Fashion vs. Style: Bill Cunningham @ NYT

Bill Cunningham’s weekly fashion polyptych, “On the Street”, runs in the Sunday New York Times. This week he focuses on men, and a contrast is apparent to me. There are many shots of young men wearing the “sockless shoes, short narrow trousers” outfit that is currently in vogue. This look is not my cup of tea (and it probably shouldn’t be a geezer’s cup of tea) but to each his own. It strikes me as fashion—popular now but gone tomorrow.

On the other hand, the dandy gentleman pictured above just oozes exudes style. This more traditional (but spiced up) look would have been as swank 70 years ago as it is today (and hopefully will be 70 years hence). What a dude.

Please, no flames! My opinion probably tilts this way due to advancing age. You young guys may feel differently. Check out the short video at the Times site and see what you think. I can’t find the published image itself, but if I do I’ll update.

Update: The Dandy Portraits has posted the image.

Public service: a good beard trimmer.

I’m not sure how useful these “product review” posts are to the Tumblr community, but until I hear otherwise I’ll keep publishing them—though few and far between.

I’ve worn a beard for pretty much my entire adult life. Unless you’re into the Grizzly Adams or Jeremiah Johnson look, which I’m not (on myself anyway), a beard requires maintenance. And maintenance means trimming (as well as shaving the neck up to a neat and trim under-line). And trimming requires a trimmer (or scissors for the dexterous).

I’ve used everything from barber’s shears to beard-spicific trimmers. The barber’s shears are heavy, loud, corded, and need constant oiling and adjusting. Some “beard trimmers” worked out fine, especially the one with the built-in vacuum cleaner, but needed to be plugged in to recharge and were also a bit bulky.

Enter the Gillette Fusion ProGlide 3 in 1 Styler. This new gadget is the perfect beard trimmer for me. It’s small (you could easily fit one inside of a hot dog) and doesn’t require a cord (using a single AA battery instead).  It comes with the usual comb attachments which are used to regulate trimming to fixed lengths. Given the size of the trimmer (the blade width is a bit less than an inch) and the relatively shallow depth of the combs, it’s probably not optimal for a long, full-face beard. I think it’s perfectly suited to short (from five o’clock shadow to about 1/4”) partial (goatee, soul patch, etc.) beards.

The package also includes a fiddly device that attaches to the top of the trimmer for shaving. It’s simply a holder for the company’s 6-, 13-, or 48-blade cartridges (or whatever they’re making now). The idea being that you can shave and trim with one device. Being waterproof, you can rinse away the shaving cream and debris, remove the shaving blade, and switch directly to trimming. It strikes me as clumsy and more useful for selling expensive blade replacements than for efficient shaving—I tossed it and use my normal razor for shaving.

It’s easy enough to pick one up from your local Walgreens or CVS where they’ll be prominently display near the razor blades. Or, you can order from Amazon at a discount (link above from which I get no money).

A final bit of advice to you young guys with beards: periodically shave them off. This dose of wisdom is hard won. After many, many years of wearing a full beard I finally decided to see what I looked like without it (this in mid-life mind you). To my horror what I discovered underneath made me wish I could grow it back in a few minutes—jowls! I suspect that these inevitable artifacts of gravity would be easier to live with if one were introduced to them gradually—sudden exposure is a severe shock that should not be experienced by any man.

Book Review: “The Suit”

If, like me, you’re new to this whole “men’s style” thing, but have made the commitment to dress better and learn about how to do it well, you’re in luck. There is an abundance of information available to you, both printed, and on the Internet, that will help educate you. Blogs by the likes the The Silentist and Will contain oodles of information for you to read through. In addition to forums like Style Forum and Ask Andy, many guys on Tumblr will generously respond to your questions (e.g., again, The Silentist).

There are also many excellent books out there written by true experts: “Dressing the Man" (Flusser), “Gentleman" (Roetzel), “The Elegant Man" (Villarosa & Angeli), and many others by slightly less august authors.

Should you choose to take the time to read through this trove of information, and I recommend that you do, you will eventually find that there is what amounts to a canon of “rules” or “advice” for elegant dressing (suits, odd jackets, formal wear, etc.). This guidance is informed by history and focused on a more traditional approach to dress (though with no shortage of inducements to “flare” or “dandyism”). Adherence to this canon will ensure that, while you may not be the “hippest” of men, you will be stylishly turned out and will do yourself no overt harm.

What if you don’t have the time or inclination to dig through all this information and divine this canon for yourself (and again, I advise you to try and find some time for discovery)? In that case, if I had to recommend one source for you to use, it would be “The Suit" by Nicholas Antongiavanni.

In this small (5.5” x 7”, 240 pages including index and reference) and inexpensive (about $14 US) book, the author succinctly and concretely summarizes what I’d consider an undergraduate education in dressing well. He writes in the style of Machiavelli as a literary device—some may find this annoying but I enjoyed it—but the writing is, in general very clear and precise (the author is, buy now, well known to be a former speechwriter for US presidents). In fourteen chapters he covers much of what you need to know:

  • Body types, garments that flatter specific types, fit.
  • Suit silhouettes and their histories, garment quality, fabrics.
  • Shoes, quality, styles, construction, English vs. Italian, socks.
  • Shirts, fabrics, collar styles vs. neck types, fit, construction.
  • Formality vs. dandification.
  • Odd jackets and trousers.
  • Neckwear, silk, construction, knots, pins, bars.
  • Suspenders, pocket squares, cuff links, jewelry, vests.
  • Formal wear.
  • American tastes and the decline of the dandy.
  • A continuous exhortation to dress well and swim against the current.

To finish up, I’ll say that I like the author’s style—he is, simply put, an outstanding writer. I’ll leave you with a few quotes from the book. There are many more, lots of them I found quite funny while being educational.

Here he talks about men that “over coordinate”:

Above all, he eschews “outfits.” For outfits are for women. The well-dressed man never buys any garment that can be worn with only with one or few of his other garments, and holds in contempt pre-assembled combinations. Everything you buy should be wearable with most everything you already own. In addition to saving you money, this will make you more stylish, for part of style is knowing how to create different and interesting ensembles from a multitude of garments.

The following is a discussion of shirt colors:

Pink is underutilized by most men, who fear its effeminate connotations, but dandies know it is a smart accompaniment to a wide range of suitings—particularly gray, which it elevates from banker drab to the summit of style—and a marvelous background for a wide variety of ties, especially summer’s bold and colorful neckwear. Other useful colors yellow, the preppy hue par excellence, which works best in oxford button downs and with browns and tweeds; faint gray, a favorite among great dressers of the 1930s; cream, a more lively alternative to white; rare and dandified lavender; and the still-rarer sage green.

In this quote the author discusses the appropriateness of various suit colors:

Grey, blue, and brown are the great triumvirate of colors for men’s suitings—none but these should be worn. The only exceptions are olive and off-white, and these only in warm weather. The darker the color, the more formal the suit. Lighter shades go well with warmer weather, while darker shades are appropriate all year. Brown in any shade, from tan to chocolate to charcoal, is best worn during the day, as are lighter shades of blue and gray.

Likewise, for suit fabric patters:

As for patterns, solids are the most formal, followed by stripes, nailhead, and birdseye (tiny frequent dots on a darker background; nailhead is smaller and squarer), pic-and-pic (tiny, staggered diagonal lines, like miniature staircases), herringbone, windowpane, houndstooth, and glen plaid.

Downsides to the book? As I said, the literary device of writing in a Machiavellian voice may rub some readers the the wrong way. In the author’s own wordsI borrow certain literary devices from Machiavelli. One of those is a penchant for the occasional exaggeration.” Also, there are no educational illustrations or photographs (though the author’s writing is so descriptive that I didn’t miss them). As an alternative, for those that might prefer a similarly sized and priced ($10 US) book, may I recommend “Style and the Man" by Flusser (a condensation of information from his other, more lavishly illustrated, books).

Should you prefer listening to reading, there is an interview with the author in Humanities magazine and another interview, sourced from Pajamas Media.com, and published on YouTube.

Finally, the pick-and-pick suit under the book (in the photograph) will be the subject of a post of its own at some point (when I eventually fit into it).

Got straps?

Well, they’re not the svelte monks I’m denied by virtue of my wide feet. But, at least they have straps! These are Bexley Guilford boots that I picked up in Annecy during my Fall 2011 trip to France. My wife and I spotted their store on our march back to the hotel after doing some laundry. I tried them on and they seemed to fit well, so—impulse buy! They cost 129 euros plus 29 euros for cedar shoe trees.

Bexley doesn’t seem to sell in multiple widths, but do have different lasts for different models of shoes. These are supposedly built on a roomier last. This particular pair fits me pretty well. There is a slight hot spot on the right side but I can live with it.

The boots are Goodyear welted with a Danite (rubber) sole. I don’t know how well this sole will wear but I should be able to get them replaced when they wear out. In addition, it’s a better sole for winter wear here—we can get quite a bit of snow (not this year).

The shoes look to be well built (probably a tick below Allen Edmonds quality) and I like the way they look at the ends of my legs. Many of you guys will understand this: donning a nice pair of shoes, that you like like the look of, changes a mere walk into a stride.

dg6group asked: We really like your blog, good work! You should follow us too, I think you will like the type of pics. Best regards/ Dg6 Group

Wilco! Thanks for the note and the follow.

There are no slobs in France.

OK, this might be a bit of an overstatement. Perhaps this: There are few slobs in France. Or this: France—no flip flops allowed. Either way, based on an admittedly small sample, the French have it all over us Americans when it comes to dress. They just seem to care more. Especially the women. In Paris, of course, this is expected. But we visited smaller towns such as Carcassonne, Orange, Arles, Carpentras, and Annecy and in each of those towns, for the most part, it was the same: slender, elegant, and well-put-together women striding confidently down the street. Men too, were generally slender and neat. The first thing I saw when we returned to O’Hare in Chicago? Flip flop shod, pajama bottom & sweat shirt-wearing men and women shuffling to the gates. Not once did I see this in France.

What’s this got to do with anything? Well, it just gives me more motivation to continue my weight loss effort (how do they do it with such great food everywhere?) and an appreciation for all the folks in the blogosphere (and here on Tumblr) that are driving up our level of care.

This was one of many charming moments we experienced in France on our recent vacation. We were riding bikes along Lake Annecy when we saw these cows and stopped to listen to their serenade.

Unfortunately it’s time to come home from France. Chamonix mountains.

Believe it or not, I am not gaining weight in France.

A few updates before I head to France.

I’m off to France for vacation in a couple of weeks and wanted to provide some updates before I leave.

  1. Umm, weight gain. Yes, I have to be honest to my few, loyal, followers. I know many of you are wishing me well in my quest to lose weight but my discipline tanked over the summer. No excuses—I just fell off the wagon and put eight pounds back on. Ouch. Right to the belly too! Anyway, after I return from France I intend to hit it hard again and will keep you all posted. I joke with my wife that I stopped losing weight because I’m a perfect 44R (which I am…off the rack fits great) and she reminds me that there’s nothing perfect about 44R at my height!
  2. On those MTM trousers I ordered…well, welcome to New Mexico and the new economy. The store I ordered them from is having issues with its supplier and MTM orders are on hold. This smells like one of them is having business problems—not surprising in this climate. So, I’m investigating a new approach. I found a vendor in the UK, Bookster, which will make up a pair of MTM trousers for $200-ish depending on fabric. I ordered some samples of tweeds and flannels and may give this a try next fall.
  3. I’m really liking that $99 Paul Fredrick blazer I reviewed a while back. I wore it a couple of times on a recent business trip to DC. It has a nice stretchy feel to it that makes wearing it while working very comfortable. It’s also not to heavy of a fabric so I don’t heat up too much indoors. Also, wrinkles tend to hang out overnight. For $99 I like it quite a bit and will be taking it to France.

Speaking of France, I can’t wait for this vacation. I’ve been to Paris for work three times and really love the country and the people. This will be my wife’s first visit and we are traveling with another couple—some of our very best friends. We’re renting a car and visiting Normandy, Bordeaux, Provence, Lake Annecy, and Paris. All this in 16 days! Should be fun. I will attempt, attempt, to post a picture or two to this Tumblr blog. If any of you have any comments about the places we’re going, or France travel in general, I’d love to hear them. So, for tonight, bonne nuit.