Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Trad-Ivy Tuesday: Mr. Secretary and the Belgians

My buddy David turned me on to Acheson Country, a great little chronicle by Dean Acheson’s son about growing up Acheson. It’s a one-sitting read and is a delightful anecdotathon of WASP Ascendancy, conduct and deportment unique to days gone by as well as a glimpse of a Georgetown and a Washington D.C. that no longer exists. There’s also plenty of weigh-in on sartorial Acheson. And before you start wondering about the Belgians-Acheson connection, be patient. I’ll weave it together in the finale. I may no longer blog regularly enough to keep you aware of my highly prized techniques; but please let’s not forget some of the twisty-turny sorties that I’ve taken you on before. So settle down. And if anyone has to pee, I’d suggest you go and do so now.
 Predictably, reading Acheson Country only whetted my appetite so I then read Acheson’s memoirs, Present at the Creation. I’d love to have Acheson and a few others at the table for a dialogue on their impressions of the current state of political discourse and on compromise and the high art of collaboration with the proverbial other side. My hunch is that Acheson and others would be appalled by our current wading pool of inside-the-beltway venom that characterizes Washington politics.
True to his WASP-ness, Acheson was concerned about how dress clothes conveyed his professional bearing and station…but not too much. Mr. Secretary was exacting in what he liked and wore and his attention to detail borders on excessive. I guess that similar to the reaction of some men included in George Frazier’s TheArt of Wearing Clothes, Acheson would probably be flummoxed by the idea that he was in a pantheon of exemplary Trad-Ivy style icons.  Acheson was sartorially correct as opposed to Adolph Menjou’s over-studied precision. He was the properly sequenced sartorialist to the Kennedy clan’s delightfully dishevelled, unintentional Trad-Ivy BostonIrish Sprezzatura.
Here’s an excerpt from historian David McCullough’s introduction to Acheson Country. “I saw my first authentic, flesh-and-blood personage of history—my first Great Man on the hoof, as it were—on a morning in New Haven, Connecticut, in the fall of 1953. Or maybe 1954. I was a Yale undergraduate on my way to class, heading along York Street, alone and wrapped in my own undergraduate fog, when all at once, at the corner of where the high priced clothing stores were concentrated, out of the door of J. Press stepped Dean Acheson.”
“…there was no mistaking him. He couldn’t have been more conspicuous. Or I more astonished. Yet there he was not thirty feet ahead, the former Secretary of State, member of the Yale Corporation, Class of 1915 and for many of us he was something of a hero…for the way he had faced the attacks of Senator Joe McCarthy.”
“It wasn’t just that he looked bigger than life but that he seemed poised there on York Street, in drab New Haven, almost overdoing the responsibility of being Dean Acheson—the spectacular tailoring, the mustache, the lift of his chin. It was if some splendid actor in perfect Acheson dress had stepped suddenly from the wings and I was his only audience.” 
Folks; this is the personification of personal style versus fashion. You can’t buy it in a store nor can you get schooled up on it by reading how-to manuals. You either have it or you don’t. And based on McCullough’s experience, the stuff was dripping off of Acheson. David Acheson devotes an entire chapter…The Well Dressed Man, to his dad’s sartorial proclivities. Here are a few passages for your enjoyment…
“There could be no question that Dad was a thorough, unreconstructed dude, a fashionplate. For the office he was likely to favor a gray or brown or slate blue or navy blue suit, often double breasted.”
“It was not vanity, I thought and still think, which prompted Dad to lavish great care on his dress. Rather it was one of many manifestations of a perfectionist drive that touched everything he did. His aesthetic sense was sharp. It would have offended that sense to put on clothes that in their cut, style, color combination or condition could not have withstood critical scrutiny.”
Treasury Department operative Stanley Surrey speaks of being in a meeting in the 1930’s with Acheson where litigation strategy was being vetted. After the meeting, one of Surrey’s colleagues asked him what the substance of the meeting was. “I haven’t the slightest idea; I was totally absorbed in my study of Mr. Acheson’s symphony in brown and its implications.”
David Acheson offers witness to his dad’s interaction with tailors…“Raise the damn collar—I’m not advertising shirt linen.” He also lists his father’s suppliers including…D’Elia and Marks, Sidney West & Co., Brooks Brothers in New York as well as “Farnsworth-Reed until they moved to a garish shopping mall in suburban Virginia. Subsequently, Dad patronized J. Press when he went to New Haven each month for meetings of the Yale Corporation. In the 1930’s Dad had his shoes made by Peal &Co in London, but their prices went beyond his means in the post-war years.”
 Lordy, I’ve gotta tie all of this back to Belgians and our man Acheson...so here goes. I was completely tickled to read about the dichotomy of Acheson’s professional attire versus his weekend capricious assemblages.
Away from civilization at the farm, Dad dressed for dinner with family and friends in a fashion for which outrageous would be an understatement.  Summer dinner costume, often as not, was lime green slacks, no socks, sandals or Mexican huaraches on the feet, an orange sash falling to the knee. He had the panache of the portrait of Trelawney by Lawrence, without the turban.”
"To his family it did not require explanation that his outré dress supplied a release from pent up pressures of conformity. His family often tested the limits of outrageousness by giving him articles of dress that even he might think went too far. But it became clear that there were no limits. Green Belgian shoes, pink elephant socks, printed cotton slacks—none of these produced any response from Dad but delight.”
So it turns out that Dean Acheson might well be considered, togs-wise, the weekend High Llama of Fuzzy…the Godly Grand Highness of Go To Hell. And all of this draped upon a man who, as his son attests, on any given Saturday, might be sporting Belgians.

Onward. In Belgians. Dripping. With Delight.



Jason Rea said...

"the weekend High Llama of Fuzzy"

Priceless, that.

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

It's funny how these Washington, DC insiders become less important, more obscure, as the American Empire recedes.

Good riddance, too.

heavy tweed jacket said...

Acheson in tweed was unassailable - bulletproof, as it were. An amazing icon of style and of political history. Great post.

LPC said...

He's your Spirit Animal!

ADG said...

LPC...Prunella, my friend...I could only dream that Acheson be my Spirit Animal. Alas, I tend to think that the Universe has assigned me, Spirit Animal-wise...to Totie Fields.

HeavyTweedMon...I enjoyed every minute of learning about Acheson. True Statesmen are few and far between these days.

LagunaBeachFogey...finally, something that you and I agree upon. Other than the rightful place of Cleverley shoes in ones lineup.

Jason...thanks. And please realize that until I learned these things about Acheson, I was damn certain that ole ADG himself was the inceptor-preceptor-owner of such atitle.

The Leopard said...

Totie? is that you Totie? I know you said that you would come back on the Mike Douglas Show but I never expected this, ADG will you be wearing a Kaftan on Sundays now? It sounds like Dean might have been okay with that. Great pictures, however I do wonder about the tweed suit with the straw hat. Also anyone who wears a guardsman's moustache is definitely vain.

ADG said...

Leopard...Totie here! Indeed. The spirit of Totie lives on...with obviously a few less pounds.

Straw Hat with Tweed...exactly the kind of thing that ADG would notice and actually, in this instance, endorse.

Guardsman's Moustache? Vain? Probably. I've fashioned a bit of a Guardman's 'stache...down there.

Turling said...

It is amazing how you can tie everything back in to itself. It's like watching Pulp Fiction every time I read a post. Here's one for you...JFK...leather driving mocassins...monkeys...GO!

The Leopard said...

Totie if you can hear me the bon bons are on top of ADG's refrigerator and the bon mots are in his blog, as far as your guardsmans stache is concerned be very careful trimming it you don't want to be known as Nick the ----less.Also I do want to see your reply to Turling's dare.

ADG said...

Leopard...I'm on it right now!

I've cancelled all my meetings for the balance of the week and am ass-deep in research right now in prep for the Turling proposed Driving Shoe-JFK-Monkey expose!

I've watched the Zapruder film five times in a row and I've got a call in to Jane Goodall's ass right now.

If I can just get someone from Quoddy or from the Tods/Della Valle family to hit me back--I'll have this flimsy ass challenge knocked out by Thursday noon.

Then I can get back to waxing my little Guardsman. BAM!

CeceliaMc said...

From the description (a sash down to the knees) Acheson would most definitely tend toward casual caftan wearing.

Taking into account the difference between the eras, my guess is that today's Acheson is more aptly illustrated by that certain segment of staid industry types whose buttoned-up weekday "uniform" hides a heart of brilliant artistry.

They hit the coffee shops on weekends in cropped-off pants, perhaps an animal print sneaker or slipper, their wife's handpainted scarf about their neck.

It is strange though, how their wives/girlfriends invariably seem to have stepped out of a Talbots or L.L. Bean catalogue

I wonder if they dress like Keith Richards Mon-Fri.

CeceliaMc said...

It's not an apt characterization (again, by today's standards) to call Acheson a "Washington insider type" as though he was Jack Abramoff or Tom Delay.

Anonymous said...

How'd you get so lucky as to draw Totie Fields from the deck, Max. I got Lynn Yeager, but I think I can grow into it/her. I really do. Ya wanna have lunch sometime, just Totie and Lynn? Let's dress up.

If you won't have me, I want to marry Dean Acheson. You would think the white supremacist [not my words, them's the words of the lurking genius C/Mc] would approve the likes of a Dean Acheson, why'd he say "good riddance" Max, but most of all, why'd you agree with him.

I gotta go get my rouge pots filled and my bangs cut straight, back later.


Anonymous said...

"as the American Empire recedes. Good riddance..."

The "American Empire" is a plastic concept, a flexible abstraction. It continuously defines itself a step or two behind redefining itself a step or two ahead.

You're rooting against it. Me, I'm in.


Anonymous said...

"the white supremacist [not my words, them's the words of the lurking genius C/M]"

Hold it. I forgot to say how accurate the lurking genius was in that assessment.


ADG said...

Cecelia...your first point is interesting in that I'd never thought about the wives being so "out of the catalogue" when the guys are weekend slummers.

And your point about Washington insiders is spot-on. And I speak from firsthand experience. The Acheson archetype was cut from Statesman cloth. Your two examples were cut from Sociopathic mill ends.

And my agreement with Laguna Earl Ray was in the sense of the current definition of Washington Insider...NOT the Acheson make of a man.

AnonLynnYeager...Oy. I gotta think about that one.

NOW PLEASE, EVERYBODY...don't start gettin' all serious-like on me. This is a random story with no weight. Let's not get into an ideological rant.

I propose we keep this pissing contest limited to the absurdities of wearing straw hats with tweed suits.

My life is heavy enough. I don't need to be moderatin' no Meet the Damn Press here.

With loving kindnes, I am...ADG

Anonymous said...

"NOW PLEASE, EVERYBODY...don't start gettin' all serious-like on me. This is a random story with no weight."


CeceliaMc said...

You don't have to worry about me.

F couldn't pick me out in a police lineup... and yet she sums me up PERFECTLY.

It's so deliciously scary!

The "lurking genius" Gérard Depardieu IS my spiritual animal.

F, if ADG won't have you, I'll marry you in a minute!

It would work out perfectly. We could participate in menage o trois a plenty with ADG.

Before we even got started, I'd be guaranteed to fall asleep after my requisite 50 minute rant on movie industry capitalist whores and between second and third bottle of $300 wine.

You'd be in clover, honey!

ADG said...

"F, if ADG won't have you, I'll marry you in a minute!
It would work out perfectly. We could participate in menage o trois a plenty with ADG."

Oh lordy. On second thought, let's rant about Washington and queers and gypsies and the darkies. Damn.

Anonymous said...

The LG is so fleet of foot and phrase, I can't even figure out what she says or means. In clover with $300 wine. My most recent "movie industry capaitalist whore" rant is over dear departed Mary R. Kennedy, held captive until she.....wasn't.

Ay-lo, Henri? Please to reserve table for Gerard Depardieu, Lynn Yeager and Totie Fields, yes, yes, no, perfect, merci.


LPC said...

I have no idea what you all are on about but if there's $300/bottle wine in the offing...

I'm in.

Young Fogey said...

Dapper men wear hats.

ADG, have you expanded your collection of summer straws?

NCJack said...

Excellent book, "The Wise Men", about Acheson, Harriman, Chip Bohlen, George Kennan, et al. Prep,Ivy, State/War Depts. when not in Wall St. law firms. Taught Truman where Europe and Asia were, and how to make them mad.

Anonymous said...

Loved this article. Dean Acheson's daughter, Bee, was a lovely lady whom I had the privilege of working with when I was in college. (She was a contemporary of my mother's.) What a great sense of humor!

One of the newspapers did a terrific interview with her many years ago, and I love this quote:

"Brown does not talk about her famous father much. ``A lot of people now don`t remember him too well, and most of the people I see don`t quite know what to ask. They seem to be a little in awe,`` she said.

Rather than show that they don`t know much about him, most people generally don`t ask, she said.

Not that she doesn`t like to talk about the Dean Acheson she knew - father, statesman, object of considerable controversy, an architect of world peace, and driving force behind the U.S. involvement in Korea.

Brown remembers Acheson, Truman`s secretary of state, as a man of elegance who often was misunderstood and who ``found it intolerable if the people around him were not intelligent.``

Much of the outside world saw the immaculately tailored, lord-like Acheson as a cold, stiff, arrogant, stuffy person.

Brown chafes at those descriptions.

``I saw him as a very warm, very elegant person, terribly interested in everything and in listening to other people,`` she said. ``Dad had the most wonderful grin. He was so amused by everything.

``He didn`t assume he knew something that you didn`t. He had an `old world` sense of conversation. Everything fascinated him.``

Cheers, Liz

Richard M said...

I too have the Acheson Country book. The chapter on sartorial matters is excellent.

ADG said...

Classic Preppy...thanks for your story. It's worthy of being culled out of the comments section and used as the basis for a second Acheson story. May I? If everyone read Acheson Country, they'd learn about the other side of the well dressed-poised man who I'm sure, could come off as a bit strident. But Acheson in full comes through in this anything but mawkish and sentimental memoir. His son, the product of a similar, obviously, home life, breeding and educational journey, writes a warm recollection that has just enough unsentimental WASPy reserve to convey the warm and human side of his dad without it becoming a three-hanky tear jerker. So thanks again.

Richard M. ... I'm not surprised that the book is in your library. I need to come up with another historically robust project similar to our Frazier collaboration.

NC Jack...one of the things that I like about Truman is the fact that (not admitted publicly, but I'm sure, reconciled by the "private Truman") he probably realized that he didn't "know where" those countries were and that he needed those East Coast Preppy/Ivy guys to shepherd his non-college educated but sturdy in bearing, Midwest self through foreign policy matters.

YoungFogeyMon...I have NOT expanded my straw hat/dress hat portfolio and probably won't. I'm proud of the two that I have but just don't dress enough to need more.

LPC...Prunella...thanks for offering to enter that proposed "fray". The idea of it..."it" being something that I too have trouble sorting out, is kinda scary. So I've come up with the perfect role for you.

You may sit on the sidelines, with your own bottle of said 300 dollar wine and act as umpire/judge and or referee--with one objective only. And that is to make sure that nobody harms the most important yet reluctant participant. That be. Me.

Anonymous said...

"And that is to make sure that nobody harms the most important yet reluctant participant. That be. Me."

Oh Max, never fear, I'm sorry I scared you. I went a little nuts last night leading up to the midnight death of my lifelong friend, pancreatic cancer sped through her in nothing flat, she died right when I was reserving our spirit animal table. You would have loved her tart tongue, high mind, impeccably dressed, elegant self. She owned and ran Palmetto Walk shopping mecca here, traveling to UK monthly to bring back antiques for The Plantation Shop, her kind will not come along again.

Now that my head's on straight, and speaking of folks who can't possibly be duplicated, I have loved this post about Dean Acheson, and I already look forward to Part 2. Thanks for opening my eyes, these eyes couldn't help noticing DA sure held back on the pocket linen, wayyy back.


The Leopard said...

I'm sorry ADG I tried to derail the insane clown posse from going uber political by making the straw hat with tweed suit comment and the Totie Fields remarks but they didn't bite, crafty devils. On another note The Wise Men as suggested by NCJack is a great read if you're interested also "The Last American Aristocrat" by Nelson D. Lankford about David K.E. Bruce the Virginian diplomat who helped form the new Europe after WWII is an excellent read. As for the rest of you jokers keep it light and fun.

CeceliaMc said...

The only thing you're in danger of, Mr. Spankypants, is ostentatious killing with kindness.

That's supposed to be a subtle thing, you know.

My first point is "interesting" in that it's correct.

Acheson's enjoyment of "printed cotton slacks" in THAT era does not translate to any "Go to hell, folks....I'm so relentlessly my own old school man that it approaches being vulgar"--"fuzziness" of today.

Acheson's casual sartorial leanings (of that era) were anything but that. They were gregarious, fanciful, unconventional, yet cordial.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me,

First we have a guy with a stache that would make Ron Jeremy reach for a bottle of nair and then you start talking about Jane Goodall's backside. And now we have more comments than that time Tammy Faye wandered into a Mary Kay luncheon. Who knew Belgians were so sexy?


ADG said...

I'd like to thing that I'm still, relatively, full of stamina. But stamnation, this one wore my ass out.

Anonymous said...

"kinda scary"

DearHeart, you don't never needa be skerda me, I'm smaller'n you are, dumber'n'dirt, ain't packin nuthin, and senile too. Carry on, chile.


CeceliaMc said...

"DearHeart, you don't never needa be skerda me, I'm smaller'n you are, dumber'n'dirt, ain't packin nuthin, and senile too. Carry on, chile."

What big teeth you have, Grandma!

Anonymous said...


Lynn Yeager, Gerard Depardieu, Totie Fields and now here comes Tasha Tudor.


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to reading your next Acheson story....and ALWAYS enjoy your blog. You "tell it like it is," which doesn't surprise me at all.... since you hail from the great state of South Carolina, my maternal ancestors' home.