Author Gay Talese and what makes a real man

Posted on April 12, 2013

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Continuity from Particle Media on Vimeo.

For many in the #menswear community, men’s style tends to fall closer to the side of trendy than classic and there’s nothing wrong with that. Personally, I’ve been indulgent with what’s fashionable rather than what’s classic more often than I would have liked. The truth is- being fashionable gets you noticed while being classic makes you elegant and very often we sacrifice our elegance on an alter of ego-stroking. Not Gay Talese.

Gay Talese in Prince of Wale check double breasted blazer with Paisley necktie. Credit: Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Gay Talese in Prince of Wale check double breasted blazer with Paisley necktie. Credit: Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

The Man I admire

Gay Talese is a journalist and award winning author. He’s not some dilettante of style or fashion. He dresses the way he does because it’s how real men dressed during the golden age of gentlemanliness. Born February 7, 1932, the American writer was my inspiration into the literary arts. Covering both sporting greats like Joe DiMaggio and musical giants like Frank Sinatra, he didn’t set out to become a wordsmith- he simply fell into the role when the coach of his baseball team delegated the duty of updating local newspaper with the game’s events to him. It wasn’t what Talese wanted, he only wanted to play baseball believing that by ingratiating himself with the coach through the drudgery of sports reportage, he would eventually earn a position on the team. He didn’t.

What he did earn, 7 stories, a column in the weekly published Ocean-City Sentinel-Ledger and 311 stories later was a career in journalism that would take him to lauded publications like the New York Times and Esquire magazine.

I didn’t fall into the role myself, I sought and won a position at August Man as an Editor, after a stint in Melbourne, I returned to Singapore with a short stint at The Rake and even though these were the careers I really wanted, it never really stuck. I don’t know why, perhaps it’s fate or God’s divine whimsy and because my life is NOT over, I won’t know how this current fork in the road would play out eventually, what I am finding is that 11 years on and a memoir (his) later, he still has things to teach me.

Gay Talese and what makes a man - 3Being a real man: Personal Bearing

“A man isn’t fully dressed if he doesn’t have a hat on.” – Gay Talese.

Gay Talese is humble born but he credits his father Joseph Talese with his sense of impeccable style. The elder Talese was a tailor who came to North America, Ocean City, New Jersey to be precise from an impoverished Italian town of Calabria. In the video at the 0:43 mark, Gay starts talking about being 9 years old, being on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City and wearing a hat. What I took away from that was even being poor and even while seeking the American Dream, Joseph never let junior dress sloppily. “Kids were more respectful to their elders than they are today,” he says. Wearing a hat and being dressed older than your peers must not have been easy for Gay, but he did anyway perhaps out of respect of his father but I can imagine the merciless teasing breaking against his bulwark of emotional fortitude.

“I’m also aware that many journalists are poorly dressed. When they die, somebody will put a nice suit on them and place them in a casket. If they dress up for their death, why not dress up when alive?” – Gay on Personal Bearing

Personal bearing is important for a man. It denotes a sense of respect, both for himself and for others who would perceive him. It’s something the military (for those of us who have been in the Armed Forces) inculcates in us from day 1, because even in the stress of combat and warfare, the discipline and regimentation, the method of it all, keeps a man in good stead in other areas of his life. Being dressed well is care for your self image and with it, the foundation of attempting perfection in all other areas in your life.

Gay Talese in Brioni.

Gay Talese in Brioni.

Invest in Quality

In an interview with GQ UK, Talese talks about “buying the best even if you can’t afford it”.  I believe in this thoroughly but yet in all honesty, these are different times we live in. He lived in a more wealth equitable age and while he might have grown up enjoying the fruits of beautiful tailoring from his family, going broke on your sartorial arsenal isn’t something I would recommend.

I would however, espouse the importance of investing in quality- if you get something well cut and well made, it not only lasts longer but also withstands the vagaries of the fashion cycle. The drape and fit of a fine bespoke suit will pay for itself many times over after your fashionable high street ones have gone out of fashion. If bespoke is out of your budget, I would recommend buying off-the-rack and then getting them tailored. For Gay, he dresses in Brioni and Zegna.

Gay Talese and his Brioni sleeve detail after refurbishment.

Gay Talese and his Brioni sleeve detail after refurbishment.

Why quality matters

We live in an era of rampant consumerism. While mass production and industrialisation has raised standards of living throughout the world, it has also created a black hole of waste and excess. Real men need to take stock of their world and the footprint they leave behind. I used to buy cheap suits, I have thrown many away as a result of wear because there was “no value” in mending them- but that’s wastage and buying many $300 suits and having to replace them periodically is like throwing $300 away each time. In the video, we learn that Gay made a Brioni jacket in 1970, 43 years later he’s still using it. If it weren’t a well made garment with beautiful fabric, what is the likelihood that Talese would have taken it to his tailor for a refresh? Highly unlikely. Instead he has rejuvenated his jacket with piping- details the #menswear community know and love.

A collection of his made-to-measure Vincent & Edgar shoes. Credit: François Dischinger for The Wall Street Journal

A collection of his made-to-measure Vincent & Edgar shoes. Credit: François Dischinger for The Wall Street Journal

The importance of ritual: Shoe maintenance

At 2:09, he talks about his bespoke shoes by Vincent & Edgar. From the wooden shoe trees to the gleaming leather moisturiser, I would conclude that Talese takes great care of his shoes. For myself, it’s a weekly ritual, sitting at the balcony of my 32nd floor apartment and using a horse hair brush, first scrubbing off the dirt, then apply leather moisturiser to clean in the grains before polish and then mink oil application for water proofing. With 12 regular pairs and 30 minutes per pair, it’s an almost meditative ritual that takes me half a day to complete. But still, that time is perfect for self-reflection and personal awareness. I take stock of my mistakes, faults and failures and then endeavour never to make them again. It’s painstaking and time consuming, but the road to being a real man must be evolutionary- leaving a legacy behind is secondary only to how we live. Shoes (and his meticulous care for them – emphasis mine) have helped make him the man he is today: dignified, meticulous, dapper (read the brilliant article in WSJ).

Gay Talese and what makes a man - 8“Gay” is short for Gaetano: Real men define themselves

There are going to be some jocks and “alpha males” out there who would probably be sniggering on having “Gay” as a first name. The truth is, real men talk discuss ideas while small men talk about other people. Talese was rejected by dozens of colleges in New Jersey but he never let failure to get into “prestigious” universities define him. He metriculated from the University of Alabama, proving that with grit and some luck, it doesn’t matter where you begin because he eventually made it to the New York Times and Esquire. He approaches writing (and life) as a tailor would- methodical and precise, I can only hope that in time, I can fully absorb and exhibit the same discipline he displays in every aspect of his life. A truer Monsieur, I have never known; he is refined living and classic elegance defined.

All image rights belong to their respective owners. Images used illustratively to make points for the column “Author Gay Talese and what makes a real man” – no copyright infringement is intended in this tribute article.

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