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.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Classic Style Annual Table Manners Public Service Announcment . . .

Remember, gents.  Table manners are an important part of our everyday style, even in 2017, despite any arguments to the contrary.  


The holiday season is once more upon us, and with it the annual lead-up to the rather frenetic Christmas and New Year's period.  While I naturally hope that regular and occasional visitors to Classic Style will have the good graces NOT to show up to any special holiday dinners or other events dressed in hoodies, sweatpants, sagging jeans, and flip-flops or sneakers -- or, frankly, any other common attire of the sort -- this post is not about that.

Nope.  Instead, it's a yearly reminder to average guys everywhere to remember and practice polite table manners.  Not just on special occasions either, but everyday.  With that idea in mind, here is a reprise of a post from November of 2012 (with a few small recent edits by yours truly), which presents all kinds of useful tabletop information, most of which used to be common knowledge.  At least in my particular dimension.  Sadly, however, the very knowledge about how to conduct oneself pleasantly at the table seems to have become more arcane and even enigmatic in recent decades.  Much to our collective detriment.  In any case, here we go.


*****

In the blogosphere right now, you'll come across any number of blogs and websites that talk at great length about men's clothing style, grooming, appearance, and how these things contribute to our being/becoming/conducting/perceiving ourselves as gentlemen.  Good.  That's a decent enough goal by itself.  However, it's only one small part of the picture.  There is another hugely important and related topic that no one seems to mention on the many blogs and websites on the subject that I peruse and read each week.  What is it, you ask?

Why, table manners of course.  Shock!  Horror!  Gasp!  Yep, I said it.  And I'm making no apologies.  Table manners should be as much a part of our daily personal style as our attire and grooming, if not more so.  Average guys ought to keep that in mind.  Even when we are at home with the door closed.  Newsflash!  Our close family is just as deserving of polite behavior as people we work with, ride public transport next to, or pass on the street.

However, because table manners are associated with upbringing and/or perceived socio-economic class, they are a potentially explosive issue, prompting knee-jerk accusations of snobbery, exclusion, and arguments about elitism.  Regardless of your position, basic table manners are clearly a challenge for many these days based on what you'll observe in most any restaurant or dinner gathering in which people from different backgrounds cross paths.

Sadly, too many people in the 21st century labor under the delusion that table manners -- or indeed polite behavior and social niceties in general -- are stiff, overly formal, old-fashioned, not genuine, and outmoded with no place in modern society.  And if that's your attitude, fine.  I can't change it.

But let me make a few relevant points.  We aren't talking about state occasions, bowing to our social superiors, curtseying to the Queen, shrimp forks, or finger bowls here.  Just common decency and ensuring that we remain pleasant to have around.  We are not cavemen, dogs, or farm animals eating from troughs after all.  Moreover, actions speak louder than words.  And just like our attire, our behavior speaks volumes about us and conveys a great deal about where and who we come from, as well as the kind of person we are beneath the fancy clothing, excessive education, certifications, and impressive-sounding titles.  

Of course we want to make a good first impression with the various people we meet and those we work with.  But we also want to maintain that positive initial image over time.  Likewise, and I would argue even more important, we want to remain attractive, likeable, and desirable to our chosen mates and partners.  The people with whom we share our lives and selves on a daily basis 24/7.  Why risk spoiling that with crass or even just downright crude behavior?  


Finally, if we have them, we want to set solid examples of decent behavior for our children.  We want, hopefully, to teach our youngsters to be gentlefolk with good grooming and at least a modicum of refinement and sophistication before they are unleashed upon the world.  Basic table manners are a part of all that like it or not.  After all, do you really want to come across like a ravenous street cur that knows no better?

So, without belaboring the point any further, here are 15 tips to remember that will go a long way in helping average guys become more pleasant dining companions -- and become more gentlemanly in the process -- whether we are around the family table, having a working lunch with colleagues, or meeting that special person's parents for the very first time with a sit-down dinner as part of the equation.  Here we go:


1) Above all, use the words, "please," thank you," and (if necessary) "excuse me" liberally.  Don't forget it!

2) Sit up in your chair with both feet on the floor in front of you.  Don't slouch in your chair, and keep your feet confined to the space beneath your seat.  Don't swing your feet or stretch out your legs beneath the table into someone else's space.  Keep yourself to yourself.  Finally, keep your feet off the darn chair!  In other words, don't bend one of your knees and rest your foot on the seat of the chair with your bent knee at face level. . .  something that seems to have reached epidemic levels these days.  Buck the trend, and just keep your feet where they belong.  On the floor. 

3) Keep your elbows off the table and your napkin in your lap during the meal.  Oh, and you might want to use it to wipe your lips gently when necessary.  Your napkin that is.  Not your elbow. 

4) Ask for things to be passed to you.  Don't reach.   If serving yourself, don't pile heaps of food on your plate.  Take a small share (a slice or two of meat, and a serving spoon or two of other items), and leave enough for others.  You can always come back for a second helping later.

5) Cut your food -- or if eating a roll or bread, break it -- into bite-sized pieces.  Don't force huge hunks of food into your mouth.  Ick!

6) No one will take your food away from you, so don't hunch over your plate with an arm around it, stabbing at or picking through your food with your fork as though someone will swoop down and steal it.  We aren't vultures, so let's not act like it. 

7) Slow down!  Don't gobble your food as fast as you can.  This is not a pie or buffalo wing eating contest at a summertime county fair.

8) Don't slurp, burp, or make other noises at the table.  Excuse yourself if and when this happens although it really  shouldn't at a table of older children and adults.  Chewing with your mouth closed might help.

9) Likewise, avoid (like the plague) talking with your mouth full.  No one wants to see that. And just imagine how embarrassed you would be if you spit out bits of food in the direction of a dining companion in the middle of relating something to him or her.  Chew it up, swallow, and take a drink before you say anything.  Oh, and try not to leave food particles on the edge of your glass.  Better yet, make sure you don't.

10) Remember not to gesture or point at others with your eating utensils.  We're nearing the end of the meal here, guys, so stay with me just a bit longer.

11) When you finish, don't wipe up your plate with a piece of roll or bread.  Just place your silverware to one side on your plate (the right side in the 10 o-clock-4 o'clock position), and leave any remaining food residue where it is.  By the same token, DON'T lick your plate or utensils clean.  Yes, I know.  I've actually heard of families where this is the norm.

12) Finally, please don't wipe your mouth with your hand or the back of your wrist when you are finished.  Use your napkin!  That's what it is for, but be discreet.  Your napkin is not a washcloth/face flannel for Heaven's sake, so don't scrub your entire face with it.  And it should go without saying that you never, ever blow your nose into it!  If you run into nasal issues during a meal, excuse yourself from the table without going into details and, once again, take care of the problem in private, well out of earshot of your dining companions at the table.

13) Avoid picking food from your teeth with a toothpick or finger while you are still at the table.  I actually once witnessed a young woman engage in the latter yesterday in the dining commons of my former small college where I was holding late-semester meetings with students.  Ugh!  But then, she was sitting with one knee bent and a foot on the seat of her chair, airing her differences to the other three young "ladies" (sarcasm intended) at the table with her, so I should not have been surprised.  In any case, if or when you find yourself with food stuck between two teeth, excuse yourself from the table for a few moments to take care of the matter privately in the restroom. 

14)
While at the table, there is certain subject matter (illnesses, certain surgeries, anything having to do with the bathroom, or bodily functions, related jokes, etc. ) that is best left for another time.  If you absolutely need to discuss it at all.  Talking about things like that during meals is just plain crude and will probably put at least one other person at the table off of their food.  Really.  Our mothers raised us better than that, and we are no longer 10-year old boys at summer camp trying to show our friends how gross we can be.  Hopefully, we have left that behind by now.  Right?


15) And here's one last tip to keep in mind.  Silence your cellphones and leave them elsewhere.  Don't bring 'em to the table, guys.  Talk to each other (when your mouth is empty of course) and give your full attention to those with whom you dine this holiday season.  Be mentally present at the table in other words, and leave the digital bells and whistles for another time.  Do you really need to text your best dudebros from your three semesters on a college campus somewhere about the big game during the meal?  And for the love of Christ, remove those damn baseball caps or knitted beanies before you sit down to the table, you cretins! 

 

Remember, guys.  You might be wearing wild new statement socks, those nifty square-toed shoes, your best ripped jeans, and your lucky "going out" shirt (think about it) to Thanksgiving dinner this year at your latest on again-off again girlfriend's parents' house.  But behaving like an ungroomed slob at the table is not attractive (understatement of the year) and will rapidly undermine any decent impression you might otherwise make.  

Unless, of course, Dad or her brothers either answer the door, lounge on the sofa, or come to the table clad only in  their underwear.  Then knock yourself out, disregard all of the advice above, and let everyone see the "real" you.  By all means.  Ask your date's mother to pull your forefinger between the main course and dessert if you want.  Go on.  Without doubt, everyone around the table will think the result is terribly clever and guffaw raucously.

On the other hand, it might be somewhat more civilized if you ensure that you are a pleasant dining companion by taking the necessary steps above.  Even when you are alone.  Make pleasant behavior at the dining table a normal part of your routine, and you will be well on your way to becoming an extremely pleasant dining companion in most situations you'll encounter during the holiday season or, indeed, anytime of the year.  

-- Heinz-Ulrich  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Southwick 3/2 Bold Tweedy Tuesday. . .

 Said Southwick tweed jacket with a 3/2 roll and slightly wide lapels, leading me to believe it hails from sometime in the 1970s.  The lapels are not offensively wide though, so I trot out this particular jacket several times each season and keep everything else pretty staid.


And the bottom half, featuring a pair of vintage Florsheim "gunboats" that I have had for several years now.  They were completely resoled two years ago and will probably outlast me although I see that the sole dressing could stand to be redone at this point.



Yet one more example of how an adult male might up his seasonal style game a bit while also setting himself apart from the shambling herd of walking dirty laundry hampers that dot the landscape in 2017.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Casual Friday at Home. . .

 Yesterday above.


Yesterday below.



Even on those chilly fall days days when one is at home, it is easy be "comfortable" (an apparent obsession here in the largely sedentary and overweight United States) and yet presentable.  

In this, the 601st post of Classic Style, I once again suggest that it is possible to be comfortable and cozy without resembling a shambling mound of wrinkled, dirty laundry that is riddled with stains from slops of beer, salsa, microwavable foods, and bodily fluids (Don't believe it?  Look at most people in virtually any public space these days).  The photos above illustrate just one possible example of how a guy might look reasonably presentable for those less dressed up days at home.  

Men, you don't need to look like down and out homeless people who have somehow wrangled enough credit to have three or four cars sitting in the driveway and a mortgage in the suburbs.  There is a better way.  Get some self-respect and pull yourselves together for the love of God.  The people in your lives will appreciate it.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Friday, November 10, 2017

Coming Soon: 'The Dearborn' by Optimo Hats. . .

The Dearborn by Optimo Hats of Chicago.


Sadly, there is a school of thought out there, personified by the blog/website Put This On, that guys who wear hats in the 21st century look like "dicks."  Their word, not mine.  

That attitude is really too bad.  A properly fitted, decent looking hat (and I don't mean backwards baseball caps or those cheap, hipsterish Hawaiian Punch porkpie and trilby hats from the  local shopping mall that sit on the top of your head) can add a certain amount of flair, panache, or even gravitas to your appearance.  Especially the right kind of hat when worn with a trench coat, or other long overcoat.  Yeah.  Just like in those old cynical, pessimistic, fatalistic, and psychologically bleak Films Noir from the 1940s and early 50s.  You dirty rat!  See?  Yeah.

So, it's a year late in coming, but I finally got around to ordering one more special 50th birthday gift for myself this morning.  I opted for a phone fitting and was assisted by a very knowledgeable and helpful young woman with an alto voice, that also displayed a very slight twinge of southern accent.  It was all rather fetching.  Were I 20 years younger and unmarried, I might have engaged in a bit of snappy Film Noir-ish repartee with this disembodied female voice.  

As things transpired, however, I refrained from playing out a weak attempt at a J.Peterman inspired dialogue, kept my cool, and let her do her job unhindered.  I came away with, what I think, should be a fantastic and very stylish bit of headwear.  The hat itself should arrive on or before December 23rd.  Can't wait.  And hell yeah I'll wear it!

That's Optimo Hats of Chicago guys.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Chilly Fall Weather Has Finally Arrived. . .

 The top half on Tuesday morning this week as I took a short break from reading and grading the second batch of student papers.


And the bottom half.  Looks like this particular pair of shoes needs some leather balm and a good going over with a horsehair brush before their next outing.


So, it seemed like a fine time to swap the warmer weather gear for tweeds, corduroy, and several wool flannel suits.  This particular combination of garments struck me as especially pleasing.  

It's sleeting outside at the moment as I type this early Thursday afternoon.  Can the L.L Bean boots be far off?

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Three-piece Thursday. . .

 The upper half today, featuring a light pink short, dark green and crimson paisley necktie, and linen pocket handkerchief.  Out of sight here are the navy and crimson silk braces worn in lieu of a belt.


And the lower half, featuring a pair of 'Strand' captoe oxfords in Oxblood (or is it Chili?) by Allen Edmonds, shortly to revisit the AE factory outside Milwaukee for recrafting.


This charcoal wool flannel three-piece suit is a Polo Ralph Lauren number that I picked up in a thrift shop three or four years ago for the princely sum of US$7.99.  If it had ever been worn before, it was just once, so no signs of wear anywhere.  It is heavy, soft, and warm, so ideal for chilly fall, winter, and early spring days.  Best of all, and this rarely happens, the 40R garment fit like it was made for me once I tried it on.  It has never needed alterations of any sort.  Even the sleeve length was perfect, allowing half an inch of linen to show with arms at my sides.  A serendipitous day.  So, I paid, took the suit to the dry-cleaners, and have worn it several times each fall and winter since.

It is hard to tell from these somewhat awkward selfies, but what I like most about the Polo Ralph Lauren suits in my wardrobe rotation is their cut, or silhouette.  These garments are very 1930s in outline, so you resemble those great old Laurence Fellows illustrations when you don one of the suits.  That might bother some, who desire more current, trendy, or whatever, and there is the tired old argument floating around out there about being "in costume," but none of that bothers me.  At this point in life, I am able to put stuff on in the morning and forget about it until I change clothes once home again in the late afternoons. 

Finally, the suit above is one of the most comfortable that I own, almost like wearing comfortable pajamas.  Yeah, that's right.  Pajamas.  But better.  And with  creased pants, vest, and a coat! 

Clearly a big part of forgetting about your clothes once they're on in the morning has to do with your physical comfort in them.  Assuming everything fits one's particular dimensions, it has always puzzled me why so many guys say they are uncomfortable in a suit.  It comes down to two things as far as I can tell.  Either something really is too tight, or two large.  Or the discomfort claimed is less physical and more psychological.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Friday, October 27, 2017

Sartorial Frivolity. . .







In view of the generally deplorable state of the world politically and socially -- Just take a gander at almost everything featured in Yahoo News. -- I offer a brief interlude of fairly innocuous escape this morning via what  I like to call my sartorial frivolity.

Three separate ensembles worn this week illustrate how a man who cares about pulling himself together might do so in our current age of apparent low self-esteem, societally speaking that is, and the resulting dress downism of the last two decades or so.  At the very least, these photos show that it's ok to have some fun with your clothes while getting on with the day to day challenges of life.  In other words, dressing well doesn't have to hurt, guys.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Ben Silver Necktie Thursday. . .



The upper half this last Thursday, featuring said necktie (thrifted for about US$2.00 a few years back) and one of my four navy blazers.  I know, I know. . .

It's funny.  Not 'funny ha-ha' so, but rather more 'funny peculiar' as my maternal grandmother used to say.   At this point in my sartorial journey, I vary things from day to day during the weekly schlepp from Monday through Friday, combining a suit or two with somewhat more casual sports jacket-odd pants combos the remaining days.  And always with some kind of decent leather dress shoes and a necktie (almost always) of one sort or another except in the warmest August and September weather.  

A few of the classrooms I am stuck in by the unseen, unfeeling, and enigmatic classroom assignment gods each semester are in older, unrenovated buildings with inadequate climate control.  That means, that when 35+ bodies are crammed into said rooms for classes lasting an hour or more that things rapidly become uncomfortable on warmer days during late August, September, and, occasionally, late April.  

As much as I enjoy my ties, sometimes, it's just too damn hot as the song goes.  Invariably, inevitably, and irrevocably someone's Axe deodorant or body spray fails, and an already uncomfortable room is also filled with the redolent aroma of male body odor, but that's another story.
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Returning to neckties for a moment, however, the weather here in Mid-Michigan has cooperated nicely so far this fall, and I've been able to wear them comfortably.  Hence the Ben Silver number above, which never seems to see the light of day as often as certain other neckties in the collection.  Not so with the navy blazers, which, depending on the season, make an appearance at least once each week.  

I've somehow acquired four of them over the years, two single-breasted and two double-breasted in both heavier and lighter weights, so they feature prominently on those mornings when I am in a hurry and/or can't get the old brain in gear in the early morning darkness to think for a moment about what might go with what.  Navy blazers are reliably easy to pair with other things without straying unwittingly into goofy clown territory because of clashing patterns or colors.  

What's more, navy blazers look suitably formal when worn with creased dress pants, a tie, and dress shoes, but, in our terminally dressed down, comfort-obsessed culture, navy blazers also work well with a pair of khakis or even jeans.  If you have only one sports jacket hanging in your closet, it should be the the navy blazer, an incredibly versatile piece of attire.  As my mother informed the 14-year old Heinz-Ulrich when she presented me with my first navy blazer for a semi-formal dance many years ago, back when schools still had those sorts of things, "It's a classic man's wardrobe staple that goes with just about anything."
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A sobering thought to close today.  In an article that I read not long ago about the beleaguered middle class, the point was made that people don't really want to change anything about themselves in an appreciable way.  Upward mobility is dead, and aspiration to be more and rise up the social ladder is a thing of the past the article implied.  The middle class has no wish to move into new milieus where it might feel uncomfortable.  The people belonging to it are, for the most part, unconcerned with leaving the metaphoric village behind.  What the middle class apparently wants, according to the article in question, is just a bit more money.

-- Heinz-Ulrich



And the lower half, featuring Merino wool socks from Dapper Classics and a pair of Allen Edmonds loafers.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

J. Press and SWIMS Style!


As above.

At last, the autumn weather is here.  So, a gray, rainy and cool day today here in Mid-Michigan.  Hence the J. Press 3/2 roll tweed sports jacket, ocbd, wool necktie, corduroy pants, and Norwegian-made SWIMS to protect the Allen Edmonds gunboats.  Not shown are the accompanying London Fog trenchcoat that has served me for almost 20 years along with the cream, red, and navy plaid umbrella (with a genuine wooden handle and shaft) by Brooks Brothers.

-- Heinz-Ulrich


So below.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Ivy Style Necktie Tuesday. . .

The upper half, including the limited edition Ivy Style club necktie and a cotton 3/2 roll jacket from Brook's Brothers.


The lower half, featuring socks by Dapper classics and Land's End dress chinos.  A bit matchy-matchy with the socks, but I couldn't manage to locate a plain navy or tan pair in the early morning darkness. Canary yellow might have been interesting though!

Finally, a refreshingly cool October day that doesn't leave you damp and sweaty after walking from one side of campus to another at a brisk pace to make a lunchtime meeting.  A little olive green, tan, blue, and red here today.

-- Heinz-Ulrich von B.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

An (Almost) Drones Club Necktie Thursday. . .


The upper half this bright blue October Thursday, featuring a must-iron Brooks Brothers  university stripe OCBD shirt worn with a BB 'Makers' tie that is strikingly like the club tie worn by members of P. G. Wodehouse's Drones Club. . .  save that the stripes slant the wrong way of course.



And the lower half, featuring a chopped off pair of Allen Edmonds chocolate suede brogues and a pair of Land's End dress chinos.


Something between a G. Bruce Boyer and a Bertie Wooster look here in Mid-Michigan today.  Still a bit too warm for tweed and corduroy but a very pleasant lower 70s Fahrenheit (about 22 C. give or take) in any case.

-- Heinz-Ulrich.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Belvest Tuesday One Last Time for the Season. . .

 The upper half during early morning coffee and work email before heading across campus to my office for the obligatory office hours.  In other words, additional prep time before class meets.


And the lower half.

Sunny and warm again here in Mid-Michigan today, so I hauled out the cotton Belvest suit for one final wearing early this morning.  

Other items included a genuine Panama hat sent to me by good ol' Mom last June, a cream-colored cotton pocket square from Put This On, recently recrafted Allen Edmonds shoes, and a peach-colored Italian silk necktie by Kenneth Roberts.  I must get a few pairs of navy cotton dress socks at some point.  The several pairs I have now are wool and too warm for this sort of Indian Summer weather.  I made do with these, but they're a little busy.  Fortunately, you can't see 'em when I stand.

The Belvest suit is something I splurged on last spring, new with original price tags still intact, but I nevertheless managed to pick it up for a mere fraction of the suggested retail price.  The moral here is that if you know what you are after and keep your eyes open, eventually you'll find it.  Inexpensively too.

-- Heinz-Ulrich


A rare standing selfie before I changed into chino shorts and pique polo top after arriving home early this afternoon.  Only two dozen student papers left to read and grade before Thursday!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Ushering in the Cooler Fall Weather (aka J. Press Pheasant Necktie Thursday). . .


The top early this morning, featuring the J. Press pheasant necktie. . .

A chilly, partly cloudy early autumn day here in mid-Michigan today.  Quite a pleasant contrast to the early art of the week.  And a perfect reason to break out some suede brogues, wool socks, a flannel sports jacket by Pal Zileri along with a heavy blue OCBD shirt and, of course, the J. Press tie.  Thanks for looking. 

I think if more guys realized that one can have fun with dressing up, they might not dread it so much.  I certainly enjoy myself, and looking pulled together never fails to add a spring to my step even in the midst of digging out from under a now towering stack of student papers, which accumulated yesterday and today.  The first of several team projects this semester.  Wish me luck.

-- Heinz-Ulrich



And the bottom, featuring Marino wool dress socks by Dapper Classics and some very comfortable suede shoes by Allen Edmonds.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Waning Days of Summer. . .


A Polo Ralph Lauren Italian-made linen number I splurged for and bought new in May 2016 worn with, among other items, a tie Mom and Stepdad brought to me from Milan in1996 when I house-sat for them that summer -- looking after the dogs and, yes, a parrot -- worn with a pair of recently recrafted Allen Edmonds spectator shoes.




A navy blazer (with heavy metal University of Wisconsin buttons added later) and gabardine dress pants along with a yellow OCBD and a vintage Rooster Madras necktie.  The last item was made in Sri Lanka but purchased from a vintage clothing sore several years ago in Champaign, Illinois.




And finally, a vintage seersucker suit by Abercrombie & Fitch, made long before the company began producing cheap, throw-away fashion for middle and high school kids.

Enjoying the final days of summer-like weather and related attire here in Mid-Michigan. Cooler, more comfortable conditions are here now thank goodness.  Bring on the tweeds, corduroy, and plaid wool neckties!

-- Heinz-Ulrich 

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