From Esquire to Esquire – cultivating a gentleman one page at a time.
Let’s get one thing straight – I love the Internet and its abundant outlets dedicated to the cultivation of gentlemen and gentlemanly pursuits (especially this esteemed publication.)
That being said, nothing warms my heart more than the paper and ink resources one can still find in exotic locales such as newsstands and bookstores.
As a member of the Last Analog Generation, I came of age without the benefit of Instagram or Tumblr. I had no StyleForum or A Continuous Lean. Fred Castleberry was still in diapers – unabashedly prep diapers, but diapers nonetheless.
My reference materials were printed and bound devices crafted of paper and ink and came from a time when “publish” was a verb and not a button on a build-a-blog site. These printed, tactile vessels served me well in my youth and they continue to serve me well even as their digital grandchildren come of age.
I started with The Official Preppy Handbook, Lisa Birnbach’s tongue-in-cheek treatise on what was then a largely East Coast culture. Despite its provenance on the shelves of the “Humor” section of my local Waldenbooks, the “OPH” nonetheless contained valuable lessons on attire, lifestyle, and decorum. I acquired my first copy at age 14 (stolen from one of my older sisters, if memory serves), and it accompanied me to college and then law school, imparting relevant life lessons at every stop. To this day I keep a copy in my home office, as it remains a timeless cultural arbiter.
In my later teens, I added magazines to my informational arsenal. Naturally, GQ was a staple, as was M (now defunct.) At the age of 19, I became an Esquire man when I sent in my subscription card, paid my seven bucks, and started a relationship that is now in its twenty-ninth year.
Since its inception in 1933, Esquire has featured prominent and cutting edge journalism, fiction, and fashion, but where it really held the most appeal to me was its front section entitled “Man at His Best.” It was in that section that I received tutelage on the classics in dress from John Berendt, music from Daniel Okrent, dining from John Mariani, and furnishings from Phil Patton. Stanley Bing (the nom de plume of CBS executive Gil Schwartz) was there to offer clever advice on business and domestic strategies.
Elsewhere in the magazine, Bob Greene and Pete Hamill checked in from all corners of America. Rust Hills, better known as one of the finest fiction editors and teachers of his generation, once offered up invaluable discourse on how to throw the perfect dinner party. And then-Editor-in-Chief Lee Eisenberg was always waiting “Backstage at Esquire” to provide insight not only on each issue’s features and contributors, but culture at large and the state of the American Man.
I have held on to most of the magazines that I grew up with, or in some cases – much to my clutter-averse wife’s chagrin – have reacquired them via, you guessed it, the Internet. You see, while we are unquestionably living in the golden age of information where it is possible to always be on the cutting edge of whatever subject interests us, I embrace the age when men’s lifestyle resources focused less on the right here and right now and more on the timeless and classic.
Sure, it’s great to be up on the latest smartphone apps, the band whose club set netted 100,000 YouTube hits in the past 48 hours, and this morning’s parade of peacocks at Pitti Uomo, but it’s just as important to be well-versed in the titans of jazz, the construction of basic cocktails, and the care and proper use of the versatile cast-iron skillet. These are but a few of the subjects I was able to study every month, courtesy of the United States Mail or a trip to that aforementioned Waldenbooks.
I believe most sincerely that there is a place for both print and digital resources, and at the moment that place – again, much to the chagrin of my clutter-averse wife – is my basement “study” where Lisa Birnbach and Lee Eisenberg can coexist in harmony with their electronic counterparts, all of them working in tandem in an endless effort to mold me into a Man at His Best.