The Right Choice

June 30, 2009

The United States Supreme Court correctly decided today to move away from racial hiring quotas, or anything smacking of them, and special-interest favoritism by ruling in favor of a group of New Haven, Connecticut firemen wrongfully denied promotions they had earned because too few minority candidates had been able to earn similar promotions.

The New Haven fire department had formerly administered a “promotion exam,” scores from which were intended for use in measuring the qualifications of firemen for advancement. A good number of New Haven firemen, black and white, studied hard for the test and took it. Some scored highly enough to be promoted, some did not. None of the test-takers scoring in the quartile necessary for advancement were black and so the city, fearing discrimination lawsuits, scrapped the test altogether and began to write a new one. The firefighters who had been promised promotions in exchange for high test scores were left twisting in the wind, despite earning the requisite scores.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion for the 5-4 majority in the matter, formally Ricci vs. DeStefano, requiring employers to show a “strong basis in evidence” before throwing out legitimate test results in cases of anticipated promotions, not just a fear of lawsuits by minority special-interest groups. The Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin explains: “Employers must be on very solid ground before making any decisions that would discriminate against a specific group of employees,” especially when deciding to disregard honest test results for fear of lawsuits from under-performers.

While New Haven claimed the scarcity of blacks scoring highly enough to be promoted would be interpreted as racism on the test’s part and lead to lawsuits, no way has yet been found in which the test, its administration, grading, or subject matter could advantage one race over another. Black, white, and Hispanic firemen were all consulted in designing the test.

Yesterday’s ruling reverses a previous one in favor of the city. The appeals court responsible for that earlier ruling included President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who voted for the city and against the firemen. Ms. Sotomayor, if confirmed, will replace retiring Justice David Souter.

According to Ms. Bravin, the ruling begs the question: “When is it proper to discriminate against one group in order to remedy discrimination against another?”

One answer, though circuitous, may be: groups which desire equal rights shouldn’t seek special treatment.

“The Supreme Court was sending a message to all employers,” one attorney says. “You shouldn’t engage in a form of intentional discrimination to avoid unintentional discrimination.” As Justice Kennedy notes in his opinion: “Whatever the city’s ultimate aim – however well-intentioned or benevolent it might have seemed – the city made its employment decision because of race.”


Pipe Dreams

June 26, 2009

In 2005 the venerable Washington Post published Peter Carlson’s “Bowled Over No Longer,” an ode to pipe smoke and antiquated masculinity. The original is re-printed here, below, hopefully none the worse for space-saving snips.

It smelled like cherry or chocolate or chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Or leaves burning in the back yard in those long-ago autumns when you were still allowed to burn leaves in the back yard. In those days, pipe smoke was a man’s signature scent. It was the incense in the Church of Dad, a burnt offering to the god of domesticated masculinity, a symbol of benevolent paternalism.

The Sasieni Warwick.

The Sasieni Warwick.

A passing whiff of your father’s or grandfather’s brand — Erinmore Flake, say, or Royal Yacht Mixture — can summon vivid memories even decades after his death. Smell is a key that unlocks the vault of memory, and the rich aroma of pipe smoke conjures up a lost world of armchairs and ashtrays, humidors and dark-wood racks holding pipes with WASPy names like Dunhill and Ferndown and Hardcastle.

It was a world of wise, contemplative men who sat and smoked and read serious, leather-bound literature, as well as a world of rugged outdoorsmen, canoeists and fly fishermen and clipper ship captains who puffed their pipes as they pored over nautical charts before sailing ’round the Horn. It was a magical world, part reality and part myth, and now it has all but disappeared, fading like smoke.

“A lot of pipe smokers have died and new ones aren’t coming along,” says David Berkebile, owner of Georgetown Tobacco. “The decline has been persistent and unrelenting,” says Norman Sharp, head of the Pipe Tobacco Council. Sharp rattles off the statistics: In 1970, Americans bought 52 million pounds of pipe tobacco. In 2004, they bought less than 5 million pounds. “That’s a decline of 91 percent,” he says.

In a 2003 survey, the Department of Health and Human Services calculated that there are 1.6 million pipe smokers in America. The same survey revealed that there are 14.6 million pot smokers and 600,000 crack smokers, which means that if an American is smoking something in a pipe these days, it’s more likely to be dope than Dunhill’s Mixture 965.

But the evidence of the pipe’s decline goes beyond statistics. Fifty years ago, nearly every male movie star who wanted to be taken seriously posed for PR photos smoking a pipe and looking contemplative. These days, about the only pipe smokers found in the movies are the hobbits in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Pipe smoking is going the way of the shaving brush, the straight razor, the fedora, the Freemasons, the liberal Republican.

Maybe that’s good, considering the risks of mouth cancers. But there’s something charming about pipe smoking — an appealingly retro air of reflection and relaxation, a uniquely masculine mystique that’s somehow large enough to include tweedy professors and Maine hunting guides, detectives and novelists, Santa Claus and Gen. MacArthur, Albert Einstein and Popeye the Sailor Man.

And, of course, the kind of father who always knew best.

Puff of Wisdom

“I think the appeal of the pipe came from images in movies and pop culture,” says Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine. “It was an image of intelligence and sophistication, like a martini.”

Hefner, 79, is one of America’s most famous pipe smokers, although he doesn’t smoke anymore. He started in 1959, when he began hosting a TV show called “Playboy’s Penthouse” — “it was something to do with my hands” — and he quit in 1985 after a stroke. “I was very influenced by pop culture, which had certain symbolic images of smoking,” Hefner says. “Cigars had the symbolic implication of a businessman or a politician. Cigarettes could be romantic or related to crime in a film noir, but the pipe had a different quality: It was both thoughtful and adventurous. I was a fan of the comic strip ‘Terry and the Pirates,’ which had a character named Pat Ryan who smoked a pipe. He was Terry’s mentor and he was kind of a dashing hero. One of my influences was Sherlock Holmes. He smoked a pipe and he wore pajamas and a smoking jacket, which sounds kind of familiar.”

Hefner laughs at his own famous fondness for wearing pajamas in public. “And then,” he adds, “there’s the pop cultural image of a pipe and slippers in front of the fire with a good book and your dog at your feet.”

A pipe projects a calm, peaceful image — except when it’s clenched in the fiercely resolute jaw of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the only man in history who could make an oversize corncob pipe look like a weapon of mass destruction.

Many of the great thinkers of the 20th century puffed on their pipes while they pondered deep thoughts: Bertrand Russell, Carl Jung, Jean-Paul Sartre, William Faulkner, George Bernard Shaw and, of course, Einstein, who once said, “I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs.”

For generations, young men entering college began smoking pipes as a signal that they were joining the high priesthood of knowledge. A.A. Milne, the pipe smoker who created Winnie the Pooh, wrote this about his college days: “At eighteen I went to Cambridge and bought two pipes in a case. In those days, Greek was compulsory, but not more so than two pipes in a case.”

Even Sammy Davis Jr. took up the pipe when he lived in London, keeping a corncob in the breast pocket of his natty tweed suit, a look he found classy.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the pipe became a pop symbol of contemplation and relaxation. Detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret were towering intellects who smoked pipes and solved crimes through rational deduction. Bing Crosby exhibited his ease, his cool , by holding a pipe while he crooned.

And in the early days of television, sitcom dads like Robert Young in “Father Knows Best” and Fred MacMurray in “My Three Sons” were wise paternal figures who effortlessly solved all family problems while puffing calmly. Now, however, contemplation and relaxation are pretty much passe in a pop culture that has come to prefer the quick and the dumb to the slow and the wise.

Today, detectives solve crimes with guns. Pop singers are more likely to bite the head off a bat than puff on a meerschaum. And Homer Simpson, the sitcom dad of our day, doesn’t inhale a pipe and exhale wisdom. He sucks up vast quantities of Duff beer and belches out “D’oh!”

The pipe is a relic of those bygone days when dads wanted to look — and act — like grown-ups. These days, dads hope to remain young and hip, and they’re likely to appear in public wearing sneakers, shorts, a replica of their favorite quarterback’s jersey and a backward baseball cap. You can’t smoke a pipe wearing a backward baseball cap. It just wouldn’t work. It would be like presiding over the U.S. Supreme Court while wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

Fiddle vs. Burn

“I started smoking a pipe in the Navy,” says Berkebile of Georgetown Tobacco. “My father never smoked one, but my brother did. I used to smell the inside of it. He smoked a cherry blend and it smelled good. There was a lot of nostalgia with that odor.”

Berkebile, 65, is sitting in his office in the attic above his store. He flicks a lighter and fires up a cigar. He stopped smoking a pipe years ago. “I don’t have the patience for it anymore,” he says.

When Berkebile founded the store, back in the mid-’60s, well over half his business was pipes and pipe tobacco. “In those days,” he says, “college kids came into the store in groups and started smoking pipes.” Now pipes account for only about 10 percent of his sales. “The pace of life today is much faster, and people don’t have the time to smoke a pipe,” he says. “They don’t make the time.”

Pipe smoking takes a lot of time and a lot of bother — tamping and tapping and scraping and cleaning and lighting and relighting and re-relighting. It’s fiddling-intensive activity. And maybe people just don’t like fiddling anymore. Or maybe they’d rather be fiddling with their computer. Or they just don’t have the patience anymore. Berkebile doesn’t.

“Pipe smoking isn’t convenient,” Berkebile says. “You have to have tools. You have to have pipe cleaners. If you’re on the go, you have to take all that stuff with you.”

Walter Gorski, vice president of Georgetown Tobacco, wanders in. He sits down, takes out a pipe, fills it with tobacco and lights it up. Now 37, he started smoking a pipe back in college. “It was one of the only things that kept my dorm room from smelling like a sewer,” he says, laughing.

Inspired, Berkebile snuffs out his cigar, rummages around the office and returns with a pipe. He fills it with a pinch of Gorski’s tobacco, tamps it down and lights it up. Aromatic smoke curls toward the ceiling while the two men discuss the differences between pipe smokers and cigar smokers.

“Pipe smokers are hobby people,” Berkebile says. “They like to collect things, esoteric stuff.”

“Touchy-feely stuff,” Gorski says.

“Contemplative stuff. Antiques,” Berkebile says. “They’re fly fishermen — and fly tie-ers. And chess players.”

Cigar smokers are too cranked up for contemplation, Berkebile says. “They’re faster paced. Hard chargers. Type A’s. They’re more interested in better cars and better clothing. They’re entrepreneurs, CEO types.”

Berkebile’s wife, Sandy Brudin, walks into the room. He gets up to greet her, then he announces that she married her first husband because he smoked a pipe. She smiles sheepishly and acknowledges that there’s a germ of truth to that story. “He smelled nice,” she says.

Pop’s Culture

There’s something about the smell of pipe tobacco that brings back memories of fathers and grandfathers and, yes, even ex-husbands. “I remember my father smoking a pipe,” Brudin says. “I remember liking the smell. It was a sweet smell, a comfortable smell. . . . My father smelled horsy. He rode horses and he smelled horsy, leathery and pipey. He was charming. He was handsome. Movie stars smoked pipes, and he smoked a pipe. It was dashing, and I thought he was dashing.”

Allen Haddox, 55, a librarian at the American Insurance Association, still recalls the smell of his father’s favorite pipe tobacco — Dunhill No. 21. “It had a very strong, spicy aroma, kind of on the acrid side,” he recalls. “Sort of like that smoky scent of the fall but sweeter.”

His father worked at the State Department, and Haddox remembers the smell of his office. “I would visit him as a kid in the ’60s and early ’70s,” he says. “That was the heyday of pipe smoking. My father worked in a room with at least 40 people and nearly everyone smoked a pipe. It was like going to the bazaar in Istanbul — you get all kinds of different aromas. It was very exotic.”

In America, we’ve pretty much obliterated aromas from our public places — supermarkets smell about the same as airports these days — but you can’t deodorize the human memory. Sara Newcombe, 25, a recent graduate of New York Law School, recalls the unmistakable smell of her father’s pipe. “It was a really good smell — vanilla and cherry and chocolate,” she says. “I just remember it smelling really, really good.”

Like a dad in some ancient New Yorker cartoon, her father would smoke his pipe after dinner, sitting in the den with the family dog curled up at his feet. “It was just a very relaxed time,” she says. “He’d be sitting in his den, in his study, and he would give us wise advice. My dad is very wise.” A passing whiff of pipe smoke on the street can bring back the memory of that scene, she says.

But these days, she adds a little wistfully, “it doesn’t happen very often.”

American Soccer Upsets Spain

June 26, 2009

Although it isn’t baseball, people (mainly non-Americans) are interested in soccer. Apparently it appears on television in some countries, including Spain, where fans were shocked yesterday to watch an American squad beat their national team 2-0. Americans Jozy Altidore (in the 27th minute of play) and Clint Dempsey (in the 74th) notched the two goals; the win means American advances to the Confederations Cup finals. Thursday’s win makes America the first team to defeat Spain in three years, since Romania did in 2006.

The Confederations Cup is a run-up to the World Cup in which eight nations compete. America was formerly ranked 14th overall, and considered a dark horse with regard to upsetting Spain’s recently super-funded team: The Spanish entered the match with 15 straight victories tallied and the European championship title already clinched. In their three previous matches, America had never beaten a Spanish team.

America will next play either Brazil or South Africa, which hosts the tournament, on Sunday.

Goal!: America's Clint Dempsey, left, scores.

Goal!: America's Clint Dempsey, left, scores.

The Measure of a Man

June 25, 2009

Regular internet sartorial searchers are already well abreast of the explosive trend in men’s bespoke (custom) fashion forums, discussion boards, blogs, and e-mail lists. explains: “[Online custom clothing forum] The London Lounge, and to a lesser extent American sites such as Ask Andy and Style Forum, provide a nonthreatening space in which to demystify the bewildering array of choices and protocol that you face when you visit a good tailor. The London Lounge can teach you how to identify peak and notch lapels, double and single vents, besom and patch pockets, ghillie collars, floating canvas and raglan sleeves.”


Of course, all of this is important. As previously noted here, taking care in appearance is very important because appearances are often first indicators of deeper characteristics. An attorney with untied shoes might write equally sloppy briefs and motions. A doctor with stains on his cuff might be equally lazy about washing his hands before surgery. And so on. The thinking is: industry, care, attention to detail, and cleanliness, if present within, will be reflected without. The same holds true of their absence.

As also previously noted here, however, the importance of appearance as an indicator is in hinting at deeper values, not as an indicator of appearance itself. Tying your shoes doesn’t make you a good lawyer any more than wearing boots makes you a cowboy, unfortunately, and clean cuffs won’t make you a good surgeon any more than a magnifying glass makes you a detective. Dressing well is fine, but dressing to purposely evoke an image is worthless without also acting in the values and traditions of that image. Absent the actual identity, you’re only wearing a costume.

Bespoke London: Savile Row.

Bespoke London: Savile Row.

 Men used to wear button-down Brooks collars and repp ties with khakis and Alden loafers because it’s what they’d grown up with, and the clothing was a uniform which was, like all uniforms, incidental to their jobs. And like uniforms, their clothing was habitual. For example: an army officer wears a brown shirt because it’s part of his uniform. He may own 10 identical brown shirts, and take one down to wear every morning without a second thought. A civilian who asks his tailor to make him an expensive brown shirt, and takes it down in the morning and obsesses over the buttons, the epaulets, the creases, the medals, and then wears it very self-consciously because he wants to mimic the army officer style… isn’t an army officer.

In Evelyn Waugh’s classic Brideshead Revisited, Charles Ryder’s cousin Jasper gives him some advice on dressing for Oxford. There isn’t much detail… certainly less than can be found daily on the fashion blogs. Commentator Michael Anton explains: “Forty years ago, when a father introduced his tailor to his son, they probably both thought, ‘This is something we do, but let’s not dwell on it, because that would be unseemly’. They’d look at the level of interest on these internet forums as going way beyond what is appropriate.” Clothes are a means (appearance) to an end (respectability), not an end unto themselves.

Here, two competing schools of thought emerge. In the first corner is a disdain for costumes and affectation. For those born to a station which includes a certain look, that look comes without effort. Men from certain backgrounds reach for the Sperry brand boat shoes because it’s what they know, not because an internet discussion board said they should. Those who put in effort to look a certain way must not have come by that look naturally. In the second, competing corner: a great sigh of relief that men think it worthwhile again to be aware of proper dress and try their hand at it, even if the effort requires, well, effort. Surely we can’t be any worse off for more men wearing ties and actually caring about how to knot them, and it beats the hell out of more denim shorts and Bluetooth headsets.

Dartmouth Commands England

June 23, 2009

Dartmouth College professor of Economics and former Bank of England policymaker David Blanchflower, lately noted by the financial press for his prescience in calling this recession, is set to be made a Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in recognition of his service to that country’s banking establishment. Professor Blanchflower told the Reuters news servicethat he was “very pleased and honored” by the Queen’s recognition.

The economist is one of several Dartmouth men tied intimately to England: William Legge, the second Earl of Dartmouth, lent his name to the College, along with early financial backing, and the tenth Earl of that house recently visited the College to check on the family’s investment.

The rank of Commander (CBE) is the third highest achievable; it comes after Knight Grand Cross and Knight Commander. Unfortunately, it does not entail knighthood or the ability to use the title of “Sir.”

Commander David Blanchflower, Dartmouth economist.

Commander David Blanchflower, Dartmouth economist.

Noisy Cricket

June 22, 2009

Lord’s is a sports field, or pitch, which sits to the northwest of London, in the St. John’s Wood area, and which is widely credited as being the “home of cricket.” Lord’s is also a museum, the self-appointed keeper of cricket’s history and artifacts for a fan base for whom “old money” can be as old as feudalism.

The Nottingham Cricket Club.

The Nottingham Cricket Club.

Despite its august antiquity, Lord’s has been on the outs for years: India is now cricket’s epicenter, not England. While Lord’s may be the sport’s soul, new pitches in India are its muscles and, without a doubt, its wallet. The shift has left many English fans feeling they’ve lost some vital part of themselves. Mike Marqusee, in Anyone but England: An Outsider Looks at English Cricket, writes: “In cricket, there is always the fear that something will be lost.” Of Twenty20, a new, faster version of cricket popular in India, Marqusee notes substantial worry that this new version, called T20, will steal more of those vital parts.

The “highest” form of cricket is a version called test cricket, a game of which can last from three to five days and which is played by one of the most archaic and incomprehensible sets of rules ever to govern a sport. T20, in contrast, is quick and simple.

For the purists at Lord’s, that simplicity is the problem. Test cricket is like to a golf match, or marathon: strategic decisions happen over an extended period and fans are able to see self-corrections, psychological struggles, and dramatic changes of fortune over the course of the competition. T20 is more like a home-run derby.

Its cheap thrills and unruly fans have made T20 an enemy of the cricketing establishment. So have its name-brand players and their major league salaries: English cricket has never been about paychecks, instead being administered by a non-profit board akin to the Olympic Committee. The professional athlete culture is abhorrent to purists.

For now, cricket’s 21st century face is undecided. Many English swear by test cricket, including some of the sport’s most storied heroes, while T20 has attracted well-heeled new investors and an increasingly broad fan base and television viewership. The marketplace still competes against the spirit of the game, the new against the classic, and fans draw lines on both sides. And for now, both England and India are out of contention for this year’s championship: the West Indies, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and South Africa are the remaining title contenders, both England and India having “crashed out” early on. Before their exit, though, the teams squared off against each other at, of course, Lord’s and, as evening fell on bleachers of unruly Indian fans, England notched a victory.

Lord's Cricket Ground.

Lord's Cricket Ground.

Worth the Tassel

June 19, 2009

The following is Professor G. Bruce Boyer’s take on the tassel loafer, lifted from 1998’s March / April issue of Cigar Aficionado, to which Prof. Boyer often contributes.

The first few years after the end of the Second World War had all the tumult that transitions tend to evince. Perhaps 1948, with its joyous beginnings and sad endings, was the prototypical postwar year. It seemed that people were more eager than ever to put bloodshed behind them, and the pace of returning to normalcy quickened.

In 1948, the U.S. Congress passed the Marshall Plan, allocating $12 billion for economic aid to Europe, and Harry S Truman was the first newly elected president in 16 years. W. H. Auden won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry with his presciently modern The Age of Anxiety, and T. S. Eliot, author of The Waste Land, the poem that set the literary tone for the first half of the century, was recognized with the Nobel Prize for literature. Alfred Kinsey published his scientific study Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, which began to bridge that wide Victorian chasm between what we said we did and what we really did. Joe Louis retired after defending his title 25 times since 1937, and George Herman “Babe” Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, died. Aficionados of the sport of kings were treated to the only horse to win the triple crown for the next 25 years: Citation (Eddie Arcaro up, in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes).

Loafers, tasseled.

Loafers, tasseled.

Several new consumer items that year also indicated that the memory of the war was finally receding and civilian life was roaringly returning: the LP record, the Porsche 356 and the tassel loafer. The record and the Porsche have undergone considerable transformation since then, but the elegant tassel loafer is celebrating its 50th anniversary basically unchanged. A classic from the first.

It’s easy to believe that the unflappable tassel loafer was around for much longer, that it might have been a creation of the elegance of the 1930s, as was the moccasin-style slip-on itself. The good old American loafer was really an adaptation of a Norwegian fisherman shoe, which became popular in America between the wars in Europe. It had been introduced in the States in 1936 by the Bass Shoe Co., which called the new style “Weejun,” acknowledging its derivation.

By the latter half of the 1940s, this casual shoe had become de rigueur on college campuses across the country and was known as a “penny” loafer, after the fad of putting a copper coin in each of two instep slots. As such it became part of the postwar collegiate uniform of button-down shirts, khaki trousers, tweed sports jackets and Shetland crewneck sweaters. In a very short time, it had come to eclipse its greatest casual campus footwear rival, the saddle oxford.

Just about the time the penny loafer was solidifying its power as BSOC (Big Shoe On Campus), those graduates who had gone from prep school to Ivy League to Wall Street began looking for a comfortable, casual shoe that had a bit more sophistication. They were used to the idea of a comfortable slip-on, but needed something a bit dressier for life in the business world.

At this point in our story, we have specific information and can start naming names. Our first debt of gratitude goes to Paul Lukas. Not particularly well remembered today, in his time Lukas was known to moviegoers of the period as a rather debonair character actor (in such films as The Lady Vanishes and Watch on the Rhine). It seems that Lukas had bought a pair of oxfords in Europe that had little tassels at the ends of the laces. Very jaunty, thought Lukas, and…well, let me quote Robert Clark, vice president and spokesman for the Alden Shoe Co., at this pertinent juncture:

“Lukas took his shoes to New York shoemakers named Farkas & Kovacs, and asked them to make something similar, perhaps with the laces woven through the topline of the shoe. Lukas was pleased with the design Farkas came up with, but didn’t like the fit. Then he took one shoe to the New York firm of Lefcourt and the other to Morris Bootmakers in Beverly Hills, asking them each to develop a better version.”

Surprisingly, but perhaps not completely coincidentally, both stores brought the request to Alden. Not coincidentally because in 1948 Alden already had a 64-year reputation as one of the best shoemakers in the United States. At the time, the company’s president was Arthur Tarlow Sr., a descendant of an original partner whose family had acquired the firm when founder Charles Alden retired in 1931; it remains a family business to this day. But back to Clark’s story:

“Tarlow examined the shoe and thought he could come up with a better design. He produced a completely new pattern which incorporated the topside lacing and tassels in a slip-on version on a new, more comfortable last [shoe mold]. So what was originally an oxford was now a sophisticated slip-on, with the leather lace and tassel kept as decoration.”

We can assume, then, that Paul Lukas was the first person to wear tassel loafers. But Alden realized there was something to these shoes. There was indeed a market for a shoe that was at the same time comfortable, casual and elegant. All of which has a decidedly contemporary ring to it, I know.

“Alden continued to experiment for another year with the design until they were satisfied,” Clark goes on, “and decided to put the shoe into their production line for 1950. They chose the Lefcourt and Morris stores as the retail outfits of distinction to premiere the new shoe. Tarlow knew he was on to something when he got an order from Morris: a customer had ordered 26 pairs the first week the shoes were set out for display! The tassel loafer was an immediate success with the sophisticated tastes of New York and Los Angeles men, and by 1952 these two stores were carrying the shoes in some 20 varieties of color and leather.”

In the years that followed, the tassel loafer was introduced to upscale traditional clothing stores around the country. Then, in 1957, Brooks Brothers, at the height of its fame as the Ivy League emporium, approached Alden and expressed an interest to include the shoe in its collection. “Especially for them,” Clark explains, “Alden produced a tassel loafer with a distinctive decorative foxing at the back part of the shoe, which remains exclusive to Brooks Brothers.” The foxing is the raised stitching on either side of the heel cup. Regular Aldens have a plain heel cup with a strip of leather up the back seam.

While the tassel loafer was made in a variety of colors and leathers–and still is–what we have come to think of as the ne plus ultra is the dark, reddish-brown Cordovan leather model.

The name is from Cordova, or Cordoba, the city in southern Spain thought to have been established by the Carthaginians and long having a reputation for fine leather, just as the central Spanish city of Toledo had the reputation for finely tempered steel sword blades.

Most good leather shoes are made from calfskin. Cordovan leather (its full and proper name is shell Cordovan) comes from the subcutaneous layer of the rump of a horse. Horses are not bred or raised specifically for this purpose (all shoe leather is a by-product of animals raised for different primary purposes). It takes a large work horse to provide two circular pieces of leather (the shells; each shell is sufficient for one pair of shoes), and since we use fewer and fewer work horses, shell Cordovan is very limited and in shorter and shorter supply. Only one tannery in the world provides Cordovan leather to the shoe trade: Horween Leather in Chicago. As it happens, Horween’s other claim to fame is that it makes all the leather for National Football League footballs.

Shell Cordovan makes excellent shoe leather because of its superior durability, extraordinary softness and beautiful luster. It is the least porous of leathers, and is characterized by a waxy finish and rich patina that improves with wear and polishing. It has plenty of what you’d call character. “Funnily enough,” adds Clark, “in the early part of this century, shell Cordovan was used primarily for razor strops. It was only after the Gillette Company almost put an end to Cordovan tannage through its introduction of the ‘Blue Blade’ for its safety razor, which needed no stropping, that the leather’s suitability for shoes was explored.”

High-volume production methods and fancy technology are powerless here. Old-school handwork is what gets the job done. The shells undergo a natural, pure-vegetable tanning process, then they are hand-stained, glazed and finished. Any imperfections disqualify the shell.

Today, Alden makes the legendary tassel loafer in oxblood, black, mahogany brown, whiskey (light) tan and ravello (dark) tan Cordovan (priced at around $375); and in burgundy, black, walnut brown, tan calf and brown suede (at around $245). The black calf version has been Alden’s best-selling shoe for the past 40 years. It has become known as the lawyer’s shoe, as when George Bush during his presidential campaign with Bill Clinton complained that Clinton was supported by “every lawyer that ever wore a tasseled loafer.” And Bush, an Eastern Establishment guy if ever there was one, should know.

The shoe is also very popular in Europe and Japan. In Germany, it sells for twice the price sought in the United States, and in Japan, where there is something of a cult following, limited numbered editions sell out within a day or two for upwards of $750 a pair. “When other manufacturers complain of the closed market of Japan,” Clark says with a smile, “I like to tell them that.”

What accounts for this legendary status? Well, it’s a top-quality, comfortable shoe of elegance and proportion, to be sure. But Bob Clark has come up with what is perhaps the best answer: “It’s the versatility. For half a century now it’s been an appropriate choice for both the boardroom and the country club. It lends respectability to the army of lawyers and lobbyists who pervade our corridors of power, and serves as a symbol of elegance and the good life for successful professionals and businessmen.” And who should know better. *

For the nearest venue contact: Alden Shoe Co., 1 Taunton Street, Middleborough, Massachu-setts 02346. Phone: (800) 325-4252.