Sunday, September 6, 2009

I've been sick this weekend, but I should hopefully be better by Tuesday, when "normal" posting should resume.

In the meantime, enjoy your labor day weekend. I will be here on the couch with Hitchhiker's and a ridiculously easy knitting pattern.

ETA: Lifehacker linked to this article naming 5 signs your resume is passe. DivineCaroline's list:

  1. You've forced it to fit on one page.
  2. You list an objective.
  3. You write "References Available Upon Request" at the bottom.
  4. You attach it to your e-mail as a Word Document.
  5. You list every job you've ever had in chronological order.

This is especially important for a lot of my friends who graduated college this past summer, and my friends who are college seniors now, who want to beat out other new graduates in their fields of choice. Employers are looking for the person with the best skill set and most relevant experience for the job.

Now that Hitchhiker's is over, I can go rework my own resume.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Week One Roundup

Quick round up of my week and what I've been reading lately:

  • Started classes on Monday, which was okay. It's a little frustrating because I wish we could move a little faster with the content, but I know that some people are having a hard time. (Still, I am bored, which is nothing out of the ordinary, but I'd at least hope for a little more intellectual stimulation considering I'm paying to be there. Needless to say, I am not a fan of mainstreaming gifted students.) OK, elitist school rant over.
  • I am wearing fabulous outfits to school. I typically have a uniform, because it makes it very easy to look nice even if I don't have the energy for it. Lately, I have been wearing button-downs, slacks, and some combination of suspenders, bow ties, both, or neither. It is Jack Harkness meets Bill Nye the Science Guy.
  • It is just terrible to look at pictures of shoes and clothes I will never afford. It is more terrible to read about them and then look up the prices later. I am (theoretically) going to Goodwill on a blazer hunt sometime when I have money, which will hopefully be soon, as I am starting New Job in two weeks.
  • I've been sick lately. Hopefully not with swine flu or dysentery, because it's still several thousand miles to Oregon and my wagon is full of people named after actors who have played the Doctor.
  • Also dealing with some mental health issues, nothing serious or life-threatening, but kind of annoying anyway. Might post about it later.
That about wraps it up. How has your week bee?

Sweaters for the Unconvinced

The last weekend of August is always an exciting occasion for me. I bring all of my fall clothing out of storage, air them out for a few days, and hang them up in my closet. Soon (though not soon enough), it will be cool enough to wear an Oxford and a tweed blazer to class--or a shirt and tie with one of my favorite sweaters on top.

I love sweaters. October through March (and often into April, depending on the tenacity of the Northeastern winter) I will work a sweater into my outfit at least 3 days out of the week. Wool and cashmere blends alone or with a jacket stylishly keep me warm on colder days, while a light cotton or cotton/cashmere tempers the chilliness of early spring. I'll layer them and be able to knock my thermostat down a few degrees. Sweaters are practically proof of the existence of a higher power, except not quite.

For those of you whose only memories of sweaters involve a fat man in a red velour suit sitting outside the Radio Shack in the local mall, be not afraid. Things have changed. Sweaters today are a more sophisticated alternative to a hoodie or a sweatshirt. Even tossed over a t-shirt with jeans, a simple crew-neck can bring an outfit from a casual day around the house to a surprise visit by your partner's parents.

Several Species of Sweaters

There are several main types of sweaters, and many different materials to consider when making a purchase. People with sensitive skin will be glad to know that the days of itchy days of thick wool sweaters have long since passed. Wool has been spun and knit softer now, and cashmere/cotton blends are luxurious and affordable. Classic shapes and patterns continue to dominate the market, but the traditional designs below have been slimmed down for a more contemporary look:
  • The Crew Neck versus the V-Neck. The crew neck is classic for a reason. The neckline is rounded, often with a line of ribbing to keep it from rolling. Excellent for tossing over a t-shirt or wearing on its own. However, if you plan on layering your sweater over a collared shirt, a v-neck sweater is going to be more comfortable. The lower neckline also leaves room for a tie, or to undo one or two of the top buttons on your shirt.
  • The Cardigan. Best known as worn by the late Mister Rogers, the cardigan has become popular again. Toss over a t-shirt with a pair of slim jeans and high-tops for a sporty look. To keep it modern, avoid slouchy, heavy knits--a cardigan is, by nature, a layer and should be light. Casual occasions call for it to be unbuttoned.
  • The Cable-Knit. Traditionally the attire of blue-blooded prepsters and their kin, cable knits can be worn to suit anyone, even if your great-great-grandfather didn't donate a wing to Yale. Worn in a bright hue over a coordinating shirt is a great way to add a splash of color to an otherwise grey winter morning. Perfect to pair with anything from jeans to a suit. (Just avoid embroidering yours with the Harvard crest, lest your great-great-grandfather start rolling in his grave.)
  • The Sweater Vest. Still the epitome of geek-chic attire, it requires a bit of finesse to pull off. Not sure if you've got it? Try out the look with a simple solid-color vest over a coordinating striped button-down and jeans or khakis. Progress from there, varying your colors and patterns as it suits you.
  • The Fair Isle. This particular pattern is named for a small island to the north of Scotland, but its origins remain a mystery. It became popular in the early 20th century and has remained in some form or another ever since. To ensure your outfit looks more appropriate for the ski lodge than the Cosby house, keep your Fair Isle to a minimum (two rows on an otherwise plain sweater) and in a muted color like navy, grey, or brown. Wear with jeans or plain trousers, alone or with an understated shirt.
  • The Irish Fisherman. This type of sweater, often just called a "fisherman," refers to a type of cabling used by fishermen's mothers and wives to make sweaters for their loved ones. Families would often create their own patterns. These sweaters are typically made from wool in a solid natural color, but variations can be found. Despite their simplicity and beauty, these sweaters do not have much mass-market appeal, and can be pricier for it.

Layering a sweater with a shirt and tie or underneath a blazer is a
great way to add some versatility to your wardrobe and warmth for you.

Where and How to Get a Sweater
  • The best sweaters are lovingly hand-knit by a dear relative, friend, or lover. If a skilled knitter offers to make you a sweater, do them the favor of giving them accurate measurements and some hints with regards to your personal style. Upon receiving the sweater, pay them back in kind. Money is outrĂ©, but a few jars of homemade jam would reflect the time and care gone into such a gift. At the very least, buy them a nice dinner. Faraway relatives may be content with a handwritten note and a photograph.
  • Most of my sweaters have come from the clearance racks of the Gap, which I highly recommend checking out once in a while. Most of mine were bought when I worked at the mall and was able to duck around the corner on my break to browse what had been recently marked down. Example: I was able to buy several cotton/cashmere sweaters for $9 each last year. Regularly, their sweaters tend to be in the $40-60 range.
  • If you tend to be more traditional/conservative/preppy in your wardrobe (I tend to be so), I have heard wonderful things about Lands' End's sweaters. My brother wore Lands' End for his school uniform for several years, gave them a beating every day, and they still look presentable. Unfortunately, they rarely go on sale. A cotton sweater will run you about $50; wool, $80; and pure cashmere, upwards of $125.
  • If for ethical reasons or matters of personal taste chain stores don't suit you, I have also had luck with thrift and second-hand stores. Returns may be more complicated than a retail store or not allowed at all, so remember to carefully check any purchases for stains and damages before buying. Ensure that the knit is tight and there aren't any visible "pulls." Also be sure to check the fabric content and cleaning instructions. Clothing at thrift stores is often priced at a flat rate for each piece, so wouldn't you rather pay $5 for a cashmere sweater than a cheap synthetic knit?
  • When buying a sweater, make sure to wear a button-down to the shop, or bring one with you. It will help you to better determine a proper fit, as well as helping to see how the neckline and cuffs will suit your favorite shirt.
A sweater is a versatile addition to any fall wardrobe, regardless of color, material, or construction, as long as it suits your personal style. Of course, if you still have a deep desire to own a terrible holiday sweater (preferably one with a pom-pom for Rudolph's nose), check the back of your mum's closet.

Photos: porkchoprules, frazernash, missmarek

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What is Best Society?

In this week's edition of Throwback Thursday, we will be looking at the first chapter from Emily Post's Etiquette: in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home, printed in 1922. If you would like to read the original text, it is available here for free thanks to the wonderful people at Project Gutenberg.

What is Best Society? This is the question Post asks her readers to think about upon beginning her book. Obviously, before one attempts to learn how to become a member of "best society," one must define exactly what membership in such a society entails. In her initial paragraph, Post makes a distinction between American society and society "abroad," by which, we can infer from her mention of royalty and courts, she means in Western Europe:

Our own Best Society is represented by social groups which have had, since this is America, widest rather than longest association with old world cultivation. Cultivation is always the basic attribute of Best Society, much as we hear in this country of an "Aristocracy of wealth."


The most advertised commodity is not always intrinsically the best, but is sometimes merely the product of a company with plenty of money to spend on advertising. In the same way, money brings certain people before the public—sometimes they are persons of "quality," quite as often the so-called "society leaders" featured in the public press do not belong to good society at all, in spite of their many published photographs and the energies of their press-agents. Or possibly they do belong to "smart" society; but if too much advertised, instead of being the "queens" they seem, they might more accurately be classified as the court jesters of to-day.

The point that Post makes in this chapter is that persons who are part of Best Society are not flashy about their upbringing, privilege, wealth, or position. Instead, they work on using their privilege and position to cultivate knowledge about the world, improve their interpersonal relationships, and learn to be intristically considerate of others.

I would also argue in favor of owning your privilege. This does not mean you have to give away all of your money and live in a box, wearing a burlap sack and eating nothing but oatmeal for the rest of your natural life. It doesn't mean you should turn down acceptance to a well-regarded university because you feel guilty about it.

People with privilege, however, do have the responsibility to identify it as such. If you were born white and into a wealthy family, accept it. Check your assumptions at the door and educate yourself on how you are being treated differently based on the color of your skin, the name you use, and the people with whom you associate yourself. It is not the responsibility of people without privilege to educate you.

At the end of this brief chapter, Post leaves us with her definition of Best Society:

Best Society is not a fellowship of the wealthy, nor does it seek to exclude those who are not of exalted birth; but it is an association of gentle-folk, of which good form in speech, charm of manner, knowledge of the social amenities, and instinctive consideration for the feelings of others, are the credentials by which society the world over recognizes its chosen members.

What we can take from this is that becoming a part of Best Society or, as this blog chooses to define it, being a butch gentleman, has everything to do with your attitude and comportment. It does not mean being showy with your money or position, but it does mean making a conscious effort to continuously better yourself quietly.

A few questions for my dear readers:
What is your definition of "Best Society?" How would you describe the experiences, attitudes, and behaviors of the members of that society?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Personal Introductions, Part 1: Informal Settings

Fall term started this week, so now is the time to scout out potential new friends in my courses. I strongly advise against making assumptions about others, especially based on the limited interaction that occurs in a lecture-based course structure, so I have been examining a proper way to introduce myself and bring the conversation out of the classroom (or off the hockey pitch, away from the cubicle, etc.). After a walk to the parking lot or a cup of coffee, you should probably have a good idea of if you want to spend time with this person or people again.

Here are some thoughts to help you break the ice this fall.

Understand Yourself
Getting to know others requires knowing yourself first. Take a few minutes to jot down some words that describe your personality, values, and interests. These words can help you tweak your approach so that it is comfortable for you, and it will help you identify traits that you would look for in a compatible friend. Listing a few of your interests

I did this exercise this morning and came up with the following: introverted, intellectually curious, nerdy; honesty, flexibility/open-mindedness, self-motivation; mid-20th century style, cooking, musical theatre, and science fiction.

The first word I used to describe myself is "introverted," and the fact that I chose it first is important. When I am in the process of making new friends, I need to keep my introversion in mind, pace myself when meeting new people, and remember to take a break. My extroverted sister, on the other hand, thrives off meeting new people. Were I to meet more than 1-2 people every day, I would lock myself in my room for a week.

Keeping your personality and interests in mind can also help you to identify places where you are most likely to meet a compatible person. Some of my other words involved academics and books. I would be far more likely to meet someone at a bookstore, astronomy night, or science lecture than at a concert or sports game. You are probably different. You do not need to go far out of your way to meet someone new. Even if you only meet people at the local jazz club, the people you meet are probably all very different. The shared interest is just a comfortable jumping-off point.

Use the Situation as a Starter
Early to class? Ask the person next to you what they've heard about the professor, or if they've had them before. Solicit a recommendation from a regular at the local cafe. Offer to share your umbrella with a damp comrade at the bus stop. Be observant.

Another tactic is to discuss current events. This can be adjusted depending on the setting and the type of people you are trying to attract. At the very least, follow your local sports team through the current season, read the quickie movie reviews for new releases, and glance over the professional journals for your industry. Avoid political discussions, unless you are at an explicitly political event (fundraiser, demonstration, etc.).

Name Yourself and Offer a Hand
After breaking the ice, introduce yourself and extend your right hand for a handshake. Your actual introduction doesn't need to be anything special. Simply extend your hand and say, "I'm A. James," and allow the other person to offer their name in turn. Decide ahead of time if you will give your full name to avoid the awkward pause in "I'm Jack. ... Thompson." Offering a nickname in an informal personal introduction is appropriate, provided your nickname is along the lines of "Mills" and less like "Nose Candy Bondage Queen."

Continue the Conversation
A professor I once had called this "keeping the door open." If the energy is good, offer the person with whom you are speaking an opportunity to get to know you more. Depending on the situation, it could be as easy as asking if they would like to get coffee before your next class. Don't get discouraged if they can't make it, simply offer your contact information and let it go.

Consider having contact or calling cards made (Crane has some lust-worthy but expensive options), or make some yourself. Offering a calling card instantly gives a potential new friend a way to remember you, which is helpful if they are forgetful with names.

What to put on it is up to you. Your name is a given, and your professional certifications and title if you have them. I'm still working on my degree, so I used "World-Traveled Scientist" for mine. Offer at least two contact methods--some combination of physical address, home/work/cell phone, e-mail, AIM, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Keep your audience in mind when making your cards. You might consider listing your college, major, and anticipated graduation year if you are meeting mostly fellow students. Don't list your personal Twitter account on a business card if your tweets are less than professional.

If you prefer to use a name other than your legal name, I would recommend making two sets of cards: A personal set with your preferred name or nickname, and a formal set with your legal name for potential employers.

The Art of Manliness has a fantastic post on the creation and use of calling cards if you'd like to read more on the subject.

A Note on Nice Guys(TM)
The most important thing is to introduce yourself to new people when you can and respect that just as you choose your friends, other people have a right to choose theirs. The most you can do is extend an offer of friendship and allow the other person to weigh and make a decision about your offer.

Some Nice Guys(TM) get hung up on this--they act "nice" but people (usually young women) still choose "assholes" when they should be choosing the Nice Guys(TM) because they're so nice. This is something we call entitlement. You are not entitled to anyone's company by your own. Be friendly. Don't be a Nice Guy(TM).

Coming Soon:
Personal Introductions, Part 2: Formal & Business Settings
Personal Introductions, Part 3: Introducing Others

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Butch Chivalry in the Feminist Age; Or, Why I Started This Blog

If asked to define "butch gentleman," I couldn't do it concisely. Labels and language politics are such a point of contention with many people that I'm not particularly inclined to define either word. The definition is less important than the action itself. This blog is my attempt to determine a code of ethics to guide butch gentlemen in their personal interactions, professional lives, and self discovery.

I have gotten a lot of inspiration from The Art of Manliness. While the tone and language in the articles and comments there is not always exactly feminist, I frequently learn from and enjoy the topics posted. Cisgender men also need a space to discuss issues of gender, and I applaud AoM for creating that space. (Also, they have turned me on to some pretty bangin' luggage that I'm still drooling over.)

I started putting this blog into motion after reading A Butch Roadmap by Ivan Coyote, a piece that reminded me how much of my lifestyle and habits had to be self-taught. No one helped me learn to polish my shoes, or tie a tie, or how to treat a young woman with the respect she deserves when going out on a date. The art of the thank you note is essentially lost to my generation.

I aim to provide a place for butches and gentlemen (and the people who love them) to learn and discuss how to act the part of butch gentleman as a young adult in the 21st century. I plan to look back to discover what lessons we can learn from past generations as well as addressing issues of etiquette in the public sphere and my day-to-day life as it happens. There will also be sporadic discussion on issues of creating a personal style.

This blog does not have political aims, but a pro-feminist and pro-queer stance will be reflected in the tone of the articles written here. However, feminist and queer theory will only be mentioned in passing. If you're looking to supplement this blog with something heavier, check out the blogs listed in the sidebar (in order of most recent update). I welcome recommendations for new blogs I should be reading--feel free to offer them in comments below.

Welcome. I hope to hear from you soon.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Early Post: Butch Voices/Butch Intellectuals

I know we're not officially launched until next week, but I saw a post on Jezebel about butch intellectuals that linked to an NPR story about the Butch Voices conference (which I will try to check out next year--I was out of town on another engagement during this year's conference last week), and I had to write about it.

When asked for his reasons behind founding the Butch Voices conference, Joe LeBlanc responded that "there are just so many stereotypes about us that we have to be these silent cool types that don't talk or only are about how we look." Later, he expands on this idea by saying "butch is thought to be this very visual identity, a very flat - you know, the woman that you would see who you believe wants to be a man, you know, very hard, gruff, mechanically inclined, the man of the relationship. ... I mean, there's butches who enjoy cooking, who enjoy sewing. I mean… You know, they wear make-up. I mean, it's not just about, you know, the clothing or the hair styles. It goes deeper than that."

Those quotes resonate deeply with me. In the past, I have struggled with claiming a "butch" identity because I have many traditionally "feminine" inclinations as well. I love studying maths and sciences, and I'm really passionate about cars. I'm a mechanical engineering major who only shaves above the neck. At the same time, I'll read Victorian literature for days . I will happily create scrapbook pages for important events in my life. My laptop is pink. I just finished making my first quilt. I will sleep with men when it suits me (but only if we fuck like gay boys--what does that mean anyway?).*

I must apologize for sharing half my personal history in the above paragraph. I have not, for the last ten years, been able to claim the label of "butch" without having to follow up with a bunch of qualifiers like those above. It is a privilege to be able to say "I am a man" or "I am a woman" and have no one second-guess your identity.

Once, I thought it would be easier to say, "I am a man." I bound my chest. I injected hormones. That stopped a year ago. Today, my voice cracks when I laugh, and I am slowly training myself into a refined contralto. My chest hangs low and heavy from years of binding, but I stand confident for the first time in too long. I make people trip over pronouns.

I am a butch, a gentleman, and a scholar. I am not a stereotype or an ideal. Butch is an entity that has been shifting since its creation, the way cars today aren't still Model Ts, but they are still cars. There are Ford F-150s and there are Lamborghini Gallardos. I prefer to think of myself as somewhere in between, a Porsche 911. Powerful, technically brilliant, and curvy without being cute.

Let's see where this road goes.

* While writing this post, I had a difficult time coming up with examples of my "feminine side" that did not involve how I looked/dressed or what I bought. I feel a follow-up post coming on.