22 September 2010

7 Dirty Words (a curmudgeon rants)

People like to describe things. It's only natural. It gives them a point of reference when conversing with others. A lot of the terminology we use is more than a little silly, in one way or another. I've worked in the fine wine and gourmet food business for years, so believe me when I tell you  know a thing or two about silly, geeky terminology. Add to that three years of writing a menswear blog on the internet and I'm practically swimming in it. As a result, I've decided to declare a moratorium, at least temporarily, on the following seven words/phrases as they apply to mens clothing. I intend to treat them like dirty words. Actually, that's not true, I use those words all the time. These seven I tend to avoid like the plague:

This one is the mildest of the bunch, being at it's simplest only an abbreviation of "traditional". As such, I read it to mean just that, traditional, as in "been around for a while", or "if it ain't broke don't fix it" Really, as a dirty word it's pretty soft-core, I'm just not a fan of needless abbreviation. If we used the full word more often, it's likely that we'd tend to use it correctly more often. Besides, Tin Tin is a good guy, so I'm almost willing to give this one a pass...almost.

This word gets bandied about like mad, especially amongst the workwear/fashion, New York Lumberjack set. Everything's just got to be so damned authentic. Drives me mad. True, your Filson tincloth jacket may authentic, your Woolrich blanket may be authentic, and those jeans you paid $400 for that you never wash may be authentic too, in that they're made in USA by some venerable old brand. But all that stuff thats designer, all those collaborations, all those poor people clothes that are priced only for millionaires? No way. There ain't nothing authentic about designer coal mining clothes, no matter where they come from or what the label says. Unless, of course, you work in an actual coal mine, in which case the other guys are likely to beat you up when they hear how much all that gear cost you.

Heritage Brand
I've got no beef with actual heritage brands. I do love my Bean Boots. But you never hear that term applied to things that actually have some heritage. That's because real heritage is usually content to be quiet, it speaks for itself and it doesn't need a label to tell you. I find that once that label is applied to something it usually means that its an overpriced copy of a romanticized version of the original thing, which was actually a commodity for average people in the first place. (See Authentic, above)

Well Curated
Let's say you walk into a museum to see an exhibit of artifacts recently un-earthed at a new dig site in Egypt. The archeologist found a lot of stuff, but only the best or most exemplary pieces were chosen for display at the museum. You might say that the collection was well curated, and you'd be right. But a store, or these days online store, is not a place to describe as well curated. Stores have buyers who select the merchandise they would like to sell, and then display it in a way which will hopefully get you to buy it when you see it. They create an atmosphere, one that suggests a certain lifestyle or frame of mind to match their wares. It's not curation, it's business and marketing. Actually, the way they've co-opted the term "well curated " has been a pretty good stroke of marketing too.

Before we get all up in arms, I'm not going to get all racist or anything. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants have as much right to be proud of their race and religion as anybody else, and they should. Many of our greatest leaders have fallen into that category, and their contributions are great. But we're talking about clothing here, not religion. Button down collars, striped ties, sack jackets and khakis do not belong exclusively to this tiny slice of the American pie. True, maybe the style did belong to them once, but that's been over for at least 30 year and probably more. Besides, even in the old days, when the sons of the captains of industry were busy combining these elements in a particular way to forge a "style", the clothes they were buying were coming from stores that were frequently owned by Jews, who had as much, if not much more, to do with the development of this style than their customers did. Jacob Press himself came up with a lot of these ideas in the first place, remember? And let's not forget the important role black jazz musician played in making this something that was actually "cool". My point is, race, religion and socio-economic standing don't have anything to do with a striped tie and a blue blazer, not anymore. It's about time we got over that.

Unless we're talking specifically about the places that are Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth or the University of Pennsylvania, then the term simply does not apply. We should get over that, too. (see above). Besides, college kids tend to favor shorts, flip flops, and pajamas in public, even at the Ivy League schools.

This is the King Hell Dirty Fashion Word of them all. Allow me to apologize in advance if I step on any toes here. There's no two ways about it, I hate it. Maybe it meant something once, but now it only stands for costume. I'm going to go out on a limb and blame Lisa Birnbach. Why not? I never was a fan of The Official Preppy Handbook (or TOPH as people have taken to calling it in our too-fast-for-anything-but-abbreviations times) anyway. When someone says they dress "preppy", it usually means they've gotten pretty good at looking at ads for J. Crew and Polo and aping the look perfectly. It means they're playing dress up, and it's a term that belittles those people out there who actually get it, the one's who know what they're doing, the ones out there who really have style and continue to nail it on a daily basis. Those people tend not to use the word, tend in fact to be reviled by it. Tommy Hilfiger seems to love it. See my point? I will qualify it by saying that it's exponentially more infuriating when applied to mens clothes. For the ladies, it can be cute and even endearing.

I've had the idea for this post in my head for quite a while now, but I never went ahead with it. I know I'm likely to infuriate some people here, but what can you do? If I'm going to let that stop me, I might as well close up shop.Besides, I'll be the first to admit that I'm as guilty in this regard as anyone. True, I do try my best to avoid these terms, but I'm a sucker for the things they define. Hypocrisy? Maybe, but at least I can laugh at myself.

In closing, please enjoy this guys take on a certain other seven words:

Not safe for work, but funny as Hell.


NCJack said...

I'm with you all the way. I'd include "workwear", but I have a hunch that neither you nor I would use that term except in derision.

Let's toss in "mentor", too. Nothing to do with clothes, I just hate it.

Maanum's Meandering Musings said...

"Actually, that's not true, I use those words all the time. These seven I tend to avoid like the plague:" was a nice set up (had me laugh out loud and startle my daughter.) Plus the inclusion of George Carlin is just classic.

I guess I'm saying... nice post as usual.

Anonymous said...


You are a good dude with a good blog, but I think you sometimes get carried away. I think I know what you are saying - that you dislike the misuse or the overuse of the terms you list. But the irony is that you have used most of those words extensively. Do a search and you will see. Authentic is bad unless you are referring to Arrow Mocs, Levis or North Shore food. Ivy and preppy are bad unless you are using it to describe the million items you use it for (Bean sweaters, topsiders, on and on).

Previously, I think you might have gotten a bit carried away with suggesting that people were foolish to buy new clothes, which while I agree, there would be no thrift deals for you if no one purchased new. People should not buy copies or new versions of the classics? - ok, maybe. Except when you find knock off Nantucket Reds at thrift.

You have a different and great view. I think it is great, but I think you sometimes overstate your case.

A fan.

Giuseppe said...

Touche, and point well taken. I do tend to get carried away. But I'm sureyou can agree, we need to give these over tired terms a rest.

Anyway, as with most things here, my toung is lodged firmly in my cheek.

Anonymous said...

I nominate "bad boys" when applied to things like shoes--as in "I gotta get me a pair of those bad boys right now." The phrase works for stuff like engines, handguns, and actual bad boys. Not for cordovan loafers.

Holden said...

So you can call yourself out for hypocrisy so long as nobody else does, right? Irony is my favorite literary device.

Giuseppe said...


I find that an awareness of one's own shortcomings amkes it difficult for others to throw barbs.


I'd be willing to say we throw "Bad Boys" out completely. Ick.

FLW said...

There are some words on your list that I like and some that I don't. Regardless, I agree that they might need a rest, if for no other reason than incessant over-use eventually leads to meaninglessness.

I like trad, primarily because it reminds me of people such as THE Trad. At least this one remains in fairly limited usage (as compared to the other six).

Authentic is much like the word "classy," the more you use it to describe yourself or your product, the less likely the word applies.

"Curate" is a linguistic cancer amongst the current style and design set. Collecting, merchandizing, designing, these are all fine words and do not need to be replaced by this misused abomination.

I work with teenagers and the one defense that I can offer the word "preppy" is that it does seem to encourage young men to ditch the gym shorts and stop putting their underwear on display for God and all creation. Overused? Yes, but at least it does some good.

WASP I am the most torn over. As one who fits into that demographic, it is nice to have a little moniker to describe my background or people like me. You get pisano, I get WASP. Without it, I just come from a random group of white people. That being said, we did nothing more than create (curate???) the look. Much like jazz, hip hop, etc. it need not be ethnically exclusive.

Overall, a great post and a good suggestion for avoiding linguistic burnout.

Big Picnic said...

This blog is awesome, and it has proven itself many times over. So there is no need for the defensive tone its taken of late (see, e.g., the opening and closing grafs of this post, the target hat saga, closing the tattoo comments, and worst of all humoring the idiot who said this blog had become a "self-parody"). The popularity of this blog speaks to your taste and the value people put in your thoughts; by contrast, no one likes internet commenters at all.

I understand that ironically this is itself a criticism (of sorts) from a comment, but I'd just sort of respectfully suggest you don't have to keep apologizing for your posts or including these kinds of "I know this will make you guys mad" type of disclaimers and such. Who cares what we think?

Anonymous said...

I agree. Keep up the good work sir.

Maine Hunting shoe fan.

Vashon Island

ms. mindless said...

Love this post. I too blame Lisa Birnbach for much of this mess we're in. Although I suppose I can't blame her for leading the lemmings. They choose to follow on some level:)

Sometimes I stray off the blog-commenting-bandwagon and you bring me right back with something stellar. Keep on getting carried away.

Giuseppe said...


Thanks for such a reasoned and well put comment. As for the term WASP: this was the main reason I hung this post up for a while. My thoughts on this word were hard to put inot words without coming off like a jerk, in that the term actually applies to a group of people, and involves religionand race, two very touchy subjects. I don't revile the term itself in the least, but I do question it's constant over-application to a style of dressing that enjoys a much broader appeal. I hope I stated it well, because the last thing I want to do is offend people in that way. Anyway, good thoughts.

Ms. Mindless,

Good to hear from you again. Welcome back.

Anonymous said...

To quote Samuel Beckett's Endgame: "I use only the words I am given. If they don't mean anything any more, teach me others, or be silent."

Don't be so hung up on class, it drives down the quality of your otherwise excellent blog. Everybody interested knows how the Ivy League style started, the name is pretty self explanatory. Why the defensiveness? Do rich WASPs publicly berate you on the streets of Boston for wearing Nantucket Reds or repp ties? All this discussion of the "establishment" is pretty detached from the real world. If the style is even prevalent anymore among the elite, which I am not sure that it is, I doubt that anyone amongst its ranks would see you and think anything other than "nice pants," but most likely pass without a second glance. The WASPs aren't watching you, Giuseppe.

Young Fogey said...


I think you nailed it with WASP. You made it clear you were talking about its abuse (like WASP 101) and not the people who are so labeled.

Anyone who gets offended by your rant is an idiot.

In my humble opinion, of course.

As for Carlin's seven and their ilk? My wife and I found them disappearing from our idiolects after the birth of our first child. They still slip out, of course, but it's amazing how children affect parents, in so many ways. (Of course there will be those who claim that their children make them say those words more...).

Chens said...

For dirty word, I vote for "goodness," as in "check out Brand X's new vintage-inspired goodness."

The use of "aesthetic" when "style" or "look" would suffice also grates on the eyes.

tintin said...

Eat me.

Anonymous said...

'Humility is the death of wit', Wardrobe, I think you're missing a point talking about 'style' in context with 'preppy', but mostly good as always. A curmudgeon should rant, and vice versa.


Anonymous said...

Bugger! I missed that fellow quoting 'Fin de Partie'; you really are attracting the literary nobs. Don't suppose he actually read it. In the original French.


Anonymous said...

great stuff. if only you "curated" that list down to two, much like the way the ivy leagues 'curated' their membership down to eight (or whatever) schools. curated

The Cordial Churchman said...

This was a really enjoyable post.

I'm going to demur on "curate" and "curated". Unlike the others, it's a metaphor, and I'm a sucker for a good metaphor. The way to judge a metaphor is whether it's sort of like the boring, literal way of saying it. Merchandisers comb through a lot of products and designs, and carefully select the best for their lookbooks and their seasonal lines.

Calling a new fall like a "carefully merchandised collection" is lame. 'Curated' is much better.

But man, you're right on when it comes to them coal-mining clothes.

Unknown said...

Doesn't this come down to the fact that words like "authentic" and "trad" speak to one who fancies himself as standing apart from the cyclical, cheapening and herdlike stampede from trend to trend? The urge to appear indifferent to the latest fads by focusing on true value, craftmanship, and tradition, the things that really matter? - just like the coal miners and Dartmouth students. That such earnest flight from hype is itself susceptible to hype and hucksterism is not news, I guess, and the words that mark such a flight have themselves become tired touchstones as worn out as a pair of square-toed Kenneth Coles kicked off for limited edition Indy Boots, Weejuns or Belgians. Who knows? (I think you're dead on, except, as far as I'm concerned Tin Tin is untouchable!)

Giuseppe said...

I bet next time I see Tin Tin, he punches me in the mouth then buys me a drink afterwards.

Main Line Sportsman said...

I concur.
In addition, I never even knew of the term "Trad" until I started poking around these Blogs...and I have never heard it said aloud by anyone...ever.
Lastly,your Blog, your rules on what terms to ban...

Anonymous said...

I have another word that was left out of your list, and that I find equally loathsome. I suppose it may have been intentional for it seems to me to carry more weight, and have a more substantial fidelity to fact, in the world of food and drink, in which context I do not begrudge its use. In matters relating to clothing, accessories, and fashion more generally, I find it churns my stomach. The word is: artisanal. To be sure, there are artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, bourbons, and so on which deserve the praise of the cognoscenti, and are generally deserving of the appelation artisanal, because their producers have worked long and hard to produce items of the utmost quality, assured through an attention to detail that can only be had with working in small quantities...but in an age of DIY/bloggyblog/heritage/workweary/pared-down utilitarian things, especially those made of a few pieces of leather or fabric, simply sewn together (like a tote bag), the casual use of artisanal to describe some bags sewn together by a 25 year old dude in Brooklyn with a waxed mustache who only rides a bicycle to get from place to place, does not an artist make. It is a smokescreen employed to enable amateurism to masquerade as expertise.

Pitboss12 said...

I'd like to add the word "archival" to the banned list. The word is completely overused. Look at today's edition of Valetmag.com's story on Brand X's "new line of archival American goods" as an example. What does that even mean anymore?

Chens said...

I profiled Joseph Abboud for the October issue of the trade pub Apparel, and they talked about their "heritage" even though they were founded in 1986.

I made sure to point this out in the story.

Anonymous said...

why does tintin want to be eaten????

Dennis Cahlo said...

Guess I'll never tag you in a post where I use the words Trad AND Preppy ever again.

I do like this post, though, even if I can't agree on all the terms deemed as insulting.

There are a boat load of terms that I can't stand right now because they've been killed by so many.

The biggest offender being Artisanal only because it's now associated with Brooklyn hipsters sporting handle bar mustaches who make pickles in their Williamsburg apartment. I always equated it with the little old ladies I met in Padova who made pasta all day from scratch.

Anyway, I do hope you didn't take high offense to me adding you in my last post. It was more an homage to your style than anything.

Keep on keepin' on,

Des Esseintes said...

Dear Giuseppe,

I agree wholeheartedly. And I am sure The Trad (excuse my Franch!) would agree, too, when not too sober.

I take the liberty of quotign my ow comment I left for one of The Trad's Chino Testing posts, which was much appreciated by the man himself:

"What I really appreciated about this post though were your very candid comments on the "faded Polaroid hipness" of brands like Brand of Outsiders ( or short "BoS" to insiders ...or would that be, to outsiders, in this case?). The fact that we can observe an increasing interest in properly made and conservatively styled yet up to date clothes may be a good thing, however, the way brand marketing has jumped onto this emerging trend by launching ever more awkward "authentic", "retro-style", "archival", "signature" brands, often sub-lines of the mega-selling high street retailers, is an annoying flipside of this development. Do I really need to know that my new pair of summer shorts was made from 234 ounce vintage cotton hand-picked at an altitude of 4300m by a group of Gurkha veterans and subsequently hand-died in the ancient Glenlinlithgow plaid by a micro-financed project of Bangladeshi orphans, under water, using only stone age tools in a secret process, passed on by word of mouth only and so old and elaborate it has religious status among certain Indian tribes, then cut and sewn by Savile Row-trained Ukrainian master tailors never using a thimble, etc etc? Or do I just want a well-made, well-fitting, lasting pair of shorts? Well, it must be the information gap between these tow options that is worth $275..."

Best wishes


AlexP said...

So, on a relatively off subject tangent, do you have any beef with J. Crew? I think they do a pretty good job making relatively affordable stuff. But back on subject, those words have gotten a lot of play and with a lot of things its probably a lack of knowing better. People are always trying to sound smart. Its probably going to get worse with all of the blogs and their lingo. But hey! It gives us something to laugh at and enjoy. Thanks for keeping it real.

Gerard Papa said...

First of all, great blog! Glad I found it!
I'm guilty of the New York lumberjack look. Fortunately, I'm also smart enough to purchase the ACTUAL products of these "heritage brands" instead of the silly designer collaborations. It's hilarious that these hipsters dress like lumberjacks but would never be caught dead in places that have ACTUAL lumberjacks!!