A friend recently asked me to help him update his wardrobe. Fashion is dumb, but the pursuit of style will serve you well. I wrote this for him, and am reposting it here, in the hope that one more man will toss his ill-fitting jeans.
Men’s style is about you wearing the clothes, not the clothes wearing you. A simple color palette and classic fits allow you to present yourself to the world, not distract it with pieces that are too big, too worn or too loud.
These are just rules, and for every rule, there are exceptions. Would I recommend a purple hoodie for everyone? No, but I’ve seen it work on an adult man, and I applaud him. Linsday Buckingham somehow pulled off a kimono! The best accessory you can have is being comfortable, and not wondering if you look like a tardbox in some trendy accessory (if you’re worrying about that, you do). The goal is to forget what you’re wearing, and the quickest route is simple pieces with a good fit. Blues and browns are hard to get wrong, and brown leather, flannel and corduroy won’t let you down.
throw a flannel/plaid on it. everybody does this now so it seems redundant but it’s tried and true: everybody’s getting done! Women like this because it makes men seem rugged, and what we really all want is someone to kill dinner for us. Same principle as beards. It pains me to admit this, but I seriously didn’t even KNOW I wanted someone to kill anything for me until I experienced the magic of beard burn. Most importantly, plaids look laid-back and cool, and that always wins. Make sure they’re well fitting.
shoes: no animal, vegetable or mineral should ever leave the house with running shoes if they’re not going for a run. The only exception to this rule extends to individuals who are already dads. It must be noted that they most certainly did not become dads by leaving the house in nikes and baggy Lees. Inconspicuous non-athletic sneakers are ok, ie Vans or something. Neon should be avoided unless you’re a 19 yo hip-hop star. I would encourage all men to venture into a non-sneaker of their choosing; the right one can be achieved by trying out styles at your friendly thrift store. I like a brown loafer, or perhaps a wingtip for the advanced. I’d stick to broken-in brown, black is too formal and you look like you stole them from a clueless dad from the 80s. Boots are masculine and suggest that you’re a cowboy or something, plus subliminally suggest “knocking boots” (maybe that’s just me), both good things.
T-shirts: T-shirts should be well-fitting and plain. You don’t want your shirt to say more than you do, so find a shirt slightly quieter than your own personality. I’ve seen people drown in their own design, and it’s sad. Conversely, I wanted to marry a guy in my freshman writing class who wore “World’s Best Grandma” shirts. Logos are gross. V-necks are a good way to go, deep-Vs for the gay or professionally sexy. A heather gray is classic, and make sure it’s not too long. Should fall about an inch below waist of pants, which leads us to:
Jeans: I cannot overstate the importance of your choice in denim. Style is about letting your clothes act as a backdrop for who you are, and nothing shrieks I’M EXTREMELY UNINTERESTED IN THE ACT OF LIVING like ratty jeans that cover your shoes. The only person in carpenter jeans I’ve ever even come close to wanting to jump on was a six-foot blonde glass blower from Vermont, because his carpenter-cut Lees (GUH!) said “fashion sucks, I’m a glassblower.” There is not another creature on the planet who can afford to commit that misstep. Your jeans should remain completely silent, and should have a tailored leg and a slim fit. All you ever need to know: Levis 501s. In medium-dark to dark wash. Nothing is a more effective panty melter than well-fitting jeans (with leather belt) a fitted t-shirt and some slip-ons or loafers.
Jewelry: Less is more. Too much and you probably also have tribal tatts and an ex-wife who you swapped for the swinging life style (ie drunk 18 year olds at alt-rock festivals).
A note on shorts: unless they’re denim cutoffs and you’re on a fixed Bianchi, I don’t want to see any skin below the knee. An exception is running shorts, which I personally will get into car accidents over. Cargo shorts are suitable for uncles and brotards whose most meaningful relationship is with their PS3 and bong, not people I want to date or whose opinion I would ever take seriously. On anything.
Sunglasses: Aviators or wayfarers, only, ever. Anyone with wire-rim sunglasses might as well also have DOUCHEBAG scrawled onto his forehead.
Accessory Overload is for Tweens: Nothing says “I DONT KNOW WHO I AM!” louder than someone drowning in trends. Unless you’re a Venezuelan-born psych-folk-singer with an expensive peyote habit and a bad actress girlfriend, forget trying more than one piece of jewelry/scarf/hat at a time (98% of dudes in fedoras are tools, the other 2% are balding). Belts are a good place to get in some detail if the rest of the outfit’s simple. Hand-tooled leather is classic.
For everything to avoid, see Gob from Arrested Development. For everything to embody, see Three Days of the Condor-era Robert Redford.
CHRIST I can’t believe I just wrote so much on fashion. I realize this makes me seem like one of those crazy beezies who secretly throws away her boyfriend’s favorite t-shirt because it’s old, which I would never do because that’s insane, and I actually don’t care that much.
in which Mellencore is silenced.
Back in 2003, I was living at home, wearing purple eyeliner to my boring service industry job and spending most of my time collaging. I had a fresh driver’s license and the thrill of rolling around in my mom’s car at night listening to the Raveonettes and using her Hollywood Video rental card to check out Marlon Brando movies was unparalleled.
The guy at the counter was a plump ginger with a long ponytail under his Hollywood Video-issued baseball hat who I suspected had a crush on me since I was the only teen coming in without my kid and buying the king size pack of jujufruits. I ignored his halting glances since I didn’t really start talking to boys until I was about 20, even ones I had no interest in.
One day, I checked out Slacker, because the case looked weird and I had just recently discovered that I was cooler than anyone I knew, having been educated at a prep school in which my peers’ interests ranged from the fall j. crew catalog to the spring j. crew catalog. I got home, popped in the VHS (earnestly) and got to work stenciling “London Calling” lyrics onto t-shirts I’d just picked up at the Gap on sale for $9.99.
Slacker was weird, I couldn’t really make sense of the characters and the lack of plot line got lost in my intense stenciling session– I later moved onto Bowie lyrics.
Eight (!!!!11) years later, my life is eerily (depressingly?) similar to that of my eighteen year old self. Despite my B.A. and having traveled the world, the only tangible element that’s different today from the scene described above is that I now use my mom’s Netflix account. And I know how to talk to boys now, but that’s a different story entirely. Tonight as I was sitting around making record cover journals, feeling inexplicably attracted to Ted Nugent, I decided to scroll through the Netflix collection, and Slacker caught my eye once again.
The film that I watched tonight, of course, is the same as the VHS I rented a thousand beers ago, but oh how my perception of it has changed. What once seemed like dreamy esoterica has since become the soundtrack to my own life; the characters, once just that, are now people I have met over and over, comprising my own anchor to post-collegiate reality. While I was completely engrossed in the film and finding myself in conversation with these people, a thought entered into my head: Is this movie making fun of us? Is Richard Linklater looking at 20-somethings who sit around drinking beer, talking about their lives and the world, politics and their relationships, with their friends and roommates and strangers, and deeming it all a waste of time? The film is called Slacker. Is the film’s thesis that we’re aimless, rootless, wasting our time and our potential to fulfill that great American myth of “making something of ourselves”?
As anyone with a hundred thousand dollar degree in Why The World Sucks and a barista job to prove it knows, “Our Generation” is the topic of a thousand porch/bar/breakfast PBR 30-packs. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “slacker” as “a person regarded as one of a large group or generation of young people (especially in the early to mid 1990s) characterized by apathy, aimlessness, and lack of ambition”. They may have to alter the era included in their definition. Is it not “Our Generation,” the children of those hardworking model Americans, the baby boomers, that has been called out on a hilariously frequent number of occasions by the New York Times for being lazy, ego-driven, sext-crazed narcissists? Slackers, in the truest sense of the word? Intra-generational hand wringing abounds at the NYT as their op-ed columnists tell us to stay out of restaurants and save our money. In preparation for footing the bill for “Their Generation’s” gross mistakes, of course.
Every conversation over porch beers at noon on a Tuesday elicits the same conclusion: we’re not unmotivated, the ones pushing papers and paying their bills are. We’re the ones who are looking for something more, the ones who refuse to settle for what we’ve been given. We’re taking the path of least resistance, fighting with ourselves and everyone else for answers instead of with the TV over Dancing With the Stars.
And it turns out Linklater agrees: “Slackers might look like the left-behinds of society, but they are actually one step ahead, rejecting most of society and the social hierarchy before it rejects them. The dictionary defines slackers as people who evade duties and responsibilities. A more modern notion would be people who are ultimately being responsible to themselves and not wasting their time in a realm of activity that has nothing to do with who they are or what they might be ultimately striving for.”
Slack on, “our generation.”
Summer: Books and iced americanos amiright. Here’s how I wiled away my splendid underemployment and hedonistic afternoons sweating in public.
Persepolis II, (2001) Embroideries (2006) and Chicken With Plums (2006), Marjane Satrapi
I know, global politics are not that sexy. Until you’ve met Satrapi. Her graphic novel Persepolis breathes humor and humanity into the Iranian revolution with the intimacy of a friendly conversation. Embroideries is an afternoon spent with her aunts and mother’s friends as they chat about sex and love, and Chicken is an elegy to her late uncle that manages to be touching and funny. Satrapi is a rare storyteller of heart and wit.
I Thought My Father Was God: And Other True Tales From NPR’s National Story Project, edited by Paul Auster (2000)
A lengthy collection of non-fiction short stories from Americans of every demographic. Some pieces are powerful, some aren’t, but together they form a wide view of American life in the past half century. Not a particularly hard-hitting collection; racism is mentioned approximately once in this version of American history and sexism, classism, etc, not at all. But perhaps the collection is most successful when the reader eschews all notions of what “America” means and instead listens to the voices of these ordinary people.
Agee: Film Writing and Selected Journalism, James Agee (2005)
Agee: not an ordinary American. The author of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and the Pulitzer-prize winning A Death In The Family was also an extremely prolific critic and essayist. His essays on film here from the 1940s and 50s are insightful, honest and art in themselves. In the era of blockbusters, or when all you need to sell a movie is tits and terrorists, it’s hard to believe that American cinema was once an art form. Does anyone take movies seriously anymore? Peter Travers doesn’t count.
Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead, Neil Strauss (2011)
A collection of interviews by a marathon journalist. He deals mostly in the music business, and covers every pop and rock star you’ve ever heard of, plus a few stray CIA agents and lawyers. Because his subjects include the Britneys and Robert Plants of the world, there isn’t too much in this volume in the way of existential truths. But it is compulsively readable and Strauss is sneakily ruthless in exposing his subjects as vapid, drug-addled, self-obsessed children, which of course most of them are. Except for Springsteen, but that goes without saying.
How They See Us: Meditations On America, edited by James Atlas (2010)
A collection of essays about America by international writers. There are a variety of sentiments on display here: America has stolen an Iraqi author’s homeland and history, America has given a Chinese writer the freedom to realize his artistic ambition. America has failed the world, America has redeemed itself with Obama, America is a “tyrannical prom queen” (as one Nigerian writer’s contribution states). One overarching theme materializes: America is everywhere. It does not know cartographical boundaries but instead has permeated the entire globe with its influence and hamburgers. If reality is informed by perception, all Americans need to read this book to discover exactly what “we” are in the 21st century.
And The Pursuit Of Happiness, Maira Kalman (2010)
Instead of the question of whether America is “good” or “bad,” Kalman explores what America is. The daughter of Israeli immigrants, New Yorker Kalman spends a year exploring American history and notions of democracy in an attempt to discover if the founding fathers would be satisfied with what their vision has become. She travels around New York, to Washington, to California exploring the government, schools, farms. Most importantly, though, this book is completely illustrated in beautiful full color by Kalman. She paints Jefferson, she paints her lunch. The type is her handwriting, and she incorporates her own musings into the facts she picks up. The book is charming and whimsical but it’s not simple.
Pushcart Prize XXXV: Best Of The Small Presses, edited by Bill Henderson with the Pushcart Prize Editors (2011)
I want to marry this book. It’s smart, sensitive, brutal, sharp, sweet, bearded… um what? The title sums it up: a collection of the best non-fiction, fiction and poems from small, independent publishers. Over a hundred pieces form the collection and while the subjects and voices are all unique, they are all united in their sheer truth and power. This volume has done nothing less than actually inspire excitement in me to live in a world where art of this caliber is being created by so many people. This book is a gift.
Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace, David Lipsky (2010)
In 1996, David Foster Wallace was 35 and had just published Infinite Jest to international acclaim. After seeing a photo of Wallace in his trademark scruff and bandana, Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone decided he was “one of them” and sent David Lipsky to follow Wallace on his book tour. Lipsky spent three days with Wallace, smoking, eating, driving and talking. After Wallace’s 2008 suicide, Lipsky published the complete transcript of the interview. For the small but fervent world of Wallace-philes, this is a rare conversational glimpse into Wallace’s world, but part of Wallace’s unique genius (and hence his devout followers) was that his prose was a direct route to every corner of his unique, crazy, gifted, super-human beautiful mind. Nothing he says here comes as a complete surprise; it serves as more of an addendum to his essays and fiction. Lipsky himself takes some liberties with the format and inserts some commentary which comes off as extremely clunky (to say nothing of the strange feeling one gets that this is Lipsky’s attempt to cash in on Wallace’s suicide, finding that these three days has suddenly appreciated a shit-ton of value). But those who love Wallace’s writing, and his humanity, really, will take any scrap they throw at us, and end feeling a little emptier knowing that the supply is always diminishing.