Clotheshorse: David Foster Wallace's The Pale King

David Foster Wallace's final, unfinished novel contains some astute observations on style and men's clothing, of which these two were my favorites.

On the narrator's father:

He looked good in a suit -- like so many men of his generation, his body seemed designed to fill out and support a suit. And he owned some good ones, most single-button and single-vent, understated and conservative, in mainly three-season worsteds and one of or two seersucker for hot weather, in which he also eschewed his usual business hat. To his credit -- at least in retrospect -- he rejected the so-called modern style's wide ties, brighter colors, and flared lapels, and found the phenomenon of leisure suits or corduroy coats nauseating. His suits were not tailored, but they were nearly all from Jack Fagman, a very old and respected men's store in Winnetka which he had patronized ever since our family relocated to the Chicagoland area in 1964, and some of them were really nice. At home, in what he called his "mufti," he wore more casual slacks and double-knit dress shirts, sometimes under a sweater vest -- his favorite of these was argyle. Sometimes he wore a cardigan, though I think that he knew that cardigans made him look a little too broad across the beam. In the summer, there was sometimes the terrible thing of the Bermuda shorts with black dress socks, which it turned out were the only kind of socks my father even owned. One sport coat, a 36R in midnight-blue slubbed silk, had dated from his youth and early courtship of my mother -- she had explained -- it was hard for her to even hear about this jacket after the accident. (175-6)

On the narrator's 70's sartorial proclivities:

I can't think of this period's hair without almost wincing. I can remember things I wore -- a lot of burnt orange and brown, red-intensive paisley, bell-bottom cords, acetate and nylon, flared collars, dungaree vests. I had a metal peace-sign pendant that weighed half a pound. Docksiders and yellow Timberlands and a pair of shiny low brown leather dress boots which zipped up the sides and only the sharp toes showed under the bell-bottoms. The little sensitive leather thong around the neck. The commercial psychedelia. The obligatory buckskin jacket The dungarees whose cuffs dragged on the ground and dissolved into white thread. Wide belts, tube socks, track shoes from Japan. The standard getup. I remember the round, puffy winter coats of nylon and down that made us all look like parade balloons. The scratchy white painter's pants with loops for supposed tools down the side of the thigh. I remember everyone despising Gerald Ford, not so much for pardoning Nixon but for constantly falling down. Everyone had contempt for him. Very blue designer jeans. (159)

(Clotheshorse is an occasional series on the intersection of literature and men's fashion.)

Clotheshorse: The Great Hierarchy of 80s Jeans in Kevin Brockmeier's A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip

Photo from Michael Galinsky's Malls Across America
"Holes are cooler than no holes..."

From Kevin Brockmeier's searing, lovely A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade:

He sits down and gives his jeans another try. The coolest jeans are black or acid washed, followed by gray, followed by faded blue. Holes are cooler than no holes, buttons are cooler than zippers, Levi's are cooler than Lees, Lees are cooler than Wranglers, and Wranglers are cooler than Toughskins. It has taken him longer than average, but he is learning. (166)

(I love clothes, and I love books -- anytime I run across a particularly neat intersection of the two I'll post a short representative quote here, under the label Clotheshorse, with minimal commentary for maximum enjoyment.)

Mystery bag!

Internets, we bought this bag in San Francisco's Chinatown for like 99 cents and it's been one of my favorite carry-alls since:
I've been carrying it around for a while, and it's taken a beating, and I'd very much love to find another one. Any clue as to what it's called or who sells them or anything?

I'm not alone in liking these! Delphine carries it all through her various ruined vacations in Eric Rohmer's terrific The Green Ray, which is apparently streaming until someone puts a stop to it. Here is proof:

I Tell Your Feet What to Live In

In this month's Desert Companion, I tell you what sneakers to wear. Please note: This is a hiking issue! Do not miss the hikes, but wear hiking shoes. Do not wear the things I'm telling you to wear if you are planning on actually going around the Nevada wilderness (particularly the Nike Woodside, which though beautiful is from all accounts almost comically nonfunctional). The story is here and also embedded below and in the actual print issue found in all sorts of places. Read! Hike! Wear good-looking shoes! But don't do all three at the same time!

Nabokovilia: Stephen King's "Fair Extension" (from Full Dark, No Stars)

This bit is actually likely not Nabokovilia, but there given that King has nodded at Nabokov before, there is a slim chance that it  might be. Here it is, from "Fair Extension" (in the collection Full Dark, No Stars):

"No, no, no! This isn't some half-assed morality tale. I'm a business-man, not a character out of 'The Devil and Daniel Webster.' All I'm saying is that your happiness is in your hands and those of your nearest and dearest. And if you think I'm going to show up two decades or so down the line to collect your soul in my moldy old pocketbook, you'd better think again. The souls of humans have become poor and transparent things." (269)

More choice bits from Full Dark plus the rest of the Stephen King Nabokovilia below the fold.

Stephen King on outlet malls (see too this bit on outlet malls from Put This On):
...and half a dozen other oversized retail operations of the sort that are called "outlets" (as if they were sewer drains rather than shopping locations). (283)

And on storytelling:
Bad writing is more than a matter of shit syntax and faulty observation; bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do -- to face the fact, let us say, that murderers sometimes help old ladies cross the street. (366)
More Nabokovilia:

The Plant, Part 1
With your concurrence, I'm returning 15 book-length manuscripts which arrived unsolicited (see Returns, next page), 7 'outlines and sample chapters' and 4 unidentifiable blobs that look a bit like typescripts. One of them is a book of something called 'gay event poetry' called Suck My Big Black Cock, and another, called L'il Lolita, is about a man in love with a first grader. I think. It's written in pencil and it's hard to tell for sure.
P.P.S. L'il Lolita is actually a pretty good title, don't you think? We could commission it. I'm thinking maybe Mort Yeager, he's got a touch for that sort of thing. RememberTeenage Lingerie Show? The girl in L'il Lolita could be eleven, I think -- wasn't the original Lolita twelve?
From Black House (written with Peter Straub)
They began with Chester Himes and Charles Willeford, changed gear with a batch of contemporary novels, floated through S.J. Perelman and James Thurber, and ventured emboldened into fictional mansions erected by Ford Madox Ford and Vladimir Nabokov. (Marcel Proust lies somewhere ahead, they understand, but Proust can wait; at present they are to embark upon Bleak House.)

From The Regulators
Good agent that he was, he had managed to maintain a neutral, if slightly glazed, smile on the ride from the airport, but the smile began to slip when they entered the suburb of Wentworth (which a sign proclaimed to be OHIO'S "GOOD CHEER COMMUNITY!), and it gave way entirely when his client, who had once been spoken of int he same breath with John Steinbeck, Sinclair Lewis, and (after Delight) Vladimir Nabokov, pulled into the driveway of the small and perfectly anonymous suburban house on the corner of Poplar and Bear.

I Tell Las Vegas to Cheer Up

Over at the Desert Companion, I tell Las Vegas to cheer up, though possibly in a way that may make the city more depressed than it was originally. Which is how it goes for pep talks sometimes.

Also! I tell you what to wear (along with the ever fabulous duo of Christie Moeller and Sara Nunn). Wear it! Or else! Bonus we-tell-you-what-to-wear at the site, where I quote Balzac on style! Balzac!


Sociologist Gwen Sharp's Are You Better Of Buying $200 Shoes? makes a couple of really good points on the implicit class and economic assumptions of my H&M piece.

The short answer is, Yes, you are better off buying $200-plus shoes. The slightly long answer is that the cultural capital embedded in the suggestion that someone invest in quality footwear does not translate neatly into a disregard for those who cannot afford to do so. The very long answer is here, in my response, from whence the slightly long answer is excerpted.

I Tell You What to Wear

If you are going to a party and wondering what to wear -- and you are a person who (a) donated to Nevada Public Radio and is getting their magazine delivered, or (b) you are somewhere near a place in Vegas where you can pick up Desert Companion for free, or (c) you are on the Internet -- I tell you:

Also: are you thinking of getting someone something? I help you out too (as does the always awesome, always stylish Ms. Sara Nunn):

And that is it! I am done telling you what to do for the nonce, other than you should maybe consider getting yourself a nice camel blazer or a tweed sports coat.

I Tell You What To Wear

The July/August issue of Desert Companion is out! And therein I tell you what to wear (I also recommended two additional items that had to be cut for space, but they're pasted below the issue if you're curious):

The What-to-Wear Supplemental Items:

1.      The Hermes orange-and-pink cachemire belongs in the blazer’s pocket, though only a brief blush of color should be allowed to peek out: at this price point, the pocket square is a secret extravagance, like the bouquet of kayaks hiding in CityCenter’s austere façade. And if paying over a hundred dollars for bit of silk kept mostly out of sight feels, well, wrong, you may luck into our saleslady, who demonstrated how the cachemire doubles as a woman’s neckerchief. The Hermes two-fer! A bargain! ($130 in the CityCenter Hermes store or online, but the $2.99 Target skull-pattern bandanna is a nice option.)

The J.Press long-sleeve white-and-navy sailor shirt. All branding is aspirational, less about who you are and more about who you want to be. So let’s all agree that we’d much rather be by the ocean, right now, and not in the desert. Picaso, ever aware of fashion’s sensual and dreamy possibilities, wore the sailor shirt, but so have lots of other people. And so can you. ($110 for a nice, boat-neck, Made-in-France one at, though other retailers sell less expensive variations.)