Philip Terzian, always suitableOct 5, 2015, Vol. 21, No. 04 • By PHILIP TERZIAN
It occurred to me not long ago that, given my age and station in life, I should probably not purchase any more suits. Gazing at the contents of my clothes closet, there can be little doubt that I have more than enough to see me through the balance of my working life, and beyond—if, lest we forget, I am vouchsafed to get there. But I don’t need an actuarial table to see that two crowded rows of suits and jackets—glen plaid, linen, pinstripe, tweed, gray flannel, seersucker, etc.—plus assorted samples of formal wear, ecclesiastical garments, sporting uniforms, and Scottish paraphernalia, ought to suffice.
I say this with a certain sadness, by the way. As the previous paragraph would suggest, I’ve always regarded clothes-buying as one of life’s minor pleasures: not to be taken too seriously, but no burden, either. And I’ve been fortunate, too, that my income has allowed me to acquire the kinds of clothes I prefer—yet has never been high enough to afford the most expensive “designer” specimens, which I dislike anyway. Given the choice between looking like a British civil servant, circa 1970, and an Italian film producer, my answer is obvious.
I was prompted to think along these lines the other morning when, sitting in traffic at a busy intersection in downtown Washington, I couldn’t help noticing that among all the males in sight—and there must have been dozens—not one adult, not a single one, was wearing a tie. Granted, it was Casual Friday, and the weather was warm; but the crosswalk was a rolling river of untucked shirts, blue jeans, open collars, and blended fabrics. Very depressing—to me, at least—and startling as well. The nation’s capital is always described as a formal (as opposed to stylish) place, in terms of workplace dress; but you wouldn’t have known it on that morning. Sartorially speaking, I have lived beyond my time.
Indeed, I couldn’t help but compare this with the late 1950s and early ’60s, when I began commuting, by bus, to school and various lessons in the city, and found myself sitting among the lawyers and federal bureaucrats and commercial travelers of the Mad Men era. I noticed that these gents dressed with slightly more flair than my father—who was a research scientist and comparatively indifferent to such things—and their style seemed to me a happy medium between professorial unconcern and undue fashion-consciousness. So my tastes in such things were set in stone at an early and impressionable age and have survived intact.
I take a certain pride in this, I have to admit. I am the rare person of my age, for example, who has no photographs of himself from the seventies wearing bell-bottom trousers or double-knit suits or those godawful dress shirts with collar points reaching down to the navel. My hair was longer in those days than it is now, and considerably darker; but there was never a guy perm or Fu Manchu mustache or sideburns plunging close to my chin. Over the decades, by contrast, there are snapshots of me in khakis and blazers and herringbone jackets and striped shirts and ties that, except for the decrepitude of age and expanding waistline, are indistinguishable from my present appearance.
This is partly the function of a reactionary instinct and partly the good luck to work in a business (journalism) where you don’t have to dress to impress clients or satisfy trial judges. I can wear a bow tie when so inclined, and indulge a lifelong aversion to white shirts.
Yet it is also, as it were, a gender benefit. If you look at a photograph of, say, a group of (male) white-collar workers from a century ago, the basic uniform is fundamentally unchanged. Ties and lapels have widened and narrowed, collars may vary, vests come and go. The sleek fashions of the 1930s were more elegant, or so I think, than the square cuts of the 1950s. But I could stroll in my present suit of clothes into the Loeb-Leopold trial (1924) or the Army-McCarthy hearings (1954) or the second Reagan-Mondale debate (1984) and blend in.
This was brought home to me, some years ago, when I passed the first Brooks Brothers suit I ever owned along to my son. A navy blue, three-piece, chalk-stripe number, it was, by that time, about 35 years old and, except for a tiny patch in the inner leg to disguise a cigarette burn, in timeless condition. It was pleasant to be able to do so, not least because my own father was shorter than I am, and his clothes—especially a Harris Tweed jacket he purchased in London, which I always admired—I never could wear. But it was poignant as well: If my son were to cross that intersection in Washington while wearing my old suit, he would be very conspicuous.
Joseph Bottum sings a serpent's praisesSep 21, 2015, Vol. 21, No. 02 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
I've always loved the sound of a serpent. Well, no, not really. The 16th-century musical instrument is breathy, buzzy, and inexact—consistently requiring the player to gesture at the note in what’s called falset: using the tension of the lips in the mouthpiece to approximate a tone that the instrument’s fingering and natural overtones don’t want to produce. There was a reason the valved brass tuba swept the serpent out of modern orchestras in the 19th century. The tuba could, like, you know, actually sound the note.
David Skinner, father interrupted.Aug 10, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 45 • By DAVID SKINNER
I was in my office, happily encircled by little piles of paper, drafting an article, when real life interrupted.
My wife Cynthia was on the phone. Our sons, she said, had ridden their bicycles—with permission—to the fancy overpriced coffee shop two blocks away to buy caramels. The shop was closed, they found.
Victorino Matus, big spender.Jul 27, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 43 • By VICTORINO MATUS
Have you ever had two dinners in one night? I did, more than 20 years ago, in Budapest. My buddy Todd and I had gone backpacking through Europe, hitting 11 cities in 30 days. As students, we were careful not to overspend, staying at pensions and hostels and crashing at my former host family’s house in Germany. By the time we reached Budapest, our last stop, we’d saved more money than we’d anticipated.
Matt Labash, dog listener Jun 8, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 37 • By MATT LABASH
I've had a lot of dogs of many different physical types, but each has come loaded with the same daunting reminder: the countdown clock I can’t help but hear ticking away inside of them. I suppose I come with one of those, too, if I care to confront reality. Denial may be easier on the nerves, but the actuaries don’t lie. Your average American these days lasts 78.8 years. My average large purebred lasts about 8. Meaning over the course of a lifetime, I’ll bid farewell many more times than they will.
Cita and Irwin M. Stelzer, in the presence of heroesApr 20, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 30 • By CITA STELZER and IRWIN M. STELZER
"Keep our story going,” implored Commander Dave Evans in his remarks closing the monthly meeting of the Korean War Veterans Association, General Brad Smith Chapter. At the meeting, one of us—Cita—had given a talk, as she often volunteers to do to veterans’ groups, about Winston Churchill, based on her book, Dinner with Churchill: Policy Making at the Dinner Table. So it was that we found ourselves in a bar and meeting hall in a sparsely developed section of Scottsdale, Arizona.
David Skinner stays young.Mar 2, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 24 • By DAVID SKINNER
Over the holidays, I was at my sister’s place. The youngest generation was racing about the house screaming “Not in the face!” as they shot each other with foam projectiles launched from colorful plastic rifles.
Claudia Anderson, inspired by beauty.Feb 2, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 20 • By CLAUDIA ANDERSON
Reading about an exhibition that’s about to open at the Milwaukee Art Museum—“Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair”—took me back to the night long ago in Cincinnati when my teenage daughter and I saw this African-American extravaganza live.