May 17, 2015

Playing Court to the Classics

Clockwise from left: Adidas Rod Laver, Adidas Stan Smith, Spring Court 1936

Playing tennis should be as effortless for today’s gentleman as texting is for today’s teenager; one should know how to do and do it as often as he has the opportunity. But unlike texting, which has resulted in hordes of zombie-like youngsters, faces aglow in the pale light of their smart phones, tennis offers a more meaningful social opportunity. It also presents the opportunity for misstep and confusion unless approached with caution. Here is where the natural gentleman and his pedestrian counterpart differ: the former isn’t swayed by the technocratic claims of today’s sportswear marketers. At some point in the 1990s, the idea of modest, simple tennis clothing all but vanished, outside of the All England Club. For the stoutest evidence, the reader only has to scan down when watching his or her favorite pro player: tennis shoes have become nothing short of comedic. Mad neon colors, laces that coordinate with other parts of the outfit, air soles, and gel absorption are just a few areas where I recommend you tread lightly. (I cannot help but think here of that phenomenon of my youth known as the Reebok Pump.) But as is the case so often these days, falling into the pit clown-footed can be avoided by turning once again to the classics. (Because let’s face it, looking good IS winning, regardless of how the scorekeeper reads.)

While the classics are never a bad choice aesthetically, the only rub with wearing now what dad wore then is that today’s model is going to be imported and likely of dubious quality. My advice is to buy two or more pairs when you find a style you like. (Once, back in school, a friend reluctantly showed me his father’s closet. At some point, a shoe salesman had alerted his father that his favorite court shoe was no longer going to be made. In the bottom half of the closet were three stacks of boxes containing the original white and green mesh Rod Lavers in the same size. An imported version of that shoe has since been reissued but the idea of stockpiling in the face of scarcity stuck with me.)

But what if said quality results in discomfort on the court? It has happened to me and all I can say is that there is no better reason to stop play for a drink of water (or a sip of your Bloody Mary if it’s that kind of club.) Just be sure not to use your cheap shoes as an excuse for a lousy game. The assumption here is that nothing is at stake other than your reputation as an enjoyable opponent and good sport.

Color should be provided by the ball, the court surface, and your tan. Otherwise, stick with white. It really isn't just for Wimbledon. And white does not necessarily mean “new.” In fact, that should be avoided. Find a way to break in a shoe before you introduce it to your friends. If it means solitary service practice for a few days, so be it. Your doubles partner will thank you once he sees your improved topspin.

It’s important not to overthink this. I was once severely beaten by my brother-in-law (a former junior state champ) while he was wearing simple canvas All-Stars. (In white, naturally.) And yet I distinctly remember how, shaking his hand afterward, he left me with the feeling that we both had won. Was it the shoes? Maybe. Maybe not.

Naturally, I recommend you take all of this with a grain of salt. If score matters, go technical. None of this need apply in the world of leagues, ratings, or sponsored tournaments. Even I keep a pair of fairly recent (mostly white) Asics on hand for when a match is anything other than fun. (But it’s always fun, really.)

Final thought: If you’re not sure on the matter of socks, err on the cautionary side. History offers the unfortunate account of young Calvin Coolidge, Jr. and a fatally blistered toe. Granted, there aren’t a lot of us dying from foot blisters these days, but I’d rather not tempt fate. Besides, the contrast of a clean white crew sock above a scuffed-up or clay-stained sneaker sends a message to your opponent: I’ve never not been doing this. But let’s not get too carried away. After all, it is only a game.

February 22, 2014

All Good Things Must Come To An End

As I do most days, I woke up this morning at zero-dog-thirty, slipped on the Bean mocs that stay parked by the door this time of year, and took the old boy for a walk in the neighborhood. The sun was just coming up and the rest of the street was still asleep. I like that feeling that I've beaten the rest of the world to something, even if it's just coffee, a cup of which I subsequently tucked into as I checked in with a few of my favorite blogs. That's when I was hit with the crushing news that my favorite of my favorite blogs, Heavy Tweed Jacket, is closing up shop. I blinked. I stared. I swallowed hard. I shut my laptop and then opened it again.

Then I laughed a little at myself. You see, a couple of weeks ago at the office, one of the IT guys showed me a personal blog post he was working on. It was a tribute to a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game in which he had participated for the last four years or so under a screen name that included the word "Hammer" or "Sword" or something along those lines. As he described the final battle from the previous night in which many users from the history of the game returned for one last go, he said he was reminded of an excerpt from a letter that Ken Burns used in his Civil War series. He got a little misty. I bit my tongue. "Pathetic," I thought. "That's not a real community. Those people don't even know each other."

Needless to say, this morning amidst my disappointment that HTJ was shutting down, I couldn't help but consider how ridiculous I would sound were I to explain all this to the IT guy on Monday. "Yeah, it was great. We all went there to look at his shirts. And sometimes his jackets. And shoes! Oh the shoes! No, I don't know his name. None of us use our names. Except Muffy, and that's a nickname. What did he look like? No idea. Never saw his face. I think he was in Japan. You should have seen the sweaters though! Have I mentioned the catalog scans? Yes, old catalogs. And the collar roll discussions? But now it's over. Too bad. Where will we go to look at old shirts?"

By now you know that conversation will never take place. Because just like the MMO games that allow people get to be wizards, dwarves, elves, and monsters by night, looking at another man's shirts on Saturday mornings is awfully private business.

But it was about more than shirts, wasn't it? It was about brand history. It was about design and construction and textile science. It was about tradition and code. And somehow, without the slightest hint of preachiness or snobbishness, HTJ imparted a sense of propriety. And I'm pretty sure I'm better for it.

All this being said, I also realized today that I think I still have something to contribute to the collective narrative and now that I have finally recovered my Blogger credentials, I am planning to post regularly again this year. I will continue to update my Tumblr page as well.

So my wishes to HTJ are for health, happiness, and a perfect collar roll. I hope he drops in now and again to leave a comment or even contribute a post somewhere.





July 17, 2012

Old Long Island

I've been checking in with the Old Long Island blog for a while now. If you are at all interested in the architecture, the once incredible fortunes of the Old Money set, or historical real estate, go enjoy what Zach has to offer you in his chronicle of the grand and quickly disappearing estates of Long Island.

July 16, 2012

Burton Silverman Sails Into Forever

Nautical and/or stamp enthusiasts may be interested to know about the new Sailboat stamped "Forever" rate postcards that set sail from Oyster Bay, NY last month. The printed stamp on the card is from a Burton Silverman painting depicting a sailboat moored off Long Island Sound. The Manhattan artist says his original oil painting was based on a photograph he took over a Memorial Day weekend in 1967. Only around 20 works out of 40,000 suggestions are chosen for Forever stamps each year.

July 6, 2012

"Badges? We don't need no stinking badges..."

Continuing in the spirit of Wimbledon, I thought it would be appropriate to display my very modest collection of tennis patches, crests, and badges. (Call them whatever you prefer.) I think these are mostly from the Philadelphia area (I picked them up second-hand for some fun research.) I've never liked the idea of buying a designer blazer with a brand-related patch already on it (you know the ones) but I would certainly wear a crest for a golf, tennis, or sailing club to which I actually belonged or had some connection. Worn in the right company, something like this adds an appropriate distinction to the ubiquitous (but no less tasteful) navy blue blazer.

July 5, 2012


Sullivan's Island, SC

The Wimbledon Look

While watching coverage of the most finely outfitted of all Grand Slams (I was heartbroken over Brian Baker) I caught this fantastic blazer (with crest) + repp stripe + tattersall combo. I don't wear purple and green like this but once a year it works for these guys like Fred Stolle.