Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges! Yeah, we follow the rules, but we make the rules up as we go along. We rule the rules. A lot of guys think there is a rule – sort of “Ten Commandments” if you will – of how to dress and behave. And there was, sort of, until somebody smashed them to bits like Moses did with the tablets of the law. Maybe the “Men Commandments” were smashed by Elvis. Others might say Oscar Wilde, Frank Sinatra, James Dean or Mick Jagger. But the point is that the laws of dress and behaviour are evolutionary. We have to adapt or reinvent them now and then according to prevailing conditions.
It used to be said that gentlemen did not wear white until after Easter and then not after Labor Day. But after canoeing across Greenland and playing golf in Staten Island on Christmas, I came to recognise the concept of climate change, and declared that white can now be worn from the beginning of spring training until the World Series. After that we can wear “winter white,” which allows white sneakers, white parkas, toggle coats, and anything passing for alpine camouflage. Now more than ever, we must be adaptable.
Things change fast. If you have any questions, ask me. I might be wrong, but I’ll definitely have an opinion. And hey, you, Thou Shalt Not Flip the Collar of Thine Polo!
When did it become commonplace for powerful men like the president to stop wearing pocket squares?
The first “atomic age” president, Harry Truman, a natty onetime haberdasher, wore the “TV fold,” a slim rectangle of white linen showing above the breast pocket. Dwight Eisenhower was a sartorial innovator as a general, inventing the Eisenhower Army jacket that resembled the motorcycle jacket Brando wore and the denim jacket worn by James Dean. Eisenhower went hankie-free as a civilian. Handsome lady-killer JFK wore a little flash of hankie under his lapel, while his successor, LBJ, favoured a multi-peaked sailboat regatta of linen triangles. Dick Nixon ditched the pocket linen — too bad; he could have used it for a good wipe when he got the fatal sweats during his TV debates with Kennedy or for polishing his bowling ball. He probably thought the hankie was fussy. Gerald Ford was also a square but never had one in his pocket. No-nonsense Jimmy Carter also went plain — not that he wasn’t concerned with his appearance. He actually changed the parting in his hair from right to left while in office and added some Just for Men tint, too. Dutch Reagan, Hollywood’s president, wore a pocket square the size of a dinner napkin when he was just a movie star, but as commander in chief he had an exec look with French cuffs and a white linen peak in his pocket. Ever since, the hankie has deserted the White House. President Clinton, a.k.a. Bubba, went without pocket decor, even when blowing a sax in shades. Bush II, a.k.a. Dubya, was as plain a dresser as he was a plain speaker. President Obama, a svelte minimalist, also keeps his pocket unloaded. What’s next? A Chanel scarf ? Maybe. Only one of the Republican wannabes, Dr. Carson, has sported a pocket swatch. Where have all the hankies gone? Perhaps it was the rise of that new compulsory accessory, the flag lapel pin that is universally worn by politicos and CEOs alike. The pocket squares distract from that patriotic pin! Why no one has introduced a Stars and Stripes hankie, an even more flagrant display of homeland fervour, escapes me.
Is art dead? What’s the pulse of contemporary American culture?
It kind of hurts to say this, but fashion is catching up to art as a cultural force. Why? Because the hog-wild speculation in art — cranked-out, celebrified, institutionally promoted art, put in storage to await auction — has skewed the whole racket. Fashion, at its best, is creative, democratic, personal, and life- changing, and everyone can afford some.