Take It From Robert Evans: The Clothes Make the Man

Hey, you: Mr. Average Bloke on the Street, class of ’82! You’re in your prime–but who would ever guess it from your clothes? You’re dressing like a mild-mannered eunuch! Where’s your sense of style … and panache?

I suppose it’s not your fault. The youth-identified, poofy and esoteric fashion industry has, in its infinite wisdom, chosen to ignore you–even though you are the one bringing in the cash. Your wives and girlfriends pour scorn on your last remaining vanities or self-indulgences (they want all the attention–and any disposable income). I believe there is a sassy, Corvette-driving sleazeball bubbling inside of you, but he’s being eclipsed by a fly-fishing, thoughtful kind of guy who wears mumsy sweaters in heathered tones. You check-writing hermaphrodite you!

There is a solution: Before middle age hits, you better get yourself a silhouette . That’s what Bob Evans did, and God knows, it has worked for him.

The stylish, charismatic, movie-producing Mr. Robert Evans– Chinatown , Marathon Man , etc.–defined 1970’s Hollywood, that intelligent era when directors and producers (and Sue Mengers) were all much more important than the movie stars. He is interviewed in a new book of photography by Dewey Nicks entitled Kustom (Greybull Press, $65). Mr. Nicks has documented, in Technicolor, the people who he says “make things bigger, brighter, louder and faster than the manufacturer’s specification.” (F.Y.I.: This gorgeous montage of muscle cars, boob jobs and fun fur toilet covers is an unwholesomely perfect guy gift.)

The introduction to this glossy book of pics is, appropriately, the author’s transcribed tête-à-tête with Mr. Evans, in which the producer talks frankly about his eyewear and his “silhouette.” Medallion-wearing Bob, the patron saint of custom life-styling, has one pant and one shirt, and he orders them in a million colors. According to Mr. Evans, this is not a uniform, “it’s a silhouette.” Mr. Evans’ connoisseurship of personal style is limited–to his own. What does loner Evans do if somebody compliments him on his tie? “I go home and I’ll shred that tie. I don’t want to make the tie look good; I want the tie to make me look good.”

I appreciate that all of you guys may not have tie-shredding inclinations or even wish to resemble Mr. Evans–you should be so lucky!–but the genderless coziness of a tweedy and horrible middle age will envelop and suffocate you unless you do something! Spend some of that 401K on a new customized, personalized silhouette and learn to laugh again.

Silhouette cravers–especially those on a budget–should go immediately to the Original Spin facility at the Levi’s store on 57th Street, where Faruq will make you a pair (or many pairs) of custom Levi’s ($55). You choose from 18 fabrics (baby-blue cord to black denim) and seven fittings (tight to baggy) and a gazillion styles (cargo, tradesman, straight-cut, etc.). It’s a relatively simple process: The key to satisfaction is the unhurried trying-on of various jean models. Keep at it until you find the best fit. Cootie-phobic? I was assured that these try-on model jeans are washed regularly–which is more than can be said for some of the models I’ve worked with.

The first pair I tried on was sausage-skin tight. Four pairs later, I found a comfortable fit. I ordered two pairs: one desert-khaki corduroy and one indigo soft-rigid denim, both in a sassy Starsky and Hutch boot-cut. Three weeks later, they were messengered to me (for $10 extra in Manhattan). I wriggled into them, squealing with delight, and modeled them for a group of friends. The reaction? Catcalls and derision: “Why are you wearing a woman’s jean? You look like Kathie Lee!”; “Have you always had child-bearing hips?”; etc.

I skulked back to the store (the Original Spin return policy allows for exchanges or refunds within 60 days) clutching, not wearing, my womanly purchases. Sales associate Lillie Stuart immediately identified my problem: “Turn around, please. Oh yes, I see a woman’s silhouette–but it’s your fault. You wanted the boot-cut and it suppresses at the knee, so it gives you the woman’s hip. Everything else fits great; all you need is the straight leg.” Without any further badinage or name-calling, Lillie ordered me two new pairs with straight legs and won, on behalf of Levi’s, the Nobel Prize for customer service.

Levi’s Original Spin gives you the opportunity to customize (à la Bob Evans) your very own silhouette, but watch out for the following pitfalls: The black-denim straight leg won’t make you look like Lou Reed–it’s more of a naff Hollywood Jerry Bruckheimer-Jerry Seinfeld kind of a look. Re: the 80’s stone-wash denim: too ironic, unless you’re a member of Destiny’s Child. The cargo pant? A personal bête noir of mine, but if you happen to like that colostomy-bag-on-the-thigh look, then be my guest.

Ordering a made-to-measure suit is a time-consuming bummer–besides, you probably work in a casually attired office. Splurging on a made-to-measure sport coat, on the other hand, is a silhouette-enhancing gas. During the month of March, both Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman host made-to-measure trunk shows in conjunction with various clothing companies, from hip Armani (Barneys) right through to conservative Hickey Freeman (Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys). My recommendation: Go for the snazzier, more obscure Italian houses–e.g., Kiton (Bergdorf) and Battistoni (Barneys).

The average starting price for a basic m.t.m. sport coat is a mere $695. But why not–when your wife is spending 12 times that on a Fendi bag–shoot your wad: e.g., a burgundy, handspun, Mongolian cashmere, double-breasted sport coat with six gold crested buttons and a silk lining by Brioni ($5,950, Barneys and Bergdorf); a Battistoni navy with purple, windowpane, cashmere-silk-combination three-button sport coat with slant pockets, extreme suppression to the waist and mother of pearl buttons by Battistoni ($3,950, Barneys); or how about a double-breasted, vented sport coat in black and rust Moxon (a legendary English mill) glen plaid with 18-karat gold threading, complete with ticket pocket and French lining by Oxxford Clothes ($7,250, Barneys and Bergdorf). To make an appointment, call Barneys at 833-2348 or Bergdorf Goodman at 339-3342.

Barneys also offers made-to-measure shirts by Hamilton in an insanely self-indulgent array of shirting fabrics and collar shapes. P.S.: In March, the minimum order drops from four to two (about $225 per shirt). Buy lots and, à la Robert Redford in The Great Gatsby , impress a visitor by hurling them all around your bedroom in a spirit of wanton consumerism.

Leather pants on middle-aged blokes signify a loss of control and/or marbles–all the more reason to get a pair. Why should you always have to present yourself as the Rock of Gibraltar while other family members act out their endless mishegoss ? Shake things up a bit, and maybe your nearest and dearest will stop taking you for granted.

Relaxed, baggy designer leather pants are totally unacceptable unless you are a hip-hop star. You, aging honky, are entitled to leather pants, but there are only two ways to play it:

1. Gird up your hetero loins and sashay down to 111 Christopher Street, to the Leather Man (243-5339). Ignore the restraints, table-lamp-sized butt-plugs, Crispo masks and rubber drainage underwear and head straight for the five-pocket jean in motorcycle-weight leather ($375). This garment can be tweaked until it fits you perfectly, and they will even add a chic, dark-navy strip down the outside of each leg–very CHiPs ($50 extra). The Leather Man has been making these jeans since 1965, and they do a lovely job. F.Y.I.: These jeans have hetero cred–Lou Reed recently donated an old pair to the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute.

If you are feeling more West Coast-Jim Morrison, and you really want to scare the crap out of your immediate family, then call Lost Art (594-5450) and commission owner Jordan Betten to make you a pair of brown whip-stitched, lace-up rocker jeans with a matching medicine-man bag. Jordan will not only painstakingly handcraft your pants, he will also age them to look as if you have been wearing them ever since the Monterey Pop Festival. “I give my stuff a sense of history, and I don’t use any pig,” says ex-model Jordan. “I work in cow, also deer and elk and lots of snake, croc or alligator. I mix in antique bead-work or buckles.” (Jeans start at $1,600, bags at $1,200.)

The prices are a bit steep, but you might well run into groovy models–or even Britney Spears–at his Chelsea studio. Sheryl Crow wore a garnet-encrusted Lost Art belt to this year’s Grammys. Pick one up for the missus and give it to her right before you unveil your new Morrisonesque silhouette.

P.P.S.: The other day I thought I heard an old lady belching on the radio, and it turned out to be La Spears singing her most recent hit. What’s with that weird, croaky vocal style of hers?

P.P.P.S.: An audio version of Robert Evans’ autobiography, The Kid Stays in the Picture , is downloadable from Audible.com for the nominal price of $11.95. The good news: Mr. Evans is the braying narrator. The bad news: Listening to it involves sitting at your computer for six hours.