Global Warming, Local Chilling

Extremes of weather provide interesting people-watching, perhaps especially in cities, and the wild swings of temperature we have been experiencing in recent years make it all the more amusing. There I was, walking to Whole Foods on Houston Street in what is almost a late-afternoon ritual. It was the second week in January, and it had been 60 degrees out. A fellow jogged by in shorts, and then a middle-aged woman emerged from the grocery store in a long overcoat, scarf, and flip-flops. I actually saw quite a few flip-flops that day, and several pairs of shorts. But what I have noticed repeatedly is that a large segment of the population dresses according to the calendar, and not prevailing conditions. On a balmy day you will see down jackets, gloves, scarves, and ski caps aplenty. Such overdressing tends to make the perpetrator look like a schizophrenic. I’m sure you’ve noticed that street crazies dress like it’s winter in the summer. I used to wonder if it was because the homeless tended to wear everything they owned for security reasons, but then I discovered that this compulsive layering among the mentally unsound was noted by Shakespeare.

Here’s a tip: Check the temperature and forecast before you go outside. I have the weather set up on the “Dashboard” of my MacBook. As I write it is 47 and sunny. Light overcoat, light scarf, and fedora weather. I think men should wear hats. They keep your brain warm; protect you from small falling objects; give you a regal, crowned feeling; and generally top off your look.

A scarf isn’t really necessary today, but it’s cool enough to get away with one, and so I’m wearing my Dries van Noten silk-and-wool scarf embroidered with flowers and a snake. When the temperature drops I’ll move into a larger, heavier scarf. Here’s the Dries van Noten scarf—the brown fedora is from Worth & Worth and the green pea jacket is vintage, Austrian I think.


When we’re below freezing and there’s a wind chill, I start thinking about my ears. This may mean the big fake fur hat with ear flaps or the real rabbit-skin trooper cap. Don’t start on the rabbits. I eat them, so I might as well wear them. And you know the little critter wasn’t trapped.

The other alternative is the stocking or watch cap. I have one in a French sailor-stripe from Saint James with a matching scarf. And I have a really silly Norway ski cap that I bought in Oslo when it was starting to blizzard. I don’t like earmuffs, and I have no problem wearing this hat with an overcoat and dressy kit.  The point is to look sensible.

Here I am in my Norwegian street vendor pom-pom ski cap, with the Saint James scarf.


Guys walking around in suits, hatless, on a freezing day may feel macho, but they look stupid. They look as stupid as the guys you see dressed that way trying to run between raindrops, maybe holding the Financial Times over their heads. Get with it, chumps! When it rains, you wear a raincoat and carry an umbrella. When it rains heavily, or snows, you wear boots or galoshes.  If you don’t, you look stupid.

On chilly days in Midtown I often see men in suits, overcoats, and baseball caps. This looks preposterous, and it seems especially so if it’s a Yankees or a Mets cap. If it’s Titleist you just feel sad for the guy, and if it’s plain and non-adjustable and possibly heavy wool or leather, you think, “Well, he’s trying.” Trying, but failing.

There are several other natty alternatives—the touring cap, aka coppola; the golfer’s or newsboy cap; the deerstalker, aka “the Sherlock Holmes cap”, with a double brim and earflaps; the traditional Persian diplomat, which is often made of Persian lamb; and the similar Astrakhan or Politburo hat, the type favored by Brezhnev, Gorbachev, and other cold warriors.

Here’s a shot of my friend Hooman Majd in his diplomat. Apt in his case because he’s very diplomatic and his father was a career Iranian diplomat (Hooman writes for the Huffington Post and his informative and amusing book The Ayatollah Begs to Differ will be published by Doubleday this year.) The scarf was swiped from the Revolutionary Guard.


It’s similar to the Arab scarf, the kaffiyeh or shemagh, which we see in the news on all sorts of Palestinians. It’s standard kit anywhere where there’s desert because it’s cotton and warms you when its chilly, but also protects you from blowing sand and the like when it’s hot. These have become a quite popular fashion item among young folks in Britain. And not-so-young folks like Sting, Colin Farrell… and David Beckham wears one, mate.

I have one given to me by an old Palestinian girlfriend (a Christian, actually, nothing Muslim about it), although I haven’t worn it much since an angry older lady punched me in Dean & DeLuca. I guess she thought it meant I support Hamas. I do support the Palestinian people in their struggles, but that doesn’t mean I’m anti-Jewish. Incredible how many people take offense. Actually, you often see them on our boys and girls serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Especially the Special Forces cats in beards and shades. Here I am in a kaffiyeh with a tweed cap from Bates of Jermyn Street, London. Sunglasses by Fabien Baron, coat by Anderson & Sheppard.


The tam is a nice hat, too. They're big in Jamaica, where they are made to contain dreadlocks. Since I don’t have those, I can pull my rasta-made tam down to cover my ears. Here I’m wearing a Jamaican tam with a reversible cashmere-and-paisley silk scarf I bought from Barneys a few years back.


For cold weather it’s nice to have a big scarf. This cashmere scarf by Armand Diradourian for Paul Smith runs a spectrum of greens, from dark to Kelly, and it’s 28” x 78.” A bit pricey, this was my big Christmas present to myself. The green fedora is from Worth & Worth of West 57th Street, New York.


When it’s absolutely freeze-your-ass-off cold there’s nothing like serious ear coverage, which is provided by this fake fur hat from Paul Smith from several collections ago. It’s acrylic, so only trees died for my ears. I found an even more over-the-top one by Gaultier about a decade ago at Maxfield in L.A., and I hesitated and lost it. Tried to track one down from Gaultier in Paris later, but too late. I learned by lesson. When you see something great, buy it.


Okay, I’m going to be watching. I don’t want to see you guys out there shivering in your suits or flitting between raindrops. Real men dress for adversity.

Dandy in the Underworld

John Pearse, a most artistic tailor who enjoys my custom, has his shop on Meard Street, a quaint byway in London's Soho now restricted to pedestrian traffic. On one of my visits I noticed an interesting sign on the front door of the house across the way: THIS IS NOT A BROTHEL. THERE ARE NO PROSTITUTES AT THIS ADDRESS. I asked John about the sign and in his weary and sketchy way he explained that there was an eccentric fellow living there whose rather unconventional “lifestyle” might have led to some misunderstandings.

Here is Pearse by the door.


Since Soho is one of those neighborhoods (the sort we don’t have anymore in New York) where a harmless skin trade takes place routinely alongside more conventional industries, I didn’t think much more of it until I was browsing through “The Affected Provincial’s Almanack,” the excellent blog by Lord Whimsy that I dealt with in my last entry here, and I came upon some YouTube film clips of one Sebastian Horsley speaking on music, sex, drugs, death, dandyism, and his book, Dandy in the Underworld. Yes, that is Horsley’s door opposite John’s shop. I confirmed it with John, who also confirmed that he had put special hypodermic syringe pockets in Horsely’s jackets. Naturally I immediately ordered the book.

Those clips are riveting entertainment. No? There is so little genuine outrageousness (or sense of outrage) these days that Mr. Horsely’s casual asides are as warming as a slap in the face followed by a nice cup of PG Tips. I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of this fellow before, although I dimly recalled hearing of an Englishman journeying to the Philippines to be crucified on Good Friday, as extremist young male Jesus enthusiasts there are wont to do (too riveting, that video), but I wasn’t familiar with this very amusing character. (I began to realize that I have not been spending nearly enough time in England. I have to get rich or the dollar has to perk up.) The occasional club crawl should have crossed his trail long ago.

Anyway, Horsley is the genuine article; he is a real phony, and the story of his life is far better than anything made up. He is the perfect example of someone whose extravagant pose has become an undeniable, organic reality. The harrowingly hilarious Dandy in the Underworld is billed as an "unauthorized autobiography." Clever, but Ray Davies did it first with his fictionalized confessions X-Ray. Yet Horsley’s book is much more than that; it is a saga among the annals of self-indulgence. Dandy stands on its own, even as it stumbles, trips, and freefalls through the wreckage of his precarious life.

Here’s Horsley in his book jacket photo.


Mr. Horsley comes from a family of wealthy degenerates and his story, especially his childhood, I suppose, would be painful to follow if his view of it were not so funny. I put a lot of stock in opening sentences. How’s this? “When Mother found out she was pregnant with me she took an overdose. Father gave her the pills.” Horsley is born, nevertheless, and he concludes: “I was so appalled I couldn’t talk for two years.” There begins a great love affair with himself that continues today, and an adventure that encompasses careers as vandal, punk rocker, art student, kept catamite of a convicted murderer, parachutist, husband, homosexual, heterosexual, alcoholic, crackhead, junkie, prostitute addict, male prostitute, shark aficionado, sex columnist, lie-about, self-publicist, and painter. Horsley’s life has had so many low points that it doesn’t surprise that he is a failed suicide, and yet he has this fantastic way of picking himself up out of the gutter (perhaps by the huge points on his Turnbull and Asser “Horsley shirts,”) that I came to admire his heroic resilience.

Incidentally, the title of this book is taken from Mr. Horsley’s first hero, Marc Bolan, whose final album was entitled Dandy in the Underworld. Interestingly (mildly), T.Rex’s twelfth album was released on March 11th, 1977, and thirty-one years from that date Dandy in the Underworld’s American edition will be released. No reason to wait. I recommend the English edition, which can be had speedily from Amazon and the like, and usually British editions have better covers. I recommend hardcover because chances are you will drop it while laughing. Anyway, Bolan was a profound influence on Horsley, who in fact resembles Adam Ant, and Dandy was a fitting final testament from Bolan, who died six months later when a Mini he was riding in struck a sycamore tree.


Now his lovers have left him / And his youth's ill spent / He cries in the dungeons and tries to repent / But change is a monster and changing is hard / But he'll freeze away his summers in his / Underground yard

Yes, Horsley is intimately familiar with the monstrous, and he has undergone more changes than most Hindus do in a cycle of lifetimes, but this is precisely the nature of his possible and deeply flawed greatness. I believe there is a considerable romantic heart behind the fabulously baroque bluster and arch wit Horsley seems to generate without effort. His vision is dark (well, darkish) and he may easily be accused of cynicism, but I find his cynicism classical and redeeming, and this is a fellow who has a lot of redeeming to do. He is not cruel; he is kind, and if it is mainly to himself, well, that’s a start. Like anyone who steps on a cross voluntarily, he would be a redeemer if he could, and I believe his sentences do the redeeming for him. Rarely one encounters such a treasury of bon mots.

"Style is when they’re running you out of town and you make it look like you’re leading the parade," is actually on the same page as, "If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there."

Although Horsley seems currently to abstain enough to get things done, he is not a quitter in the fashionable sense. He revels in sex, drugs, and I suppose rock and roll with heroic resolve and fantastical relish despite the disasters that bring him low again and again. And somehow that tarnished enthusiasm seems more sane or at least more glorious than a dozen highly-recommended steps precisely taken. Seems is the keyword, I suppose, but I can’t help but be taken by sentiments such as “Sex is just a sublimation of drug addiction.” And, “I remember the first time I had real sex—I still have the receipt.”

Lest I spoil the ending, I’ll leave the rest to Horsley. He’s so good at the last word.

2008, a Year Made for Dandies

Happy New Year? You bet!

I meant to keep in touch more, but I get so wrapped up in the holidays that sometimes I forget my responsibilities. We try to celebrate Christmas around here with all the pagan trimmings, and this year I had to spend hours cleaning up my basement just to locate the ornaments for the crucial Christmas tree… which, of course, has nothing to do with Christ, but lots to do with green—evergreen, in fact. We put a lot of lights and balls and figures on the tree. I like to think of them as minor lares and penates, descendants of the old household gods kept on the hearth in the Roman household.

Here are a few of my favorite ornaments. The cold-blooded creatures:


The gherkin, or dill pickle, and the sock monkey:


Mammy from Gone With the Wind:


Not to mention the wise old owl, the Hindu marching band, the Joseph Kosuth silver balls, the glow-in-the-dark Colonel Sanders, and the Pomeranian dog, to name but a few. What better sort of thing is there to collect? My friend Robert Hawkins, over in London, has a swell tree, too. Here's a look at his.


Well, today the tree is coming down. As much as I hate to see it go, I hate permanent Christmas decorations even more. They're like tape left on windows months after a hurricane has passed. No, we're on to a new year now, and I have a feeling this is going to be a memorable one. There's a sort of 1967 buzz in my ears. Maybe I left the amplifier on. But maybe, just maybe, this year will see a cultural revolution, or at least a volution. I've got a feeling 2008 is going to be just dandy.

So in the spirit of catching up, I've been meaning to mention a great man for some time now, and this new year seems like an appropriate occasion.

I wish I could remember who turned me to Lord Whimsy. Please remind me, forgotten sir. Perhaps it was my itinerant snapshooter colleague the Sartorialist. Apologies for my absence of mind. It's the wine, perhaps. At any rate, Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy, as he calls himself (I doubt that a mother thought all that up), is the author of a very amusing and inspiring volume titled The Affected Provincial's Companion, Volume One (Bloomsbury, 2006), and the belletrist behind the blog (god, I hate that term, let's find another one) titled "The Affected Provincial's Almanack: A Journal of Aesthetic Particulars and Speculative Living." I try to check in there a few times a week, as if it were a sort of ethereal pub.

Here's a photo of Whimsy from his Almanac:


The novelette-sized Companion is a delightful collection of essays, homilies, poems, and social studies illustrated by Whimsy's own hand—which generally and genially exhorts the reader toward the veneration of endangered virtues and values. For one thing, the author is a gifted proponent of personality, and a well-armed enemy of the herd instinct so prevalent in our society. He is a self-confessed dandy, a connoisseur of trifles and niceties, and, it goes without saying, a gentleman and a scholar (in fact, a scholar of gentlemanliness). Tucked within a setting of bibelots and bagatelles here are numerous gems of wit-born wisdom.


"Once, sissies were mistaken for gentlemen; alas, now gentlemen are mistaken for sissies."

"A man's beard, that marvel of mandibular topiary and primeval source of virile powers, is the equivalent of an elk's antlers or a lion's mane—for it marks its owner as having completed his days a milk-lapping whelp, and heralds his becoming an adult male of the species."

"As opposed to ages past, the bon vivant of today can be known for doing something, but should be much more well known for being someone. The self is the bon vivant's main canvas and medium of choice."

Anyway, this is a must for the library, and a handy companion for the traveler. It will get you coast to coast by air more than once, as anything said well bears repeating. As for the blogue of Lord Whimsy (doesn't that look better?), it is a delightful source of knowledge that one is unlikely to find collected elsewhere. As someone who has spent a small fortune (by today's standards) on gardening, I have been particularly inspired by the horticultural notes he posts regularly. Actually, he's a big fauna fan too, and his postings give us a sort of underground Discovery Channel. Views of his "angel's trumpet" fill me with nostalgia for the daturas left behind when I abandoned ship vis-à-vis "the Hamptons." And I have mixed feelings about moving the country house from hardiness zone 7a to 5b. Whimsy got me all excited about a tree, the Franklinia alatamaha, which seems unlikely to grow in my new environs, but it seems like a dare. Anyway, Whimsy is an heroic, exemplary gardener, indoors and out. Here's a picture of his bog garden in winter.


One might take Whimsy (who would seem to be named Victor Allen Crawford III, he who holds the Lord's copyrights) for a retro personality, but that would be simplistic. This is a man who is not loathe to praise the works of mid-century modern designers like Tommy Parzinger and Finn Juhl or demonstrate an exquisite eye for mid-century ceramics. He explains his relationship to the past very nicely in a discussion of "trad" on the amusing website Kempt. Is Whimsy a Provincial? Well, he seems to live in New Jersey, near the City of Brotherly Love, which is where he appears to maintain a bastion of civilization against the assaults of vulgarities local, national, and international. I say wherever a fellow like this locates himself, that is a capital.

Another charming aspect of this author is that he belies in spectacular fashion the tired notion that to have style one most be homosexual. Whimsy is more living proof that you don't have to be gay to be a marginalized aesthete.

Anyway, I've just come back from vacation and all this typing has tired me. I have to run over to the private sale at Paul Smith. Why don't you switch over to the Affected Provincial's Almanack now and browse there for a while, while I get up the energy to prepare a new post on another, darker form of Dandyism-on-the-Rise.