One part Eastwood,
One part Astaire.
Add a dash of Bogart.
Shake, strain and enjoy.

Friday, April 30, 2010

GQ Follow Up: Products

I was asked to showcase a few products that I use during my interview for GQ's grooming study.

In my opinion the grooming market is over-saturated and tough to navigate - look at any shaving cream, shampoo or deodorant isle in your local CVS. It can be extremely overwhelming walking into a drug store (or frilly boutique) to make what should be a simple purchase. Consumer goods companies continue to over-segment and cannibalize their brands with no discernible differences or benefits in many cases. Part of the reason I use the following products are to a certain degree their uniqueness and/or affordability. I find having discriminating preferences helps take much of the guess work out of deciding. I am guided by advice and suggestions of those I read or whose opinions I value. I tend to be brand loyal but not to the extent of being close-minded. Once I find something I will stick with it until another intrigues me to the point of trial. My goal is simplicity as my decisive powers are better used elsewhere in life... like assembling a timeless wardrobe.

The One and Only: Old Spice Deodorant


The smell is intoxicating, mostly with nostalgia. The original scent of Old Spice will forever remind me of my father and the childhood embraces received after his nightly saunter through the door. Upon reaching the age when deodorant became a necessity, I didn't know that other brands existed. My grandfather and father use(d) Old Spice exclusively and I will also. Although I have branched out to a different scent you'd have an easier time convincing Steve Jobs to use a PC than you would me switching deodorant brands.

Full line of products at

Predictably Manly: Every Man Jack

Perhaps the best aspect of this brand is its relative simplicity - basic, inexpensive and effective. I recommend the Cedarwood scented body wash as it has a crisp rugged smell - somewhere between a soft musky aftershave and a sawdust covered carpenter's bench. Although my baby face is mostly free of hair, on the occasions that a clean up is in order, the shave lotion and cooling gel are quite refreshing. Both contain a hydrating element that leaves your face as smooth as the notes from Miles Davis's horn. And the application of the cooling gel tingles like a final slap in the face - but a good one.

Full line of products at

Back to the Bar: Dove for Men and Grandpa's Oatmeal Soap

Recently I decided to ditch the body washes, scrubbing loofahs and separate facial cleansers and return to a classic bar of soap. Dove's new men's line takes the emasculating aspects of femininity out of soap and leaves the beneficial (moisturizing) parts in play. The Deep Clean Body and Face Bar is exactly what I want in a soap - a strong, clean scent with a grainy texture to feel it working against the skin, without causing dryness and flaking. In addition, I was looking for something slightly more abrasive (think hotel soap) for post run sprucing. The answer - Grandpa's Old Fashion Oatmeal Soap. Too harsh for the face but a rugged, grity bar worth a good lather.

Both products available on

Best Kept Secret: Jack Black Blue Mark

We've all been in the elevator with THAT guy - you know the one - doused in AquaDiGio, PoloSport or *shudder* Drakar. Cologne should come with a hazmat symbol and be restricted - similar to driving... considered a privilege not a right. I spent almost a year looking for a signature scent. One that few others had or even knew about. Unfortunately, I found price to be inversely related to awareness. I sampled scents from Floris, Santa Maria Novella, and Bond No.9 but couldn't bring myself to spend upwards of $100 for a daily squirt of scented mist. At a respectably $65 Jack Black's Blue Mark is ideal. A huge departure from Aqua Velva but a significant step down from the likes of a Tom Ford Grey Vetiver. The Japanese juniper, ginger essence and watermint scent is light, crisp, understated, and not to mention seemingly under utilized. I have received many compliments and an equal number of furrowed brows when asked what I am wearing. "No, the actor Jack Black does not have his own cologne." You know what - nevermind, it sucks don't buy it... find your own.

Available at Sak's Fifth Avenue and at

Fancy but Worth It: Kiehl's

Perhaps my only grooming splurge - Kiehl's Facial Fuel Moisturizing No-Shine Lip Balm. It's hard to ignore the history of Kiehl's and a connection back to the days of apocatheries. Kiehl's has a storied past in New York, with its original flagship store squatting at the corner of 13th Street and 3rd Avenue since 1851. Ringing in at $9 a tube, the expense of this balm is quickly justified after a day of use. It's like a leather jacket for your lips - expensive yet tough against the elements.  While other cheap lip balms can actually dry your lips out, Kiehl's protects, heals and moisturizes.  You'll never want to go back to Chapstick again.

To learn more on the history of Kiehl's and all of their products visit

Magic Elixir: Lucky Tiger

Image: Hog Mountain

While perusing a favorite men's shop in Brooklyn, Hog Mountain (post to come) I was intrigued by their featured grooming brand Lucky Tiger. As you can see by the design, the product looks like a tonic that should be peddled by a mustached, cane twirling huckster atop a soapbox. I have no experience to date with their products but am eager to try at leas the face wash. I'll report back on relevant findings.

In the meantime, visit Lucky Tiger on the web for a preview of their product offerings.

Throw in a modest hair gel (when applicable), nail clippers, a toothbrush and razor - what more does a man really need?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hallowed Halls: My Own GQ & A


There was no question in my mind that I was going to live in New York at some point. Ever since my first visit as a scrawny youth I could feel the city taunting me, like a schoolyard bully picking a fight. I wasn't sure how it was going to happen, but it was destiny and I knew on my death bed I'd feel incomplete and beaten if I wussed out. In late 2005 I had had enough with the small ponds - I wanted the big sea. To be embraced and enveloped by the searing towers, crowded pavements and hurried lives of 'The City'. It wasn't so much a destination as a challenge. The ultimate test to see if a shy boy could become an independent man amidst constant temptation, callousness and entitlement.

I had two goals in mind as I drove my Nissan Frontier north on I-95: either weasel my way into a major advertising agency or the editorial euphoria that was GQ magazine. I was luckier than most who move here as I had already secured a job in the production department at a yacht magazine. I figured from this position I could easily catapult myself into one of my two dream jobs. Years later, with the death of print and a full on economic collapse, these pipe dreams have become as hard to obtain as a Tickle Me Elmo circa 1996.

A week ago today, one of my dreams was partially fulfilled. I was invited to the GQ offices to give my opinions and insights on men's grooming. A chance to pull back the curtain and see the might Oz. I frequently participate in online surveys and my New York location had made me an ideal candidate for an in-person interview. For the days leading up to my visit all I could think about was how I was going to wow them with my knowledge and insight to the point that they would offer me a job on the spot. That didn't happen, but it was an unmatched experience and a rare opportunity for which I am grateful.

I arrived at 4 Times Square at 5:15, dopp kit in hand and ready to wax prosaic on all matters grooming and style. They had been in contact via e-mail to fill me in on the process and what to expect. The half hour interview would be taped and consist of questions pertaining to men's grooming and how things have changed versus prior generations.

After checking in with security, I entered an elevator bound for the 9th floor. My fellow rider looked to be delivering a rack of high-end mercandise to one of the countless women's magazines that Conde Nast produces. He pressed his floor number with hurried intent. I glanced up to see that he was headed to none other than Vogue. This was already much different than the publishing offices I work in everyday.

I escaped on the 9th Floor, magnetically turning to my right as I exited. And there it was - the glass wall protecting the giant G and Q signage that adorns the editorial office's entrance. I felt the need to genuflect out of respect, but refrained feeling the evil eye of big brother's security reels keeping a watchful eye. This was my Mecca - the Louvre to an art student, St. Peter's to a Catholic, or the Chocolate Factory to Charlie Buckets… "Come with me, and you'll be, in a world of pure imagination…"

While staring at the cover blow ups on the wall and the leggy blondes that floated out from the Vanity Fair offices at the other end of the hall, a gentleman appeared from behind the glass doors and inquired if I might be R/C. The most gracious host needed my signature on a releases form and escorted me back to the conference room where the interview would commence. I was introduced to the Marketing Director and two technicians that would be filming the process. Before I could digest the surroundings I was mic'ed up and seated under the blazing hot lights of the make-shift studio. Would one of these fellows be manning the stuffed elephant to distract me from the peering camera? The first bead of sweat began to form on my brow.

The contents of my dopp kit were lain out next to me in a vanity-style buffet as I explained the significance of each product and how I came by them. I informed them that grooming was a passive activity in my repertoire, where speed and cost played the lead roles. The questions then turned to ones of generational gaps, brand loyalties, marketing communications and perceptions in the marketplace. I offered insights as to what I believed to be the current trends in grooming and the differences and similarities that men face now versus 50 years ago.

"Do you think that men care more about their appearance today than in prior generations?", the interviewer asked. I hesitated for a moment, my first inclination to say yes.

We tend to believe that we live better today mostly because of technology. That belief coupled with brand specialization and advanced targeting methods suggests that the clear answer would be in the affirmative. Our false assumption being that increased options mean we care more. But then I thought about Mad Men and recent photos that I had seen of my grandparents. The men in both cases were impeccably groomed - clean shaven, hair combed and pomaded. These are isolated cases to define a generation, but the point is that there was no such thing as the 'bed head' look, sloppy chic, or purposeful 3 day stubble back then. Grooming often had associations with class assignment and profession but seemed to be rarely neglected. My great-grandfather working on the docks would have looked different from an office jockey, however he still would have taken pride in his appearance. In those 5 seconds before I opened my mouth I realized that men today may actually care less about their grooming than before. In some cases, that's the exact intent, in others (like select subway riders) it's just laziness and lack of awareness.

I used the term metrosexual a few times throughout the interview, mostly in a derogatory context. It's this movement that caused me to respond the way I did. I argue that men of prior generations actually looked better, with fewer products at their disposal across all classes. My grandfather sported a 'wiffle' (read: buzz) cut since his army days, used the same shaving cream, same aftershave/cologne and same deodorant his entire life. There was no concept of designer brands. The products were a utility, an afterthought... something bought for them, most likely, by their wife and yet they still managed to look clean cut and proper. I blame the 60's hippies for starting the decline in hygienic care and the young, urban money of the late 90's and aughts that brought it back to an unhealthy extreme.

I think we are seeing a resurgence in my grandfather's methods of moderate grooming behavior, especially in the midst of the urban woodsman movement. Metrosexual flair is uncalled for and a waste of resources. Designer colognes and $30 creams aren't going to enhance your look, just give you a false sense of hope while raping your bank account. The main ingredient in such products is no more than mental trickery. It's not about the label or the marketing so much as the functionality of the product. There is little a $XX product can do that a $X can't. But that's just me - and I'm no Narcissus.

A few questions later, the session wrapped up and I was handed a small parting gift and maybe the best compliment of my life. The men inside the ivory tower complimented me on my attire, stating that I was dressed more GQ than their current cover! They all agreed that the slim cut blazer, pink gingham shirt, dark denim, chambray tie, pocket square, tie bar and purple socks would be spot on in the eyes of the editors. In all honesty they could have kept the gift and just paid me in compliments.

This would have never happened had I not taken that initial risk and moved to New York. The chance to be heard by the leading men's publication and complimentary validation straight from the source is a dream come true. I can die a happy man.

Look for a subsequent post featuring a few of the products I discussed at the interview.  And visit often for expert advice on how to look sharp and live smart.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

BR Fall 2010

I am not a huge fan of Banana Republic. There was a time when most of my wardrobe was purchased from there but that was back before I had nailed down the concept of fit, fabric and design. I find that almost all of BR's pieces are lacking at least one of the three. Those that do manage to impress me and embrace these elements are marketed as their rugged Heritage line or their refined Monogram line and marked up beyond affordability for what they're worth.

I can honestly say that I haven't set foot in a Banana Republic in at least 6 months. It became too frustrating. I would find an item of interest, say based on design, only to discover that it was cut too boxy or "modern" as I believe they market it. Or I would find something cut slim and realize that the fabric choice made no sense. Or find an interesting fabric and not care for the design. Around and around I went with nothing to show for it but wasted money and increased donations to Goodwill. Even their basic sizing doesn't remain consistent. I bounced from a medium, to a small... a 32 to a 30 to a 31 inch waist. The clothes are not worth this must frustration - especially with the stellar design constantly pouring out of J. Crew. In fact, even if I had a choice between BR and Gap, Gap would get my dollar any day.

That being said I did actually find a few highlights after reviewing GQ's rundown of the Fall 2010 show. All images courtesy of GQ. View the full show here at

I'm digging this black, what seems to be velvet jacket, especially paired with the slimmer khakis. Velvet jackets remind me of a contemporary take on one of my absolute favorite pieces of menswear - the smoking jacket. While this lacks all of the sophistication and detailing of the Victorian style, it is a socially acceptable substitute for the modern day. The texture gives off an air of elegance when worn in the right context, i.e. not "the club", so care should be given to styling such a piece so as to not look contrived. I could see myself in this trim jacket, gray flannel trousers and perhaps a rich colored bow tie at a holiday dinner party: 

The Norwegian sweater has been popping up all over the fall runways. Having a giraffe-ish neck, I tend to gravitate towards high-collared sweaters such as this. I like the muted pattern and oatmeal color - perfect pairing for jeans and a colorful button front shirt. I'm thankful that they chose buttons over a zipper to give it that added rustic, seaside feel. Just for the record, I'm not hip to the monotone vibe of this outfit and the collection in general. He looks like a damp day personified.  Too many earth tones and you just look drab:

I've been eying double breasted trenches for the past year but I can't find one that fits snuggly. I like the stark design and fit of this coat, although I don't know how it might translate over to a non-model-like, slim frame. Interesting color choice, which I find appealing as khaki seems to wash me out, black is harsh and navy is too monotone against my heavily blue wardrobe:

I have little doubt that these pieces were tailored to perfection before hitting the runway.  We'll see if they can actually deliver on the final in-store products.  I won't hold my breath. 

Bourbon & Cigars

It's not even noon and I have bourbon and cigars on the brain. No I am not a derelict, rather preoccupied by a pattern found at the clothing purveyor Southern Proper. A post by one of my favorite style sites, Dreams of Perfection, alerted me to the company and I promptly disavowed myself of work obligations and perused the site thoroughly. All the buzz over the company is for an upcoming tie pattern featuring bean boots.  As exciting as that is, I think I much prefer this design from their arsenal:

Image: Souther Proper

Ever since Easter I have been wondering what the repercussions would be of adding bow ties more regularly into my daily wares. Snide remarks and mucho mocking aside, I would love to have the confidence to wear one casually about my daily activities. My fear is that it is a passing trend and I will look back and regret standing out in such an obvious way.

Image: Southern Proper

Regardless I love the idea of a bourbon and cigar repp tie. Talk about rugged meeting refined. Southern Proper offers it in a long form tie and bow tie variety. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of icon-ladden accessories as they can be campy and have a little too much ivy influence for my tastes. This, however, is a pattern I am willing to make an exception for.

On the other hand, this is completely unacceptable:

Image: Southern Proper
Appropriate for amateur magicians and catering co. bartenders.

When it comes to a tuxedo, think "What Would James Bond Do?" (minus Roger Moore) and leave the southern garb in the closet.

For more on Southern Proper visit their website at:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Saddle Up Partner

In general I don't like shopping online. I hate paying for shipping, I can't try sizes and most of all I am impatient. That week between hitting the "place order" button and final delivery is torturous. All I can think about is "what if it doesn't fit, then I have 2 more weeks before I can experience the fleeting satisfaction of my purchase". Lately I have had to do more and more online ordering though: J. Crew's Urban Slim Fit pant is exclusively available online, Land's End and L.L. Bean only exist in the virtual world and I am otherwise finding my size forever "out of stock" even in the vast retail wilderness that is New York. But there is a bright spot to this process - when you forget that you ordered something and it arrives on an ugly, boring day.

Let's all give a warm welcome to The Kennett:

Image: Florsheim
"Thank you, Thank you.  Glad to be here!

Please you're too kind" 

After loading up on two versions of Sperry TopSiders last spring, this year I was looking for an equally distinct summer shoe to don as the weather starts to warm. In the vastness of my daily sartorial readings I was noticing a resurgence in the saddle shoe this season. Even as recent as last year I would have never considered this style, thinking it much too immature and costume-y. The last time I was in a pair of saddle shoes, if ever, I was most likely dressed like a show pony in a gray Eton suit laying on a photographer's pillow. If my personality of today resided in that little boy of yesteryear he would have stood up and said "Ma, you're kidding me right?! Do you want me to get my ass kicked? I look like a god damn fool!"

On second look though, the redesign of many brand's saddle shoes have slimmed down the silhouette to a more streamlined and less chunky shape. Now when I look at how the shoe is being styled with slim pants and sockless ankles, I can't get them out of my head. The saddle shoe is, afterall, a timeless prep staple and one that I am now glad to finally own under my discretion.

Not only is this shoe style a first for me, but so too is the brand. I have always by-passed Florsheim on my walk up Madison Avenue for the likes of Johnston & Murphy or Cole Haan. But recently I have been disappointed by J&M's offerings and Cole Haan is forever out of my price range. Besides their high-end signature line I find the rest of J&M's designs to be uninspired, trite and poorly constructed. Meanwhile, Cole Haan consistently churns out enviable shoes, but at a price tag that would launch a blitzkrieg on my bank account... and possibly induce mild vomiting when I got the bill.

I was feigning for the The Air Colton Saddle or The Pushover from the Cole Rood and Haan collection, until I looked at the price - $198 and $325 respectively:

Air Colton Saddle: $198 at Cole Haan

The Pushever: $325 at Cole Rood & Haan

In an attempt to by-pass the online ordering process I stopped into my local Florsheim store to check availability - no dice. While waiting to try on a pair of white bucks and secure my size I browsed and took note of many other affordable dress shoe options. It turns out I have been ignoring a gold mine of classic shoes at prices well under those of J&M. For instance my Kennett Saddles chinged in at only 90 bones! 

For staples shoes, such as a wingtip or cap-toe you can't go wrong with these well-priced options from Florsheim:

The Carleton: $160 at Florsheim

The Tolland: $90 at Florsheim

The underlying beauty of my new Kennett saddles is the nostalgic smell that has enveloped my room. I can't help but feel 10 years old as the new suede and red brick sole fuse together in a perfume that dances across my mind and makes me think that tomorrow I will relive the first day of Third grade.

New shoes - A thing of beauty.
And soon to take over my tiny room. 

So please - Rain, Rain, Go Away...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Dying Breed: Part 2

How could I have forgotten the most rugged and symbolic prop of the film!?


As most men of his generation and lifestyle, Kowalski is a smoker. In his western flicks, Eastwood would have have probably just lit a match from his three day stubble, but as an aged war vet he pockets a trusty zippo lighter. More than just a wick and flint, this lighter sparked the memory of his military service and provided him with a reflective surface to see into the past... to lost friends, fallen enemies and his own questionable/heroic actions. "Had it since '51..." he states, and, along with guilt and good intent, it was with him until the end.

In our time of disposable wants and fleeting trends, I wonder if I'll ever possess anything with that intrinsic value? Something that is not merely cherished as an item but serves as a constant reminder of specific events of my life. Hmm.

Being an avid runner and vigilant hater of cigarettes, a lighter will surely not be this item.  I have always admired the design of Zippo lighters though, and their Hollywood charm. If one does feel the need to light up I would surely dim my scowl slightly if I see a proper lighter in lieu of the plebeian Bic.  For a military man such as Walt, a lighter makes perfect sense as a treasured keepsake. Back in the day it might have been been as much a combat tool as cancer ignitor.

Turns out Zippo has churned out 1000's of designs for the U.S. Military since Double-ya Double-ya Two. I'd love to get my hands on one of these - a vintage Black Crackle Zippo from 1942:


It's like something right out of Stalag 17 or The Guns of Navarone. According to Zippo's archives - "The legendary World War II Black Crackle™ lighter was manufactured from a secondary grade of steel. The standard metal for Zippo lighters was brass, but it was in short supply due to the war effort. The steel case was painted with a thick black paint to prevent the steel from rusting. As the lighter was baked for curing, the paint yielded a textured black crackle finish. During this time Zippo lighters were not available to the consumer market because all lighters were shipped to the military."

Damn it Grandpa! I know you had all of these cool vintage trinkets!!!! Why did you have to loose them? What... were you in a war or something?  Was it really that bad?  Would it have killed you to take a little more care of your personal affects... wait, you know what, it might have. Nevermind. I forgive you.

A few more military designs courtesy of

1972 U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133

1961 USS Ruchamkin

1966 U.S. Naval Station ADAK

And one from ebay: 

1969 USS Truxton Guided Missile Cruiser, U.S. Navy

Company logo evolution. Admirable classic graphic design:


And my own - given to me by my parents ages ago when I had no business having a lighter. Luckily they trusted me and my advanced appreciation for functional design :

Even though I am not a smoker, every man should have a zippo. Even if it's just decorative or to light up the occasional cigar.

Check out for additional history and a catalog of other designs.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Dying Breed

Eastwood at his best.

I've never claimed to be on the cutting edge as most blogs are, and in fact I am about two years behind on screening Gran Torino. If you've never seen it - watch it. If you have - watch again.

Right away I found myself glued to the man more than the story. Eastwood's portrayal of a curmudgeonly Korean war vet who has little tolerance for his Michigan neighborhood's expanding cultural make-up is hysterical, exhilarating and captivating. He is an old-school man's man if ever there was one. A tortured past fueling his present day attitude. He grunts and sneers with palpable disdain for what he sees around him - the disintegration of culture, hard work and respect, managing to maintain likability through snarky comments and expressive reactions. I tend to think I have more in common with his geriatric character than with most of my 20-something peers.

At nearly 80, Eastwood is more of a badass than ever, each weathered crevice on his face lending itself to the severity of his character's demeanor. His trademark salty whisper, like the rumble of the motor on his aged Ford pick-up, continually spews vitriolic slurs at those around him whether in malign or jest. He reminds me of my grandfather in his view of the world and a pining for the way things used to be... reducing people down to ethnicity and class, the idea of political correctness a foreign concept. Being a former assembly line worker and Mr. Fix-It, he has a vintage definition of what it means to be a man. A coded language, primitive interactions and a sense of self sacrifice. An aloof stare hides a screaming silence within. He strips away emotion, most likely a casualty of war, and is left a stoic, callous and intimidating presence. A thick fog of a man... one that not even his own family can see through.

"I'll have a shot of Jack and a Pabst"
Me too, Clint, me too.

I actually expected the movie to be more violent and less endearing. His rifle toting, PBR sipping, grizzly, blue collar exterior subtly began to shift as he imparted course wisdom on his young mentee - an amusing journey towards his ultimate sacrificial demise. He never really shows outward emotion, rather expresses his feelings through actions and expressions: a grimace or snort, a wince in pain, the sharing of tools, a visit to the hardware store and barber shop, or merely giving his word in recommendation. This was common practice before open displays of male sensitivity were accepted.

In the opening scene of the film, Walt Kowalski stands at attention beside his wife's casket and scowls at his bratty, disrespectful grandchildren as they joke, text and befoul the ceremony with un-evolved antics; their fathers endorsing the behaviour with silence. It's moments like this that showcase the ever-widening generational gap in grace. Men of prior generations seemed to have a better sense of propriety, striking a balance and awareness between rugged and refined. We, as the new school, on the other hand tend to feel entitled and are quick to adopt a closed door policy on tradition, opting for comfort and convenience. It may not be the right way, but it's the right way for ME. Grrrr.

Eastwood's Kowalski personifies the root of this blog proving that being a man is an attitude, on either side of the R/R spectrum. While I appreciate fashion and style, men of that generation didn't just dress a part, they lived it. As I sit here in my chambray shirt, Levi's and Red Wings, it will never make me as rugged as Kowalski in his old man staples. His experiences - war, depression, social change - shaped his personality. His hands chapped and boots worn because of what he endured. His clothes simply a utility. Does that make me a fraud? Probably.

We take our modern day style cues from men that dressed for a purpose. The Kowalski's of the world, hard at work at the Ford plant or the Drapers high atop their cushy office thrones. It wasn't a trend or an homage - it was a uniform to produce, and they wore it well. A Walt Kowalski never relied on others to do something that he could have easily done or learned himself. Sadly, these men are a dying breed and I fear that we, their spoiled replacements will never be able to fill their shoes. They did and we watch. They worked and we type. They lived and we...

"I said, get off my lawn."

The concern I have with my generation of men is that as far as we've come emotionally, we seem to be missing the rugged attitude of the past. Instead, we rely on technology and third-party information above challenging ourselves to experience and explore. I find that the better part of my week is spent managing a virtual life instead of living a real one. I can easily read and write about being a man instead of going out and just being one. It's been a goal of mine to DO more... go camping, drink whiskey, take a woodworking class. But also to be responsible, respectful and courteous. To start to carve out my own legacy of how I want to be remembered. Not just as a man who appreciates style and the arts but one that can fix a sink and start a fire. To make this blog a ethos, not a vessel of empty words. To make Walt proud.

I've always lived vicariously through movies. In the end I couldn't help but feel more excited than ever to be a man. Watching Clint just has a way of stimulating the rugged. I found his presence in Gran Torino more intimidating and hardened than any western figure he ever portrayed. There is something so much more inspiring and entertaining about watching a septuagenarian intimidate rowdy young punks than the overcooked battles between middle aged men. If there is one thing this movie helped me to realize is that aging might not be as terrifying as it seems. Because let's face it, Eastwood makes turning 80 look down right cool.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Weekend Reading

Yes, it's orange.
Smug Esquire.

Friday I had one of those days where I just wanted to power off. File->shutdown my mind and disconnect from everything that vies for my attention. No more blackberry, e-mail, phone calls, blog rolls, etc. I wanted a CIA hit put out on my devices. Blackbag them all... dunk them in water and hook their little electronic testicles up to jumper cables. Take. Them. Out. It all just gets to be too much sometimes and I yearn for a technological quarantine. That's when I like to simplify with ink on paper.

Lucky I awoke yesterday morning (alright, technically afternoon) to a gray and overcast Saturday. Perfect for guilt free seclusion indoors and a chance to catch up on much overdue reading. Before grabbing a sandwich from the local deli I ran into Barnes and Noble to pick up the last of my weekend reading list. The night prior, while waiting for a friend to finish her shift, I wandered into a Hudson news in Grand Central Terminal and noticed that the Spring 2010 issue of Esquire's Big Black Book had been released.

Barnes and Noble is an interesting and frustrating place - causing me to wonder what people have against working in the sanctity of their own home. The magazine stand/cafe was booming with tea swilling, laptop wielding, trendy academics, making it near impossible to get anywhere close to the merchandise. It's like any Starbucks window you've ever seen x 1,000. After bending, weaving, squirming, limboing, shimmying and excusing my way around fellow patrons (and I use that term loosely as none of them seemed to have actually bought anything) I finally secured a copy of the BBB and was on my way, feeling like I had just finished a floor routine at a gymnastics meet.

Now I am a devout reader of GQ and even looking at the cover of an Esquire makes me feel like a philandering libertine. I have a deep loyalty to the magazine and its staff of excellent writers who consistently keep me in the know. Much like a dog seeing his master after the abandonment of a workday, there is little else that can excite me more than a copy of GQ spilling out of my tiny metallic mailbox each month. It's cherished pages are like babies giggling, flowers blooming or the sun shining to most normal people. Pathetic - yes. But it's the truth.

The Big Black Book is the exception. It's the roving eye to my otherwise faithful relationship. A tawdry affair, providing me with something that my glossy spouse can't give me. The Big Black Book has carved out a niche in how to showcase a gentlemanly lifestyle. The writing highlights diverse topics not found in normal monthly magazines. There is a presence to this book as a whole that ups the ante on sartorial knowledge. Even the advertising is less intrusive and offers a reason to stare. Currently working in the industry, I find this publication to have brilliant photography, fantastic layouts and unique editorial content that all culminates in near perfect printing.

This issue includes:

• Spotlights on luggage and advanced chronographs designed for varying purposes
• A Trad Trad Trad World - Traditional Prep Staples
• Away We Go - Spring Style for the Man of Adventure
• How to Dress for Golf - More Arnold Palmer, less Rodney Dangerfield
• The New Recruits - Historic lables get a boost from a new lot of designers
• Summer Party Style and Knowledge for Buying a Summer Suit
• And, as always a highly educational Maintenance section printed on old school tinted uncoated paper.  Offers insight on everything from the anatomy of a shoe to the rules of showing chest hair or how to make your own collar stays in a pinch.

My cheating ways are an act I'm not proud of but one that will continue to entice me and quench my lust for obscure stylistic information. It fulfills the piece of me that GQ can't. I can only hope that my magazine of record can act the political wife and turn a blind eye.

Pick up a copy at most major newsstands for $9.95. Well worth the price for the sartorially minded.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Let's All Raise a Fork...

A Groom's cake.
Served in a tumbler?
... and toast the Bride and Groom.

I first tasted Laphroaig in a stark, dark bar on 11th Street in the East Village. My favorite type of watering hole. The burnt bartender frequently left his post, entrusting us with its care while he stepped outside to smoke. The 70's had been his prime and from the looks of it he took full advantage of every opportunity, good or bad, that passed his way... my guess is mostly bad. A guitar whispered from the back corner while a man and his dog enjoyed take-out by the window. That dog was a rock star in the confines of the small crowd, enjoying belly rubs and the fawning of beautiful women. I wished I was that dog.

Hailing from the Islay region of Scotland since 1815, Laphroaig's peaty presence and medicinal palette put it at the opposite spectrum of what I usually enjoy. As the thin liquid lapped against my tongue I detected a distinct taste of the sea with notes of seaweed and brine. A little oily but it finished dry. Some say they find an oaky background... lucky them.

No matter the brand - killer cake idea. After enduring "bright hydrangea" dresses and cutesy floral arrangements, there is nothing wrong with the groom enjoying a swig of ruggedness at an otherwise frilly event.  Doilies are not welcome around this masterpiece.

High-five to those responsible for such a gem. Perhaps those over at Butch Bakery can capitalize on this idea.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Masters Sunday

Framed Masters flag.
A gift from my aunt and uncle for college graduation.

My first set of clubs were hand-me-downs from a distant relative. A mish-mashed set in a worn red leather bag straight out of the late 1960s. Salvaged from the depths of a basement, they smelled like your dead uncle's moth ridden suit. The grips were smoothed and the clubheads mildly rusted. Had I been wiser at the age of 15 I might have considered them vintage, instead I just thought them old. But they did the trick - under my reigns they sent the ball from tee to hazard consistently and, most important... they were free. I had been told countless times that a club doesn't matter if your mechanics are solid. In my case both were laughable. 

When my interest took hold I was informed that it came honestly from my grandfather, an avid golfer. He enjoyed spending his Saturday afternoons swinging and swigging away with his buddies from the police force. My mother recalled how "happy" and relaxed he would be after his weekly round... quite different than my usual feelings when leaving the course. Anxiety over the game only became more intense the older I grew.   After playing with my college friends for the first time I realized how bad I was. They personify all the advice I had received in my early years, punishing the ball down the fairway with mechanical precision and intent. My ball consistently well behind theirs, if even visible at all.  If you look at the fairway as a scatter plot, my data always represents the outlier. They make it look so effortless and I hate them for it. Luckily, their patience and penchant for sinking more beers than putts provide an inviting atmosphere to refine and enjoy my game. A round in their company remains the ultimate summer treat.

My grandfather's clubs - when woods were wood.
Ahhhhh the stories I bet they could tell.

Each year I spend the better part of Masters Sunday slouched in front of a TV ironically envious of sun-drenched golfers and their picturesque playground... meanwhile, an equally gorgeous day winks at me from outside my windows. Golf is one of only two sports I follow and enjoy watching
(lacrosse being the second).  Although I believe it to be more of a mental disorder than a game - akin to demonstrating bi-polar behavior - with frustration and elation confined to a single swing. All it takes is one shot to sway from giddy embrace to permanent abandon. The game of golf is most often played like watching E.T. or Old Yeller - fun followed by heartache, smiles wiped away by tears.

Living in New York seriously stifles my time on the links. Inconvenient locations, public transport, cumbersome equipment and choking greens fees make course play near impossible.  I fully admit that these reasons alone could one day drive me from my beloved city.  However, I have discovered various ways to quench my cravings until a proper tee time awaits in Maryland. There are easily accessible ranges on Randall's Island and at Chelsea Piers that provide me with the space to swing my Pings freely within the urban limits. Most recently though I have found the confines of my own apartment to be the best (and cheapest) practice tee by utilizing a Wii and Tiger Woods Golf 2010. I can only imagine the hours of amusement I give peeping neighbors who peer in as I decimate the Olde Course St Andrews (5 under) or Bayhill (3 under) - complete with pre-round stretching, waves, fist pumps, collapses of agony, and "did you see that putt????" arm "Y"s of rejoicing.  (*Note -  Tour atmosphere setting should be in the ON position for the full ego boost.  Swing away and hear the crowds roar.)

But on to the important issues - attire.

I am excited to see golfers, particularly of the younger generation like Ian Poulter, Camilo Villegas and Adam Scott returning to the sleeker outfits of the past, mixing in dandyish colors with classic staples. Labels such as J. Lindeberg, Izod, and my personal favorite Munsingwear's An Original Penguin have infused a sense of style back into the game. They have brought trim, flat front pants and clean fitted polos to the twisted lines of the players, embracing golf's fashion heritage.  In fact, Original Penguin shirts are iconic golf wear and the revived brand provides a retro link to classic design.  Golf outfits worn by fathers and grandfathers everywhere are now the envy of the youth and a burgeoning definition of cool on the course.

My favorites for the upcoming season:
Original Penguin: Van Cortland

Original Penguin: The Glenn

Looking back on golf history and then to the majority of the current field, I can't help but notice how far we have fallen... much like in all other areas of proper dress. Hogan, Demaret, Sneed and Hagen revolutionized the game and did so without moisture wicking fabrics and gaudy logos, rather relying on ties and heavy wools to get them to the 19th Hole. Their dapper dress helped to cement the game as a gentlemanly pastime and demand respect of those that approach the tee box. Perhaps it wasn't just pure luck that helped Ryan Moore hit a hole in one yesterday.  The golf gods were smiling down on him as he donned a tie (with tie bar) and cardigan to pay homage to Augusta Co-founder Bobby Jones.

I bet he never had to hear the phrase:
"Get in the hole!"
Those were the days.

One man stands above the rest when it comes to style on the links though. No one can argue with the fact that Arnold Palmer was the James Dean of golf, a pomaded rebel with a cause - to dismantle the competition and look damn cool doing it. His tight polos, casual cardigans and smoldering cigarette were part of the equipment list in the late 50's and early 60's. There is something inertly macho about his portrayal of golf, to which his attire directly contributed. A Mad Man meets athletic icon. As the season draws near, the picture below of Arnie and Jack will be my inspiration for proper attire. I may as well look good while playing bad.

Now if only I could figure out how to eliminate the farmer's tan, I'd be all set.

Do golfer get much cooler than this?
Check out the posts from Sartorially Inclined: 
Post 1, Post 2
My other set of clubs: cocktail stirrers. 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Better Late Than Never

I've been nursing a bad case of writer's block. Every word I typed seemed trite and labored. Similar to being physically ill, I tend to look for quick fixes to return to normal. I have read excessive amounts, hoping to be jolted by the words of another writer. I've watched movies and TV to discover a phrase or situation that I could relate to and extract from. Countless times in the last week I have sat down and tried to force it out of me, harking back to my college days where ritual consisted of working under pressure and baffling with bullshit... which quite honestly I still do today. Hey - it works. I graduated with top honors but there is enough moronic word spew on the internet without a forced, hackneyed contribution.

A few days ago I found an article that explored the methods used by a few "exciting artists and creators" to combat a rut. Besides the cliches such as music and the subconscious, many talked about "being inspired by everything around them". *Ahem*Cough*... speaking of bullshit.

Then I left my office and it hit me. They are right. I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner - walking! The remedy was right there in front of me.  Buried in a song title from the very film I was trying to write a post on.  A Walk Up The Avenue was just what I needed.  

There is little that a jaunt up Madison Ave and a jumbo street pretzel can't fix. I have mentally penned every post while walking somewhere in New York. When I walk the mental clutter is whisked away and I begin to focus. There is a freedom and a frustration to this walking technique though, as insights pass through me like flour in a sift... the ideas only clinging until new ones pour in, pushing the others out. One minute's observation is forgotten and replaced - self proclaimed "genius" lost forever. No chance to jot or type in the hussle of the sidewalks, just think and struggle to remember. However, with each person and draped window that I pass, thoughts and inspiration continually race through my head. The curse begins to lift and the Princess of words awakens. Raw thoughts break the barrier of writer's block and I realize I was just trying too hard.

I know what the real problem is - deadlines. They have always been the culprit. The nasty mental monster that scares my words and fosters fear and hiding. The nice thing about a blog is that there are no real deadlines... until there are. Certain posts become more timely than others and in this case Easter already seems like ages ago. Luckily procrastination, as it always seems to do, actually wound up helping me. For in my venture home I happened upon a piece of clothing that validated my style instincts and provides a link to a cherished Easter custom.  A link I had been struggling to find to get this post written.

Easter means one thing: Fred Astaire. Each year on what is otherwise a dull holiday, I sink my skinny hind end into the crevices of my parent's couch and prepare myself for the wardrobe porn that is Easter Parade. I consider Easter Sunday a free pass for otherwise obscure attire and Easter Parade overflows with rakish inspiration. Seeing that Astaire and I are built on similar frames I envision myself in his natty wares, as well as drool over the ability to move with his lithe precision. He appears in everything from full white tie (tails and top hat - which apparently he never enjoyed), to double-breasted hemmed waistcoats, dandyish boutonnieres and a velvety smooth smoking jacket, so rich it's like a piece of tailored dessert.

Of all the items I was mentally cataloging, the one I took most interest in was a club collar shirt. I had recently noticed the collar advertised as an option for Brooks Brothers made-to-measure garments. It's such a simple twist on a shirt but one that is rarely, if ever seen on men today. The rounded collar conjures up a distinctly stiff and sepia toned memory of the 'aughts.  Something an Astor or Rockefeller might sport. It would become my new object of desire as the perfect shirt for the budding warm weather - sure to standout amongst the standard button downs.

The original force behind my aforementioned walk home was to return pants at my succubus - J.Crew. Intending only to get a credit, I made the dreadful mistake of taking a singular spin around the floor to keep aware of the new spring crop of designs. After a brief chat with "my guy" about an up coming event, what do I notice on the rack but a white club collar oxford... and the exact same price as the pants I was set to return. Did Fred have a hand in this from above? Was this divine sartorial intervention? The garments were quickly swapped at the counter under the faint sound of tap dancing in my head.

During the remainder of my journey I recalled scenes from the movie and reflected on the fact that I am fortunate enough to live where the storyline unfolded and on the joys that his swagger and effortless dancing bring each Easter.

During the opening number of Drum Crazy, Astaire strolls into a toy store adorn in a gray one-button suit, white waistcoat, bowler hat, bamboo cane and spats. Just think - in 1912, that attire would have been casual! The following four minutes showcases Astaire's baffling abilities and slippery suaveness. See for yourself:

Towards the back end of the film, the most captivating and famous number makes me tense up in excitement and awe. Leaping out in a beaming smile with the forceful entrance of the song hanging in the background, Astaire as Don Hughes, is ready to dazzle. Steppin' Out With My Baby is brilliantly shot (partly in slow-motion) to fully capture every twist, turn and element of his hypnotic movements. His costume is angelic but with devilish accents - white suit paired with red accessories, straw boater and brown spectator shoes.

Image: Home Cinema

By the time the credits roll each Easter Eve, whatever reservations I might have had about looking overdressed for Sunday morning services have usually passed. The walk to and from church is my own 5th Avenue parade so how could I not get all turned out?

I have a longing for men's attire to return to the grandeur displayed by Astaire and the characters he portrayed. A day when we dress properly again and a sense of formality overtakes constant casualness. Certain occasions call for different levels of attire, and wether it is practiced, any efforts made should at least be respected and not mocked. To me, thanks to Fred and Easter Parade, Easter Sunday will always call for a heightened refinement.

My humble efforts to acheive Astaire-ness:

Sunday's Best.

Brooks Brothers bow tie, Land's End Custom Dress shirt,
Uniqlo Linen/Cotton Double-Vent Blazer,
Pink and Blue seersucker pocket square.

If only I could have snagged a simple boutonniere! 

Banana Republic Heritage stripe pant.

Gray stripe pattern. 

Well-worn Johnston and Murphy medallion oxfords.
Wide gray/blue stripe sock.