Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Well Edited Cadence: My Take on G. Bruce Boyer

Bobby Short had it I think. His friend and one of my fuzzy mentors, Richard Merkin did not. I’m glad to know this because it tells me that the appropriately modulated may still befriend the reckless. The fuzzy flâneurs and in my case hopefully; the peacock poseurs may still seek succor from the poised.
Seems to me that Tony Biddle had this well edited cadence too. So I’ll define this modulated je ne sais quoi with the hat-trick backdrop of Boyer, Biddle and Short in mind. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should." Did my mama first say that to me? Hell, I don’t know. But what I do know is that all three of my subjects convey(ed) an enviable level of sartorial elegance while at the same time avoiding foppery that says “look at me, look at me.” They woulda all been failures in Dallas.
Biddle had the name and his wife had the money so there really wasn’t anything getting in the way of him warehousing a wardrobe that was tenfold larger than his ever was. Where did I read it? Gentry? Flair? I’m too lazy to go look it up but Biddle at least in my opinion, had a surprisingly well-edited, mathematically lean wardrobe.
Bobby Short wore the same thematic get-ups during almost all of his public life. Dinner clothes when tickling the ivories at the Carlyle and for the most part, dark suits and solid color ties otherwise. Short was always, always impeccably turned out in well-made clothes emanating from a rigorously edited closet. I must admit straightaway that the genetic coding required to enable this behavior was out of stock when my country-ass came along.
Photo Copyright: Rose Callahan
This brings us now to my friend G. Bruce Boyer. Son of what I’ll call the Bethlehem-Allentown fringe. Close enough to know about John O’Hara’s Pottstown coal mining realities but fortunate enough to have options that precluded having to go work in them. I’ve vague knowledge of the area, having visited many times my former wife’s aunt at the Good Shepherd home in Allentown and when I recall it, I feel good things. She was a remarkable woman with cerebral palsy to the degree that her hands shimmied uncontrollably. None the less, we would get a grammatically precise, well edited, superbly cadenced, typed on an old typewriter, letter from her about once a month. Must be something pragmatic and practical about the area that creates economy and rigor.
Photo: Christian Chensvold--Ivy Style
Economy and Rigor. My motivation for writing this story came from Boyer’s navy wool jacket. Not a shiny brass-buttoned navy blazer and not a jaunty navy suit. Hell, the color may not even be true navy. Whatever. All I know is that my history says it’s probably the last thing I’d bespeak, yet now I want one. I met up with Boyer in NYC recently and was taken by the simplicity his outfit. This double breasted blue jacket girded a well edited paucity of color, texture and pattern. I wish I’d taken a photo of Boyer’s rig when we were together but it’s essentially identical to this one that Christian Chensvold captured over at Ivy Style. Slight difference was that G-the-Bruce had on a navy and silver club tie when he and I sloshed through a rainy Gotham.
What I’m trying to say is that Boyer’s editorial rigor isn’t confined to his stellar writing. The man has sprezzaturated sensibility that complements his noteworthy sartorial acumen. I see myself as sartorially NASCAR to Boyer’s Rallye Monte Carlo. His is amiable precision; sprightly cadenced against my all-out go fast-turn left, fully floored impertinence. Hyperbole? Of course, who the hell do you think’s writing this shit?
I believe any sartorial library to be incomplete without Boyer’s book, Elegance. The current world of sound bite attention spans, twitter twits and tumblr turds doesn’t encourage mindfulness. And Boyer’s is a mindful book. Seems that today we’d rather look at picture books than process well written assertions that transcend one hundred and forty characters. Yet Elegance, with its paucity of illustration is chock full of images if you’ll just let Boyer’s words take your mind where it should go. Alan Gurganus said that “adverbs are the MSG of writing.” I’ll add that photographs then, are MSGs with V-8 engines and dual exhausts and I can’t imagine allowing my blog stories to stand alone without the augment of adverbs and photographs. Perhaps Elegance isn't always top of mind when considering sartorial references due to the explosion of clothing picture books shortly after its publication. But it should be.

Here’s Boyer from Elegance...positing on the loafer. "The history of the loafer, it seems to me, takes issue both with the opinion that decent standards of dress are melting like butter and the world is going to hell in a hand-basket and with the theory, on the other hand, that we are entering a new age of formalism. What it does simply indicate is that our material lives are potentially more comfortable than were our grandparents', and that proprieties are perhaps a bit more flexible and subtle than our Edwardian ancestors'." 

And on bleeding madras..."The appearance of a madras shirt new was not an exactly reliable indication of what it would look like after two or three launderings. Far from being a liability, however, this effect was highly prized and considered a unique and novel clothing experience, and in fact the beauty of "bleeding madras" was seen to lie in the the weathered appearance that accrued from this blending property of the cloth. In the halcyon 1950's, no summer attire branded one more arriviste than a bright madras shirt and spotless white buckskin shoes. They both wanted a bit of breaking in, of seasoning--and so did the man who wore them."

Sometimes I'll just open Elegance to any random page, knowing that whatever I'll read will be easy on the eyes yet fully-loaded with lore and specifics. The man is a good writer.
Photo: The Sartorialist
Ok, back to Boyer's swathing. G. Bruce isn’t always monochromatically contrived. There’s enough playfulness in Boyer’s more adventurous rigs that precludes stodgy. There’s whimsy tethered to a Quaker State practicality that keeps Boyer on the safe side of full of beans while remaining disciplined enough to avoid looking like Mr. Bean.

And he’s a nice guy. Proof of this other than my personal experience, is that the younger, irony laden, edgy, urban style wannabes…respect and seek him out. Nobody shit talks Boyer. I won’t speak for him but I suspect that he’s found the explosion of style blogs and online sartorial repositories enjoyable. He doesn’t know how to use a cell phone but he’s keenly aware of what’s going on in the sartorial blogosphere. Just Google him and you’ll see that he’s either the subject of or the participant in a gaggle of online conversations.
The Sartorialist
But he’s not a pushover. I realized thirty years ago that if someone is loved by everyone then chances are he doesn’t stand for anything. Boyer’s anything but milquetoast. Caspar he ain’t. He has standards without being strident and he suffers no fools. But he conveys it with such elegant diplomacy that it’s never off-putting. A participant in one of my strategy simulations a few months ago characterized me as condescending. I’d prefer to typify it as pugnacious passion. But then again I’m wordy and delusional.
He’s also exacting without being retentive. I witnessed Boyer giving StevenHitchcock well founded, to-the-point requests for a tweak or two on a jacket. Tailors will generally admit that they've had at least one client whose body they could easily fit while failing miserably at fitting their mind. In other words there are some obsessives out there who will argue an eighth of an inch with their tailor. Folks, there is no eighth of an inch for cutters. Mohels maybe, but any tailor who agrees to adjust something an eighth of an inch will either do nothing or do more. Boyer knows what he wants and how he wants it and wastes no words when diplomatically conveying it.
A lot of what I see passing as sprezzatura amongst the look at me, ersatz urban urbane is really contrived angst…pack-mentalitzed irony. The unbuckled double-monked, shrunken clothed hipsters could take a cue from G-the-Bruce. True sprezza I think, occurs when one doesn’t give too much thought to it. Agnelli had it yet his grandson Lapo seems to caricature the legacy. If you hang out with Boyer or scroll through his photos, you’ll find just the right amount of whimsy without feeling a capricious bitch slap. Maybe just his upturned sleeve cuff is all that’s required to convey it. The ironic contrivers probably take an hour and half to get ready. My money says Boyer’s out the door in thirty minutes.
Photo: Rose Callahan
Let’s end this tribute with another Boyer style-ism and a quote. I’ve never been able to cinch a tie in a twisty-turny enough way to create the skinny-end playfulness that others do. Boyer nails it. I won’t be trying it. And here’s the quote…“It is both delusional and stupid to think that clothes don’t really matter and we should all wear whatever we want. Most people don’t take clothing seriously enough, but whether we should or not, clothes do talk to us and we make decisions based on people’s appearances.”

So here’s to my friend G. Bruce. A man-in-full…but not too much.

Onward. Adverbially tumescent. Peacocking, if you will.


The Leopard said...

Nice tribute, I started reading Boyer when he was writing for Town and Country in the 1970s and still have many of the wonderful articles that he wrote and of course I too possess a well worn copy of the appropriately named Elegance, so next time you see him please thank him from a fellow clothes whisperer from the sartorial wasteland of south Texas for sharing with us his wonderful thoughts on clothes. ADG, I might add that you are doing a great job carrying on this tradition. Thank you

Young Fogey said...

That final quote of his is perhaps the best thing ever said about clothes, especially in our degraded age of no standards, no rules, and let-it-all-hang-out-and-don't-judge-me-for-it-baby-because-everyone's-doing-it-ism.

Squeeze said...

You captured evert nuance of this enchanting gentleman. Couldn't resist tweeting the article and titled the tweet, "A Hymn To Hymn."

Anonymous said...

You have more flair, and you're cuter.

Anonymous said...

Max, this was great. Something tells me GBB may think the same of you, you of the relaxing-at-home-bathrobe-with-pocket-linen tucked in place. My mind soon drifted to whether we women have a living spokesperson/model for Elegance in everyday dressing and comportment. It may be in the extremes that such a speciman presents, perhaps it is my friend of many years who, despite her heavily-liened foreclosed house with both cars repossessed, manages to turn herself out elegantly even for a trip to Harris Teeter, simply because she cares. She's shopping at Target these days but she just has a way putting the pieces together, and wearing them with Elegance. I haven't told her so lately, I'll be sure to do that when I see her next.


ADG said...

Flo...I was reading a page from Elegance this morning where Boyer talks about bending rules and adapting and improvising. The gist of his wisdom was that the people who are good at doing it...your now shopping at Target, friend et al...are people who first know the rules and thus are facile at adopting/improvising/adapting. was never a comparative essay or a contest. And anointing me such is kinda like getting an award for being the tallest midget.

Squeeze...thanks for the Hymntweet.

YoungFogey...and Boyer does it without being high minded or strident.

Leopard...thanks. Unfortunately (or fortunately in the eyes of some, for sure) I have no time to write stories frequently anymore.

NCJack said...

Bubba, not NASCAR, you are sartorially NHRA: doin' the 1/4 in 200+

Sartre said...

High time for this. Things have been said about his writing but his personal style is uniquely his own. I also think that he is impeccably tailored -- he looks as if his clothing were an inseparable part of him.

Richard M said...

Of course, the reference to the sparseness of Biddle's wardrobe was from Frazier! I like Boyer's sport coat being fitted- have one similar from Paul Winston. Loved Bobby- a guy with great flair.

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

He's definitely an inspiration-- more, I suspect, than he knows.

I like his haircut [badass!], beard, tortoiseshell specs, Tweed jackets, and overall style.

I look forward to the release of the book 'Boyer Style".