Summer Suits

September 28, 2009

Wall Street Journal columnist Eric Felton recently wrote “Lighten Up: Rediscovering The Summer Suit” for that paper’s July 23 issue of this year. His piece is reproduced here, below, for its language and pertinence, and because it’s a nice daydream when the wind is blowing brown leaves off the trees outside.

Novelist and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius blogged at the Daily Beast this week in praise of summer suits. “Long Live the Seersucker” was the headline, with a subhead that promised Mr. Ignatius was championing “a revival of cream-colored linen and balmy pinfeather.” It begins well enough, with Mr. Ignatius crowing that he has “a closet full of such suits.” But then he admits he’s embarrassed to wear them. When dressed in white linen, “people ask me for ice cream cones.” As much as he would love to escape the “permanent sartorial winter” that is the wearing of dark suits, he lacks the courage to do so.

Seersucker-suited defense attorneys, Houston, Texas.

Seersucker-suited attorneys, Houston, Texas.

What a shame—a shame that a man who writes thrillers should be so easily cowed by convention. But the real shame is the modern prejudice against summer suits, an attitude that has hardened as men’s clothes have been bifurcated into two extremes: the dark formality of the business suit and the hypercasual mufti of T-shirts and shorts. The habit of wearing suits used to be such a natural part of grown-up life that men could bring variety and personality to the workaday get-up. Now, to the extent men think about their clothes, they tend to focus on fine-tuning the weekend rigs of perpetual adolescence. The summer suit, correct but easy-going, presents a rare opportunity to bridge the gap. It’s bad enough to beaver away at the office when the beach and boats beckon; do we have to do it dressed like undertakers?

Having a distinct summer wardrobe was once the mark of a man in the know. The term “white shoe” for describing a socially secure firm derives from the WASPy habit of wearing chalked bucks in the summer. Joseph Heller in his novel “Something Happened” describes a salesman whose job is in jeopardy because “he has no tone,” evidenced by his clueless clothes—tweed or worsted in the dog days when everyone else is wearing seersucker.

Seersucker and white linen do still have a robust following in the Spanish moss states. But the Southern connotations of pale-colored suits have been a hurdle for Yankees, who can’t figure out whether they evoke Atticus Finch or Boss Hogg. Another difficulty is discerning whether seersucker, inexpensive cloth that it is, suggests penury or wealth. Writer Damon Runyon took to seersucker in the 1940s and his friends thought he was going broke. He set them straight: “Only very rich men ever wear seersucker clothes.” And thus he concluded: “Runyon, what is good enough for a financial giant is good enough for you.”

But these days air conditioning has made it possible to scoff at summer, and that has made the suits of the season risky. Consider the photo, on the front page of Tuesday’s Journal, of the Apollo 11 astronauts visiting the White House this week. There is the great moon-walking American Neil Armstrong in khaki poplin, perfectly suited for Washington in July. But he’s oddly out of place surrounded by the dark woolens of Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and Barack Obama.

summer_suit

The White House wasn’t always locked into such formal suiting. In June 1945, Harry Truman met the press to tout how well the peace was going to go with our pals the Soviets. His summer suit conveyed that he was in control: “The confident man in the White House,” reported Time magazine, “cool in a blue seersucker suit and soft-collared white shirt, was optimistic.” (If only the optimism had been warranted.)

It was Franklin D. Roosevelt who made seersucker a Washington mainstay, and he took advantage of the cloth’s ability to bridge high and low, wearing seersucker suits on road trips across the Dust Bowl. Not that there weren’t complaints. One day in August of 1940, FDR sat for some press pictures. “He’s looking wonderful,” said a photographer who griped: “Only trouble was that darn seersucker suit. The pictures won’t look very dressy.”

But that’s the very opportunity presented by summer suits for men, a way to avoid being dressy without tumbling down into abject sloppiness. Mr. Obama knows he can’t wear his impeccable dark suits for every occasion—Richard Nixon famously made that mistake, strolling the beach in black wingtips and navy worsted—but beyond that uniform, Mr. Obama isn’t quite sure what to wear. The less said about the president’s unfortunate blue jeans at the All Star Game, the better.

Too many men wear their suits the way waiters wear their bad tuxedos, as something alien and apart from the clothes they wear when given a choice. The admirable efforts to rescue American men from the infantilizing curse of the hypercasual are never going to get anywhere as long as suits are seen as an arbitrary and foreign costume. Summer suits are part of the solution, a way to prove that one can be relaxed in a jacket. Linen, poplin, or seersucker breaks the suffocating and stultifying uniform out of its dull uniformity.

That said, there are some job sites at which a year-round uniform of inky formality is not only appropriate but demanded, among them mortuaries and certain Wall Street banks. Fresh out of Harvard Business School in 1947, John C. Whitehead took a job at Goldman Sachs, where one was expected to wear one’s jacket all day long, even in the heat of an office that lacked not only air conditioning but windows. Tired of broiling, Mr. Whitehead bought himself some seersucker. “I felt quite snappy,” he recounts in his memoir, “A Life in Leadership.” Wearing his summer suit for the first time, he sprang into the company elevator only to find himself with “one of the great eminences at the firm,” Walter Sachs.

“Good morning, young man,” the whitebeard said. “Do you work at Goldman Sachs?”

“Why yes, sir, I do,” replied Mr. Whitehead, pleased to have been noticed.

“In that case,” Sachs scowled, “I would suggest that you go home right now and change out of your pajamas.”

Advertisements

Rugby: Dartmouth 62, Yale 8

September 27, 2009

In an unsurprising match this morning, the Dartmouth Rugby Football Club trounced Yale University in Dartmouth’s home opener at Brophy Field in Hanover, New Hampshire by a score of 62 to 8.

Dartmouth won its lead early on, then held its opponent at bay; a penalty kick dashed the DRFC’s hopes for a shutout, but hardly, as evidenced, upset any odds of a crushing victory. Yale men’s coach Jan Pikul noted, “If we played the first 25 minutes of the game like we played the last 25 minutes, we would have been in it. We shut [Dartmouth] out in the last 25 minutes… [but] we were slow to adjust to pressure. We gave up too many points off of turnovers.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Pikul and Yale, “shutting Dartmouth out in the last 25 minutes” proved too little, too late… especially given a 62 point deficit. Yale captain Pat Madden ’10 offered a more realistic take on the day: “Dartmouth came out strong, and we weren’t ready to play.”

Dartmouth will play Harvard University next week at home, coming into the match with a record of 3 – 0 and having outscored opponents by a total of 233-11.

The Dartmouth Rugby Football Club.

The Dartmouth Rugby Football Club.


A New Model

September 24, 2009

As our American economy gamely struggles upward, law firms have stepped, or been pushed, to the forefront of the business world as examples of reactive change. But for a profession so steeped in its own traditions and lore, change can come slowly.

Not so across the board: Tom Yannucci, of Kirkland & Ellis, believes efficiency will make all the difference in the post-recession legal arena. Mr. Yannucci stresses the importance of rapidity in a digital age; clients, he believes, require quicker legal assistance than ever before to meet swiftly changing conditions and will stick with the firm able to provide it. Mr. Yannucci believes the trade-off is painstakingly thorough work (thorough, that is, to such a degree that a good number of billable hours are spent in the production of it). Clients will trade excessive footnotes for speed, he thinks, and will welcome the lower cost of less duplicative research by fewer attorneys.

This means a scramble among law firms to trim the fat and grow lean, before others do. A sleeker model will mean fewer hours billed to clients, faster turn-around of work matters, and a more focused strategy with fewer peripheral issues to distract attorneys (and cost clients).

Tom Yannucci, Kirkland & Ellis. Photo courtesy of Bisnow.

Tom Yannucci, Kirkland & Ellis. Photo courtesy of Bisnow.


Rugby: Dartmouth 80, Columbia 0

September 22, 2009

With the recent advent of collegiate rugby’s fall season, campus pitches across the country are once again alive with rucks, mauls, and scrums. One of the more lively is Sachem Field in Hanover, New Hampshire, home pitch to defending Ivy League title-holders the Dartmouth Rugby Football Club.

Fresh off a first-place finish in New England’s pre-season Granite Cup, an invitational tournament of squads from New Hampshire, Vermont, and Canada, Dartmouth opened its regular season this weekend with two matches against Columbia University, at Columbia. It won both by considerable margins, notching an 80-0 shutout in the second.

The Dartmouth Rugby Football Club.

The Dartmouth Rugby Football Club.

 “We moved the ball well and had good things come of that… It was a good weekend for us,” noted Dartmouth co-captain Sam Edandison ’10, “Columbia had a big and physical side. We didn’t match their physicality to the extent that we could and that is something we will work on.”

The DRFC is set to play its first home match against Yale University Saturday, September 26. This weekend’s wins make Dartmouth 2-0 in regular season play, outscoring opponents by a total of 171-3.

Dartmouth has won eight of the last 11 Ivy League championships and has won 13 New England championships and appeared in 12 national championships. It is the oldest continuously-touring collegiate rugby program in America.


The Left Coast

September 20, 2009

San Francisco native Harry Aleo passed away last year and left behind an estate which included, among other notable relics, a hand-lettered sign which used to hang outside of his realty office proclaiming it (the office) “an island of traditional conservative values in a sea of latte-sipping liberal loonies.”

Since Mr. Aleo’s passing, those same liberal loonies have become strangely interested in preserving his memory as a matter of history. Joel Panzer, of San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood (where he and Mr. Aleo lived), has started to collect and catalog the signs and other pieces of Mr. Aleo’s office memorabilia, which include Ronald Reagan campaign posters and a phonograph, for future inclusion in a museum dedicated to the neighborhood.  

Such benign interest wasn’t always the case: Mr. Aleo’s conservative voice was, in a town which hadn’t elected a Republican mayor since 1959, a bit jarring. He received hate mail and his office windows, often displaying his scribbled political signs, were alternately shot out, egged, scratched, broken, spray painted, and spit on. One such attack inspired the next morning’s window sign: “To the sneaky night-crawlers who spray painted ‘Death To Fascists’ on my window… you are the fascists! If you gutless creeps have anything to say to me, come in and say it to my face.”

In his younger days Mr. Aleo was a minor league baseball player scouted by the Brooklyn Dodgers, a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of The Bulge, and an owner of thoroughbred racehorses. As a Noe Valley real estate investor, he owned and managed 12 rental buildings at the time of his death. He was 88 years old.

Noe Valley conservative Harry Aleo.

Noe Valley conservative Harry Aleo.


Civil Service

September 17, 2009

The House of Representatives passed a resolution Tuesday of this week by a roll call vote of 240 – 179 to formally disapprove of Representative Joe Wilson (R, South Carolina) for yelling “You lie!” during President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress.

This web log is generally supportive of Republican politics, as they exist classically; that is, a limited Federal government, low taxes, a strong military, and an emphasis on personal responsibility in designing social policies. These politics concern themselves more with economics and the philosophy of government, and less with ambiguous morality. This is not to say this antiquated philosophy is completely without an agenda of social issues to push; quite the opposite. The classical Republican’s values are decorum, decency, a deep respect for tradition, the observance of occasion and solemnity, formality (when due), and chivalry.

William F. Buckley, Jr., the father of modern conservatism, would never have interrupted the President of the United States. He especially would not have during such a rare occasion as a joint session of Congress. A quick perusal of Buckley’s 30-plus years hosting Firing Line, compared to equal perusal of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck, reveal a Republican pundit with an overabundance of three qualities those more contemporary hosts apparently make do without: intellect, charm, and manners.

William F. Buckley, Jr., at work.

William F. Buckley, Jr.: intellect, charm, & manners.

Buckley was foremost a gentleman; it was in his blood. He was a Yale man and a yachtsman, an author, columnist, CIA agent, speaker, lecturer, and bon vivant of the highest degree. He was charming and gracious to guests on his show, many sworn liberals through and through, and he skewered them politely with wit and insight. He did not raise his voice. He did not insult his guests when they made points contrary to his own. He just quirked an eyebrow, bit the tip of his pencil, and softly said, “Ah yes, that is interesting, but isn’t it actually the case that… .” 

It is worth noting that Buckley, who passed away recently, accomplished decidedly more for the cause of conservative politics than any syndicated bully today could hope to. He wrote over 50 books and more than 4,000 newspaper columns, hosted Firing Line for over 30 years, and founded National Review. The last is credited with the advent of modern conservatism, which Buckley all but invented single-handedly.

Buckley, if he still concerns himself with these things, is likely rolling in his grave at Representative Wilson’s atrocious breach of etiquette. The life blood of democracy is debate, President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote once, and the most productive debates are civil. Good ideas are drowned out by shouting.

Republicans like Rush Limbaugh accuse more centrist colleagues of deserting the party’s values for not taking an equally hard line as he does. He would do well to remember that those values should rightfully include courtesy, honor, gentlemanly conduct, decorum, and decency, and to read General Horace Porter’s 1865 account of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant, a man of as opposite a political stripe to Lee as could be imagined:

“All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed [Lee], and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial. General Grant now stepped down from the porch, and, moving toward him, saluted him by raising his hat. He was followed in this act of courtesy by all our officers present; Lee raised his hat respectfully, and rode off to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded.”

If Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant could manage this degree of civility toward one another after the bloodiest conflict in the history of our nation till then, surely Congressmen and radio hosts can too.


Hemingway On Hunting

September 11, 2009

In honor of the book Hemingway On Hunting, recently re-published and reviewed here soon, below are brief samples and vignettes by the author and famed sportsman. Patrick, his son, has re-edited the original book and leant it a lengthy introduction.

To F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hendaye, France, September 13, 1929:

“Everybody loses all the bloom; we’re not peaches. But that doesn’t mean you get rotten. A gun is better worn and with bloom off. So is a saddle. People too, by God.”

To Janet Flanner, Key West, Florida, April 8, 1933:

“I like to shoot a rifle and I like to kill and Africa is where you do that.”

Hemingway On Hunting, page 4:

“In shooting quail you must never get between them and their habitual cover, once the dogs have found them, or when they flush they will come pouring at you, some rising steep, some skimming by your ears, whirring into a size you have never seen them in the air as they pass, the only way being to turn and take them over your shoulder as they go, before they set their wings and angle down into the thicket.”

Hemingway On Hunting, page 79:

“There was a log house, chinked white with mortar, on a hill above the lake. Behind the house were fields and behind the fields was the timber. A road went up the hills along the edge of the timber and along the road he picked blackberries. Then that log house was burned down and all the guns that had been on deer-foot racks above the open fireplace were burned and afterwards their barrels, with the lead melted in the magazines, and the stocks burned away, lay out on the heap of ashes that were used to make lye for the big iron soap kettles, and you asked Grandfather if you could have them to play with, and he said no. You see, they were his guns still and he never bought any others. Nor did he hunt any more.

The house was rebuilt in the same place out of lumber now and painted white and from its porch you saw the poplars and the lake beyond; but there were never anymore guns. The barrels of the guns that had hung on the deer feet on the wall of the log house lay out there on the heap of ashes and no one ever touched them.”

Hemingway and trophy, in Africa.

Hemingway and trophy, in Africa.