mens style

14 DAYS OF REFLECTION: EPISODE 12 – Context, Context, Context

Why I haven't posted in a month had something to do with my cultural context.

Why I haven’t posted in a month had something to do with my cultural context.

Q: Why have I not written anything for the last month?

A: Long answer. It begins with G.I. Joe.

When I was 14, I rounded up all my action figures, put them into shoe boxes, and hung posters: Lamborghinis, girls in bikinis, and a couple of rock bands.

I know. Super original.

If you had told me, six months earlier, that my beloved G.I. Joe space station would soon be as irrelevant to my life as a Fisher Price barnyard, I’d have said, in the parlance of the day, “bite me.”

And yet, that’s exactly what happened. One spring day, with very little fanfare, I hid the space station, the stealth fighter, and even the awesome Terrordrome under the bed, in the back of the closet, and behind the extra sofa in the attic. (Where they are to this very day).

In my life, I have gone through many phases and fads. I have been, at various times, obsessed with (in no particular order): electric guitar, capoeira, the Best American Short-Fiction series, Indian New-Age kitsch, salsa dance, Chinese tea, Bioshock, Dungeons and Dragons, vintage tube-amp stereo systems, and comic books. With each of these, I threw myself in, feeling a burning passion to understand, learn, do, master. Then, at some point, it no longer seemed relevant, and I put it away.

srugim

A prime sample of Jerusalem’s Fashion Glitteratti.

This summer, I spent three weeks in Jerusalem. Say what you like about the magic and the power and the history of the city, it’s one of the least stylish places imaginable. An image search for “Srugim” (an Israeli TV show, similar to “Friends,” but depicting life in the hub of  Jerusalem’s religious-singles’ scene) can confirm that everyone looks sort of shlumpy.

I’d packed my suitcase with some red, summer chinos, a couple of skinny bow-ties, a light-weight blazer, some Fred Perry polo shirts — all the stuff I wear when I want to look dapper on vacation. But most of it sat, unworn, in my suitcase. Instead, I wore the same three T-shirts, over and over, washing them in my hotel sink. On Shabbat, I wore a white dress shirt.

In the span of three days, I’d lost interest in anything having to do with clothes. And as someone who has been passionate about style for years, I have to admit – I was a little concerned. Would I return home in droopy khakis and billowy, white dress shirts? Would StyleForDorks.com go the way of the G.I. Joe Mobile Command Center?

My main source of inspiration.

My main source of inspiration.

As it turns out, once home, many things returned to normal. I was reunited with my main source of inspiration, and I dove headfirst into a pile of cardigan sweaters, gleeful both for the variety and also for the Bay Area weather, permitting my stylish layering.

Some might credit my fashion-fluctuation with Jerusalem’s inherent spirituality obliterating my interest in all things vain.

I, however, believe it’s about context.


There is nothing very funny about a pirate, per se. But a pirate on an escalator? The misalignment in context makes for a comic spectacle.

Likewise, amidst swimming-suited beachgoers… look at that man in a tuxedo! Awkward and absurd! Let’s go shove him into a sand castle! 

pirate

A seersucker suit belongs in Jerusalem like a pirate belongs on an escalator.

Style is about dressing for the place and the time. In summer, bright colors. Linen. Stylistic nods to Nantucket, Hawaii, Cuba, Southern California, the Mediterranean. In Winter, wool and tweed, sweaters, muted tones, and stylistic nods to the Ivy-League campus, to ski slopes, to the Holidays.

In winter, I lose interest in my summer outfits, and in summer, I lose interest in my winter gear. And in Jerusalem, I focused on other things: teaching. Food. My memories. And my outfits fit that context. Everything was easy to wear, easy to wash, and easy to shove into a suitcase.


Preparing for to shop in Jerusalem's ultra-orthodox neighborhood, Meah Sha'arim. Wearing ritual fringes for Kosher-Steez credit.

Preparing to shop in Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox neighborhood, Meah Sha’arim. Wearing ritual fringes for Kosher-Steez credit.

On the other hand, not ironically, cloth and clothes did play a major role for me in Jerusalem.

Future posts will explore how (and why) I spent an impressive amount of time tracking down a wool prayer shawl (tallis) and a white, linen robe (kittel) with a fervor I normally reserve for a Black Fleece suit. I agonized over white kind of white Kippah to purchase for a very significant event next summer. I even wore fringes to blend into the cultural milieux of an ultra-orthodox neighborhood. In other words, I didn’t lose interest in style. But style manifested in other ways.

It was, and is, an expression of who and where I am. The constant is that style is about the Self in context.

Even if that Self moves forward from time to time.

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14 Days of Reflection: Weekend Look #3 – The First Day of Vacation

IMG_4440For many people, and understandably so, the second that vacation begins, the care to construct a styley look ends. And truly, I will never fault anyone for taking off the work clothes and slipping on the t-shirt, shorts and flips-flops.

On the other hand, as long as you gotta wear something (assuming you’re vacationing with family in, say, San Diego, and not at “Sea Mountain Nude Hotsprings”) why not wear something well put together?

The trick is this: if you know that you won’t have the headspace to pick out a bunch of vacation outfits as you rush to cram your suitcases, pick them out in advance. Way in advance. In other words, identify a couple of pairs of pants, a few shirts, a pair of shoes, and yes, a classy layer-piece: a sweater or an unconstrcuted blazer or both.

Then, when your plane takes off in three hours and you still haven’t filled your suitcase, you need not panic: you know what you’re packing.


As Gabi and I approach our first week as (and with) future-family, I’m struck by two competing forces at work. First, there is, well, the familiar. Gabi’s family is very tightly knit and meals with them are full of laughter, good-natured ribbing, and decades’ worth of stories. They seem to appreciate and understand my humor, although folks are divided on whether my puns are brilliant or groan-worthy.

IMG_4437On the other hand, there is the unfamiliar. Deeply unfamiliar. People who are dear to me, and have been for years, take on roles of new significance. Future father-in-law. Future mother-in-law. Future brother-in-law. I have never really known these roles in my life, and I’m acutely aware of this, the way a new article of clothing feels very there.

It seems appropriate, in these circumstances, to wear something fitting this odd and beautiful confluence of well-known and never known. Here, on this San Diego beach, what could do that better than comfy sneakers, a soft sweater, my old hat – and a red flower in my lapel?

Blogging Back and Forth Forever: Getting Engaged, and 14 Days of Reflection

 For those in the know, “Blogging back and forth forever” ))<>(( can be a our little inside joke, a little indie-film triviata.

For those not in the know, just take my word for it; It’s weird and sweet and evocative and sort of grody and, well, forever.

Sort of like life.


Yesterday, Gabi and I got engaged. She looked beautiful. I was wearing a fantastic suit. There was a lot of crying and laughing and a guest appearance by local San Francisco celebrity weather pattern, Karl The Fog. 

This engagement was a long time coming. Gabi and I built our bridge towards each other step by step, over a span (no pun intended) of three years. When it was time to take the plunge (eek, definitely no pun intended) it was with eyes wide open — taking in the dazzling sun on the San Francisco Bay (metaphorical for life’s various gifts and treasures) as well as the mirk, the clouds, the unknown. We planned it together, down to the exact day, the exact time of day, but for Gabi, the details were unknown. Sometimes, you need to keep some mystery – to recreate, in my opinion, the true Mystery that we are all faced with: our Existence. Part of it are revealed, from time to time, like the majestic Marin tower of the Golden Gate bridge.

It emerged, as we drove across the bay, as if to guide us on our paths towards eternity.

 Today I am 41. Dear readers, you may have figured out (“Surprise!”) that this project, “14 days of reflection,” was intended to crescendo with my innocent little question to her, but with that now residing nearby as a memory, it’s time for me to celebrate my birthday. Gabi has given me many gifts over the past three years, and while the greatest one, by far, is the gift of our life together, today, we laughed about the way that she guided my path as I crafted my on-line persona (more on the deep power of the persona, here). My fashion style was in place, already, but my communication style is very much a joint project, and I suspect it will be a project that will involve a lot of creativity and a lot of time.

May this be a year of thriving.

May this be a year of growing close together.

And may this be a lifetime of exploration for my fiancee and I, both in person, but also online.

May we blog back and forth forever.

Vintage Varsity: Lettering in Style

letterman

Before David Letterman, there was THE Letterman.

My own history with varsity style involves a lot of very un-varsity moments.

I would eventually experience great disappointment in discovering that the only part of this movie that applied to my freshman year at college was the nerdiness.

I would eventually experience great disappointment in discovering that the only part of this movie that applied to my freshman year at college was the nerdiness.

First, when I was a little kid, there was varsity-superhero Letter Man, a favorite regular on the PBS show, Electric Company. His sport: ripping the letter from his sweater and applying it to spoiled words – thus restoring “custard” to those who’d been forced to eat mustard. Kids learned to read. The word/world was saved.

Then there was “Lambda Lambda Lambda,” the fraternity in which a gaggle of outsiders found comradery, legitimacy and pride in Revenge of the Nerds.

Moving on, there was my big opportunity to earn a letter in high school. No, not in football. In the National Speech and Debate Organization. I would go on to win second place in state, but stupidly, I turned down the letter.

That move would go on to haunt me for decades.


varsityusageThe unfortunate mistake I made had nothing to do with the prestige of lettering, seeing as how my award-winning speech about drawing Beatles caricatures afforded me all the prestige I needed. Rather, I lost the opportunity to bag one of those cool sweaters.

Until this year.

The usage infographic on the right testifies to the return of the term “varsity,” in modern parlance. This is especially fortuitous because it coincides with the availability of varsity apparel for style-dorks. The monopoly on this classic piece of Americana, previously held by the sinister jocks (Alpha Betas and their cronies), has been broken.


vintagevarsityBefore I tell you where to nab a great varsity sweater and what to wear it with, a little history. First, the word varsity is derived from the word “university,” and simply reflects an outdated pronunciation. The tradition of the letter goes back to the second half of the 1800s, when Harvard used them to mark uniforms, and would award the lettered jersey to the captain of a successful team at the end of the season.

Ten years before this, a successful British military commander during the Crimean war made popular a button-up woven garment. His name?  James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan.

These historical events, combined with the roaring twenties and the rise of college culture, lead to the proliferation of the varsity sweater across America, and that leads us to today, where I have a few to many of them in my closet, and yet, weirdly, not enough.


kippersweater

Americana Overdrive

How to rock a varsity sweater

While you could wear a varsity sweater as a layer piece over whatever you wanted, I’d like to suggest that the fun multiplies with additional vintage style elements – many of which are as common as a pair of dark, indigo jeans, with a generous cuff, and even a bow-tie or newsboy cap. 

On the other hand, if you’re concerned about looking too costumey, have a peek at my How Much Flair infographic, which will guide you in upping your style-game without going overboard.


Look 1: Americana Overdrive

This look (above) pairs a great varsity sweater by the progressive clothing company Kipper Clothiers with a denim tie and a gingham shirt: Americana layered on Americana. This sweater is beautifully made, soft, and stylish. Grab a pair of incredibly cheap, but incredibly styley PF Flyers to complete the look.

Note: if you want to layer this many patterns, stick to a tried-and-true color palette: red, white and blue.


greensweaterandplaidvintagevarsityLook 2: Two Layers of Vintage

norristhrash

Stay Fly Thrash: Advanced Style Swerves

This sweater lacks the typical letter of a varsity cardigan but hey, notice the stripe on the sleeve? That’s Thom Browne’s nod to the varsity stripes – which, incidentally, stand for how many years you participated in the sport. In this case, the sport of styliness. On the left, the sweater is paired with a gingham shirt, an idea I shamelessly ripped off from StayFlyThrash, who pulls off advanced style swerves that require a PhD in cool. Somehow, the strong colors work, and pull the look off the college campus and push it into post-modern fashion-zone.

On the right, paired with Chuck Taylors, plaid pants and a bow-tie,  I’m ready for a Gatsby party. (On the rare occasion when there isn’t such an event happening in San Francisco, one is happening in my head).


leanonscopeE-bay Pullover

This sweater came from eBay, and it’s a success story in the power of the saved search.

I’m a big fan of Andre 3000s now defunct label, Benjamin Bixby (wherein he combined his middle and last name with vintage prep style).

This sweater probably retailed for the cost of a semester at an ivy-league college, but I paid very little for it.

On eBay, you can ask for an alert if a particular item is posted. 6 months ago, I saved a search for Andre 3000’s finest, received a notification a few weeks ago, and put in a low, low bid.

Here, I pair it with the ubiquitous dark denim, a used newsboy Goorin Brothers cap,  and some PF Flyers, for an old school look. By the way, the whole outfit cost me under $80. Take that, Yale. I learned my economics on the internet.


ragnbonewsuit

fullonsuitSuitable for Anywhere

Here are two ways to pair vintage varsity with a suit. On the left, a vintage tweed suit pairs beautifully with the Kipper Clothiers cardigan.

My advice: make sure the colors compliment each other, and avoid too smooth a suit; you want something with texture to balance the cozy sweater.

On the right, the varsity look lives only in the sleeve of this dress shirt from Gant. I waited until this shirt was languishing on the clearance rack and got it for a third of the price.

Incidentally, buttoning the top button (otherwise known as an “air tie“) helps to keep the look streamlined and casual – even while earning As for awesome.


gabiinstylgram

Letters for the Women’s Team

In case it wasn’t clear how much I love the vintage varsity look, maybe this will convince you, and maybe it will give you some ideas of your own: I poked around online and found a bunch of Rugby by Ralph Lauren cardigans for someone special.

Gabi (said special person) wears a lot of great dresses, often with strong, primary colors. I wondered: how would those dresses pair with a vintage-style varsity sweater? Answer: amazing.

The Rugby label is now defunct, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t available. Head over to your favorite online auction and offer a bid and see if you can’t bag a once-super-expensive sweater for much less.

The sweater lends the outfit a cuddly, sporty aesthetic, and she pairs it beautifully with some Chuck Taylors, Clark’s Boots, or a pair of vintage heels.


troublephoto

Sweater by Ralph Lauren Rugby, socks by Happy Socks, and hat by Goorin Brothers. Pair with a wool tie and a collared shirt and wear it anywhere.

Dress Up, Dress Down

In an earlier post of Dress-Up/Dress-Down mashups, I got pretty nerdy on the subject of mixing formal and informal elements, creating great art, architecture, and style.

Whether you decide to hunt for a varsity cardigan or not, I hope this post gives you some ideas for adding together sporty and dressy elements.

GQ can keep their $400 “sportscore” designer sweatpants. I’d rather pull my influences from a style that never goes out of style.

5 Things Mad Men Taught Me About Style

dondraperinstylgramIn many ways in life, I was a late bloomer.

I didn’t feel at ease, socially, until well into college. I started dating in my 20s. And I started watching Mad Men when the rest of the world was on season four.

At that time, I had no place in my life for a TV series, but other things in my life were in already flux. I was in a new relationship. I was approaching the end of my 30s. I was beginning to reinvent my own personal style. And that was the bait and switch.

I was told that the show featured great style, and I was hungry for that, curious what I would get out of it. I had no idea, seven seasons later, how much I would give to it. And I’m not just talking about how much I would invest in the characters, or how many meals would be spent teasing apart the show’s subplots and themes. I’m talking about how I would see and understand my own growth, and the development of my own, personal style, in a kind of partnership with the show.


Took a while to get to this look. Think I'll keep it for a while.

Took a while to get to this look. Think I’ll keep it for a while.

doncasual1. Excellence in style is not about what you wear, it’s about how you wear it.

Naturally, this list must begin with Don, and the most notable thing about what Don wears is how little there is to say about it.

We’re struck by the stack of clean, pressed shirts in his desk drawer. We’re enamoured with the grey suit, the striped tie, the plaid short-sleeve shirts, but in all, what he wears is noteworthy because of the understated nonchalance in a world where the norm for style has become increasingly grabby, self-conscious, ostentatious.

Style, in that sense, is about being at home in space and place. Myself, I lived in 7 cities before the age of 40; I meandered not only geographically, but also academically, religiously, in complex life decisions and in style. All the while, however, I have tried to live with my actions and my identity in alignment – in flux as they may have been. Only now, however, has my sartorial style “become at home.” And while learning to understand Don is learning to understand how lost he is, it’s also to appreciate the journey to be “at home,” where outfit and outlook are in alignment.

That person, no matter what he wears, is in style.

2. Fit is a thousand times more important than fashion

ted60s

60s. Got it.

ted70s

70s. Don’t got it.

As the style of the mid 60s passes and the 70s approach, a strange sacrifice takes place: along with the rise of radical individuality, the invention of global pop-culture and the celebration of personal expression comes the introduction of a generation-long trend in style. As the show closes, proportion and propriety go out the window as fashion conventions (not to mention patterns, colors, and fabrics) give way to the free-for-all of 70s fashion.


60s.

The 60s in their glory, outfits are on-point, and Ginzberg is kooky.

The 60s wane, sleeves get baggy and Ginzberg goes insane.

The 60s wane, sleeves get baggy and Ginzberg goes insane.

On the one hand, I’ve never been one to denigrate the freedom of expression – and more importantly, there was a lot, a lot about 50s and 60s American life that needed to be shed to pave the way for progress. Societal expectations, rigid class, race and gender expectations soften, and the promise of freedom is in the air. On the other hand, and speaking plainly, much of the next phase of style is about statement rather than aesthetic, and the price to pay is that everyone looks plain awful.

In my own exploration of style, I have often found that minimal, understated, and well-tailored rarely goes wrong. And conversely, yearbooks and wedding albums from the 70s and on are full of fashion experiments that might have looked good on a catalog or runway, and bad on everyone else.

And rarely is the issue about pattern or color – as these things fall in and out of favor. But rather, it’s about whether the clothes fit the wearer, or does the wearer wear fit the clothes? Tailored was out. Mass produced was in. Clothes got cheaper, closet sizes expanded, and from a style-perspective, everyone paid the price.

In my own life, as I began to explore the world of style, I bought (and donated) a lot of clothes that made a variety of statements. It took a while to discover what Mad Men’s early seasons knew, and which won every budding sartorialist’s heart: a great fitting suit, a properly tailored shirt, a slender tie, and a clean haircut looks great on any man.

3. There’s a difference between keeping up with the times and having no core-principles

Look at Harry, for example.

Prompting the next question, which Harry?

Every season, he sheds his previous attire and becomes the poster-man-child of the new look. That said, his character is in stark contrast with Stan.


Stan, too, transforms, from on-point, polo-with-blazer, womanizing yuppie of the early seasons to the scruffy, bearded post-hippie who wins Peggy’s heart.

But whereas Stan evolves as a character, being one of few characters to reflect on who he used to be, and who he is now, Harry devolves. He is on-point as he jumps about the TV bandwagon, as he sidles up to the power of computers in the workplace, but he has no honor, no loyalty, culminating in his cringeworthy amorous advances on Joan in season seven.


yuck

Evolution is beautiful.

Evolution is beautiful.

Stan becomes only more trustworthy, more loyal, more sensitive and more honest. His style is a reflection of who he is. As homage to his character, his outfits somehow work, and he is somewhat immune to some of absurdity of the era’s style.

Harry is last shown in a coat we have seen in a hundred thrift-shops, whining about his lunch plans, shoving a cookie in his mouth. Hardly a memorable exit. Stan exits, embraced, loving and in love.

In that sense each shows the light and dark side of style. It can be fickle, a costume, a mask, a way to express power or amass social credit. Or it can be a sincere representation of where someone is, and even an aspiration of where they hope to go.

I hope, dearly, that I am more like Stan.

4. When life takes out an eye, slip on a patch and soldier on

Life kicking Kenny's ass.

Life kicking Kenny’s ass.

Kenny kicks back.

Kenny kicks back.

Kenny could be a tragic character because we know he wants to be a writer and we believe he could do it. However, he is caught up in the corporate world and not only is it consuming him, it takes his eye; he loses it in an account-courting hunting excursion. After losing his job, however, he takes an entirely different path, however, and never looks back. So to speak.

He goes from tragic character to master of his own fate, no longer playing hands but dealing them to others.

We have all picked up our scars in life. Some are visible, many are not. And I am deeply sympathetic to the ways that life can drag people down.

That said, there is something inspiring about Kenny who continues forward, in essence embodying Churchill’s line: success consists of going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.

By all means, after loss, we should take time to grieve and mend. And then we should kick ass.

donshortsleeveschilling5. Style is in the office, on vacation, mowing the lawn, at a new-age retreat center, and when alone, drunk in a motel.

I don’t recommend getting drunk, alone in a motel. I don’t recommend making any of the deplorable choices Don makes. One does not have to act like Don, however, to learn from him.

Don teaches us that all things must be done with dignity, and dignity is very closely related to style.

mesuitIn that sense, there is the dignity of a fresh, white shirt after a rough night (whether that rough night involves shady hotel-room or a baby that won’t go back to sleep). There is the dignity of a fresh, well fitting polo shirt while on vacation (whether that vacation involves running away from your crumbling inner world or a weekend in Santa Barbara with your girlfriend). There is the dignity of a short sleeve, button-up shirt when you’re relaxing at home (whether you’re in the garage, opening a can of beer with a metal “churchkey,” or sipping kombucha while trying to figure out what’s wrong with your wifi router).

Even in my worst hours, I don’t want to act like Don, but perhaps I’ve learned something from him about how to hold up my head; perhaps I’ve found some value in his proclamation: sometimes, all I need is “a shower and a shave.”

Style-Up: Paul – Rugged Yet Refined

Above, Paul’s Style-Up: Before and After.


Over the years, I have gone through my own style evolution.

I have learned a great deal: what rules to follow, what rules to break, and how style is more than what we wear — it’s self and identity and personal expression. I’ve been fortunate to assist others, too, as they sought ways to match their outsides to their insides. Each of these people has a unique Style Story with something to teach.

Meet Paul — in his own words. The cartoons are mine.


Style -Story: Paul, Instructional Design

paul2

Paul: “I would like to begin to develop my own sense of style.”

What are your feelings about your style “before?” 

I can’t really say that I have a style, as such. I feel like I have a decent aesthetic, and have some sense for what goes together and what doesn’t, but I don’t feel like I really have a distinct style expression. [That said,] I would like to begin to develop my own sense of style.

What do you hope you’ll get out of a Style-Up?

Sometimes I will put something on, or look at something in a store, and [my wife] will look at me like I’m crazy. I trust her eye, so I go and change into something I know she will approve of, but would be really cool if I could surprise her with a new look or some new expression that I have created on my own.

James Franco: Inspiring styley guys of all species.

James Franco: Inspiring guys of all species.

If you could “channel” the style traits of any personality, who would it be?

That’s a tough one for me because I am not particularly hip to all of the fashionable people. I’ll go with James Franco.


The Style-Uppaulstyleupbeforeafter

Getting the Right Fit

chambraySharing a beer with Paul after the Style-Up, we talked about his takeaways from the experience – besides two bags of great, new gear.

“I’m amazed at the importance of fit,” he remarked. “And finding the fit that works best.”

As you can see from the before picture, Paul typically wore clothing that was too large for his frame. We sized down from his usual shirt-size, and the effect accentuated his shoulders and upper torso – helping to construct a strong silhouette.

bigbuffalocloserPattern

On a rack of shirts, you can find 100 patterns that look great on a piece of cloth, but that doesn’t mean they look great on your body. I often recommend the following for men: find garments with “strong patterns” — meaning, if you want stripes, go big. If you want some flair, go with gingham or checks, and choose strong colors (blue, red, black, etc.). The effect is amazing, as the pattern and color help to construct a flattering T-shape. (Click here for a deeper dive on strong-patterns).

The Plain White T

Speaking of the T, a while ago, I wrote about the power of the plain, white T-shirt and offered some advice about when to (and mostly when not to) wear a T-shirt that costs over $50.00. That said, a white T-shirt you can wear to a pub, to the park, or with company around may not come in a pack of 3 for $10. Those are probably a cotton/polyester blends: they’re thin (and see-through), and look like underwear.

plainwhitetThe happy medium is a $15-30 T-shirt, made of 100% or a cotton/linen blend. They cost just a bit more, but you’ll be proud of the way it conforms to your body, doesn’t become a transparent dishrag after three washes, and can pair with a dark pair of jeans for a refined (but rugged) look.

Bottom line: you don’t need to spend $50 on a T-shirt. But don’t cut corners, either.

Lay(er) it On

A great sweater multiplies the potential of whatever look you’re already rocking because it adds contrasting (but complementary messages).

This principal (complementary vs. contrasting) is one of the cornerstones of a great look (for more on that, check out this post). For example, the white T and jeans is Rebel Without a Cause, classic “tough-guy.”

But a well-knit sweater? It’s a little bit professor / dad  / merchant-marine captain. It’s authority and confidence. Paired with the white T, it builds a nuanced, literally layered gestaldt  – pleasing to the eye and complex.

sweaterv2 Three rules: a) it’s gotta fit slim but not tight, b) it’s gotta be decent quality (no holes or stains, no pilling) and c) it’s gotta have a subtle and understated pattern. Paul found a sweater that fit all 3 criteria, and it looks great.

Shoes: No Need to Be Distressed

As you know, it’s all about shoes. There are many places you can cut corners on an outfit and get away with it, but if your shoes aren’t on point, the whole look is shot.

Here’s also where Paul’s taste and vision for his new look really shined: we found a pair of Frye wingtips on sale, and he took right to them. The leather is stylish (wingtips, after all) but these shoes featured distressed leather and a crepe sole – which you might be familiar with from crepe soled desert boots. They’re casual by definition.

Do the math: classy wingtip plus “tumbled” (a kind of distressing) leather + crepe sole = high/low mash-up.

Blazing the Trail

Finally, Paul chose a few blazers to round out the classy part of his new, rugged look. Each blazer adds a different element, and when paired with a dark polo or chambray shirt, they have a chance to shine. (BTW, for more or how to rock a polo, click here – and for more on the power of a chambray shirt, click here).


chambray2Ready for your own Style-Up?

I won’t hold your hand, but I will guard the fitting room door.

Live in the bay area? A Style-up is painless. Maybe even fun. And it might help you land a date / job / both at the same time. Email Me and we’ll get you on your way!

Outside of the Bay Area? Through the miracle of the interwebs, we can arrange an on-line consultation. You’ll end up with a handful of great items, some new looks, and a spring in your step. Click to Email Me.


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Pinky Lee, Pee-Wee Herman and Thom Browne

pinkypeekingIf you’re under the age of 60, you probably don’t know the name Pinky Lee, but trust me, you know who he is.

Today, if a man wears a suit and the sleeves end inches from the wrist, if the pants reveal three inches of shin – if he wears a bow tie and clunky shoes – he’s a disciple of designer Thom Browne. The cropped suit, the checkers, the bow-ties: the look has swept the fashion world from haute couture to suburban mall to First Lady Michelle Obama.

30 years ago, if a man wore a suit and the sleeves end inches from the wrist, if the pants revealed three inches of shin – if he wore a bow tie and clunky, white shoes – he was Pee Wee Herman. He won an Emmy for his show, Pee Wee’s Playhouse, which was ahead of the curve: gender bending, racially diverse characters taught children (and adults) good lessons without being preachy.

60 years ago, all of these exact elements appeared on-stage in the form of the Pinky-Lee Show, helping pave the way for children’s programming.

One additional crucial element binds three generations and two industries together: the shrunken suit. Pinky didn’t invent it, but maybe he made it famous.


pinkysuitPinky Lee was children’s TV before there was such a thing as children’s TV. Contemporaneous with the Howdy Doody show, The Pinky Lee Show was more spastic, had a lower production value, and lacked the clever marionettes of Howdy-Doody. But The Pinky Lee Show had something Howdy Doody never had: Pinky Lee himself.

Born Pincus Leff in 1907, Pinky Lee became a master of slapstick in the 30s and 40s, borrowing from Burlesque comedy foms – and by “Burlesque,” I refer to the genre of variety show that arose out of Victorian cabarets and clubs: jokes, dance, baudiness, mock irritation at various annoyances, pratfalls, the works. It’s the grandmother of modern comedy and show-biz dance. I’ve watched some, including Pinky Lee’s early performances, and while it isn’t necessarily “LOL” by today’s standards, it’s kind of mesmerizing. That man can dance.

goatAfter a first attempt at a TV comedy series was cancelled, Pinky Lee started a children’s show: there, he pranced around in a shrunken-suit, directing his nasal lisp to the camera:

Come on, everybody – hug each other!

He sings and dances and plays xylophone, little dogs walk on tight-ropes, odd characters join him on a “playground” stage – it’s Burlesque stripped of the sexuality, cleaned up for an innocent audience, and it’s like watching Pee Wee’s Playhouse thirty years before it dropped. Pinky Lee’s “man-child” persona, the androgyny, the lisp, the tone of the show, it’s all there. And what else?

The one thing they all have in common: Short sleeves, short pants, loud colors: the suit.


Thom Browne, Pee Wee Herman and Pinky Lee: what a weird trifecta.

On May 2 is Pinky Lee’s Birthday, and in honor of that, here are 5 things we can learn from the Pinky-Lee and his later “incarnations.”


goggles1. Serious and silly are not polar opposites.

A google search for “Thom Browne” could cause any skeptic to blurt: he can’t be serious.

Behemoth vintage-varsity football players in Grandma-On-Easter colors. Nantucket-meets-aviator-schoolgirl. Androgynous phylactery sci-fi Chassidic.

It’s silly until you look at it, closer. Again. It’s silly and serious. Male and female, weak and strong, future and past, high and low, and every human proportion possible – all these are mashed up, turned on their heads. He turns the fashion runway into a playground, into Alice down the rabbit-hole: curiouser and curiouser.

varsitygrandmaAnd then, there are moments of true elegance. Genius.

All three challenge the audience: when am I serious, and when am I silly?

2. Sometimes, you find your calling after (or even through) setback.

Pinky Lee began his career following a set-back – during a time when Televsion was still forming as a medium, he appeared on a series of show with limited success, and certainly, very little critical success. Said the New York times about one of his projects: “Pinky Lee suffers from a dearth of both material and versatility.”

Thom Browne design: serious or silly?

Thom Browne design: Serious or silly?

Pinky Lee Design: Seriously Silly

Pinky Lee design: Seriously silly.

After his adult show was cut, a TV producer’s children missed him in their lives, and demanded he brought back.

A few years later, he was one of the biggest acts in Children’s TV, and had helped to establish the role of energetic host.

Paul Reuben’s came up with the idea of a children’s show following the disheartening loss of a role on SNL to Gilbert Gottfried.

Long live perfect failures.

thombrownegq

Thom Browne, himself.

Pee Wee Herman, himself

Pee Wee Herman, himself

3. Often, clean lines are best

Pee-Wee comes off as a man-child, but his show (especially early on) was full of adult innuendo (though most of it pretty juvenile in nature). Likewise, some of Pinky Lee’s work (especially in the 70s) is raunchy, and by todays’ standards, offensive.

That said, Pinky Lee once responded to a criticism: “I was the cleanest comedian in burlesque… No violence. There are no gestures, alluding to the derriere or other parts of the anatomy. Words like ‘lousy’ or ‘stinker’ are absolutely verboten… It’s a happy, wholesome show.”

And I have to say, the times I smile, watching Pinky Lee on stage, are when I’m moved by how uncynical, unprocessed, and clean it is.

Styles of excess come and go, but honest and clean is forever.

peeweeleaningpinkyears4. Whatever your passion, do it fully

Newsweek magazine wrote in 1954: “In his show [Pinky Lee] expends more energy than anyone this side of Jerry Lewis.”

Time magazine called him, “One of the hardest working men in TV.”

Indeed, watching him can be exhausting. Sadly, and on that note, his years of greatest success came to an end when he collapsed on-stage. It appeared that he’d danced himself into a heart-attack, though he was later said to have suffered from an acute sinus-infection.

pinkybird3While I never wish anyone to have a breakdown from doing the thing they love, Pinky Lee inspires us to put our fullest selves into our passions:

“I just want to do the thing I love the best – entertain children.”

5. Everyone needs to play

When I first began working in an office-environment, I was captivated by the clothing; I transitioned from the “whatever” of college sweatshirts and jeans to oxford shirts, leather shoes and a tie.

By the time I’d been working for a decade, dress clothes had become de rigeur. Putting on professional garb had become a restriction, rather than a thrilling form of make-believe, wherein I was a kid, duping everyone into thinking I was an adult.

measpeewee

Portrait of the Author as a Thom Browne / Pee-Wee Herman / Thom Browne disciple

When I stumbled across Thom Browne (literally ran past – as in, I was jogging past a store where a friend was picking something up), I was shaken, inspired by the idea that clothes could be elegant, powerful, classic, and clean — and also totally fantastic. An outfit could be gentlemanly and boyish at the same time. The timing was good; I had already begun to play with style, and with the roles that nostalgia and Americana (both forms of fantasy) could play in my own appearance.

I find it fitting that my style icon is sometimes made fun off by derogatory comparisons to someone shameless, hilarious, and in some ways, timeless. The irony – the insult is a compliment.

“I know you are but what am I?”

pinkyleehat

Happy birthday, Pinky Lee

Hats (small and checkered) off to you, Pinky Lee, not only for what you did, but also, for who you inspired.


3heros

Marco? Polo!

stripeypoloI hope I’ve made a decent case for why you should wear a tie on vacation, but sometimes, a tie isn’t going to happen:

You just got home from a long day at work and can’t wait to get out of your office clothes. Tie = oppressive.

You’re going to a flea market to buy a semi-functional pinball machine. Tie = impractical.

You’re going to a swimming pool. Tie = out of place.

You’re going to a toddler’s birthday party. Tie = death by strangling.

You could throw on a t-shirt, but why do that if you can wear a great polo?


tennis

If you’d had to wear something this starchy and hot to do something athletic, you would’ve invented a garment, too.

Let’s start with things you didn’t know about polo shirts:

1. In the 20s, a famous tennis player was sick of the flannel pants and long sleeve shirts that composed “tennis whites.” He invented a garment out of pique cotton (waffley weave, for you non-french speakers).

His name? LaCoste. I’ll let you guess what animal his company stitched over the pocket.

2. The shirt, both lightweight and rugged, with a collar that could be flipped against the sun, caught the attention of Polo players. One South American polo club added an emblem of a rider on a horse. It was wildly popular.

Guess why we call it a polo shirt…? 

3. Golfers, in the 50s, got their own version with a pocket over the right shirt for scorecard and tees, often with a a placket extending lower on the shirt than the older tennis shirt/polo shirt.

This version was later made of lycra and other stretchy stuff.

toobigpolo

What not to do: seams need to fall on shoulders.

4. Ill fitting polo shirts have become industry standard uniform for retail and counter-clerks, a proliferation of baggy, flappy-sleeved polo-shirts have given this handsome garment a very bad racket. No pun intended.


Now, you’re a polo shirt maven, at least as far as history of the shirt is concerned. And if you look around, you’ll see that this shirt is everywhere, but generally, it’s worn poorly.

The white, blue and red accents will not make you look like Yankee Doodle. It will, however, lend your outfit a timeless, classic past-time look.

The white, blue and red accents will not make you look like Yankee Doodle. It will, however, lend your outfit a timeless, classic past-time look.

Let’s start with color

One of the things that makes a polo shirt (potentially) classy is that, well, it’s classy in the literal sense of the word. It hails from tennis and polo

2 pockets? Trim? Stitching? This poor shirt doesn't know who or what it is!

2 pockets? Trim? Stitching? This poor shirt doesn’t know who or what it is! Keep your polo simple!

and golf, games that, historically, were thought of as “gentlemen’s” games.

And, like many uniforms of olden days, the garments were white (with red and blue accents). 

For this reason, when you put on a polo shirt, you have the potential to tap into some of this stately, classy, gentlemanly business.

bill

Classic mod – sporty and badass.

Let’s continue with attitude

While the polo began as a sporty shirt, the mods of England adopted it, and wore them as they tore up London on the backs of Vespas. 

Today, if you pair your polo with some sweet shoes and a rock-and-roll scowl, you may merit to be the main-character in a coming-of-age movie with a classic sound track.

What not to do. In soooo many ways.

What not to do. In soooo many ways.

Let’s focus on fit

The fastest way to ruin a good polo look is with a shirt that billows around the belt-line and sleeves.

Get your Polo as slim fitting as you can without it being downright tight.

In fact, look for a label saying, “slim fit.” That’s a good place to start, even if you’re a normal sized guy.

polo

Unstructured jacket and white shoes #1

Let’s focus on the outfit

Pair your polo with an unstructured jacket and white shoes for a luxury-relaxed look.

Let’s find a good polo:

My favorite is the slim fit Fred Perry. If you buy it on e-bay, be sure to find one with a tag saying 36″ (slim fit), made in UK. The made in China variety has a much bigger collar and is baggier.

For a bargain, try the Original Penguin brand or a used Ben Sherman, but don’t get suckered in by fancy stripes and patterns.

You want a classic-classy casual shirt? A white polo is as

Then again, even my rules are made to be broken...

Then again, even my rules are made to be broken…

classy-classic casual as they come.

Top Five Ways to Rock a Sweater… without looking like a slob.

“Put a sweater on, your mother’s cold.”

Once upon a time, a sweater was something I might don, at my mother’s behest, only because it was drafty in the living room, and no one important was going to see me in it.

The warm garment of choice was a hoodie sweatshirt. Sweaters were for, well, dorks.

Then, five years ago, I was in Berlin, at one of the most infamous nightclubs in Europe. And lest you think I’m boasting, let me clarify: the bouncers at the door of this exclusive club glanced at me as if I was floatsam that had washed up on their beach, and it wasn’t worth their energy to throw me out.

I tucked my favorite sweatshirt behind a rusty pipe for safekeeping, and five hours later, the hoodie was gone. (Again, not because the garment was so cool that some tattooed, pierced Berliner needed it for his collection. It was probably used to mop up spilled Club Mate.)

My girlfriend was sympathetic to my loss but she surprised me, saying: it didn’t look that good on you, anyhow.

A bit of wisdom from the official spokesperson of the cardigan sweater.

A bit of wisdom from the official spokesperson of the cardigan sweater.

* * *

This was the dawning of the age of the sweater. It’s the sweatshirt’s older, classier, and more versatile cousin. And when selected carefully, it becomes an essential component in your style.

Here’s how to wear a sweater without looking like Mr. Rogers…or like a slob.


bill

This perfectly fitting garment is a hybrid – crossing the sweater, jacket, shirt nexus. That’s why it pairs so well with a hoppy IPA.

Rule 1: It’s gotta fit.

Like all garments, the difference between a styley sweater and a “put a sweater on, your mother’s cold” sweater is fit. A sweater’s seams should trace the outside point of your shoulder, and it should conform to your body, without being tight. In other words, it’s not a sack. It should confirm to your torso, not hug it, and not bury it.

Rule 2: choose one based not only on how it looks on a hanger, but how it looks with the rest of your clothes.

A sweater isn’t just something to throw over a T-shirt, although that’s one of its many duties. It’s also a layer to pair with a nice shirt and tie, for date night or for drinks after work. In a lounge full of blazer-wearing other dudes, your carefully crafted sweater-tie combo will catch eyes. From there, your scintillating personality will have to seal the deal.

chris

The tie says: classy. The sweater says: snuggly. That’s a killer combo.

Rule 3: the thickness of the threads is inversely proportionate to the sweater’s formality.

I call this the thickness-formality principle. It’s been written about in many academic journals. Trust me.

What does this mean to the non sweater-pundit? If you pair a sweater with a fine weave with a white shirt and knit tie, for example, it’s biz-casual. And very styley. If you work in a creative field, you can wear it to a meeting with a client to go over some ideas. And afterwards, celebrate with a barrel-aged Manhattan.

But if you pair the same shirt and tie with a chunkier sweater, then it’s better for sipping pretzels and bier after work. With the shirt and tie, you’re the best dressed, most relaxed alta in the garten.

The take home: mashing up fancy and casual is a recipe for a funky, styley look.

Rule 4: No holes. No wrinkles. No pilling.

Your sweater isn’t a sweatshirt, and while it gets more character from being beaten up, it’s not the kind of character you want when you’re going styley.

Once a sweater starts pilling — (those little fabric nubs, satisfying to pluck off, akin to popping bubble wrap) — it’s over. You can keep it at home for lounging and wear it to the laundromat, but it won’t do much for your style. (A word to the wise: higher quality sweaters will pill less and look good for longer. Meaning: buy fewer, better. That said, there are ways to treat pilling, after the fact).

sweater-vest

When rocking a sweater-vest, make sure it is slim-fitting, and make sure the shirt under it is also slim fitting. Otherwise, you’re going in the middle-school geek direction.

Rule 4: Try a sweater vest. Seriously.

A sweater vest, if it’s slim and a simple design, looks amazing. It’s reminiscent of styley dudes as far back as the 20s, and has never gone out of style. Pair it with a wool or knit tie, a chambray shirt, and a blazer for a knockout look. Then, if the office is sweaty, take off the jacket, roll up your sleeves, and you look like you’re ready to get down to business – styley casual business!

joe

A sweater with contrasting sleeves is great for bigger dudes, as it helps bring your body definition. The contrasting stripe is also good for bigger dudes because it looks awesome.


Rule 5: A good cardigan will raise your game.

A sweater with buttons broadcasts a styley, relaxed look. It’s a little preppy, a little sporty, and even a little badass, depending on what you do with it, the design, and the weave.

  • Leave it open, pair with a plaid shirt.
  • Wear it with a t-shirt and a cool hat.
  • Button, and wear with a tie.
  • Roll up the sleeves.
  • Wear it with slacks or dark denim.

But warning: cardigans are like tattoos. After you get your first cardigan, you’ll find an excuse to find another.


drawingcardigan

Cardigans are like tattoos. Addictive. But easier to remove.

Ultimately, figuring out how and what to do with a sweater is a little bit of an art. My first suggestion is to skip expensive sweaters at department stores, and hit the resale stores. For whatever reason, sweaters are abundant at resale stores, and since they’re easy to try on (no need for a changing room), you can burn through the whole rack in 10 minutes.

I guarantee: you’ll no longer associate sweaters with drafty rooms. You’ll associate them with drafting tables.

And lounge tables.

And dinner tables.

And tons, TONS, of compliments.