Monday, October 21, 2013

Reader Comments on HFG: Insights From A Renaissance Man

A particularly distinguished and elegant reader---a random sampling of his background includes applied decision science technologies, aerobatic piloting, extensive international travel, and successful playwriting---offers some pro tips for enriching the Hedge Fund Gigolo (any formatting errors are mine):

I have dressed like this for 30 years, since I played basketball for a year in Umbria and the family I lived with — which had been dispossessed of its wealth in the post-WWII appropriation, but retained their social network and tastes — interacted with elegant people who would drive out from Rome for the weekends. Some had money, some not. In either case the uniform was a good shirt, a (stylish jacket), a good watch, a pair of jeans, a good belt, well-kept shoes — pretty much the inventory that you list. Aside from all of the virtues you mention in your blog, this look has proven to be timeless and cross-culture, imo. It also is incredibly efficient financially, for the guy who calculates what his clothing costs him over time. I was in awe of these people because I had no experience of such a crowd: Mastroianni and Renzo Rosellini were among the guests. But everyone was in jeans or a jacket, or perhaps the same jacket and a pair of flannel slacks at dinner.

There were a couple of distinctions, that I noted then, that I have found useful, that may or may not add value to your HFG(tm!) protocol.

a. I think we Americans undervalue buttons. So for example, on my street-walking or travel jackets I replace the original buttons with same- or dark-colored buttons. It takes a simple Burberry jacket to a personal plane. As my jackets age, I buy might pewter or antique buttons for them. Few men take the trouble, and it is very little trouble, to personalize in this manner. Women notice if you do, however. I bought a double-breasted peaked lapel jacket that cost as much as a month’s wages back then — and still wear it, though first I replaced the polished brass buttons with navy blue plastic ones, and recently replaced again with some dark metal antique buttons.

b. The Italian men then, as well as the college boys, often wore an ascot (the college boys would verge on the hipster divide, and over their rumpled collars they would have a long, lightweight coiled scarf offering color). My thing is to present myself as something of the sturdy yeoman outlander, even if, or perhaps especially if, I’m dating someone who is NY fancy or Hollywood notable — and I have always worn an ascot. This, like the removal of the jacket and untucking of the shirt, can be field-stripped in a flash. Oddly, given my industrial work and male-dominated professional context, I get very, very little shit for having a flash of color at my neck. But whether one is blasting down a highway someplace or getting a table on the East Side of Manhattan, the ascot breaks a man out of the HFG crowd as well as the Big Finance sack-suit drone herd. Effeminate men should probably not wear an ascot, though.

c. I don’t think you mention it in your piece, but the HFG uniform is actually extremely efficient, financially, in two ways. One, if a man pays up for a jacket (my preferred high-end jackets are Paul Stuart custom, which can be cut to Savile Row dimensions if one’s torso can handle it), it will last for decades. Cost per use is generally much lower with higher-end objects, provided one sources well and avoids the department stores. Two, if one doesn’t pay up for a jacket, as I don’t if I’m going to beat the crap out of it flying commercial, globalization now allows one to buy a very inexpensive jacket from some vendor like Overstock — and spend $50 having it cut and resewn to form-fitting size at the corner tailor. (Total investment: $100 or $150.) And in my tests with highly fashion-conscious women, it’s truly not the label but the fabric, buttons and fit, that they notice on a man. In one of the bizarre aspects of globalization, my Iowa Wal-Mart had a rack of genuine Harris Tweed (the traditional, heavy tweed) jackets for $74 last winter. These are the real deal, sewn in Scotland, not some hellhole in SE Asia. I bought several and had them tailored. They will outlive me, I’m sure. I wear those jackets to the farm supply store or to church, to the airport and to the Princeton Club.

d. Just don’t buy cheap shoes, or cheap boots, ever. Likewise belts. Better to have one good pair of shoes than four pair that collapse after a year or two. Again, cost per use. I have Peals from the 1990′s that need new soles every five years or so. While a cliche, I do have three pairs of Guccis and I have yet to find better quality for less than $1000. One pair is already 15 years old, and Gucci will re-sole and remanufacture anything they sell, which they have in the old pair’s case, but only once. The brand is struggling a bit and they do put their stuff on sale but I have seen no decline in quality. My current go-to boots are Justin ropers, which are work boots, and only cost $125. But I have my boot guy strip the rubber soles and heels, replace them with leather, and add half-an inch to the heel. Cost: $75. They’re still as durable as a pair of shit-kickers, but they polish up and take me anywhere from my club in NYC to a farm auction.

e. I dispense with fancy shirts because I just tear them and they lose their color in commercial laundering. But I have Brooks Bros. shirts that have been laundered 200 times. And they can be purchased now in various silhouettes.

In general, what I like about your HFG look, in addition to the signaling you mention, is its financial efficiency, cross-cultural flexibility, and the ability (if one chooses) to apply a personal stamp in the form of inexpensive small details (buttons, soles, ascot, a decent watch) that tell a smart woman that one does more than write checks for fancy clothing, but in fact makes that clothing one’s own.

I regard the choice of auto or truck as the next level in this form-busting discussion, where the same core principles might be applied, and the same tension between form, utility, and appearance can be enjoyably explored.

It’s also amusing to me that today’s hedge-fund royalty appear to dress like impoverished Italian nobles from long ago. There’s some information in all of that, about men and women, that is fun to ponder.


... the fallen noble, in Italy 30 years ago, gave me great instruction on ironing ones own shirts and flannels. He noted that when he was a young man in Rome post WWII, he and his friends were broke and couldn’t afford their servants, nor more than a single jacket and single pair of flannels. Unless a man is sloppy at dinner, one jacket, two shirts, one pair of jeans and one pair of flannels will carry him for a week in some pretty fancy company — provided one knows how to iron. Before big meetings I snap open a starched and folded, laundered shirt — and re-iron it.

The other comment I would add is that complexity reduction adds hugely to the utility of an HFG scheme: e.g., I standardize on colors and materials and buy at least duplicates of most items, for it is, after all my uniform. Summer: linen shirts, in black or white. Polos: black or white. Jackets, summer: seersucker, or black linen. Fall-Winter-Spring: Brooks shirts. Jeans: only black or blue, white in summer. Jackets: only black or blue. Boots or shoes: only black. Belt: see shoes. Watches and bands: only steel (no gold or brown). Sweaters: all black. I only use divergent color — usually red, sometimes blue — at the neck and on the wrist, perhaps in the shirt.

I stole this complexity-reduction thing not from the auto industry but from Jackie O: pull up 100 pictures of her, and 80 of them will likely show her in black or white. I would say I date reasonably fashion-conscious women, some of whom enjoy reasonably exclusive lifestyles (save for a couple of tomboys who throw aircraft around) and expect me to look ‘qualified’ if not above-average in all environments, environments that a childhood in rural Iowa does not prepare one to navigate. None has ever remarked on the rather severe consistency of this uniform approach: not once. I’m sure my grandsons will be wearing the same HFG setup with success in 50 years. There’s something quite smart about dressing like a bankrupt Italian fancy-pants sipping coffee in Piazza Navona. Perhaps this is what true hedge-funders dream of if they dream at all: afternoons sketching lovelies while they loiter in leisure. I suppose I would too, if I were a hedge-funder whose wife was a retired former b-school classmate who keeps a spreadsheet to plot acceptable moments for sexual congress.

(The Legend:  Porfirio Rubirosa Ariza photographed with two of his polo ponies)


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  2. Perhaps it yet another case of class-conscious New Money trying to imitate Old World elites...?

    BTW: BV, that's an extraordinary CV

  3. It ties to your sprezzatura thing, I believe. We all hanker to be poetry-spinning warrior-spy-diplomats-lovers like the Cavalier poets, or better, Raleigh. It's a 500 year-old meme. All money should be easy money (inherited, or magically acquired by dint of superior intelligence, not labor); all life should reflect a contempt for scrabbling money-grubbing and beta cart-pulling.

    Since you were kind enough to quote me I thought I should say hello with my real name, and didn't see an email address. I've now deleted the post/address info for privacy purposes. Ciao.

  4. Yes, the graceful and dignified life of the affluent bachelor, the man of sport, the Swordsman, "Homo ludens." Perhaps he will make his grand comeback...

    I am reminded of one of Taleb's aphorisms:

    "You are rich if and only if money you refuse tastes better than money you accept."

  5. Gere, over the top (in costume at work) but sustaining some of the more 'Italian rake' elements:

    In real life, I think there's a fine line between "fuck you I wear what I want" and "I'm a fop". He's on the other side of the line here, but he's on set.

    (I'll confess to using custom British velvet opera pumps, in green, as my house slippers.)

  6. I'm wondering which female archetype best pairs with the HFG. Assume HFG is, himself, an occasional literary man/monied NOC: Raleigh with a pipeline into endowment funds. I suggest four archetypes:

    a. HFHooker: HBS Sister in Manolos, stacked and racked to porn-star proportions. Plots her fertility cycle in Excel, speaks Japanese, destroys in-office competitors in 3-6 months. Read Robert Hare for tips, found it pedestrian. Owns two 1/8 NetJets subscriptions: a Citation for trips to her house on the Vineyard, a Hawker that can stretch to the ranch outside Livingston.

    b. Thurman/Blanchett: Hollywood Ice Queen. Sexually unrestricted, works when she needs another $10mm, sneers at the banal impertinence of HFG's port-city dalliances with dancers and Russian escorts. Reads Billy Collins and quotes him assiduously in the press. Calls a 'friend' when she needs to borrow his G-IV.

    c. Lady Brett Ashley: dissolute heiress, maintains a FB presence for a high-profile charity appealing to female groupies and airheads, thinks Gulfstreams are a new-money thing and prizes her Falcon 50 for its ability to land short (and her captain's ability to go long). Infertile after a scary brush with a developed cervical cancer, itself the product of her penchant for high-risk hookups.

    d. Daddy's Girl: Sweet Briar/UVa MBA, EVP of a secretive small specialist arms manufacturer in the Piedmont. Rides a horse the way HFG slides a vintage Guzzi at Summit Point. Flies her own TBM, which she runs through the company, and parks next to her Dad's CJ. Read Salter's Light Years, which made her cry, but secretly prefers the men in Solo Faces.

    I suppose the choice is easy if HFG is concerned with children and legacy (Daddy's Girl), and HFG would be wise, even in this event, to avoid the Sunday office desk-fucks with HFH. If he's not of the parenting kind, but is in fact a monied poet-NOC, he's unable to traffic with b) or c) owing to their publicity whoring. He probably squires Daddy's Girl to holiday events and manages his other needs with pros. Or he 'forgets' to tell a) about his vasectomy and doubles her with faux sperm-donor temptations.

  7. LOL! These are awesome vignettes! I agree that Daddy's Girl seems to be the logical LTR choice for our swashbuckling, well-dressed hero. If he ever blows up the fund, he should go with the Lady Ashley option and make a public spectacle of himself at one of her charity events, then somehow use the ensuing media coverage to successfully launch a new HF.

    The use of various aircraft to encapsulate larger socioeconomic factors and attitudes is pure genius.

  8. Seb, I want to use my archetypes (and a few more) for a short Kindle satire. I need your approval since I put them up here first. I won't touch the "HFG" term in any way, though I wish I'd thought of it.

  9. I can't begin to express how much I look forward to reading your finished piece. Please feel free to use "HFG" as appropriate, my friend. I feel like it is a collective property, and, in your capable hands, a truly surgical and entertaining descriptive tool.