Men’s Fashion Notes – Esquire’s Second Annual ‘Big Black Book’


Esquire’s second annual edition of The Big Black Book: The Style Manual for Successful Men should come with a warning label: Devout Marxists, or even emotional neoliberals, should not read this, for it has been known to cause high blood pressure and, in some instances, serious heart attacks.

Then again, perhaps the welfare of leftists is not utmost in the minds of those who, in the words of editor in chief David Granger, seek to help define “that fine line between pursuing quality and indulging in extravagance.” For, as you’ll no doubt be shocked to discover, quality, as defined in this context, is extravagant, and, in matters such as purchasing time on private jets or arranging for custom shoe manufacture with exotic animal skins, the material here is to politically correct as Dick Cheney is to Al Gore, or as he is now known, Saint Albert Available Now.

Yet, in that same note from Granger, there are clues that the sharp minds at Esquire are well aware that many readers will be more of the Syms educated consumer variety than the Gordon Gekko variety. Leave aside that the paperback version of the Big Black Book is red (“Yes, We Know It’s Red,” the cover notes, pre-empting wisenheimers everywhere). “For the most part,” Granger writes, “we grew up in homes where someone worked hard to provide a living, and most of us had either parents or grandparents who believed in one of the defining character traits of the last century: thrift.” Could secret Hearst marketing studies locked in an undisclosed location indicate that at least a sizable portion of the Big Black Book’s readership remains in such homes? That there are schmos like me peering through the glass at the kind of folks who will spend their next spare $2,450 on a deerskin bag rather than dividing it between their kids’ 529 college funds but who will, at the end of the day, be slipping that check to CollegeBoundFund in their declasse cuckoo-style mail boxes? I suspect they do know that.

And it is rationalizing thusly that I leaned back and thoroughly enjoyed this stylish, clever, well-researched, and sumptuous catalogue of dearly-obtainable objects.

The good-life gurus ease us in slowly with the at least faintly plausible Hogan leather bomber jacket ($1,590) and the $1,295 Gucci wing-tip shoes. Those are both among “The Essentials.” And here I thought the essentials were my $45 loafers from DSW and my 15-year-old Members Only jacket that my wife is (I’m on to you, honey) secretly planning to give to a shelter next time I leave town (she calls it my “Walter Matthau jacket”). The $998 Moncler down jacket looks mighty cozy, except for that pesky global warming thing that had our a/c buzzing well into October.

A $615 Meisterstuck 149 gold-plated black resin fountain pen from Mont Blanc ($615)? Unlikely, though fountain pens are the kind of pretension I’m susceptible to, but duly noted ware for either the starchy villain or eccentric hero of my next (i.e., first) mystery novel. (“Unfazed, Herr Strechen uncapped his Meisterstuck and glibly fingered its golden nib. It was then, with a cold shiver, that Samantha realized her fate was sealed.”) Should Herr Strechen wear a wool “killer suit” from Kilgour ($1,790)? Perhaps a silk Gucci pocket square ($110)?

Much of the pleasure of reading The Big Black Book is derived from being reminded that not everyone works in IT. That is, there are still people like designer Taavo Somer and tailor Martin Greenfield who make vintage suits from dead-stock wool circa 40s and 50s. Or Marcus Wainwright and Nathan Bogle, English transplants to New York who make jeans from denim produced on antique shuttle looms. Or the 83-year-old Belstaff, of England, reproducing the waxed-cotton motorcycle jacket favored by Steve McQueen. “Rumor has it that” he once “passed up a night with his then-girlfriend, Ali MacGraw” the book informs us, “to stay in and wax his Belstaff. This was not a euphemism.”

I enjoyed reading the history of the little suit and the pictorial time line tracing its lineage from Harold Lloyd, through Benjamin Braddock, Mick Jagger, Elvis Costello, and Pee-wee Herman.

I’m not the type of guy who could, with a straight face, wear the handsome stallion-profile ring by David Yurman, but it’s something to aspire to, I realize looking at the characteristically splendid photo from Lendon Flanagan. That’s in a section called “The Little Things,” which also ties vintage to voltage with luxuriously arrayed collections grouping, for instance, a $125 Yves Saint Laurent leather bracelet with a Motorazr V3i phone from Motorola ($290). I was enjoying the fantasy until I got to the $3,200 Ralph Lauren Purple Label alligator-leather mouse pad. Note to HR: Any partner using one of these is clearly embezzling.

“The Long Road” features a fun little essay on the how and where of cashmere production. “The Leather” is an understatedly fetishistic romp through shoes, gloves, and wallets made from a range of hides, from the customary calf, to the eyebrow-raising goat, Russian reindeer, ostrich, and peccary (a cousin of the wild boar), to the hair-raising lizard, stingray, python, and crocodile.

Items get heavier mid-book. The Land Rover Defender 110 (from $39,365) looks far more useful and considerably less objectionable than the Hummer you might see strutting down Deer Park Ave. in North Babylon, Long Island, as long as you leave off the purple underlights. And the Ford Focus ST ($36,247) looks downright sensible. Is it in the wrong publication? Ah, there’s the catch–you can only get it in Europe, so there’s that little add-on. The Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione ($184,289) is truly drool-inducing, and I say that as a fella not unduly taken with automobiles. I think I’ll have Herr Strechen’s embittered wife–Gerthe, I’ll call her–drive one to Dresden. (“As she revved its 4.7-liter V-8 she experienced a sweet sixth-speed torque that gave her all the pleasures unavailable from her domineering orchid-obsessed spouse.”)

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