Saturday, January 31, 2009

Current Personal Trend | Watch Caps

I’ll give credit where it’s due. The farmer’s almanac predicted an especially cold winter. And it's no joke out there. I’ve been trying my best to carve as much style out of bundling up as I can. Sweaters under sport coats under overcoats, flaps over fingerless gloves and of course scarves have been mainstays. But one article that I initially tried to resist has evolved into something that I’m not only embracing but turning into a personal trend: watch caps.

Also known as knit caps, ski caps, beanies, tuques, stocking caps, etc., they’re everywhere. But generally speaking, they’re used in a capacity where style is secondary. Nine times out of ten I see them in combination with a puffy winter coat or hooded sweatshirt. If they are part of a fashion statement, it’s usually, “Does anybody want to start a drum circle?” or “I’m fresh out of mega-hold styling gel”. But I’m discovering that in a solid basic color like navy, gray, black or brown and combined with a smart outfit, it can be quite stylish. In the right context and arrangement you start to look like a grizzled navy vet or prize fighter.

There's a narrow space on the casual scale where you can pull it off. Dress it too far down and you've stopped caring. Too formal and it's awkward. The trick is to avoid falling into three traps. 1) The third McKenzie brother. 2) 3rd Grader at the bus stop 3) Drifter. As long as you’re conjuring up images of Burgess Meredith and Sly Stalone in Rocky or David Niven and Anthony Quinn in Guns of the Navarone, you're in business.

I just read the preface of the Style Guy's book and he mentioned that style is about doing everything exactly right and one thing intentionally wrong. I think that idea plays well into dressing really sharp and topping it off with a watch cap.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Eyes up here.

They know. They might not always call you out or give you a slap, but they make a note of it and it colors their impression of you. Even if they “want” you to look, you’ll retain the upper hand and gain respect if you resist.

I know it’s a challenge. Boobs are powerful eye magnets. But resisting the urge to stare, drift or even peek is key to establishing your gentlemanship. Imagine that a welcoming few inches of cleavage is a surgical scar or birth mark. We’ve all learned how to avoid staring in those instances. Apply the same techniques. But acknowledge that it’s a sub-rational impulse.

You don’t want to be so focused on not looking down that you end up darting around the room or engaging in creepy prolonged eye contact. Give yourself a break by looking up into your head like your trying to recall something or look at her mouth when she’s talking. That will also bring the boobs into your peripheral vision and enable you to get a sense of them and avoid feeling the need to do a quick check.

Broach the subject or make a joke about it. Even if you think it’s cool.

Get so worked up about not looking that you get flustered or run away.

Give it a second thought. Once you start chanting “don’t look, don’t look, don’t look” in your head, you’re doomed.

Try purposefully engaging your visual attention. Compliment her shoes or hair. In fact, do that all the time.

Take a mental cold shower. Remove sexual undertones by treating her like an aunt, or sister.

Recall a fantastic pair that you’ve seen exposed in the past. With that picture lingering your mind, you won’t feel compelled to catch a glimpse of the mostly covered pair in your presence.


That covers not staring during a direct interface. As for cleavage entering your field of vision and grabbing your attention, God help us. I only have one piece of advice for someone who is in the company of a wife, girlfriend, or female acquaintance who wouldn’t appreciate you checking out another woman. Call immediate attention to it. Point out the cleavage and say something like “What is she wearing?”, “That’s just obnoxious.”, or “That woman looks familiar, where do I know her from?” Then you can look all you want. Soon enough you’ll have your fill and you’ll be able to move on.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Swim Trunks

Somewhere near the root of this project is a desire to grow out of habits and styles from my late youth. A lot of choices were made attempting to fit into a standard of living that no longer makes any sense. I see it as less of a reinvention and more of a grounding in sensibility. It's an attempt to peel myself away from youthfull fashion trends. The first step is to examine all facets of manner and style. Second, taking them back to the simple roots to understand the whys and the hows. The final phase will be to establish a sensibility that fits me as a grown man and hopefully a proper gentleman as well.

That said, I just picked up a new pair of swim trunks. I'm going to emphasise the word trunks, because I think it's important. They're not board shorts or speedos. Nor are they a swim suit. They're plain solid black. They're of a reasonable length and roomy enough for a grown man's needs. I think it illustrates a process that I'm trying to instill when making new purchases. As sort of an offshoot of the "dress for the job you want" dictem. I'm trying to outfit the gentleman I aspire to be. Almost like buying gifts for the father and potential grandfather in myself. I plan on wearing them in the pool at the gym and in the back yard. And occasionally in the ocean. If I enter a swimming race or take up surfing, then I might consider a different type of swimwear.

You certainly don't need to forgo fashionable designs and patterns. You need a pair of short pants outfitted for swimming that provide a smart balance between freedom of movement and modesty. End of discussion. Besides, no statement made by your choice of swimwear will be able to avoid being completely drowned out by the statements made by your bare body parts.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Good & Propper | Nails

I assume that most of you don’t need advice on trimming your nails. However, I have an assortment of bad habits in that department that I’d like to break. So for my own sake, here are a few random tips, thoughts, guidelines, etc. on the subject.

I chew off my fingernails, and cut my toenails off at the corners. Both are huge mistakes. The official Boy Scout Fieldbook recommends cutting toenails strait across. There are even uniquely designed clippers that have a flat edge for that purpose. And not only is biting your finger nails disgusting, (though only slightly less disgusting as the sound of someone using clippers at work) it’s not good for your nails. Don’t ask me why. In fact don’t ask me anything really. I’m a nibble and tear person. But I’m working on it.

The expression “cut to the quick” is from nail trimming. The quick is the portion of your nails cemented to your finger that hurts like a bitch and sometimes bleeds when you cut them back too far. Naturally, also not recommended for non-masochists.

Cut over a wastebasket. Not only will it help you avoid freaking out your wife. But I was watching a random episode of the Sopranos on A&E the other day. And that hot Italian boss Tony fantasizes about takes special care to dispose of her clippings. She tells Tony that if your enemy gets a hold of them, he can “put the evil on you”. And who wants that?

And let’s see... Don’t cut them when they’re wet. Dig them into a bar of soap before working in the yard to prevent getting dirt under them. Remember to file after clipping (long strokes, not in public, maintaining a manly posture).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lounge Pants

Ideally, I would have a nice pair of pajamas to wear to bed. Though it's the transition time before and after sleeping that I'm really dressing for. And at this stage, a set of pajamas seems a bit formal for most evenings. Perhaps if I was sharing a vacation house, had live-in help or simply spent my days frolicking with my stable of Playboy bunnies, then silk pajamas would be the default choice.

I'm sure the vast majority of men, even if they don't wear them to bed regularly, have a pair of plaid or patterned flannel lounge pants. Otherwise known as unmatched pajama bottoms. I had a pair from the Gap that I wore to the point of disintegration. And their replacements, though fine and suitable were a tad too large and a bit less than fashion forward. It seemed like there was a serious lack of options in the world of lounge pants. I figured I'd be replacing one plaid flannel pair with another until I died in one.

Then I stumbled upon these at a Marshal's of all places. They're made of oxford cloth. Typically reserved for button down shirts, but they make a remarkable pant as well. They're made by a company called Vineyard Vines. A little outfit started by two buddies with an inspiring story. Though, not as inspiring as the Chinese factory where this pair was put together I imagine. Anyway, they offer hyper preppy clothes at outrageous prices. I'll spare you the gory details of what these were originally priced at. They must have not been much of a hit, because they're not currently on their website and like I said, they ended up at a Marshal's.

But I love them. Maybe the transposing of traditional fabrics was a bit too clever for the kind of guys who spend $50 on flip-flops. I can't be sure. But it's my gain either way. I can't put my finger on why, but they have a very Owen Wilson quality. And between you and me, if someone catches me fetching the paper or the mail bright and early. I'd feel a lot more dignified in blue oxford cloth lounge pants than plaid or patterned flannels or even full pajamas for that matter.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mitigated Speech

In Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, Outliers, there is a fascinating profile of cultural effects on plane crashes. He shows how pilots from cultures with a high "Power Distance Index" have a much greater risk of being involved in a crash. These people demonstrate a severe deference to authority and have a hard time effectively communicated even important information to their social superiors. They tend to create confusion by overly mitigating their speech.

You might notice your own tendency to not only soften your tone when you speak to your boss or a police officer, but you might also beat around the bush and downplay certain facts. Perhaps you'll use phrases like "It's no big deal, but..." or "If it's not to much trouble,..."

I wouldn't advocate disregarding respect for authority. It's important to recognize your place and act accordingly, but it's also important to be clear and direct. Furthermore, when dealing with children or underlings, it's important to listen and encourage directness. Both parties will appreciate it. Assert yourself properly while waiting your turn, applying proper manners and using proper language. But above all, say what you mean and make your primary focus communication. If you have something to get a across, don't mince words.

To further expand on Franklin's virtue of silence. Not only should you avoid trifling conversation, but mitigated speech in serious conversation as well.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Old Spice Flavor

You tell 'em, Bruce.

Out of curiosity, I picked up a stick of the new "Swagger" flavor. (Yes I refer to deodorant/antiperspirant scents as flavors) Anyway, it's not bad. A little closer to Axe Body Spray than Irish Spring for my taste. My old lady is not a fan. She feels it smells too much like cheap cologne. That might be why it gave LL the confidence to start taking off his shirt and licking his lips.

You can't argue with that. Sadly, as you read this, I still have no intention of seeing this movie.

I'm noticing Old Spice is introducing more caddish flavors: Showtime, After Hours, Swagger. I prefer the more traditional line. My wife tells me that the original old spice flavor reminds her too much of her grandfather. I'm sure my grandfather would cringe at the idea of me using body wash or body spray, even if it is Old Spice. Though he'd be comforted to know that their after shave still comes in that classy white bottle. Not that I presume package design and brand identity were a big deal for him.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Canadian Gentleman

I had the privilege of attending the East Coast Hockey League’s 2009 Hall of Fame Induction the other day. Not surprisingly, the crowd and the honorees were predominantly Canadian. The guest speaker, Flyers color commentator Steve Coates, noted that what separates hockey players from other professional athaletes, is that they are true gentlemen. As the presentation progressed I was struck by how often they referred to each other as gentleman. And not in the passing Ladies-and-gentleman way. They emphasized it and expounded on it. It became clear that it was a real point of pride within the hockey community to be considered a top notch gentleman.

I started to take notice of all they hockey players, coaches and owners in attendance. For one thing, they were all dressed well. They avoided the hyper-flashy trappings of football and basketball players but they looked at ease in a suit and tie. Despite all the scars, missing teeth and square jaws, they all had a very genteel way about them. They were all very friendly, courteous and well mannered. Yet they maintained a very strong man’s man quality. The overall vibe in the room is a little hard to translate. It seemed like it should have been teeming with testosterone and arrogance, but it was extremely civil and pleasant. Nobody was drinking, nobody swore, nobody even talked during lulls in the presentation. The best way to describe it would be to say it was as if a convention of alter boys had just been metaphysically transposed with a clan of Visigoth warriors.

As I thought more about it, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the hockey in them that made them such easy gentlemen. After all, it’s hard to disassociate hockey from fighting, between players and youth coaches. (and the occasional pit bull in lipstick.) So it must be the Canadian.

I started to draw to mind all the Canadian celebrities I could think of and it was one gentleman after another. Alex Trebek, Leonard Cohen, Paul Anka, Dan Aykroyd, Michael Cera, John Candy, Lorne Michaels, Leslie Nielson, Donald Sutherland. Naturally, I could go on. But they all seem to have a certain quality that I can only attribute to their collective Canadianness. They all seem nice, proper, well mannered, mildly fashionable and pleasant. They do seem to lack a certain degree of coolness. But that really isn’t the mark of a gentleman. They’re not the type of guys you’d want to get drunk with exactly, but the kind of guys you’d like to go on a fishing trip with or even have take your wife out to a movie while you’re on a long business trip. Heck, even the Will Ferrell impersonation of Alex Trebek is a gentleman. They’re completely unflappable.

Canada must be the ideal breeding ground for gentlemen. Perhaps not the most debonair gentleman. Maybe a little on the goofy or outdoorsy side, but top notch gentlemen none the less ‘eh.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Gentleman Sport | Racquetball

Joe Sobek, a pro tennis player, gets into handball and suddenly has a revelation. He takes the games of squash, handball and paddleball and combines them into a new sport. So at the Greenwich YMCA in 1950 he put forth into the world the sport of paddle rackets. OK, so Joe wasn’t great at naming sports, but he sure knew how to create them.

Racquetball, as it would eventually be called, is the ideal sport for a gentleman to pick up. The way I see it, there are three main reasons to engage in sport. 1) competition 2) exercise 3) social interaction. Racquetball satisfies all of them with the most balance and efficiency. For instance, it would be nice to play a team sport like baseball. But then you need to coordinate the schedules of a dozen or more people, not to mention the space and equipment requirements. Then there’s casual sports like bowling and golf. They’re highly social and easy to schedule. But they’re not exactly high level aerobic exercise. That leaves us with racquet sports. Tennis is nothing to shake a stick at, but unless you plan on employing a team of chasers, it’s going to get kind of slow. Plus, if you don’t have a court in your back yard, or a really loud speaking voice, it’s not great for mixing in conversation. If you find a squash court somewhere or know anyone who is willing to play handball that speaks English, call me. That leaves us with good old American made racquetball.

My new gym has a racquetball court. My wife, my buddy Ryan and I have been taking full advantage. We broke down and bought brand new racquets. It gets fierce, it moves fast, and you get an hour long sweaty workout without having to become a treadmill zombie or having to commit yourself to a rec league. I feel obligated to warn you that it’s a little dangerous. Protective eye wear is a bit more than suggested. But the best part, as far as I’m concerned is that you occupy a sound proof box. You never have to chase after a ball. And you can enjoy the private conversational benefits of golf, the intensity of basketball and the sophistication of tennis.

Here’s a pretty clear explanation of the rules.

The one big flaw is, like in tennis, there is a lot of room for disputes. But since this is a game for gentlemen, that really shouldn’t be much of a concern.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ode to my Master Lock 1500

You are solid and substantial. You are shiny but plain. You are a simple machine that holds only one secret. You are named after the 1500 possible combinations you could have. But you only have one for me. I have a foolproof mnemonic device for remembering it, involving a simple mathematical equation containing football numbers and birthdays. That is what gives you a personal feel.

Of course, it would have been even nicer to have been able to choose your combination. But if I can't choose your secret code, I'm glad that I can choose where you're from. Made in the U.S.A., Milwaukee to be precise. That makes me feel good. A padlock manufactured in Milwaukee. It sounds as good as hardened steel high tech boron double ball bearing lock shackle, reinforced stainless steel outer case, fully recessed bolt cutter resistant dial and high security combination. Just saying it makes my nipples resemble your corrugated dial knob.

Sometimes I like to imagine that you are my personal little secret service agent. You stay clipped to my bag, waiting to be called into duty. To keep guard over my money and cell phone while I work out and take a shower. One day you may be called on to keep the back of a rental truck closed. Or you may be asked to keep luggage, a tool box or a storage unit secure. Maybe one day you'll accompany one of my children to a sports camp or be retired to a rarely used tool shed. But as long as I can remember your secret code, our bond will be as strong as your hardened steel 3/4 inch shackle.

Photo posted on Flickr by Reggiesgirl

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Stand Fast in the Ranks!

From young gentleman Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations to interstellar gentleman Obi Wan Kenobi, you’d be hard pressed to find a better canvas for the filmed version of a gentleman than Sir Alec Guiness.

Something of a chameleon, he was fit to play such famed gentleman as King Charles I, Benjamin Disraeli, Prince Albert, Prince Feisal, Marcus Aurelius, Pope Innocent III, and Sigmund Freud. Though he could dress the scoundrel with the best of them. See: Fagin, Jacob Marley, Professor Marcus (original Ladykillers) and even Adolf Hitler.

Though, my favorite of his turns as an actor is a character that is perhaps gentlemanly to a fault. His Colonel Nicholson plays opposite William Holden’s Commander Shears and Sessue Hayakawa’s Colonel Saito in the masterfully filmed Bridge on the River Kwai. If you’ve never seen it and still want to consider yourself a man, don’t hesitate.

Without ruining the movie for you, Colonel Nicholson is the consummate officer and gentleman (eat your heart out Richard Gere). And the contrast of his ideals to that of his counterparts is both inspiring and tragic. “Madness!, Madness!”. He is a man who will uphold the highest level civility and code to no end, perhaps at the cost of pragmatism. While Shears, perhaps self serving, recognizes where code fails it's own purpose. In fact, my concept of a modern gentleman borrows equally from Nicholson and Shears, trying to take the best qualities of each character. Hopefully forming a man who does what needs to be done and does it right.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Birthday gift highlights

I've been using a half decent all purpose back pack for carrying stuff to work and the gym. In many ways it was almost the ideal bag. It was high quality, sturdy, and sporty. It had a pocket and a half for every one of my needs. It had a Miller High Life patch in the center and was holding up very well. The problem is that it didn't exactly scream gentleman.

My wife gave me this messenger bag from J. Crew. It's slightly less multi-functional. But it's a 1000% cooler. And it works much better with a sport coat and tie. I've read that a messenger bag is better for bike commuting than a back pack. It's a little hard to comprehend, but I did suffer from a lot of upper back pain. One hidden benefit to switching to the more genteel bag is being forced to pack more efficiently. Leaving more items in my locker at work and adding more items to my shower bag. The crutch of having a million pouches and pockets was causing me to seriously over pack.

My mom gave me these wool fingerless winter gloves from Urban Outfitters. They have button down mitten flaps and can unfold for more wrist coverage. I'm looking forward to putting them to work. I have one set of gloves that I wear for jogging, but they are about 30% duct tape and I'm eager to put them into more limited use.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Seven Crowns

Whiskey and I didn't always get along. We first hooked up when I was too young to appreciate and handle her. A few feverish encounters spelled bad news, both in the short term and over the long haul. Even the smell of her perfume would upset my stomach. But time changes things. We get older and wiser and our needs change. I needed to feel the effects of alcohol without consuming 1000 calories of suds. And I needed to avoid the slip 'n slide that gin, tonic and lime create. Typically leaving me wet, bruised and face down in the yard. Wine is fine, but it's impractical. Plus it often causes more yawning and more hangover than I'd prefer. The logical solution was to dig up whiskey's phone number and give it one more try. If it was going to work this time, the terms had to be just right. I needed to find out where she was coming from and bring out the best in her. I'd also have to man up and muscle through the initial awkwardness.

First my friend Sam the bartender clued me in on how to approach her. A heap of ice, a splash of water, pour and let it soak in. Another sage, Rob, provided me with info on regional distinctions and shared his preferences. First we toured Canada. It had it's ups and downs. I enjoyed Mist and V.O. but wasn't too keen on Crown Royal or Windsor. Scotland was a frightening endeavor. Beyond being overwhelmed by all the ins and outs, my first couple samples were considerably less than enjoyable. They ranged from kerosene to butane. On the other hand, the tastes of Ireland were a pure joy. And I'm sure I'll pay some further visits. Jameson, Bushmills, Clontarf: all enjoyable. But despite my Irish heritage, I thought to myself, buy American. Unfortunately, the land of Dixie was worse than the land of Scotts. Every encounter with bourbon tasted like Jefferson Davis' revenge.

Then we found eachother. It was the bar in my in-law's basement. An opened, but barely touched bottle of Seagram's Seven Crown Blended American Whiskey suddenly called out to me. Naturally, I'd seen one before, but truthfully, I was never sure that the first 7 in a 7&7 was even whiskey. I thought it might have been Gin or Vodka. I haven't had occasion to mix it with 7-up, then again I don't think I've seen a 7-up in forever. But with a little water and a lot of ice it's smooth and flavorful. And for the price, I don't know if you can beat it. I think I'll put it up there with Tanqueray as my stock choice. I find comfort in the fact that it's considered simply whiskey. It's not Kentucky this or double malted, aged, Russian, what-have-you. Just blended American whiskey. Like rock and roll as opposed to death metal, emo-core, synth-pop, or art punk. Seagrams Seven is the Jimi Hendrix of whiskey.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

An Odd Jacket

Most people use the terms blazer, sport coat, jacket, and suit coat interchangeably. In fact, as I was trying to find clear distinctions, I came across different definitions from various reputable on-line sources. Here’s what I’ve surmised:

Like in biological classification Jacket is the order. It’s a tailored article of clothing with sleeves, a collar, and 2 or 3 buttoned up from the waist. It’s worn over a shirt and is distinct from a waistcoat, overcoat, and mackinaw. It can have different arrangements of pockets and vents (the slits in the back). But the overall shape and usage is pretty consistent for the two main families.

Those would be Suit Jacket and Odd Jacket. The difference is that the former has a matching pair of pants and perhaps a waistcoat. The genus Tuxedo Jacket fits under that classification. As well as the jacket of most military dress uniforms. While an odd jacket can be mixed with different pants.

Under the odd jacket family is the two major Genuses. Blazers and Sport Coats. Here’s where the confusion starts. Basically, a blazer is a solid color and has brass buttons. Originally styled after naval uniform jackets, they are primarily used in a semi-formal fashion. Often in conjunction with a school or private club, sometimes featuring a crest. But it’s very common for them to be generic. They’re more formal than a sport coat but less formal than a suit. A sport coat, on the other hand, generally features a pattern like houndstooth, plaid, stripes, checks, herringbone, etc. Or they can be made of a substantially textured material like tweed, corduroy or linen. A suit jacket and a sport coat may be very similar, but when worn with the rest of the suit they are considerably more formal.

More unique species of sport coat include shooting jackets, hacking jackets, continental jackets, smoking jackets, etc. The common thread is that they are meant for activity and are very much considered to be casual. For example, a navy blue jacket could be mistaken for any of the above, but clues like buttons, pants, material, and even the occasion will tell you whether it’s a suit coat, blazer of sport coat. Either way, a jacket is a must. They go a long way in distinguishing a gentleman.

Notice the level of formality that Jimmy exhibits with each jacket.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

On the Right Track

I popped in to the dry cleaner on my way to the gym this morning. A car pulled up next to me at almost the exact same time. A gentleman hopped out and got to the door just before I did. The girl knew who he was and pulled up his account. He laid out a pile of shirts. He said "Heavy starch, folded, and I'll pay for them now". She said "Wednesday OK?". He nodded and left.

What struck me, beyond the obvious fact that he has all of his shirts laundered, was his look. He was at least 60 years old, lean, average height. I noticed that he was wearing the exact same pair of Bill's Khakis jeans that I had on. They were even cuffed like mine. He had on dark leather boots, a squared off leather jacket, a tweed cap, and a patterned scarf that looked like it came from the back of my grandparent's closet, only cool. He had a bushy gray mustache, a soul patch and extremely short gray hair. And to top it off, he had on brown, oversized, thick framed glasses. The only thing missing was a pipe and a pure bread Irish Setter. Which might have both been in the car for all I know.

It made me feel like I was on the right track. However coincidental it might have been, I was going to a specific dry cleaner at precisely the same time as a local class "A" gentleman. At the very least, it was a very this-guy-knows-what-I'm-taking-about moment. And it was kind of inspiring.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Thrifty Ties

Here are some of the awesome trad ties I scored at various thrift shops around town. Most of the thrill is in the hunt. There will be several dozen ties hanging together or stuffed in a bin. 99% of them are hideous. And sometimes in the thicket of stained polyester it will be hard to spot a quality tie. You almost have to unfocus your eyes like those magic 3D puzzles. I find it helpful to do several passes. I'll go through all of them just looking for stripes. Then I'll do a paisley or pattern pass. Then suddenly one will jump out at me.

It's completely rewarding and relatively risk free. I don't think I paid more than $1.50 for each of these. Some came as cheap as 25¢. Considering that you can drop an easy $50 on a strikingly similar tie from a fine clothier, it's kind of amazing. Though, it's not out of the question to find yourself sifting through a hundred ties and coming up completely empty.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Keep It Down

There's a whole litany of basic gentleman manners. Everyone is familiar with the majority of them. I don't see the need to go into holding the door for people and saying please and thank you. But there's a good set of more subtle guidelines that I think go a long way in distinguishing a true gentleman from a dude demonstrating good manners to impress his girlfriend's parents.

A good place to start is your mouth. Of course, you shouldn't spit. And if you can help it, you shouldn't curse or swear either. But perhaps more important than that, a gentleman never raises his voice. And it goes beyond keeping your cool in an argument. Any variety of shouting or yelling is unbecoming a gentleman.

I've always found it to be extremely annoying when someone equates louder with funnier as they attempt to joke around. Even shouting across the street to get someone's attention can seem downright vulgar. Imagine a football coach or baseball manager watching the action, drawing up strategy in his mind, then signaling it in. Then imagine the same guy shouting at an referee or umpire or berating one of his players. It's not unual. But it's extremely ungentlemanly. Even in a loud enviroment like a concert. People don't talk during a symphony. They shouldn't converse in the middle of a Kings of Leon concert either.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Slippers House Shoes

I've got a very Mr. Rogers shoe routine going. I put on sneakers in the morning and change into a pair of leather clogs when I get to work. When I get home at the end of the day, I go strait to the house shoes. I've only really gotten in the habit recently, but I'm totally hooked. I don't like to use the word slippers. It makes me think of fairy tales. Plus the term house shoe makes more sense anyway. Especially when I wear slip on shoes at the office. The house shoe kind of becomes a necessity of gentleman life. I mean, you can't spend your evenings walking around in your socks and you don't want to be tracking dirt all over your carpet either.

They offer a good deal of flexibility too. I can take out the trash or grab the paper. I can put my feet up on the couch. I've worn them for a dinner party and Christmas morning. I've worn them to pick up my step son from basketball practice and once to the grocery store. That's when I discovered that they do have some limitations. In my opinion, the ideal house shoe should feel like mittens on your feet but look like you can almost wear them to work on a casual Friday.

I've had this pair for a long time. So I have kind of a sentimental attachment to them. I thought about getting a pair of leather moccasins or a fancy pair of slippers. Maybe even a pair that looks like little boat shoes. But these are such a good balance, I'll think I stick with them.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gentleman Glossary | Clothing

Here are a few terms from the realm of dress that have entered my vocabulary since this project began. I almost feel comfortable using them in regular conversation without feeling like a prick.

Bespoke [adj] (of goods, esp. clothing) made to order: a bespoke suit

Foulard [noun] a thin, soft material of silk, with a printed pattern. Used typically for ties and handkercheifs.

Herringbone [noun/adj] an arrangement or design consisting of columns of short parallel lines, with all the lines in one column sloping one way and all the lines in the next column sloping the other way. Used esp. in the weave of cloth.

Madder [noun/adj] a dye from an Asian plant that when applied to silk material creates a dusty muted appearance. A classic English madder silk tie.

Oxford [noun] 1. a type of lace-up shoe with a low heal. 2. a heavy cotton cloth chiefly used to make shirts. Oxford cloth button down

Poplin [noun] a plain-woven fabric, typically a lightweight cotton, with a corded surface.

Sartorial [adj] of or relating to tailoring, clothes, or style of dress

Tartan [noun] a woolen cloth woven in one of several patterns of plaid. Esp. of a design associated with a particular Scottish clan.

Tweed [noun] a rough-surfaced woolen cloth, typically of mixed flecked colors. Originally produced in Scotland.

Twill [noun] a fabric so woven as to have a surface of diagonal parallel ridges.

Worsted [noun/adj] a fine smooth yarn spun from combed long-staple wool. • Fabric made from such yarn, have a close-textured surface with no nap: a worsted suit

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tailor Made Lessons

It seems like ages ago that I bought a few pair of pants at the Bill’s Khakis factory seconds sale. And I’ve been sitting on two pair of sweet thrift shop finds for an equally long while. I needed to have the pants hemmed and a pair of sport coats and ties pressed and dry cleaned before I could officially work them into the new wardrobe.

On the way to work, both bike and drive, is Mt. Penn’s The Modern Tailor. I’d never noticed it before I started this experiment, despite the large neon sign and the fact that I’d passed it several hundred times. I liked the idea of staying local and was looking forward to the opportunity for a new gentlemanly experience more than anything.

Although he calls his business the Modern Tailor. This guy is 100% old school. He’s a stout Italian character named Felix. In each of my three interfaces with him, he never missed an opportunity to complain about his multitude of physical ailments and he was always wearing shorts with suspenders, in the middle of winter by the way.

I wasn’t entirely pleased with the overall experience. It cost a little more than I had hoped, took a little longer than I imagined and the final result was unspectacular. But he did clean the ties for free and I learned a few lessons about going to the tailor that I believe will prove to be worth every penny paid.

1. Trust the tailor’s recommendations. - He asked if I wanted cuffs, as if it were a given. I balked and I regret it. From now on my tailored pants will be cuffed.

2. Tailoring is serious business. - Go strong or go to TJ Maxx. If your going to have something made or altered, you better be willing to drop major coin and be patient. Tailored clothing is the opposite of casual on many levels.

3. Fit is foremost. - As a recovering shlub, it seemed like a big enough step to start caring about what kind of clothes I wore. Trying them on before buying them was not a natural instinct. Furthermore, it’s been a total revelation to discover the importance of how something hangs, sits, and creases. It’s something of a Pandora’s box. The more I pay attention to men’s fashion, the more I understand that a proper cut has a lot more to do with how good clothing looks than color, texture, or even style. The shop was cluttered with all variety of ugly clothing. But when I started to notice similar items on old men about town, if it fits right, almost anything works. Plaid pants here I come.

Right now I have at least two sport coats I need cleaned and another pair of pants to have altered. I’m still weighing my options. My father-in-law knows a guy that used to be a big time tailor who since retired and does a little out of his house. I’m interested in checking out a different dude as well as comparing them both to a chain dry cleaner, for perspective. Down the road, I’d like to get a shirt custom made and eventually a whole suit. But I’ll probably have to do some saving up as well as a load more research. One thing’s for sure, now that I have a better grasp on the whole picture, I’m going to be taking a much more deliberate approach to attaining new clothing. Which is what I was hoping for all along.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Franklin Baker's Dozen

When he was 20 years old, Benjamin Franklin developed and sought to follow a set of 13 virtues. He would focus on one at a time for a week each. It seems like a heck of a plan. A system for gradual self improvement that leaves room to whore it up during "Industry" week.

1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

9. MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.

11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.

13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

It reminds me of a grown up version of the Boy Scout Law - "A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent." Just a little reworked and including the additional mention of handling your liquor.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

These boots are made for... gentlemen

In addition to upgrading my style and behavior, I'd like all of my purchases going forward to be about value and permanence. I'm trying to buy top quality, Western made products. One thing I was in dire need of was boots. The eight year old, dog chewed, worn tread, Target brand boots were not cutting it. So I did some research and settled on Red Wings. They're made in Michigan and they're very high quality. You can't buy them online and only select retailers carry them.

Luckily, there's an actual Red Wing store not far from my house. It's nestled in a shopping center I'd been going to since I was a little kid, but I never noticed it. Or if I had, I never got curious enough to check it out. The place is something of an oddity. A little A-frame with a hunting cabin motif and three employees for every customer. The staff was very knowledgeable and helpful. And as I sat in a cushy leather chair waiting to get sized, I realized I would never buy shoes anywhere else for the rest of my life.

I chose the Classic Lifestyle IIs in copper. They had to be ordered to the store. I asked for gift cards for Christmas and they helped limit the $220 damage. But I figure it will be well worth it twenty-five years from now when I'm shoveling snow because all my kids are out of the house.

Friday, January 9, 2009

If | Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dinner Napkins

This may seem like a no brainer to most of you, but it's something that I always end up having trouble with.

When sitting down to a meal, the very first thing you do is unfold your napkin an lay it open on your lap. Though you may be tempted to stuff a corner down the front of your shirt collar, don't. Also, don't use it to wipe your face or blow your nose. It may be used to dab around your mouth for the transition between eating and drinking. You shouldn't use it to clean up a spill or a mess either. The idea being that, as a gentleman, you're going to eat very proficiently and your not going to need a napkin for anything more than dabbing crumbs from the corners of your mouth. That should help you remember to lay it on your lap at the outset instead of unwrapping it when you need to use it, like I often do. As well as being able to return it a shake away from the way you got it. Imagine that you are a trapese artist and your napkin is the safety net.

For extra credit, if you're getting up from the table with the intention of returning. Place your napkin to the left of your plate and push in your chair. If the host places his napkin to the left of his plate, this signifies that the meal is over. You can lay it draped from the center anywhere else to signify that your finished with your meal. But don't refold it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Bob Newhart Show

In reccent years I've developed a distaste for traditional sit-coms. They seem to have gotten very stale and predictable. But worse than that, the majority of them tend to gravitate toward the lowest common denominator of entertainment. You can't even get one off the ground these days without a selection of boorish or manic characters. The idea of a gentleman on TV is almost a foregone conclusion. You have to jump back pretty far in time to get funny and genteel in one place. Thank goodness for the internet and thank goodness for Bob Newhart.

Take a little time to enjoy Dr. Robert Hartley, PhD. in mild, dry, reserved action on The Bob Newhart Show courtesey of

It's aslo currently running on the AmericanLife Network on Monday nights at 10:30 and is available through Netfix.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Introduction to Style

Here’s the thing about style. You have to make it your own. There are rules and guides to follow, but ultimately it’s going to be about what makes you look good. You’ll need to consider your occupation and other regular activities, but you’ll also have to let the shape of your body, skin tone, and personality dictate the finer points. When it comes to colors and cuts, trends come and go. A tie made in the seventies, for instance, is unmistakable. It’s important not to get too caught up in trends, you’ll never be able to keep up over the long haul. Also, and this is my personal opinion, you're not going to find your style in just one store. Ralph Lauren knows his business, but he’s not designing a look for you in particular. You can outfit yourself in his wares, but I wouldn’t do it exclusively. In fact, I make it a point to mix up labels as much as possible.

Gentlemen come in all shapes and sizes. They also occupy numerous statuses and jobs. So there really can’t be a formal guideline for his attire. Establishing your style will take some careful consideration. First, consider your surroundings and duties. Have a good look at men in similar circumstances and pick out what you admire and what you don’t. Use that as a guide for dressing yourself. You’ll also have to familiarize yourself with the delicate science of matching articles of clothing and accessories. But first you’ll have to figure out what specific cuts and textures do for you. Basically, you want to use a little trial and error as well as opinion fishing to establish the type of shirt, sweater, pants, patterns, and such make you look your best. For instance: Do pleated pants work for you? Do you need a fuller cut? Should you favor vertical stripes? How about v-necks? Think about things like cuffs, collars, color pallets. Your clothes should speak for you. They should reflect your personality but most importantly make an all around good and proper impression.

An easy place to start is shirt collars. Seek out the help of a tailor or clerk at a fancier store. Try out several different collar and see which one works best for you. Most of your decision is going to be based on the shape of your face, chin and neck. But you’ll also be able to factor in your line of work as well as level of personal flair. Pictured left are a variety of collars from Brooks Brothers. There are many other more dramatic collar styles. Most of them fall well into the trend category and others I would consider unbecoming for a gentleman. But your style is not going to be the same as mine. I prefer the Londoner. It’s becoming for my shape and goes well with a substantial tie knot like a full or half windsor. Of course I’m no stranger to a soft button down. The occasion has a lot to do with the choice as well. Above all, own your look. Demonstrate that you know how to dress and that you do it with purpose and style.

Monday, January 5, 2009

... thank the knife.

My wife gave me a pocket knife for Christmas. Not just any knife, actually, a Vitcrinox, Swiss Army, Boy Scout Huntsman. I've wanted one for a while. Naturally, when I was a boy scout, I had a pocket knife and it was the subject of much fascination and heavy use. I had the four blade, standard issue knife. It had a cutting blade, awl, flat-head screwdriver/bottle opener and a can opener. I gave a very similar, Victrinox Swiss Army Soldier knife to my groomsmen when I got married. It was all a boy needed in a knife, but naturally we all longed for the full on Swiss army knife. It seemed, in those days, that the more tools and gadgets the better.

Nowadays Victrinox, the original manufacturer of the Swiss army knife, offers several knives with different feature configurations for different purposes. There's one for mechanics, computer techs, campers, climbers, fishermen, etc. They each trade a few particular features for others. Tools like a corkscrew, magnifying glass, file, saw, LED light, and mini-screwdriver are compiled and omitted for the specific type of owner and his typical function needs.

As a former Eagle Scout, I'm well versed in the finer points of pocket knife use. But I've been totally amazed at how useful one can be in day to day grown up life. It's come in handy on numerous occasions in a wide variety of ways. I've used to cut tags off of new clothes, unscrew battery covers, change the diaper genie, pick food out of my teeth, poke a hole in a dried up glue bottle, and open plenty of bottles and cans. The only tools I haven't had a chance to take advantage of are the tweezers and the saw but I'm sure it's only a matter of time. I carry it everywhere and take a lot of pleasure in showing it off whenever I put it to use. I'll just have to remember to leave it at home the next time I'm boarding a plane or going into a courtroom.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Money, it's gotta be the clip.

Over the years I've owned many wallets. I remember them all fondly. There was the oversized gray one I bought at a yard sale while visiting my grandparents in Chicago. There's the black leather number that was a bonus prize for winning the week 1 NFL pool in high school. Some were gifts, some were purchases of necessity when their predecessor became less than functional. They all had one thing in common They all got fat. Stuffed with library cards and grocery club cards, receipts and random business cards. At least once a year I'd have to do a complete housecleaning and somehow it would still be overstuffed.

I was recently an usher in by buddy's wedding. As a gift, he gave us monogrammed money clips. We decided that morning that we were all going to put them into action and I've never looked back. I can't say enough about using a money clip. It's simple, elegant, classy, sophisticated and above all practical. I stuff my license and primary credit card on one side and a folded wad of bills in the other. I keep other useful cards and slips in a box on my dresser or in the glove box of my car. And if I have a particularly important note or slip, I'll keep it stuffed inside the cash. That way I also have a regular reminder to take care of whatever it's for.

The best part of the money clip is pulling it out. The act of paying for something or giving a tip becomes instantly classier and getting change back is all the simpler. It makes using a traditional wallet seem almost cumbersome. Sure, there are some disadvantages to not having a tiny briefcase in your back pocket. You don't always have all those odds and ends at your disposal. But I feel the trade off is well worth it. For my money, (no pun intended) it's the way to go.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Lord Chesterfield: Exemplary Gentleman, Beer

Philip Dormer Stanhope, better known as Lord Chesterfield, was an impressive gentleman. Born in London in 1694, he was a successful salesman and polician. He is best known for being a man of letters. He composed a series of letters to his beloved son on The Fine Art of becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman

They are available online as part of the Gutenberg Project at While perusing them, I found many arguments for ending this blog. For it would appear that a blog about being a gentleman is not very gentlemanly, according to Chesterfield. Though, you might consider the series of letters to his son to be a similar pursuit. But I digress. I intend to use his guidance to steer the tone and form of this blog.

Here's a few quotes:

"Custom has made dancing sometimes necessary for a young man; therefore mind it while you learn it, that you may learn to do it well, and not be ridiculous, though in a ridiculous act."

"Good breeding is the result of good sense, some good nature, and a little self-denial for the sake of others."

"I am very sure that any man of common understanding may, by culture, care, attention, and labor, make himself what- ever he pleases, except a great poet. "

"In seeking wisdom thou art wise; in imagining that thou hast attained it - thou art a fool."

"Learning is acquired by reading books, but the much more necessary learning, the knowledge of the world, is only to be acquired by reading men, and studying all the various facets of them. "

"Regularity in the hours of rising and retiring, perseverance in exercise, adaptation of dress to the variations of climate, simple and nutritious aliment, and temperance in all things are necessary branches of the regimen of health."

Not only is Lord Chesterfield the foremost expert on being a gentleman, he's also an outstanding beer. Yuengling, America's oldest brewery, which happens to be right up the road from my hometown in Pottsville, PA (I've taken the tour of the brewery more than once) produces a handful of different beers. The most famous one is Yuengling Lager. Perhaps least known and my personal favorite is Lord Chesterfield Ale. It's a great all around beer. It's flavorful, crisp, malty but smooth with a slight herbal bitterness fitting the English style by which it's brewed. It's definitely worth the extra hunting at the distributer. It's even worth a special request. If you're seeking the most gentlemanly of beers, you might as well start with one named after one.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Not to be confused with...

As I try to nail down exactly what I would consider a modern gentleman to be, I keep getting dangerously close to clasifications I very much want to avoid. They've become the sort of borders of my definition. The idea of a gentleman lies in the space between the following characters. (In an opposite Jeff Foxworthy (You might not be a gentleman if...) style

Metrosexual:(aka Pretty Boy) A gentleman takes care of himself. He takes pride in his appearance and is well appointed. But he maintains his masculinity. I'll put it this way, a woman might desire to put on an article of a gentleman's clothing, but never the other way around. For instance, no skinny jeans, fancy scarves or cute anything. A gentleman might go in for a steam and a rubdown. But he wouldn't be caught dead getting a facial or having his hair dyed.

Dandy:(aka Preppy) Specific to things related to boys, and manners befitting a prat. Much of the exploits of a gentleman might be easily confused with that of a prep, (Sailing, tennis, cocktails, dinner parties, etc.) but there is an important distinction. A gentleman sails a boat, not rides a yacht. A gentleman plays golf or tennis, not hangs around a country club. A gentleman host a party, not crashes one. Also, If you can instantly identify the manufacturer of his clothing or if that fact is obsucred by the sweater around his shoulders, he's not a gentleman.

Crunchy: A gentleman is into hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, etc. He might fancy a beard and a thick flannel shirt. But he draws the line at pony tails and Birkenstocks. A gentleman knows how to start a fire, but he's not likely to "burn one", if you catch my drift. If he's wearing a wool cap indoors or no shoes outdoors, he's not a gentleman. Furthermore, he's not likely to enjoy incense, drum circles, or anything else associated with being a hippie.

Slick:(aka Guido or Greaseball) A gentleman likes to dress in a shirt and tie, as long as they didn't come in a box together. In fact most suits off the rack, shiny clothing and gold jewelry are right out. And though he grooms himself well, he refrains from dousing himself in cologne, hair gel and self tanner. See also: faux distressed jeans, pointy sideburns, or crazy printing on a shirt. If you can smell him before you see him, he's not a gentleman.

Shlub: The largest group of non-gentlemen. The world if full of them. They're grown respectable men of serious manner and life experience. In fact, you might easily confuse them with gentleman if it weren't for a few key signs. Jean shorts, a ski jacket (not skiing), or pretty much any article of clothing that is completely unstylish or available at Wal-mart or JC Penny. See also: cell phone belt holsters, sweatpants, fanny packs, random ill-formed baseball caps, etc. If his wife or mother picked out his clothing absent his presence, he's probably not a gentleman.

The idea of a gentleman lies somewhere between these concepts. He might share habits and tastes with these types, but he's nevertheless distinct from them. I'd also like to point out that sharing a few traits with the above types does not neccesarily place you in that category. There is plenty of space between those designations where you'd probably chart. I'd consider myself to be somewhere in that space. Not quite a gentleman yet, but hopefully not one of these either.

Take note that a gentleman may be close in relation to each of these types, but never crosses the threshold. Also, though not pictured in this diagram, each of the types that occupy more than one category also belong to a larger group labeled Douche Bag.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

English Breakfast

First thing’s first, a gentleman eats breakfast.

A child or spinster might subsist on a milky bowl of cereal or a pop tart. Perhaps a yokel on vacation might be fit to dine on pancakes or waffles for breakfast. Or if your in a complete rush, nobody would fault you for multitasking with a muffin or bagel in your non-steering hand. And of course, there is a simple elegance to a bowl of porridge accompanied by a banana or half grapefruit. If you happen to be a trucker, or just plan on spending the good part of your day sitting down, there’s nothing wrong with scrambled eggs, Canadian bacon, hash browns, a short stack and a bottomless cup of coffee. But you sir, Mr. aspiring gentleman, will require an English breakfast.

Virtually every town and region of the British isles has a different definition of a full English breakfast, but they all have a few things in common and leave enough room for you to make it your own. The foundation includes fried eggs, bacon and fried potatoes (either wedges or a fried disk of mashed potatoes). Then you’ll need some variety of sausage matter: links, a patty, scrapple, black pudding, corned beef hash, whatever floats your boat. As long as it’s meat and it’s shiny. Then the key to it’s charm is the addition of something unexpected. You can include fried tomato slices, baked beans, kippers, fried mushrooms or bubble & squeak (leftover dinner vegetables). Basically, it's whatever your arteries desire. Then there’s toast, but here’s where it gets even more interesting. You don’t use a toaster. You’re essentially going to butter some bread and place it in a frying pan like a one-sided grilled cheese sandwich. The main guideline is that it should look disgusting. In fact, the worse it looks, the better.

Englsih Breakfast

The important thing to remember is that it's good for you. I know we’ve all been trained to think a fist full of dried granola and skim milk is an ideal breakfast. But the fact is, a sturdy breakfast that’s high in calories, carbs and fat is the best thing for you. Save the extra sodium, eating a breakfast like this will kick start your metabolism and enable your body to turn calories into energy rather inefficiently, so the majority of what you eat throughout the day won’t end up as stored fat. Plus, you end up with plenty of usable energy in the middle of your day, the time when your most likely to need it. Trust me on this one. Besides, I’m not recommending a heaping portion off each of the above items. One egg, two strips, one slice, a link or two, and go with the tomato and fish and suddenly you’ve got a completely balanced meal. The best part is that by the time lunch rolls around, you won’t be hungry enough to eat more than a salad or bowl of soup.