Tuesday, August 21, 2012

#menswear Cliche Words

When writing, most authors have a tendency to resort to clichés specific to the genre. Western short stories are wind-swept, romance novels are ravished, and menswear essays are classic. There are plenty of other clichés in menswear writing: “This hoodie/nylon/fish-tail/40% herringbone/iPad case thing/coffee cup holder is an updated classic” and “Budd Dwyer was a sartorial icon and I get inspiration from him all the time” fall under the apron of cliché as would many others. If you’re here reading this, you probably already know the drill.

 As a menswear blogger, I know that I’ve occasionally resorted to clichés but I know that I’ve tried to grow beyond and avoid them when possible. Still, I notice that menswear writers still have a chub for words like “classic” and “timeless” (though we tuck our chubs under our ribbon belts).

So I went out and took some generally well-respected bloggers to put them to a test: how many times did they use words that they menswear community has “blown out”? How often did they use the words, (quint)essential, icon(ic), curate(curation), and aesthetic over a period of 50 posts?

I discounted anytime any of the searched words was used tongue-in-cheek. I discounted any articles that weren’t written by the main proprietor of the blog and any press clippings included in a blogger’s article. I excluded any articles the bloggers wrote for other blogs or publications.

A Continuous Lean

The Blogger: Called the “blog-father” in some circles, Michael Williams runs “A Continuous Lean”. His blog features many points of middle Americana that NY and LA forget about when discussing style. When I first started reading his blog back in 2008, he was featuring factory tours, vintage kodachromes, and the desks of designers and editors from the NY menswear circle. Now he and contributors post pictures of the places they vacation (he still does factory tours, kodachromes, and desk features but less so), Italian jackets, and Americana products that a fan of an AFC North team might like (i.e. totally fucking stupid beer coozies).  His blog now resembles a blog of someone who works for Paul + Williams and is perhaps more introspective than it was a few years ago.  I figure MW gets a pass for his blog being less entertaining than it was in 2009 or 2010 because he’s written books worth of material. Do you know how hard it is to create new content when you’re not just writing about a product that you happen to like, have never actually laid hands on, and you actually have a real job?

The Outlier: If you want to call menswear blogging a movement (I’d rather you not), you could make a case that MW helped start it. So when he uses a word like “iconic” is it cliché or is it just his jam? Does being “OG” give you a free pass?

The Bias: Every single fan of an AFC North team sucks. This isn’t a complaint about him but a complaint about his target audience for totally fucking stupid beer coozies.

The Results:

Quintessential (1), Essential (1), Iconic (3), Icon (6), Curate (0), Curation (0), Aesthetic (4)

Words (12,889)

Cliché Words/Total Posts = (0.30)

Cliché Words/Total Words = (0.00116)

Cliché words appeared in 30% of the 50 posts that I pulled, which was one of the higher numbers of the blogs that I looked at. I would expect that percentage to hold when considering MW’s posts for a longer period of time, though have no grounds to base this assumption on other than knowing that MW has used these words throughout his blogging “career” (lol). But MW isn’t sweating in his unionmade long-johns worrying about how many times he used the word icon in his last post, as his blog is generally photo driven with text as accompaniment. MW isn’t blowing anything out of the water with his written content but at least he isn’t one of those goddamn menswear philosophists. I mean, we should give him kudos for making it out of Cleveland and not give him shit for using icon a few more times than he should have.

Die, Workwear!

The Blogger: Since Derek Guy starting blogging for “Put This On”, his posts have been less frequent at “Die, Workwear!”. “Die, Workwear!” now resembles something that you might call “Derek’s Corner” or something cheesebally like that, as he posts on topics that are deemed too lame or too banal to post on PTO. “Die, Workwear!” is now obscure menswear geekery and news updates on what Derek is buying (reading about what a guy is planning on buying is never not weird).

The Bias: Derek has an editor that has helped him avoid cliché in his work on PTO. I would assume that this would carry over into “Die, Workwear!” and give him a leg up in avoiding clichéd menswear words. How much of “Die, Workwear!” is written with an editor in mind? I factored that Derek has worked with an editor as to not give him too much credit after I totaled his results.

[Editor's Note: Turns out Derek doesn't have an editor at PTO. Who'da guessed?]

The Results:

Quintessential (0), Essential (0), Iconic (2), Icon (0), Curate (0), Curation (0), Aesthetic (0)

Words: 15,129

Cliché Words/Total Posts = (0.04)

Cliché Words/Total Words = (0.00013)

Cliché words appear in 4% of the 50 posts that I pulled (so two). Compared to the rest of the blogs that we’re looking at, that’s low. I have no jokes for this. Derek is good at what he does.


The Blogger: Jake Gallagher runs themed weeks on his blog, “Wax-Wane”, and he’ll write a post roughly every day about a subject that falls within the theme. He will often write about the historical background of clothing brands or the like and “drop knowledge”. On one hand, you could picture him being a senile old man droning on about ancient things nobody cares about, while on the other you could call him a sort of nascent David McCullough (these are essentially the same thing, it’s just that one sounds like an insult and the other sounds like a complement [you get to decide which is which]).

Also, sprezzy punctuation; is cool > I guess/

The Outlier: Many of the cliché words that Jake used appeared in a Wes Anderson themed week. This may speak more about Wes Anderson’s preciousness than about Jake’s tendency towards using those words. I’m under the belief that Wes is a bit of a weenie and that the only way to describe his films – as Jake attempts to do -- may be through cliché, but I understand that some people think he’s great.

The Bias: Like Derek, Jake has an editor for some of his work (but none for “Wax-Wane”) so I would’ve expected the skewed by Jake having an editor in mind when he writes. I’m not sure that this is the case. I’m going to leave this issue lie.

The Results:

Quintessential (3), Essential (0), Iconic (2), Icon (3), Curate (1), Curation (0), Aesthetic (21)

Words: 19,616 (Jake’s word total over 50 posts is 4,000 more than the next closest blog)

Cliché Words/Total Posts = (0.6)

Cliché Words/Total Words = (0.00153)

I’m cutting Jake a break here because he used aesthetic quite a few times during Wes Anderson week. When talking about Wes Anderson, I would imagine it to hard avoiding using the phrase “Wes Anderson’s aesthetic” (thus I stand by my statement that Wes is a weenie). I’m also cutting him a break because he hasn’t been at this as long as Derek or MW. It’s only fair. That being said, he could ease off the use of “aesthetic” a bit as cliché words appear in 60% of his posts. The word “aesthetic” appears in 42% of his posts (this is not entirely correct as he would often use “aesthetic” multiple times in a single post, but I suck at math so to find this percentage I just took cliché words and divided it by total posts [so 50, if you were paying attention]).

However, redeeming for Jake is his Cliché Words divided by Total Word count. .153% is not significantly different than MW’s, which was .116%. And MW never had to write about “Wes Anderson’s aesthetic” for an entire week.


The Blogger: Christian Chensvold sometimes appears to be running a community rather than a blog but his ‘community’ is just an extension of Ask Andy forums (they’re weird, so stick to your tumblr). This community is hard to define but you can generally tell them from others by their disdain of the direction Brooks Brothers is going, their hatred of Rugby Ralph Lauren with all the fake patches (they hate fake patches and false assumption to a role that you did not earn but bought), their acceptance of the rule that you don’t have to be WASPy to like ivy style and that membership is bought by a trip to JPress (oh, the irony), and a unifying hatred for F.E. Castleberry (which I thought was the greatest pen name since Mark Twain, or Silence Dogood, or maybe even Johannes de Silentio -- until I realized that it wasn’t a pen name) and his website, Unabashedly Prep. Regardless, Christian Chensvold and Ivy-Style got the inspection that all the other went through.

[Editor's Note: We should take note of Chensvold's fight against over-usage of the word "aesthetic" and "sprezzatura". Also, see his creation of "new words" for the community including 'prepsloitation'.]

The Bias: Christian often presents press clippings, or guest features, with a few words but those still had to be included. Christian had the smallest word count by far. An easy way to avoid cliché is to not write that much. Ivy-Style appeared to be much more of a dumping ground for trad news than I expected which would skew the results as it featured little of Chensvold’s writing. In retrospect, my time would have been better served scouring another blog for dirt  because Chensvold didn’t have much of his own writing over 50 posts.

The Results:

Quintessential (0), Essential (0), Iconic (0), Icon (2), Curate (0), Curation (0), Aesthetic (0)

Words: 11,229

Cliché Words/Total Posts = (0.04)

Cliché Words/Total Words = (0.00018)

While his Cliché Words/Total Posts percentage equal’s Derek Guy’s (4%), this number is not a terribly good indicator of Chensvold’s usage. I feel like Cliché Words/Total Words has served this article better as you get a better feel of how often the blogger goes for cliché words. For example, Jake Gallagher’s word count is not far from twice Chensvold’s word count. Chensvold’s Cliché Words/Total Words percentage is .018% is .005% higher than Derek Guy’s, which is actually significant.

Conclusion: My only hope from this article is that menswear writers will recognize their weaknesses and continue to get better. Cliché words in menswear aren’t the devil and are occasionally unavoidable (i.e. “Wes Anderson’s aesthetic” and “totally fucking stupid and classic beer coozie”) but if avoidable, we should take the long route and get a bit creative (i.e. “Wes Anderson’s silly image of how the world should work i.e. we all dress like we need a wedgie in the worst way” or “totally fucking stupid and totally fucking stupid beer coozie”).

Also, the fantasy blogger league will kick off 1/1/13. Buy in is $50. Avoidance of cliché words will garner points for blogs as well as post frequency, word count, and the amount of times a blogger says that they’re good at sex in an interview. No flakes. Only hardcore fantasy players will be allowed in. The draft kit will be sent out in December.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cowboy Boots

In 2009, Stephen Reed left his post as Mayor of Harrisburg. His administration left the city with roughly $4 million dollars of debt. Harrisburg enjoyed living well and establishing things such as the National Civil War Museum -- which only has a handful of visitors a day -- but now knows its spending boundaries. Harrisburg is not to be a cultural mecca, although many people hoped along with Mayor Reed that it would be, but it is still the state capital and it must attend to the needs of the bureaucracy, legislature, lobbyists, and attorneys. It must provide hotels for statesmen, restaurants for fundraisers, transportation for consultants, and grimy corners for politicians to hack deals out in. It has accepted its role and is growing within its definition.

This summer I have been residing in the Harrisburg area and interning for some political group that you wouldn’t care much about. Everyday, I park my car on the City Island and walk over the Susquehanna, into the office building where I work. The homeless, unable to find housing or work in a penniless Harrisburg, panhandle along my walk. There is a particularly rambunctious homeless man – dressed in flannel and comfortable looking Velcro walkers -- who addresses me with the same slurred story every time I walk by.

“Hey now, I used to wear cowboy booths. Yessir’ I did. I wore those cowboy booths ever'day… wore them ever'day… until my friends… until my friends started calling me a FUCKING FAGGOT!”

He ends his rant by pointing at my shoes.

And everyday I am still not wearing cowboy boots.

Cowboy boots are dangerous territory for anybody and I would steer clear from wearing them as an adult. The homeless man eventually learned this as, when his friends started to make fun of him, he stopped wearing them. I could go on but you probably know enough to not to go “full cowboy” unless you actually are a cowboy.

But there is greater significance than “don’t wear cowboy boots” to this homeless man’s story. Harrisburg and this homeless man seem to be teaching us the same thing: you can’t know your boundaries until you go past them. Rules are there for a reason yet rules are meant to be broken. Society (the rule maker) can help us decide what is beyond us but the deciding factor isn’t society -- It’s you. You decide what you wear, what you do, and what you think. Money, of course, can be a limiting factor but within it’s jurisdiction you may do as you like. That homeless man could still be wearing his beloved cowboy boots to this day if he had just stuck to the course and become a “full cowboy”. Fake it until you make it, right?

Part of me wishes the homeless man had kept on wearing his cowboy boots. Maybe he’d be a happier guy.

Disclaimer: Cowboy boots are probably uncomfortable. I see rural politicians wearing them with pained looks on their faces all the time.