MANzine » Style Lifestyle magazine for men by men. Thu, 23 Jul 2015 16:33:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Tip of the Day: Spare Tie Thu, 03 Sep 2009 18:22:07 +0000 James Joyner

red tie white shirt Spencer Ackerman is learning this one the hard way, after having stained his tie ahead of his Al Jazeera English TV appearance: always keep a spare necktie at the office.  Preferably, one that goes with anything.  (Mine’s solid red with a subtle textured pattern.) For good measure, I keep an old navy blazer and a spare white shirt there, too.  You never know when you’ll need ‘em, either because you’ve spilled something or because you suddenly need to be dressed more formally than you thought.]]> 2
Better Fitting Pants That Don’t Fit Thu, 03 Sep 2009 16:15:09 +0000 James Joyner

I saw this ad on another website just now and had to chuckle:  “Bonobos – Better Fitting Pants.” bonobosBetter fitting than what, pray tell?  They appear to be simultaneously too tight in the crotch (thus the bunching) and too wide in the leg (thus the billowing) and about three inches too long (thus covering the entire back half of the shoe).]]> 3
How a Suit Should Fit Fri, 28 Aug 2009 19:21:30 +0000 James Joyner

Esquire provides the following illustrations of how a man’s suit should fit: Man's suit fit guide While this looks right, it amusingly is not in accord with how the models in many recent issues of Esquire are shown; most wear their jackets and pants too tight, overcompensating for the return to the well-tailored fit. Also, the guide doesn’t deal with the most common mistakes men make in getting their suits altered, namely wearing their sleeves and pants too long.  A jacket should show a good 1/2 inch of cuff when the arms are at one’s side and the pants should only have a slight break (that is, buckling from contact with the shoes) when standing.   Most guys look like they’re expecting to “grow into” their clothes or are still worried about being taunted for wearing high-waters.]]> 3
Shopping with the Wife Fri, 28 Aug 2009 18:15:40 +0000 James Joyner

I stumbled upon the following at Esquire:
Sixty-year-old advice on shopping with the wife still rings true today

USMA cadet shopping esquirePhoto credit: Bettmann/Corbis

“A word to the wives is sufficient. And the word is NO. When you have serious shopping to do, leave the pretty things at home. They can call in a few harpies from the neighborhood, set up a Kaffee-klatsch, tear a few reputations to ribbons, and be as happy as birds.” — Esquire, February 1949
Aside from the fact that Esquire is reprinting prose that it would no doubt shy away from today — and yet it still rings true today! — is the fact that the photo is of a young West Point cadet who was almost surely not married to the woman with who he was shopping, as academy rules rules forbid it.  (Melissa Clouthier guesses she’s his mother.  That would be my hunch as well.) As to the wisdom of the advice, I suppose it depends on the wife and for what one is shopping.  I tend to follow my own sense of style when shopping for clothes but it’s often useful to have a second set of eyes to judge fit.]]> 1
Obama and the Die of the Tie Fri, 21 Aug 2009 13:54:05 +0000 James Joyner

President Obama Open Collar, No Tie John Kennedy famously killed off the tophat by refusing to wear one to his inauguration.  Is Barack Obama helping kill off the necktie? John Derbyshire has a touching ode to the necktie, which he notes “was a key item in gents’ attire all through the 20th century, having condensed out of a more varied menu of cravats & neckwear in the 19th” but seems to be passing out of fashion. (See Jon Stronger’s “The Why of the Tie” for an argument for why this can’t come fast enough.) This, naturally, prompts Andy McCarthy to chime in: “I’ve noticed that President Obama frequently forgoes the necktie — lately, even in public appearances. That reminded me — I have no idea why — that the Iranian regime has shunned the necktie ever since Khomeini pronounced it a symbol of Western decadence.” QED: Obama hates America. (Either that or he’s adopting the faux populism long common among presidents and other politicians of both parties, especially in outdoor events in hot weather.) via Conor Clarke]]> 0
Mad About Mad Men Sat, 15 Aug 2009 11:36:34 +0000 James Joyner Mad Men

“Mad Men” returns for its third season tomorrow night at 10 Eastern on AMC.


If  “Burn Notice” is the best show on TV, “Mad Men” is the hottest, having somehow captured the zeitgeist with its meticulous portrayal of early 1960s Manhattan.  Pocket squares and tie clips are fashionable again, as are classic cocktails like the martini and the Old Fashioned.   Jon Hamm hosted “Saturday Night Live.”  Everyone’s Twitter icon is a “Mad Men” cartoon owing to the popularity of the recent MadMen Yourself meme.  Everyone’s talking about “Mad Men” even if they’re not watching it.

As is usually the case these days, I came to the show late, watching Season One via Netflix as the second season was underway and catching up to everyone else by season’s end.  (I’m not as far behind as Stephen Green, though, since he insists on waiting for the Blu-Ray release and thus just started Season 2 last month.)  I warmed to the show slowly, not much liking it after the first couple of episodes.  But the critics are right:  It’s great television.  While it lacks both the feel-good vibe and morality play quality of “Burn Notice,” it’s gripping and provocative.

What’s so great about it?

The Men

mad-men-men-photoDon Draper and the rest of the men of Sterling Cooper are misogynistic jerks.  Most of them are cheating on their wives, lying to one another, disloyal to their friends and just generally not very good guys.  But there’s nonetheless something decidedly manly about most of them, especially Draper.

Men are still decidedly men and women are decidedly women as the show begins.  We’re about to see that crumble.  Mostly for the good. But “Mad Men” inspires a certain nostalgia for bits and pieces of the old days.

Most of these men served in the military; the older ones went to war.  They have strong work ethic and a sense of duty.  They’re stoic.

They work hard and they play hard, often simultaneously.  They’re at the office late into the evening most days but they’re not corporate drones; they’re men on a mission.  They take long lunches, usually involving steaks and cocktails.  They have bars in their offices.  (Yes, offices!  No cubicles for the Mad Men.) They smoke whenever they damned well please.  They have secretaries to do their errands and answer their phones so they can do real work with minimal interruption.  They’re not tied to their BlackBerries or typing up their own correspondence.

The Women

mad-men-womenAs with virtually every show in the history of television, the women of “Mad Men” are beautiful.  Christina Hendricks (Joan Holloway) exudes sex in just about every scene and January Jones (Betty Draper) is super model spectacular.   Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson) is intentionally made to appear frumpy but she still manages to be attractive.

But, as I say, that’s not unusual.  Hollywood is so overrun by magnificent looking people that we’re supposed to believe that Sandra Bullock would be thought plain by her fellow FBI agents until she got a makeover.  Drop-dead gorgeous is pretty much the norm on TV.

So, what makes the women of “Mad Men” stand out?

Partly, it’s the period.  These women are amazing despite having to dress quite modestly.  Or, perhaps, because of it. Being sexy without showing a lot of leg or cleavage requires a little more work. While the girdles and stockings and garters and heels and all the rest are ridiculously uncomfortable and impractical for everyday life, they’re undeniably womanly.

Beyond that, while the men are the stars of the show — it’s got “men” right there in the title — and the show was created by and executive produced by a man (Matthew Weiner) most of its writers are women.  And they’ve done a wonderful job of making all of the female characters, including those with bit parts, interesting.  They’re mostly quite smart but forced into supporting roles by virtue of their sex.  Most of them are neurotic and chafing under the burden of their lot in life.

The Style

The clothes are terrific.  Especially, let’s face it, the men’s clothes.

We’re a nation of overweight people who dress for comfort rather than appearance.   Our shirts are untucked and our collars are open.  And, really, that’s not such a bad thing.  I don’t want to go back to wearing wool suits while watching a baseball game in July.

But seeing people dress the way they did back in the day reminds us that we don’t look so hot. I work in downtown DC, which isn’t exactly noted for its sense of style.  But most of us wear dark suits and a tie to work every day, which is unusual in our casual age. Even so, few of us look as good as the Mad Men.

Partly, of course, because we’re not dressed by professional costumers with unlimited budgets.  But men’s clothing was simply better in the old days.  Whether we’re talking about military uniforms or men’s suits, the material and tailoring were far better in the 1940s and 1950s than they are today.

I suspect it’s because we’ve chosen quantity over quality.  Most men, even most ad executives, owned a lot fewer suits — and less clothing, period — then than they do now.  One only has to compare the size of closets in houses built a few decades ago versus those of today to know it’s true.  The Mad Men probably had no more than five or six suits in their closet.  But they were custom tailored and made with much better fabric than is typical of modern suits.  Today, even a $1500 “couture” label suit is likely to be made of thin fabric imported from some third world country and made to fit a standardized mannequin.

Men used to know how to wear a suit, too.  Partly, I think, because military service was mandatory and instilled a sense of fit and uniformity.  They learned how to shine shoes, that a man never needs a haircut (because he’s visited the barber long before he got scruffy) and how to tuck in a shirt properly.

The combination of Mad Men and Tom Ford have finally made a slim fit fashionable again but most American men wear suits that are at least a size too big.  Almost nobody shows cuff anymore. I find that I have to insist that the alterations guy take up the sleeves because the norm is now to have the jacket go all the way to the hand. The result is that most men look like little boys whose moms bought their suits with some room for them to grow into.

The 1960s

Watching the show is like stepping back in time.  The creative team is famously obsessive about their portrayal of the period, down to small details like the plumpness of apples in bowls of fruit.  While “Mad Men” is an idealized view of 1960, it’s not whitewashed in the sense that, say, “Happy Days” or even the contemporaneous “Andy Griffith Show” were.  The prejudices and warts of the day are clearly in view.

But it’s fascinating to watch the characters react to the rapid changes of the period.  The first season opens in 1960, during the closing days of the Eisenhower administration. We’re about to see the election of John F. Kennedy and the dawn of the women’s movement.  The Civil Rights era is a few years away and we haven’t yet escalated our involvement in Vietnam.  Watergate is more than a decade off.  So it’s an American much less cynical about its leaders and its place in the world.  And we’re about to watch all that unfold.


Elsewhere: Everyone’s Talking About “Mad Men”

InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds is hooked on the show but isn’t sure that’s a good thing. “I liked it and thought it was good — in a depressing sort of way. If 1960 was when men were on top of the business world, then this show makes being on top look overrated . . . .”

Over at Big Hollywood, Michael Rulle says the “show somehow touches all my subterranean hot buttons.”

The show has an uncanny ability to convince the audience it is watching people as they were then, with no intrusion of modern sensibilities and judgments. The show’s appearance is a gauzy impressionism, which helps create a nostalgic effect. There seems to be less dialogue than most shows. Characters are developed as much through facial reactions to events as with dialogue and plot lines. When watching the show, it feels like 1962, as I nostalgically remember it, even though I never heard of Madison Avenue until years later. Plot lines are about getting and losing clients, and they can be amusing. But plots are primarily designed to create interest in each character.


The show is focused on “inner life.” The characters seem like “prisoners” of background and circumstance. Yet they have free will and the power to transcend circumstances, if existentially aware. We, and they, have limits too. Each person needs to find their way. The show’s two “protagonists,” Draper and Olsen, have morally compromised lives. They realize this. They seek redemption, but are also driven to succeed in work, and these two can conflict. They struggle, and as such, are appealing. Is there an implicit political message in this show, a bias perhaps, a hidden jab at the left, or right? Not that I can see. However, what is not seen may be as interesting or telling.

What is not seen? Government. The Nixon/Kennedy election takes up one episode. They all want Nixon to win, but it is not clear why. Perhaps they expect a more friendly business environment. One Mad Man, who fancies himself an intellectual, marches in Mississippi with his black girlfriend (who then blows him off, amusingly). That’s about it. Government policies and politics simply are absent, accept as it might relate to business. No political correctness or anti-political correctness is visible. Just people living day-to-day, trying to make it. Some have broader imaginations than others. Some are nasty, some are brilliant, some are dopes or comical.

Yet no one is looking to “leaders” for salvation. Refreshing.

Amanda Marcotte, writting at TAP, has no trouble seeing the politics.

Mad Men actively runs against the stale narratives that posit the 1960s as driven by young hippies going against their parents’ staid lifestyles after being disillusioned by the Vietnam War and the battles over civil rights. Instead, the show tells a story of how the changes of the 1960s emerged gradually from various historical shifts. Progress wasn’t solely affected by the demands of Ivy League educated youth and a few civil-rights leaders. The rebellion of the 1960s was only made possible because of economic changes and other cultural developments that happened in the early — and less romanticized — part of the decade.

In offering a subtle counter narrative to the stories we all know so well about the tumultuous era, Mad Men manages to make the familiar terrain feel fresh again. Part of it is just the unique choices of what to show — lesser writers would make the characters sympathetic by having them support Kennedy and then mourn his death, but on Mad Men, they vote for Nixon and weep for Marilyn Monroe. Legend has it that the 1950s morphed into the 1960s when the Beatles hit American shores. But on Mad Men, we’re reminded that Bob Dylan was already attracting interest with a sound that would define the era well before the British invasion and the rise of psychedelica, and that the beatniks had already defined a counterculture based around drugs and artistic innovation. The most annoying cliché of politically minded ’60s-era films and shows — the noble white person who heroically stands up against racism — is brutally sent up: A self-important white man registers voters to gain street cred and is then summarily dumped by his black girlfriend, for whom this is not a game.

The show’s ability to create historical context is particularly vivid when it comes to the feminist themes. True, Mad Men addresses the issue of the feminine mystique through the character of Betty, the bored and frustrated housewife of lead ad man Don Draper. But Mad Men also shows the other side of the story, how second-wave feminism was made possible only because apolitical working women paved the way out of economic necessity. The character of Peggy Olson, a secretary at the advertising agency Sterling Cooper who moves into copywriting, doesn’t go to work because she’s an overeducated housewife looking to relieve boredom. She is a working-class Catholic girl from Brooklyn who needs the money and then finds herself addicted to ambition. Peggy’s story, and that of all working-class women who held jobs because they had to, is as essential to the history of women’s liberation as The Feminine Mystique or protests against the Miss America contest.

Esquire has an interesting feature by S.T. VanAirsdale called “What’s So Great About the Sixties Anyway?”

There’s something undeniably irresistible about watching that era, its political crisis, misogyny, discrimination, and disloyalty falling on top of each other but still somehow bundled up into one glossy package with Don Draper’s fedora on top.

Indeed, Mad Men succeeds primarily as a dramatic love letter to an utterly unlovable era. But that’s the 1960s for you — even the late ’60s, which culminated at Woodstock forty years ago this week with less a cresting wave of peace, love, and music than one final, white-hot eruption of generational protest. It, too, will soon receive its Hollywood close-up in Taking Woodstock, a film that director Ang Lee claims he took on as a way of lightening up after making two tragedies in a row. Yet, like Mad Men and so much more of the ’60s culture we fetishize today and especially late this summer with so much generational abandon, the nostalgia deflects deeper truths about just how ugly an era it really was. There is nothing particularly “light” about optimism’s dying breath, particularly one choking on mud and suffering from a shortage of food, water, and working toilets.


Which isn’t necessarily to say that Hollywood has duped you with its reliving of the ’60s. You’ve just been kind of sentimentally misled (and that’s something we should have gotten used to earlier in this decade). Sensational as it is, Mad Men is a prime offender here. Think back to late last season, when one of the series’ best episodes placed its characters’ enduring self-interest in the context of the Cuban Missile Crisis; the gossip about their ad agency’s buyout harmonized with rampant speculation about the literal end of the world. We know the upshot while we’re watching — the crisis would end, the Soviet Union would fall — but the moment is depicted almost too romantically for its own good, coaxing a sort of glamour from the very real terror of mass panic.

Vanity Fair welcomes the show back with a feature by Bruce Handy (with photos by Annie Leibovitz, no less) called “Don and Betty’s Paradise Lost.”

A more interesting measure of the show’s impact is the fact that its title has become a kind of shorthand: you can now talk about a Mad Men skirt or lampshade or pickup line where once you might have used “space age” or “Kennedy era” or “Neanderthal.” But while the show, like its subject, has many surface pleasures—period design, period bad behavior (if you like high modernism, narrow lapels, bullet bras, smoking, heavy drinking at lunch, good hotel sex, and bad office sex, this is the series for you)—at its core Mad Men is a moving and sometimes profound meditation on the deceptive allure of surface, and on the deeper mysteries of identity. The dialogue is almost invariably witty, but the silences, of which there are many, speak loudest: Mad Men is a series in which an episode’s most memorable scene can be a single shot of a woman at the end of her day, rubbing the sore shoulder where a bra strap has been digging in. There’s really nothing else like it on television.

Amy Chozich writes on “The Women Behind ‘Mad Men’” for WSJ.

Behind the smooth-talking, chain-smoking, misogynist advertising executives on “Mad Men” is a group of women writers, a rarity in Hollywood television. Seven of the nine members of the writing team are women. Women directed five of the 13 episodes in the third season. The writers, led by the show’s creator Matthew Weiner, are drawing on their experiences and perspectives to create the show’s heady mix: a world where the men are in control and the women are more complex than they seem, or than the male characters realize.

Pajamas Media’s John Boot wonders “Why Do Women Love Mad Men?” given that the men are such jerks.

Though women’s fondness for fictitious sexy rascals has been there forever and will never go away, Don’s misbehavior comes as part of a package that women find hard to resist. In Don’s world, women aren’t likely to rise to the top in the working world but they assume total command of the household. They may not know where their men are in the evenings when they say they’re at “business dinners” (and frequently are, with young models or foxy department-store heiresses) but that leaves them plenty of time to conduct discreet little flirtations of their own.

And if Don and Co. close off large portions of their manly doings behind a wall of omertà, that means the women don’t have to listen to any sniveling about their men’s anxieties, their feelings, their doubts. The men know their mission is to take charge, work hard, and give their families what they need financially, not emotionally. Emotions are women’s work. The astonishing number of women with advanced degrees who today elect to drop their careers and stay home with the children shows that equality did not make women quite as happy as they thought it would. Maybe the working world is what men have always considered it to be: not a source of freedom or self-actualization but a necessary routine, a duty, a bore.

The women who watch the show aren’t just sighing with lust for Don. They’re sighing with relief in contemplation of a world that, though unfair and imperfect, is carefully ordered and stable, at least on the surface. Yet Mad Men is a testament to how important surfaces can be when there is a consensus that the unpleasant parts of the past ought to be enthusiastically buried. There’s no monster of the deep so fearsome that it can’t be chased away for a moment or two with a pitcher of martinis.

Belmont Club‘s Richard Fernandez takes that a step further:

As Saving Private Ryan and Jurassic Park proved, liberal audiences don’t mind watching powerful and unbridled creatures rippling in action provided the scene is set at a safe distance. The Greatest Generation is admired despite the fact — of perhaps because of the fact — that it incinerated cities, interned alien races and nuked enemy population centers into radioactive ash. The key to understanding the popularity BBC’s historical dramas or science fiction fare is that they provide acceptable action settings for the kind of people politically correct society no longer allows. Like Walter Mitty such societies have a life of secret longings hidden behind their pursed and narrow lips.

It is double-think at its finest, and nobody needs it more than the Left. After all, what committed socialist likes to be reminded that all government money comes from private enterprise? That would take all the fun out of spending it. Who wants to tell the European Union that the only reason it isn’t a nonentity like the African Union is because it stands on the shoulders of a history it despises? Where would all their moral authority go then? Fantasy is an indispensable part of modern political life.  Contradictions must pass unnoticed if the play is to be allowed to continue. Yet the tug of the outside world forces the audience to occasionally glance outside the windows of the theater. Part of the attraction that Left feels for Jihadis and primitive warriors lies is precisely in that they haven’t followed their politically correct instructions. Groucho Marx once said that he would never want to be a member of a club that would accept him as a member. In an analogous kind of way the Left never truly admires someone stupid enough to believe them. Desert raiders are liked exactly because they aren’t timid souls living in council housing staring down at their shoes waiting desperately for the community policeman whenever ‘youths’ come to rob them.

Much more at all the links.

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The Chrome Dome Mon, 10 Aug 2009 15:35:19 +0000 Jon Stonger

baldness 500

Baldness can happen to anyone.  Well, not just anyone.  It usually doesn’t happen to children, and doesn’t happen often to women (chemotherapy and Britney Spears’ head-shaving excluded).  No, it usually happens to men, and it happens more often as we get older.

We stare into the mirror, wondering.  Is that area is really moving backwards, or did I just sleep on it wrong?  Is there really a bare patch back there, or did I comb it differently?  At some point, alas, some 40 million American men have realized that they are going bald.  By the time they reach 60, 2/3 of Americans will have started to lose their hair.

The history of baldness and its ‘cures’ goes back to ancient times.  The Biblical prophet Elisha rubbed bear grease on his head.  Julius Caesar tried to cover his receding hairline by combing his hair straight forward.  The great Greek physician Hippocrates applied sheep urine to his bald spot, and Roman men used chicken dung.  Through the 1800′s and 1900’s, patent medicines touting baldness cures abounded.

The link between testosterone (the actual culprit is a related hormone, 5 DHT) and balding quickly became apparent.

As proof, history had the example of the eunuch. Eunuchs never went bald, and if they were going bald when they became eunuchs the balding process stopped completely. However, lost hair was never restored. The only 100% effective preventive measure against baldness was — and remains — castration. (ibid)

If nothing else, going bald proves you still have balls.

We may laugh now at the ludicrous methods people in the past used to in futile attempts to restore their hair, but that doesn’t stop men in America from spending over $1 billion dollars a year on hair-loss treatments.

A drug like Rogaine costs over $500 a year, only has less than a 1 in 3 chance of working, and stops working when you stop taking it..  You have to rub a cream on your head twice a day- not exactly a macho activity.
Other drugs like Propecia can be more effective, but carry a risk of impotence- which defeats the goal of the whole enterprise.

A ‘hair system’ (which is code for a toupee) can cost from $500 to $2,000, plus $100-$200 a month in maintenance.  After spending all that money, you still are walking around with a wig on your head.  It could be blown off by the wind, and don’t even think about jumping in a pool.  Even if it stays glued to your head, people can often tell you’re wearing a rug.  Now suppose that by some great fortune, you fork over the piles of cash for your toupee, it works perfectly, and you land a great night with the women of your dreams.  What’s going to happen when she runs her hand through your hair?  Is she going to notice?  Here’s the kicker.  At night, you’re supposed to store the thing on a mannequin head.  What if she wants to sleep over?

If dropping three or four grand on a treatment isn’t enough, you can look into hair transplants.  Treatments cost between $3 and $8 per graft, but you might need thousands of grafts, bringing the total cost into the multiple thousands of dollars.

Men spend the most on hair transplants, to the tune of $800 million a year . . . That’s because each transplant can cost from $3,000 to $20,000.

For $20,000, you can make a big down payment on a very nice sports car, and probably end up getting laid more than you would with the hair transplants.

Some men try to hide baldness with a variety of grooming tricks, most commonly, the comb-over.  We have all seen men, clearly bald, walking around with a few lonely strands of hair plastered down on their scalp.  Who is this designed to fool?

In previous years, a man could hide his pate under his hat, which was an indispensible accessory.  Buying a hat is still a possible solution (they may even be making a comeback) but it certainly doesn’t work for everyone.  Buying the wrong hat can look silly, but a serious hat can add a distinctive touch.  Also, it does a nice job of preventing sunburn on the top of your head, which can really hurt (believe me).

Still, you’re going to have to take the hat off sooner or later, probably as soon as you step inside (if the manners I learned as a kid still apply).  It’s one thing to put on a hat in the rain; it’s entirely another to still be wearing it in a movie theater.  Are you going to keep it on during sex?

I sympathize with men who struggle to cure their baldness.  If you found a cure that works for you, great.  This article is not meant to mock, but instead to offer one piece of advice:  Take it like a Man.

Much of what makes a man respected or attractive has little to do with his appearance, and much more to do with how he is, and what he does.  A confident, powerful bald man will fare better in life and love than a full-haired whiner.  A man who is comfortable in his intelligence, charisma and place in the world doesn’t need hair to get women.

He just needs to be rich.

Photo: Science Daily

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The Why of the Tie Thu, 23 Jul 2009 10:05:42 +0000 Jon Stonger


Like many horrific fashion items, the necktie has its roots in a religiously-motivated defenestration.

I took one last sweet gasp of air before the cloth closed in around my neck. People undergo a variety of humiliations in exchange for money, but I had previously managed to avoid this one. I wasn’t even doing it for money yet – I was doing it in the hope of being offered money, which is even worse.

Last week, for the first time in many years, I had to put on a tie. I was informed that if I had enough space to breathe, that meant the shirt collar did not fit properly. Fortunately it was on for just a few moments, and I was able to quickly rip the garrote from my throat in time to prevent asphyxia.       

This led me to wonder. Where did these foul contraptions originate, and why do people still wear them?

The origins of the modern necktie lie in France. This is one of those facts that could not possibly be otherwise. It may even be a priori knowledge. The story varies, but in about 1630, the French, were fighting in the Thirty Years War [which was started because some Catholics got thrown out of a window in Prague Castle - they survived by landing in horse manure. It’s known as the Defenestration of Prague (although there was an earlier defenestration, in 1419, which led to the Hussite Wars)]. They encountered soldiers from Croatia who wore colorful scarves around their necks (thus the word ‘cravat’ from the French pronunciation of ‘Croat’ ). The French were taken with the idea of choking in the name of fashion, and a new craze was born.

Over time, the big puffy cravat was slimmed down, and eventually evolved into the modern tie around the 1920s.

European nobles were understandably worried about fashion, and people of that time were willing to sacrifice comfort in order to look good at court. After all, they wore wigs, tights, and all manner of ludicrous clothing. The addition of something around the neck was just one more discomfort. If it meant gaining the King’s favor, it was worth it.

Somehow while Americans were rejecting the entire system of European government and social structure, they decided to keep the necktie. Brilliant. All it would have taken was someone like Washington or Jefferson to refuse to wear one in the name of the Republic, and the trend would have gone the way of the tricorne.

So the tie is traditional. So are togas, and they look comfy. Why do we still wear the tie?

One possibility is that enough people think that a tie looks good, so it stays in fashion. I understand nothing of fashion (and don’t want to) but this doesn’t seem to make sense. Ties are worn far more often in the context of business or politics then they are by celebrities and movie stars. When you think about it, a tie is really just a colorful piece of cloth hanging from someone’s throat. It makes just as much sense to find shiny objects to stick in our hair or colorful feathers to shove up our ass.

Another possibility is that men just like to be choked. After all, some people like to be tied up, and this is just a different version of that. We’re even honest enough to call it a tie (same word as tying someone’s hands or feet) rather than ‘cravat’ (or ‘noose’). Perhaps I’m deviant because I don’t enjoy the sensation of pressure around my throat. Maybe everyone else gets their jollies from oxygen restriction.

Of course, if you’re going to play S&M asphyxia games at the office, it’s important to have everyone’s consent, and they certainly don’t have mine. If there was a necktie-safeword, I would use it.

I don’t think that most people find ties to be spectacularly fashionable. I don’t think most men find them comfortable. If you had a group of 100 men and you announced that starting tomorrow, all of them were going to have to wear goofy-looking strands of rope wrapped tightly around their throats in order to come to work, they would all refuse.

But it doesn’t happen to large groups. It happens to each man one by one. He applies for a job, and they require a tie. So he thinks ‘screw that, I’ll get a different job’. The next job requires a tie, and the next. Sooner or later the man starts to run out of money, and eventually he is forced to dress a certain way. It’s not only about the discomfort. It’s also about the humiliating knowledge of utter drone-like conformity. It is a kind of hazing ritual; an expression of dominance by the company. One by one men are stripped of their sartorial independence and forced to conform to the universal business dress code.

Unless you manage to get a job at a dot-com company. Then you’re ok until the inevitable layoff next week.

I imagine this whole thing could be applied to women and ridiculous office shoes.

Of course, there’s always the chance I don’t get the job with the tie. Then I’ll be able to breathe all day. I won’t have any money for food and shelter, but oxygen is always free.

This article appeared previously on Heretical Ideas.

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GQ is BS – You Paid What? Thu, 23 Jul 2009 10:00:01 +0000 James Joyner

Despite this post’s title, I like GQ.  Gentleman’s Quarterly and Esquire are the archetypes of the general interest men’s magazine and MANzine is in some ways an homage to their tradition. Indeed, GQ and Esquire are among a small handful of magazines I still subscribe to in their dead tree form.

But let’s face it, GQ can be kind of silly.

Take, for example, their Fall Preview for 2009.

In our annual salute to the clothes that will help you weather the brisk months ahead, actor Ed Westwick reaches for the pieces that embrace timeless style and construction. Because the best gear shouldn’t last just one season but a lifetime.

Now, I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment.  One of the hardest lessons to heed, especially when you’re young and don’t have a lot of money, is to buy quality items that will last rather than a whole lot of junk.  One of my maxims of style is “It’s more important to look good every day than different every day.”  I learned that one the hard way.

But let’s click through the link (I’ve already seen this in the magazine itself but it’s hard to point to the pages online).

Rain-Free Trench

westwick-trenchNot your typical detective-minded khaki raincoat. This darker, relaxed-fitting trench is the kind of jacket you don’t need to expend any effort breaking in. Think of it as your coat for fall, or spring, or (given currently insane climate patterns) even a cool day in summer—it doesn’t require a cloud in the sky. Look for similar versions by Rogues Gallery, H&M, Uniqlo, and Marc Jacobs.

Trench, $735; shirt, $245; tie, $125; pants, $350; and boots, $650: all by Rag & Bone.

First off, while photographer Nathaniel Goldberg captured Westwick in a very stylish pose, it’s not a very useful shot of the trench.  I can’t tell anything about it except that it seems to be gray and have a belt.

Second, why in the hell would anyone pay $735 for a trenchcoat?  And, seriously, $245 for an off-the-rack dress shirt and $125 for a necktie?  Why?

Let’s continue.

Fair Isle Sweater

westwick-fair-isle-sweater There is, in fact, a real Fair Isle (population seventy), off the coast of Scotland. And in addition to herding sheep and catching fish, the locals make beautiful, intricately patterned sweaters. Like tweed jackets, they’re made to withstand the cold, damp Scottish climate. And now plenty of other folks (like those at Burberry) make them, in subtler, more muted—some might even say modern—styles.

Sweater, $750, by Burberry Prorsum.

Now, in fairness to Goldberg, he did an excellent job photographing this sweater.  I can swiftly determine that it’s one of the ugliest damned sweaters I’ve ever seen and would promptly donate it to Goodwill were I to somehow find it in one of my drawers.  “Prorsum” must be Burberry’s name for their line of clothes for the blind.  And, really, this is “subtler” and “more muted”? I’d hate to see their garishly ugly ones.

And, again, $750?  For a sweater?  Is there perhaps chain mail hidden in all that ugly stitching?  Does it repel bullets?  If not, much more than $100 is overdoing it for a wool sweater.  For $750, you can actually buy a Burberry suit.

The Double-Breasted Suit

westwick-double-breastedForget John Gotti’s sprawling lapels and linebacker-size shoulder pads. The current incarnation of the double-breasted suit leans toward a fitted—not boxy—cut, meaning you don’t have to pretend you’re a mobster or a tycoon to wear one. A smart choice for the dapper professional looking to step out from the single-breasted masses.

Suit, $1,395, by Emporio Armani. Shirt, $275, by Tim Hamilton. Tie, $75, by Fred Perry. Shoes, $1,550, by Tom Ford. Pocket square by Neil Barrett.

Now, this is a beautiful suit.  And it’s worth knowing that modern double-breasteds are more streamlined than their 1980s forebears.  At $1395, it’s pricier than I could justify but this provides a good model for shopping for a more reasonably priced version.  And while $75 for a tie strikes me as a bit much, it’s not outlandishly nutty.

Ah, but then we come to the shoes.  $1550?!  For what appear to be some ordinary black oxfords?  (Again, it’s hard to tell from the shot.)  Great dress shoes from the likes of Ferragamo or Church or Allen Edmonds can be had for a mere fraction of that price.

The Henley

westwick-henleyBefore Michael Jordan told us which kicks to buy, rowers in the English city of Henley-on-Thames told Brits which shirts to wear. This long-sleeve tee was popularized in the mid–nineteenth century as the traditional uniform of Henley’s rowers. It’s since become a go-to layer for fall, but we like it worn on its own with a pair of jeans, as an alternative to a V-neck sweater.

Henley, $445, and jeans, $350, by Dolce & Gabbana. Belt by Bill Adler. Necklace by Rogues Gallery.

Now, I’m not a Henley fan.  Well, Don Henley is pretty awesome.  But long john shirts that button at the top?  Not so much.  Still, it’s undeniable that Henleys are a timeless classic and they’re pretty confortable.

But, again, $445?!  If they took $400 off that and threw in a second shirt free, I’d still think I was being overcharged.  Crimeney, that’s $125 more than the absurdly overpriced jeans he’s wearing!  At least you can wear the jeans over and over.

There are another four items on the list but it’s more of the same thing.  Mostly, very nice stuff.   Almost invariably, though, overpriced.

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