Friday, March 12, 2010

Three Winter Tales: Caps, Boots, Coat

Civilized readers of this column might be amazed to hear that there is anything good about winter. Civilization progresses more smoothly when people have a chance to shed clothing, not layer it on. But, this winter I did discover three ways to ease the pain:

I have seen many men looking great while wearing a watch cap: all of them were outdoors when wearing one. The other night we saw a fifty-something guy wearing a striped one while standing inside at a restaurant bar. He looked very silly.

To be honest, I have never looked particularly good in one of the many woolen hats/caps that I have tried wearing. The last couple of years I've tried two Patagonia models: one dark green with a peak, the other black and worn tight to the head. They just kept me warm.

The watch caps shown about are made in France by Saint James; they will change your watch cap life forever. The sizing and ribbing allows for the perfect combination of fit, comfort and warmth. Even my wife says that I look good in them. That, friends, is a tremendous accomplishment. In all likelihood only the French could have done this for me.

I bought the red one at The Royal Male in Newport one blustery day, then bought the navy and black at the Saint James shop on Madison Avenue (79th & 80th). I now guard them with my life and have been known to wear them comfortably and confidently in the privacy of my home.

I strongly urge you to procure several of these for next fall and winter. They are a great value at around $30.


When my taste buds begin to tell me it's time to eat something covered in chimichurri sauce and share it with friends, I get into my little red jeep and drive to Costco* to buy rib-eye steaks. This happened one day last December and that is when I saw the coat pictured above.

As with love, you find classic style in the most unlikely places. Costco turns out to have some sense of style, either by design or mistake. Who knew? This WeatherProof coat lay on a table with a hundred others in three colors: black as above, and two shades of brown. 

I bought the black one for $40 so I could be warm while walking the dog late at night in winter. My twelve year-old Barbour ceases keeping me warm at about 35F and I never bought a liner.

This coat has performed superbly all season long, so much so that I just wear it all the time, even over a grey suit. At the train platform it has been mistaken for a Zegna or Prada coat costing thirty times as much. The coat has a very simple design with only two unobtrusive pocket zippers showing in front; it has an interior zippered liner, comes with a hood, and is waterproof. If Jill Sander designed a discount store line, this would be the one.

You may remember that the dimwits who make this coat tried to sleazily capitalize on a Times Square photo of President O wearing one. Shame. But, it's a hell of a good coat for forty bucks.

About ten years ago, while walking past Britches, a shop in New Canaan, CT. with my daughter, I spied a pair of brown boots in the window. They turned out to be semi-waterproof leather field boots made in France. They were expensive, a little roomy, and I bought them.

Over the years this snap decision did not bring great results. The arch on the boots was just too flat; a thin sock left too much room in the toe and a thick one left my instep aching. These are lifelong shoe afflictions. I have written about this trouble before and will do so again.

My eventual solution (above) was to purchase a pair of Timberland black leather waterproof boots. The interior sole has warming insulation and the arch support is excellent. These boots are as comfortable as boat shoes and can easily be worn without socks. They are actually waterproof, meaning, friends, that they keep water out without your having to wax them.

I bought them for about $100 on Broadway in Soho, NY last spring. I had been wearing those uncomfortable French boots that day, and upon leaving the shop, I gave them to a man who was collecting money for the homeless. He must have been happy to get them, because, when I looked back I could see him struggling to get them on. Hope he doesn't have high arches.

* A note to my butcher friend, John. As you know, when cooking for 2-3, I only use your grass fed Argentinian-raised beef, as advised by The Master, Francis Mallman in his brilliant book, Seven Fires.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bumper Stickers We Would Like To See


RareBurghers are not into placing bumper sticker messages on their vehicles. Actually, most of us are not into vehicles very much at all, except as necessary life accessories. If anything, we tend to display signs from some of places that we love. But, since we've seen some particularly dumb fender messages recently, we decided to imagine what messages some RareBurghers might want to send, if they were so inclined:
  • "I have no idea what my child's marks or SAT scores are."
  • "I'd rather be right here, driving this old truck."
  • "Live Free. Or Diet." Alternate: "Live Free or Diapers."
  • "Honk if your horn's been disconnected."
  • "If your boss is a Carpenter, you are a Nailhead."
We're fairly sure that we'll see more of these soon; it's a good way to fill a slow Monday morning.


Real Fifties Style: Peter Gunn

One day last October I was walking down Madison Avenue wearing a light grey worsted-suit, a white Thom Browne/Brooks oxford button-down shirt, a black Italian-knit silk tie and black cap-toes. I bumped into a young man, a travel agent who used to work on my staff, who remarked how "Mad Men" my "outfit" looked.

It took me a moment to realize that he was referring to the TV show, Mad Men, about a Fifties' era ad agency. Wearing grey, white and black was a perfectly regular thing for me to do. It wasn't my Halloween outfit as he may have thought.

I mention this, because it came to mind as I began watching old episodes of the noir detective show Peter Gunn (1958-1960) on Netflix. If you want to see what the really cool Fifties looked and sounded like, then watch Craig Stevens portraying Blake Edwards's alter-ego private eye and listen to its jazz track.

If you're put off by the idea that Henry Mancini created the soundtrack, you're making a mistake. This isn't the Moon River Mancini; this is the one who listened to a lot of classic jazz and softened it up just a bit for TV, but not much. You can sample it on Peter Gunn/Buddha Records 1990. You should recognize the Peter Gunn opening theme no matter what your age.

If Stevens's Pete and Mancini's jazz are on the cool side, you will find Edie, Gunn's love interest, played by Lola Albright hot. She is hot the old fashioned way, by not trying too hard. Even better, she can sing, as she does at Mother's, Gunn's favorite jazz club hangout. We're still searching for Lola Albright's recordings, but here's a sample:

A lot of ingredients conspire to make this show seem authentic today and not just nostalgia; the principle one being that Gunn's "wardrobe" never looked like one and still doesn't. He's a Cary Grant-type, who might not call his mom every day. The style holds up today as well or even better than it did fifty years ago. He wears suits in varying shades of grey, always with a white shirt and a solid black tie, tucked in at the beltline. His suit coat shows just the white edge of his pocket square. The trousers are rarely held up by a belt; instead, Gunn favors a tab close and wears them high, as if with braces (which he would never be caught shot dead or alive wearing).

If you grew up in the Fifties, the black and white film will add to the show's natural feel. That's how our youth looks to us, at least through the Beatles' It's A Hard Day's Night. Shows like Mad Men simply do not feel right to us. Their washed color looks as if Ted Tuner had gotten hold of it in his colorization lab, or about as real as Beatle Paul's latest hair color. Our kids can tell us a million times that the world had color back then, but, if you're smart, you won't listen to them.

Peter Gunn's plots are simple and somewhat repetitive. There are many killings, but no gore. There is much implicit-only sex between Pete and Edie, yet somehow even it seems more real and better than the current fake steaminess that surrounds us on TV today. Blake Edwards's dialogue is spare and at times borders on the campy, especially when Herschel Bernardi's Lt. Jacoby speaks. It works just fine.

Watching these shows, one is tempted to think that it would be great to have an updated version of the show or, perhaps, a feature film. Upon reflection, however, it would be much better to simply leave it alone. Investing $100million or so in a film, with a track by Jay-Z, starring actors who would only be vague impersonations of Pete and Edie, is a very depressing thought.

Please don't forward this to any Producer friends.