took the liberty of removing the dimensions of the items described above, but suffice to say the coat already fits me like I was born in it unlike the recently purchased J. Press tweed 3-piece, which was far too tight and had to be returned to the seller.  With this double-breasted number, even the sleeve length is already good (I tried everything on with a dress shirt).  The inseam might be just a hair long, but I'll try the pants on once more with some lace-up dress shoes before making up my mind about taking them to my tailor, Mrs. V., or the other tailors I use occasionally, Mr. and Mrs. D.    

Best of all, the suit also features a subdued Glen Check pattern, my personal favorite.  Just enough variation to provide visual interest and avoid looking like every other guy out there in a suit, the few who even bother anymore.  You know.  The typical solid navy, charcoal, or black suit.  These have their place, of course, but some slight variation would be nice once in a while especially if a man has more than one suit hanging in his closet.  I prefer to shake things up a bit myself.  

It helps that my father demonstrated that subtle plaids, houndstooth,  seersucker, pin cords, and the like could work extremely well for suits when I was a boy at home.  And keep in mind that he was a muckety-muck in the fairly conservative financial sector on Wall Street.  Hence my own attitude about being a bit adventurous when it comes to patterns.  With care, they can look extremely good, but you've got to wear such items with confidence.  As I've mentioned elsewhere here at The Average Guy''s Guide to Classic Style, that's the case with any sort of classic male attire.  (Self-) Confidence is the key.

In any case, it's entirely possible that this particular suit might require no alterations whatsoever before I can wear it.  Just dry-cleaning and then waiting around for the autumn semester to begin, and the long, hot American Midwestern summer to wane into Fall.  If I can pin down my overly-scheduled, department chair wife long enough to snap a photograph or two of yours truly when the suit gets its first wearing, I'll share a picture here. . .  in about six months or so.  Sigh.  Life is cruel sometimes. 

-- Heinz-Ulrich.