Category Archives: Dapper Men

Sprezzatura, Wabi-sabi and the future of men’s style in Italy

I wanted to add my two cents to Guido Wongolini’s recent comment about sprezzatura vs. wabi-sabi.

The reason sprezzatura does not resonate with me either (and frankly I do not understand the States-side obsession with it among “menswear” enthusiasts) is the lack of natural poise that it implies (think of the duck on a pond analogy). Working hard to make something look effortless is not an Italian way of life, either. Actually it is a well-known fact that Italians work hard not to work at all.

Italians have for centuries dressed elegantly as part of their DNA. They can do so effortlessly and look like they have done so effortlessly because of their incredible “sartorie”. Where they do put their efforts is in creating simple lines, well made fabrics, natural shoulders, proper fit, hand sewn details and quality craftsmanship that has been handed down through the generations.

This cultural norm (dressing well effortlessly) in Italy is under constant threat these days. There are the so-called Italian fashion houses that have moved even their “black label” production abroad in the pursuit of larger profit margins at the expense of quality or worse they produce garments using Chinese run sweatshops on Italian soil and cheap imported fabrics in order to skirt Italian “Made in Italy” label laws (as is the case in Prato – once the pride of the Tuscan textile industry). Then there is the latest imported American mass-fashion such as Abercrombie & Fitch for whose crap Italians line up around the block here in NYC. And lastly the horrific style worn by the “coatti”, “tamarri”, “truzzi”, “zarri” and “cafoni” (think Jersey Shore, but they actually live in Italy) with huge Carrera glasses (often knock-offs), gel, huge D&G black and gold watch, shiny puffer vest jackets worn over gaudy t-shirts and lots of gold around their necks and pinned to their ears. Good grief.

If anything, as wabi-sabi implies, most Italian men (the ex-Prime Minister aside) age gracefully and handsomely while accepting the transience of life and the beauty of aging. This sadly holds true only for the older generations that have included icons such as l’Avvocato and Marcello Mastroianni as well as the latest generation to age gracefully such as Luca Cordero di Montezemolo and Diego Della Valle. I see someone like Lapo Elkann who is certainly a genius at branding himself and FIAT, but from whom I cannot truly draw any sartorial inspiration with the exception of the times he wears his late grandfather’s wardrobe.

Premised all of the above there is no doubt that Italian men can still pull off elegance and style like few in the world. Will Italy maintain its sartorial edge and position in the global pantheon of great tailoring traditions? Time will tell.

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No Country For Old Guys (Like Me).

As some of you may know, I have been much more active on my tumblr recently as I struggle to keep awake and work and blog while surviving the birth of my second son. The sleep deprivation is well known to those of you who are parents, especially of newborns. I enjoy tumblr because, much like Twitter, it allows you to glimpse at content quickly and it is perfect for the current “younger” generations that are beyond ADD and parents like myself that have minutes, if not seconds, to mindlessly enjoy a distraction such as the Internet before inevitably having to focus on preventing a toddler from burning down the house (I also get extra points for typing this post with one hand).

I have for the most part stuck to tumblr’s about men’s style since that is the content I like to discuss here and on The Dapper Dad tumblr. Understand that tumblr is really not meant for a thirty-something, married with children guy like myself (or The Daddy Complex, who I believe is the only other Dad with the guts to try out tumblr), so it is an anthropological exercise for me to see what is on the mind of the free spirited and care free twenty-something’s. Most of the popular tumblr’s are single guys in their twenty’s who fit in skinny jeans and suits that I could never fit into because my body is not a temple, but rather a pantry.

On tumblr you can ask the bloggers questions and for the most part these very stylish chaps actually know their sartorial stuff despite being young ‘uns. They are a bit too obsessed with “sprezzatura”, Park & Bonds, Nickelson Wooster, Boglioli, double monks and as of late Michael Bastian, but their passion is praiseworthy especially as I see more and more young men dress horrifically on their way to work and even worse on weekends (lucky baseball cap from college, fleece, khakis and sockless loafers – good grief). I do hope that these tumblr “menswear” crusaders prevail on their peers to dress in a way becoming of a man no matter what the occasion. There is no “art” to dressing like a man, but only the tinniest bit of effort put forth to have on hand clothes that you can grab and throw on without looking like a train wreck and that actually fit you properly.

Even as I struggle each morning to survive a toddler (i.e. PB&J) and a newborn (i.e. spit up), I can still manage a shirt, pants and shoes that are not sneakers or Crocs on my way out. One way to see if you are dressed appropriately is to say to yourself: “Would I have dressed like this in High School or College?” and if the answer is yes then go back inside and change. You may not be Gianni Agnelli or Marcello Mastrioanni, but simple and clean will go a long way in making you feel and look great.

Since most of you are in my situation and have already sewn your wild oats and settled down to a family life, I wanted to share my three favorite style tumblr’s with you. I think you will find the first very informative, the second inspirational (and probably aspirational to many) and the third just makes me laugh when my I am having a crappy day.

Put This On (@PutThisOn)

Curated by Jesse Thorn and Adam Lisagor out of Los Angeles, Put This On is (outside of the various men’s style forums) one of the most informative sites for men to find advice and information regarding men’s clothing and style from A to Z. They know their brands, their bespoke, their fit, their maintenance and cleaning, their eBay, their fabrics and much more. They are also one of the few places where you do not have to be a slim and trim college kid to ask about what might fit best for your body type. They also have a great web video series that will soon enter its second season and talks about different aspects of menswear such as the history of specific garments (e.g., denim) or how real leather shoes are made (e.g, all leather insole). There is no glamour or glitz to this site and that is what makes it special. They are down to earth and realistic. This is dressing well for real men. It is a great place to start even if you just want to up the ante a bit on your next business trip or date night with your wife.

 

MostExerent Brog (@GuidoWongolini)

A.k.a. Guido Wongolini who’s real name shares the same initials, but here he has playfully turned Italian which is one of his favorite sartorial schools. GW has quite a wardrobe. Carefully built using mainly bespoke tailors, his “guardaroba” fits him perfectly and is quite stunning. His almost daily self-portraits are a look book in and of themselves and yet he is not in the fashion industry. With his equally stylish sister (http://stoneleighgallery.tumblr.com/) often snapping pictures of various suit or pocket square details, his blog offers a look at how ideally (and with quite a bit of liquidity) you should dress on a daily basis and for various occasions. This is one of the most fun tumblrs I have come across because it reminds me of the days I used to travel frequently for work in Europe from my home base of Rome, Italy. Those days are long gone, but GW who jet sets for work throughout the Asia Pacific region of the world with a home base of Sydney, Australia allows me to reminisce. I don’t think I could live that that life now (travelling for work these days is, in fact, not as fun), I lived it to the fullest and enjoyed it at the right time in my life. I am not big on reality shows, but this is one that I enjoy checking in on from time to time.

 

Nice Try, Bro (@NTBro)

I would have to guess that he is one of the young whippersnappers that I mentioned earlier, but NTB is just too funny. He spares no one and pokes fun at anyone who crosses the line in the fashion world. Answering questions and doling out some good advice along the way (he actually knows his stuff – sartorially speaking), he can be self-deprecating and quite amusing with his comments. It’s refreshing to see him call out some of the silliness that is out there. Equally amusing is how offended some people get by his snark, proving that they take themselves way too seriously. This is someone I would have (and probably still today, if I had the time) enjoyed hanging out with back in the days of carefree bachelorhood and pre-parenthood. At the end of a long day when all sorts of crap has piled up, I do enjoy popping in on his tumblr for a laugh or two.

 

There is so much great content on men’s style out on the Internet and these are a few of the guys that when I get a few minutes of silence I gladly check to see what they have been up to. Take a look for yourself and let me know what you think. Maybe you’ll find a nugget of info or maybe you’ll get in a good laugh. Either way I am sure they can give you a bit of reprieve from the daily grind of kids, work and whatever else is on your mind.

 


Bespoke Tailors Grow In NoLita

I recently walked through one of my old neighborhoods, NoLita, on a rare visit (these days) to the lower end of Manhattan. As always the revolving door of stores is staggering. Double-take after double-take of old haunts brought me to Mott Street between Prince and Spring. There was not one store that I recognized from years past and yet I did make two very interesting discoveries. A piece of Saville Row (blasphemy!) and a bit of Broolyn have taken root here and I stumbled across these guarded secrets by pure chance. I say guarded because although already attracting a devoted following, or so I am told, I had never heard of these two haberdashers. There are several reasons for that I am sure, the first of which is work and parenthood that no longer allow me the luxury of idly meandering the nooks and crannies of this city. Also, the custom shirts and suits command prices that are certainly fair for the work and material, but are not at all for the faint of heart.

Lord Willy’s is Monty Python dressed to the nines. Whimsical, in fact, in that most serious of British ways. You have a choice here of off-the-rack or custom for both suits and shirts. There is a wonderful selection of fabrics and a predilection even on the custom shirts for the trendier and easier to wear wide collar. Monochromatic ties are offered to make sure you understand that the shirt makes the man and ties are just their sidekicks. Of course, umbrellas are present to remind everyone that the accent around here is British. I would encourage you to visit Lord Willy’s website which is very entertaining and where Alex Wilcox, the founder, offers some very sensible advice for today’s true gentleman.

A few steps north is a Brooklyn transplant that decided a few years ago to bring his family’s 70-year-old business to Manhattan. SEW (Scott Evan Wasserberger) has a definite downtown vibe to it and yet the rolls of stacked fabric and the sewing machines are distinctly Garment District. There is no “look” at SEW and it makes it that much more welcoming to walk in and browse since you will definitely find something that is in your “style”. One tweak to several classic herringbone jackets that I was admiring is the very colorful fabric found under each collar. A hidden sartorial tweak that peaks out every once and a while letting people know that you are not so boring after all. Everything in the store and bespoke is New York made and that is rarer than rare these days. The SEW blog gives you a better idea of the excellent custom work that they do and is certainly inspiring for anyone interested in tiding up a bit.

I am just happy to see more true haberdashers opening up around town. Even if you are not a suit and tie person, there will always be those occasions in which you will need a suit that fits you properly – not too tight and not like a potato sack. Instead of buying bulk shirts and hoping they guessed your fit why not splurge on one perfect fit?


Valentine’s Day, St. Thomas and Women.

The cynics will say that you do not need a special day on which to celebrate love. Love is something that is expressed each and everyday through actions, unspoken glimpses and knowing nods. I tend to agree, but women, like St. Thomas, feel that seeing is believing and subtlety be darned. So we are inundated by expensive Chinese grown roses, cheap Russell Stover’s “chocolate” and edible underwear starting with each New Year until February 14th (followed immediately by a bunny invasion). And there is no way that you can forget unless you really do live in the middle of nowhere (and there is always a mall in the vicinity of the middle of nowhere). Given the vindictive nature of the female species I would suggest you make a concerted effort to mark the occasion sincerely. Announcing that you are anti-establishment is just going to land you on the couch (which as Bill Cosby said may well be where you wanted to be in the first place) or worse get you the silent treatment. Go the traditional route, but do it like you mean it. There is still time. So here is my super short list and feel free, of course, to do your own thing.

A Tiffany key pendant – Not an original idea, but timeless and back in vogue so it would be perfect timing. It is elegant and affordable, if you stick to the silver ones. Few things will make a woman’s knees quiver more than that little powder blue box with a white bow (maybe only if their favorite actor was holding it).

A box of MarieBelle chocolates – There are so many good artisanal chocolatiers these days that if you search the web, you’ll probably find a great one nearby that delivers or overnights. Remember: dark chocolate and no fillings other than cognac, ganache or nuts. A box of ten will do and absolutely no heart shaped boxes.

A set of diptyque mini candles – If you’ve got kids your wife will probably get to use these twice a year and that’s why you should get the minis. She will, though, thank you for them when she locks herself in the bathroom and pretends for a few glorious minutes that you and the kids don’t exist while she soaks in the tub.

You cannot get more cliché than this, but it always comes down to presentation and quality. You do not have to sprinkle the bed with petals or go crazy getting a babysitter and a restaurant reservation (because frankly neither of you have the time or the energy), just wait until the kids are asleep and let the gesture do the rest.


The Brooding Inspector

“In the seaside town of Vigàta, Sicily, innocence and idealism die even faster than the whores, drifters, and small-time Mafiosi who infest the village with an air of gritty decadence and menace. Those who succeed in Vigàta have learned an astonishing array of tricks, either sexual, political, or both. Those who stumble quickly learn new meanings to the words ferocity and horror… Fast-paced, sharp-edged, and laced with hard-boiled humor, The Shape of Water marks the debut of Inspector Montalbano, a wily gourmand whose inquiries only begin with the facts of the case. In between elaborately prepared meals, Montalbano also ponders the ethics of his profession and the uncertain nature of truth in a world largely given over to concealment and deception.”

The above excerpt is taken from the introduction of Sicilian author Andrea Camilleri’s first Inspector Montalbano book, The Shape of Water (available in English from Penguin Books).

Inspector Montalbano lives in the small Sicilian town of Vigàta (based on Camilleri’s hometown of Porto Empedocle) with a house right on the beach. He is the consummate bachelor. He is old school. He loves his detective work passionately, but is not concerned with a career and never allows politics or bureaucracy to clutter his keen sense of justice. It may not always be the law, but it is certainly justice.

A brooding man with a big heart he is the kind of man that many men envy. He is a true gentleman who always gets the girl without even trying. He has his routines and his quirks. His decisions are a mixture of wit and gut instinct. Consequences to his detriment are never factored into his actions because despite his exterior curtness he is an altruist. He is someone that you idealize in theory, but would not want to be in reality.

Undoubtedly, there is underlying melancholy in his musings about not being able to settle down, but that is what makes it appealing to read his stories, because for those who are married with children. He allows you to escape (briefly) to that place where you can do no wrong.

I do not know how Camilleri translates from the original Sicilian dialect that he uses to tell his stories, but Inspector Montalbano is engrossing and a quick read for those of us that must also run after the kids.