Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Weekly Feature #8

H is for... Handsomeness.

Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder: but it must be admitted that there are certain strains of catch-all male attractiveness which are almost universally accepted as being generically "handsome." And just as style maven Dorothy Draper once wryly noted, "There are no unconscious Helens of Troy," there are no accidental Adonises, either. But for those of us who will never be mistaken for soap opera stars or Men's Health models, take heart: by and large, the best-dressed, most elegant men in the world have rarely been the conventionally best-looking.

The illusion of perfection: Archie Leach had a pudgy face, a bull neck, crooked teeth and bow legs; but as CARY GRANT, he worked hard to achieve almost unreal standards of male elegance.

We realized early on that, in order to be considered attractive, we would have to compete on a completely different level than the jocks or pretty boys. We didn't have the luxury of a rippled body or chiseled face to fall back on; instead, how we dressed, how we presented ourselves, and the style with which we did so, became our paramount consideration.

He may not have been drop dead gorgeous, but his style was impeccable; and FRED ASTAIRE still always got the girl.

So, perhaps you realize that your jawline isn't as rock-solid as John Gavin's, your chest not up to Guy Madison standards, and your stature nowhere near as imposing as Clint Walker's. The not-devastatingly-handsome male can either become a polished, elegant gentleman a la Fred Astaire, or he can even more easily take the road frequently traveled and become a designer-clad freak show (think Carson Kressley, Elton John, Steven Cojocaru, and their ilk). Tread carefully: a woman who overdresses can sometimes be forgiven; a man with delusions of sartorial splendor (and a blithe disregard for their figure flaws) is absolutely insufferable.

CARSON KRESSLEY: Don't let this happen to you.

There is, unfortunately, no textbook or checklist on how to acquire or cultivate individual style: you have to ruthlessly, honestly assess your own flaws and assets, and adjust accordingly. Since such assessment, reinvention, and application is entirely individual, we can only relay how we transformed ourselves from duckling to swan, and hope that you can apply some of the advice and principles we offer to suit your own needs.

  • We cut the fat. We will offer no diet tips or exercise hints here; as diet- and exercise-phobics, we frankly don't endorse a hard body as being something to kill yourselves acquiring (whereas we'd fight a deathmatch over, say, bespoke shoes). But it does go without saying that being physically fit and a reasonable weight makes it much easier to achieve an elegant appearance. Nearly a decade and a half ago, we lost over 80 lbs. in a conscious effort to achieve a more lithsome, and, it follows, more elegant carriage. Could we still be elegant if we hadn't? Certainly; robust Helena Rubenstein was every bit an equal for birdlike Coco Chanel in the chic department. The bottom line is, what makes you feel good about yourself? We felt more comfortable being slim, and so it was. Just as the once-ungainly Maria Callas plastered her kitchen with photographs of Audrey Hepburn as she dieted down to glamorous slimness, we envisioned the slender likes of Noel and Fred and felt they were more attainable ideals than, say, Sean Connery.

    NOEL COWARD may have often laid it on thick, but his physique was as trim as it could be.

  • We shaved it off. We hated our hair: it was fine, thin, and just laid lank and unresponsive unless it was ratted up like a teenage Jezebel. So we finally shaved it off, and have never looked back. Fortunately, the look suits us; it's definitely not for everyone, just as close-cropped hair makes some women look impossibly chic, and others simply mannish. Again, the principle here is to discover which style suits you, and stick with it. Hairstyles will date you and your photo albums quicker than any trendy costume can. If you look at 10-15 years worth of our photos, it's near-impossible to date them by an unfortunate shag, faux-hawk, or the like. Of course, a shaved head is simplicity taken to the extreme, but it goes without saying that a simple, classic hairstyle will hold you in good stead wherever you go, at any age, in any company, at any time.

    1999 - 2009: a decade of TJB.

  • We made peace with our shape - and friends with our tailor. As Joe E. Brown reassured Jack Lemmon in Some Like it Hot, "Nobody's perfect." Even after losing 80 lbs. and whittling our waistline to 29 inches, our lack of a V-shaped torso means that we nip our suit jackets and sport coats in at the waist, to create the illusion of broader shoulders and a defined waistline. Our practically non-existent backside created the necessity for wearing those jackets and sport coats, as well as having our trousers scrupulously tailored to not "sag" around the seat. Our relatively small stature (5'7") also makes us very aware of sleeve length, hem length, and ensuring that we do our best to create long visual lines, rather than "cutting ourselves in half," as it were. We try not to wear too many colors at one time, but play with shades, patterns and textures to keep things from being boring and monochromatic. And little things do mean a lot: matching the color of our socks to the color of our trousers makes our legs look longer, rather than chopped off at the ankles; keeping our jacket or sport coat buttoned shows off the illusion of a defined waistline and makes one look thinner in general.

    Little things mean some socks: TJB knows hose.

  • We developed a "look." You wouldn't, we hope, let your best friend buy something adorable and trendy which would, however, make them look absolutely hideous. Once you've mastered the art of maxmizing your assets and minimizing your flaws, you will never allow yourself to indulge in a trend just for the sake of it, unless it happens to suit you and your style, your signature look. The world's best-dressed men and women are rarely thought of as chameleons: Babe Paley, Gianni Agnelli, the Windsors - all are revered as style icons, and all displayed sustained consistency and timelessness in their dress. Even the outrageous and irreverent Iris Apfel remained remarkably consistent in her eclectic, eccentric look. We've learned what works and doesn't work for us; and any time when we've deviated too far from that template, it never quite works out, because the look may be cute, it may be of the moment, it may be entirely correct on a fashionable level - but it's not us.

    Consistency, thy name is Windsor: the Duke and Duchess in 1938 and circa 1968, respectively.

  • We accepted the fact that size does not matter. Not when it comes to our wardrobe, anyway. We'd rather have one or two impeccable outfits and wear them until they're threadbare, rather than have two dozen merely OK ensembles, or worse, a scattershot collection of disposable fashion and mismatched pieces. We've tailored our wardrobe to our lifestyle and those assets and flaws we've already identified. We buy the best we can afford, and plan ahead to ensure that as many pieces work in calibration with others in our wardrobe as possible.

    More calibrated timelessness: our vintage 1920's and 1930's wristwatches.

  • We lived, lived, lived! We firmly believe that it's impossible to be a truly elegant individual with a provincial point of view. Even if circumstances dictate that you remain an armchair traveler, one must have curiosity and interest in other people, places and cultures. It's all well and good to have, as we do, an insatiable appetite for clothes and dressing well. If that's where your interests begin and end, however, you'll be a vapid mannequin, and nothing more. We feel that the art of dressing well is, indeed, an art - and our love for it is an extention of our love of beauty and the arts in general. There is as much elegance and order in a well-designed building, a well-executed sculpture, a well-written phrase, a well-planned menu as there is in an impeccably-chosen outfit.

    We can honestly say that we've been considered by many, if not necessarily most, people as qualifying as "handsome" for most of our adult life, but it's a description that rests more on dint of hard work, serious self-examination and self-awareness than it does on "natural beauty." And although we more or less gave ourselves what could be termed a "makeover," what we've striven to achieve has nothing to do with silicone, makeup, or even designer labels: it has everything to do with confidence, empowerment and a willingness to accept ourselves as we are - and then accentuate our very best. There is something attractive and unique in all of us; the trick is to showcase those qualities, rather than burying them beneath tinsel, or allowing them to fade to grey in the background. Now, as we've said before: Go forth and be fabulous, darlings!

    Special thanks to MR. PEACOCK.


      1. Yul Brynner! I knew you reminded me of someone and I could never put my finger on it. A sexy, glam, sartorially perfect younger version! I bet there have been a lot of disappointed ladies in your life!

        I LOVE these posts...keep them up, please!

      2. Our practically non-existent backside

        Let US be the judge of that.

        Post or email a photo asap.

      3. That photo of you leaning forward in your chair?

        It has “man magnet” written all over it.

        And it reminds me that you may want to consider adding another bullet to your checklist that says…

        “We lost the popped collar.”

      4. As a 5'8", 29" waisted procurer of elegance without a backside, I'm wondering if there are any items from you wardrobe to be retired soon? (Oh, shoe size 71/2 - 8 med.)

        Just send them to:
        Elders in Need
        c/o Me
        Hollywood, CA

        Thanks ever so.

      5. Yes, where is our backside? Drop um!

        I have to admit that the length of fashion IQ involves color, and comfort. I have a television interview on Friday (WCMH 4) sometime between 11AM and the half hour, and I will wear a shirt and tie and my good shoes. I promise to sit with good posture, too.

      6. Your wonderful post should be required reading for all teen boys struggling with an 'identity'. Confidence is KEY!
        Keep up the great work!

      7. Genevieve Antoine Dariaux had better watch her back!
        You need to write a book of your own methinks.

      8. Yes, a book.

        Or an instructional video.

        Or your own TV show!

      9. Jill - Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!

        MJ - Arbiter of style, man flatter me. Of course, when one has a customized hospital bed, it's not difficult to draw a crowd.

        FIH - I have visions of that scene from Dead Ringer where bad twin Bette gives good twin Bette her designer cast-offs. Just so long as you don't shoot me afterwards.

        atcc - And put out to the interviewer. That usually works.

        normadesmond - Thank you, sweet!

        Ted Davis - You're very, very kind. Thank you.

        Jason - I'm surprised someone hasn't written something similar for men...there are "gentleman's handbooks," and such, but none with a fashion-minded sensibility - most have to do more with masculine etiquette. Which is just as important, of course.

        omchelsea - Blush!

      10. Love Noel Coward but I have to choose Astaire as my role model.

      11. hair is so very overrated....vive la pate