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Posts Tagged ‘Polo’

Though this post is filed under the header of “the arts”, that is out of respect for its introductory subject. Kenneth Clark, the art historian, is an eminently readable critic of Renaissance painting; as a protégé of art connoisseur Bernard Berenson, Clark went on to be the youngest head of the British National Gallery. He is best known for his documentary series Civilisation, which chronicles western art.

During his tenure at the National Gallery he faced a staff crisis; some members of the old guard objected to him. In his autobiography, Another Part of the Wood, Clark recounts that during arbitration the head mutineer was asked what he objected to about Mr. Clark’s management:

The only concrete fact that my colleague could think of was that he objected to my neckties. It is true that I am fond of neckties, and when depressed will buy one to cheer myself up, just as ladies buy hats… neckties, albeit to a lesser degree than hats, are symbolic and almost the last thing that link us to the display rituals of birds…

I can relate to both buying ties as gift to oneself and to facing criticism for simply wearing them. I’ve even had former friends ask me not to wear ties around them. (Note the word “former.”) Ties are now typically associated with formality, social conservatism, and the business caste. Funny: I don’t match any of those labels, but I understand that most people are incapable of thinking beyond them. In another era a tie would quickly communicate membership in a club, college, or military unit, but it is because the tie is now such an unnecessary element to dress that it is liberated from any utility at all; it is therefore open to the whims of the wearer’s personality. I’ll confess that sometimes I’m further spurred to wear ties whenever theocratic or social fascists (like the Mullahs in Iran or the executive board of Ikea) go so far as to ban them. These days, it is the conformists who are refusing to wear ties and I find it darkly amusing that neckwear is becoming a symbol of individualist rebellion. Long live the revolution indeed.

In job title, uniform, and as defender of old master art values against 20th century high modernism, Clark appears to be a solid establishment figure. Yet the more I learn about him, the more I can appreciate his singular personality in the world of art. He held unpopular positions on numerous matters: from the defense of figurative art (and western art in general) to – in the mid 1930s era of apathy and appeasement – being loudly and virulently anti-Hitler, both positions would cost him friends and colleagues before the war put that latter opinion in vogue.

At the same time, on the other side of the cultural barricades from Mr Clark, we have pictured above a group of abstract painters know as the “irascibles” who, in the days before abstract art became dogma in university art departments, had publicly complained about the Met’s “modern” American painting show that had somehow overlooked them. With the exception of Hedda Sterne, Jimmy Ernst, and probably Pollack, these anti-art-establishment upstarts are all wearing ties. I’d like to see one our contempo graffiti artistes pull a rattle-can out of their tweed norfolk jacket and tag the side of a Gagosian art commodities office LLC. If only.

I suppose one could argue that subversives have long made effective use of wearing the enemy’s uniform. To that end, artists (and maybe all of us) only wear nicer clothes out of social and ceremonial pressures, desperate to be accepted by the group and thinking the right clown suit will help get us into to the circus. Panem et circenses, so then join the circus and earn your bread.

Here is a wonderful unlined specimen from Ralph Lauren. I’m often a fan of Polo’s 1920s inspired ties. Retro in design and materials, thinner and shorter than the average businessman’s bib, and completed by a slightly cryptic motif. It offers a nice contrast to those bulky swathes of loud bunting which the cable channel sportscasters wear around their necks. I mean the ones among them who have necks.

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I probably looked like a schoolboy playing hooky, which, as far as life is concerned, I am. Here I am clashing blacks and blues as usual, although for once, not anywhere on my skin. I was in NYC on business recently, but busy as I was, I managed to find an afternoon to explore the brick and mortar offerings of some our better known catalog companies (see below).

The following are my off the cuff first impressions (unedited); I’ll probably wish they had remained unwritten. Keep in mind that these are not the words of an urbane sophisticate who frequents haberdasheries, but rather those of a bohemian.

Polo: The Mansion: definitely fronts an elegant facade but is rather misleading, since most of it appears to be office space – leaving only the corner sliver as a retail store.  Thin it may be, but we get 4 floors of it. I found the inside to be like an over-decorated movie set. That meant: too many oil paintings cluttered along the stairs, (as a painter, I didn’t think that was possible) a couple of which I wanted to consider closely, but the lighting wasn’t appropriate for viewing (the art deserved better). The staff who passed me looked concerned, as if I hadn’t realized the paintings were for decoration only!

Speaking of the staff: they appeared to have been sent over from Central Casting, on hiatus from Gossip Girl. Immaculately groomed — they were handsome, aloof, and disinterested (because, at a glance, they knew I wasn’t a touriste; I probably appeared to them as either a poorhouse fashion student or an intern from next door, so they politely ignored me). Staff outnumbered customers nearly 3 to 1. The few hardy souls who had braved the rain were clustered around an altar of big logo’d polo shirts. Upon leaving, I happened to notice a white-jacketed manboy at the door, silver tray of champagne in hand for incoming customers. Nice touch but note to staff: I prefer scotch.

Overall, not an entirely unpleasant experience, but this place was clearly for tourists. I found myself more mesmerized by the props/styling of the store and less beguiled by the salable merchandise. The narrow layout is odd; maybe it’s just simple familiarity, but I find the San Francisco flagship store more comfortable and the staff more engaging.

Rugby (both the flagship and Bleeker Street store): easily, the most interesting and positive experience among various bougie big-brand retail in NYC was here. And by here I mean not only inside the stores themselves but seeing it worn on the streets of New York in general. Not only was the average in-store customer base older, I definitely saw Rugby being worn on the street, by a similar demographic. For all I know these were employees of Papa Ralph on their lunch break but I enjoyed seeing other men my age wearing it. At the store, staff was helpful without being overbearing, condescending, or rude. Unusual for retail, in this day and age.

Back home I’ve nearly given up on going inside the San Francisco Rugby store since I feel like a creepy old man among the pubescent sales staff. Sure, they’re friendly enough, with few staffers genuinely going out of their way to smile and chat, but everyone is so young. As a rule I don’t like kids, and by kids, I mean anyone under 30. While most of SF Rugby customers are slightly older than the cashiers, they’re usually just looking for brashly branded polos and are too lazy to try and park their car near the downtown Polo store. The only people I’ve seen in the SF store close to my age are the Japanese tourists; judging from my shopping experiences in Tokyo, I can say that we seem to have similar taste.

Brooks: The older sales staff followed me around like I was going to steal something, which is funny since paying full price there would be like them robbing me.

J. Press: Devoid of customers except for a man I took to be Bruce Boyer (and, if it was, he was my only celeb sighting on this trip.) Mr. Boyer was chatting with sales associate about ”Ivy,” but that’s the most I could eavesdrop, and I too shy to approach him. Overall, J. Press had a much more playful and tempting selection of neckwear (particularly bowties) than the competition. Their casual wear is collegiate, and certainly my style if not my budget; in person, the selection was better than online (or so it seemed) but still not as daring as their designs in Japan. I understand that it’s for a different market over there in Tokyo, but a boy can still dream.

Pink: The young sales staff, though friendly, followed me around like I going to steal something. Offputting.

J Crew: Conspiring circumstances prevented me from visiting the famed mens “liquor” store, though I did trespass in both the Union Square and upper Madison stores. Not much to say overall. One thing I did notice was this: any under-40 male in Manhattan who wasn’t wearing either a business suit or H&M casual seemed to be using the J Crew catalog as his style guide — jeans, plaid button down, and déshabillé blazer. I will credit the Crew on making something of their menswear — ten years ago, it took experts with microscopes and carbon testing to determine if there was any difference between J. Crew and Banana Republic; now both brands are leagues* away from each other. (*by “leagues” I mean that even though they both still cater exclusively to upper middle class white guys, among that particular 1% they are noticeably different.)

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As you can see it’s summer here in San Francisco. Standing on my roof in the fog often feels like I’m standing at the edge of the world, and given my proximity to the Pacific, and San Francisco being one of the more westerly oases for the spiritually and culturally exiled, I suppose I am standing on such a precipice. This shot in particular looks like I was waiting for a bus and suddenly found myself teleported to the rooftop. Here I’m clad in my de rigueur rumpled shirt and trousers, with my concave torso at least being disguised in several layers of fabric. The lack of a pocket square is because I fled the house in some haste – tardy, as usual, for what some call work.

The jacket is from the discontinued Polo “University” label; although that bridge line is no longer, there are currently others to choose from. My preference is Rugby – a favorite of Polo’s attempt at “gateway drugs,” though perhaps that isn’t being quite fair to Rugby, which was once the more daring child of Papa Ralph’s. But, ultimately, it is the accountants who control our blue chip consumer goods, not the creatives, so I don’t (usually) blame designers for any lulls.


Ahem, back to me – the sweater vest is Façonnable. I confess some surprise that the fit wasn’t more of a “slim”, you know — with their famous Mediterranean diet and all. Though, with my creeping decrepitude, leaving room to grow probably isn’t a bad thing. The shirt is Cafe Coton and the tie is American Traditions. The latter’s name is open to some interpretation, invoking either “witch trials” or, more probably, “WASPs.” (Both Cotton Mather and Thomas Paine can be perceived as American heroes depending which American you ask.) American Traditions, at least at the time of this particular tie’s birth, was owned/licensed by Superba Inc, a subsidiary of Phillips-Van Heusen Inc, who own nearly every brand you’ve ever bought at a mall. Ah yes, the “comglom,” or in slang: “if an oligarch was transposed into a spreadsheet.” Of course, as Citizens United v. FEC showed us, there is no difference anyway.

Tie: American Traditions
Sweater Vest: Façonnable
Shirt: Cafe Coton
Blazer: Polo
Trousers: BR

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Taking advantage of the summer as mother nature (and an even more savage mistress: my schedule) allows. Given the demise this year of the California drought I really should be modeling a parade of wetsuits, flippers, and snorkels. It may come to that yet. But today’s shot was a bright cloudless day and, as long as there’s a leafy tree to nap under, I’ll take it. Not that I was always this way- about either sunny days or naps. Taoism has it’s lore that says a man is not (perhaps cannot) be ready to receive certain pearls of wisdom until at least middle age. No doubt that was first claimed by an old man, but some tastes are certainly acquired, and a few more bitter ones are acquired with age, whether you intend for that to happen or not. A single malt scotch can be that way; one’s pH balance has to mature to meet a particular whisky or vintage of wine, and voila! What was ash in your mouth at 20 is ambrosia at 40. Sometimes people have aged likewise: a man whose actions I found distasteful in my youth, might begin to appear more favorable by the lamp of my own experience (though this is rarer, as my first sensation of disappointment is usually correct.)

Clothing can be similar. The daily uniform I wear now was anathema to me as an adolescent. But back then anything that wasn’t emblazoned with Iron Maiden or Slayer was unfit to cover my regal pastiness. Of course I still wear those tee’s under my Brooks Brothers button downs. It’s called keepin’ it real people! Then there are outfits I’ve been told I’ve outgrown: diapers, or that I’m too young for: diapers. Hoodies and ascots also fall in these categories respectively, and I wear both of those (but only one of them in public.)

Tie: Rugby
Shirt: Nautica
Vest: Polo
Jacket: Gap
Trousers: BR

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I know you’re thinking well, he’s gone this far, so where is the yachting cap? Fair enough question, though my question is where’s the damn yacht? At least give me an old Cadillac so I can sail a land yacht around the block.

I had never worn a skipper outfit before. The closest I’ve come was a rowing blazer or two, but never before had I assumed the rank of commodore. My inspiration was multi-fold. One was the superstition that if I wear the right sailing clothes I’ll attract mermaids, or at least the barmaid’s attention at the Yacht Club. Another is that if I look like Thurston Howell III’s bastard I might attract “Auntie” Mary Ann’s illegitimate daughter.

Land ho, indeed.

Tie: Polo
Shirt: Polo
Jacket: US Coast Guard
Trousers: Banana Republic

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The black high button vest with grosgrain piping and covered buttons is a dream come true, for me at least, but I have some admittedly odd dreams. That it’s new-ish (uneaten by moths) and in my size is even dreamier. A heavy wool for April admittedly, but it was blustery and raining most of the week, with some very wintry temps thrown in for good measure. Though I have been excited by the coming colors of summer, it was nice to fall back on the blacks and greys to ground the outfit, and then splash some red with a dash of navy, just to wake it up.

The vest, and hair, are reminiscent of Weimar (well, actually, the hair might be more Munich). But the ’20s were a glorious era in American menswear as well, defined by Leyendecker’s iconic Arrow collars, right before mens clothes began, in the ’30s, to solidify into what we (sort of) still wear today. The tie is papa Lauren and the shirt Ralph’s father Brooks: a continuous lineage, except for the lower half, which is collaboratively covered by some Swedes. This is one of those rare (as in unicorn rare) pairs of H&M pants that not only have a separate inseam measurement but pleats too! Talk about partying like it’s 1999! This is crucial because, as I’ve ranted before, this vest, and nearly all vests made in the last 4 years, by everyone, are TOO SHORT by design. Which means that I need those high buttoning, navel covering, old man slacks to cover what vests shouldn’t be exposing in the first place. Kids today! Dammit! Get off my lawn!

Tie: Polo
Shirt: Brooks Bros
Vest: Rugby
Trou: H&M

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View only with protective goggles and never in direct sunlight.

The labels read like indictments.

Excited to wear them all this summer… Just not all at the same time.

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