Friday, August 20, 2010

Just for the beauty of it

I spent part of a morning that began at 4am with a nightmare faculty meeting, sciatica and, after a flounce at the library sofa, Lutyens... continued about 5 with the Celt and coffee... a morning which, frankly, not involving one jot of intellectual activity, has been very agreeable, chatting about life, love, happiness and decorating, with friends, one of whom is on her last bout of chemo and is, thankfully, doing brilliantly well. I've watched a cloud form what looked like a funnel, wondered why one of the box trees, the Celt's pride, has gone the color of nicotine - actually, I know why and but I resist the idea (it's dead). Huffily, for a few minutes, I ignored the buzzer of the dryer - only towels, not shirts - and now, for the last time today, I sit down at the dining table looking at my MacBook and wondering what to write.

I'm surrounded by an accretion of stuff I've created since I got back - a magazine, a second computer retrieved from the boot of the car where it had thumped around for a month or three, a book about Lutyens (not the one I began the day with), a rolled-up Post-It note, a large white empty envelope and a clear plastic folder that neither of us, seemingly, know anything about. Luckily, there is room for the Manhattan I shall shortly make for myself - inoculation, you understand, for the second I shall have before dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant - a box containing a beautiful shirt, slim fit, all Egyptian cotton, made in Italy, of alternating blue and black stripes on a white ground. It will hang next to the blue and grey stripe on a white ground, non-iron, regular fit, all Egyptian cotton, made in Malaysia, French-cuffed shirt - and it will hang there the longer for being non-iron.

I have flirted with non-iron shirts over the last few years, and having watched favorite shirts (any shirt with or of blue is a favorite) rapidly deteriorate after a year and actually start fraying, ripping and shredding by the second year. The Celt's shirts, none of which are non-iron, all go to the laundry, mine go to the dryer and for a while come back out looking fabulously well-ironed.

Those days are over. You could say I have a bad case of brand loyalty - I shop at one men's outfitters almost exclusively. I hate shopping for clothes and until now have preferred the one-stop-buy-all routine I've followed for years - the man who sells me my shirts sold me my first when I moved here seventeen years ago. But if I am to stop wasting money, stop wasting resources, I must stop buying the non-iron shirts I elected to think such a boon for the last few years and, maybe more importantly, keep all the favorites, the beloved blue shirts, for a long time to come - just for the beauty of them.

Just for the beauty of it, photo by Paul Warhol, of the Madonna di San Biagio (1518) in Montepulciano by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder, to accompany text written by Dan Hofstader for Connoisseur, October 1990.


  1. At the risk of telling man of monumental ironing skills something he does not know, I use a steamer (the brand is Jiffy) on the "no irons". I ruined the plate of an iron on one of husband's no irons. Could not get the kryptonite stuff off the iron as hard as I tried. I realized that was on the shirt, should never be touched by the iron. The steamer came to the rescue. My husband had a killer episode of the sciatica. I hope that was in the nightmare and not where it hurts!

  2. There you go again, introducing me to a new beauty: Madonna di San Biagio; that's why you get the big bucks or would I had them.

    Maybe shirt technology have improved but to me the old all-cotton shirt looked better wrinkled, torn, ripped, threadbare and faded than a brand new no-iron.

  3. Thanks for the moment of beauty. Now on to the real issue under discussion: Those damned no-iron shirts: It's really very simple. I hate them. No, that's not strong enough. I HATE them. No, still not. I LOATHE the awful, waxy, strangely stiff, artifical feeling facsimiles of real shirts. And no-iron cotton chinos? Not a chance. There's no shirt service in our little village anymore, and I don't have the time to drive 16 miles regularly to get them done, so, since I don't have to do jacket and tie for work anyway, and I lack the sartorial gene, I am back to my old college look----the wrinkled cotton button downs, the chinos pressed by folding them hard out of the dryer...old preppy slob, but somehow it looks and feels more 'authentic' then those awful, awful awful 'no iron cotton' things---which, incidentally are so slippery that for one with my currently slightly, um, portly, figure will not stay tucked in for more than an hour. (Jealous I was to read that your new shirt was 'slim fit'. That used to be me.

    One more note, as long as you've inspired me to rant: A kind friend gave me a very large gift certificate to Brooks Bros., who have so completely gone over to the 'no iron' dark side (aside from their generally very dull and flat clothing) that three years later I have still not managed to spend the total.

  4. Actually, I'm not quite finished. Although my daily look is expensive wrinkled rural sloth, I can clean up if I have to, and always have a few pro laundered shirts hanging in wait. I also hate the way the no iron stuff looks....give me a flat, stiff, crisply starched shirt any day....

    An old boyfriend, an FIT grad who later did time at both Barney's and Ralph Lauren, always had his cotton chinos starched heavily, so heavily that they had to be started open with a paper knife. I adopted it, loved it. Of course, in those days we were in Palm Beach with a good French laundry nearby.....

  5. It's interesting that you do bring us to pants at last, DED.

    Puts one in mind of a clubmate at college, who resided in the club in order to maintain duplicate pairs of all his trousers, one lengthed for sitting, one for walking (very occasionally) to classes. I often think of Alistair when that man looks up from my feet with his chalk, and asks how far.

    Beautiful posting. One can hear it, just to look at it.

  6. Now I'm sure you said somewhere that one of your talents was ironing!! You deserve only the best cotton shirts , kind sir.

  7. home before dark - the Celt came home one day with two alarming orange objects which turned out to be steamers and now one goes with us whenever we travel. It's brilliant for jackets and blazers especially since we gave up the steamer trunks and the valet.

    The "kryptonite" is a synthetic resin that reacts to heat and once having got plastic burned on to the plate of an iron I guess the lesson is dearly learned.

    The sciatica is a permanent condition, I'm afraid, but it was the nightmare that woke me.

    Dilettante - thank you, sir, you made my day. I love a good piece of red-faced, vein-popping invective!

    You're absolutely right about prevalence of non-iron at Brooks Bros - I was seduced for a while, actually quite a while, but what finally has got me is the amount of money I'm throwing away every two years. Even chinos are now non-iron and I almost feel I could leave them standing when I step out of them. I quite like regular chinos straight from the drier (not a lover of creases down the front of casual pants) and I think a good oxford cloth is all the better for being a bit wrinkled. For the rest, just a good hot iron. Linen is all the better for not being ironed (unless it is napery), especially in the humid heat of the south when however well-ironed after two minutes wear it resembles a discarded kleenex. I like my linen as rumpled and as lived in as my face.

  8. Terry, crisp and rumpled - two extremes that sum up my sartorial and decorating aesthetic.

    Laurent, thank you. You intrigue me - one length for sitting and another for walking. How ineffably stylish!

    le style et la matiere, thank you. It's the natural fibres, cotton, linen, silk and wool that make the body feel the most grateful. I read recently how Louis XIV forbad the importation of cotton to France in the hopes of saving the indigenous industries but even his own mistress was out and about wearing the latest Indiennes.

  9. Protectionism caved in when faced with indienne-mania - a triumph for fashion. (Aren't nightmares part of back-to-school syndrome?)

    No one around here lets me write in peace - but maybe later!

  10. The best thing is not to give up the valet. Or the next best thing - a maid. Ours is lovely, and irons daily. Perhaps we should take in your laundry?

  11. Lovely photograph indeed!
    I gave up the iron many moons ago... I love when dear husband's shirts come back from the cleaners in a box: all light-starched,ironed and folded! (he travels, so folded works well;)

    Oh, I love a french cuff! Almost as much as I love the cufflinks!

    Hope you are enjoying your weekend!


    p.s. you must take the columnist up on that kind offer!

  12. Ironing is a task on a need to basis. I love silk sweaters and nice cottons that can be smoothed out nicely after washing. The fabric and the feel is so important!

    Art by Karena

  13. sometimes thats all you need -just the beauty of it :-)

  14. ArchitectDesign - you're exactly right, just for the beauty of it.

    Karena, I agree about ironing but it is pleasanter if one stands by an hvac vent. As to the "need to" I find the older I get the more need there is - linen napkins perfectly pressed and given a light polish with a hot dry iron are one of life's pleasures and achievements.

    for the love of a house - I agree, boxed shirts are brilliant for a man who travels but I cannot abide the starch. There is an argument, more aesthetic than logical, that the more rumpled a man becomes the more starch his shirts should have, especially under a suit. I like starched napery but not shirts.

    I love a good French cuff and I always use the cufflinks I gave myself for my 21st birthday sometime last century - simple silver Scandinavian rectangles articulated with a diaper pattern. Gold was not an option and still after all these years those are the links I prefer amongst the thirty year collection of cufflinks we have acquired.

    Always good to hear from you, Joan.