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SunPost Weekly May 5, 2011 | John Hood
Glenn O'Brien Gives Us a Guide
Like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's infamous crack about obscenity, style is pretty much undefinable, but you know it when you see it. It's an inner grace, an outward ease and a joie de vivre that sets a man a part from the pack (unless it's a Rat Pack). It's the sublime rather than the superficial, the natural verses the synthetic, the snap without the crackle. It's a bop and a sway and a swing that's as elusive as true beauty -- and just as hard to miss. Style can't be faked. But it can be learned. (To some degree at least.) And with practice, it can even be perfected.
Of course acquiring said style is not something you do overnight. It takes patience, diligence, and great attention to detail. The trick is that it's gotta look completely effortless. And unless you're one of those rare cats to whom the swagger was born, that is some trick indeed.
Fortunately there are swells such as Glenn O'Brien who not only know the tricks, but who are willing to show you how they're pulled off. Each month the gentleman wordslinger answers the most pressing sartorial questions for GQ as "The Style Guy." And there's no telling how many men his all-knowing has helped to saved face. Better yet, O'Brien has taken a lifetime's worth of exacting experience and put it in a nifty book that shelves perfectly between Alan Flusser's Style and the Man and James Sherwood's Bespoke. (Or for the really adventurous, Daniele Tamagni's Gentleman of Bacongo.) The work is called How to Be a Man (Rizzoli $24.95). And if you heed these how-to's, you too can be a helluva style guy.
Subtitled A Guide to Style and Behavior for the Modern Gentleman, O'Brien's handy-dandy guide is for both the budding Beau Brummell, as well as the style war veteran. The former will find in O'Brien a mentor of robust dimension; the latter a like mind who's ever mindful of what it takes to be a real gentleman. In other words, whether he's addressing how to dress for various occasions or how to behave once you get there, it works as either an introduction or a reminder. That means it's for every man who puts on his pants one leg at a time.
As Robert Coover wrote in his post neo-Noir Noir, "it's not the story you're trapped in, [it's] how you play it out. Your style. Class. The moves you make." And if you wanna make the moves that make the day and the nigh for everybodyt, you'd do well to heed O'Brien's wily advice. Oh, and by the way, that 1964 obscenity case mentioned above involved Ohio's attempt to ban Louis Malle's The Lovers, a film which every man of style should definitely see.
The other day SunPost Weekly shot O'Brien a few quick Qs; here's what he shot back:
What compelled you to write How to Be a Man?
First of all, you need an excuse for an essay book unless you're on staff at The New Yorker, and since I have my GQ clientele, who follow the Style Guy, I thought I should write a book they would enjoy.
Could it just as easily be called How to Be a Gentleman?
Yes, but it would seem less cosmically important.
What's been more detrimental to the fall of Gentlemankind -- being neutered or not minding their manners?
These fates are similar. Manners are a basis for style, and style is a potent aspect of self-expression. It's all about study and expression.
Speaking of manners, what are some of the most egregious lapses that you see these days?
People interrupt one another at an alarming rate. It's from watching panel shows given to argument like The McLaughlin Report or Bill Maher and just a general increase in insensitivity. I also see a general tendency toward shortness of fuse, maybe caused by endemic bureaucracy, where people lose whatever cool they possess very easily.
How about sartorially? Surely there a more than a few widespread faux pas that get your goat, no?
I just find it dispiriting to see men whose only apparent motivation for getting dressed is to avoid nudity. Clothing is a wonderful and meaningful avenue of self-expression, even self-realization.
Any other don'ts a gentleman needs to know before he makes in polite society?
Don't lie except when kindness and mercy demand it.
If I just landed on this planet from another world, what basic essentials would I need to be a well-rounded man?
A good start would be reading the classics, watching Turner Classic Movies, listening to jazz and playing golf.
Should I bother looking for the converse in the women I pursue?
The converse will probably wind up with a fight. I'd go for the obverse.
Now that we've touched upon the fairer sex, Mother's Day is upon us. What should a gentleman do to be the proverbial apple in Mom's eye?
Pretend you listen to her instead of your significant other.