Saturday, June 15, 2013

My Favorite NYC Disaster, or the Risks Associated with Wearing Wool in the Summer

Today is June 15th. My rent is due, second-quarter estimated income taxes are due, but those are just details of the day. What is important is that it was on a day just like this — exactly 99 years ago, almost to this very moment — that the St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Lower East Side must have really pissed off Varuna.

It was time for the Lutherans' much anticipated annual summer picnic. A boatload (and I mean that literally) of fine church-going woman and children piled onto the General Slocum to head out for a day of wholesome, God-sanctioned fun on the North Shore of Long Island. We're talking the kind of fun that One Million Moms would approve of and not the kind where you put Zesty Italian on romaine lettuce.

Obviously, we're talking this                                not this                  
Clearly, decorum dictated that they were bedecked in their best Sunday finery, despite the fact that it was Wednesday. At the risk of editorializing (sometimes I even make myself laugh) I do have to admit the clothes were very fetching. As I have written time and time again, I miss the days when no respectable human would leave the house without a hat and gloves. Much as we don't think of this as summer picnicwear today, I would happily return to this style.

You can refer to my previous posting on swimwear,
but here are some scantily-clad children at full frolic.

Remember that good, working-class German men would have no time for picnics, so there were few on the boat since they were all busy cheese-mongering that day.

On to the tragic tale: The General Slocum set off up the East River laden down with 1,342 souls aboard. The details of what happened next are incomplete and at time contradictory, but the boat caught fire shortly after launch. The captain was reluctant to beach his craft (there was no way he would get paid for the day if he had done THAT), so he just sailed along on his merry way. Here is where the story becomes gruesome, reflecting the lack of regulation and oversight of the time. The safety equipment was purely ornamental. In fact, I do believe the lifeboats were merely frescoes painted on the exterior. The fire hoses were rotted out. The life preservers had been filled with cork, sawdust, and possibly iron filings. Capacity regulations and inspections were non-existent at the time. Mothers watched their children dragged down under the surface of the river, weighted down by the life vests that they had strapped to them. It was bitterly ironic. Ultimately, 1,021 people drowned in that fire.

A rare photo of the General and Widow Slocum

Since you, my gentle readers, are clearly intelligent, motivated, and well-appointed with Internet access, I expect that you can research further information yourselves, and there is no need for me to copy text from WikiWorld and the like. Suffice to say that this disaster is important beyond just being the second-largest loss of life in a single New York City incident. Despite the fact that The Knickerbocker Steamship Company was barely penalized afterwards, maritime safety regulations received a substantial overhaul. Ignore the Titanic for the moment, which had a better survival rate.

It's all very wool. Very wool, indeed.
Now back to the wool part of this whole affair. It is fairly well believed that had these people NOT been wearing a fabric that became so heavy when waterlogged, more might have been able to stay afloat long enough to be rescued. In realty, no one could swim back then — even actual naval sailors and assorted seamen often drowned when they fell overboard because THEY never learned to swim.

Don't even try it. I always have this on under my clothes.
Another fun fact: I can't swim either, so if you are going to murder me and make it look like an accident, I suggest you hold me face down in the tub and dump my body on a nice beach somewhere... somewhere it will be found by children making sandcastles. I probably shouldn't have told you that.

Fun fact number two: you should not go boating drunk while wearing one of those awful puffy down jackets. Natalie Wood died that way. Just to be on safe side, don't ever wear a puffy coat.

Incidentally, that particular church is now a synagogue right in the middle of Curry Row. Varuna will just not let this one go.

Coming soon: Wool Underpants and Why Come They Are So Scratchy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Seersucker Most Certainly Does Not Suck

After all, what else should I wear in the summer when I have been asked to join in a croquet match? Daisy Dukes and a tube top? If you answered "Yes," you should ask yourself how you would set up that croquet pitch around that wheelless Ford F10 and off-brown couch in your yard, and then you should promptly leave this page to explore NASCAR scores or something like that. But I digress. 
Just to set the mood
I have always had a bit of a fixation on seersucker, perhaps because of the way it evokes summertime whimsy or perhaps because it demands that you top it off with a straw boater and we all already know how I feel about straw boaters. Indeed, my gentle readerfolk, I have been meaning to address this vunderfabrik for quite a while, but I have been trepidatious about my ability to do it justice. However, a few recent cultural twists have made me feel that time is ripe. I must warn you that I had initially written a very curmudgeony intro for this, but I decided that nothing would be served by picking on those 20-somethings who think it's cool to have Gatsby parties so I softened it in the end. (Indeed, I was hyper-critical of the recent film, I haven't even seen it yet. Maybe when it is on TV. Historically speaking, 3D is ridiculous for that sort of movie. We all know for a fact not only was the world in 2D back then, it was in black and white as well.) The recent fixation on that time period has also prompted a number of retail outlets to launch lines of seersucker and pincord, which is a welcome change over "relaxed fit" anything. 

Gee, I wish my fronts weren't so full… 
they sure ruin the line of your beads
We do have to bear in mind that dressing for the twenties does involve a certain amount care to keep those styles neat and properly fitted. I certainly want this blog to be a place to build up, not to tear down. (Yeah, I  know, I am not completely above making the snarky comment here and there, but I really do try to keep those to a minimum.) 


Perhaps I will hang on to my vitriolic tirade to remind me NOT to descend into that very dark place. That being said, there is probably no better place to start than with a brief history of seersucker and the related-but-not-the-same pincord.

Yeah, this is Renoir’s Luncheon
of the Boating Party and is neither British
nor Colonial nor Indian, but you get the point

Historically, the name seersucker is a rough transliteration of the Persian compound shīroshakar by way of the Hindi sīrsakar meaning "milk and sugar," which I find poetically evocative. The texture of the raised stripes functions as a heat sink, dissipating body heat much more effectively in warmer climates, and was favored by those British colonial types. You get the thermodynamics: more surface area means more air exposure hence more heat transference. Clever, no? Somehow, when seersucker made its way stateside it became a fabric of the poor (because only the poor would be out in the heat and wealthy are specifically bred not to sweat.) In the 20s it became a subversive trend among wealthy college kids to wear it. See how it all ties back to those crazy kids in Gatsby?

Heatsink...seersucker...get it? That is what we call applied science.

Lest we forget, seersucker has a sister fabric less delightfully named pincord. For simplicity's sake let's just say it is a 16+ wale corduroy version of seersucker. The striping is more subtle but the cooling effect is similar. I do prefer the bolder statement of seersucker and also feel that there is something more classic about it. That's just me, but it is my blog so there.

Pincord is really just like a seersucker reduction. You culinary types know what I am talking about.

The accompanying straw boater (AKA "skimmer") has a somewhat similar modern history: in the late 1800s it was favored by the working class because it was lightweight and naturally ventilated, therefore perfect outdoors in warm weather. By the 20s, it was adopted by the younger, well-moneyed set. Those were more civilized times, when a gentleman walking outside without a hat on was on par with an escaped circus baboon.

The suspect is hatless, I repeat, hatless.

By today’s standards, that hatless man might be walking naked, urinating on children, or smoking bathsalts in Florida. 

As an added point of interest, Straw Hat Day is the day when men officially switch from their winter beaver to their boaters, but the actual date is completely arbitrary and varies based on geographic location. Check your local almanac or Pennysaver Newspaper for your exact date. Here in NYC it is May 15th, and September 15th is Felt Hat Day (the obvious inverse.)

Here is another bit of fun Wikipedia trivia (so take it with a grain of bathsalt) about Felt Hat Day: If someone was seen wearing a straw hat [after Felt Hat Day], they were, at minimum, subjecting themselves to ridicule, and it was a tradition for youths to knock straw hats off of wearers' heads and stomp on them. This led to the Straw Hat Riot of 1922, and I highly suggest you read up on it, before you pshaw the Rules of Fashion and the consequences for ignoring them.

On a personal note: images
like these had a profound effect on me during my formative years. My version of Venus in Furs? Maybe.

I think that has painted a complete contextual picture and this is how it all comes together in my daily summertime life.


And that is what I call one sticky wicket!

Sky blue and charcoal grey may be the most common colors for seersucker and pincord, but I have that special penchant for whimsical pink. The vest is the same wale pincord as the jacket, but in contrasting blueish grey. It's always good to switch up hues when a single pattern dominates. The boater is a very special eBay find—special in that I have a teeny tiny noggin, so I assume it belonged to a child or a circus pinhead. It's ok when we call each other that.

The blue is much more nautical. don't you think?
This is a new skimmer: note the wide feels very Venetian.

For the sake of variation on this same outfit, I have the shorts in the same blue-grey as the vest and the jacket in grey pincord. I can wear some form of this every day for a week. The secret is having a selection of socks and ties to keep it all exciting. It goes without saying that you should make sure that your ball matches your tie and your icecubes match your shorts.

And just to let you know, I do have the actual seersucker suit to back up all this jibbibilish. Of course I bought it with two pairs of trousers, so I could have one altered to create a pair of schoolboy shortpants. The best way to dress for an office environment AND get away with shorts is the three-piece suit. The jacket and vest lets you show off those sultry summertime gams without looking like a floozy. That crispness of clean, well-pressed seersucker will always leave an impression of complete composure. 

One final outfit to leave you with: my casual shorts. This particular pair was actually my white whale for an entire month one summer. I saw them in the window of (gasp) American Apparel on Bleecker Street. They were the perfect pink however, they did NOT have my size, and that set me off on an Odyssey that led me through each and every branch of that store from Grand Street far uptown. Each store had them but every sales girl and boy insisted that they did not come in pink at all. Luckily, my Jewish heritage has left me well prepared for wandering quests. FInally, huzzah! I found a single pair of them. To celebrate, I carried them triumphantly into the closest bar to buy them a beer...incidentally, it was the Eagle. (If you don't know anything about it, see what you can find under Missed Connections on Craigslist. You may not want to go there with your mom.) This is my Sunday at the Victorian seashore outfit.

I know this was an uncharacteristically disjointed piece, so if you have gotten this far, I congratulate you. Your takeaway should be that seersucker will keep you cool as a cucumber in the summer while ensuring you LOOK like you don't stink (so if you do, everyone will assume it is the person next to you.) The straw boater is the essential topper to that warm weather outfit to pull it all together.

Coming soon: underpants and why come you will never, ever, ever look like the guy on the package.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Spite: Or the Best Reason to Do Anything! Keep Your Grubby Eyeballs off My Jacket.

They say that living well is the best revenge, but I say that running someone down with your car is REALLY the best revenge. Adjacent to revenge is the other great motivator of action: spite (it says it right in the title.) I can even count the number of times I have sex with people out of spite (sorry if you are one of the people I banged for that very reason, but I tried to make it as pleasant for you as possible, knowing that you would tell the intended target and we would both have gotten some sort of sick satisfaction.) Are you shocked, my gentle reader? I hope not since you should have some insight into the rich tapestry that is my soul.

As we all know, I am not here to talk about my personal exploits (that may be a baldfaced lie, but just let it pass for the moment. You can send me a strongly-worded email later, and feel confident knowing that I will answer you. I may be a jerk, but I do know the meaning of propriety.) I AM here to relate the vast complexities of existence to sartorial simplicity. No doubt I have already made it painfully clear that "on sale" is always a fantastic reason to change a maybe purchase to a well duh I am already in the checkout line so it's too late purchase, but we have all been on the fence about that one item, the last of something on the rack, where we sort-of like it but aren't sure, knowing that if we pass it by it will be gone. Then someone slinks up beside you, looking over your shoulder at said item, trying to look like they are intent on some completely unrelated garment, all the while hovering over you for when in that moment of weakness you put it down. It's in that moment when you notice that opportunist lingering and leering askew that your asshole instincts kick in and you make that snap judgement that you may not necessarily want the thing in your hands, but you'd sooner die than let that usurper get their grubby mitts on it. If only they had exercised some subtlety in the matter... some discretion... you would have just let them have it, but THEY had to make it into some sort of competition... an event of olympic proportions. We've all been there and here is one case where that jerk has my eternal gratitude for riling me up.

These "go" but they don't "match."
I was in H&M (I am unashamed to admit that it is one of my favorite sources of cheap pieces that can make for a fetching outfit) when I found this one (and only one) tweed jacket. I agonized over whether or not it would work in my wardrobe or not. I had a tweed vest in an extremely similar fabric and style, but I knew that when two pieces are so close without really matching you run the risk of looking careless and sloppy. If you are going to match, then match. There is that no man's land between things that match and things that go, generally described as "matchy-matchy." If things truly match you don't even notice they do, whereas if they are slightly off they read as too much of whatever they may be. Think of the difference between a suit and single pieces that just don't quite fit. That was my dilemma standing in that dark and far-too-loud H&M basement when that little weasel of a man sidled up to me and started shuffling through the rack. It was very clear that he had taken notice of the jacket in my hand and at first tried to find another. It was after his failure to do so that precipitated his thinly veiled buzzard-like circling, picking up a random assortment of jackets and shirts, never moving more than four feet from me, even following me from place to place. Naturally, I had to tease him by returning it to its spot, watching his eyes light up, but never taking my hand from the hanger. It is the kind of assholism I learned from chess... making that losing move to titilate your opponent, only to take back that deliberate misstep. Psych!

Just tuck the price tags inside.
There is no reason to cut them
Of course I bought it, and it has served me well. I have not looked back. Not once. No, that's a lie since I did have my back-up plan where I would return it... to a different store, perhaps in a different borough or even across the river in Jersey City. I had conceived that oh so brilliant plan on the spot in the store knowing that it would give me a month to make my final purchase decision and keep it out of those undeserving hands. 

I'm gonna return that purchase and keep the money.
You can do that, you know!
That is my second rule of spite shopping: you can always bring it back and get the full satisfaction of sticking it to your target without any of that financial or wardrobe space commitment. Then again, if you keep it, that article of clothing becomes a trophy making for an even sweeter outfit. Trust me when I say that every time I put that jacket on I swell with pride at my victory.

Coming soon: Underpants and How to Tell if Someone is About to Steal Yours.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

You Can Wear a Bathing Suit as Underwear, but You Probably Shouldn't

So with Winter drawing to a close (just ignore this week's... incident), I think it's time I address this topic: SVIMVEAR!

OMG! I Totally grew up in that house!

Now, my gentle readers, since all 5 of you know me so well, and since I talk about my childhood ad nauseum, you are very aware that I grew up in a seaside resort town that shall remain nameless for legal purposes, but you know the one... the one with the Spring tulip festival and Fall lima bean festival. I think there's a horseshoe crab festival in there too but I forget when that one happens... June 26, I think.

I come from a rich cultural tapestry.

Throughout my childhood it was impressed on me (pounded into me) by peers and one particular sibling, that beachwear was the sole indicator of your social status and your place in society (jock table, band table, art table, theater table, mathelete table, stoner table?) so it was of the utmost importance that I pestered my parents until they bought me the appropriate Birdwell Beach Britches, or perhaps Sundeks so that I would not be the social pariah who could only hope for a riptide to end my shame. Of course I had to rely on the hand-me-downs, so it was a matter of luck whether or not an older brother would have that fortuitous growth spurt while his suit was still fashionable. Alternatively, you could REALLY beg to go to the Kona Sports end-of-season sale and maybe engineer a shift one rung up the social ladder for next year.

My ass never looked anything like that.

These are what I had, down to the classic sky blue. My GOD! Those are expensive! No wonder I never got them new. Note to self: call parents and have them mail those to me.

That's probably all (more than all? way more than all?) the background one needs to understand the deep-seated psychological issues I have on this topic, and why I now tend to swim at nude beaches. You might think that someone who loves clothes as much as I do, and conversely hates nudity, would not favor those 70s swimming spots, but go figure.

All that being said, I do have some preferences for beachwear. In a perfect world we would all be wearing Victorian or Edwardian fullbody trunks. It isn't that I subscribe to the Victorian social mores of modesty, but rather the style is phenomenal! Any outfit that you can top off with a straw boater can not be praised highly enough.

Why do these only seem to exist in Second Life? Are we so incapable of realizing our fantasies? I would wear the crap out of each and every one of these. Imagine a beach full of nothing but this! Perhaps THAT is why people cash in their 401Ks to spend in virtual alternate realities.

This brings me to another point, first expressed to me by a good friend on the beach: straight boys are terrified of their sexuality showing... kind of. It is actually a bit more complex than that in an analogous way to the aforementioned Victorian Modesty. For some reason, to show any flesh below the hip but above the knee (or even the knee) is somehow as risque as being absolutely naked; however, low-rise (so we ALL know you manscape) is de rigueur, much like a Victorian woman showing ankle is clearly a trollop, but a plunging décolletage is completely acceptable. Now I have some idea as to how this has come to pass, but I don't want to get into the whole pants-on-the-ground debacle that makes me cry inside. Suffice to say it is not a good look, and society would be much better in general without the crackshow. Standards and Practices said no!

Knees??? I shall positively swoon!

Confession: I am NOT 13
in this picture.
Somehow a trip to the beach now involves wading through a sea of shapeless, sack-like suits but I refuse to fall into that and it still earns me sneers and scorn. I say pheh to all that! I am not 13 years old anymore. 

Please wait 30 minutes after eating before reading
to avoid emotional cramping. 

Speaking of BEING 13 on the beach... funny story: I had ridden my Schwinn Varsity from school (singing "school's out for summer" the whole way) over the solitary hill in town (it was a bridge... it was the best we could afford back then) to the beach to frolic in the surf. Lo and behold, there on Popular Crowd Beach was a particularly unpleasant red-headed girl from the 9th grade doing her own frolicking with the Popular Crowd after whom that beach was officially named (look on Google Maps, hand to god it's true!) Unsurprisingly, she dropped in on my little sitting rock to bombard me with her special brand of tomfoolery, rifling though my backpack to triumphantly wave my change of underwear over her head like some sort of victory flag. To this day I am not sure if she thought that tightie whities were something freakish or not, but she did delight in running down the beach with them and putting them on to the amusement of the other PCB teens. That is the exact moment that I had my epiphany and came into my own. I watched the other boys laughing and knew that they all wore the exact same underwear, give or take (mine were high-quality Haines, not crappy BVDs like others... you know who you are, former PCM minions), and this chick (I'll call her Mabel, since I can not for the life of me remember her name, but that sounds plausible) acting like an idiot (she was in remedial math, remedial reading... you know, everything... so I am fairly certain that she was technically an idiot) and I realized I was not at all interested in being a PCBer or having their approval. In an instant I knew I was so much better than that and than they were. I had no reason to be ashamed of my skinny body, or glasses, or lack of a tan. They should want my approval, but they were all just a bit too dim to understand that. I walked up to Mabel and said, "You keep 'em baby. They'll help you keep your dick under wraps."

I left the beach and never looked back. That isn't to say that I never went back: it was the nicest part of the beach, and I was not about to give up my spot. To this day, I sit in the same spot with the same beach towel.

Yes, it is the same bathing suit from 1985. The sunblock, however, has gone from SPF4 to SPF70.

But I digress... this isn't Degrassi Junior High and I am just here to rap about the rad threads. Sorry. That still sounds like some Degrassi guidance counselor talking.

Original Jams just like Moondoggie used to wear.
I still like mine better, so suck on that, Gidget!
My all-time, non-crack revealing favorite bathing suit is the one pictured above: my Original Jams. While they may have faded from their original florescent 80s grandeur, their 60s inspired new wave sensibility outshines anything I could find today. In fact, I have scoured the InterWebs for something similar, but to no avail. I will be heartbroken should they ever fray. Luckily, they were made with love and built to last so maybe they will outlive me.

Then there is that even more classic square cut suit that James Bond favored. How could anyone NOT want to have even half his style. There is something simultaneously sexy and sophisticated about that look which reveals just enough while still looking natty.

Daniel Craig or Sean Connery? Or George Lazenby?

I have to say, I feel extra suave when I wear mine and drink martinis as the swim up bar.
Matthew Williamson and Lifestyles. Sexy, huh?

And during the course of writing this, my mommy informed me that she could not find my old Sundeks. That is the same mommy who bought me those tightie whities, because duh, I was 13...who else was going to? Everyone's mom bought their tightie whities when they were kids. What 13 or 14 year old had the discretionary income for underpants? Problem solver that I am, I did find these on eBay Israel for a mere pittance. Sadly, they have succumbed to that lengthening trend, and THIS now qualifies as short. Perhaps I can get them tailored to what they should be.

Clearly the ones on the right represent the ideal Sundeks of the 80s.

If I have left you with a sense that I had a melancholy, solitary childhood, fear not gentle readers, for I did have my own crowd, and I did consider us the Popular Ones. I still see a lot of them, and we are still the coolest!

Coming soon: Underpants, and why come your mom will always buy them for you.