Thursday, October 24, 2013
Monday, October 21, 2013
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)
Thursday, October 10, 2013
(Swiss hedge fund manager Arpad Busson, a founding member of the HFG Team, shown here with partner Uma Thurman. Busson also has children from his previous relationship with Elle MacPherson, and dated Farrah Fawcett at one point)
I believe that one of the most versatile looks for the modern man-about-town is the "Hedge Fund Gigolo", or HFG, matrix. HFG involves four basic elements: 1) jacket or blazer, normally a two-button, single-breasted affair with somewhat dramatic lapels and flattering taper; 2) dress shirt, worn without tie, unbuttoned at the neck; 3) expensive jeans; 4) crowd-pleasing shoes.
The versatility of HFG comes from its ability to successfully navigate a broad range of social events and formality levels. It has a sartorial chameleon quality. The bespoke cut of the jacket and the elegant collar framing of the fine shirt suggests a cosmopolitan, glamorous man who takes his meals at a cordon bleu high table while the cargo shorts-and-hoodies and golf shirts-and-khakis crowds swill cafeteria slop. Yet, in more serious dress-up settings, the HFG transforms as the jeans and almost disgracefully plunging "male prostitute" neckline create a swashbuckling, devil-may-care attitude that prevents the man from crossing into self-conscious, try-hard qualification (this clearly must be backed up with appropriate preparation, CV capabilities, body language, etc., as in more competitive situations it risks being tested by social challengers seeking to impose a dominance hierarchy on the HFG maverick).
This is a core issue when suits are used outside of formal presentations, meeting hours, or in business settings that do not enforce traditional banker-business dress: wearing the suit when others are comparatively casual risks marking you as a salesman or solicitor who is trying to impress the audience, rather than as a man who is almost reckless with his great sense of style, who just can't help himself but to dress well (i.e., a gentleman with sprezzatura---"studied nonchalance", as my hero Baldassare Castiglione put it in his famous Renaissance handbook for warrior polymaths).
(portrait of Castiglione by Raphael)
If the jacket proves inappropriate or unwieldy, the HFG ensemble assault package allows for it to promptly be removed. Because jeans are used, the shirt can be untucked to go club-casual (once again, a clean, military taper to the shirt will make this effective and prevent a pregnant, bloused look once the jacket is off). The party-bounce swagger can be continued almost seamlessly as the jacket is employed to best tactical advantage (i.e., draped over the scandalously-hot woman's shoulders as you head outside together, perhaps to protect her from cleavage-ogling prole droolers, vicious paparazzi, etc.).
Leave the jacket on if you are packing heat, or keep the shirt untucked the whole time (there are some style pundits who actually recommend the untucked shirt with the jacket on---I don't find that as compelling, but try it for yourself and see).
(James Middleton---brother of Princess Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge---makes his dazzling professional debut as an HFG Operator. Note how James has correctly unbuttoned his shirt to the point where he truly doesn't seem to give a damn, but the elegant jacket prevents it from looking slack. Far be it from me to offer a mild critique, but studies in neuromarketing and body language have revealed that viewers rate exposed thumbs more favorably; James could probably enhance the inherent confidence of his look even further by keeping his thumbs outside of his pockets when he places his hands in them)
It has been my personal experience---and I realize that this is subjective---that the British tailors of Savile Row and traditional dress shirtmakers such as Turnbull & Asser and the venerable Charvet of Paris provide the best "top-half" components of HFG. For Christ's sake don't wear any gold jewelry with this look; heavy ornamentation is to be avoided.
Savile Row is clearly known for the almost martial silhouette of its jackets. In layman's terms, this means that the arm holes are made higher and tighter so that there is a more severe, tailored look from the underarms down to the waist, promoting the shoulders and creating something of a mesomorphic V-shape to the owner's torso. The strong lines and the appearance of structure seem (to me) to be important for HFG because the open shirt is meant to be rakish and insouciant. I don't think that a more casual, rumpled style to the jacket---some Italian makers deliberately go for an unstructured, well-traveled pseudo-journalist look---works as well here because it lacks the distinct contrast.
The open neck of HFG also lends itself well to combat athlete physiques, as the fighting disciplines and supplemental workouts involved frequently lead to men developing powerful, relatively thick necks. Watch ESPN SportsCenter for a few minutes and you can see how NFL players often look constricted and uncomfortable in ties and high-buttoned collars, moving with a compromised, Ed Sullivan-like, turreted body language, despite the best efforts of bespoke tailors to deal with this well-known issue. I think that there is just little that can be done about this if the height/width ratio of the neck lowers as the result of contact sports-specific or combat-specific training.
Regarding the jeans, there are many makes of quality denim that will work for you; the best bet seems to be an antique/indigo coloring, mid-rise and straight cut (skinny jeans may be out of proportion with the jacket), with conservative stitching and relative absence of high-profile logos. Just get something flattering. I find that Imogene + Willie of Nashville do some particularly good work here, but I am not a truly hardcore denim slut and have not tried some of the more celebrated brands out there.
In the same vein, you should probably go with pretty simple and subtle colors and patterns when putting together an HFG package. Here is an example I found of three stylish men who apparently work for the same bespoke men's tailoring house; one of them is going with HFG and a structured Savile Row cut while the other two are deliberating going "Milanese" with ties, softer cuts on the jackets, and more whimsical and complex combinations of colors:
I personally find that this example articulates the power of HFG---executed properly, with good, tapered structure to the jacket---to command a room. Despite the open neck, the HFG team member on the right looks sharper, more elegant, and more alpha than do his more traditionally-formal companions.
On the footwear side, I have seen legit hedge fund managers make cowboy boots work with this look. Whatever you do should have some "pop!" factor; the faint, beautiful tiger stripe patinas of Berluti or old-world leathers of Scarpe di Bianco can set the jeans off perfectly. You obviously cannot go wrong with John Lobb. Be willing to spend some money here. There are a very wide range of shoe types and effects that are potentially HFG compatible, since you are working with relatively plain jeans you have more options than you otherwise would.
The only additional comment I would make regarding footwear is that because you have gone from, starting with the top/outside and going towards the ground, A) formal (jacket, dress shirt collar) to B) informal (open neckline) to C) informal (jeans), you probably want the shoes to be deliberately on the formal side of the continuum. Casual shoes will reinforce the informality of the jeans at the end of the head-to-toe presentation; you probably do not want this, as it is the alternating contrast between casual and fancy that gives this template its mystique. HFG with sneakers or Converse or whatever just starts to look like gimmickry.
(Good men talking shop: The Kingslayer and Khal Drogo discuss HFG nuances over a civilized beer. Drogo is going very low-risk with his shirt button situation; he could easily push it much further, and if I were in his shoes I certainly would, perhaps to the international-wildman limits of good taste, as he has the physicality and superb, corsair-quality facial hair to back it up. Jaime Lannister of course just does whatever he wants)
All in all, I think that HFG is a pretty cost-effective, adaptable way for a relatively dapper man to enhance his social influence and presentation. It holds up well under a surprisingly wide range of field conditions and has long been standard garb for an elite group of aristocratic European playboys who frolic in places like Monaco, the Turquoise Coast, and Dubrovnik. More recently it became popular with piratical sects within the boutique financial services community. Put together an outfit or two and see how it works for you, and please let me know if you have comments, suggested modifications, or critiques.
(No Comment Necessary, other than perhaps asking the Commander to expose his thumb when putting the hand in the pocket)
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
(Brasenose College, Oxford, where Frampton received two doctoral degrees)
In a fascinating example of how extraordinary analytical competence in one domain may not be correlated with so-called "mating intelligence" for navigating the sexual marketplace, Professor Paul Frampton---a theoretical physicist many believe to be a logical candidate for the Nobel Prize---joined an online dating site and began an internet dialogue with someone he believed to be famously well-endowed Czech bikini/lingerie model Denise Milani.
Hope apparently does spring eternal---the divorced, 70ish physicist was pleased to learn that the voluptuous Milani was looking to escape from her life as a pin-up star and wanting to settle down and raise a family. The two began planning a romantic life together, and Frampton was asked to come to South America to "join Milani on a photo shoot."
Perhaps few readers will be surprised that the whole scenario turned out to be part of an elaborate ruse used by a smuggling gang to acquire an unlikely human asset, and that the hapless Frampton was promptly arrested for narco-trafficking in Argentina with a suitcase containing blow (while Denise was nowhere to be found).
The full story makes for highly entertaining reading. Please enjoy:
Frampton's Cocaine Adventure
I played this at the end of my Strategic Social Dynamics class last night and the students seemed to really enjoy it... Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School discussing body language feedback loops that go from the physical posture back to psychological state: