A few years back my grandfather, Hoyt Bacon Leisure, suffered a mild stroke. I called him in the hospital as soon as I heard the news. His voice was softer than usual and quavering.
“Spencer, I want you to go down to Paul Stuart and get yourself a suit and a blazer and some new shirts. Don’t be cheap.”
On the one hand, the directive was comforting: I knew I was talking to the one and only Hoyt Bacon, a man who believes to the soles of his self-polished loafers that a man should always dress for success. But on the other hand, it was disconcerting. Up to this point my grandpa-sponsored shopping sprees had been restricted to essentials: navy blazers and the occasional poplin summer suit at the charmingly outdated, reasonably priced J. Press. Had the noble elder’s ordeal moved him to a singular, deliberate act of unbridled generosity—or simply cracked his nut?
“You’ve got to look the part,” he added before ringing off.
I flung myself onto the city streets and hailed a cab uptown. After all, Hoyt had never failed me before. Lengthy childhood conversations in his closet (perhaps examining his neatly organized belt collection; or custom-made blazers with colorful linings; or the sword hanging on one wall, still shiny from his days in the Navy) had always imparted a simple lesson: Buy nice things and take good care of them. At least twice after buying me a new pair of loafers, he would also give me a couple tins of polish and a little cloth to take home with me so I could shine them myself.
Growing up, there were also countless missions to the Brooks Brothers at the Century City Mall with my Grandma Jackie for blue blazers—never a modern model! “That’s hideous,” Jackie would tell the salesman. “Don’t you have something with some brass buttons?”
When I finished school, came to New York and began to try to think of myself as a member of the working world, suddenly those classic blazers felt logical, comfortable, manly. No more weird conversations in front of the mirror.
I’m gonna be a polo shirt, jeans and sneaker guy, white sneakers. Casual but clean. That’s cool. Hmm. Maybe I’ll get a little funky and work in some flannel. Ladies dig flannel. I’ll get the perfect flannel shirt. Yeah man, flannel’s cool, but fresh out of the laundry, not gross, dirty flannel. And white Rod Lavers! Look out world, here I—what in the hell am I doing?
These kinds of emasculating internal monologues are happening all over the city right now, resulting in grown men walking around uncomfortably in $200 distressed jeans that have been professionally caked with mud.
It’s rough out there, comrades—I know it is. Never before has the once-simple task of getting dressed to go to work been more complicated. People read as much into the way you present yourself as they have since the beginning of civilization, only you’re allowed to wear anything! The options are limitless. Yippee! Um, run for your lives!
Allow me a little latitude here and you will see that in fact Hoyt Bacon’s strict adherence to certain standards and bylaws regarding a gentlemen’s dress, his fixation “on looking the part,” represents a practical, empowering example that could help the many young men today who have trouble pulling up their pants, let alone making their way in the world.
If you’re a guy who’s inclined to want to express yourself with your clothes, to enjoy them, to be bold and walk tall in them, you’re in dangerous waters. I recommend looking back to the solid ground of tradition.
Though I must admit that my journey to Paul Stuart was a terrific failure. I wound up with a brown—my wife calls it peanut-butter-colored—tweed suit of a diamond-shaped herringbone pattern, and a sort of maroon corduroy blazer with suede leather professor pads. I spared Hoyt a viewing, lest I worsen the great man’s condition. But I stand behind those garments and plan to take excellent care of them. They’ll make for a good story to tell a terrified, pimply grandson one day.