Tuesday, October 11, 2005

My 1st Column

This is the unedited version of The Dilettante, as it appears in Dandyism.net

It was an ambush. I had just spent a pleasant afternoon’s diversion, ignoring the clamor of my clients, posting merrily to Dandyism.net’s assorted fora when the—if you’ll kindly excuse the technical lingo—private message thingy (PMT) announced I had an e-missive waiting on the e-salver. Damned if it wasn’t Mattis. He gave every appearance of being distraught at the time (although now I realize it was all a ruse, a ploy to snooker the talented naïf, i.e., me, into churning out witticism and wise opinion and sage comment on command) over the apparent demise of Our Mister Willard* and he asked, imploringly and in honeyed tones, if I’d consent to slinging out a few paragraphs given that Willard had ostensibly assumed the same temperature as his wine cellar.

Being of a kindly disposition and given to dynamic acts of charitable pity towards my fellow man, I relented. Immediately Mattis switched gears and began supplying me with rules and regulations. Naturally, Mattis was the good cop and, since he was absent from the discussion, Chensvold was given the role of the bad cop, as was to be expected. Mattis explained how he and Chensvold were both—and I quote verbatim—“old magazine hacks” and then went on to prove it by informing me the monthly stipend I was to receive would amount to approximately $0. I have since been informed this is due to an inconvenient fluctuation in the currency exchange, or possibly a bad streak at chemin de fer.

Feeling their oats as a result of the success of this subterfuge, they conveniently exhumed Willard and left me to, with minimal guidance, muddle through what I ought write for this inaugural column. “Pitch us.” chortled Mattis, with Chensvold probably doubled over to such an extent so as to give the elastic portion of his Trafalgars a strenuous workout. For the uninitiated, “Pitch us” is journo-speak for “We have no idea! You think of something.”

Which brings us to this introductory column.

“Who is this from the Tropics who writes to Dandies across the globe?” I hear you clamoring. Well, fine. If it means that much to you, well, okay, I suppose I could issue a brief biographical sketch and you, Gentle Reader, ought have a cursory overview of my bona fides, such as they are.

The credit for fostering my danditivity really ought rest on the shoulders of my paternal grandfather, JMG I. He was a cutter and tailor from Spain, and a raving Orthodox Dandy. To him, going hatless was a true hallmark of a savage and he would consider wearing a 4-in-hand with an evening suit an offense suitably punished by garrote. When King Alfonso abdicated and the Republic was established, he packed up and left (he was something of a royalist, a sentiment both he and the King shared) sensing that things would get a bit hot in the Iberian Peninsula in short order. So, he went to Cuba, where he learned to love linen.

The upshot of all this is that my father (JMG II, for those of you scoring at home) didn’t buy an off-the-peg suit until he, along with the rest of my living forebears amenable to abandoning Stalinist inconveniences with great celerity, came over. Dear Old Dad was stationed in Detroit, whence I emerged. My father was a fan of the great American corporate world and also a rebellious sort and as soon as he could manage it began to swan about in Brooks Brothers’ Number One Sack suit, purchasing one in every color from the darkest navy to the darkest grey, inclusively. He has eschewed pocket squares and, for that matter, trouser cuffs. This wounded the eldest JMG grievously and while he didn’t rend his garments—due to his being a clearly pious man—the way Olivier did in The Jazz Singer, he shone the light of his attention on me, his only grandson. I remember distinctly my 8th birthday present from him. A suit. He decided it’d be navy and I distinctly remember its garish, scarlet silk lining, which gave him no end of amusement. He also lined the breast pocket with a silvery sort of silk, so that I’d never be caught without a pocket square. Seeing as how this was 1972, he grumblingly allowed, after much pleading, for proper trousers in lieu of shorts, which he felt were the only correct thing for the suits of “young gentlemen.” Such is a grandfather’s love that it trumps deeply held principle.

Shortly thereafter he died and it wasn’t much longer after that I outgrew the suit. The chances of getting my parents to spring for bespoke wear for me oscillated wildly between nil and zilch. It is amazing how little my father cares/cared for clothes. His views on the matter are of a “contractual obligation” and he would never wear a suit if a blazer would do, or a blazer if a short sleeve shirt and khakis would be technically sufficient. Now that he has reached the autumn of his years, his combinations have grown ever bolder and what he accomplishes with multicolor awning-stripe shirts and madras shorts must be seen to be believed. Yes, simultaneously. But I digress.

My route towards dandyism took me through a path that seems relatively untrod by the denizens of Dandyism.net. I was, and to some degree still am, a preppy. Not for me a youth misspent wearing the raiments of the Regency buck or the plumage of an Edwardian fop. Frock coats meant nothing to me and, come to think of it, still don’t. I gather there is a significant body of dandies who, at some point, fell under the spell of the pre-Raphaelites’ sensibilities. I was busying myself in a different zone of the Sartoriosphere. I distinctly remember the very first item of clothing I bought with my own money. It was a pink oxford Brooks Brothers buttondown shirt. It was woven of cotton fibers so thick (40s, if memory serves) and cut so voluminously that it’d give any self-respecting sailmaker a bad case of spinnaker envy. I bought it on the strength of it having a button at the back of the collar to keep my tie from revealing itself to anyone who may have been stalking me; a grave faux pas then as now. I still have it and it looks, if not quite new, only 3 or 4 years at best. Other purchases followed as my income allowed (I still was too young to worry about automotive expenditures)…Bass Weejuns in cordovan, grosgrain watchbands, regimental ties, more buttondowns, argyle socks, Shetland crewnecks and chinos in khaki, stone, sand and every other variant of “vaguely-dust-colored” I could muster.

By age 17—I skipped 6th grade—I was off to lead the life of a university freshman, and my wardrobe consisted of all the above plus a navy blazer (with my grandfather’s monogrammed buttons, which always grace my “main” blazer) and a charcoal pinstripe suit and a shawl collared tuxedo, all from the Brooks Brothers “Brooksgate” collection and miraculously paid for by my parents as graduation presents. But something was missing. Preppy Avenue went quite far—further, I believe, than the other alleyways others have taken to get here—but it eventually led to a dead end. I always looked presentable. Preppiness proved dapper, even, with a sincere neatness that was pleasing but ultimately not entirely satisfying. One day this all changed. I was stuck at an airport due to some airplane malfunction and had several hours to kill. Bored out of my mind, I purchased a copy of GQ magazine since it had an article on a car in which I was greatly interested. (Yes, I know, but I was a callow youth and you, dear reader, simply must make allowances.)

An entire new set of vistas opened up before my bespectacled eyes. Yes, sure, a lot of the items featured in that fateful December 1981 issue were appalling and have grown even more so given nearly a quarter century of hindsight. But it presented menswear as an active, living thing, not merely a set of subchoices from another set of larger choices. There was mixing and matching, transatlantic cross-pollination, clothing with wit and intelligence. There was a guy on the cover wearing a wing-collar shirt** with his evening suit! I literally took out my yellow pad and started jotting down things I simply Needed To Have. As the hours stretched, I suffered a relapse of boredom and, to assuage same, I went back and bought another magazine: Esquire.

Once I opened its pages and glanced at a reprinted L. Fellows illustration of tropical formalwear, I was turned around from Preppy Avenue and sent careening down Dandy Boulevard, a then-fifty year old drawing providing the hearty shove. Menswear wasn’t divided into the good vs. the bad; I saw there was a panoply (or plethora, I am in no mood to split hairs) of choices, a spectrum that, as far as I was concerned, stretched beyond good into better, better still and best. There was life, civilized life, tasteful life beyond Brooks & Bean. Nothing wrong with BB&LLB, but now there was so much more to supplement, tailor and augment.

After assiduously mooching drinks for epochs on end, I saved enough pennies and I purchased my first “real” ensemble: a navy glen plaid DB suit from Alan Flusser’s “Esquire” line, a spread collar shirt from “The Custom Shop” (Bristol blue & white ¼” stripes, white contrast collar and french cuffs) and a dusty grape club tie (with people waving farewell from a cruise ship’s railing) by Jeffrey Banks. I had become quite the rake and I wasn’t yet 18.

Then a funny thing happened while I was in the slow process of emerging from this prep chrysalis. The distaff side of the species noticed the New And Improved Me. Whereas before I had never, in the eyes of the young women in my sphere, at any rate, The Jeffrey Banks tie. really risen above the mass of young men, I was now something that struck a chord with the better element. For reasons which modern science has yet to adequately address, most of these were ensconced in the English Department and to a great many of them, the combination of a splendid Jesuit vocabulary, a modicum of charm and a gentlemanly, civilized dress sense seemed to add a good 15% to whatever my Handsomeness Quotient may have been.
This, I scarcely need add, suited me fine, and proved to be the vitamin B-suffused tonic the social life of my early adulthood needed. An impeccably attired monkey had clambered upon my back and made himself comfortable.

As someone congenitally predisposed towards a life of idle pursuits and dolce far niente, ardently believing that Flâneurie is simply too much effort to expend, it should impress upon you, Kind Reader, the seriousness with which I took the matter of my attire that I took employment specifically to underwrite my tastes in automobiles and most importantly—for the purposes of this column, anyway— civilized gentlemen’s apparel.

So how do I define a dandy? There are many definitions running around, but they all suffer greatly from the glaring deficiency of not being my definition, although, truth be told, Nick “Lazarus” Willard’s ain’t half bad at all. It would be a disservice, Gracious Reader, to you, if I were to permit such a surfeit of erroneous and dangerous definitions to continue unchecked. It is with such altruism burning deeply within my bosom, I rise from my hammock of indolence and expound and illuminate; I stand athwart popular sentiment, demanding, in a ringing baritone, an immediate halt.

A dandy is, foremost, a man of manifestly impeccable taste, is aware he is a part of his ensemble. This is the man who gathers the assembled elements of his ensemble and says “Well, lads, we’re all in this together” and the elements hear his remark and nod assent and pitch in. And it shows.

A dandy is man with an eye keen enough to spot detail and a mind, keener still, to ponder them and discern what, among those details, is appropriate and tasteful and flattering and not merely appealing-in-concept. A dandy is a man who sculpts his appearance by objective, not happenstance. No detail is too small and no effort too great. Most of decisions, even the smallest (especially the smallest) are the glorious results of considerable synapse-time. Perhaps I am alone in this, but I have been known to ponder my choices, say, for a black-tie event for weeks beforehand. Which shirt? Which studs/links? Which watch? Which tie? Ought I be a bit daring or should I be hidebound and reactionary? Which suspenders? Which shoes? The matte calfskin pumps? The patent bluchers? If I wear the batwing tie, will a 2- or 4-point fold to my pocket square overdo the pointy nature of the whole? These sorts of thoughts haunt me for hours on end.

A dandy is, more importantly, best defined by what he is not. That is, he is not someone who wears his bank account or his subscription to Men’s Vogue on his back or his lapel. A dandy is someone who can think inside the box, but thinks brilliantly and finds the best place in the box from which to be viewed. A dandy is someone who brings his prodigious gifts of eye for detail, sense of style, knowledge of self, sense of place, sense of context and sense of occasion to bear on every aspect of his public and semi-public life. The dandy thinks inside the box, yes, but the dandy…he thinks, and he thinks clearly.

Cordially and so on,

-JM Garcia III

* Did you notice how quickly he returned? Yeah, me too.** Yes, he was also wearing that unfortunate red bow tie, one of those micro-sized Vicky Davis jobs that were all the rage back then.


Blogger M2 said...

Ya'll have a serious need to update yer damn blog...

12:36 AM  
Blogger Joke said...

Hey, I WORK for a living, ya 41 y.o. bastid.

Gimme some rec's for shoe bags, will ya?


8:44 AM  

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