Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reader Questions: Blitz Edition

Questions submitted between January 25 and February 25, 2011

"Dear YWP, Is it true that you shouldn't wear the same shoes two days in a row?"

This is a good idea, but disaster won't strike if ignored.  Foot sweat and general condensation wets the interiors of your shoes, but if you live in a very dry climate, there will generally be no issue, as the shoes will be dry the next day.  I recommend polishing the outside, and most importantly, putting shoe trees/forms/lasts in them when you take them off.  If you live in a damper climate, it is wise to follow the every-other-day rule.  As for the trees/forms/lasts, you can spend $3 (drugstore plastic version) or $300 (hand-carved wooden version), and the result will be about the same.


"Is it alright to wear a vest?"

Yes.  There are some situations where the subtlety and nuance of the vest's implications will dictate one way or the other, but generally, it is always nice to wear the odd vest.  Tread carefully if it is being paired with a suit for which it was not intended, but when mixed with jacket/tie/trousers, you are almost always safe.


"A lot of the other men at [large brokerage house] go to get pedicures.  Is this a good idea?  It seems weird."

While it may be true that many males get pedicures, it is also true that men do not.


"Is a bespoke shirt worth the money?"

It depends on your body type. I have had several shirts made for me, and they were nice... but I found that several off-the-rack shirts fit me just as well, if not better.  For example, I prefer a shirt with a tapered middle, which is a process that costs extremely little by a seamster, and when I need something interesting done, I go to a shirt maker for alterations.  Bespoke shirts are usually well over $100 and at times over $500, but for my torso, the normal Jermyn Street racks fit just as well, and because I am VERY patient with buying, I rarely pay over $50 for them... and usually in the range of $30 with free shipping from London.  When Filene's Basement was open, Ralph Lauren shirts of all sorts were in sloppy teetering stacks and at $19.  When you find a good fit and a good bargain, bite the budget bullet and buy a big bag full.  If your torso is harder to fit, and the seamster shakes their head at your request, bespoke shirts may be a good option, but they will have a price to match.  Unique and attractive/quirky features are certainly reason to justify a bespoke shirt, though.

Tab cuff? Worth it. 

"I just bought a Hilditch [and Key shirt] that is too long but fits great otherwise..."

Men's shirts from the old guard are (correctly) long, because they are intended to be worn tucked in.  In fact, a proper shirt will look terrible untucked, as the tails and front extend below the crotch when standing which keeps them held safely prisoner into your trouser's waist.  In a London store, I once saw a formal French shirt that not only buttoned up the back, but also fastened between the legs with two buttons... and tucked it would certainly stay.


"yur blog sucks and yur and snboby a**hole!"

Though I am inclined to agree with you on the first part (this blog sucking), I must dispute your second claim: I am always courteous when sledding on the sno-bob.  I wait my turn and let others have theirs, and I always pull the younger kids back to the top of the hill.  I also never walk in the sledding lane... that is something an a**hole would do.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Men's Dressing Gown

Dollars and Taxes in Dallas, Texas

I know, it's a Chico Marx joke.  On a recent business trip to Dallas, I stopped by Ahab Bowen, a thrift-ish boutique in a particularly pleasant section of Dallas.  The selection was mostly for ladies, but the men's room was impeccably organized and with a smaller but adequate inventory.  I walked away with a few noticeably nice silk pocket squares for about $4 or $5 a piece, a madras cummerbund, and a very handsome and heavy silk (yes, silk) robe for about $40.

The sturdy and thick lapels let it lay nicely, and it is noticeably warmer than my flannel version.  It's fully lined in a dark silk, has thick turned cuffs, and no tags at all.  Mysterious.

Regal Richard Roxburgh's Royal Robe

In the aesthetically catchy but overall-underwhelming film Moulin Rouge!, Richard Roxburgh seems to channel Gary Oldman for his role as the Duke, who, for one scene, wears a sweeping ankle-length house (gown) robe of the most imposing construction in deep quilted purple silk, heavy even to the eye, with two door-hinge sized frog-fasteners, a shawl collar like a tranquilized cobra, and cuffs as sturdy as electric chair restraints.  I think I saw the movie on a date, and disliked most of both, but I always remembered that ridiculous/incredible robe.  I once saw something remotely similar at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, but it would have required its own suitcase to get home, and I instead spent my money on a carefully carved meerschaum half-bent billiard.  The lining of case it came with was the only silk I would procure during that trip.

A few years ago, I was staying at an inn (long-since converted from the grand house of some early industrialist) during a miserable winter fly-fishing trip.  In the evening, (and in my only dry socks, ragged pants, and lined flannel wool shirt) several guests sat in the heavily worn chairs near the massive roaring fire helping ourselves to the house sherry, and I spoke with a lady of about eighty delivering a nice Quebecois-patois.  When her even older husband joined us, he was in a thick silk dressing gown over his bow-tie and shirt, and his wife quietly dismissed his clothing choice to me, saying "I was hoping he would not wear his brandy suit here."  I realized that I had just met the world's coolest man.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Reviving Shirts III - Dr. Frankenshirt

Brooks Brothers/Thomas Pink Merger

An old Thomas Pink shirt of mine was in need of surgery.  While the collar was miraculously in healthy shape, the cuff edges were on the verge of looking like fletching... (Maybe now would be a good time to coin the term "fletched" for worn out collars and cuffs that have gone frayed?  Done.  Fletched it is.)  So the French cuffs were fletched, and in need of replacement.  I also had a Brooks Brothers evening shirt (in perfect condition) that I had just found on eBay for about $5 to put into the black tie rotation.  The solution was simple:  I would create a monster.

Inspired by a friend's double-take-inducing evening shirt in black-watch, I set about combining the two shirts (actually the tailor did... I am devoid of talent) into something that would hopefully accomplish the same thing.  It turned out just as I had hoped.  The marcella bib, collar, and cuffs we all very thick, and the bib was double-layered (creating a near-armored breast plate) on the original evening shirt.  I transferred only a single layer, and it excellently allowed the butcher-check underneath to show through slightly. 

BB bib/cuffs/collar & T.Pink body

Underneath an older Brooks Brothers dinner jacket (as a then 26-year old, the first one I had ever purchased) with more casual notched lapels, only the bib and cuffs were visible.
Brooks Brothers dinner jacket


Thankfully, the city has no shortage of black tie enforced events, and since dinner jackets tend to not be let off the torso easily, the pattern will be kept hidden away like striped socks... a chance-glance at most.

Reviving Shirts I (the first post) & Reviving Shirts II

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Ascot

"Dear Yankee-Whiskey-Papa,
I was visiting with my grandfather who is one of the best dressed men I know, and he gave me an ascot of his.  My question is will I look like a jerk wearing it?"


Dear Joshua,
Yes, you will look like a bit of a jerk wearing it, but that is exactly why you should immediately put it on.  It is excellent tribute to the generosity of your grandfather and his style, and it will sharply reduce the number of high-fives offered you.  The majority of people will likely think that you look like a dandy, but the majority of people abhor wearing actual clothing out of doors anyway.  I wouldn't make it a trademark of yours, but certainly put it on at parties, evenings to restaurants, or any other time you please.  You can always start slowly, by keeping it tightly tucked  under the shirt and not billowing up, looking as if your clavicles have vomited silk.

Most come in pointed ends, with pleats around the neck-portion.  These fit very well, but make themselves limited in their application.  If you have a sweater, they can also be used as a tie if you're in a pinch.

I mostly use long silk scarves, rolled or folded, because they can be taken off and given to someone if it's cold, and they tend to be warmer and fuller. 

The patterns on the pre-formed ones are generally conservative.  Avoid solids when possible, and contrary to what many say, stripes are very pleasant.

The open neck looks a bit odd, and reminds everyone that you may likely be someone who speaks loudly on a cellphone before berating the gate-agent about your delayed flight.

A silk scarf can start between the jacket and the sweater or shirt, letting people know that you are stylishly preparing for the evening to cool down.

Between jacket and sweater

Inside the party or during your stroll, the scarf can be worn between sweater and shirt for a more elegant look that is still uncommon enough to be interesting but without all the stereotypical baggage associated.

Between sweater and shirt

Now, there is no turning back.  Once the silk goes between shirt and neck, every hockey high-fiver, blood-thirsty shut-in, 'roid-raging goon, methed-out hayseed, and management-speak spanky will cross the room to make a Thurston Howell joke.  You should have thought of this before you went into Bucky's Sports Bar and Grill dressed in an ascot.

Between shirt and skin

The ascot has been unfairly railroaded into it's stereotype for decades.  It works just as well with jeans, pajamas, or a vest, but always with a jacket.  I say wear it, and nevermind caring what people think of it.  An evening party in the cooler months with a dark velvet jacket and silk ascot somehow makes gin taste better, and a scarf between sweater and shirt is just right for a ride in the convertible or a trip to the library peddling the English three-speed.
Leaving it untucked is far beyond the limits of sensible, and advisable only if you are the Amherst-modeled driver of the Mystery Machine.  Zoiks!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reader Submissions: Homemade Pocket Squares

A reader sent a photo of his hand-made pocket square, and the accompanying description.  I truly do love getting photos from readers, especially when they are like this:


I decided to go with a blue and pink outfit for valentine's day and needed a pink pocket square.

I picked up some "fabric quarters" at the fabric store. I grabbed two pink ones because I didn't know which one was going to work better with the tie I had picked out. Then when I saw them next to each other and remembering the post on [Boxing the Compass] about making your own, I decided to sew them together and I think it turned out quite nice. I did a test with a three-point fold and it looks fantastic.

I'll make sure to grab some photos of the outfit showing off the pocket square and send them to you, too.

I'm hoping to make many more, considering how easy this one was. 

The second one

Excellent creations, inspiring stylishness, and for little cost.  The double-sided cottons are always eye-catching, and they seem to be catching on. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Pointless "Heritage" Discussion, and An Affordable Speakeasy

Avoiding the tedious genealogical discussions and the laurel-resting that accompanies the over-told triumphs and dignities of ancestors past, the assertions about "heritage" as concerns modern clothing is an odd one.  Thankfully, there seems to exist alert skepticism amongst the more observant, and many bloggers and shoppers have correctly resorted to eye-rolling when they see the word fraudulently/laughably printed in a tea-stained font on a beige label.

I suggest the possibility there there is no discussion.  There is only a hopeless and goal-postless pseudo-analysis of the efforts of dubiously appointed/anointed marketing teams to continue to sell clothing.  While it prickles the grounded and leans distasteful, what do we expect?  Suspiciously granted college degrees in modern marketing dogma will ensure that nonsense like this will continually re-appear (but even the most irritating product branditas and branditos are entitled to earn a living for themselves).  

For those interested in a more calming American Heritage lesson (certainly less annoying than mine, and unlike mine, contains actual authority), I suggest the works of Eric Sloane.  A dear friend and then-roommate introduced me to Sloane's work during college, and I have enjoyed it ever since.  Debating about whether or not a particular model of sweater is "authentic" seems a bit irrelevant when you read about snow rollers, apple-butter paddles, and wagon ruggles.  Vapid blogs detailing gagging recipes with preambles such as "My dinner guests were treated to my luxurious citrus and smoked-trout filled mushroom caps" are compared with Sloane's appendices listing recipes for mead, sillibub, haymaker's switchel, and several formulations for homemade paint.

The man traveled the country documenting American tools, customs, techniques, lives, and creations, drawing rich and readable diagrams supplemented with descriptions that make the back and hands ache and one's own list of preoccupations get chipped down to cushy nuisance.  Ink drawings of extinct architecture, charts of now long-rusted away iron tools, and methods for surviving that live only in the frail pages of decaying letters are all captured and preserved in his work.

I grew up laying claim to my beloved New England as the home of the covered bridge.  Sloane's gorgeously self-illustrated 1954 book American Barns And Covered Bridges provides a back-page census of covered bridges from that year's summer.  Fulfilling our assumptions, Vermont had 121 covered bridges, but surprisingly, Indiana had 174.  Ohio... 349.  The Main Line Sportsman's predecessors enjoyed 390 covered bridges.

Because the heritage discussion is debated from every point on the compass, I am suggesting that Sloane provides the only approachable and legitimate starting calibration for such a thought exercise, should it occur at all (and it should not).  Taking a step back, though... like many terms (and popular abbreviated ones) the entire discussion exists only in the hunched and furiously key-pecked world of blogging, where people with no credentials (myself certainly included) can postulate and opine on the most granular word-play... or just as easily watch a video of some dog riding a skateboard.


As I reached the completion of writing this, none other than An Affordable Wardrobe's Giuseppe Timore appeared in the doorway to shake off the winter's chill with a glass of brandy*, and we immediately retired to Boston's hardest-to-find speakeasy.  Interestingly, we both happened to be wearing shortened club collars and striped ties.

YWP & G.T. elbow the bar.  Two additional guests (not pictured) joined, and took this photo

Heavy gray pressed flannel pants, navy blazer, highly polished brown wingtips, and his pinned collar were all wrapped in a handsome cashmere overcoat.  There are those about whom one can say "their clothes wear them", but Giuseppe not only wears his, he seems to be in absolute command of his clothing.  He is intentional and certain, fully at ease in them, and best of all, somehow without a single trace of preoccupation (which is strange given the regularity of articulation in his blog).

As usual, he was impeccably assembled, and at what was likely a sinister bargain.

*Avoid drinking brandy from a snifter.  Everyone serves it that way, but the encapsulated vapors in the fishbowl immediately anesthetize the nose, deadening one's ability to taste.  Any flush or opened-top glass works very well.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Urban Practicality: Repurposing Objects for City Houses

Straying from clothing for a moment... practicality and style can work hand-in-hand. If done poorly, they are in spite of one another, and it's usually tiny areas of the house where they are working together, making life easier or at least slightly more enjoyably odd.

A trout net on deep clearance from Orvis now holds fruit up and off the pantry counter (and cooled in winter by the courtyard's hopelessly drafty window).


A dab of sticky-putty un-damagingly holds a cheap clothespin to the cabinets in the kitchen (intended as temporary... but still there) to hold grocery lists, printed recipes, etc.

An oversized $5 ladle from a restaurant supply store in Chinatown holds up to $40 worth of spare change.

An old deep-sea lure with the hooks filed dull now holds keys.

A restaurant's slotted spoon is bent into a "Z" and keeps pot-scrubbers high and dry near kitchen sinks.

12 cheap darts are used to hold olives into a (10 ounce!) Martini glass, circa 1940.  7-8 ounces of gin and needle-sharp hand-missiles... how could this possibly go wrong?

A souvenir mortar* from a childhood field-trip to Appomattox now sits on a cheap cork coaster as a rest for an active fountain pen.

In my travels, I've found a men's tailoring shop that dispensed brass buttons from a gumball machine, an old tall-standing J√łtul wood stove that now serves as a liquor cabinet, and a delicate paper parasol that softened previously harsh lighting in a converted loft.  Simple, cheap, creative, unique, memorable, and thoughtful.  While drastic repurposing is often not available for a gent's clothing (one wouldn't swap a waistcoat with a life-vest under a suit), subtlety is explorable, and the mark of good style... with some inevitable and forgivable failures.

*Originally listed as "cannon" by YWP, correctly corrected by JKG.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Urban Practicality (Ladies' Edition): Rain Skirt

Griping about the weather and the Celtics/Bruins/Patriots/Red Sox is one of the more tedious methods by which some New Englanders attempt conversation.  The local news has ensured that our courage-producing organs are effectively shriveled, and our political leaders tell us to stay home when it snows (these are people who get paid -by taxpayers- regardless of whether or not they show up).
For the rest of the city, clients still need advisors, committees still need to meet, children still need daycare, and all manner of business still must happen.  In the city, everyone walks.  Even a few blocks to a subway can drench or sleet-fill clothing if the weather is foul.

Wife Dearest has a strong aversion to cold air and anything cold falling from it.  Her raincoats got longer and longer, and her wellies got taller and taller, but she would still arrive with the elements having found their way through her coat and breaching the boot-tops.  Reaching her office/appointments/parties/meetings feeling disheveled, soaked, and having all prior preparations ruined can now be avoided.

When the weather reaches a level which provides genuine and substantial threat to her put-togetherness, in addition to her raincoat, and over her existing dress or skirt, she puts on a rain skirt.

Rain Skirt

A lightweight breathable over-skirt that velcros around the waist, and has a midway fasten provides a guaranty of a dry arrival.  Unlike 99% of outdoorsy "technical" clothing, it is actually flattering to the female form.  In fact, the old Saville Row and Jermyn Street clothiers also made waterproof clothing for the boys in the trenches during World War 1, and one advertised substantially for womens' waterproof over-trousers, which were similar to very baggy plus-fours.  I have an old vintage magazine ad featuring it... somewhere.

A dress or outfit of any sort is kept dry and safe by the over-skirt/wrap.

Under a long raincoat or even a shorter parka:

It provides enough extra length to close the boot/coat gap.

A brisk twenty-five minute stroll or trudge through the city is made painless, and more importantly, her arrival is kept comfortable.  Rain-pants look terrible on women, but are also very uncomfortable for walking.

An LL Bean Jones Cap (in ladies SMALL).

Waterproof, wind-proof, weather-proof, and still perfectly maneuverable.  Best of all, she doesn't feel like a camping store blob, or look like of the many tourists who outfit themselves for a walk through the city like they're running the Eco-Challenge.  With this one, its removed in seconds, and stows away easily its own pocket once one has reached their destination.

The wrap works beautifully for canoeing and hiking, and if the weather is mildly bad, they can serve as a placeholder for foulies when it's not likely to remain ugly out for too long.  She has found it perfectly comfortable and fully effective while indulging me in trout trickery, coastal sailing, or a stroll through the city during blizzards, and she doesn't have to sacrifice her style.

Emergent Designs has picked up this post as well.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Smart and Stylish Mention

The proprietor at An Easy and Elegant Life nominated this blog for recognition as “Smart and Stylish”. Boxing The Compass is admittedly comparatively bland, and his bestowed adjectives were either a surprisingly charitable mention, or a mistakenly-linked redirection perhaps intended for a blog covering ACTUAL compass navigation.  There’s no deviation like magnetic deviation, I've always said... give or take 16 degrees. 

All cheek aside, I sincerely thank him for his courteous nod, and handsome manner with which he composes his emails.

I was asked to write seven things about Boxing The Compass that are not known.

1. I wear a coat and tie (or a clearly non-business suit) while vacationing in cities, and always during transportation.  I do this not for vanity, but because the rest of the world deals with suspicion by drenching it in courtesy.  In the US, we often deal with it by being jerks (which is appropriate).  Cheap move?  Perhaps, but I end up getting seated and served first and (in the East) I don't get inflated prices.  Train ticketing clerks and on-board rail staff also tend to lavish disproportionately attentive service to those who provide them with some aesthetic nostalgia.


2. Since age 10, I’ve held the club record for “most years of tennis lessons with least visible improvement”.

3. I think that terms like “WASP” and “Preppy” are best only uttered sotto voce.  Seriously.  Consider immediately renaming your blogs.  The twist (and this is the good part) is that by blogging about how well you are pulling it off, you disqualify yourself by breaking the golden rule.

4. “Boxing The Compass” began as a (de facto) private discussion forum amongst friends.  It was on blogspot, and I started getting email questions from people who somehow found it.  It grew from there.

5. I’m overcome with a disproportionate sense of productivity when my stapler runs out of staples.

6. I write left-handed, throw right-handed, played lacrosse with both, and can’t play the piano with either.

7. During warm months at 5pm, we fly a cocktails flag outside of our city house, and welcome in for drinks anyone who presses the bell... anyone... which has been interesting.  I am the sixth generation to conduct this strange tradition, though the original burgee didn’t make it past the second.

---A thank you to the readers in Australia for your very nice emails and photos.