A Fine Man Once Said:

"Part of the 10 million I spent on gambling, part of it on booze, and part of it on women. The rest I spent foolishly."

- George Raft

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Man in the Baggy Tan Suit

It seems that the leader of the free world has been getting a lot of grief because he chose to wear a tan suit to a press session on foreign policy. The criticisms seem to center on 2 main points: (1) the President wore a whimsical summer outfit to what was a somber session on the very serious current events taking place throughout the world; and (2) the tan suit was actually embarrassingly ill-fitting and poorly tailored.

Most assuredly, there are probably others who can speak to what is appropriate wear for a "serious" policy discussion - many people seem to be of the opinion that the President's normally ill-fitting grey or navy suits would have been more appropriate for the occasion. And that may be true, but the notion that a tan cotton suit is something of a leisure suit or clown outfit is at best a canard and, at worst, a malicious lie.

Certainly, tan cotton or khaki suits of the type that Haspel of New Orleans became famous for during the 20th Century are a warm weather, seasonal option. Of course, this stems from the fact that the cotton is supposed to breathe better in warm weather. It seems odd that of all the people that have chosen to wear a cotton suit in a business setting in order to keep cool during the dog days of summer in the last 75 or years or so, it was the President who was considered to be unprofessional or insufficiently serious.

As to the second point, the suit certainly appears to be rather ill-fitting. When I wake up to Al Roker and Matt Lauer commenting on the shockingly poor fit of the shoulders on your jacket, things are not going well for you, at least from a sartorial standpoint.This, of course, is in line with the rest of the President's business attire, generally speaking. In this instance, I wonder how much of the negative commentary has to do with the distinct drape of the cotton suit. There is generally a stiffness to the fabric so that it does not seem to "adhere" to the shape of the body. Basically, there is a bulbous aspect to a cotton suit that is well-tailored.

In the President's case, if someone were to announce tomorrow that the suit worn by the President to the press briefing was made by Haspel or Joseph A. Banks, would anyone be surprised? The suit has the rather bland, amorphous fit of an off the rack item - the arm-holes of the suit jacket look enormous, in keeping with the one size fits all ethos of ready to wear made for morbidly obese Americans. The fact that the President is rather trim has apparently lead to this sorry state of affairs wherein the President had probably purchased this suit based on tag size rather than actual fit. What we are left with is an unflattering jacket with armholes that are too wide and sleeves and a waist that are probably too long. The tie is too long and incredibly wide and he only seems to want to show some shirt cuff from one of his two sleeves. On the other hand, the President did pair the suit with dark brown wingtips and he also buttoned the appropriate button on his jacket, so there may be hope for him yet :-)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Little Things In Life

Its funny (or sad) how you rush through life missing the little things that are right in front of you every day. The photograph above, which I believe was taken by Michael Smith, has sat on a wall around the corner from my office for about 5 years. There are many works of art on the walls of the law firm that I work at, but one rarely stops to really get a good look at them. I had seen this photograph before, and it just dawned on me last week that its a picture of Canal Street in New Orleans, which certainly looks a lot different than when I was there in April, but that looks a lot like a portion of the facade of Rubenstein's, the venerable New Orleans men's clothing institution.

Of course, it took me about 6 years to realize that the artwork outside of my last office was an original Andy Warhol, so this counts as progress :-)

I think it was Ferris Bueller who said "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. Good words to live by.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

One Night at Rao's

Into the wee hours at Rao's:
Frank Pellegrino, Frank Schipani, Dan Flores, and Joe Gallo

Having grown up in East Harlem, I'd often heard about Rao's, the almost mythical Italian restaurant at the corner of 114th and Pleasant Avenue, across the street from Benjamin Franklin High School (which later became Manhattan Center). When I played in little league games by the FDR Drive near the back of Jefferson Park, my father and I would often pass the restaurant on our way to Rex' Italian ice shop on 118th street and First Avenue for a cold treat before heading home after a long, hot summer day playing ball. Of course, even back then, everyone talked about Rao's as a great place that you just couldn't get into, no matter how long you waited or how hard you tried. And so the restaurant was always in the back of my mind as something of a mystery that signified the East Harlem of another time and another neighborhood.

So imagine my surprise when I had lunch with Frank Schipani (Frank S. for short), who had just recently reached out to me after having read The Best Dressed Man In The Room. He mentioned in passing that he had actually been introduced to the book one night while dining at Rao's with a large group that included the owner, Frank Pellegrino. Apparently, Mr. Pellegrino had received a copy and (I would hope) enjoyed it as well, and so Frank S. suggested that I drop by some time and introduce myself. A few months later, when I thought that I would be up around that way, I mentioned to Frank S. that I might drop in for a drink if he wanted to join me. He agreed, and so we arranged to meet at the restaurant one night for a drink or two.

I was running late (having stopped at my sister's place to drop off a sweater she'd left at my house) and so I cut through Jefferson Park, which really hadn't changed much since I was a kid, although the pool certainly looked a lot cleaner than I remembered it. I came out of the park at the entrance right across from Rao's, where I found the two Franks sitting at a table outside the restaurant, sipping on white wine and enjoying a a nice breeze from a pleasant summer evening.

This is probably an understatement (and probably not much of a surprise to anyone who knows him) but Frank Pellegrino is one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. If I had only spent an hour and a half sitting outside the restaurant discussing men's clothing and East Harlem with the two Franks and a whiskey sour in hand, it would have been a night to remember. But Frank went out of his way to introduce us to customers and friends as they came and went - you're really made to feel like you've been coming to the place for years, and this was a constant refrain that I heard from people throughout the evening. They come for the atmosphere that Frank has cultivated over many years -the fact that the food is amazing is an added bonus!

After awhile, Frank asked us if we would join him at the bar. We had a few more drinks there and I met a few more people from the neighborhood. Someone mentioned that it was only a matter of time before Frank got up to sing with the customers, which I thought was a joke until he got up and started crooning - he looked like Sinatra working the room at the Sands (I think it was something from Dion & the Belmonts).

A short time later, as I was talking to someone about the old Dee-liteful diner on 116th and First, Frank came by, put his arm around me, and said that he was having a few people at his table for dinner and asked if Frank S. and I would like to join them. Needless to say, it was an offer that I couldn't refuse.

It probably goes without saying, but the dinner was tremendous: Pasta in a white wine sauce with yellow zucchini, eggplant parmesan, sausage and peppers with sauteed chicken, and I washed it all down with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream. Through it all, it felt more like I was having a big family dinner in the cozy dining room of old friends or relatives. Frank was literally passing the food around the table himself and asking what we thought of this or that dish, and whether we wanted a little more of this or whether we'd had a chance to try that. When I wasn't eating everything in sight, I had a chance to talk about the book, which was passed around the table. Everyone seemed to enjoy the photographs and the essays, which is always enjoyable and quite humbling.

All in all, it was a great night filled with good food, wonderful people, and interesting conversation. I'm sorry it took so long to make my way over to Rao's - I hope to return in the near future.

Many thanks to the two Franks - Schipani and Pellegrino - for an altogether unforgettable evening. Their graciousness and generosity is truly heartwarming and genuinely appreciated.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Rise of the Blank Slates II: Ruminations on the NBA's Style Etiquette Presentation for Rookies

The Best Dressed Player in the NBA - Regis Philbin would certainly approve.

Building upon our previous discussion of the inherent paradox whereby certain individuals who happen to play professional basketball in the NBA apparently also have entire outfits mailed to them by a stylist - certainly no crime in and of itself - something of a conundrum begins to take shape when so-called "men's style" magazines such as Esquire then market said NBA players as so-called "style icons" (you can see our original post on the rise of the blank slates here). Certainly, if you want to consider the stylist an "icon" in that field, have at it. But to say that a grown man who has his clothing packaged and mailed to his home address - bringing new meaning to the term ready-to-wear - is also following in the steps of Cary Grant, Gianni Agnelli, or the Duke of Windsor? It all seems a bit much.

Lest you think I don't find NBA action faaantastic, this seems like a good time to point out that I have found some positive things to write about when it comes to the NBA and the somewhat unique position that its players, coaches, etc. hold in the world of men's style. This past season, Coach Jason Kidd wore Isaia suits to notable effect, and Miami's former Big Three often express a keen sense of appreciation for classic men's style (see here and here). However, it seems that when preparing the next generation of "style icons," the NBA would perhaps do well to consider style etiquette as prescribed by a magazine  with a more timeless ethos when considering what classic style is and can be. In the end, the difference will be a player that still appears well-dressed 5, 10, or even 20 years from now, as opposed to one that will look fashionable but outdated in 6 months time. For simplicity's sake, think of the varying style advice one might receive from The Rake, as opposed to Esquire or GQ.

So, with all of that in mind, a brief review of some of the points made by an NBA fashion consultant, a GQ "executive stylist"  and others, as live tweeted by Sarah Lyall of the New York Times.

The Good:

Every NBA gentleman should have a peacoat, a baseball jacket, a raincoat and an overcoat in his closet, apparently.

I'm not sure about the baseball jacket, but a peacoat, a raincoat, and an overcoat is pretty sound advice. Of course, there are probably 8-10 types of coats that could be classified as "overcoats" (polo coat, raglan coat, a chesterfield, etc.), so you'll probably need some follow-up on this one. But its good as far as it goes.

If you can't articulate how you want your clothes to look, cut a picture out of a magazine.

At first, I thought this was setting someone up to walk into a tailor's premises and look like a moron. Or that perhaps this was the type of advice that a female stylist would give, equating an image of a well-dressed man in a magazine with a young lady walking into a hair salon and saying she wants her hair done like Angelina Jolie in a photo from Us Weekly.

However, its  not a terrible idea. And I have heard of people bringing in stills from a film and saying he would like a coat done this way or that. Of course, the key here would be the magazine, wouldn't it? Show up at your tailor's with The Rake or Men's Ex and you're probably in good hands.

Sportspeople should have good relationships with their tailors. 

Another vague piece of "advice" that is true as far as it goes.Of course, everyone should aspire to a good relationship with his/her tailor. However, so much of the other advice offered to these young men seems designed to almost ensure that one does not have much more than a paying relationship as a famous customer with the tailor (ie "No, I'm pretty sure I can wear the black pants with the blue blazer" or "I just want to dress the cargo pants up and I'm good to go" - see below under The Ugly).

"This is extremely important. Every one of you must have a navy suit, must have a black suit, must have a gray suit."

This is actually decent advice. If you're building a wardrobe from the ground up, purchasing suits in staple colors such as gray and navy is a good idea. From there, you can work on pairings accessories such as black or brown shoes, blue or white shirts, ties, etc. As far as the black suit goes, leave that for morticians and the Broadway version of Reservoir Dogs opening at the Roundabout Theatre this fall.

The Just Plain Bad

There are four dress shirts that every gentleman must have in his closet.

Honestly, after a plain white shirt and a plain blue shirt, I have no idea what the other two "must have" shirts would be.

You can wear the navy blazer with the black pants.

I suppose anything is possible but you really shouldn't.

There are many ways of dressing up a cargo pant.

I'd love to hear just one.

It is good to wear an expensive watch. Along the same vein, the GQ editor pointed out that when NBA gentlemen leave the house, they should throw on an expensive watch and maybe a signature fragrance.

Perhaps unsurprisingly considering his newly enriched audience, the GQ man seems to be confusing price with quality (although I really doubt he's actually confused about what he's doing). What is expensive is probably relative, which will be confusing to a young man who up until a few months ago was not a person of means. To that young man, a Donald Trump watch might be considered expensive. As would the vintage 1947 Longines, or the brand new Breitling or Patek Phillippe. Which one is the right one for him? Alas, he'll never know because they're all expensive, so any one will do. Unfortunately for him, he's probably only familiar with the Donald Trump brand.

The Downright Ugly

If you don't say something when someone's pants are hanging off your behind, that person might be the person who ends up robbing and killing you. 

I'm not even sure where to begin with this one. It sounds highly offensive and racist, but hey, maybe that's just me. If the owner who told his goomah to keep the black men she was sleeping with out of his arena was banned for life, I'm not sure what kind of punishment this sort of statement should merit. But then again, if no one batted an eye when the style expert sounded off, then it wasn't offensive.

If you come to an interview with your pants hanging off you behind, you probably won't get a good post-NBA job. 

Ouch. Allen Iverson called and wants his post-playing career opportunities back.

Do not use the same Irish Spring soap under your arms that you use on your face.

I assume the stylist meant to say that you should only use Irish Spring's Aloe Vera version on your face. The original version is just fine for under the arms and private parts.

At one point, GQ's "executive stylist" apparently stated rather definitively that "NBA players are style icons." Perhaps what he meant to say is that some NBA players are aspiring style icons. A certain income does not a style icon make. But the worst part of this mentality is that the players are ultimately being deprived of the enjoyable experience of learning how to dress classically for all occasions. There seems to be a mentality - which is certainly strange to see from a stylist from a magazine like GQ - that putting together an outfit comprised of color and fabric combinations borne from trial and error and experimentation is something to be assigned to an assistant, or to be gleaned from a review of your notes of what GQ's stylist had to say on the subject. That does sound like a terrible way to become acquainted with the nuances of how to dress - I probably wouldn't want to be bothered either.

At another point, Shabazz Napier of the Miami Heat apparently asked, "Do we need to buy lots of stuff or just basic items?" A great question, but one fears that he was given an answer like "just make sure the watch is expensive," or "just make sure that you have a pair of cargo pants and you're all set," or the instance classic, "Just take the pants from the black suit and the jacket from the navy suit and bam." Wouldn't it be more interesting and informative for Mr. Napier to be introduced to different cuts of suits and shirt collars and let him experiment and ultimately decide what works for him? Instead of deciding for him and then shipping the supposedly perfect outfit to him via overnight mail?  The stylist is essentially taking all of the joy out of the process of learning how to dress well, and is probably being compensated very well to do so, with the young man entering into the Faustian bargain of being dressed by another adult at the age of 25 while ironically being labeled a "style icon" by said stylist and his/her marketing partners. The young man may or may not become a style icon, but he may just end up being a young man with a flair for style who doesn't actually need to be dressed by someone else - terrible news, indeed, for the men (and women) behind the supposed new style icons of the NBA.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Discounted RLPL Shirts at Woodbury's Polo Store


Its not too often that you can find RLPL's shirts made by Lorenzini reduced from $450 to $29.99, but assuming you can find a pattern that catches your eye, its a great deal! At the moment, the Polo store at Woodbury Commons has a small rack of shirts on super discount. Most of the shirts appear to feature check (perhaps its a window pane?) patterns in black/purple or royal blue/navy blue combinations. Unfortunately, by the time I found about the sale, only the purple/black combinations were left in size 16. I like the pattern, though, and it fills a small niche in the color palette of my shirt collection.

Just an fyi - it seems that the shirts may have originally been sent to the high-end Ralph Lauren store at Woodbury, but they've since been relocated to the big, main Polo store near the entrance to the outlet center.

Happy hunting!

eBay Auctions Ending Today!

Just a heads up for anyone who might be interested in some random items from my eternal closet cleaning! At the moment, I have up for sale a grey Saint Andrews jacket (sz. 44), a vintage striped paisley Abercrombie & Fitch tie (made in England when the company actually sold quality menswear), and a Holland&Holland game bag in a blue wood-grain patterned leather that my wife may have used 4 or 5 times to hunt big game in the urban jungle that is the City of New York.

All have low starting prices and all end this evening!