George Frazier’s Words to Dress By

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George Frazier’s Words to Dress By

“[T]hough clothes do not necessarily make the man, they do, if becoming, make him confident and content.” - George Frazier

There’s no shortage of sartorial advice out there, and much of it is useless. I, for one, couldn’t care less if narrow lapels are out this season or which tweed is poised for a comeback. As with most matters related to clothing, men can rarely go wrong by sticking with the classics. So it’s only fitting that, from where I sit, the last word on men’s attire was written over half a century ago.

I’m talking about George Frazier’s essay “The Art of Wearing Clothes” from the September 1960 issue of Esquire. It’s not the breeziest piece of prose (the opening sentence clocks in at over a hundred words), and there is a bit more hero-worship in it than I’m comfortable with. Nevertheless, Frazier does sketch out a philosophy of style that’s worth living by. He does this by looking at some of the best-dressed men in history, and riffing on what, exactly, made them that way.

via parisiangentleman.co.uk

via parisiangentleman.co.uk

For American general A. J. Drexel Biddle, Jr., Frazier points out that “the width of his trousers and coat lapels,” isn’t determined “by the extreme narrowness that is something of a rage these days, but by, respectively, the length of his foot and the breadth of his shoulders. He selects, in short, clothes that become him.”

I think about this every time I see a heavy-set creative-type wearing a skinny tie because some fashion editor issued a ban on wide neckwear. It never occurred to this guy that, against his 48-inch chest, a narrow tie looks like a piece of baker’s twine. He would have done a lot better to find clothes that fit and leave it at that, instead of trying so hard to impress. As Frazier writes, the best-dressed men “feel no urgency, as do less secure men, to be either obvious or extravagant.”

Frazier’s piece also gathers together some choice quotations on men’s clothing by everyone from Charles Dickens to F. Scott Fitzgerald. For instance, he attributes the following piece of wisdom to writer Finis Farr: “Well-dressed men know that nothing worth-while is ever outmoded . . .”

That’s not to say that a finely attired gentleman should never stand out or experiment. As we learn in the article, Fred Astaire once revealed that “I . . . like to wear things that others don’t. I rather enjoy fooling around with a new note here and there to see how it comes off.”

The insight from Frazier’s piece that most hits home for me is that, when it comes to thinking about clothing, men and women speak different languages. Frazier quotes Finis Farr as insisting that no woman “really knows anything about men’s clothes. How could she? After all, she’s conditioned to obsolescence, to the principle that things go out of fashion.” This line might get you in trouble with your wife or girlfriend, but it also goes to the heart of how a man ought to think about clothes.

After all, for men, the best clothes only get better with age. As Frazier sees it, “it is a fact that old clothes — provided, of course, that they are of the highest quality — have become molded to one’s body, which is why no first-rate tailor considers his job completed until he has altered certain minor shortcomings that become apparent only after a customer has worn a suit a half-dozen-or-so times.”

There’s plenty of more in the piece, so I recommend reading it all the way through. But what I take away from it is this: a man’s clothes should be few, well-chosen, and, of course, well-made. They also need to fit -- in every sense of that word. It’s you whose wearing your clothes, remember, not the other way around.                       

If you’re looking for guidance that’s more specific, you’ve missed the point. To steal from Frazier’s title, wearing clothes is an art. And, as any musician or painter or writer can tell you, when it comes to art, there are no absolute rules.

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CUT THROUGH THE ONLINE NOISE

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CUT THROUGH THE ONLINE NOISE

CUT THROUGH THE ONLINE NOISE. 5 PUBLICITY TIPS FROM A PR PRO

By now it’s common knowledge that digital technologies have made it far easier for entrepreneurs to build a network for sharing their messages. Company founders can stay in touch with business acquaintances, press contacts and colleagues simply by signing into LinkedIn.

And through daily Facebook updates, tweets, Instagram posts and old-fashioned emails, anybody can be his or her own personal brand manager. Everyone is a publicist now — whether he or she admits it or not.

But as a newly minted entrepreneur might tell you, these technologies have also made it harder to stand out and forge strong professional and press connections. It turns out that having the tools to blast your message to everyone you’ve ever met doesn’t instantly make you a publicist.

That’s not to say that entrepreneurs should not do what they can to promote themselves and their businesses online. But there’s a right way to go about it.

What follows are a few tips I’ve learned in my years as a public-relations professional for cutting through the online noise, using my time and energy effectively and getting calls and emails returned:

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1. Target your message.
If you’re feeling the temptation to blanket the web with your latest press release, resist. A one-size-fits-all pitch isn’t going to cut it, whether you’re selling a service, an idea or yourself.

Ask yourself why your product is relevant to each specific person or group you’re trying to reach and tailor the message accordingly.

The widget you designed might have one set of benefits for small-business owners, another for big corporations and still another for industry journalists. It’s not enough to list everything that’s great about your product, drop in a few self-congratulatory quotations and hit send.

2. Don’t be lazy about research.
A lot of the individuals whom you’re trying to reach won’t be easy to contact. Take the time to figure out which key decision-makers you need to connect with and how to get in touch with them. Stay away from email addresses like info@company.com.

What you’re after are personal email addresses and direct phone numbers. They’re easier to suss out with 30 minutes of Internet searching than you might think. You just need to put in a little time. And always, always follow up after you send the message.

3. Avoid selling just anything about your business.
It’s hard to admit, but not everything about your business is worth bragging about. So don’t. Emphasizing less-than-amazing aspects of your products only distracts from your promotion of those features truly worth people’s attention.

What’s more, if you become known as someone who wastes people’s time with empty hype, you’ll be a lot easier to ignore.

4. Don’t reach out just when you need something.
I make a point of emailing contacts regularly with interesting news stories and useful information or to introduce them to people I think they should know.

This not only ensures that my emails get read. It makes me more than just another LinkedIn contact who only corresponds when he needs something.

5. Get reporters on the phone.
Email and social media are great for making the first contact with journalists. But if you’re serious about getting press, you won’t get far unless you can get reporters on the horn.

Short of meeting face-to-face, it’s the single best way to accurately sell your story and answer questions. Be prepared: Reporters don’t want to talk on the phone if they can avoid it. But if you’ve piqued their interest over email, you’ll be on your way.

Follow up with a phone call, establish a rapport and keep them talking.

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WEARING HIS GENIUS LIGHTLY

I’ve always admired the art of haberdashery. And for the past few years, I’ve been reading about Martin Greenfield and his old-school approach to menswear. The man has made suits for three U.S. presidents, not to mention Paul Newman, Mike Bloomberg, and Patrick Ewing. You know that period-accurate gangster attire Nucky Thompson and Arnold Rothstein wear on Boardwalk Empire? All Greenfield.

As luck would have it, Greenfield’s factory is only a few blocks from our offices in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. After a few months of mulling it over, I made an appointment to get fitted for some new three-piece duds.

I was expecting his shop to resemble something like a private club; you know: mahogany furniture, exotic taxidermy, and decanters of scotch older than me, a place the actual Arnold Rothstein would feel comfortable holding a meeting.

Wow, was I off the mark. The factory looks like, well, a factory, plain and simple, lined with table after table of expert seamstresses wielding high-end sewing machines, a room brimming with swatches of the world’s finest fabrics, and buzzing florescent lights; not exactly the Century Club.

When I walk in, Greenfield – 85-years old and sharp as ever – is there to greet me. Right away he starts pointing out the problems with the suit I’m wearing. Sure, it’s bespoke, but it’s not up to his standards. I realize immediately that his assessment is dead on.

After measuring me with the help of his head tailor, Joe Genuardi (a young but vastly experienced master) he picks out four materials that would be good to add to my closet. I came in for one suit, but how could I resist? While I look at fabrics, Greenfield, a holocaust survivor, regales me with stories of post-war adventures in the U.S. clothing industry. Names like Brioni and Valentino – the fashion geniuses he came up with – feature heavily. He isn’t name-dropping; he’s just relaying the tales of a life spent playing in the majors. The main difference between him and his big-name contemporaries is that he just never had a taste for publicity.

It’s rare that you meet someone who is the undisputed best as what he does. I could have stayed and listened to him tell stories and impart sartorial wisdom all day. Even though his suits aren’t cheap, he charges a fraction of what his competitors do. The reason is pretty obvious: the bigger names have to pay for Madison Avenue addresses, ad campaigns, and – to be blunt – guys like me.

Greenfield doesn’t need any of that. He makes the best bespoke suit in America.  For anyone who takes fine tailoring seriously, his products speak for themselves. To put it another way: he doesn’t need a bunch of guys in suits to get him mainstream media attention or celebrity endorsements – he just needs his actual suits.

The lesson I took away from the experience is that sometimes the best marketing strategy is to make the best possible product, back away, and wait for people to notice. Not everyone can do this. And sometimes, even the best products and companies never catch fire. But as Greenfield showed me, when fame and recognition flow directly from a half-century of hard work and commitment to craft, there’s nothing quite like it.

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I CANT BELIEVE BRYCE PREFERS VAN PATTEN'S TO MINE

It always takes me a while to settle on the exact specifics of a business card design, and with good reason; it’s this 3×2 inch contact sheet that often introduces the world to your brand. It’s part of your first impression, and as such an invaluable opportunity to shape perception of whatever it is that you are selling. There are subtle tells in every inch: too thin and you’re cheap, lazy, and out of touch with the message that you should be sending… too thick and you are trying too hard, and covering up for a lack of everything else. For purposes of this post, I will not go into too much detail on fonts, as this is a whole other topic on its own (I do recommend Steven Heller and Louise Fili’s, Scripts (Thames & Hudson, 2011)), but agonizing over font can be both a frustrating and rewarding exercise. We know the perfect one is out there or can be created by the right designer, but there are so many that seem like an almost fit, and others that seem right at a certain time of the day, but are upon closer reflection so wrong that you wonder how you ever thought it might be a fit. We agonize over these things because we know that a lot is said in the card, to just in the copy, but (mostly actually) in the presentation. Professionals have it easy. Their cards should be clean, sharp, informative, but not necessarily ultra high end. They don’t display flair because their business isn’t flashy or sexy. Their job is to appear reliable and they need a card that reflects that. In the creative fields, our custom presentation is more important. It doesn’t need to be busy, but it should be memorable and always relate back to your brand.

The business card has come under fire the past few years as being a ‘douchey’ and superficial thing to focus on. I’m reminded of that scene in American Psycho where Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) pulls out his card to impress his colleagues in the boardroom. All of the cards are almost exactly the same, yet Paul Allen’s stood out most to Bateman. “Look at that subtle off-white coloring, the tasteful thickness. Oh my god. It even has a watermark.” The irony in the film was that all the cards were nearly identical and the only thing that was really different was Bateman’s envy. The film is poking fun at that type of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mentality that a lot of us bring to the workplace, but actually, your card does mean something. It’s a microcosm of your brand, and should be a good indicator of what people will get when they decide to do business with you.

My advice is to choose wisely, and reflect on what your card is actually saying. It’s OK to agonize over script, verbiage, thickness, paper stock, because this is a tool, and it means you give a shit about your brand, and if you give a shit about your brand, you probably give a shit about your clients’ brands as well.

I’ll leave you with an image of my new card. I’m really happy with them and have to give a shout out to one of the best designers out there, Ms. Melanie Abramov, and to Moo.com who were able to make Mel’s designs pop with appropriate color and girth. Thank you!

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DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK; CALL IT A SEQUEL

In honor of the premier of The Great Gatsby, here’s one for F. Scott Fitzgerald. He once wrote that there are “no second acts in American lives.” Actually, there are.

Just have a look at this weekend’s other big box-office draw: Mr. Robert Downey Jr. If anyone should write a book on crisis management, it’s him.

Here’s a guy who couldn’t keep himself out of jail for much of the late ‘90s. His drug-fueled self-immolation is a classic Hollywood tragedy. You know you’ve hit bottom when you find yourself telling a judge that “it’s like I’ve got a shotgun in my mouth with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal.”

As for garnering public sympathy, that’s pretty much out of the question when you’re an A-list golden boy – not to mention second-generation show-business royalty – who can’t find it within himself to show up for a court-ordered drug test. Also, try getting images of yourself wearing an orange jumpsuit out of people’s heads.

By 2001, a betting man would have been wise to short Downey’s career potential.

Today, Downey spends his time helming money-machine franchises (Iron Man, The Avengers) and rescuing otherwise forgettable movies with outrageous one-of-kind performances (Tropic Thunder, A Scanner Darkly). How’s that for a second act? Or better yet: a sequel.

The reason Downey managed to veer off the path to Lohan-ism is simple: It turns out people are awfully forgiving when you provide them with something that’s undeniably good. Moviegoers know they’ll get their money’s worth when RDII is on the poster. For studios, well, anybody who can reliably get people to open their wallets to see something they can get from Netflix in a few weeks is usually worth hiring.

Downey is also so good at using his weakness as a strength that the guy deserves a black belt in career jiu-jitsu. It can’t be a coincidence that his most entertaining work in the last few years has him playing an insanely wealthy boozer (Tony Stark) and a genius cokehead (Sherlock Holmes).

As for that other talented substance abuser, Fitzgerald, allow me to make one correction in the name of reputation management: the above quotation is total crap. What he really wrote was, “I once thought that there were no second acts in American lives . . .”  We had him figured all wrong.

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WELCOME!

It’s difficult to know what exactly I will use this blog for. But it’s safe to say that its mere existence, coupled with my tendency to express strong, biased, often quite brash opinions (no, steak should never be eaten well done or with ketchup, and yes, kale is the new cupcake), means that it will almost certainly get me in trouble one day soon. That is, of course, if I do my job and get people to read it.

Let’s be blunt: a big part of what I do is capture attention and convince people to buy what I’m selling. To clients, I sell a service that crafts compelling stories about products, events, and points of view, among other things. To purveyors of media, however, I’m selling content, and it’s my job to persuade media gatekeepers to lend me access to their audience. Why would anyone hand over their hard-earned viewers, readers, and listeners to me? That’s simple: I’ve got something that they’ll really want to know about and, better still, something that will keep an audience coming back for more.

The only reason I’m so confident in my firm’s ability to craft and promote irresistible business narratives is because we always begin with good raw materials. I don’t care how good your connections are or how many steaks (or kale, for that matter) you buy for bookers and editors, if you’re looking for media attention, you have to have a great product and a genuinely engaging message. I’m very lucky to work with some of the brands I admire most, and it is an honor for me to be able to bring their stories to the world. In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing some of those stories here. But for now, here’s a recent picture of my dog Jack.

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