Thursday, August 30, 2012

Reader Email

Yankee Whisky,
Your blog has been on my list for around a year. You write like the quintessential egotist and the self centered photos are just too much sometimes.  [...] Question: do all you 'style' bloggers have gigantic egos?


Dear Anonymous,



Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Humid Summer Stroll

I see these every week in hotels.  Why couldn't they have just said "Please Don't Be Wasteful"?  Not that I am, but I could respect that message a bit more.  The hyperbole of "Save Our Planet" is almost insulting.  At a so-so hotel in France, I once saw a sign that roughly translated to: "Your towel will dry better if it is draped over the metal bar".

The summer is disappearing like the final gurgles of a swirling bathtub drain, and with the same fanfare.  The summer suits and coastal materials are all sulking, and there is one last black tie event for the tropical dinner jacket this week.  If you saw a man in a seersucker suit scrubbing some spray paint off of an old city wall last weekend, it was me, and you will understand why I don't recognize the term "graffiti artist".  I only use the term "vandal". 

A humid morning, where a stroll to the office gets the inner-elbows swampy and perma-creases the shirt. Men know what I'm talking about.  Feet steam inside leather shoes and dress socks, and the air-conditioning billows from an open shop door as I pass, making me consider doubling back and fake-browsing inside.  Not hot, just humid and stuffy in the city.  A text arrives from a friend with good news about her husband's prognosis. A block later, I exchange half-nods with someone I regularly pass in the mornings and wonder how many more before I should introduce myself.  If I pass him on the way home, I'll give it a shot.  I think about the summer and all of things I wasn't able to do, and then I get a flash of a concept or image or feeling that must have been a fragment of a dream from the previous night.  Retracing those images is pointless, because you can never piece it together.  

Autumn soon.  I used to just philosophize about endings.  Now, I'm foolishly philosophizing about anticipating endings.  No matter how many times you consciously make a point to enjoy a season, a mood, or a moment, it's never enough. With a bitter-sweet ending, don't fooled by the ratio.  It's still 50% bitter.  Snap out of it.

There is hope.  The new juniors at the office all pack their lunches as I mostly do, and they use the coffee maker instead of buying the burnt $4 cupfulls nearby from the chain.  Best of all, they're early.  Maybe this handbasket and its contents are not en route to where I thought they were.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Water's Edge

A little over 10 years ago, I called my friend Plum for some advice on where to stay in Madison, Wisconsin.  He told me that the Edgewater would be my speed.  "It's what a third-world country would have as a four-star hotel" he said.  That IS my speed.

A pseudo-deco exterior and an early 90's interior.  It reminds me of those old has-been hotels with a billion great stories and a lot of charm for those willing to ease up a bit.  All of the windows open wide, and the bar and restaurant overlook Lake Mendota.  It's kooky and worn out, but I still love it.

The bar has a fantastic view, an out-of-date interior, and dirt-cheap drinks.

The walls are covered with the framed headshots of stars who have passed through over the years.  I found a few I liked.


Apparently, the University of Wisconsin had a mermaid team.  


I am writing this all as a memorial.  Soon, the hotel will be gutted and rebuilt.  The development plans have been a political topic in Madison for a the past few years, but it is moving ahead.  I was at least able to confirm that the new window designs will still open to fresh lake air.

The patina and the vibe there is one that is dying out.  Bars where well-dressed men and women drank Cutty Sark and a dinner-jacketed crooner smoked and drank his way through a night-long set-list.  In those days, you ordered your drinks and food by type, and not by brand.  Nobody said "I'll have a martini with Bombay", they just said "We'll have martinis".  "Whiskey, please" was a complete order, and no further details were solicited.

Years ago, I sat in the comfortable chair at the large floor-to-ceiling windows, high above the water's edge.  The landscape was overcast but in the peak of autumn, and I drank hot tea alone in the empty restaurant, and watched a storm slowly work its way across the lake from the north.  When the squall line began pattering the windows and the view went opaque, the Scandinavian manager sent over some white wine and a small dish with chunks of pickled herring.  "I thought this would go well", he said.  Of course it did.

A decade ago, I was a young businessman able to sweet-talk my way into using one of the university boats to sail around the lake for an hour or so.  The bellman always drove us to the Tornado Room for well-drinks, and I half-expected to see Bill Murray's character Nick Summers singing his heart out and working the crowd.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Trim Shirts, Shoulder Holsters, Vests and Suspenders

I took one of my newly trimmed shirts flyfishing on Alaska's Kenai River.

Cooper Landing, AK

Erik, our ghillie for the trip.

...and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him...

 The shirt's new trim dimensions fit better under the waders.  With the water in the high 40's, I needed all the summer warmth I could get.  You see?  Suspenders should always go under the vest.  Is that what you were talking about?

I had never fished with a shoulder-holstered .44 before.  I was assured that it was necessary in case the locals (bear) had decided to have a go at us.


 My Yankee eyes had never seen a King Salmon before, but when they rolled in front of me, I thought that they were porpoises.  There were more sock-eyes that I could count, but like the kings, they had stopped eating before heading up river.  Thick Rainbow trout and heavy Dolly Varden were in abundance and ravenous.  The fight is monstrous because like all the wildlife in the area at this time of year, they are very well fed.  Midnight sunsets, and the only thing I wasn't able to catch was sleep for the week.  Back in Boston now, and an evening cigar and iced brandy with mint to celebrate the beautiful new daughter of dear friends.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

In Defense of the Slim-Cut Shirt

Someone had to defend it.

Before: Full-cut

 A pony-insignia dress shirt in very soft cotton purchased for $19 new from RL.  Out of the package, it immediately proved too large around the middle, and a bit long in the sleeve, though the tag claimed a shorter sleeve length.  Maybe that's why it had been reduced to $19.  Tucked in, it would have a blouse-like fit with cloth muffin-top love handles above the belt.  The photo above is what a full-cut looks like.  Baggy, flappy, floppy, and tent-like.

For men with mid-sections of a smaller diameter than their chests and shoulders, the fitted or slim-cut shirts are appropriate.  These "Yarmouth" cottons (whatever that means) are very comfortable, but the cut is equally unflattering to a non-round torso.  I took them to the cramped and awkward fitting room at the seamstress shop and had them taken in in an attempt to improve them.

After: Better fitting slim-cut

 Severely fitted (tight) shirts look amateurish, while a trim fitting shirt is complimentary to the male figure (as Mrs. tells me).  After it was taken in ($10), it fit better without being tight, and the seamstress gave the side seams a more elegant single stitch instead of the bulky doubled stitch that all shirts have.

Purists seem to hate the slim cut shirts for some reason, but since one size does not fit all, you may have to take matters into your own hands to fine-tune the cloth to your specific liking.  If your torso tends towards a more athletic shape you are usually out of luck when it comes to shirts out of the package, because they weren't built for you.  For $29 total, I got a shirt that actually fits right and I can wear it without a jacket or sweater.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Lasting Effects of Vice

In 1984, I was playing little league and trying to memorize the world capitals and rivers for school.  That year, men's style would be altered in a trend that would last for decades.  When Miami Vice debuted, America was shown a handsome leading man who brought four fundamental changes to the collective social calibration for men's dress.  These four changes would be the basis for an attitude shift that endures today, though its origins are somewhat forgotten.

Don Johnson pseudo-pioneered (1 and 3) and popularized (2 and 4) the following style elements that had not been largely accepted before:

1. Tight, no-collared shirts worn under sportcoats/suits
2. Turquoise, or primary colors with white or light (sans beltloop) suits
3. Regularly unshaven face
4. Socklessness

As Sonny Crockett, Johnson provided fashion cues that actually became discussions on news and opinion pieces, and several talk shows actually debated whether or not his casual approach trend would be harmful to the serious formality of the workplace.

The show was different than any other at the time.  Unlike nearly every program of the time, the title and credit sequences contained no clips from the show itself (the detached car and boat shots excluded), giving the build-up a specific feel and style that was unique.  Some elements of the show were not particularly believable, but overall, it was a fun watch.  Even today, (streaming or DVD series) the show largely stands up.  Many of the episodes are still truly heavy (The Home Invaders) and the characters warm up to you quickly.

I have an old RL Polo shirt that I like to wear on the water, and when I got sick of the double-collar look, I had it unstitched and taken out.  It's now perfect for boating, beach, or any other outdoor activity with temperature variation.

Not that I'm actively going for the Sonny Crockett look, but he might have been onto something when it came to layering in hot temperatures.

Philip Michael Thomas (as Rico Tubbs) appeared in suit/jacket and tie in almost every shot, somehow tolerating a closed collar in Miami for filming the scenes, including the foot chases.  Having spent a decent amount of time in Miami while wearing a tie, I can sympathize.  Strangely, it would be Thomas's well-tailored wardrobe that withstood the style shifts of time.  Tie patterns aside, his clothing  in the series is still mostly relevant today.

Johnson's character would inspire millions of men around the world to emulate and ape the approach, mostly failing, but the effects of the style shift are still readily visible today.  Not shaving before going to an office or an evening out?  Society seems to accept it now based on how often i see it.  Wearing a collar-less shirt under a jacket or with a suit?  Go to any airport and just look around.


I enjoy summer colors when the weather is right, and perhaps my tolerance is partially calibrated by the show that I watched decades ago.  Maybe.  Granted, it helps having been surrounded by sockless and loafered men in primary colored shirts throughout life already.  Yellows, pinks, and ivories are all happily in my summer or tropical rotation, having opted to not adopt style shifts #1 and #3 listed at the top of this post.  Numbers 2 and 4 were around LONG before Miami Vice, but had been restricted to a far more narrow demographic.  It was the show that broke the ice for the majority.