Champagne

No need for celebration, Mr. Bond always enjoys a chilled glass Bollinger.
No need for celebration, Mr. Bond always enjoys a chilled glass Bollinger.

If you’re interested in living like a WASP, then it is essential that you know how to party like a WASP.  And whether you’re living it up urban style on the Upper East Side, or relaxing in the Connecticut countryside, no WASP party would be complete without a generous helping of the bubbly.  Or in other words, that most cheerful of all wines, Champagne.

Champagne has a lot going for it.  It’s versatile, it’s one of the best quality wines on the planet, and it’s virtually synonymous with fun and celebration.

Oh yes, did I also mention that it’s James Bond’s drink of choice?  Sure everything knows about the dry vodka martini (shaken, not stirred), but read Bond’s first adventure in Casino Royal and you’ll see him reaching for a flute far more often than a martini glass.

Bond and the the obvious WASP cred aside, Champagne (and better sparkling wine) really does up the enjoyment factor of  nearly any occasion.  So do yourself a favor; pitch that bottle of André and read on to learn how to select, drink, and enjoy a magnum of the good stuff like a pro.

Champagne – Une Histoire:

A common misconception is that Champagne was invented by a Benedictine Monk by the name of Dom Pérignon during his stint as cellar master at the Abbey of Hautvillers in the later half of the 17th century.  In truth sparkling wine had been produced over a century earlier by monks at the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire in Limoux (Saint Hilaire sparkling wine is still available on the market today for a bargain price of $12 a bottle).

None the less, Dom Pérignon was instrumental (certainly more than any other individual) in the development and perfection of what we know as Champagne today.  Perhaps his greatest contribution was refining the process of in-bottle fermentation to produce carbonation in wine, however that’s far from his only achievement.  For example, he was among the first to blend base wines to develop certain characteristics in his finished sparking wines.  He was one of the pioneers of making white wine from red grapes, a process still common today.  He was also the first to use a cork stopper for Champagne bottles and a leader in recognizing the benefits of cellar aging.

A worker attending to bottles undergoing secondary, in-bottle, fermentation during the Méthode Champenoise.
A worker attending to bottles undergoing secondary, in-bottle, fermentation during the Méthode Champenoise.

However, what really set things in motion was the perfection of the Méthode Champenoise, or Champagne Method (sometimes known as the Traditional Method) of sparkling wine production in the 19th century.  This is the method that all Champagne, and better sparkling wines, still practice to this day.  Without getting too in depth, it involves the creation of a blended base wine, which is then given a does of sugar and yeast, and fermented a second time in a sealed bottle to produce the carbonation that makes sparkling wine sparkle.

The Champagne method of production, combined with the ideal climate and soil of the Champagne region, quickly lead to the explosive growth and popularity of the sparkling wine from Champagne (known by then simply as Champagne) among Europeans and the British during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Over the first half of the 19th century alone, Champagne production increased from 300,000 bottles to over 20 million bottles.  From that point on, the world never looked back.

Today there are thousands of producers, making making millions of cases, of sparking wine in the traditional method, yet Champagne remains the benchmark by which all others are judged, and often fail.

Bubbly Basics:

While Champagne can seem overly complicated, it’s really not so long as you understand a few basics notions.

The first, and most important, distinction that you must know is that while all Champagne is sparkling wine, not all sparkling wine is Champagne.  The use of the word Champagne is reserved by EU law for only those sparkling wines produced by the traditional method and in the Champagne region of France.  Other, sometimes very good, sparkling wines are made in the traditional method throughout France (labeled as Cremant), Europe, and the rest of the world, but true Champagne only comes from Champagne.

A typical Champagne label.   Note the use of the word Champagne and the "Product of France" at the bottom.  That's how you know it's the real deal.
A typical Champagne label. Note the use of the word Champagne and the “Product of France” at the bottom. That’s how you know it’s the real deal.

Outside the EU some producers will still use the term Champagne (ex. California Champagne) on their labels, but with increased globalization, that’s becoming rarer and rarer.  Most better producers will gladly self identify as sparkling wine rather than attempt to free ride off the famous name.  If you’re ever unsure, always look for “Product of France” on the label to know you’re getting the real deal.

The second thing you’ll want to know is how to identify the level of sweetness you’re getting.  While not as simple as looking for “not sweet” or “sweet” on the label, cracking the sparkling wine sweetness code isn’t all that difficult.  For the most part there are only three types you’ll ever encounter:

  • Brut:  Typically dry to very dry (that is to say, not sweet) and the most common type of Champagne (and sparkling wine) available.  This is also the most versatile type of Champagne, but one thing it is not suited for is dessert.
  • Extra Sec (Extra Dry):  Here’s where it gets a little confusing because extra dry actually means “not very dry” or “slightly sweet”.  This is a popular, easy drinking variety of Champagne that’s still fairly versatile in terms of pairings.  However it’s still not up the challenge of dessert.
  • Demi-Sec (Medium Dry):  These are less common and represent the sweetest Champagne you’re likely to find in stores (there’s a Doux, or “very sweet”, version as well, but it’s difficult to find).  These can be quite good depending on your taste and is the only Champagne up to the task of tackling a sweet dessert.

Next is learning to identify the varying levels of quality available.  When it comes to Champagne there three basic levels of wine made by producers.  In order of increasing quality they are:

  • Non Vintage: The most common type of Champagne available, this is the standard offering released every year by the producers.  It’s blended from a mix of current and past vintage wines with the goal of recreating an identifiable house style (more on that later) from year to year.  As such it will not have any sort of vintage date on the label.  It’s typically aged between 1.5 and 2 years prior to release.  Non-Vintage (N.V.) Champagnes usually sell in the $20-$50 depending on quality and the producer.
  • A bottle of Louis Roederer's Prestige Cuvee Cristal.  Note the vintage year.
    A bottle of Louis Roederer’s Prestige Cuvee Cristal. Note the vintage year.

    Vintage: These are sparkling wines created with the wine of a single (usually) good year, or vintage.  Typically they’re made with better grapes, from better vineyards, and aged longer, anywhere between 2 and 5 years.  The result is usually a much more complex and concentrated wine.  Look for the vintage date on the label and expect to pay a little more over the N.V. price for that added quality, normally in the $60-$100 range.

  • Prestige Cuvée:  These are the top of the range offerings from the best producers.  Like the Vintage variety, they’re produced from wines of a single vintage and only during exceptionally good year.  They’re made with only the best grapes from the most prestigious vineyards and are typically aged for 5-8 years prior to release.  You won’t find Prestige Cuvée on the label, so you’ll have to identify these beauties by the vintage date, the price tag ($100-$500 at release), and by their trademark names such as Louis Roederer’s Cristal, Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon, or Veuve Clicquot’s La Grande Dame.  While expensive, these really do represent the finest, richest, and most concentrated sparkling wines on earth.

Aside from those general categories, one other item to look for are the words Premier Cru or Grand Cru on the label.  These are indications that the grapes used for the wine were sourced from a select group of specially designated vineyards (Grand Cru being the highest honor) in Champagne and is usually a good indicator of quality.  Prestige Cuvée wines for example will likely be sourced from nothing but Grand Cru vineyards.  However, it is possible to find Premier Cru or even Grand Cru Champagnes from smaller grower/producers at very reasonable prices.

A Grand Cru vineyard in Champagne. This provides the raw materials for the best sparkling wine on the planet.

Lastly we come to the issue of style.  This is where things can get a little ambiguous, but the basic idea is to remember that each Champagne house tries to make a consistent tasting Champagne with their N.V. offering each year.  That consistency can be thought of as each house’s particular style, and while it can be specific down to the individual producer, in practice there are three basic types:

  • Light and Elegant:  This style is characterized by a pronounced acidity or tartness and dominant flavors of citrus fruit.  Generally made from mostly white grapes, such as Chardonnay, they are the lightest bodied, crispest, and most refreshing Champagnes available.  Typical producers are: Mumm, Perrier-Jouët, Piper-Heidsieck, and Tattinger.
  • Medium Bodied:  Like the name implies, these are the middle ground Champagnes with respect to body and flavor.  They’re usually made with more red grapes, such as Pinot Noir, and as a result offer more red berry and biscuity flavors along with the citrus.  Well known producers are: Moët & Chandon and Pol Roger.
  • Full Bodied:  These are typically the more intense and concentrated with less acidity.  They’re made with a higher proportion of red grapes and feature full flavors of berries and toasted bread.  They can also have an almost creamy style texture that’s just wonderful.  Typical producers are: Bollinger, Krug, Veuve Cliquot, and Louis Roederer.

There is really no difference in quality between styles (at the same level at least) and what you like comes down to a matter of personal taste and perhaps occasion.  The only way to find out your own preferred style is to try them all!

When to Drink Champagne:

The traditional notion is that Champagne is for celebrating, like at a wedding toast, and sadly that’s the only time that most people will enjoy it.  Even more unfortunate is that the “Champagne” typically served for those occasions is about as far from real Champagne as you can get…

Champagne and caviar are a classic pairing, but the wine is equally at home with anything oily or salty.
Champagne and caviar are a classic pairing, but the wine is equally at home with anything oily or salty.

That’s a shame because Champagne (and sparkling win in general) is perhaps the most versatile wine you can buy.  Between all the different styles and products available, there’s literally a sparkling wine to go with any occasion.

As an appetizer and with dinner Brut Champagne goes with just about anything, but is happiest when paired with salty and oily foods.  That means you can very properly enjoy a glass of Champagne with anything from a plate of caviar, to peanuts, to french fries and fried chicken.

When it’s time for dinner you may want to opt for a fuller bodied style, which will go with just about anything you like, but especially so with seafood or pasta dishes.  One of my favorite pairings is Champagne with spicy Asian cuisine, which works exceptionally well.  The only real exception is to stay away from tomato based sauces, which can clash with the wine.  Nobody is perfect.

For dessert make sure to put away the Brut and break out the Demi-Sec Champagne to accompany sweeter dishes.  It will go best with lighter colored desserts such as lemon dishes, fruit, and custard, however no one will arrest you for enjoying some with a piece of chocolate cake either.

And finally, why confine your drinking to the evening?  Champagne is equally at home in the morning, especially during brunch.  Early in the day pair it with egg and mushroom dishes for a real treat, or mix it two parts to one with orange juice for that other brunch classic, the Mimosa.

How to Drink Champagne:

The general rule is that you’ll want to serve sparkling wine cold, around 40 degrees.  Better Champagnes can be served slightly warmer, but I would never go north of 50 degrees.  Just make sure never to leave the bottle in the fridge for long periods of time since it can pick up off odors and/or be disturbed by the fridge motor as it cycles on and off.  Rather, keep Champagne with your other wines and chill it in the fridge for a few hours before drinking.

When it comes time to open the bottle, don’t be intimidated.  Make sure it’s properly chilled (to reduce pressure) and remove the foil and wire enclosure from around the cork.   Place a dish towel over the cork, get a firm grip on the towel, and slowly rotate it (and the cork) back and fourth while holding the bottle steady and pointed away from anything, or anyone, you don’t want damaged.  When you feel the cork begin to rise, apply slight downward pressure to hold it back as you continue twisting so it eases out as slowly as possible.  While a loud “POP” is dramatic and fun, what you’re really after is a slight “sigh” to release the pressure as slowly as possible.

A simple flue is the perfect way to enjoy the magic in every glass of Champagne.
A simple flue is the perfect way to enjoy the magic in every glass of Champagne.

As for stemware, you can drink Champagne out of anything, but the classic flute or tulip glass is what you really want.  These tall, narrow glasses are specifically designed to retain carbonation in the wine while letting you enjoy the bubbles as they move up through the glass.  The long stem also insulates from body heat, helping to keep your wine cool longer.  You’ll want to avoid the classic bowl shaped Champagne glasses as they allow all those bubbles and aroma you paid so much for escape far too quickly.

Lastly a word on aging.  All Champagnes claim to be ready to drink upon release, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be at their best.  Prestige cuvées reach their peak 10-15 years after release and will keep for decades after.  Even basic NV Champagne will benefit from a few years in cool, dark place.  However, do not attempt to age your Champagne if you can’t offer it the right conditions (50-60 degrees) for a long time.  If you’re plan it to age it on a wine rack in the kitchen, then it will never be better than now!

Don't age wine if you can't provide the right conditions!  This is ideal, but a simple home wine fridge will do the trick.
Don’t age wine if you can’t provide the right conditions! This is ideal, but a simple home wine fridge will do the trick.

Next Steps:

  • First, if you don’t already have them, go out and get yourself some proper glasses.  No need for the ultra expensive crystal set of 12, a simple set of glass flutes or tulips will do just fine.
  • Next is to try some Champagne!  One option is to try out a wine bar where you can experience as glass at a time.  The downside is that most wine bars are often lacking on sparkling options, and when they do have Champagne, they won’t offer it by the glass.  The other option is to grab a bottle from your local retailer.  Start with a basic NV Brut and work your way up from there.
  • Want to get a sense of Champagne without breaking the bank?  As mentioned earlier, many producers make very fine sparking wines using the Champagne method all over the world.  Just look for “Traditional/Champagne Method” or “In-Bottle 2nd Fermentation” on the label.  As mentioned earlier, anything labeled Cremant is French sparking wine made in the classic method outside of Champagne and most of what is imported drinks well and is a great value.
  • My favorites are the American versions produced by the Champagne houses themselves.  The best in my opinion are Domaine Chandon (Moët & Chandon), Mumm Napa (Mumm), Domaine Carneros (Tattinger), and my personal favorite Roederer Estate (Louis Roederer).  All are very good, give you a great taste Champagne style, and cost about half as much ($15-$30) as their French cousins.
  • For a real deal there’s nothing better than Cava, the Spanish interpretation of Champagne.  Cava is produced in the Traditional Method and can be easily be found for under $10 a bottle.
  • Learn more and become an expert.  This article covers only the bare basics and there’s a lot more information for those willing to seek it out.  A great place to start is French Wine for Dummies which devotes and entire chapter to Champagne.  Good luck and keep those bubbles flowing!
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The Raincoat

Spring is coming and nothing says WASP style like a classic raincoat.
Spring is coming and nothing says WASP style like a classic raincoat.

It’s been a particularly brutal winter for the howtoWASP and in anticipation of the arrival of spring, warmer, and wetter weather, what better time to feature that all-time WASP wardrobe great: the raincoat.

Not just any raincoat, mind you, but the classic Burberry style trench coat.  As I’ve often mentioned, one of the great things about WASP fashion is that so few of the trends every go out of style and the raincoat is definitely not an exception to that rule.

Here’s a simple test; go look in your grandparent’s closet and see how many of the clothes you’d be willing to wear out today.  Since they probably lived through the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, the answer will invariably be: not many.  However if you’re lucky enough to pull out a Burberry trench coat, you could wear it with pride and not look a bit out of place walking down Madison Avenue.

Of course there have been updates to the classic style over the years (more on that later) but the basic raincoat has endured as a fashion icon for more than a century and likely won’t be going anywhere soon.

History:

So which is it, a trench coat or a raincoat?  Both are technically correct but the former highlights the original purpose for which the coat was designed, and eventually made famous, in the trenches of Europe during World War I.

The trenches of Europe during WWI gave birth to the original trench coat.
The trenches of Europe during WWI gave birth to the original trench coat.

But let’s back up a little first.  The true origin of the raincoat began with Thomas Burberry’s invention of a new water repellant fabric he marketed as Gaberdine in 1888.  The material was made of a pre-treated worsted wool and cotton blend and tightly woven together to enhance water resistance and durability.

Any early example of the original Burberry trench.  Many feature remain today.
Any early example of the original Burberry trench. Many features remain today.

Burberry used the material to outfit the great British explorers of the day (including polar pioneers Ronald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton) but it wasn’t until 1901 when he submitted a design to the Army for a new, lighter weight, officer’s coat that concept of the trench coat was born.

Or more correctly, the “military style officer’s raincoat” was born.  The term “trench coat” would not become ubiquitous until a decade later with the onset of the first World War.  By then the coat had received minor modifications including the addition of several now classic features including shoulder straps for epaulettes, D-rings along the belt to carry equipment, large pockets, and various flaps and vents all designed to aide functionality on the battlefield.

After the war, many of the officers returning to civilian life held on to their beloved trench coats and gradually the style became as common on the streets of London as on the battlefields of Europe.

The Modern (Classic) Trench:

While there have been countless updates to the Burberry style raincoat over the years, the true classic will always include certain features:

A modern version of the Burberry raincoat, featuring many of the classic elements.
A modern version of the Burberry raincoat, featuring many of the classic elements.
  • Khaki or tan colored gaberdine fabric.
  • Fairly long, with the bottom hitting somewhere around the knees.
  • Double Breasted, button up enclosure.
  • Shoulder Straps.
  • Rain flap over the back of the shoulders.
  • Belt with D-Rings attached.
  • Strap adjustments for the cuffs and sometimes the collar as well.
  • Large front pockets.
  • Gun flap over the front of the right shoulder (less common but still a classic feature).
  • Zip-in liner for added warmth.

If you’re a true sucker for tradition, then there’s really no other way to go.  However, if that all seems like a little too much, there are more modern versions.  The best of these manage to look much less conspicuous (fewer straps and military relics, different colors), are easier to wear (single breasted, no belt, shorter length), while still retaining small touches and nods to the classic version.

This definitely makes a statement, although probably not one a WASP would comprehend.
This definitely makes a statement, although probably not one a WASP would comprehend.

Ironically, today the company that seems to be pushing the envelope the most when it comes to raincoat styling, is the company that brought us the original: Burberry.  While they still do offer some traditional versions, many of their modern interpretations take the concept to the point of bizarre.

While the howtoWASP believes everyone is entitled to their own opinion when it comes to style and taste, I would not recommend going that route if the air of WASP’iness is what you seek.  And let’s be honest, would you have really made it this far in the post if that wasn’t the case?  I thought not. Let’s move on.

Where to Buy:

If money is no object, then your best option is to head over to Saks, Nordstrom, or some other high end retailer and pick up a classically styled Burberry raincoat in khaki.  Or, if you’re still not impressed and just can’t bring yourself to buy off the rack, then you could always go the bespoke option for the ultimate in WASP’ish outerwear.

However, if you’re like me and neither have nor want to blow $2,500 on a coat, there are other alternatives.

First is to look into other manufactures to see what’s available.  Virtually every major clothing brand makes at least one style of raincoat and many can be had for very affordable prices.  Quality is going to fluctuate with maker and price, but you could easily pick up a nicely made, classic looking coat for a mere fraction of the cost of the Burberry original at just about any mall in America.  No, you won’t get the Burberry check on the inside, but most people will never know the difference.

The second option is to go used.  The advantage here is that through eBay or some other second hand source you can pick up true Burberry raincoat for for under $100.  The obvious downside is that you’ll be at the mercy of what’s available on the market at any given time with respect to size and style.

Condition can also vary wildly so be sure to either inspect in the item in person if possible, or request plenty of pictures before committing any of your hard earned dollars.  The last thing you want is a stained, ragged, and obviously used looking coat.   However a nicely worn (and  remember they are meant to be out in the elements) vintage coat can look just as classy and last longer that something bought new in a store.

A vintage Burberry label.  If you're buying used, make sure you can spot a fake.
A vintage Burberry label. If you’re buying used, do the research and make sure you can spot a fake.

One other word of caution, if going the second route, make sure to become familiar with the features and label of an authentic coat.  There are many more counterfeit Burberry items on the market than legitimate ones and it only takes a a little research to pick out the obvious fakes.

Option three is to get lucky.   Or in other words, find a friend of a relative that has a nice vintage raincoat that they no longer use nor want and is willing to donate it to you.  This is the classic grandpa’s closet strategy and unfortunately, more often than not, you’ll come up empty handed.  Then again, that’s exactly where my own mother got her Burberry raincoat, so you never know what you might find.

When to Wear:

Once again, the truly great feature of the raincoat remains it’s versatility.  While ideally suited as a topcoat over a suit or other professional wear, it’s equally at home on a casual weekend out.  That’s doubly true for today’s more modern versions, which are designed with more casual wear in mind.

For me the only real requirement necessary to break mine out is having the right kind of weather.  It’s definitely an “in-between” kind of item, at its best during the transitional seasons of spring and fall when it’s too cold for a jacket but too warm for a full on wool overcoat.    And of course any time you get a cool, damp day (think stereotypical London) there is no better choice.

The only real exception is if you find a coat with a good removable liner, which in some cases can pull double duty as a winter coat in less frigid climates.  Get yourself one of those and you’ll have truly found a real workhouse of WASP outerwear style.

The weather the raincoat was designed for.  However that doesn't mean you can't enjoy it in the sun as well.
The weather the raincoat was designed for. However that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it in the sun as well.

The Top-Sider

A Golden Retriever and a well worn Top-Sider. A little piece of WASP heaven.

More often than not when discussing how to dress like a WASP, the conversation inevitably turns to business or other semi-formal attire. And while it’s true that knowing how to dress up properly is a key component of WASP culture, we must keep in mind that knowing how to properly dress down can be just as important.

And when it comes to casual attire, there is one item in particular that no self respecting WASP should ever be without: a pair of Top-Siders.

Now, I’ll be the first admit that some WASP’y attire isn’t exactly practical or cost effective.  There are, for example, only so many opportunities to show off that new Madras suit and not be mistaken for a hobo…  However, that’s definitely not the case with Top-Siders.  In fact they’re actually one of the most practical purchases you can ever make.

Why?  First consider that the Top-Sider (also known as the boat shoe or deck shoe) is perhaps the most versatile footwear option available on the market today.  Think about it, whether it’s in the office or on the beach, the Top-Sider is equally at home.  They’re perfectly appropriate just about anywhere and for anything.

Also handy is that they never go out of style.  Minor variations come and go, but the basic deck shoe has remained essentially unchanged (and a best seller) for nearly 80 years.  These days they seem to cycle between preppy niche item and mainstream fashionable.  Either way you can’t go wrong.

Dawn of the Deck Shoe:

Paul Sperry in 1935

Rather the typical Anglo-Saxon background associated with much of WASP culture, the Top-Sider is uniquely a product of American ingenuity.   The idea for the shoe was first conceived by a man named Paul Sperry.  During a cold Connecticut winter, Paul noticed that his dog Prince seemed to have no trouble running across slick snow and iced covered surfaces and became curious as to what made that possible.

Upon further investigation he noticed the pattern of groves and cracks in his dog’s paws and suspected they were the secret to Prince’s superior traction.  Sperry set about replicating the pattern by using a razor to score groves into a rubber shoe sole and the rest is history.  By 1935 the design was refined into the scalloped pattern of cuts (like you’ll find on any pair of deck shoes today) and the Top-Sider was officially introduced.

As the name implies, the Top-Sider (referring to the outer or “top side” deck of a boat) was originally introduced as a boating shoe that would allow sailors like Paul Sperry to maintain traction in even the slipperiest of conditions.  The shoes proved to be highly effective and over the following decades became a WASP favorite both on and off the water; as their association with boating culture sowed appeal among the general preppy set as well.

The natural element of the Top-Sider. Thanks to their uniquely designed sole, they'll maintain traction on even the slickest of surfaces.

What to Buy:

OK, so you’re on board (get it?) with the idea that you need a pair of deck shoes.  Now comes the task of actually going out and buying them.

The good news is that just about every major shoe company out there makes at least one variation of the basic Top-Sider.  The bad news is that every shoe maker makers at least one variation… You get the idea, how are you supposed to choose?  There really are a huge range of options out there between different manufactures, levels of quality, material, color, etc…

My recommendation: stick with the classic.  That means going with the original Sperry Top-Sider.  They’re the real deal, last for years, and available everywhere.  They’re also fairly inexpensive compared to many of the deck shoes offered by other brands.

In terms of material I’d suggest going with the basic leather in some shade of brown or tan.   For the soles stick with the basic flat rubber bottom.  They don’t offer a lot in terms of support, but then again you won’t be wearing them to run a marathon…  If you want to go really traditional, get the soles in white (originally designed to not mark-up decks).  Although I’ll confess that I actually prefer the colored variety.

The classic version of the Sperry Top-Sider. Note the simple brown leather construction, rawhide laces, and white "non-marking" soles. If you want to go authentic, this is it.

Again, stick with the classic and you really can’t go wrong.  However, once you’ve got your classic pair of Sperry’s, feel free to experiment.  Higher end dress models, canvas, suede, different colors, there are a myriad of options from which to choose.  Just try not to stray too far from the original if you want to maintain that WASP’y image.

How to Wear:

This may seem like a no-brainer and in some ways it is.  For the most part you can simply throw on your favorite pair of deck shoes no matter what you’re wearing and you’ll look fine.  After all, that’s a major part of the appeal of the shoes to begin with.

However, in order to really do it right, I believe there are some general guidelines you should follow when wearing Top-Siders.  In my opinion deciding when and where Top-Siders are most appropriate depends largely on the age and condition of the shoes.  The breakdown goes as follows:

Like New (100-75%) – Generally when the shoes are new an pristine.  They’re unscuffed, unstained, and maintain their original form.  They’ve never really been exposed to water so the leather is still soft and supple.

In this condition Top-Siders are best worn in nicer settings, such as the office, out on the town, or when dining at a decent restaurant.  Think of them as being on par with a pair of loafers.  They can be worn with socks (only with pants, please) or without.

A well worn pair of Top-Siders that have seen lots of time on the water. This how deck shoes should look.

Worn (75-25%) –These are shoes that have begun to show their age and/or good use.  They’ll be worn, scuffed, and probably lightly stained.  They’ve seen lots of sun and water and taken on a flater shape.  The leather is stiffer and the seams might also be separating a bit at the tops.

While it may not sound like it, this is the ideal Top-Sider condition.  It shows that the shoes have been used as intended (out in the elements) and gives you that classic preppy/casual look.  What you loose in ability to wear in more formal settings, you more than make up for in terms of all around utility.  Out on the weekend, around the house, to the beach, at the pool, etc…  The list is endless.  At this stage of life, sockless is the only way to go.  (For instructions on how to weather your deck shoes, see “Next Steps” below.)

Near Death (25-0%) – The shoes have become heavily worn with lots of scuffs and stains, maybe even some tears as well.  The laces have probably broken at some point (simply retie them together) and some of the seams have begun to open up.  The shoes are severely weathered and the interior is frayed or coming apart.  The soles have hardened, cracked, and no longer provide grip.

The sad fact about heavily used shoes is that they all eventually wear out.  Top-Siders are no different, however that doesn’t mean they’re ready for the garbage.  While you can no longer wear these shoes out on the town, they are still great to have around the house for garden chores, or perhaps for use at the beach or pool.  When you need a simple pair of shoes that you don’t really care about damaging or losing, these are the way to go.

Once your Top-Siders have worn away to nothing, it’s time to go out and get another pair and then repeat the process.  My guess is that once you get used to wearing them, you’ll be hooked for life.

Next Steps:

Even high end manufacturers now make deck shoes. This version by Salvatore Ferragamo will set you back $300.

1) If you don’t already have a pair, head out to the store and buy some.  Almost every major shoe store or department store will carry Top Siders and/or other styles of deck shoes.  Pricing is just about the same everywhere, but sometimes you can find a deal for $10-20 off.  In general expect to pay around $70 for a pair of Sperry Top-Siders.  Some brands cost less, some cost much more.

2) Check out the Sperry website to get an idea of the ranges and style available.  As I said, stick with the classic for your first pair.  After that, sky’s the limit.

3) Weather your Shoes:  If you want your Top-Siders in the desirable “worn” phase of life, there are ways to speed up the weathering process.  My dad often asks me to take his new pairs with me when I go sailing, which is hands down the best way to weather your deck shoes.  If you don’t have access to a boat, you’re not out of luck.  It’s an easy process to replicated on shore.

Simply take the shoes and dunk in completely under water (salt water if you really want an authentic look, but make sure to rinse with fresh water before drying).  Don’t worry, as long as you have a basic leather and rubber model, the shoes are designed for this kind of abuse.  Once the shoes are soaked, take them out and let them dry completely in the sun.  You’ll notice they’ll be very stiff at first, but will quickly soften out with wear.

Sometimes one soaking is enough, or you might have to repeat the process 2-3 more times.  But eventually you’ll have a nice pair of perfectly weathered Top-Siders ready for casual WASP duty anytime, anywhere.

4) Once you have your shoes purchased and weathered the last step is simple, just thrown them on and enjoy!

The French Cuff

A funny thing about WASP culture here in the United States is that it usually involves Americans imitating the British, who themselves are imitating the French.  In other words, when it comes down to it, WASP style is basically French style as viewed through the lens of the British.  There is perhaps no better example of this trend than the classic “French Cuff” dress shirt.

If Mr. Bond wears it, it must be WASP'y.

French Cuffs have long been a staple of the WASP wardrobe.  The reason is simple.  While the standard everyday barrel cuff certainly has its uses, when it comes to making a statement in the boardroom, or impressing at a formal evening event, the French cuff reigns supreme.  So, if you want to dress like a WASP, they need to be in your closet at home.

Admittedly French cuff shirts are more complicated than their standard barrel cuff counterparts.  You’ll find they take a little more time and effort to prepare and put on.  They require some additional specialized accessories.  And they’re not suitable for every occasion.  However don’t let any of that put you off because, when worn properly, french cuffs add a subtle touch of class and flash to your outfit that can help you stand out among the competition.

The Beginnings:

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Alexandre Dumas: Literary royalty and possible father of the modern French cuff shirt.

According to popular culture the double cuff shirt first became popular in the 1840’s with the publication of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.  One of the book’s antagonists, Baron Danglars, is described as having extravagant adornments set on the turned back sleeves of his shirts.  French tailors of the time began making shirts imitating those turned back or “French” style cuffs, as they soon came to be known.  The trend quickly caught on among the well to do in Britain, sealing its place in WASP culture.  Since then French cuffs have remained popular the civilized world over to varying degrees ever since and have actually undergone a bit of a resurgence within the past couple years.  Even so, it’s good to remember that regardless of trends, like most classic WASP wear, they’ve never gone completely out of style and never will.

What You Need to Know:

Three Stages of the French Cuff: Unfolded, Folded, and Linked.

The good news when it comes to French Cuff shirts is “not much”.  Aside from the cuffs, they’re identical to any other  dress shirt out there.  But about those cuffs… You’ll likely notice three things right away:

  • The sleeves (the cuff portion at least) are way too long
  • There are too many (four) holes
  • There are too few (zero) buttons

What’s going on here?  Well it’s not that complicated.  Remember that French cuffs are actually turned back cuffs, in that you must fold the end of the sleeve back over on itself before it can be worn.  Once that’s accomplished you’ll find (assuming you’ve got a shirt that fits) that the sleeve is now the proper length.

How do you know where to make the fold?  Easy!  Just line up the holes, one on top of the other, and make your fold.  Bend the now doubled-back cuff over the top of your wrist and line up the two remaining holes on each end.  What you should be left with is all four holes lined up, forming a straight passage through the cuff.  Now there’s just the matter buttons, or rather, the lack of any.  But don’t worry because that brings us to…

A Word on Cufflinks:

Basic cufflink anatomy. Note the broad top, the vertical stud, and the hinged back.

In place of the buttons that normally fasten the cuffs of a shirt, french cuff shirts rely on cufflinks.  Cufflinks are at their most basic are matched pairs of fasteners, usually consisting of a broad top, a stud, and a hinged back that rotates from vertical to horizontal to lock the shirt cuff in place.

Going back to the example above, once you have your cuff folded over and aligned, take the cufflink and pass the stud completely through the hole.  Next, flip the hinged back into the horizontal position to lock the link in place.  One thing to watch is to make sure you insert the cufflink in the right direction.   the top of the cufflink should be aligned with the top of your wrist and the hinged portion with the bottom of your wrist.  With your arms at your side you’ll want the decorated portion of the cufflink facing out.

Specialty cufflinks are a great way to personalize your look. They can also serve as good conversation pieces.

Yes, it’s true that cufflinks can be a bit of a headache.  They require additional cost, extra time to put in place, and if you forget them then you’re while traveling you’re going to look silly.  However, cufflinks have some real benefits as well.

For example, they provide an outlet for creative expression, something that’s often difficult to do while wearing a suit (appropriately at least).  Are you really into sailing?  Get some nautical themed cufflinks.  Avid golfer, how about some duffer style links?  The options are essentially limitless.  Whatever your interests, chances are that someone makes a cufflink to go with it.

Then there’s the “dress to impress” factor.  Here cufflinks give you a chance to make a statement by adding a little extra flash to your ensemble.  Let’s face it, when it comes to jewelry, men (WASP’y men at least) are very limited in their options.  Basically you can wear a watch, a school ring, a wedding ring, and… that’s about it.  Cufflinks provide an additional opportunity to showcase your superior taste as a well dressed man.

Some Guidlines:

When it comes to wearing French cuffs, there’s really not too much to worry about.  Most of the time it’s simply a matter of picking the right shirt, cuff links, and getting dressed.   However here are a few of my own guidelines that might come in handy.

  • Save your French cuff shirts for the right occasions.  My general rule is that you should only wear them with a suit and tie, or with formal evening wear (black or white tie).  Sport coats and blazers are technically a no-no, but you can get away with it in some situations, as long as you’re wearing a tie.  Anything sans tie and you’ll want to leave them in the closet.  French cuffs are formal by nature and they just don’t look right with a more casual look.  Again, if you’re not wearing a tie, go with the barrel cuffs instead.
  • This shirt does not fit! Ideally you want to show about an inch of cuff. No more, no less.

    Make sure your shirts fit!  This is a good all around rule for any dress shirt, or any shirt period for that matter.  In particular here you’ll want to make sure your sleeves are the correct length.  You’re looking for something that rests just behind the base of your thumb when your arms are at your side.  Ideally you want an inch or so of cuff protruding beyond the sleeve of your suit jacket.

  • Match your cufflinks.  When matching cufflinks, the only thing I really pay attention to is making sure that the color of the metal matches the other hardware in the outfit.  For example, if I’m wearing gold colored cufflinks, I’ll also want to go with a gold colored belt buckle, shoe buckles, brace clips, and watch if possible.  Matching hardware is not critical, especially in terms of your watch (which is really a separate element in my mind), but doing so helps bring everything together.  When it comes to formal dress, it’s the details that make the difference.
  • Select your cuff links appropriately.  When it comes to the design of the cufflinks themselves, it helps to use a little common sense.  Again, cuff links provide a chance to be an individual, but like all things WASP’y subtly is key.  That being said, it’s probably best to steer clear of really obnoxious or potentially offense material, especially when in the company strangers or more casual acquaintances.
  • As a general rule, anything inspired by trucker mud-flaps is not WASP'y.

    Keep it classy.  Along those same lines, it’s generally a good idea to keep the “bling” quotient down as well.  While wearing an iced out pair of $50,000 gold and diamond cufflinks may impress some people, chances are that your average WASP is not among them.  Also, there’s something to be said for not walking down the street with a giant advertisement on your wrist that screams “Rob Me!”  Just remember that despite what “The Donald” would have you believe, expensive alone does not classy nor good taste make.

Next Steps:

  • Nothing fancy here, just go out and buy yourself a shirt with French cuffs and a pair of cuff links.  I’d recommend starting with a simple white dress shirt that can be worn with just about anything.
  • In terms of shopping you can’t go wrong with any of the standard mall department stores.  Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, and Nordstrom in particular are all good options and should have plenty of selection.  Men’s stores like Joseph A. Bank and Brooks Brothers are solid bets as well although prices may be a bit higher.
  • Cufflinks are available in department stores as well, but you may have trouble finding something you like.  I’d recommend looking online to find something unique and more inline with your own personal interests.   Specialty sites such as Just Cufflinks can show you what’s out there.

The Full Windsor

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Mr. Bond sporting a near perfect full Windsor knot. Note the symmetric, yet compact shape finished off with a perfect dimple. Gentlemen, this is how it's done.

As a student of the WASP lifestyle, one of your primary objectives should be knowing how to properly dress in a suit, or similar business attire.  Granted, the act of simply wearing a suit isn’t difficult, in fact lots of perfectly average people do it everyday. But the operative word in the previous sentence is properly, which brings us to today’s lesson: How to tie a Windsor knot.

There are many ways to tie a tie, but only one right way in the eyes of a WASP, the Windsor.  Or more specifically the full Windsor.  The creation of the Windsor knot is generally credited to the  Duke of Windsor, a title created for King Edward VIII after his abdication of the British throne in 1937.  Although some people actually credit his father King George V with the development of the knot, Edward must have done more to popularize it because his name is the one that stuck.  It’s interesting to to think that had Edward not abdicated, or had George gotten full credit for the knot, it would probably be known today as the Normandy knot!   If you’d like to learn more about Edward and George, you should watch The King’s Speech and pay particular attention to the characters not played by Colin Firth.  Anyways, the main point here is that the Windsor knot is traditional and it’s British, so you need to know it.

Aside from it’s WASP’y pedigree, the Windsor also has some practical advantages.  First, unlike most other knots, it’s symmetrical, which any anthropologist or social psychologist will tell you is more attractive.  Second, it’s larger than other knots and therefore better at making your tie (often one of the defining personal statements you make with your suit) stand out.  Third, it’s much less prone to slippage, meaning that you’ll stay looking well kept and sharp.

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What you want to avoid.

As far as disadvantages, most people avoid the Windsor because it’s more complicated and difficult to tie than other knots.  While there is some truth to this, I tend to look at it the other way.  Taking the time and effort to pull off a perfect Windsor shows that you’re hard working, cultured, and competent too boot, the epitome of WASP style!  Granted there are some ties for which the Windsor is not well suited.  These include most skinny and really wide ties.  Fortunately there’s an easy solution, don’t buy these ties!  They’re not WASP’y and you’ll spend a fortune replenishing your wardrobe to satisfy each passing trend. Stick with tradition, which never goes out of style.

OK, by now you’re down with the ideal of the full Winsdor, the next step is learning how to tie one.  Like I said, it is slightly more complicated, but only slightly.  Here are the steps:

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Some additional tips:

  • You can use the seam in the tie (on the skinny end) as a guide of where to make the first crossover in step 2.  It’s not always exact, but I find it to be a pretty good gauge for getting the right length on just about any tie.
  • When making the loops in steps 3 and 4, make sure to cinch down and maintain a fair amount of pressure.  You want the base of the knot to be as compact as possible, which creates a sturdier, cleaner, and tighter knot.
  • After step 6, let the front of the tie hang down over the knot.  This will give you a good gauge of it’s final length.  If it’s obviously too long or too short, start over and adjust where you make your initial crossover in step 2 accordingly.  i.e. if the time comes out too short, make the wide end of the tie that much lower in step 1.
  • Note that while checking the length as recommended above, the final knot will yield an adidtional 1-2″ of length once everything is tightened down.
  • After step 7, tighten the knot by pulling down slightly on the front of the tie, and then pulling outward on the two narrow ends at the top of the knot.  Repeat until the knot is tight, symmetrical and well proportioned.

It may look complex, but it’s really not, especially after a little practice,  And remember, practice is definitely the key here.  Make sure to do it when you have plenty of free time and not when you’re running 20 minutes late for an important meeting.  It’ll take many screw-ups before you get the technique down pat and even then getting the length right every time can be a little tricky even for seasoned pros. However, keep at it and you too will master this WASP’iest of all knot tying techniques.

Next Steps:

  • Like I said, get a tie and PRACTICE!
  • Check out Youtube for example videos.
  • Watch The King’s Speech.