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

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Summer Wind: Part 2 - Staying Cool

Summer done right
Phineas Cole by Paul Stuart
Image: The Sartorialist

Despite the aforementioned steamy annoyances, the main aspect of summer that chaps my ass is the style - both in the havoc it wreaks on my personal wardrobe and the extreme casualness that creeps out of every pore of society. The options in my closet are whittled down to a few basics based on the heat and each article has the potential to be uncomfortable in one way or another - either in breathability or style. I find clothing as a daily outburst of creativity. Color and fabric combinations coupled with layering usually allow me to express a uniqueness which may otherwise be left unreleased. When I look different I feel good, so the onset of heat not only causes physical discomfort but it robs me of personality.

Looks warm
I'm sure he's wearing shorts and flip flops below.*

Between the time Frank belted out such classics as Summer Wind and the current summer selections of Eminem and Katie Perry, not only did the cultural taste in music decline but the clothing aesthetic did as well. Looking back at vintage photos I get lost in a time when a barbecue was a venue for a tie and a stroll in the park might call for a suit and hat. Many of my peers today would scoff at the idea, considering it stuffy and insane to dress for such informal events. But to me it just proves laziness and ignorance. Baggy cargo shorts and a graphic tee are no more comfortable than seersucker, madras or linen - as with most things in my generation, the sloppy look is merely an excuse. Even in the throws of summer, from New York to Vegas, D.C. to Palm Springs you'd find the Rat Pack era's men trolling about in trim suits. And in their leisure they looked cool and comfortable in lightweight dress slacks and duotoned camp shirts.

It is generally accepted that women present themselves better in all of the seasons, but summer is truly their time to shine. Whisping by in vibrant color, strappy sandals and sun kissed skin. They look so cool and comfortable, getting our hearts aflutter while also highlighting our poor appearance in comparison. The summer staples of a man's wardrobe are like the default settings on a new computer. They are programmed to a level of comfort that is easily adopted by the masses. However, until they are tweaked to fit the individual owner, each will never be used to its fullest potential. Having the build of an Ethiopian marathoner I have never been one for the default T-shirt and shorts, thus revealing my scrawny limbs. This attire is a net that has trapped most of man kind along with my omni-present foe, the mandal. In certain situations shorts may suffice (never sandals) but I don't feel that they show adequate respect when in social settings. And as an aside, when did flip flops become work appropriate footwear for either gender?

God I love New York!
Woman consistently bring their A game.
Image: The Sartorialist

As I sat waiting for a slice at the local deli a few nights back, a couple pushing a stroller came charging through the door followed by a pair of frothy chums from the bar up the block. All three gents were drowning in oversized, untucked polos and enlarged cargo shorts, the squeaking of their flip-flops announcing their arrival (seriously, that sound irritates me like no other). They may as well have been waddling monks cloaked in ambiguity. Take the baby and (stylishly dressed) wife out the picture and all three could be lumped into the same fratastic category except for the obvious disparity of age worn in their faces. The father's clothes did not command the slightest bit of respect or attention to set him apart from his post collegiate pizza cravers, but rather evoked a childish naivete.

Kennedy wore shorts BUT...he wards off
the American tourist look by keeping it traditional.
Trim khaki shorts and an OCBD
Photo: Time

Growing up I never understood why my dad's wardrobe didn't mirror my own. While I freely swooned around the yard in Looney Tunes T's, a Cal Ripken hat and shorts bearing the dirt of the nearest curb or hill, he constantly looked "dressed up" to me, even in his most casual state. Where were his shorts and sneakers? Why did he lounge in his suit after work? "Dad - come on, relax!" I thought. What I saw juxtaposed to my grass stains as formal, he saw as a refined Kennedy cool that would have hovered over 1950's Hyannis Port. Khakis, Docksides, button downs and polos weren't "dressy" to him but a way of maintaining style outside of his standard suit and tie. He was a man. I was a child. And we each dressed the part.

I'll never understand why most men dress like boys in the summer. I find that I mostly stand alone in my opinions on appropriate dress in general, but during the summer especially so. My friends will overtly roll their eyes at my theories, championing their stance that comfort prevails in the grips of the heat and all propriety should be sacrificed for the mild relief that comes with shortened hems and thonged sandals.

Overall, I agree that I find it much harder to be stylish and simultaneously comfortable in the warmer months. The severity of the heat adds a complexity to a wardrobe that can send one begging for shorts and an ironicly worded tee. Seeking out wearable pieces becomes difficult as a fourth dimension needs to be considered beyond fit, fabric and design… that of absorption. Many of my shirts, especially in a blue hue, become unwearable as "pit stains" are an embarrassing inevitability. Pants can easily become suffocating boa constrictors of fabric wrapped around my legs making stairs a chore. There are also the waterfalls of sweat the creep down my backside, creating two-toned salt lines that mark a sweaty seat. I fret over the sockless look for fear that my pristine leather will be marred by puddles of perspiration and the flatulent sound of skin rubbing against leather. Sure, life would be easier in the everyman summer uniform, and yes, I often resort to summer wear in the comfort of my own home, but easy rarely ever translates to success in life. Maybe I'm just overly insecure but my physical plagues are offset by the internal confidence I gain by looking presentable in public.

Milan, June 2010
Image: Tommy Ton for GQ

Milan, June 2010
Image: Tommy Ton for GQ

Milan, June 2010
Image: Tommy Ton for GQ

There are many other wonderful sites that can give you better advice than I on how to approach a summer wardrobe (See Prepedemic or The Style Blogger). For me it means a few simple rules:

Seriously - lose the flip-flips!
Image: Tommy Ton for GQ

• Avoid denim when temps reach 80+.
• Favor lighter fabrics - cotton, seersucker, linen
• When blazing hot embrace white shirts, they hide the sweat stains and provide a great base for color.
• Utilize color - pants, ribbon belts, watchbands, ties, socks
• Let silk ties rest and embrace other fabrics like cotton and seersucker.
• Boat shoes, driving mocs, classic sneaks - YES, anything that shows your feet - NO!
• Try loafer socks - all the cool of the sockless look, less of the stink and irritation. (Johnston & Murphy, GoldToe)
• Stock up on powder - for the foot and body (Clubman, Gold Bond)
• Give the cuffs an extra roll - both shirt and pants
• Leaving an extra button undone is fine, an extra three is not
• When thinking polo shirt, think snug trim fit
• Sungalsses should remain classic - aviators or tortoise shell rims. Leave Gucci on the Jersey Shore
• Lose the baggy cargo shorts - look for trim flat fronts that hem above the knee, and don't be afraid of color
• Swim trunks should be trim and cropped as well. Baggy surf trunks are yesterday's news and unflattering, making you look short and paunchy
• Increased sweat means less wears between washing - leave room in the budget for increased trips to the laundromat and dry cleaners
• When in doubt, think Clooney on the Amalfi coast, not Larry David in Miami

Summer tie options: The heat is no excuse to not knot up.
chambray, silk knit, large cotton gingham.

Lose the silk:
Seersucker, cotton madras and small cotton ginham.

When dressing during the summer months I really only have one thing in mind - Italy. I often wonder how the Italian men can remain so effortlessly stylish throughout the warmer months without any signs of discomfort? My daily blog roll features countless images of Italian men stalking along the coast or through a bustling Mediterranean city in jacket and tie, not a bead of sweat in site. Their colorful palette enhances the summery background and they are at perfect ease in their surroundings. No one does summer better than the Italians and I wish I knew their secret. 

Trim cuffed linen pants, sockless suede loafers - Ottimo!
Image: The Sartorialist via Prepidemic

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that their approach to beating the heat does not mirror my own (loitering about my local grocery store's frozen food isle). Perhaps, for them, its a dry heat or they are born with the innate ability to control their core temperature through their less hustled lifestyle. For all I know its part of the sprezzatura tool kit that makes them the envy of the sartorial world - Lapo, Lino and Luca! These guys throw up a big middle finger to the uninspired masses... and I love them for it. 

Lapo Elkann
It helps when your grandfather is Gianni Agnelli.
Images: The Sartorialist via Prepidemic

Lino Ieluzzi
I wish I was an older Italian guy.
Images: The Sartorialist via Prepidemic

Makes it look effortless.

Luca Rubinacci
Again, a slight advantage working for your father's tailoring house!
Images: The Sartorialist via Prepidemic

With no escape from the onslaught of summer, the only thing I can do is channel my inner Italian and try to embrace the weather, using it to experiment with mixing traditional looks and European flair (and I'm not talking capri pants and racer sneaks). As the Spring/Summer 2011 shows conclude in Milan and new styles are introduced at Pitti Uomo in Florence, I will continually look for inspiration from those roaming The Boot, trying to extract their casual cool. As for external relief, my trusty window fan, a few Red Stripes and the thoughts of those chilly Autumn winds in the not too distant future should hold me over.

Summer essentials

Lastly, a few of my humble attenmpts: 

Cooler days:
denim, linen vest, gingham tie

Cooler days:
red chambray, silk knit tie, ribbon belt

Reserved Italian: Large gingham french cuff
Just missing the double breasted blue blazer.

Deconstructing the suit for summer
with a chambray tie.

Getting HOT: Seersucker and Madras

Some would say Nantucket,
I say all out Florence with Go-To-Hell pants
Sockless loafers not shown

Keeping it trim in weekend wear.

Golf anyone?

I'll be posting other thoughts on summer wear in the future. In the meantime - keep cool but stay stylish.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Summer Wind: Part 1 - The Set Up

My bedroom - 4:25 p.m.

…came blow-n-n-n in... from across the sea. It lingered there -

"Summer Wind" is easily my favorite Sinatra song so it pains me to use it as such a negative lead-in. Normally I never disagree with Uncle Frank. What he says goes. But that summer wind he croons of doesn't have the same sentimental appeal to me that it did for him. It never touched any dame's hair urging her into my arms, convince me to sing a song or walk on any golden sands. Rather, it's humid haze hovers and chokes me like a permanent cigarette puff. The next line of my reworked version goes a little something like this - meastro, if you will - "like painted kites those days and nights… they seemed infinite and miserable as helllllll." I'll admit, not quite as catchy, but slightly truer lyically.

It has become consistently hot and I am methodically miserable.

As I sat slumped in the passenger seat of a friend's golden Ford chariot returning home from a weekend of manly excess, I couldn't help but think about the misery I was in - which happened to be comprised of three distinct factors, two of which are the crux of this piece. First there was the unhealthy level of booze, smoke and meat that I had ingested over the previous 48 hours. Second, was the fact that I was stuck in a hot car with 4 dudes all excreting noxious fumes from their equally gluttonous consumption. My glands were in a constant state of hyper hydrosis, my face glistening with oily residue and my limbs were spotted with itchy little mounds of irritated skin. Third, I was wearing shorts for the second day in a row, hadn't donned a dress shirt in three days and was overexposed to flip flops in a confined location. This hangover was a reverse cocktail made with 2 parts self destructive behavior, 1 part heat and 1 part casual discomfort. The weekend was a success and I was in a mixed state of emotions about returning to my apartment. I would soon be devoid of the debaucherous after effects and be back amongst my wardrobe options but I also knew what kind of sweaty routine I would face the next morning.

It starts when I awake around 6 a.m. and peel myself from the cotton that was once tautly stretched across my mattress. Some time in the previous 6 hours, the military precision of the sheets degraded into a swampy mess of thread on which I had melted. The whir of my window fan is like a mother's whisper. So soft and inviting that I don't want to move in fear that things will get much worse in it's absence. I always shower at night, but in the warmer months I proceed to the bathroom to rinse the exhaustion of sleep and sweat from my skin. I try to make the time between removing my head from the pillow and the pull of the front door as minimal as possible. You would think I was trying to run from the law or feverishly escape the chase of a chainsaw-wielding horror villain. With the efficiency and mechanics of a swiss timepiece I finish my bathroom sequence and dress quickly in an outfit I had mentally prepared the night before as I lay wide-eyed praying for sleep to fall upon me. After the lock clicks and I start to bound down the 6 flights of stairs a wave of cool begins to settle between me and the shaded bricks of my stairwell. I have to cherish this descent for the next one will not bring such relief. As I have written before, I am not an overly religious man but I find myself praying in the last moments before I hit the vestibule that leads outside - "Dear God, if you do exist, let there be a breeze."

Depending on the day, my morning gets infinitely better or worse based on the 3 steps between the inner threshold of my building and the concrete of the first outer step. More often than not it is refreshing. The early morning on the Upper East Side is somewhat tranquil and shaded compared to other parts of the city and my walk towards the downward spiral of hell is a welcome respite from what I have already had to endure. As I approach the subway the only ounce of optimism I carry with me on a normal day is released in my inner monologue - "maybe it won't be that bad today‚ I only have to wait a few minutes for an air conditioned train to come." That lasts all of 10 seconds as the first mezzanine of the underground sweatshop opens up before me. The turnstile chinks around and I head for the second set of stairs, to fall further into the MTA's layered Inferno. The air is now suffocating and horned rats scurry in the trench of the tracks. Have I actually descended into hell? 

She wouldn't stand a chance here.

Much like my approach to stepping outside, the opening of the subway doors is often equal to the flip of a coin. Will this car have AC and if so, will it be powerful enough to erase the last 12 hours of feverish suffering? The blasts of air are a welcome passenger on these rides and I pop out at Grand Central feeling refreshed. I'm now in the home stretch before the frigid oasis of my office chair comes into sight. I race through the main terminal at a calculated pace - fast enough to urge along my efforts but controlled enough to abate the swells of sweat from pooling under my arms and down my lower back. I have only been in my clothes for not yet a half hour and already I am on the verge of losing them to the humiliation of swamp ass and arm pit crescents.

The tragic irony of my day comes when I step through the large double wood doors at work. I've reached a pleasure nexus. Delightfully cold yet soul sucking-ly depressing all at once. I work in a large gray cube, no windows, no colors, no sense of time lost. It is a lifeless vortex that could easily beget a Van Winkle effect without the relaxation of sleep. Hours erode, years easily pass by. You never see the day turn to night, the sun shine, the rain fall, or your dreams float away. My job caters to photography and color so we are sentenced to serve our time in neutral gray tones and pure white light. But it is cool and comfortable so I happily sit and try to forget the last 40 minutes of my morning.

The end of the day becomes even more challenging. Deciding to leave this arctic bastion amounts to being asked if you can ever have too much money or too many woman. It seems absurd to purposefully leave such a place only to return to the sweltering reality of my life at home. The inverse of the morning debacle is much worse as there is no pot of cold gold waiting at the other end. The minutes approaching 4 o'clock cause utter confusion in my head. I possess the giddy unease of a reader running through the final pages of a novel as well as a restless abandon akin to departing from a new lover after a perfect date. I don't want to leave but I don't want to stay either. Shit.

The sad thing is, I used to love the summer. There was nothing better in my youth than this time of year, knowing that the freedom from homework and uniforms was newly upon me. Days full of baseball, grass stains and imagination were at my finger tips. I would be able to run around like a monkey snorting pixie sticks and sweat out my shackled winter frustrations in the humidity of the Mid-Atlantic air. I never was one for video games or hiding indoors. I much preferred living in fantasy worlds as my childish pursuits and also liked pretending to have various blue collar jobs for some reason. Many days I chose to be a cop, fireman, or Ghostbuster, while others would lead me into the more skilled trades as a fuax carpenter, mechanic or plumber. One of my favorites though was a fighter pilot - Maverick from Top Gun in particular. The lawn chaise magically transformed into my F-14 and my sister into Goose. Poor K/C‚ Goose never survived no matter how hard I tried to outmaneuver those goddamn Migs. The dogfights were intense. We lost a lot of good men (read: younger sisters) out there.

To better explain my disdain for summer and the ritualistic to and fro of my daily life, I should mention that my surroundings are partially to blame. Residing in NYC does not make the summer an easy season to endure - especially in a 6th floor walk-up apartment with no AC. Without much imagination you can probably infer my level of comfort when temperatures begin to consistently reach the upper 80s and 90s. It is a downright torturous existence. In the practice of full disclosure there is an AC but it does little to offer reprieve. Our wiring can only withstand a small unit and the pre-war construction and half-assed maintenance means that none of the windows close all of the way. Much like a congressional debate, all the AC is capable of is blowing air around and providing unearned Christmas bonuses to Con-Ed employees. As I stated, leaving the apartment can often be worse. Heat is magnetically drawn to the seas of black asphalt and trapped at ground level by the towering edifices of concrete and steel. The city becomes an oven and exposure to the imprisoned warmth is only complimented by the perfume of the city. Nothing can enliven your love for the great outdoors like the saturating aroma of dumpster juice, stale dog excrement and the homeless basting in a their own sweat and urine. And people say Folgers is the best part of waking up...

So this takes care of introducing you to most of the obvious reasons I might spew ill will towards the summer. Stay tuned for part two which ventures into my number one gripe with the season and its facilitation of casual discomfort.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Such A Tease

Season 4

Season 3

Season 2

Season 1

Never have there been posters that say so much with so little.

Soon, all will be right with the world again.

Sunday, July 25th.

Tic Toc.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Another One Bites The Dust

Off to the great outdoors to mourn the loss of yet another friend to the wretched grips of marriage. A preview of what this weekend is all about - in this case, pictures are worth a thousand words: boys, booze, bright blazes, burning beast and boisterous ballyhoo. Need I say more?

Image: Alan Sikiric

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Just Tap It In

Living in Manhattan I do a lot of walking. A lot of frustrating walking. Each sidewalk block becomes a small football field, the street ahead a glorious goal line. It's all about finding holes. Like a running back surging out of the backfield I take to the streets with intent, weaving amongst the masses with my eyes peering ahead for the optimal route. My walking agility has become a source of pride and accomplishment for me since residing in such a crowded city. I have a destination in mind and a lot of pokey foes standing in my way. There are the gazing tourists of Soho, the chunky strollers of the Upper East Side and the hand-holding couples of the East Village and Brooklyn. Old, young, rich, poor, man, woman, they are all the same - SLOW - and, like a burly linebacker, seemingly uncommitted and hell bent on keeping me from my intended location.

Of all of the offenders though, the worst are not confined to a specific neighborhood, but rather are a ubiquitous problem. The entranced Blackberry/iPhone/cell user is the equivalent of a 10 speed Huffy in the fast lane on I-95. They meander aimlessly like drunken puppies who would easily fail a sobriety test. So intent are they on the earth shattering message they received that walking a straight line is near impossible. They can bring movement to a halt and increase my blood pressure with every blatantly oblivious stroke of their tiny touchpad. Unfortunately, this is the arrogance one develops living in NY - you become the center of your own world and societal flow and awareness are no longer concerns to be bothered with.

Excuse me. (thud) Ok, now that I am off my soapbox I can get to the point - taps. Unlike the athlete I am comparing myself to, my footwear has no cleated bottom or turf tread to hug the surface beneath my feet. Most of my clod hoppers are fashioned in full or partly from a leather sole. As a preventative measure to the torture I inflict upon my equipment, each new brogue or loafer that comes into my possession is outfitted with a set of taps. They are a simple, cheap and effective way of preserving shoes by protecting the highly exposed areas of the sole: the tips and heels. I also find their services useful in gripping certain surfaces, especially when breaking in a fresh pair of shoes.

Taps usually come in two varieties, metal and plastic. Unless you want to sound like Mr. Bojangles shuffling about I suggest the plastic. Most cobblers can affix them as you wait with the muffled stroke of their rubber mallet. And at a cost of $5 or $6 per pair, there really is no reason not to indulge. Taps can be worth the extra shekels simply for the added traction to maneuver around my dawdling pedestrian peers, and thereby forgoing the urge to resort to minor assaults just to get from point A to point B!

As with most additions to a man's arsenal, taps are yet another understated detail that goes unnoticed but adds a bit of confidence to your stride. While they don't add any outward aesthetic, I feel somewhat more Astaire-ian with them affixed to my shoes. They certainly add an unheard sophistication in my mind that helps to battle the constant "flip flopping" noise that I so readily hear from a certain travesty of footwear that shall remain nameless.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Maine Archives

As I mentioned in the previous post, two weekends ago I was rowing through a sea of scotch and a haze of burnt tobacco while my lady-friend (I love that term - straight out of a retirement village) was engaged in debauchery in the evergreen splendor of Maine. Between her undeniable bouts of rabble rousing and boisterous merrymaking she was kind enough to remember my rugged quest and appreciation for sartorial history.

As the story goes, Leon Leonwood Bean returned from a hunting trip with wet feet and summoned a local cobbler to fasten a leather upper to waterproof rubber bottoms. And so the Maine Hunting Shoe was born as well as the rugged legacy of L.L. Bean. The avid outdoorsman began selling field tested gear via mail order and soon developed a loyal customer base that valued the dependability of his products and his steadfast guarantee. He soon saw the need to supplement his catalogs with a retail outlet and opened a store in downtown Freeport, ME. This humble one man operation has since grown into a global organization with over 1.5 billion in sales. To modernize its tradition and bring a fresh design perspective, the company recently launched its new Signature line headed by Alex Carleton of Rogues Gallery fame. Mr Carleton has dipped into the Bean archives to resurrect old favorites, injecting tailored style while holding true to core functionality. Recent items that have been reworked include the Casco Bay Polo, Featherweight Hunting Jacket and my favorite, the Waxed Canvas Maine Hunting Shoe.

L.L. Bean Store Facts:
- Fisherman and hunters would often drop by at night on their way out into the Maine wild. At first a night bell would alert a watchman or even L.L. himself to come to the service of his late-night customers.

- The store began its 24/7, 365 operations in 1951.

- L.L. once remarked that "we have thrown away the keys to this place". There are still no locks on the doors of the store to this day.

- In 1989, a 40,000 sq. ft. extention was added to the store.

- The store is now 200,000 sq. ft. and resides on the original site where L.L. Bean opened his retail business in 1917.

- Services over 3 million visitors each year.

- A trout pond and a 3,500 gallon freshwater aquarium are housed inside.

- And finally, as a random fun fact, Leon Leonwood Bean was named one of the Top Ten Entrepreneurs of the 20th Century by the Wall Street Journal.

These images were snapped at the massive 24 hour L.L. Bean store in Freeport, ME by the aforementioned lady-friend. (click to enlarge):

All photos courtesy of S. Andriole except last, which is from L.L. Bean... because I like it.