Friday, April 27, 2012

Sewn Through and Backed

Tailors and very particular people won't like this.  For people who quietly stand in the suits or jackets, this post is not for you.  For those of you who travel often, frequently wear a jacket, or just get worked up about life on a regular basis, I intend this advice for you.

Tailors and manufacturers dislike sewing buttons through on jackets.  It is considered a detail of elegance to affix the buttons to the front layer only, leaving no stitches visible on the underside.  I have decided that this feature is (for me) not only unnecessary, but nearly harmful to the clothing.

 A pin-stripe suit with the center button backed.

Purists can kiss my transom.  I even go so far as to put a small backing-button under the middle (on a 3-button) or top button (on a 2-button) to keep them safe.  They wont pop-off ever, and they won't strain the suit either.  How often do people inspect your jacket anyway?

A cashmere great-coat for winter. Backed buttons.

A few tailors ignore the custom and sew the buttons through, but off-the-rack jackets I buy always get the buttons reset with heavy-duty thread at a minimum.  I tend to be active in jackets and suits (within reason) and have been known to gesticulate wildly during rants or lectures, and squirming around in jackets won't cause the buttons to pop like daisy-heads.  Even normal things like carrying groceries, lifting suitcases, or hanging on a subway strap can work a button loose.

On the jacket below, the top button (of 2) has been sewn through, while the bottom button (which never sees service) is left as it came from the factory.  The stitch lump is visible, but it doesn't hurt my feelings.

To be even further inelegant, I have the double-button sets under the waist (intended for wearing braces/suspenders) sewn through, so the stitch-dot can be seen from the outside.  Since I rarely/occasionally trot around in braces with no jacket, I don't concern myself with the roughness of the detail.

A tiny thread "X" should not offend anyone, and I prefer the detail because regardless of what it implies about me being slightly over-active in suits and jackets, I never look like a fool chasing a button across the floor or sidewalk.  Granted, I look like a fool in plenty of other ways, but I never lose buttons.

Turning the stitch yourself is a good task for quiet evenings, early mornings, or days when you are confined to bed from the shrimp cocktail that was served at a party.  It tasted just fine at the time, but it gave me plenty of opportunity read and sew buttons the following day.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Stylish Covers and Admissions of Guilt

Leafing through a heavy volume of Complete Book Covers from "The New Yorker" 1925-1989, I was immediately fond of several of them.  The book weighs more than most, and like many worthwhile art books, it is large, awkward, and hard to shelve.  Nonetheless, here are some covers (all pre-1940) which caught my eye.

Pleasant Scandal.

Beautiful Evening.

Ugly seas.

The race committee starting gun.

The dweeb.

Veto power.


I can relate to this.

This one I like in particular.  I come from a long line of men who were lucky enough to marry VERY patient women.  

I have to come clean about something to you, my Readers, something which I have concealed for years.  I am now ready to admit it:  I hated the book The Great Gatsby.  I was never enormous on Fitzgerald to begin with, but this one is at the bottom.  The characters are unlikable and the story requires trudging to get through.  I can see why it resonates with many thematically (and I mean that in the rudest possible way), but I just don't get it.  It was required reading when I was young and in school, and when I reread it in college and then again a few months ago, my opinion has not changed.  The Men's Style blogosphere is still in love with it, but it's a terrible book.

While I'm on the subject, after endless prodding by friends, the Mrs. and I watched Downton Abbey (on a laptop).  Again, I didn't see the appeal.  It's a boring PBS soap opera with all the predictably of a children's book.  "But the scenery and costumes are soooo beautiful" they say.  Maybe true, but I needed more after the eight minute mark.  It never delivered.  My wife's review was more succinct:  "Ugh. This is why we don't watch television".

Friday, April 20, 2012

Elevators, Escalators, and Draw Bridges

Traveling away from home is tricky.  Regardless of what brilliance/stupidity you achieve while away, your life at home is on pause.  You still have to pick up where you left off when you return.

It's a bad photo, but his pants were carefully painted and stenciled.  It worked.  With the yellow mocs and the vintage woven case (binoculars?) it was his own style, and I liked it.

The little brush-bristles along the bottom of the escalator serves as a shoe polisher.  Shine the toes as you ride to the top.  Of course, people will think you're a weirdo, but at least you will be wearing proper shoes.

In downtown Miami, this is the bridge-house at the draw bridge.  On Thursday, a pedestrian apparently couldn't wait to get to his finance desk and jumped out of his taxi as the gates came down and he sprinted across the bridge just before it lifted.  I was hoping for a more dramatic leap, but it was only about a foot or two.  Notice the unnecessary-but-architecturally-excellent details, including the line of six little top windows under the roofline.


Wow.  Magic City Casino must have looked through a thrift shop's dust-covered cassette selection to come up with this play-bill.  

By my last week, I was finally relaxed enough to slowly swim the entirety of the long pool on one breath underwater, which took about a week to work up to.  I suspect it was partly conditioning, but mostly mental reprogramming; the type that eases the shoulders and gut when you finally allow it to, only realizing the tension had been present by its noticeable absence.  

A trio of feral green parrots frequented our roomy balcony, but their charm wore off by the third day with their ear-piercing screeches.  It has stayed in the mid-80's the entire time, and the low humidity has allowed evenings in light cotton, linen, and seersucker jackets comfortably.  A Saturday flight home to familiar Boston territory and a bundle or two of cigars to share with anyone in who happens to spot the drinks flag this Sunday.  Perhaps the calendar will hurry along and we can trot out the summer materials and colors.  I'm ready for the change.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Can I Wear Sunburn Before Memorial Day?

The sun rises after 7am over the beach, but shows little light before hand. I met a childhood friend for an early breakfast near downtown Miami on a balcony just as the sun rose.  Eggs, toast, coffee and tropical fruits were followed by a dousing of SPF 50.

We took a long boat ride (motor) with our families in her boat, sandwiches wrapped in foil, and plenty of extra water.  An extra VHF is always a safe bet as well and a pair of American Optics sunglasses (gift from a friend) surprisingly did not fall off into the ocean.


After a few hours, we saw a wave runner floating by itself, which always initiates concern.  When I looked closer, two small heads were bobbing in the water getting increasingly distant from their watercraft.  We sped over and saw two girls barely treading water and holding on to their life vests getting pulled away in the current.  We pulled them aboard, and my friend (a Coast Guard officer) began berating them in her expert Spanish for not wearing their vests (in favor of maximizing their tans).  With no medical issues apparent (nothing "beyond first aid") we released the two vapidas to their craft, both of them infuriatingly having  maintained their chewing gum throughout the ordeal, and both still pompously sassy with entitlement despite their exhaustion. If this is our future, it's hopeless.

Later that evening, cigars and rum that was good enough to drink only with ice.

The multi-bedroom spot we've been occupying is far different from the normal Northeastern aesthetic.  While I enjoy temporary stylistic differences, the bare post-deco stainless steel/glass/marble/white everything is an adjustment.  Simple household tasks require endless wiping of surfaces as every water droplet is accentuated.  Children's hand and fingerprints quickly cover every surface and are showcased with rays of sun.  The air temperature and low humidity can be described only as flawless, and the air conditioner has not been turned on at all, with nightlife's noise a small price to pay for open window sleeping.

My temporary office has seen little use, but I am on my third can of sunscreen with my pale Western European flesh barely keeping pace with the vitamin D assault.

Back in Boston, the city is likely clogged with the marathon runners and the legions of smug yuppies who spend hours each day training for these silly races instead of spending time on better things like their families, going out drinking, or hosting/attending parties (I sensibly gave up competitive running in college).

85f forecasted for Boston, and the same in Miami, but the only thing I'm running is a bar-tab.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The House of Coral Gables

Walking towards the house from the car at 4pm, I could tell that we were arriving during the middle wave.  Six wide stairs from the circular driveway’s approach put us at the impressive front doors.  Before I could raise my hand to knock, they swung open and we were greeted by an older man dressed in a bartender’s vest and white shirt.  A breeze pushed through the open door towards us, indicating that the entire house had been opened up and was full of alive air from the sea.  There seems to be a slightly complicated system of when a host or hostess will open the doors and windows during a gathering, with its implications being specific and intentional.  When the house is necessarily sealed, the temperature of the air conditioning is also used to say something about the house.  In this house it was off, and the palms by the water made their late afternoon twists and bows.  If the wind stopped the mosquitos would arrive, but it held steady and the coastal clouds told us that it would last throughout the night.

After Mrs. and I made the rounds and exaggerated how cold Boston was at that moment, she settled in with her cousins and their love interests by a tiled fountain to exchange news of children and drink the Cava that was going around.  I always watch her face during her first sip at parties, looking for the slight occasional wince, or a subtle half nod for the drinks served, observations which are only visible to spouses.  Since I have an amateur’s palate (with low standards), I take perverse pleasure in witnessing dissatisfaction from those who have particular tastes.

A small assembly of six played perfected hybrids of Cuban jazz and salsa, the piano forcefully directing the melody for the others, almost bossy towards the rhythm section.  Far more structured and precise than jazz, and substantially less hectic than salsa can be, perhaps “Cuban cocktail” is the best way to describe it.  It was breezy, clean, and crisp, and I was apparently the only one impressed by it.

I was invited to sit in one of the larger wicker chairs out by the water with several older men.  Like a delightful cliché, I was offered Scotch and seated next to the host.  The men discussed art collecting and their disdain for the Eastern smuggling-based markets, conversations which were intriguing but far out of my league.  The youngest of the group was almost sixty, and I felt like a puppy laying by their feet.  Like several events, the host had hired a cigar roller as novelty.  He sat at a small table opposite the caterer’s bar and assembled cigars in all shapes, styles, colors, and strengths.  Guests were encouraged to take whichever they wanted, and the torpedoes resting in the squared box-presses caught my eye.

I had one of the dozen or so ties in the entire place, but jackets were ubiquitous, save the occasional micro-knit shirt or two.  There were well-defined styles between the Cuban, European, Jewish, and South American men, with facial hair and varying degrees of silvering hair differentiating the demographics, indicated by the degree of mustache/beard grooming detail.  The women were all exceedingly well put together and the older ladies were almost intimidating in their disproportionate social gravitas, the way Europeans and South Americans are occasionally cultivated: manner and carriage being the bedrock of poise, not vice-versa.

The house was mostly white or tan marble and stone tiles, with wood trim and details.  It had been built long before the others, and had been updated only with storm-proof windows.  The piano player took pleasure in filling the great-room with his flourishes and sweeps, and the percussion players used tea-towels to muffle the sounds slightly.

Down by the water, davits and winches had the patina of disuse, and the beautifully tiled swimming pool was heated to about 80 degrees.  Platters of iced ceviche and cold shrimp orbited the various rooms, and one of the waiters smelled heavily of pot.  By the house's water-side, a large fountain was active, but had been somehow designed to be almost silent.  Streams and sheets of water fell, but without the expected babble or gurgle, and I stared at it to figure out its design.

In an odd twist, the elderly host and hostess excused themselves quietly from the party because they “had tickets to see a movie in 3-D”.  It was outrageous and gutsy, and something only the well-heeled seniors can get away with.  Half of the guests also left, but we stayed on until the sun got lower, and the day caught up with me.  On the drive home I learned that the cigar roller had sent my wife with a sampler of about twenty, the bundle wrapped in a band cut from a paper shopping bag.  We went on to dinner in Coconut Grove, where we met up with some friends at the restaurant Jaguar.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dade County Enclaves

When the plane landed, I began to imagine what the coming weeks would offer.  Relaxation, business at a sensible pace, uninterrupted time with my wife and son, and plenty of time on the water.  I envisioned lengthy poolside time-wasting, mid-day sails, and little else.  What I failed to realize was the fact that Mrs. had other plans, and within 60 minutes of landing, she began scribbling out our schedule for the next weeks.  A robust roster of dinner party "YES" RSVP's had been sent and those nights and afternoons began vanishing.  Three nights into our stay, and the social calendar is overbooked.

Bostonians who resented last years heavy snow have taken up down here for winter retreats, several of them having cashed in on the liquidated real estate prices... not as investments, but as getaways.  They tend to have jobs that allow remote employment and so long as they meet their publishing, consulting, or whatever other deadlines, they while away here before the humidity presses too heavily.  During the first dinner party, an old friend cooked a head-spinningly good Moroccan meal for us and politely abstained from the bottle I brought as he readied himself for the squash doubles finals back in Concord this coming weekend.  Fine, more for me.

As the spiced lamb was served, a tall-ship entered the port.  I couldn't make the name on her, and my angle concealed the lines.  Anyone know who she is?  Observe the beautifully tightened harbor-furling on her spars.

The Boston folks here tend to be uninterested in the over-the-top theater of the Palm Beach scene, preferring the LOW prices and relative anonymity that Miami can offer.  Ever New Englanders, they tend to rise early to do their writing, painting, research, or business.  Like my trips to the Caribbean, I wake up when most people are just going to bed.  I avoid the trendy club scenes of South Beach in favor of smaller parties where people actually wear clothing.

Boston friends are all wearing canvas Toms espadrilles with their blazers or light-weight sportcoats, and all but one were smart enough to cut off that stupid little tag on the side that says TOMS.  Among the others everywhere else, the women are several tiers better presented than their "dates" and the majority of men continue to opt for some bizarre Euro-MTV look with cancerous tans and gym-inflated upper torsos rendered incapable of any actual athleticism.  Thankfully, I avoid the majority of these spots during the fashionable hours, the regular attendees of which don't normally arrive until after I have left (and gone to sleep).

There are other quietly stylish circles and crowds that seem more fitting to a stale Yankee like me, and they don't involve the foreign sports/luxury cars.  More on those in the coming days.