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26 July 2017
Morning Sedition

Mermaid Parade
Burning Rubber

Muscle Cars - Burning Rubber - Start

This entry continues photos from last year's parade.

I don't know what it is about muscle cars, but the owners feel continually obliged to prove they've got something in their pants, I mean, under the hood, by destroying tires and innundating bystanders with the heady perfume of incinerated petroleum products. Mmmmmm. Burning tire! The official cologne of testosterone and machismo. (Or, as Troma Films so succinctly put it, "Macheesmo: real cheese for real men.") But, in all fairness, it is in keeping with muscle car etiquette. How else can one show off a huge, throbbing, uh, engine.

Muscle Cars - Burning Rubber - Getting There

The Mermaid Parade is, of course, no different. Here's a purple monster proving that, yes, if you stand on the brake, pop the clutch, and floor it that the wheels will, indeed, spin. Once spinning, our friend friction does the rest.

Muscle Cars - Burning Rubber - Heavy

And the crowd is obscured by the proof that $1.87 per gallon gasoline is no barrier to fun. I don't know why Officer Friendly has his hand on his gun, but it may be related to proving that he, too, has a penis substitute.

Muscle Cars - Burning Rubber - Smells Bad

Black Tie Optional

James Bond (Sean Connery) in Black Dinner Jacket

James Bond (Sean Connery) in Black Dinner Jacket

"Black Tie." "Dinner Jacket." Even the — dare we say it? — vernacular "Tuxedo." (The exceedinly vulgar and low-class name "tux" — I cringe as I even think it — will never pass these unsullied lips.) All refer to a short jacket every man needs for formal evening wear. Unlike James Bond, Rick Blaine, or (shudder) Jackie Chan, however, I actually don't own a tuxedo. Never have. Really. I almost, just a hair this side of not quite, bought an incredibly elegant one about fifteen years ago when it was being closed out by a store emptying its stock in a desperate attempt to save off bankruptcy.

Originally priced at almost a thousand dollars, which was real money in those days, it was a perfect fit, both in terms of fabric (wool, not synthetics), tailoring (fit like it was custom made) and eminently attractive closeout pricing ($125). There was one small hitch which prevented me from buying it: I realized I had never, not once in my entire life, had the occasion (or need) to wear a tuxedo and would likely not find one before the fashion changed. So I didn't buy it, and have never lived to regret it. (Not having bought that Italian silk suit the same habadasher had, however, is one of my eternal regrets.) But how is it that a short jacket and pants with a satin stripe became the "must wear" outfit? It is, after all, a trifle, well, silly looking. (Except that I really do like the white version shown below.)

White Dinner Jacket Ensemble

White Dinner Jacket Ensemble

The story goes that the Tuxedo was created by twenty-two year old Griswold Lorillard, who cut the tails off a formal jacket in order to shake up the town of Tuxedo Park, NY. (The town of Tuxedo Park had passed into the hands of the Griswold family in payment of a debt, and Lorillard — of the eponymous cancer-stick fortune — was one of their descendents.) This canard has been repeated so often that many don't realize its lack of veracity:

When we seek the origin of the dinner jacket - or Tuxedo as it is now known - we constantly come across a story about its introduction to this century by Griswold Lorillard at the first Tuxedo Autumn Ball in 1886.

The trouble with this story is that it is based entirely on a quotation from a society journal called Town Topics. According to an October 1886 issue of the journal, young Griswold Lorillard appeared (at the Ball) in a tailless dress coat, and waistcoat of scarlet satin, looking for all the world like a royal footman. There were several others of the abbreviated coats worn, which suggested to the onlookers that the boys ought to have been put in straight-jackets long ago.

Taken literally, this quotation seems quite plausible but, unfortunately, it has been misinterpreted. A tailless dress coat has been taken to mean a dinner jacket and, as a result, we have a story which is hard to believe, Griswold, or Grizzy as his friends called him, may very well have worn a tailless dress coat as a lark but this does not mean that he introduced the dinner jacket. Such an assumption is wrong for several reasons.

First of all, Grizzy’s tailless dress coat was much too short to be a dinner jacket. A dress coat, which is a tailor’s term for an evening tail coat, is cut above the waist, open in front, and tight fitting. A dinner jacket, on the other hand, is cut well below the waist, buttons in front, and fits more loosely. Grizzy’s dress coat - without its tails - was so short that it resembled a mess jacket, and it is no wonder that Town Topics thought he looked for all the world like a royal footman.

Secondly, Grizzy would have been far too young to introduce a new fashion to his elders at the Ball. He was only 22 and the second son of Pierre Lorillard, distinguished founder of Tuxedo Park. His older brother, Pierre Lorillard, Jr., was one of the governors of the Tuxedo Club. The other governors were all prominent New Yorkers, while the members of the Club and their guests were for the most part leading members of New York Society. It is hard to imagine, therefore, a young man introducing a new fashion to such a sophisticated gathering.

Finally, a formal ball would not have been the right occasion to introduce what was then an informal dinner fashion. We should remember that the dinner jacket, when it was first adopted, was worn only at informal dinner parties and it was not considered, as it is now, formal evening dress. If, therefore, Grizzy had been able to introduce the dinner jacket, he probably would have done so at a dinner party and not at a ball.

"Grizzy's Lark and a Legend," Village of Tuxedo Park - Grizzy's Lark And A Legend

Movie Poster for "The Tuxedo" Starring Jackie Chan

Movie Poster for "The Tuxedo" Starring Jackie Chan

Fifty years ago, when I was a senior in college, Grenville Kane, last of the founders of the Tuxedo Club left alive, told me several times the following story.

In the summer of 1886, the year Pierre Lorillard founded Tuxedo Park, James Brown Potter, one of its first residents, and Cora Potter, his beautiful wife from the South, went to England and met the Prince of Wales - later Edward VII - at a court ball. The Prince, who was fond of pretty women, asked the Potters to come to Sandringham for the weekend. The Potters of course accepted, and before going, Mr. Potter asked the Prince what he should bring to wear. The Prince told Mr. Potter that he had adopted a short jacket in the place of a tail coat for dinner in the country, and that if Mr. Potter went to his tailors in London, he could get a similar jacket make. This Mr. Potter did and apparently he and Mrs. Potter had a pleasant weekend while Bertie, as he was called, undoubtedly enjoyed looking across the table at the beautiful Cora.

When the Potters returned to Tuxedo that fall, Pierre Lorillard, Grenville Kane, and other members of the Club were not only impressed by the Potters’ visit to Sandringham, but also found the jacket Mr. Potter brought back more appropriate than tails for informal dinners, and then had it copied. Eventually, after wearing the new jacket for dinner in Tuxedo, some of the early members were bold enough to wear it one evening at a bachelor dinner at Delmonico’s, the only place in New York where gentlemen dined in public at that time. Needless to say, the other diners at Del’s were astonished, and when they asked what it was the men in short coats had on, they were told, Oh that is what they wear for dinner up in Tuxedo. Hearing Tuxedo mentioned, the curious diners quite naturally starting calling the new jacket by that name.

And so due to the Prince of Wales’ interest in the beautiful Mrs. Potter, the dinner jacket was brought to this country by Mr. Potter and, when first seen in public, was called a Tuxedo."

"The Prince and the Potter" Village of Tuxedo Park - The History of the Tuxedo

Cora Potter

Cora Potter

She first came to England in the summer of 1886 in the company of her husband and was introduced to the Prince of Wales (Edward VII to be) at a court ball. Taken with her beauty, the Prince invited the Brown-Potters to Sandringham for the weekend and they duly obliged. When James asked the prince what he should bring to wear, the Prince referred him to his tailors recommending a short jacket that he himself preferred to a full tailcoat for informal dinners. James followed the Prince's advice, and when he returned to the USA he wore the jacket at his club in Tuxedo, where other members admired the practicality and began to copy it. A little while later some members of the caused quite a stir in New York wearing the jacket to dinner at Delmonico's. Other diners were informed that this was what was worn to dinner in Tuxedo these days. The fashion caught on as did the name and that, as the story goes, is how the American Tuxedo was born.

Cora Urquhart Brown Potter

Now, if you didn't believe that the relationship was purely platonic — prices and kings usually restrict themselves to dalliances with married women, since any offspring would be considered to be the result of congress with the husband and thus not eligable for the throne or able to cause embarrassment — Ms. Potter remained in Britain when her husband returned to the states. (She became an actress. Simply scandalous!) Anyway, that's how the jacket ended up being a fashion statement in America.

The color of the duke's jacket, by the way, was midnight blue, not black. The reason is that under the artificial light of the day — probably limelight — blue appears black while black appears greenish. (This is why graphic designers often overlay a dead black with a deep midnight blue to get an extra richness. Ooops. Day job. Not gonna talk about that here.) The lapels on the original were never notched; that mutilation was perpetrated by suit manufacturers wishing to use the same patterns used for ordinary suits. A true tuxedo — excuse me, dinner jacket — uses a smooth shawl collar.

Welsh Dragon Cummerbund

Welsh Dragon Cummerbund

Welsh Dragon Bowtie

Welsh Dragon Bowtie

Typically being a solid black, the jacket is worn either with a colored vest or a waistband called a "cummerbund," usually with a matching bowtie — how cute is that? — to add a bit of color. (The word cummerbund comes to us from the Hindi word "kamarband," adopted into English in 1616. Kamarband is, in turn, composed of two persion words, "kamar" from "waist" and "band" meaning "tie or encircling fabric sash." It was actually a long piece of cloth wrapped around the waist several times and tied; Indian men still wear it for dressy occasions, and Sikhs wear it every day.)

Cummerbund Montage

Cummerbund Montage

Cummerbunds come in all sorts of colors and patterns, even Scottish clan colors:

Cummerbund With Scottish Clan Pattern

Cummerbund With Scottish Clan Pattern

But some take this opportunity to be a sartorial showoff just a smidgen too far. For example, consider the Hawaiian vest below, complete with tropical foliage and parrots or the above Welsh dragon design. Both are just a wee bit too bold — ok, tacky! — for me.

Vest With Hawaiian Pattern

Vest With Hawaiian Pattern

But speaking of too bold, some people take their dinner jackets places they were never meant to go. Like this one, worthy of a dinner party held by, oh, say, Poseidon:

Green Dinner Jacket

This is a rich, elegant and fancy 1972 vintage formal tuxedo or dinner jacket with a brocade design of filigree leaves black on deep emerald green. Fabric on this is a satiny blend of either rayon or rayon and silk, it has notched lapels and button trimmed tab front pockets at each. "— Smokydiva's Vintage Clothing"

Oh, and the name tuxedo as in "Tuxedo Park"? It is supposedly derived from an Algonquian word "tuksit" or "p'tuksit" used to refer to the Wolf tribe in the area. It means "round foot" because the Wolf tribe tended to fall over and surrender easily. But who knows how true any of this is.

Party Invitation With Formal Wear

Party Invitation Featuring Tuxedo and Formal Gown

There are even special cummerbunds appropriate for troops serving in Iraq:

Bulletproof Cummerbund

Hard Plate Carrier with Cummerbund

Not only will it accept armor inserts, both hard and soft, but it comes in a variety of evening-wear colors: smoke green, woodland, desert tan, coyote brown, and the ever-versatile body-bag black. It's what the well-dressed cannon fodder is wearing this year.

Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) from Casablanca

Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) from Casablanca, in white dinner jacket and black tie

Sources and Further Reading

  1. "Grizzy's Lark and a Legend," Village of Tuxedo Park - Grizzy's Lark And A Legend
  2. "The Prince and the Potter" Village of Tuxedo Park - The History of the Tuxedo
  3. Cora Urquhart Brown Potter
  4. CitizenArcane on the Origin of the Blazer
  5. CitizenArcane on the Origin of Seersucker

Clean shirt, new shoes
And I don't know where I am goin' to.
Silk suit, black tie,
I don't need a reason why.
They come runnin' just as fast as they can
Coz every girl crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man.

Gold watch, diamond ring,
I ain't missin' a single thing.
And cufflinks, stick pin,
When I step out I'm gonna do you in.
They come runnin' just as fast as they can
Coz every girl crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man.

Top coat, top hat,
I don't worry coz my wallet's fat.
Black shades, white gloves,
Lookin' sharp and lookin' for love.
They come runnin' just as fast as they can
Coz every girl crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man.

"Sharp Dressed Man," ZZ Top, Eliminator, 1983

Do You Take Milk & Sugar With Your Clothing?

Seersucker Jacket

He walked into the ocean [wearing a seersucker suit], took it off and let it dry and wore it to a party that night. It made Haspel suits famous.

— Laurie Lipsey Aronson quoted in "Haspel Suits Have Been Popular with Presidents and in Hollywood" by Karen Martin, 2 The Advocate, 4 April 2005

The name "seersucker" comes to us from the Hindi sirsaker, derived from the Persian shiroshakar or shroshakar, meaning "milk and sugar". The word shakar, meaning sugar, comes from the Sanskrit arkar, while the shr is Persian for milk. The term is a figurative one, referring to the different textures — smooth and rough,— just as how smooth milk and rough sugar have different texture. (Don't blame me; I don't name these things.)

Weaver from Vasquez, Mexico

Seersucker Weaver from Vasquez, Mexico

A lightweight weave, either plain or crepe, the puckers arise from tightening and slackening some threads during weaving. The loom is a twin-beam with two warps (vertical); one with loose threads the other with tight. It took skill for the weaver to create a uniform appearance; nowadays, the work is done by soulless weaving machines:

When the ground weave of the fabric is all plain weave, two warp beams are necessary. The bottom beam used for the plain cloth is usually made from single yarns and woven with regular tension from the warp. The top beam which is used for the seersucker stripe, can be made from either single or ply yarns. When made from single yarns the threads are doubled in the harnesses and crowded in the reed. When made from plied yarns they are not usually doubled, unless fine yarns are used. As the plain weave is used for both ground fabric and seersucker stripe, four harness shafts can be used. It is advisable to operate the seersucker on separate harness shafts and not on the same shafts as the ground threads. The number of shafts used will depend on the construction of the fabric. If the heddles or the harness eyes are crowded on the shafts, more shafts should be used. The reeding of the fabric for the plain ground is usually two single threads per dent and for the seersucker stripe is usually two double threads in a dent.

There are several methods by which the seersucker effect can be produced. The first method is done by having the top seersucker warp beam weaving comparatively slack. In this method the regulation of the weight on the beam is made according to the effect to be produced in the fabric. This slack weaving of the warp, together with the crowding of the threads in the reed, creates the crimp of the cloth.

In the second method the warp beam for the seersucker stripe is woven tight, as in regular warp regulation. The seersucker yarn passes around an easer rod. As the lay comes to the fell of the cloth, the easer rod is pulled forward, slackening the yarn. This slackening on every pick affords a good crimp. Adjusting the collar as to give more or less movement to the easer rod can regulate the motion.

In the third method a cam is used on the crankshaft to operate the easer rod, thereby slackening the yarn on each pick. The cam must be set to ease the yarn when the reed is close to the fell of the cloth. The tension on the beam for the seersucker stripe should be set so that the pull of the yarn will be away from the weight of the spring.

Another kind of seersucker is often called “serpentine” crêpe, which is done by a chemical treatment. In this method certain parts of the fabric are treated with caustic soda which causes the fabric to shrink in those areas and gives a puckered effect.

Technical Methods of weaving a Seersucker

The crinkly-textured fabric had been used in India for centuries, but it only attained worldwide notice when the British Raj began to wear silk nightshirts and pajamas made from it. The first recorded English use of the phrase is in 1722, as "Sea Sucker".

Seersucker Colors

Seersucker Fabric Color Variations

Seersucker suits became popular in the south during the jazz era (mid-1920s) because the fabric was cool and humidity would take the creases out of any suit. (The argument that the wrinkles gave the wearer some appeal because, after all, if you rich you had the right to look like you'd slept in your clothes, doesn't hold water. Rich southern men were all about style and looking good.) The north was less receptive because the fashion there was elegant, and razor-sharp, creases, not comfort.

The fabric really took off when clothier Joseph Haspel popularized the wash-and-wear suit:

In 1907, New Orleanian Joseph Haspel seized on the cotton and set out to create a suit whose primary selling point would be wash-and-wearability.

"My great-grandfather was known for starting the wash-and-wear suit," said Laurie Aaronson, president and co-owner of the Haspel clothing company. "In one of his ad campaigns there is a picture of him wearing a seersucker suit and he walks into the Atlantic Ocean. Then he wrings it out, hangs it up and when he puts it back on he goes straight to a cocktail party that night."

The lightweight nature of the material and lack of creases also appealed to him because of the weather in which he found himself. Suit creases fall in New Orleans' humidity.

It is said that the low cost and rumpled state of the often-pinstriped garment made the cognoscenti initially look down on it. But soon after World War I, presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman, as well as movie stars Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant, were seen wearing not just seersucker, but Haspel seersucker.

"Gregory Peck wore a Haspel seersucker suit in 'To Kill A Mockingbird,' " Aaronson recounts.

"Stripes Are Solid" by Karen Sommer Shalett, Times Picayune, 23 July 2004

Haspel was an ambitious, and clever, man, and his PR ploy with swim-and-wear suits worked wonders for his company's reputation. I don't know if this was paid placement — and it wouldn't surprise me, given how Hollywood popularized diamonds — but seersucker started showing up in movies like A Lion in the Streets (James Cagney), The Seven Year Itch (Tom Ewell) and To Kill a Mockingbird (Gregory Peck). I remember the seersucker suit from the movie, because it looked so rumpled. Haspel remains a big men's clothing company.

CAD Software Configuration for Weaving Seersucker

MonarchCAD Textile Software for Weaving Seersucker

Today's seersucker is available in all sorts of colors and materials, including the ever-versatile polyester, harvested by hand from the finest sacred polyester lambs in the Andes. (I myself am too profane to allow polyester to touch my skin, and restrict myself to 100% natural fabrics that breathe. But what do I know?) The weaving, however, is virtually always done by machine.

"Whattya Mean, I’m funny?"

Restaurant Scene from Goodfellas

After I wrote up the "you talkin' ta me?" entry I was asked if the extensive quote from Travis was the real deal. Sure, I replied. It's just everyone misquotes it. Here's another movie bit that gets done to death, especially in NYC, but one who's accuracy is honored more in the breach. I hereby present to you, the unadulterated, full and unabridged "Funny How?" bit from Goodfellas (1990). (Or you can listen to the audio track. Everything except the last dozen words. 325 Kbytes.)

(Dialog between Henry Hill and Tommy DeVito)

(Tommy has just told a story that's cracked up the entire company of gangsters at a table)

Henry: (laughing hard) Really funny. Really funny.

Tommy: Whattya mean I'm funny?

Henry: You're just funny, y'know, the story. It's funny. You're a funny guy.

Tommy: Whattya mean? They way I talk? What?

Henry: It's just, y'know, it's just funny, you know the way you tell the story and everything...

Tommy: Funny how? I mean, what's funny about it?

Anthony: (worried) Tommy, no, you got it all wrong...

Tommy: Whoa, whoa Anthony! He's a big boy, he knows what he said. What'd you say? Funny how? What?

Henry: Just you know you're funny.

Tommy: You mean, let me understand this... cuz I... maybe its me, maybe I'm a little fucked up maybe. I'm funny how, I mean funny, like I'm a clown? I amuse you. I make you laugh? I'm here to fuckin' amuse you? Whattya you mean funny? Funny how? How am I funny?

Henry: I don't know just... you know how you tell the story. What?

Tommy: No, no I don't know. You said it. How do I know? You said I'm funny. (yelling now) How the fuck am I funny? What the fuck is so funny about me? Tell me. Tell me what's funny? (Long suspenseful pause: is someone going to die?)

Henry (cracking up): Get the fuck outta here! (everyone laughs, the tension is gone)

Tommy: Ya motherfucker, I almost had him! I almost had him! You stuttering prick here! Frankie, was he shaking? I wonder about you sometimes, Henry. You may fold under questioning!!

"Goodfellas", written by Nicholas Pileggi & Martin Scorsese

Ok. There you have it. So when you call me funny, smile. (Extra points if you can name, without using Google, the movie that comes from.)

Cellphonus Interruptus
(Just a Moment, Dear. I Have a Cell Call.)

Paris Hilton Cell Phone

When I read this story I immediately thought of my entry a few weeks back about William Ayrton's comment from 1897 that someday phones would be wireless and portable, and if one's friend didn't answer when called, well, then, the friend was dead. I made the comment that there were some times I didn't answer the phone because I wasn't Paris Hilton. (Have you see the infamous sex tape? The point where she answers her cell phone in the middle of the action, much to the well-vocalized consternation of her companion, is really funny. It's the only watchable part.) Well, it turns out that a lot of people, unfortunately, have remarkably similar behavior:

Fourteen percent of the world's cell phone users report that they have stopped in the middle of a sex act to answer a ringing wireless device, Ad Age reported.

The highest incidence of cellular interruptus was found in Germany and Spain, where 22 percent of users interrupted sex to answer their cell phones; the lowest was in Italy, where only 7 percent reported doing so. In the U.S., the figure was 15 percent, the magazine said, citing a study conducted by BBDO Worldwide and Proximity Worldwide.

"Cell Phone Users Interrupt Sex for Phone Calls" Consumer Affairs, 11 April 2005

I wonder how the meme that a cell phone call is more important than anything else managed to spread so far and wide. The study, however, did not report the percentages of those answering the phone getting laid again by the partner put, ahem, on hold, shall we say. I think that's the really interesting number.

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