Last Friday's Andover Shop post ended up being rather evocative and I always appreciate everyone’s comments. I generally try to acknowledge each contribution and in this case, two comments have motivated a following up post.
LPC…Lisa from Privilege posited…
“But really the question always in my mind is this. To what extent does the value system, one I hold to this day, require the aesthetic? And to what extent does the aesthetic support the values?”
I respect you immensely Lisa and I love your supposition. And my answer is that the value system doesn’t require the aesthetic. I tried to articulate my perspective on this in a post a good while back. I said in my feeble way, that I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt regardless of how they are swathed, shodded, inked, pierced or whatever. Let’s not kid ourselves…everyone…regardless of their degree of transparency about it…makes judgments and often times, inappropriate conclusions about people based on appearances. I’ve met well dressed WASPy assholes and I’ve met lovely, generous people of stellar deportment who didn’t care much about their sartorial contrivances. I’ve also experienced the converse. And certainly, the aesthetic doesn’t necessarily support the values. It might be a collateral variable or corollary to some behavioral mores and social/leisure endeavours but I don’t think there’s a strong link to values per se.
Further from Lisa…
“My father graduated from Harvard in something like 1951. He dresses Trad, I suppose, but is the least dandiest human I know. That said, while he wouldn't disdain a dandy, nor even a slob as long as it wasn't someone's funeral, he would disdain a guy who never showed up on time, didn't know how to take care of family, and insisted on having temper tantrums.”
The fact that your father wouldn’t disdain a dandy or a slob speaks to his integrity as a man—independent mostly, of his High WASP antecedents. And certainly, as a professor, your father has encountered academics, students, intellectuals and poseurs of all stripes and coverings. My hunch is that after all these years; he probably has a rather finely tuned and equitably screened sieve for sorting people out. And it would be intellectually sloppy of him to cast aside people of value just because of their adornments or lack thereof. Trad purists of your dad’s era are often times indeed, the least foppish in the room. But in my opinion, that patinated anti-dandy look is the truest and purist form of Trad. Again, regarding your father and his lack of tolerance for vulgar behavior…it speaks to the man—not exclusively to his tribe.
I remember being told respectfully, by an African American man who worked for my father, to “go inside and put on a clean shirt…you know your daddy wouldn’t let you go looking like that.” Interestingly, my father had been dead for over a year. He was suggesting that I clean up a bit not just out of respect for my father but for reasons also grounded in his own code. I share this feeble example to support my belief that common courtesy, deportment and decency at one point in our history, could be found across social, financial, ethnic and class boundaries. This particular man who worked for my father surely never finished high school. Bottom line Lisa, is that your dad sounds like a decent man and there are other fine men and women who come from profoundly less WASPy backgrounds who possess a similar code of decency.
And finally from Lisa….
“Does that even matter? Does that kind of guy matter? Excuse me. I spent the day with my sister's kids, and one still has babyflesh, so I am a bit sentimental. But I do wonder.”
Yes it SHOULD matter. At least how I understand your statement. Common decency—high standards of personal accountability and conduct do matter. Unfortunately in my humble opinion, we’ve lost our way—our compass regarding where these things should be in the code…in the priority queue. And this isn’t a WASP thing—it’s macro societal thing.
And Lisa, regarding the babyflesh experience that may thankfully, at least for a moment, tenderize us…I left this comment over at your blog… “ The defining "baby flesh" moment for me was when LFG at I suppose, maybe four or five months old, could kind of latch/clamp/grip her little arm around my neck to steady herself while I held her. I can feel it in the memory of my neck as I type this. It is a moment of connectedness that still weakens me in a parentally sublime way when I recollect it.”
And then “Anonymous” weighed in. Perhaps he’s commented before and based on this particular comment, I hope he’ll not be a stranger.
“(You are much too romantic.)”
Yes I am, Mr. Anonymous and I thank God for that gift regularly. I’ve always felt life deeply and I’ll take the amplified pain that comes with said territory in exchange for what I believe to be; on the mostly happier times, a blessed lens through which I see the world.
“1) Forty years ago, I had a five-year stretch where 90 percent of my clothes came from The Andover Shop. They were nice, but they weren't all that. The stock of shirts was very poor, mostly Troy Guild of the O'Connells type -- nothing like what you saw the other day. And the after-purchase tailoring of the MTM suits and jackets was nothing to write home about. After a bit, I had the finishing done elsewhere.”
Nothing to debate here. I worked in one of these shops myself and concur with what I’ll net out to be for these types of shops a “middle of the road” definition of their caliber of inventory and in your experience at the Andover shop, service as well.
“2) When The Andover Shop opened up an outpost in Back Bay, many long-time customers went there instead just to avoid dealing with Charlie Davidson. (That patented suck-up, piss-down routine wore a little thin, particularly after he got sick.)”
Again…I’m long on lore and am batting zip—zero—nadda on actual experience and interaction with Charlie Davidson. Therefore I can’t do anything but acknowledge your assertion and accept your personal experiences as accurate. And why not? According to legend, your impression of, and experiences with him are consistent with what others report. On balance though, if he was an unswerving turd to everyone who walked the earth, I’d bet his shop wouldn’t have survived.
“3) J Press was just as empty 40 years ago as it seems to be now. Perhaps they're only there to launder money for Whitey Bulger. (Joke ...)”
Do ya think Whitey is still alive? I just finished reading The Gardner Heist and there is speculation that Whitey knew where the paintings were stashed. I’m not an Irish Mafia lore fan but it was interesting to learn a few collateral facts about Whitey in the Gardner Heist book. Seems he had bank accounts all over the world. As for laundering money through J. Press…the strength of the dollar v. the yen would probably dictate the go/no go for laundering via Press. For we all know that if it wasn’t for the Trad obsessed Japanese, J. Press would have shut the doors years ago.
“4) Tintin’s stomping on kids who "wiki" their take on "trad." But you two are kids, too, babies. You weren't there in the Fifties or the Sixties, and you didn't wear this stuff. It was just clothes -- really, I promise. Making a fetish of a largely defunct fashion is borderline "object sex." Of course, if that works for you, well, fine.”
Thank you ever so much for referring to me and Tintin as kids. I suppose it’s all relevant no? As a middle aged guy, I’ll take that compliment all day long. We all have opinions…certainly Tintin included and I’m also known to posit a bias or two on my blog from time to time. Maybe Tintang picks on the young’uns more than me but it’s all harmless…I think. Now don’t get huffy about my next comment but…your logic is flawed regarding the “you weren’t there and didn’t wear the stuff in the fifties and sixties” thing. I might be stretching it a bit but what I think you are saying is that if one didn’t live in the fifties and sixties and didn’t buy these Trad things back then, their observations and opinions are less credible, relevant and perhaps baseless. Alden has been selling, without modification, their tassel loafer since at least the 1930’s. Does the fact that I didn’t live and buy mine in the 1930’s impeach my credibility regarding my observations about their enduring style and design? I think not.
And I DID begin “wearing the stuff” in the late sixties as soon as I, a little kid, was large enough to don the smallest sizes offered. Evidence the OCBD that I’m sporting in my first grade school photo. I’ve recently posted a picture of me wearing a three-two roll sportcoat when I was four years old.
And there’s the picture of me at nine years old in my first DB navy blazer. With the exception of a thirty month aberration during my preteen and early teen moments when I wanted to be a hippie, I’ve worn NOTHING but Trad togs since I was four years old.
My pediatric Trad beginnings give me no more or less authority to speak on Trad clothing, style and deportment than anyone else. Just as it gives you no more or less authority to do so just because you frequented these venerated stores in the fifties and sixties.
And yes, it is/was “just clothes”. You don’t have to promise. But a car is just a car. A shotgun is just a shotgun. A book is just a book. I get your point. However, I know people who are just as passionate about the lore, tradition and back-story related to each of my aforementioned examples. They collect them, blog about them and regale like-minded people with their stories and opinions. I’m always fascinated by people who collect things and who also find the associated erudition rewarding. Even if the nicest shotgun I ever owned as a kid was a Flight King .410 from K-Mart, I reveled in stopping by James Purdey on South Audley Street almost twenty years ago to get a copy of the Purdey history signed personally to my buddy, the shotgun fanatic, by the Managing Director. I could give a damn about shotguns but I was dead on correct in my assumption that my buddy would behave almost as if I’d given him an actual Purdy gun. I felt the same way when Alan Flusser gave me his bespoke Poulsen Skone crocodile loafers that are on the front cover of his first book...Clothes and the Man.
“Object sex”…I’ll accept that. And finally, Trad isn’t a “largely defunct fashion”…mainly because it isn’t fashion at all.
“5) A & S, until recently, made better clothes than ever passed through The Andover Shop. Charvet still makes better shirts. Alex Kabazz will make you the trad shirt of your dreams, but you'd have to skip a mortgage payment to make it happen. And George Frazier over-egged every pudding he met. (When he died, among the people who actually knew him, only Ellen Goodman seemed genuinely distraught.)”
I couldn’t agree with you more regarding the Anderson and Sheppard assertion. Even with their probable slight decline after the retirement of Managing Director Norman Halsey and Head Cutter Dennis Halberry, I’m sure their goods are still stellar under the guidance of Mr. John Hitchcock. (I can’t say with authority-I never had clothes made there under the stalwart leadership of Halsey and Hallbury…or ever for that matter) The Andover Shop was never, ever in that league. I was merely referencing my feelings; comparatively, when I shared my reactions regarding my visits to each hallowed institution. Plus, my maiden visit to A&S at 30 Savile Row was accompanied by LFG’s mother and she would have bitch-slapped me had I gushed too much while on premises. And I also agree with you regarding Charvet and Kabazz.
And finally, regarding George Frazier’s over-egging and Ellen Goodman being his sole mourner…I’ll allow your opinion on his egg use. I will though, admonish you to admit the silliness of your gratuitous assertion that Goodman was the only one who grieved his passing. Specific to the Globe, indeed he had copy editors and production/printing associates and probably peers that were exasperated by him and maybe some who even loathed him. He also had others at the Globe who realized his talent and value and indeed, mourned his passing.
Frazier had an ass-load of enemies, detractors and those that I’m sure, were just weary of him. In a very basic sense, at least for me, I’m suspect of anyone who is the proverbial “loved by all” personage. They generally don’t stand for much. Frazier gave Sinatra hell in a column or two but when Frazier” died, his son Pepper received a handwritten personal condolence note from Sinatra, who signed it “Francis”. Sinatra could carry a grudge further and longer than Frazier and when he signed a note “Francis” he did so with great affection.
Here’s what Richard Merkin said about Frazier in his June 1988 Merkin on Style column in Gentleman’s Quarterly… “Paradoxical to the core and capable of being both a horse’s ass and a son of a bitch, he was simultaneously kind, generous, enormously entertaining (when sober) and simply the most elegant man I have ever known. For the better part of seven years when he was commuting between Manhattan and the Boston Globe, he was my friend, mentor and even surrogate father. Stylish as hell and mind bogglingly informed, George was a boon companion, and since many of our concerns were the same, we always seemed to have a great deal to talk about: books, jazz, baseball, and boxing, slanderous gossip and as Hemingway put it, “how the weather was”. And clothes, of course, about which he was never wrong. Understand please, that not everyone felt about George as I did; his was hardly a life of universal approval.”
Hardly the empty rhetoric of someone required to say a kind thing or two about an acquaintance passed. Brilliant people are sometimes difficult and average people like me are sometimes crotchety. I won’t pretend to deconstruct any of the yin-yang dark side of genius tortured artist crap as it may or may not relate to George Frazier. What I will conclude in saying is that I’ll take half a Frazier all damn-day-long over twenty hail fellows well met. Shut up.
Thank you Lisa-LPC for your thought provoking comments. And here’s to you Mr. Anonymous whoever you are…please continue reading and commenting on my drivel. For it’s the provocative comments from folks like you that make this scrivener happy.
Onward. In One Freakin’ Hundred Degree Heat.
ADG,II – Travelling