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.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Life is better in a good hat. . .

Chicago commuters, 1949.  Photograph lifted from the Optimo Hats Facebook page.

Thoroughly enjoying my 'Dearborn' classic fedora from Optimo Hats of Chicago (in Bison a lovely, rich dark brown) two or three days each week.  It never fails to elicit favorable remarks from passersby.  As the tagline suggests, life is better in a good hat.

-- Heinz-Ulrich von B.

'Let 'Em In' - Wings (1976)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Gum-Cracking Sacks of Potatoes with iPhones. . .

Why do so many educated "professional" adults look so awful now?  A possible, highly probable, answer hit me like a bolt out of the blue as I worked on my laptop early this morning sitting in the cafe that is tucked into a corner of our library here on campus.  It's a popular meeting place for students, faculty, and staff, and certainly somewhat nicer surroundings than my office, so I take every opportunity to spend time there as and when I can.  

I was joined in the otherwise empty space at that early point in the morning by a group of  seven or eight library staff, who convened for a small meeting of some kind a short distance from where I sat.  To a person, the mixed group of men and women aged roughly 30-50, more or less, resembled the sacks of potatoes pictured above.  All with the latest dinging, blinking, chirping, burping gadgetry in hand.

A few things occurred to me as I took in the group for a minute or so over the top of my glasses before returning to work.  One, the (over-) casualization of society at this point has resulted in lax attitudes not only about how we present ourselves to the rest of the world but also lax attitudes about what's appropriate for the workplace in general and (the biggie) the quality of work we produce while there.  No wonder it seems like so many people of all ages try to avoid anything but the least amount of mental or physical effort possible and, accordingly, work out the path of least resistance to get the job at hand done, so they can go back to their iPhones.  

Mind you, the prevailing attitude, as near as I can tell, is not necessarily a job well done.  It seems to be more a job done as quickly as possible.  Indeed, shoddy work on some team or committee project was the general subject matter of the meeting in question as far as I could determine, and no wonder based on the appearance of the people in attendance.  It's pretty clear to me that scant attention paid to details in one's life, for example personal appearance bleeds over into and has some effect on alacrity and related level of performance on the job.  

Didn't Woody Allen once observe that 90% of life was simply showing up?  No effort.  No skill.  No expertise.  No get up and go required.  I'll go out on a limb and suggest that the once prevalent idea of the 'can-do' attitude, for which the U.S. was once so famous, seems largely to have vanished from our collective psyche.  Cynical?  Pessimistic?  Maybe.  Sure, you might still find pockets of the can-do attitude here and there, but I'll counter that as a society we've become completely shiftless in our outlook and habits at  every step of the way.

Returning to the point at hand, dressing like the photograph above is easy.  It's also cheap, and clearly requires little to no thought.  No more thought than putting on a suit with a blue or white shirt and necktie each morning in all honesty.  

In contrast to presenting yourself well, however, appearing for public consumption while looking like a walking hamper of dirty laundry is highly egalitarian, an idea with which we are obsessed in the United States.  If everyone cannot be born into independent wealth, a life of leisure,  and enjoy the same advantages, then we can all at least look cruddy and crusty together and go on pretending that we're all the same.  In other words, everyone can look equally shitty.  Pardon my language, but there is simply no other word that carries quite the same weight here.  Even if people have the wherewithal to carry 30-year mortgages on four-bedroom houses in the 'burbs along with the obligatory two huge SUVs in the driveway and all of the most up-to-date personal technology on the dining table during meals, chaotic disarray as far as personal appearance goes is the order of the day.  

Neither, do people seem to be aware of the problem.  Instead, they look as if they sleep rough every night.  Even those with an expensive education -- which, oddly, does not seem to include much in the way of sophistication -- and a nominally white collar job.  Leaving the impression that, at best, they purchase their attire at Meijer's (a combination big box-supermarket chain here in the Upper Midwest of the U.S.), or that they have been given a bunch of cast off oddments at the local shelter, isn't seen as something that is embarrassing.  I will even wager that an awful lot of people don't know enough to be embarrassed by their slovenly appearance and related behaviors.

Without a doubt, I'll draw fire for that last observation, but why on earth would someone voluntarily want to look like they are completely down and out, when they don't have to?  Why would a person choose to look like he or she has fallen through the cracks of society when that isn't the case?  It really does seem like many (perhaps most?) in U.S. society have simply given up to paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld's observation to his pal George about the latter appearing publicly in sweatpants.  Contrary to what some might argue, you don't need to be "rich" to present a clean, pulled together appearance and look relatively alert as you move through life.  A little soap and water, some forethought, and relatively few key pieces of clothing can go a long way.  What is so sad in all of this is that so many people apparently can't be bothered.  Anything that requires a little effort isn't worth doing it seems.

I'll wrap up today's post with some advice for everyone, which will very probably ruffle a few more feathers.  Ready?

Guys, how about tucking in your shirts, wearing a belt, and shaving Monday through Friday at least?  Ladies, how about a little color in your attire instead of the ubiquitous gray, tan, taupe, ecru, eggshell, coffee, or oatmeal?  A modest shade of lipstick would also help as might a tiny bit of eye makeup.  Everyone ought to do a better job of brushing his or her darn hair in the morning and checking his or her appearance briefly while in the restroom throughout the day.  A hot washcloth (face flannel) to clean off the visible sleep around the eyes and any remaining breakfast residue from around the mouth would, likewise, be a nice idea.  

Last off all, no one, absolutely no one looks good in a (usually pilled) fleece.  Leave 'em at home along with the Birkenstocks, Doc Martins, and worn out driving moccasins.  Who knows?  These very basic steps might help to get more of us off the anti-depressants and improve our general self-image in the process.  If more of us looked better, we would feel better.  Superficial?  Maybe.  But I think there is something to it nevertheless.  It's just a thought. 

Now, I hardly expect most people these days to take the same pleasure that I do in something as banal as "dressing up," but for the love of Pete, it's time to get with the program and get ourselves back on track.  No doubt about it.  As a society, we're a frumpy mess.  Our collectively bedraggled appearance, less than savory behaviors, and related attitudes are all part of the general malaise in which we currently wallow.  Still, the question begs.  How much lower can we sink?  On second thought, don't answer that.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Monday, March 12, 2018

Classic Menswear Illustration Musings. . .

A pleasing mixture of men and women enjoying a drink or two way back when, as depicted by Leslie Saalberg and Laurence Fellows.  I dare say people no longer look so polished or sophisticated in most bars, hotel or otherwise, one might venture into these days.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Tendency to Overshare. . .

An old Laurence Fellows illustration that works well with today's discussion.  Keep things cordial but professional in your work life, and avoid the now common TMI Syndrome, the tendency to share far too much personal information in a misguided attempt to bond with supervisors and co-workers.

In a society apparently more concerned with 'keeping it real' than in keeping itself polite and pleasant, false bonhomie has become epidemic in virtually all walks of life.  

Collins English Dictionary defines 'bonhomie' as happy, good-natured friendliness.  False bonhomie is, naturally, the opposite.  I understand the term as insincere social interaction, manifesting itself most often in the tendency to behave in an overly familiar way upon meeting people for the very first time, and/or to overshare with people you don't know well.  And maybe even those you would rather not know well.  In a nutshell then, false bonhomie is the habit of behaving and carrying on with others as though best friends only two minutes after being introduced.  Hyperbole, of course, but you take my point I hope. 

The tendency of people to do this seems ubiquitous in 2018, at least here in the United States.  I've spent quite a bit of time over the years in other cultures (Scandinavia, Britain, Germany, and Mexico), and while many people there smile, are polite, pleasant, and even fairly relaxed at first and during subsequent meetings, it nevertheless takes time to become close friends rather than casual acquaintances.  To the credit of almost everyone I have ever met from another point on the globe outside the U.S., it does not seem typical for people to talk incessantly, attempt to fill every brief silence, and blurt out voluntarily all of the unsavory little details of their lives.  Friendship and the related level of intimacy take time.  Not so in our culture and society it seems.  

The propensity that so many have for oversharing is also found in the workplace.  In the office, in the stockroom, in line at the bank, behind the customer service counter in retails esatblishments, at the supermarket checkout lane, etc. it is not unusual to overhear, or even be included in (shudder), conversations of which you would rather not be a part.  The sort of exchanges I mean include so called 'war stories,' in which people brag about how drunk or stoned they were at some point in the past, stupid things they have done in childhood or their (extended) adolescence, or verbal and/or physical altercations they have had.  As though any of that is fit for public consumption.  My personal favorite is overhearing or being told directly about medical and especially intestinal issues from which people suffer, which invariably seem to involve lactose or gluten intolerance.

Um. . .  Yuck!

Why, oh, why is there a compulsive need to share these kinds of details with others?  Have we really become that crass as a whole?  Are there really so many socially awkward and/or insecure people out there who think this sort of sharing is somehow more genuine?  Do people really just put their brains and mouths on autopilot, or do they mean to bore, offend, and even disgust others with the unsavory minutia of their private lives?  Rhetorical questions, you understand.  No need to answer. 

Suffice to say, it's really better to keep stuff like that to yourself.  Heaven forbid that we advocate chilly Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian reserve here at Classic Style, but sometimes it's exactly what is called for.  After all, there are certain things best kept between you and your healthcare provider.  I'd wager that even your spouse or significant other doesn't really want to hear all of the details of your relationship with your intestinal tract.  Frankly, I'll take WASPy reserve over the alternative any day if it means we can talk about something else besides 'cute' (grand)child or pet stories, or how sloppy drunk someone was in the hotel lobby the night before his or her extended group of  'friends' flew home from Las Vegas.

All of this is just a small part of our now common tendency to overshare, something that is a growing problem in the business world according to many HR professionals.  I've actually done a bit of research on this in my work teaching the current crop of university undergrads, and there is, among too many entry level hires in the 21st century, a marked tendency toward volunteering too much information (TMI) about their non-professional lives and activities.  This pinpoints so called Millennials, of course, but it would be a mistake to think that oversharing is limited solely to those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s.  Everyone else seems to be blurting out the most personal details of their lives for the world to overhear too.

Understand that there is a time and place for everything.  Sure, times and standards change, but loudly filling the air with observations about past romantic partners, exploits involving drugs or alcohol, medical, or intestinal stuff is uncalled for and hardly stylish, gentlemen.  Oversharing really isn't that far removed from things like loud mobile phone conversations, or the habitual spewing of obscenities in public spaces.  All three habits are obnoxious at best and really things that we ought to do our utmost to recognize in ourselves and curtail.  Of course, that implies a degree of self-reflection and self-control, and why in the world should we want or expect anyone to possess and exercise those qualities?

Returning, though, to the related concepts of false bonhomie and oversharing, it's far better to maintain a slight air of mystery about yourself and your life outside of work.  Bonding on a deep personal level with coworkers is not necessary to function and perform pleasantly and efficiently in whatever line of work you engage.  In other words, your boss and co-workers are not your buddies, your bros, your besties, your BFF's, or your homies.  Don't expect them to be so, don't make them so.  It risks causing awkward situations, or even full-blown problems, at some point down the road.  And as my maternal grandmother pointed out a number of times during my formative years, familiarity breeds contempt.  

I dare say she was right.  A smidgen of reserve is a good thing outside the home.  It's a good thing in the home.  A valuable point many in society need to relearn  in our overly casual age where 'slob' has become the medium of personal expression for legions of men and women.  There has to be middle ground somewhere though.  Let's nudge the pendulum back in the other direction just a wee bit, and rein ourselves in, eh?  To put it another way, and as my maternal grandfather might have barked at a buck private decades ago, "Suck in that gut, solider!" 

To sum up, let's all cultivate a bit more self-regulation and restraint in public, which includes the hours we spend at work.  It's time to put down that fourth glazed doughnut (you've already had three) and get back on task.  Your co-workers and supervisors, some of them at least, will appreciate it.  We really don't need (or want) to know all of the gory details from your high school and college years.  Such war stories will not help the team in your area at work to finish the proposal or report with which you have been tasked.

-- Heinz-Ulrich von B.