I spoke to the bouncers at three great Baltimore bars. Here’s what they had to say:
I spoke to the bouncers at three great Baltimore bars. Here’s what they had to say:
Read my new article for Inside Hook about “the greatest meeting of booze and menswear since George IV flung a glass of claret at Beau Brummell.”
I recently had the opportunity to interview artist Duncan Hannah for Inside Hook magazine. Read it here:
Here’s my latest article for Inside Hook magazine all about Montegrappa’s new customizable fountain pen:
I finally got to write about my Western Wear obsession for Inside Hook Magazine and profile some of my favorite designers in the genre.
I asked 11 stylish people what they learned about dressing from their fathers for this fathers day:
Read my new Inside Hook article about Punks in Menswear:
I know I’m a little bit late to this, but about a week ago the writer Alexandra Rowland wrote a long twitter thread criticizing Beau Brummell. This thread was then adapted into an article for Esquire. The author raised some good points but I also think they missed some important aspects of Brummell’s legacy. Seeing as I’m a Brummell buff and I even sell the beautiful Fratelli Mocchia di Coggiola Brummell shirt depicted above in my shop, I wrote this response as a letter to the editor at Esquire.com. They never responded, so I’m publishing it here on my blog. I hope it adds a different and valuable perspective to the discussion.
My name is Nathaniel Adams and I’m the co-author - with the photographer Rose Callahan - of “I am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman,” and “We Are Dandy: The Elegant Gentleman Around the World.” I don’t think it’s unfair of me to say that I’m one of the world’s experts on the subject of dandies and dandyism. I gave a TEDx talk on fashion and free speech a few years ago and I’ll be speaking at Disneyland in a few weeks on the subject of Style and Empowerment.
It is in the spirit of this last topic that I would like to respectfully respond to Alexandra Rowland’s vigorous takedown of Beau Brummell. I’m afraid that their characterization of him as a stuffy uptight conservative misses the point of why he matters and why his legacy can be seen as a radical and pro-experimental one, rather than the opposite, as they argue. Personally I’m a relatively flamboyant dresser who embraces lots of color and the other things Rowland claims Brummell tore out from the masculine sartorial vocabulary, and I - and many of the hundreds of dandies from all over the world from Tokyo to Johannesburg whom I’ve interviewed (who range from conservative to flamboyant in their personal tastes but all bespeak elegance and beauty in male style,) - see Brummell as a kind of mascot of sartorial liberation rather than a historical gatekeeper of conformity.
Beau Brummell was indeed a jackass by many standards - he was rude, he took great pleasure in cutting people down, he liked to start rumors about things like him polishing his boots with champagne, and he did set the style of his time and was fanatical in his fastidiousness. Whether you see value or vice in these things is a matter of degree and opinion. The dandies of the Regency were admittedly pretty frat-boyish - they spent most of their time gorging themselves on food and wine, gambling away fortunes, going to prizefights, and visiting prostitutes. But to say that men were expressing themselves more through their style before Beau Brummell is exactly backward. Before Brummell, men were mainly expressing wealth and social status through their jewels and fine threads, beautiful and glittering though they may have been. After Brummell the clothes, their cut, and their arrangement became the actual medium of expression, rather than a mere billboard for affluence. Brummell turned dressing itself into an art and intellectual exercise in its own right. And since then Brummell’s radical use of masculine elegance as a kind of power has been employed to great effect by all kinds of men - including and especially marginalized ones - from Oscar Wilde and Jack Johnson in the last two centuries to the Sapeurs of Brazzaville and the Mr. Erbil club of Iraqi Kurdistan today.
Rowland has most of their facts on Brummell straight - and I agree with their assessment that he was probably a big old jerk - but I think they've missed what the actual legacy of Brummell as an icon is and what his name and gift for innovation (even if it was an innovation of subtlety,) means to men like me and many others around the world who strive to proudly carry on the tradition of dandyism as a radical sartorial choice.
I'm glad to see so many different people debating the significance of someone like Brummell and the meaning of dandyism, but it can be tempting to make a 200 year-old historical figure into a caricature or easy target for blame because of his unlikeable personality or without reckoning with the broader implications of the legacy of his life's work. I remain hopeful that people like me and Rowland who clearly share a belief in and love of sartorial self-expression can continue to have meaningful discussions on who deserves what place in the historical pantheon of fashion while simultaneously uniting agains the Athlesiure Class that threatens to drown us all in drab spandex.
Nathaniel “Natty” Adams
Dear Readers, I have a new article in PUNCH on the iconic uniforms of three legendary bars: Arnaud’s French 75 in New Orleans, Musso & Frank in Los Angeles, and The American Bar at the Savoy in London. Read it here: https://punchdrink.com/articles/iconic-bar-uniform-savoy-musso-frank-arnauds/
I recently had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Mark Pagan for an episode of the “Other Men Need Help” podcast entitled “Fancy Pants.” You can find the episode here:
I recently wrote my first article for the wine & spirits industry magazine SevenFiftyDaily about stylish sommeliers around the country. Check it out below!
I recently wrote an article for PUNCH magazine for the first time about the iconic Coffee Shop restaurant in Union Square, which closes this weekend. Check it out:
The National Arts Club in New York City and the chair of its fashion committee, David Zyla, have been incredibly supportive of my and Rose’s projects since even before our first book, “I Am Dandy” was published. Since then, and through the “From Tip to Toe” book I contributed to as well as the publication of our second book, “We Are Dandy,” the National Arts Club has invited us to speak on several panels, displayed Rose’s photographs in their galleries, and always made us feel welcome. Now, they’ve done us the distinct honor of having us be guests on one of the first episodes of their brand new podcast series. Listen at the link below - I hope you enjoy it!
One of the great sartorial highlights of my life was spending two weeks in Congo-Brazzaville with the inimitable Sapeurs. I recently wrote about them for Green Comma, which published article on Medium. You can read it here:
In a year in which I've published little of great consequence, it's a particular delight to have been invited by my friend David Coggins to contribute a few thoughts to his excellent book Men and Manners, (Abrams, 2018,) the follow up to his New York Times best-selling Men and Style (Abrams, 2016.) I was as shocked as you that someone would want my opinion on manners of all things, but when I learned that part of the job involved me grousing about things that annoyed me, I felt safely on my home turf again. The book is truly wonderful to read: witty, warm, and with a generosity of spirit befitting the subject. It is a book that treads lightly, never taking itself too seriously, occasionally self-deprecating, and above all patient. In fact, if I were to distill all of the lessons of this book down to one virtue, it would be patience. A few oblique references are made at the beginning of the book to the tense and angry political climate post-2016, and a subtext that occurred to me while throughout was: "above all else, keep your cool" - Coggins counsels (indeed channels,) the almost zen-like magnanimity of our last president.
Books of advice are tricky things, and notoriously difficult to shelve at a bookstore (this canny and semi-ironical gem certainly doesn't seem at home in the high-stakes con-artist-filled self-help section.) My two favorite advice books are both by the same author on different subjects: Kingsley Amis's Everyday Drinking (the compiled version with the Christopher Hitchens introduction,) and The Kings' English, Amis's hilarious and savage defense of proper English usage. This book is similar in style to those (though less obviously curmudgeonly,) and even name-checks the first volume mentioned. Aside from a taste for nice clothes, good booze, and Kingsley Amis, Coggins and I also share two mentor/friends in writers Gay Talese and the late Glenn O'Brien. In fact, both of Coggins's books are most like O'Brien's How to be a Man in feeling and intent. Coggins and I also both have close relationships with our fathers, and I was delighted to share a piece of my father's wisdom for the book, and then give him a copy of it for Father's day. Unfortunately, I forgot to include my dad's Bartleby-like motto "you don't have to do anything."
That the book is such a delight to read is - apart from its excellent style - due to Coggins's easy flexibility as a guide through the pitfalls of modern living; he is confident in his opinions without any pretense of infallibility, unafraid to tell you what he prefers, but - despite the magnificent beard - reluctant to cast himself as a Moses of etiquette. There are a few particularly excellent rules and tips laid down here and there that Coggins insists you shouldn't compromise on and that double as affirmations of the author's good taste. He says "if something will fit when you lose weight then it doesn't fit." This is what I've always referred to disparagingly in the bespoke business as "aspirational sizing," and it is when a man appears most pathetic to his tailor. Coggins has a nearly perfect Martini preference - very cold gin, don't be afraid of the vermouth, stirred, served with a lemon peel twist - that I would only tweak by swapping the twist for a cocktail onion, thereby turning it into a potently bittersweet Gibson. Coggins also recommends the Giotto frescos in Santa Croce, at which point in reading I nearly jumped for joy at the discovery that I wasn't the only person at Pitti Uomo spending quality time off-campus, as it were. Perhaps Coggins's greatest advice is "nobody is your 'bro.'"
The closest thing I have to a criticism of the book is that it knows its audience too well, and plays with them very nicely indeed (probably a good and natural thing for a book about manners.) There is no direct discussion about how a good-mannered person deals with people with truly appalling manners, for example. The recommendations are also often New York-centric - Manhattan, specifically - which is something I don't think I would have even noticed until I moved away from the city - so blinkered are even the best-travelled New York cosmopolitans to the possibility of a serious life elsewhere. A section on travel assumes that journeys will be undertaken via airplane and counsels the manners-minded traveller to find ways to make the best of it - my hopes for a full-throated endorsement of a return to rail travel until air travel becomes less of a hellish ordeal went unsatisfied, but that's a personal problem, and Coggins was certainly wise to write for the flying majority. Coggins also nimbly avoids several contemporary cultural minefields (and who can blame him?) by mainly ignoring them: there is a sort of unspoken understanding, gleaned from the various mentions of relationships with women that the man in the title is probably a straight man, and not only that but that he is an educated, urbane, and sophisticated man of some means who travels internationally, stays at hotels, eats at restaurants often, and goes to parties where wine will be drunk. One is somewhat depressed by the almost certain knowledge that the brazen philistines of the world - the ones who have lots of 'bros,' - are exactly the least likely to read a book about things like tipping and grooming and not cutting people off in traffic or spitting on the floor or sending unasked-for anatomical photos to ladies. I often wondered while reading it what the 13 year-old boys I mentor in East Baltimore public schools would make of some of the advice: hold the door for people, check. Don't text during dinner, got it. But own your own tuxedo and hang art on your walls? Is that perhaps too bourgeois and patronizing a concern? The exclusive domain of we privileged and patrician few? Or is it part of a worthy, cultured life for men of any class, color, and creed to aspire to? I may have to bring the book in and ask the kids what they think.
Where the book truly excels is in its treatment of distinctly contemporary social phenomenon for which mores and standards are still evolving: texting, social media posting, online dating. The advice it gives for these is brilliant, always thoughtful, based on principles of fair play, and - most importantly - never arbitrary. The book is also sensitive to and aware of many less-noted social subtleties - Coggins is nothing if not an expert observer of human interaction. The section on how to break up with someone well would have been a blessing to a (not-that-much-)younger me. I was glad to see that my father's advice about knowing when to quit the field and keep the peace in an argument is echoed and elaborated upon in one of Coggins's own sections, which reminded me of one of my favorite song titles: "Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now?" by the Wedding Present. I'm not sure what Coggins is working on next - could he possibly have more sage advice to give? Whatever it is it is sure to be a pleasure to read and a treat for those of us who idly aspire to sophistication.
People sometimes ask me what I wear at home, on the days when I don’t go out. It’s true that sometimes I’ll wear a full suit and tie, even if nobody is going to see me all day - there is something mind-focusing about being dressed-up for work. An outfit can give purpose to a day (consequently, I would think exercise best done privately in a nude or semi-nude state, so the mind can focus on the disaster you’re trying to remodel - not that I exercise, of course.)
But in the hot summer months (when it’s not sweltering and I reach for my kurta,) I have something approaching a uniform: white linen or cotton trousers, a slightly looser-than-usual linen shirt in various colors, and a silk neck scarf. To be clear, this is not an ascot - it’s a less formal thing. I fold it into a triangle, then refold it into a strip, wrap it around my throat, and knot it twice then tuck the ends in. I might fuss with the knots a bit to make sure the right bit of color and pattern comes out.
The advantages of a neck scarf are manifold: in pure material and aesthetic terms, silk has a lovely textural contrast to linen. Not having to button your top button or encumber your throat with a tie or bow tie is a blessing in the summer, and best of all the scarf does extra duty absorbing sweat from your neck and providing a barrier between gland and collar.
Almost all of my scarves are vintage, although Hermes, Paul Smith, Drakes, and the Turkish brand Rumisu makes some of the most beautiful scarves around today. And one of the best things about neck scarves is that they’re unimpeachably unisex. Not only does this mean you get an excuse to carouse the women’s department, but it also means you can swap and share them with your partner. It’s the only part of my domestic wardrobe that’s communal (unless you count the leather chaps - but that’s a different matter…)
But the nicest thing about a good scarf are the wonderful prints. It’s a bigger canvas than a tie or a pocket square, and the prints are engineered more often than with those other media. Yes, some scarves are just a repeating pattern, but the better ones are self-contained artworks, and the best even tell a story - perhaps Moby Dick.
The estimable Denver Nicks and I drove an excellent Buick Regal TourX wagon some of the Oregon Trail (well, he drove, I superintended,) and the result is the best damned bit of writing you're ever likely to see on Uproxx:
When asked to list my favorite authors or books, I’m sometimes criticized for not including enough (or indeed any,) women. When I say that it’s because I like funny books, said critics can get pretty angry.
Of course I don't mean that women aren't funny - of course they are (or rather, can be, just as with men,) but a few unfortunate historical factors come together in a kind of Venn diagram for why the shelf of great female humorists is lamentably small. First, there aren’t that many funny authors of any sex - I think humorists are the unsung heroes of literature, almost always written off by critics as unserious and therefore not literary. Second, for most of history the proportion of male to female authors of any kind has been ludicrously unbalanced. Third, a sense of humor is just one of the many qualities of character which has for a very long time been roundly discouraged in women but encouraged in men. I fear generations of readers have suffered an unknowable misfortune in the many funny books which went unwritten by women.
But of course there are funny women authors: Nancy Mitford, Flannery O’Conner and Jane Austen spring immediately to mind. Unfortunately they’re few and far between. This is why I was so happy when someone recommended Betty MacDonald to me. I’d never heard of MacDonald, but she was an incredibly popular author in the 1940’s and 1950’s for her comical memoirs and children’s books, selling millions of copies and gaining national fame (as well as a dedicated fan-base in the UK.)
One the best things about MacDonald’s memoirs is that they are explicitly about the life of women of her time and indeed what might be considered uniquely female experiences, but the humor is confidently universal, never boxing itself in by struggling to seem self-consciously “feminine” in style or target or intended audience. This seems to me a very rare and bold and wonderful thing for a female author to do in the middle of the last century. Or any time, probably.
Her first and most famous memoir, “The Egg and I,” tells the story of young Betty, newly married, following her mother’s advice for marriage and agreeing to support the career and wishes of her husband, whatever they may be. Unfortunately for Betty, during their honeymoon her new husband Bob announces that what he’s really always wanted to do is start an egg farm in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. Knowing nothing about farming, egg or otherwise, but desiring a happy marriage at any cost, Betty agrees and the two take up residence in a small leaky cabin somewhere in the thickly-wooded mountains of Washington State.
What ensues is Betty’s deep-end plunge into the worlds of crop rotation, animal husbandry, bear defense, and foraging added on to the traditional wifely duties of cooking, cleaning, and birthing and raising children, all while her husband, increasingly invested body and soul into the raising of their little egg empire, grows more and more estranged from her life and needs.
Like Jerome K. Jerome, MacDonald, while always unimpeachably funny, occasionally digs into her toolbox to really impress the audience and set a scene with vivid description:
I watched mornings turn pale green, then saffron, then orange, then flame colored while the sky glittered with stars and a sliver of a golden moon hung quietly. I watched a blazing sun vault over a mountain and leave such a path of glory behind that the windows of mountain homes like ours glowed blood red until dark and even the darkness was tinged and wore a cloak of purple instead of the customary deep blue. Every window of our house framed a vista so magnificent that our ruffled curtains were as inappropriate frames as tatted edges on a Van Gogh. In every direction, wherever we went we came to the blue softly curving Sound with its misty horizons, slow passing freighters and fat waddling ferries. The only ugliness we saw was the devastation left by the logging companies. Whole mountains left naked and embarrassed, their every scar visible for miles. Lovely mountain lakes turned into plain ponds beside a dusty road, their crystal water muddy brown with slashing and rubbish.
I loved the flat pale blue winter sky that followed a frosty night. I loved the early frosty mornings when the roofs of the chicken houses and the woodshed glowed phosphorescently and the smoke of Bob’s pipe trailed along behind him and the windows of the house beamed at me from under their eaves and Stove’s smoke spiraled thinly against the black hills.
Another specific talent of MacDonald's are her sometimes mouth-watering accounts of food to rival M.F.K. Fisher:
I accepted as ordinary fare pheasant, quail, duck, cracked crab, venison, butter clams, oyster, brook trout, salmon, fried chicken and mushrooms. At first Bob and I gorged ourselves and I wrote letters home that sounded like pages ripped from a gourmand’s diary, but there was so much of everything and it was so inexpensive and so easy to get that it was inevitable that we should expect to eat like kings. Chinese pheasant was so plentiful that Bob would take his gun, saunter down the road toward a neighbor’s grain field and shoot two… and come sauntering home again.
But best of all, in the great tradition of humorists like Mark Twain, MacDonald’s writing shines in the dialogue and dialects of her characters, no more so than in the mouths of her neighbors, the ever-cussing Mrs. Kettle and her lazy lisping husband Paw Kettle:
Mrs. Kettle began most of her sentences with Jeeeeeesus Key-rist and had a stock disposal for everything of which she did not approve, or any nicety of life which she did not possess. “Ah she’s so high and mighty with her ‘lectricity,” Mrs. Kettle sneered. “She don’t bother me none - I just told her to take her old vacuum cleaner and stuff it.” Only Mrs. Kettle described in exact detail how this feat was to be accomplished. As Mrs. Kettle talked, telling me of her family and children, she referred frequently to someone called “Tits.” Tits’ baby, Tits’ husband, Tits’ farm, Tits’ fancywork. They were important to Mrs. Kettle and I was glad therefore when a car drove up and Tits herself appeared. She was a full-breasted young woman and, even though Mrs. Kettle had already explained that the name Tits was short for sister, I found it impossible to hear the name without flinching. Tits was a Kettle daughter and she had a six-month-old son whose name I never learned as she referred to him always as “You little bugger.” Tits fed this baby pickles, beer, sowbelly and cabbage and the baby ungratefully retaliated with “fits.” “He had six fits yesterday,” Tits told her mother as she fed the baby hot cinnamon roll dipped in coffee…
…Paw alone retained his savoir faire. He came clumping up onto the back porch exuding barnyard odors and good will, and after a few hearty stamps to loosen any loosely caked mud or manure he settled himself full length on the shiny leather couch. Mother said to Mrs. Kettle, “Do you mind if I smoke?” “Not at all, not at ALL,” boomed Paw. “Thmoke A WHOLE CARTOON if you have a mind to. Anyone want a THIGAR?” and he laughed uproariously as he proffered a much-chewed cigar end.”
The other MacDonald book I read was “The Plague and I,” one of the sequels to the first book. Betty is now divorced, although this is never explicitly dealt with in the book (it was still something of a taboo subject in the 1940’s,) and she is raising her children with the help of her mother and sisters when she is diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to live in a sanitarium.
It’s a credit to MacDonald’s brilliance as a storyteller that she can chronicle a year of near-inaction in the rarified and morbid setting of a TB clinic with so much wit and humor. Again, she reveals to the reader a world most people don’t experience firsthand - then it was egg farming, this time it’s a very possibly terminal illness - and a way of living and type of experience that would have been unique to women at the time: the nearly thankless realm of a farmer's wife in the first book, the enforced ennui of a women's hospital ward in the second. In both instances, MacDonald is thrust into situations that are not of her choosing, whether it's by wanting to please her selfish husband or by being laid low by illness and then feeling a pressure on all sides to get well at all costs.
MacDonald’s descriptions of hospital life and the oppressively dull routines forced on her and her fellow consumptives are funny, depicting a place where anything joyful is forbidden in the name of resting the lungs and the nurses’ directive seems to be to to remind the girls how lucky they are to be convalescing in such a wonderful institution. She chronicles each day’s minutiae with wit:
Sunday morning at five o’clock I heard the sweet-faced, gentle Catholic Fathers going softly from room to room on the promenade, blessing their people… and even though I am an Episcopalian I often wished that one of them would stop at my bed. …The other ministers came too, but only on occasion and usually during visiting hours. No doubt their intent was good but to attempt to make contact with God during visiting hours was as futile as trying to pray at a cocktail party.
Again, MacDonald is at her best with her characters and dialogue, in this case a somewhat fluid cast of nurses, doctors, and roommates who come, go, and reappear at various stages of her treatment. Most notable among these are Eileen, the oversexed rule-breaker with red fingernails, Minna, the tattling southern belle and darling of the ward nurses, and the unforgettable Kimi, an unusually tall Japanese girl with a dry and morbid wit coupled with inborn grace and poise:
When the nurse made her rounds that evening Minna said “You know that ole list didn’t have a bed lamp on it and it’s so dahk and lonely heah in the cohnah. Ah wrote mah Sweetie-Pie to bring me a bed lamp but it won’t be heah until next visitin’ day. Ah suah am lonely.” The Charge Nurse brought her a bed lamp, which had probably belonged, Kimi gently reminded her, to some patient who had died. At the time Eileen didn’t have a bed lamp either and she was furious. As the Charge Nurse finished attaching Minna’s lamp, Eileen said “Well, Jesus, honey, it’s dark ovah heah too,” but all she got was a cold look.
Minna had only one visitor…”Sweetie-Pie,” her adoring husband. Sweetie-Pie was about fifty years old, bald, fat, and doughy-faced, but he brought Minna flowers and candy and bath powder and fruit and bath salts and jewelry and perfume and bed jackets. She always referred to him as though he were a cross between Cary Grant and Noel Coward and said often, “Ah just don’ know how I was lucky enough to get that big ole handsome husband of mine.”…
…Eileen had said, “You can stop right after the ‘big old,’” and strangely enough Minna began to cry…
…After [Sweetie-Pie] had gone, Minna sat up and ate every crumb of her supper including two helpings of the main dish. Kimi looked over at her, wearing a new pink angora bed jacket and happily eating soup, while the mournful steps of the deflated Sweetie-Pie dragged along the corridor, then said softly, “With what a vast feeling of relief he will close the lid on your coffin.” I choked on my soup and Eileen shouted with glee. Minna said only, “Next week he’s bringin’ me a pink hood to match this jacket.”