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Pat-down, ma’am

In this Western ski village where the skies are not cloudy all day (sometimes there is snow, too), Mr. Henry has been having fun teasing his adored consort each time the ski-bum waiter addresses her as “ma’am.”

But today the little dude-boy addressed Mr. Henry as “sir” –  not once, but three times. Cheek!

Riding the ski lift chair, Mrs. Henry struck up conversation with a teen girl from a prairie state. “Because of my knee injury last year,” said Mrs. Henry, “this year we’re taking it easy and staying on the green runs.”

“Oh,” replied the precious young thing, “I think you’re doing real good. My granner and granpa can’t even get out the house anymore!”

Such kind words. Such generosity of spirit. Aren’t the holidays wonderful?

Somehow Mrs. Henry survived the holidays and her milestone birthday with her amour propre intact and, importantly, with her girlish figure intact, too. After much hand-wringing over the appropriate gift, Mr. Henry chose a camel-colored (“heather acorn”) cashmere cardigan from J. Crew. (Something to wear against the skin seemed to be the right choice.) Inside the sweater he hid a Michelin map of the Benelux countries – a promised trip to Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp. She loved it.

Mr. Henry finally decided what he wants for Christmas – a TSA uniform. Wearing it he can command Mrs. Henry to stand perfectly still for a pat-down. Federal regulations, ma’am.

That special thing for her

A milestone birthday is imminent for Mrs. Henry. At her last milestone, Mr. Henry conspired with 80 people to throw her a surprise party. It was successful, that is, Mrs. Henry arrived in baggy sweatpants and torn T-shirt. But the enormous effort, secrecy, lies, whispers, lies and more lies were not worth the pay-off.

From this experience Mr. Henry learned the bitter life lesson that, while it may be possible to cheat on your wife, the effort required to get away scot-free is honestly too great.

This time he intends to buy her a special gift, a cherished memento of the day, something particularly suitable to her taste (like Shari’s Berries), her sense of self, and our matrimonially-entwined budget. It cannot be a promise of a trip to Bruges, a renovation to the bathroom, or even a week at the Chiang Mai Four Seasons Hotel which no mere mortal can afford.

It must be a thing wrapped up in a pretty box presented lovingly at the birthday dinner. But what? Failure looks inevitable.

Things not to get your sweetie:

1. Scanty panties. They convey expectations of limitless pleasure – but not necessarily for her.

2. Diamonds. They convey the wrong impression about the appropriate use of one’s limited means and, by the way, they are horrible investment vehicles.

3. Power tools. They convey imputations of hard work left undone.

4. Promises such as:

a.     trips abroad
b.     home renovations
c.     weight loss diets
d.     cello lessons

Mr. Henry needs help soon. He entreats your suggestions.

21 Goes Bust

21club-newyork

Izzy somehow missed it, but a few weeks ago The New York Times reported that the economic downturn has led to a true casual-ty: 21, the famed Manhattan restaurant, is no longer requiring that male diners wear ties, as it had for the prior 79 years:

The power-dining oasis, where Manhattan’s surviving masters of the universe daily attempt critical mass, announced last Thursday that the restaurant, virtually the last in town with a neckwear rule, had abandoned its tie requirement at dinner in its two dining rooms, the Bar Room and Upstairs at 21.

Ties are “preferred,” it said — indeed, “greatly appreciated.” And mind you, gentlemen, your jackets must stay on.

Actually, “21” instituted the policy “after Labor Day, a soft opening if you will,” said Bryan McGuire, the manager for the last, yes, 21 years. “We wanted to be on a more level playing field with our competitors,” he said, adding, “We didn’t think it was that big a deal.” Especially since, during lunch, the tie policy was ixnayed in 1996, he said.

The restaurant’s publicist, Diana Biederman, said she issued the release so people could “know about the policy in these challenging times.”

Mr. McGuire, though, insisted that the decision was not recession-driven.

But he allowed that the policy “could help the restaurant greatly in a time of difficulty.” Revenue, $18.5 million last year, is off by “double digits,” he said.

The restaurant has made other concessions to the economy, including free parking for all dinner patrons.

(For the record, he noted, ties are required in the 20-seat private dining room, the Wine Cellar.)

The Zagat 2009 New York City Restaurant guide has starred the Rainbow Room (which offers dinner on “selected” Friday and Saturday nights even as its landlord seeks to terminate its lease for nonpayment of rent) as the only other public restaurant requiring a tie among 13 that demand jackets.

“It is the final victory of Los Angeles,” Tim Zagat said.

As Woody Allen said of that city in Annie Hall, “I don’t want to live in a city where the only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red light.”

The ultra-formal should know that there are still a few New York holdouts when it comes to the ties-required rule.  You’ll just need to know someone who can get you into the likes of the Harvard Club.

His House, His Rules

obama-without-jacket

The new president has, it would seem, brought a new sartorial informality to the White House:

The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket. There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat.

“He’s from Hawaii, O.K.?” said Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, who occupies the small but strategically located office next door to his boss. “He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there.”

Thus did an ironclad rule of the George W. Bush administration — coat and tie in the Oval Office at all times . . . .

In cranking up the heat and ditching his jacket, Obama is showing himself to be anything but Jimmy Carter in a malaise-colored cardigan sweater, which he wore in an intentionally cold but more energy efficient White House.

Obama has explicitly changed the rules from the prior administration:

Over the weekend, Mr. Obama’s first in office, his aides did not quite know how to dress. Some showed up in the West Wing in jeans (another no-no under Mr. Bush), some in coats and ties.

So the president issued an informal edict for “business casual” on weekends — and set his own example. He showed up Saturday for a briefing with his chief economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers, dressed in slacks and a gray sweater over a white buttoned-down shirt. Workers from the Bush White House are shocked.

“I’ll never forget going to work on a Saturday morning, getting called down to the Oval Office because there was something he was mad about,” said Dan Bartlett, who was counselor to Mr. Bush. “I had on khakis and a buttoned-down shirt, and I had to stand by the door and get chewed out for about 15 minutes. He wouldn’t even let me cross the threshold.”

Izzy finds it amusing that the Bush was such a stickler for decorum, when he otherwise tried to represent himself as an ordinary Joe. Indeed, were his official portrait hung in the Oval Office, it would appear to violate his own office dress code.

The Clash of Civilizations

Prince Charles meets the Sultan of the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta. Notice how the Sultan’s decoration is barely visible in the midst of his technicolored top, while the Prince’s poppy, well, pops.

Chivalry and the Law

While the the sober have been taking advantage of the drunk since time immemorial, only in recent years have entire businesses been based on that model—e.g., the smutty Girls Gone Wild franchise.  Happily, it looks like these businesses would be illegal in Britain for being unchivalrous.  According to the BBC:

A man who took a photograph of an ill woman outside an Edinburgh bar has been fined £100 after being branded “unchivalrous” by a sheriff.

The woman had been drinking with friends in an Omni Centre bar when she felt unwell and went outside for air.

Sebastian Przygodzki took a photograph with his camera, which upset Rebecca Smith and her friends called police.

He was arrested and charged with breach of the peace, and pleaded guilty to the offence at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

Przygodzki, 28, who moved to Scotland two years ago from Krakow, told police he had spent the day taking photographs of performers at the Edinburgh festival, which was in full swing at the time.

[…]

When he came across the woman, he considered it “taking a photo of another view of Edinburgh”, said his lawyer, Andy Houston.

But Sheriff Kenneth Hogg said the matter “could be best described as exceptionally unchivalrous”.

“The lady concerned was entitled to her privacy and not to have a passing stranger take a photograph,” said the sheriff.

“I’m going to impose a fine to remind him chivalry is not dead and when somebody is in distress you leave them to it.”

Hat Tip

While strolling around town today, Izzy saw a gentleman unknowingly drop some papers from his wallet.  Doing no less than should be expected, Izzy spoke up and said, “Sir, I think you might have dropped something.”  The absent-minded gentleman thanked Izzy, and bent down to pick up his belongings.  As he looked up, he gave Izzy a full look and remarked, “Classy hat.”  Such is the power of the fedora.

Critical Snap Judgment

Roger Ebert

As reported in the Daily News, a recent film screening in New York became the site of a case of extraordinarily bad manners:

Soon after the lights went down, a source tells us, “a man in the audience started yelling, ‘Don’t touch me!’ People looked around and shrugged. Ten minutes later, the voice yells again, ‘I said don’t touch me!'”

Again, people shrugged off the disturbance. But a few minutes later, says our source, “the guy stands up in the darkness and thwacks the guy behind him with a big festival binder. He hit him so hard everybody could hear it. Everyone freaked out and turned around.”

The thwacker? New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick.

The thwackee? Esteemed Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert.

After battling thyroid and salivary gland cancer for years, Ebert, 66, can no longer speak.

“Apparently, Roger was just trying to tap Lumenick on the shoulder to signal him that he couldn’t see the movie,” surmises our source. “He was trying to ask him to move over a bit.”

Though Lumenick seemed surprised to see whom he had struck, he offered no apology, according to another source.

Obviously, Lumenick’s hitting of Ebert was beyond the pale, but even if the former had just responded rudely, he would have been at fault.   He ought to have upheld a principle of charity: on first glance, assume that other people have good intentions and motives, even if they’re not obvious at first. But even if in this case the tappee had been actually rude, Lumenick should have remembered that the true test of manners is how you deal with people with no manners.

Madras Makes Your Eyes Bleed

madras nightmare

A little while back, the folks at Kempt analyzed the ultra-preppy style of Southampton, New York.  No doubt schooled at a radical madras-a, these men are in effect saying, “I’m so rich I can buy a hideous jacket I wear once a year as a joke.”  But even worse is the implied incivility: by wearing such obnoxious jackets, paired with clashing bow ties no less, the men are showing little concern for the eyeballs of anyone else.

Single Fault

Nadal and Feder at Wimbledon

Rafael Nadal may have bested Roger Federer at Wimbledon, but the defeated, in classic tennis apparel, outclassed the victor, who went slumming in a sleeveless, collarless muscle shirt.  Ready for a body slam, not a Grand Slam, all that Nadal was lacked was some visible tattoos.

The visual contrast of these two players reminded Izzy of an excellent, if little known, book on the history of tennis: Sporting Gentlemen: Men’s Tennis from the Age of Honor to the Cult of the Superstar.  Written by E. Digby Baltzell, the sociologist who both coined the term “WASP” and taxonomized that species, the book discusses the decline of tennis from a game of amateur sportsmen upholding an aristocratic code of honor (e.g., the unwritten rule that close calls go to your opponent) into a mercenary high-stakes sport in which players throw temper tantrums on the court.  In the modern era, Arthur Ashe epitomized the old ideal, while John McEnroe represented all that was rotten.  Sartorially at least, Nadal rejects the gentlemanly tradition.

Federer’s white polo shirt, interestingly, traces back to the French tennis player René Lacoste himself.  According to Wikipedia:

While winning the 1927 U.S. Open championship, René Lacoste of France wore something that he himself had created: a white, short-sleeve shirt made exclusively of a light knitted fabric called “jersey petit piqué” that served to wick away moisture due to heat, the very first version of performance clothing in sports. The shirt was a radical departure from tennis fashion of the day, which called for stiff, woven, long-sleeve oxfords. In 1923 during the Davis Cup, the American press nicknamed Lacoste “the Alligator” because of a bet made about an alligator-skin suitcase. With no cognate in his native tongue, the nickname was changed to le crocodile in French. The nickname stuck due to his tenacious behavior on the courts, never giving up his prey. Lacoste’s friend, Robert George, drew him a crocodile which Lacoste then embroidered on the blazer he wore on the courts.

Once he retired from the sport, Lacoste went into the shirt business, savvily putting a crocodile logo on the shirt’s breast—the first time a trademark was placed on the exterior of clothing.   If that wasn’t the Mark of the Beast, Izzy doesn’t know what is.

The Bowing Out of the Necktie

man cutting necktie

Recently, The Wall Street Journal published a (to Izzy) depressing story on the state of the world of accessories:

After 60 years, the Men’s Dress Furnishings Association, the trade group that represents American tie makers, is expected to shut down Thursday.

Association members now number just 25, down from 120 during the 1980s power-tie era. U.S. tie companies have been consolidating. Others have closed because of overseas competition as the U.S. market share for American-made ties has fallen to about 40%, from 75% in 1995.

Members have lost interest. But the biggest reason for the group’s demise: Men aren’t wearing ties.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, the number of men who wore ties every day to work last year dropped to a record low of 6%, down from 10% in 2002. U.S. sales have plummeted to $677.7 million in the 12 months ending March 31, from their peak of $1.3 billion in 1995, according to market researcher NPD Group. Although sales are expected to get a bump around Father’s Day, June 15, the future of neckties is very much in doubt.

But perhaps the saddest part the article was its mention of makers, and even popularizers, of neckties not wearing them themselves:

Scott Sternberg, 33, who founded the Band of Outsiders tie label in 2004, has quickly developed a following of young hipsters who buy his skinny ties, sold at stores including Jeffrey, Barneys New York and Ron Herman.

He says younger men find wearing ties more interesting today when they are “outside of obligation.” While he himself wears a tie on “whims and special occasions,” Mr. Sternberg admits that he doesn’t wear one to the office on a regular basis. “Ties get in the way,” he says.

To Izzy, this sartorial hypocrisy is good evidence that for Sternberg and his ilk wearing a tie is merely a matter of fleeting fashion, not enduring style.

Although the article doesn’t mention them as possible explanations for the demise of the tie, Izzy suspects that two major factors are the unfortunate decline of formality in all aspects of social life (whether in manners, rhetoric, etc.) as well as the widespread opposition to anything that smack of inhibition or self-restraint.

 

 

Obama of Arabia?

Obama in Somali garb

The Barack Obama campaign is blaming Hillary Clinton’s camp for leaking this photo of him to the public in order to reinforce paranoid, stupid fears that he is a crypto-Muslim.  The picture was taken in August 2006 when Obama was visiting Wajir, a desert, largely Muslim area in northeast Kenya.  The garb was presented to him by local elders, and the politician diplomatically tried it on.  Although Izzy has written about the risks and rewards of going native sartorially (something the Manolo also noted about President Bush), surely Obama did the right thing in donning the sash and turban in the presence of his hosts.  (And it should go without saying, but that headgear is worn not only by Muslims.)  The real shame is that many politicians, wishing to avoid the possibility of such pictures being used to falsely smear them, will end up being rude when faced with similar opportunities abroad.  And it’s not exactly if Americans overseas are known for their worldliness

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