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, September 21, 2017

August in September Style. . .

On the top half, a vintage Madras jacket by Corbin that has been in the warm weather rotation for a couple of summers. 

Well, the calendar might suggest that we have started Fall, but the mercury has climbed to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 Celsius) here in Mid-Michigan today.  Hot enough to forego my usual necktie this morning and haul out something that is normally put into storage after the Labor Day Weekend, namely the Madras jacket.  I know.  I know.  But I needed something light and airy in my ongoing efforts to avoid becoming one of the Slob Borg who prevail in 2017.  Needless to say, you don't see too many items like this jacket in real life these days, and certainly not on the typical university campus.  The same can be said of the Panama hat which topped off the ensemble.

-- Heinz-Ulrich von B.



P.S. Saturday

The unseasonably hot weather is slated to continue for another few days, so the seersucker and linen suits will make their final (?) appearances for the season early in the coming week.  Outlandish and rumpled by average standards in 2017, yes, but I'd prefer comfort and style, in a classic sense, to the alternative.   What's funny is that even very poor people in Mexico, a hot country where I have spent quite a bit of time in the last 15 years or so, manage to dress better (yet appropriately for the climate) than the vast bulk of people here in the U.S. when the mercury approaches the triple digits.  Newsflash!  A sweaty t-shirt (or similar item) sticking to your back, stomach, and armpits is not "comfortable."



On the lower half, Land's End dress chinos that have been in the wardrobe or 10+ years, a pair of cotton to-the-knee socks by Dapper Classics, and loafers by Allen Edmonds.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tuesday Morning Office Hours Style. . .






Going for a Luciano Barberra vibe this morning, complete with a genuine Panama Hat and some recently recrafted shoes by Allen Edmonds.  Several people (a few students and a dean among them) offered their compliments on my attire today.  Never necessary, but always nice to hear. 

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Sunday, September 3, 2017

"Change Yourself, Change Your Business, Change the World!"

Not quite chilly enough for tweed overcoats in my neck of the woods yet, but a guy can dream, right?

Well, the fall semester (and school for The Young Master) began this last week.  That meant trips to the local barbershop for the both of us for trims prior to the start of school at the end of the week before last.  While waiting for The Young Master to finish with his haircut, I scanned the coffee table in the waiting area to see if there was anything there worth thumbing through for a few minutes.  An issue of Entrepreneur Magazine caught my eye with the headline above, and while I did not look through it, the headline got me thinking.  

My mother once said to me, when I was about 19 with rather long, poofy 1980s rocker hair, "You know, if you got your hair cut, your life would turn around."

Now, I was never a trouble-maker.  Never experimented or messed with drugs.  Got along with my parents and grandparents.  Respected their rules all of the years I lived at home.  Held down full time jobs after high school.  Put money in the bank.  Paid my bills, etc., etc.  All of the usual respectable middle of the road stuff.  I had long hair because that was the "uniform" at the time for aspiring young hard rock and heavy metal musicians (Guilty!).  

I think that what ol' Mom meant with her forthright observation, in hindsight, was that I would meet a different class of people, especially young women, and also be treated better by people who met me casually but made all kinds of assumptions about who and what I was like based on the skinny frame, big hair, and tight clothes.  You know.  Drugs, crime, and general dirtbaggishness.  

Lo and behold, once I got my rear-end in gear after several years of working a non-union supermarket job, got back in school, and decided after a year to leave the rocker persona behind and start presenting myself a bit less outlandishly than had been the case for quite a few years, I noticed something profound.  People I brushed against in daily life -- not people I knew well, mind you, just passing interactions -- reacted to and treated me a whole lot better.

The point is, instead of being belligerent (and perhaps fearful) when it comes to changing things about oneself that might very well need changing, look hard at and be a bit more frank with oneself.  Instead of expecting the rest of the world to bend to you, exercise a bit more flexibility and get with the program.  At least when it comes to presenting yourself for public consumption.  Shaving off the perpetual five-day growth, putting on something a bit nicer and more put together than those old flip-flops, grubby khakis or cargo shorts, and losing that god awful backwards baseball cap might, in turn, bring a number of new opportunities and positive changes your way, whether you anticipate them, or not.

Here is one recent, non-scientific example of what I'm talking about.  Last March, during Spring Vacation, I flew down to Mexico to visit my mother, who I had not seen by myself for about 12 years.  Since there were three different flights and about 15 hours of travel between Mid-Michigan and Merida in The Yucatan, where Mom and Stepdad have a second house, I splurged and enjoyed a rare fist class air ticket, though I mist admit to purchasing it months ahead of time to save some money.  

On travel day, I wore olive chinos with a back belt, a navy blazer, black tasseled loafers, and tucked in my shirt.  My usual travel uniform.  During each leg of the trip, I was surrounded by middle-aged traveling business men (presumably) clacking away on their laptops, texting to their home offices, and drinking too much (before lunch) although you wouldn't have known it from the way most of them were dressed. . .  as though they were on the way to clean out the garage, mow the lawn, or, at best, visit the beach on a cool day.  Between Chicago and Houston, I think there was one other man with a jacket and creased pants plus  a lovely woman with her little girl speaking Spanish.  We have noticed them before on previous flights to and from Houston.  They look like moneyed Spaniards and dress exceptionally well.  But I digress.

The interesting thing is that gate agents and the forward cabin flight attendants were very attentive and offered me all kinds of assistance, perks, and polite chitchat that they did not, in most instances, offer to my fellow travelers.  In almost every case along they way and back again at the end of my trip.  This particular experience on Delta and Aeromexio was, in our current era of generally horrendous airline travel, a delight.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But it was difficult not to notice the difference in the level kindness that I received relative to my fellow travelers, and I think some fo that might have had to do with the simple fact that I did not resemble an overstuffed bag of lawn and leaf refuse.

To paraphrase the infamous Dean Wormer from National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), "Looking perpetually like a hungover undergraduate who rolled out of bed five minutes ago is no way to go through life, son."   Like it, or not, people react differently, and very often much more favorably, to those who look more pulled together than that particular visage suggests. 

Now, you might be the most knowledgeable, interesting person around, but why hobble yourself on both personal and professional levels with a habitually sloppy appearance (to say nothing of less than desirable personal habits/behaviors)?  Improving your appearance and presentation might not change the world, but you just never know who you might happen upon around the next corner, and the doors that meeting might open up for you.  It happens.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Little Late Summer Toad Style. . .

A lovely illustration from the children's story The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame.

A pleasant little diversion this lovely, cool, and sunny mid-August morning from the ugliness of the world at home and abroad.  

Thanks to my writer and toy soldier friend in Dublin, Ireland, Conrad Kinch, for the illustration.  My sister and I enjoyed The Wind in the Willows as children during the 1970s and were given, at different times, copies of the book from Great Aunt Marnie and Great Aunt Lillian (my maternal grandfather's sisters), as well as Great, Great Aunt Polly (my maternal grandfather's aunt).  All three ladies always remembered us at Christmastime and when birthdays rolled around each year until their deaths in the 1980s and '90s.  

Weather cool enough for waistcoats and tweeds is still at least two months off, unless we have a chilly spell in September, but Mr. Badger above has got me thinking about it already.  Until then, I've got seersucker, linen, and a new moss green cotton suit by Belvest (plus a recently acquired Panama hat) that need pressing before the start of the autumn semester in two weeks.  Chino shorts, madras shorts, and dock-siders are nice during the summer, and I certainly get a lot of mileage with them, but I'm looking forward to getting dressed again in the mornings before school.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Classes for the Fall Semester Commence in Four Weeks. . .


Yesterday, August 1st, I bit the bullet and logged into my university email account after a six-week self-imposed summer moratorium.  Courses begin in four weeks on August 30th, so it seemed like the right thing to do as I crank the rusty gears back into motion following a few months of relative peace and quiet.

Among the 190+ emails sent to everyone about traffic diversions, construction on campus, very general messages to the university community from the president, the provost, etc., etc. were four or five emails that actually required my attention.  Most were from former students -- solid students -- requesting letters of support for one thing or another.  Not a problem.

Then there was an email from my chair, asking me to reply to another student from last spring, who contacted my chair in mid-July inquiring about his final grade for the course he (the student) had with me.  The student in question could have finished with a 91%.  In the end, he received a final grade of 3.0, a full point lower than the expected 4.0.  And the reason?  Excessive absences, which chipped away at this guy's eventual course grade during the final few weeks of the course.  Several students each semester run into the same problem. 

Now, before people barrage me with snippy messages about how unfair all of this is to the poor student(s), keep in mind that my courses are discussion-based.  This method of teaching has ancient roots by the way going back to the Greek philosopher Socrates at least.  The Socratic Method.  Look it up.  In any case, 20% of the overall course grade is for attendance, preparation, and meaningful participation through discussion.  These are not online courses, or open-ended non-credit courses in which students can tune in or out at will. 

Neither are my classes in dark 500-seat auditoriums where I cannot see the back of the room, cannot ascertain how many semi-warm bodies are actually present beyond the first few rows, or, of those present,  tell how many seem to be engaged.    My courses are much smaller, by comparison, consisting of between 25-50 seats.  We are in classrooms.  I can see everyone.  They can see me.  And while I use modern technology to some extent in my teaching, students still must be mentally awake as well as physically present to participate in and contribute to our discussions about gender, sexuality, race, class, and all of those other good things we cover in my courses during the 15 weeks we are together.

All of this information is presented clearly in the 14-page syllabus (14 PAGES!!!), which students have from the get-go on Day#1 of any given semester, and considerable time is spent covering all of this verbally during the first week of classes each term with reminders during the next several weeks.   Students can access the syllabus to review course policies and expectation at their convenience 24/7 since it is online.  Paper syllabi are a thing of the past, by the way, so losing the syllabus is not an excuse.  

Please note that students may, of course, miss a few days without any effect whatsoever on their course grade.  No explanations are necessary.  Exceeding that limit, though, alters the picture over time.  An example of possible consequences for one's grade is even provided in the syllabus to illustrate what can potentially happen to a student, who might otherwise finish the course with a solid grade.  This practice is neither unusual, nor cruel.  Many of my own professors when I was a student, as well as later colleagues, have had similar policies.  In sum, becoming MIA will eventually bite a student in the rear-end when absences exceed certain parameters stipulated by me, the big bad professor, one more permutation of "the man" who keeps everyone down, out, and disenfranchised.  Or so would some have you believe.

Most students each semester manage pretty well with these course policies.  They come ready to learn and eager to engage.  Or at least they attempt it and show some dilignece in the process.  The young man in question, not a freshman by the way, shot off his own two feet by missing more than the permitted number of days with no communication at the time of the absences during the semester.  What is  astounding to me is that classes ended in late April.  Final exam week concluded in early May.  This particular student waited until the middle of July to "inquire" about his final grade (to my chair no less).  Situations like this one are not unusual in the second decade of 21st century.  Another student dug a similar deep hole for herself, oddly in the same course, late last winter, missing almost half of the scheduled course meetings by Midterm in March and then denying everything when she came to ask about her attendance before Spring Break Week.  Sigh.

I don't know what it is like now in other countries, but my impression of fellow students when I studied at a large university in Norway 20+ years ago was very different.  Those young people, on the whole, were much more serious, a few years older in some instances, so more mature, more focused, more responsible generally speaking, and certainly much more independent.  Mom, Dad, and student support services of one kind or another did not interfere on their children's behalf as is the case here at home.  But maybe things have changed since I studied abroad?  

In any case, we have certainly done our utmost here in the United States, through a variety of ways, and thanks to a number of societal shifts over the last half century or so, to raise at least two generations of whiny, bed-wetting snowflakes (to borrow language from our more vehement talk radio personalities), who simply dissolve into puddles when faced with any form of opposition or unanticipated surprises.  They lack, among many other soft skills sought by employers who interview and evaluate entry-level job candidates from the so called millennial generation, emotional resilience.  I've actually read quite a bit about this issue recently if you are wondering, and it strikes me that far too many parents are crippling their children in a litany of ways by playing far too large a role in the lives of late adolescents and young adults.

Now, before anyone out there fires back with some passive-aggressive version of "It sounds like you must really hate your job!", nothing could be further from the truth.  I enjoy what I do by and large.  Most of my colleagues are pleasant individuals and do interesting work over and above their teaching commitments.  Moreover, I have many students each semester who are a joy to work with during and outside of class.  Interesting, focused, and driven young adults, who bring a great deal with them to each course.  About a third to possibly half of students at a stretch.  These personalities make the late nights, lengthy preparation for classes, and considerable time spent reading through papers and projects worth it.  

Then, there are the others, who seem to think that the world owes them something for nothing.  That because it is college, attending classes, for which they have paid and are enrolled, routinely and consistently is somehow optional and/or a grave inconvenience.  Why are students like this even clogging the system with their (sporadic) presence?  It is here that my own academic elitism and related indignation begins to seep out around the edges.  If young people are not even going to bother doing their best to learn and succeed, they ought to take their figurative ball and go home now.  Sooner rather than later.  Don't bother.  Drop out.  Live in Mom and Dad's basement until your mid-thirties.  Give your place at college or university to someone else.  There might be plenty of other young people out there who might be ready to jump at the chance for a college or university education and who might, just might hit the ground running and take every advantage that comes their way academically speaking to perform to a conscientiously high(-er) standard.  

The problem comes, I think, from the overwhelming sense of entitlement that so many people exhibit here in the U.S. now.  At some point, we became a throw-away society.  About everything.  People no longer value anything because they have never had to do without, work for, or struggle to achieve it.  The Great Depression generation, and its influence, is largely gone at this point.  Most things are accessible to most people in 2017, to the point that many take things, like a university education, completely for granted.  It has become almost as disposable as a cheaply made Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt.  Intellectual fast fashion.  After very limited use, or especially if we don't like something, we throw it away.  Or limp along half-heartedly and complain.  Vociferously.  In the mistaken belief that saying something often enough makes it true.  

We have done this to ourselves I suppose.  My own feeling is that college and university admissions ought to be more rigorous and competitive, with fewer attending in the first place.  That will never happen in the U.S. at this point for a variety of what I strongly suspect are financial "big business" reasons, among others, but I digress.   

Returning to the point at hand, it is also worth mentioning that I teach on a fairly large university campus.  If students find my specific courses less than interesting, there are plenty of other courses from which they might choose, and there is something called the Add-Drop period at the start of each new semester.  Different strokes for different folks as they say, and students are certainly free to drop my courses during the first 7-10 days or so of the term and re-register for others more in keeping with their interests and academic goals.  No problems.  No questions asked.  Not a biggie.  Few take the opportunity to do so however.

Keep in mind, where attendance and assignment deadlines are concerned, that if I am contacted by certain offices on campus about any medical or mental health issues that might arise for a student, or a sudden death in that person's family, then of course I will make reasonable accommodations.  Things like this happen, but rarely.  Most students who accrue excessive absences do so simply because they either cannot get their asses out of bed in time (although none of my classes are scheduled before 10am), or they lose track of how many course meetings they skip.  That is not, and should not be, the problem of professors, lecturers, or graduate teaching assistants on college and university campuses.  

On a related note, there has been much talk, and then some, in recent years about so called "student success," making everyone college-ready, student retention, graduation rates, and time to degree completion.  The figures are pretty depressing.  Lots of young people in the United States spend some time on a college or university campus somewhere, but only about a third to one half, depending on the study, actually graduate with a degree in hand.  The people screaming about this seem, though, in their righteous indignation, their mad dash to reform educational policy every few years, and their attempts to circumvent academic freedom and interfere with what teachers and professors do in their classrooms seem to forget something.  Ready?  Here it comes.  

The vast bulk of time and effort still must come from the students' side of the desk.  They need to pick up the ball, figuratively speaking, run with it, and simply do the work to an acceptable standard.  They must make full use of the amazing opportunity they have been given in many instances instead of throwing it away and treating a college or university education like a four- or five-year, all expenses paid (for the time being) party.  

Improving pedagogy and creating additional student support networks on two- and four-year campuses is a fine ideal, but that removes any responsibility from the students, who are, let's not forget, young adults.  They have credit cards, expendable income, cars, sex (for many), the right to vote, and the right to enlist in the armed services to kill others (legally) if necessary, as well as the right to make their own decisions and take responsibility for their actions.  If young adults enrolled in college or university make only very weak, occasional attempts, at best, to engage, how can they expect to perform any better than fair to middling in their studies or, indeed, their later lives? 

Here is the inconvenient truth that so many seem to ignore in 2017 although it stares them in the face.  Not everyone is going to earn a trophy.  Special recognition, as well as high grades, come from exceptional work that goes over and above the basic requirements.  Although being physically and mentally present in the room can help somewhat, not everyone is willing to make the necessary changes and prioritize things in their lives, nor is everyone, frankly, always able to achieve a high rate of academic success.  The theory of multiple intelligences is fine, and while many if not most of us can be taught to do many different things, assuming we buy into that thinking, you've got to come to the figurative table.  As television and newspaper advertisements for the Pennsylvania State Lottery used to intone when yours truly was a young sprat, "You've got to play to win!"  That slogan is apt when if comes to college and university students earning above average to high grades.

In any case, half-assed, careless attempts at something, causing one's own problems through inactivity, refusal to accept consequences when they occur, whining about it, and then blaming those problems on someone else ain't the way forward, ladies and gentlemen.  That kind of thing might be the current fashion, but it's certainly not classic style by any means. 

-- Heinz-Ulrich



Friday, July 28, 2017

It's High Summer at Totleigh-in-the-Wold. . .

The results of our joint efforts once we finished late this afternoon.

The Young Master and I spent the afternoon today brushing up our driveway and front walk by weeding, picking up twigs, raking, sweeping, transplanting some newly purchased plants, and finally putting up our flag and flagpole.  Almost a month after July Fourth!  Never mind.  The Grand Duchess was at work 15 minutes away on campus, so it was a good excuse for father and son to spend time together taking care of some external upkeep and getting things accomplished.  Our seven-and-a-half-year-old was extremely helpful all day. He pushed the cart at the supermarket and DIY bigbox store, and even offered to share his highly coveted Star Wars light sabre popsicles with ol' Dad once we finished, cleaned up, and stood back to admire our work before heading inside for dinner.

-- Heinz-Ulrich



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

It's Not Rocket Science. . .

A stretch of the former Berlin Wall, somewhere in Berlin during the 1960s from the look of the children.

Pardon the cliche, but after suffering through one more article online in the New York Times about the difficulties of, and barriers to, class mobility -- specifically access to the upper middle class -- it's hard to keep silent any longer.

First of all, let's be clear about one thing.  Lots of people manage to move up the socioeconomic ladder.  While not always easy, it remains entirely possible and within reach although many, it seems, prefer to think otherwise.  The following will, no doubt draw the righteous indignation of many readers, who will choose to interpret it as dismissive, elitist, and arrogant.  That is not the intent.  Instead, what I suggest below is meant as hard advice without any rosy sugarcoating or kid glove treatment whatsoever.  Ready?  Here we go.

Changes to one's social standing might actually have to start with (Surprise!) the individual.  It might require a change in the way one perceives and approaches the world.  It might require a shift in values and habits.  It might require that one quit whinging about how awful the 1%, the 20%, or the whatever are.  It might require minding one's own business and getting one's own house in order.  It might mean that one stop looking for handouts, free rides, quick fixes, and the easy way out.  It might necessitate learning to handle one's own problems, difficulties, and challenges through normal, socially accepted, and legal channels. 

 Moving up the socioeconomic ladder might also require a hard, difficult look at oneself.   Some deep soul-searching and reflection might be in order.  Who knows?  It might be time to lose the attitude.  It might mean changing yourself in some ways and adapting to that part of society into which you wish to move rather than expecting that same segment of society, or indeed the rest of the world, to change and adapt to you.  It might mean adopting an upwardly mobile, aspirational mindset, dirty words to many these days, who choose to see this trait as being, somehow, inauthentic or failing to keep it "real."  It might also mean, if you'll permit, leaving the metaphoric village behind, together with its own set of entrenched allegiances and prejudices.  

It might be time to bust your ass, even more than you have up to this point, take control of your life and situations, and do without certain luxuries, whatever those might be, for a while.  It might mean that you delay that insatiable need for instant gratification that consumes so many of us in the 21st century.

Instead, make tough choices and change your mode of thought if necessary.  Quit operating on the fringes of society and come to the party.  Value and embrace learning and take the necessary steps to get an education.  Make it a priority.  Develop healthy self-respect and realize that respect from others is earned.  Keep your nose clean.  Get control of your life and stop self-destructive habits.  Distance yourself from those who have them.  Is it easy?  No, but sometimes it is necessary to advance and achieve the sort of life you want for yourself.  

Lack of consistency is the enemy here.  Be  dependable and predictable instead.  Develop a routine.  Hold down steady employment.  We all have to keep jobs that are less than thrilling sometimes to pay the bills and put food on the table.   Manual, unskilled labor?  Punching a timeclock?  Calloused hands?  Sore back and feet for days on end?  Low wages and long days?  Yeah.  Been there, one that.  We all have to take occasional crap from above in these sorts of situations and keep our thoughts to ourselves.  That's life as my grandmother used to say.  Is it fair?  Not necessarily.  Is it real life?  Damn straight.

The important thing to remember is to keep one's eyes and ears open and learn from those around you.  Assuming they have personal and work habits worth emulating.   Never leave a job without something better (and legal) lined up.  Likewise, stabilize your relationship habits, in whatever form that might take, and limit your reproduction.  This doesn't originate with me.  There have been actual studies conducted, and I've read some of the resulting journal articles, which suggest that habits like those I mention in the preceding paragraphs enable people to turn their lives around.  Sometimes dramatically.  If not right away, then in a generation or two.  Stability, in its various forms, seems to have a direct correlation to earning potential and class mobility.

I would also add that it is vital to network constantly within your work and social circles.  Get involved in directing your own life.  Inform yourself.  Become part of a community and serve others in some way.  Meet people, make connections.  Contribute ideas.  Ask questions.  Listen to what others say in response.  Look for opportunity.  Be a team player, but also look for possibilities to emerge as a leader in some way.  Offer to take on more responsibility once in a while and make sure you do a good job executing the tasks at hand.  Work long hours occasionally.  Realize that you are a walking advertisement for yourself by how you come across to others through your skills and abilities, your performance, your appearance, your speech, and your behavior.  Develop your hard and soft skills if necessary.  In a nutshell, increased awareness and self-improvement are vital in turning things around and moving onward and upward in life.

There are plenty of opportunities out there for climbing the socioeconomic ladder.  Contrary to what seems to be a prevailing and entitled attitude these days, life ain't easy, and it ain't always a rose garden boys and girls.  There are no guarantees.  Nevertheless, it remains possible to pull oneself out from under whatever life has dropped in your lap.  And before anyone throws out the "privileged" label, I too have experienced my own setbacks and stumbling blocks, many due to my own uninformed, poor decisions at the time plus just damn bad luck at different points during my adult life so far.

The point is, quit talking endlessly about how bad you have it.  No more harping on all of the obstacles placed in your way by "the man" solely for the express purpose of keeping you down, out, and disenfranchised.  If you are not happy with the hand you have been dealt, do something (legal) about it.  Get up off your duff, dust off your hands, pull up your pants, tighten your belt, broaden your horizons, elevate yourself, and get on with things.  Develop some personal agency.  Take some responsibility.  Don't give up after one or two attempts.  Seize the day, take charge of your own destiny, and embrace the challenges and opportunities life throws your way.  Or, to use yet another cliche, if life gives you a bunch of lemons, figure out how to make lemonade.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

If You Make an Appointment, Keep It. . .


Here's another classic style tip that will cost nothing, and does not necessarily require that you are "dressed up" although you might be if it has anything remotely to do with your job (or getting a job).  When you make an appointment, keep it!

One more time, I have made sure that I am up early, showered, and dressed, so that I would be ready for an appointment with a service person who was to come by the house this morning to discuss a possible big ticket purchase and installation.  There are a number of things that need replacing here at Totleigh-in-the-Wold to keep things looking nice and relatively up to date in and around our vintage (tongue firmly in cheek, you understand) house built in 1985.  And once more, we have been stood up.  No call.  No voice mail.  No email.  Nothing.  Just like the old Ricky Nelson tune.

If this were a isolated incident, I would not be so annoyed, but this has happened repeatedly with various service people over the last nine years since we purchased our first house in Illinois and here in Mid-Michigan.  What is it with so called service providers who make an appointment and never turn up?  As my late maternal grandfather might have said, "Well son, I guess they just didn't want the business badly enough to bother calling or showing up."  Looks like we must contact another company now.

And the moral of today's story?  Whether it involves your job, interviewing for a job, performing well in your job, keeping your job, a money-making opportunity for you or the company you represent. . .  or you are simply lining up a social occasion in your private life, you move mountains to keep appointments.  Or just call and leave a message if you are detained.  Apologize for the delay and ask to reschedule.  It's the polite and considerate thing to do, guys.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Eyebrows Etc. . . .

Not me, or my barber's hand, but the photograph illustrates the point behind today's post.

Facial grooming -- and I don't mean shaving, mustache, or beard timming -- is something that a lot of guys seem to forget in the quest to kick up their style several notches.  And while I do not advocate the current trend for  "manscaping" and the bizarre, almost pathological need that many people these days seem to have to remove any and all body hair (like tattoos and piercings, I simply don't get it), it is important, however, not to forget smaller things like the ears, nose, and eyebrows.  

Have you ever tried to talk to someone with visible tufts of hair sticking out of his nostrils or ears?  Then you'll know what I mean.  It's like some bizarre hobbit version of The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells!

Anyway, where the ears and nose are concerned, it's easy  and fairly inexpensive to take care of yourself in the privacy of your own bathroom.  Pick up a trimmer at your local drugstore, pharmacy, or big box retailer like Target or Wal-Mart.  While it is possible to take care of one's own eyebrows every few weeks, that is a bit more tricky.  It's best to avoid ending up with Spock brows by mistake, or looking like Bob Geldof's character in the cinematic version of The Wall, who, if memory serves, shaved off his eyebrows with an old-fashioned safety razor at one point in the midst of a breakdown by asking your barber for assistance here.

If you're like me, your eyebrows might have started doing weird curly tricks not too long after the ol' 30th birthday.  It was somewhere around then that my barber at the time suggested a quick eyebrow trim during a haircut.  "Yes, please!" said I, and in a matter of 60 seconds both brows were neatened up, and I haven't looked back.

Asking your barber to trim your eyebrows is an easy, quick, and cheap way to improve your daily style without even the need to tuck in your shirt, put on a necktie or belt, or wear quality leather dress shoes.  Perish the thought!

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Happy Belated Independence Day and Casual Summer Style. . .


An assortment of short-sleeved summer shirts collected over the years.  These, and others in my dresser similar to them, have been part of my go-to warm weather attire since at least the late 1990s.


We're in High Summer mode here at Totleigh-in-the-Wold on July 5th, and it seems like a good idea to get back to attire for a few minutes.  Without going into a long dissertation this afternoon about the whys and wherefores of dressing better than what is now the sad, pathetic average in so much of the developed world, let's keep things short and sweet today.  

I often hear, when talking to various male friends and acquaintances that they either 1) don't have the time, or, as they admit in more candid moments, 2) lack the sartorial knowledge to dress nicely.  Please allow me to channel Colonel Sherman T. Potter from the old 1970s TV series MA.S.H.  In a word (well, two really), "Bull Puckey!"  

All you need are a few different (collared) shirts, and a few different pairs of shorts from a company like Land's End or L.L. Bean, plus a casual belt or two, which will enable you to mix and match to your heart's content while at the same time avoiding the mismatched, disheveled, sunburned average American/German/Scandinavian/Brit on vacation look.  Heck, you could even tuck in your shirt if you want.  Imagine that.  

In dressing for warm weather, I would, however, advise against wife beater shirts with visible cheap bling, visible underwear, cargo shorts, those godawful, almost sheer basketball shorts that so many overgrown boys schlepp around in, or, while we're at it, anything that remotely resembles a belly or fanny pack.  God almighty! 

-- Heinz-Ulrich 


 Mixed and matched with shorts like these (carefully in the case of the plaid pair), one can create an array of different causal, cool, comfortable and yet pulled together warm weather combinations of clothing in which you won't embarrass yourself or anyone else by virtue of being an eyesore.  After all, we do not want to resemble Napoleon Dynamite's older brother following his transformation late in the movie's narrative.  I wear my shorts with surcingle belts from Leather Man, one in olive green and one in navy with a broad red stripe.


One view down our street here at Totleigh-in-the-Wold just before eight o'clock on the evening of July 4th.


 And the view up the other end of our street yesterday evening about 8pm.


The bright points of light in my life. . .  The Grand Duchess and The Young Master -- just post sparklers and pinwheels on the evening of July 4th, 2017 -- celebrating the shaking off the yoke of English oppression by the 13 original colonies back in 1776 and wishing you a belated Happy Independence Day! 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

US woman shoots boyfriend dead in YouTube stunt to 'boost online profile'. . .



Besides the generally seamy situation summed up by the above headline, copied from Yahoo News, does nobody else see a problem with the fact that the 19-year-old pregnant (once again) shooter already had two other children?  

I pose that question as an overly educated,  reasonably liberal, yet observant Episcopalian.  Oh, right.  I am white and 'privileged' (the apparent buzzword of the moment) and so must somehow be the source of the problem.  I forgot.  How silly of me.  There truly are no words.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Rural Living, Circa 1983, or '84. . .

My late grandparents' house, Summer 1983, or '84, between Landis Store and Huffs Church, in District Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania.

It's funny what you come across when you aren't looking or it.  This afternoon, I was paging quickly through my physical photo album (Remember those?) looking or something else, when I cam across this picture of my grandparents' house in southeastern Pennsylvania.  I decided to scan it, sharpen it, and fix the colors a little bit.  Here, I spent the vast bulk of my formative years here, between 1973-1991, and it was to this house that my parents brought me a day or two after my birth at Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia, now over half a century ago. Doesn't that make me seem old??!!

Since I have talked about it so much this place and my grandparents in various posts here at Classic Style, it seemed like a fun idea to share this photograph, the only one I have of their place.  The creek is just behind the photographer's vantage point with the large barn closer to the road beyond the creek.  Either my mother, or sister took the picture.  You can just make out the kitchen, added in 1973, at the right of the photo.  The dining room is in the middle of the house, the downstairs hallway cam next, and the living room was on the left with a door out to what we called the sideyard, which as surrounded by flower beds, rather large Boxwood shrubs, ornamental trees of one kind or another, and a small hill off the left edge of the picture, that led to a large meadow lined by trees and privet hedges.  

The second and third floors of the house contained the bedrooms and two full baths.  A third full bathroom was at the rear of the kitchen annex.  Behind the house were the summer kitchen, a large stone springhouse, where many leopard frogs lived each summer in the icy water that ran through it, and the smaller pumphouse that kept the well full of equally icy springwater.  A long run ran from the springhouse down to the creek, and across it was where my grandparents maintained a large vegetable garden, also with several current bushes, in raised beds.  The house had two working fireplaces, one of which was a rather large walk-in affair in the dining room, still with its old wrought iron crane in one corner from which cooking pots and kettles had hung in just post-colonial times.  

The basement, which you can just make out below the font porch, had orignially been converted to the kitchen area by the couple who owned the house before by grandparents, -- Mr. and Mrs. Terrell, Philadelphia Quakers, who purchased a home in the country back in the 1940s.  In 1973, my grandparents added the kitchen annex you see in the photograph at right above.  I can remember playing with Matchbox cars, during a visit from the Midwest one summer, in the window that was later knocked out to make the doorway into the kitchen.  That would have been about 1970, or '71.  But I digress!  The basement became my grnafather's workshop following the kitchen addition in '73 as well as housing the furnace room and, of course, the washer and dryer.  As far as my grandmother could learn from looking at old records, the house had been built in the 1780s or very early 1790s.

As you can see, it was not huge by any stretch, but the five of us managed to live comfortably in the house without killing each other, and we all managed to carve out our personal spaces with some ease.  Without idealizing it too much, it was pretty damned nice living and growing up here in retrospect.  Certainly park-like and even idyllic.  Our last several days here at Totleigh-in-the-Wold in Mid-Michigan have reminded me so much of the summer days all those years ago at my Grandparent's place.  The same sounds, smells (Freshly cut grass and rain blowing in, anyone?), and sense of calm.  Even the way the early morning sunshine peeks through our bedroom window.  It was, and still is, as my grandfather Dave used to remark once in a while, "Good to be alive!"

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Monday, June 5, 2017

Dave Brubeck Quartet - Audrey (1954)

Tuck in Your #$%&! Shirt!!!

Something tells me ol' Ward Cleaver ( Wally and Beaver's TV dad, played by the late Hugh Beaumont) wouldn't have shown up for a high school graduation, or any other special occasion for that matter, dressed in jeans and a wrinkled, untucked shirt.

It's graduation season once again here in the United States with many families celebrating the end of high school, or college for some pampered and very probably entitled young person about to be catapulted, kicking and screaming, into adulthood.  Many are sharing photographs of these happy events via social media.  Fine and dandy.  But there is a problem.  

What, you ask?  Well, for special occasions, you would think that Dad, or the male care-giver in the picture, could be bothered to dress a little better than ratty jeans and some untucked, wrinkled shirt with a cheap windbreaker on top.  Especially when the graduate, Mom, and possibly others in the photographs are clearly dressed.  What?  It's too much trouble to show a little respect and consideration to others and for the special day or event around which a family gathers?  Aren't people even embarrassed by stuff like this anymore?  Oh, right.  We no longer want people to feel shame about anything.

Listen.  What a 40- or 50-something manchild in the 21st century really says to everyone when he turns up looking like this is that the event and the person, or people on whom it focuses are no more worthy of his time and effort than, for example, adding a quart of oil to the car, raking up the leaves, cutting the grass, or cleaning out the garage on a Saturday morning.  Ratty jeans and a wrinkled, untucked shirt are fine for those kinds of manual activities.  They are NOT acceptable attire for attending someone's graduation, or the peripheral family gatherings that often follow.  Got it? 

Even if you don't want to don a suit and necktie, or (shudder) you don't own a suit for special occasions like this, tuck in your shirt, put on a casual belt (canvas and cotton surcingle models, like those sold by Orvis, O'Connell's,  or Leather Man Ltd., are ideal), and toss on a blazer or sports jacket.  Every guy should have at least one on a hanger in his closet. . .  even in our slovenly age.  After all, it's not going to kill you to look appropriate for a few hours, is it?  Add a pair of more casual leather shoes like some classic penny loafers, or what we used to call desert boots way back in the early 1970s (now referred to Chukka boots), and you'll look a damn sight better than all of the other schlubby fathers out there whose photographs clog social media at this time each spring.  

Come on.  Let's at least try to look like we have an ounce of sense and sophistication when special occasions like these roll around a few times a year (graduations, holidays, dinners out with your spouse, partner, or that special someone, etc.).  It's not that hard, guys.   Really.  

I'll conclude today's post, as I did in a previous post a year or two ago, by channeling the old children's magazine Highlights and pose the following question to my readers.  Do you want to be Goofus, or Gallant?  If you make the RIGHT choice and opt for the latter, start by tucking in your #$%& shirt!  

This has been a public service announcement brought to you by Classic Style.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Friday, May 26, 2017

Anaconda and Pirahna Style. . .

The Young Master, his helper Ms. G., and Ol' Dad at school yesterday afternoon.

The Young Master presented two animal 'brochures' on piranhas and anacondas yesterday as part of his class's long-term project on the Brazilian rainforest.  In a word, he was well and truly amazing.  Calm, cool, and collected in his black sweatshirt, bluejeans, and dark tan chukka boots.  More important, YMP exuded confidence, was knowledgeable about his subjects, and he even fielded some questions from listeners, other parents and grand parents in attendance, with minimal prompting.  Easily the most impressive (and fun) school event we have attended.  I am still gushing with fatherly pride this morning.  Wow!

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Six Tips for Wearing Accessories. . .

The late Cary Grant -- the master of understated elegance -- looking as calm, cool, and collected as ever in, of all things, a suit.  Imagine that!

2017, you might recall, is The Year of Accessories here at Classic Style although you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise since I have not discussed them in some little while.  So, it seems like high time to rectify that rather glaring omission on my part.  Accessories can be tricky and even uncomfortable for a lot of guys just getting into kicking up their everyday style several notches.  With that in mind, here are a few tips on navigating the sometimes murky world of  menswear accessorizing.


1) Don't go overboard.  Understated elegance is what you are after.
 Too often, when I notice men wearing things like pocket squares, tie bars, etc., they overdo it.  I actually spotted several 30-40 somethings in downtown Minneapolis, during my recent visit to the city, wearing suits with nice looking leather dress shoes (YES!).  Unfortunately, their overall look was a bit busy because they had gone overboard with, you guessed it, too many small accessories.  As Coco Channel once advised women, and I am paraphrasing badly here, take a quick look in the mirror before leaving the house and remove one item [maybe two].  Leave the wardrobe hyperbole for the Pitti Uomo dandies.

2) Less is more.
You can't go wrong with an understated wristwatch and either a wedding band or some other kind of (understated) man's signet ring. . .  with possibly french cuffs and some subtle cufflinks for a special occasion.  No more than that.  Leave any other visible bling at home and for another time, ok Biggie G?  Remember Coco Channel's advice to the ladies above.

3) What about pocket handkerchiefs?
Great!  These are a fairly simple way of adding some panache to your wardrobe.  But never, ever buy a matching necktie-pocket handkerchief set.  Instead, pick out a pocket square that compliments your tie in some way.  Maybe it has flecks of your main necktie color in it.  Or some silvery gray that works with the white, gray, or silver repp stripes.  Of course, if you're worried about getting it right and/or standing out too much, a white linen or cotton handkerchief folded carefully into your suit coat or sports jacket pocket always looks tastefully understated.

4) What about other men's jewelry?
Um, if you'll be wearing a suit or a sports jacket-odd pants combo with a necktie, I'd steer clear of any jewelry besides the wristwatch and one ring mentioned above in point two.  Unless you want to grow a porno mustache, get a pair of aviator frame sunglasses, and pretend to yourself that you're the late John Holmes circa 1978.  Remember.  Less is more.

5)  Should I wear colored shoe laces?
In theory, yes, but I'd be careful here.  The more color, pattern, and textures you add to an ensemble, the less formal it becomes which is why traditional navy, charcoal, and gray suits, business formal attire in 2017 remember, are fairly plain garments.  If you are wearing a pair of corduroy pants or jeans and a tweed jacket for a chilly Saturday afternoon in November, sure some red or green shoelaces might be kind of interesting to have in your tan wingtip brogues.  That said, I would exercise caution here because it is all too easy to stray unwittingly into dandy clown territory.  That is hardly the effect we want to convey, is it?

6) Look at photographs of "the greats" for accessory inspiration.
If your confidence still feels kind of shaky, do a Google image search for male style icons of the past like Cary Grant, Paul Newman, Young Sean Connery (as James Bond), David Niven, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, et al.  Study the multitudinous pictures you are bound to find and note what works (and possibly what doesn't) where the inclusion of accessory items is concerned.  Grant, Newman, and Connery, in particular, provide the best examples of extremely well pulled together male figures where attire and attitude is concerned for my money.  Do you even notice any "accessories" when looking at old photos of them?  Probably not because they kept things very simple and did not go overboard with everything under the sun.  Remember, guys, less is more.  Resist the tendency to pull out all the stops with those recent accessory acquisitions.

 
Without doubt, there is much more to say on the subject of accessories for men, so this short tipsheet is in no way meant as the final word on the subject.  Just remember, above all, to have fun with what you wear.  Purchase, and enjoy a few well-chosen, tasteful (understated) accessories, and wear them with aplomb.  Just not all at the same time, ok?  

Think a little about what you are doing as you get dressed.  That, of course, lies in the face of the coveted nonchalance that we read so much about, but a little bit of care will help prevent your feeling awkward later because you suddenly realize that you might be overdoing things just a bit with the oversized sports watch, half dozen rings, cubic zirconium cufflinks, colored shoelaces, and the tie tack you got in a Christmas cracker at that 2011 office holiday party back when you were that clueless intern, who had too much to drink and hit on your supervisor's wife before passing out in the mailroom.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

A Special "Thank You" to Old School!

The man himself, men's style maven G. Bruce Boyer.

Here is a link to a fascinating recent article on style and so much else, sent my way by a frequent visitor to the Classic Style blog.  You've got to read Dress Up: What We Lost in the Casual Revolution by the inimitable G. Bruce Boyer.  Oh, and thank you 'Old School!'  Much appreciated.

-- Heinz-Ulrich von B.

The Pretenders with 'Message of Love' (1981)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Avoid the Commonplace. . .

A favorite Laurence Fellows illustration that has appeared before at some point here at Classic Style.  It sums up today's sentiment nicely.

I have written as much here before, but it bears repeating.  Personal outlook, behavior, speech, and cultivating a clean, neat appearance are more important than the make of a man's suit, shoes, or the color of his necktie. 

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After a hefty dose of reality television via hotel cable while in Minneapolis last week, time spent navigating large airports, and observing humanity in a large and rather pricey hotel, to say nothing of the various unsavory news items of the last seven days -- stories like the Ohio man arrested following his drunken tirade at Disney World in Florida, the high school-aged Arkansas couple arrested after their baby (one of four children the two have together) was discovered with more than 100 rat bites on her face and body, plus a whole host other "news" of a similar nature -- I have just one piece of advice for men of any age looking to kick up their style by several notches.  

Ready, ladies and gentlemen?  Here you go.  Pull yourself up out of the filth and steer well clear of anything that smacks of the stupid, the ignorant, the crass, or the just plain trashy.

Those four words -- stupid, ignorant, crass, trashy -- seem to define much of society as far as personal outlook, behavior, speech, and appearance are concerned in 2017.  Those four words also seem applicable to much of what that same society holds dear judging by what is all around us 24/7 just about anywhere you turn these days, and in what now passes for popular entertainment. 

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One visitor to Classic Style observed a few years ago that it seems like most of society in the United States suffers from low self-esteem and a lack of self-respect, so it (society at large) does not aspire to anything better.  That might be true, to some extent, but I also think that same society, perceives, on some level, the rapid and tangible decline in standards of conduct and appearance all around it as self-affirming.  There is no reason to aspire to anything better.  

Most material things are now fairly accessible to most people anyway.  So, why bother asking more of oneself or holding those around you to higher expectations?  There's no &!#%@*!&%$ reason, right?  The democratization of society at work.  In so many ways, we have sunk to the lowest common denominator as a society, and most members of that society seem unwilling to step outside the box and pull themselves up out of the primeval slime for fear of drawing unwanted attention from their fellows.  A strange version of Foucault's panopticism perhaps?

As I lamented a few weeks ago in a previous post, when might the now glaringly apparent coarsening of society moderate a bit, and the pendulum start to swing in the opposite direction?  Or are the end times here already?  That's a rhetorical question, of course, but shambling aimlessly through life like overgrown, foul-mouthed guttersnipes, who might as well be running a meth lab in the basement on the side, ain't the way forward, folks.  

Now, you might exclaim in barely contained rage, "You privileged snob!  How dare you call others out for their collective rudeness.  You'll be among the first lined up against the wall when the Revolution comes.  Why don't you simply ignore the coarser aspects of society if they are so offensive to your delicate constitution?" 

Ah, if only it were so easy to sidestep the kinds of things I'm talking about.  But as I say above, crass, stupid, ignorant, and trashy are everywhere you might look and within easy earshot in 2017.  The senses are assaulted simply by virtue of turning on the television, walking down an airport concourse on the way to your gate, or, heaven forbid, attempting to have a quiet cup of coffee and some toast in the hotel dining room during the Saturday and Sunday morning breakfast buffets.  People just don't know how to act, and that's a problem.  What might ol' Mr. Sarte have to say about our current societal state of non-being?

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Returning to the notion of classic style then.  If a man wants to set himself apart and improve his personal style, he should focus first on improving personal outlook, behavior, speech, and in cultivating a consistently clean and neat appearance.  Combed hair, a clean, tucked in shirt with a collar, and clean jeans with a belt will do at first.  The tweed jackets, the suits, the tailoring, the wool neckties, and the leather dress shoes made from wooden lasts uniquely shaped to  his own feet can come later.

-- Heinz-Ulrich