George Hahn is the Anthony Bourdain meets Jeff Goldblum of men’s dress and lifestyle. His dry wit and brunt straightforwardness creates an unparalleled social commentary tour de force about everything from the waning of classic manliness to the ubiquitous pseudo-athlete plaguing the American public. Truly intrigued by his call to action in “The Endangered Sense of Occasion” (embedded above), I reached out to him with a few unanswered questions and desire to learn more:
Electrogent: Introduce yourself to someone who might not know you: who are you, what do you do, what is your website about?
George: My name is George Hahn. I’m a former actor who started a one-man web design business when I learned how to build my own portfolio site for my acting work. In the summer of 2011, I re-branded the blog to speak to discerning men in the 99% who like to look good and live well.
E: I found you through your podcast entitled “The Endangered Sense of Occasion,” and it was one of the best I’ve ever heard. What is your two minute elevator speech summary of the podcast?
G: First… thank you. The podcast is merely an audio supplement to the blog. It’s a riff on ideas related to lifestyle, etiquette, grooming, menswear and any other issues pertinent to men like myself who are interested in improving themselves, doing good work and living a good life within their means.
E: Specifically, you mention that self-presentation in general should require consideration. Surely, this goes beyond how one dresses. What are some ways in which you’ve found that male self-presentation is lacking, regardless of dress?
G: The “bro” thing gets me all the time. That and the half-handshake coupled with the half-hug that’s supposed to say “Don’t worry. I’m not gay.” It kills me. It’s a lazy gesture that demonstrates a lack of confidence in one’s personality, verility and sexuality. Half measures avail us nothing (or, at best, half). Happy to see your friend? Give him a real hug. It’s only gay if you sneak a tongue in the ear and a grab on the ass.
In terms of articulating ourselves, many women do that thing where they end ostensibly declarative statements like they’re questions. Men have their version of this, too. We mumble. It’s a confidence/fear thing. If you consistently have to repeat yourself to waiters, cab drivers or the kids behind the counter at Starbucks, something stands for improvement in the enunciation and pronunciation departments.
Conversely, there is the overly-confident alpha-dog, conversational pouncer. We all know at least one. He doesn’t let you finish a sentence, always interjecting because he has to top your story with something better, often dropping names. And he’s usually loud. You never have a conversation with him, only near him. He prefers the company of a passive and inappropriately reverential audience. Look for saliva crust build-up in the corner of his mouth due to his inability to shut up, listen and let others talk.
All of these boil down to fear.
E: You also highly support brogues. For men who might not know, what are brogues and how are they different from “dress” shoes?
G: Brogues are shoes with ornamental perforated patterns in the leather, like wingtips.
E: You claim to resist the “devolving sneakerization of the world around [you].” Was there a particular point in your life in which you noticed the ubiquity of sneakers?
G: I probably became aware of it during college in the early 90s. I went to a pretty preppy New England university where the regular shoe among us was a sneaker or boat shoe (or Timberland boot during winter). Music had a huge influence on style. By sophomore year, I had joined the radio station and the theater, putting me among the alternative music tribe, where the standard footwear was Dr. Marten’s, combat boots or some thrift or surplus store derivative thereof. From then on, I did not own a pair of sneakers for many years.
E: Another trend I’ve noticed, one that you didn’t mention explicitly, was how casual wear in both men and women are slowly devolving into the same pot: jeans, t-shirt, sneakers. Sometimes I wonder how far it will go, and if one day everyone is wearing the exact same thing–like a creepy Orwellian distopia. I know you mentioned that woman are doing a much better job of self-presentation, but do you have any concerns for the future of woman casual wear, or is this wholly a male problem?
G: Not a wholly male problem at all. People want to be attractive, and – to varying degrees – dress to make themselves more so. Whether they want to accept it or not, women have a real power in their sexuality, which is one of their best assets when used well. Women are better than men at putting forth the effort, I’d say. But I also think too many women take it too far, resulting in an overtly sexual cheapening of sorts.
“Sexy” is confused with an overt “porn star” flavor popularized by the Kardashians and their one-trick pony aspirants who only play the “sex” card. This cheapening is hardly true for all women, but true enough to be noticeable. If one is going to strip away all mystery with a top that says “look at these first,” lip gloss that says “insert dick here,” and jeans or a skirt that puts total strangers on the second yard line, one really shouldn’t complain about not getting respect. I don’t know any intelligent men who shop for girlfriends or wives in the hooker aisle.
On the other side of the coin, there is the dulling of feminine sexuality in many modes of casual wear. The sexless, glamour-anemic “I can’t be bothered to care about any of this” ethic observed by both women and men is an epidemic shame. Sort-of an asexual frumpiness gone wild. And don’t get me started on what I like to call “minivan hair.”
There’s nothing wrong with a little danger in our dress. It’s good, in fact. It makes it exciting. A little mystery is important, too. But I think we’re missing the element of balance. For both men and women, true sexiness has an approachable softness to it. It also has a level of sophistication. But for a lot of folks these days, it seems like sexuality has become something to be denied, devoured or feared.
E: What do you tell a man who says, “I don’t have enough money to dress nice?” What about “I don’t have enough time to get dressed up all the time?”
G: Regarding the money thing… I don’t have a lot of money. We have places today that didn’t exist when I was younger, offering stylish and smart solutions for men who need to get dressed. Uniqlo, H&M, J.Crew, Bonobos and Indochino are a few of the options for those of us on a budget. Shoes are trickier. It doesn’t pay in the long run to get cheap ones, but Florsheim and Allen Edmonds have very handsome and well-made choices at very reasonable prices. In the long run, a good shoe’s value will far outrun that of a sneaker.
As far as time goes… We’re talking about the difference between maybe 5 minutes and 10 minutes when actually getting dressed. But the preparation, like ironing shirts and shining shoes, requires a bit more time. I set aside the time to do this stuff, listening to new music or podcasts as I iron and polish. I look forward to it, because it’s private, uninterrupted me time.
E: You say that “shoes are the stage upon which all else is built.” For someone who wears exclusively sneakers, what is the first pair of shoes they should buy in order to both convince them to ditch the sneakers and to help elevate a not-so-refined wardrobe?
G: A pair of well-made black oxfords or wingtip brogues. They go with everything, from suits to jeans. If you can, buy two pairs, since you shouldn’t wear the same pair of leather shoes two days in a row. (Maybe a brown pair for the second pair?) When they’re well taken care of, i.e. regularly shined with cedar shoe trees in them between wearings, they will last a lifetime, unlike the sneakers.
Important note: No square-toed shoes, please. They just… no. Just no.
E: You hate when someone tells you that you’re “dressed up” because you’re wearing wingtips, jeans, and an ironed shirt. What do you think spawned this reaction? Is it more likely insecurity (“I should wear clothes like that too”) or accusatory (“Why isn’t he wearing clothes like us?”) that is the cause?
G: Maybe it’s a bit of both. I don’t know. I used to have a slightly jealous impulse when seeing guys who were nicely dressed at times when I wasn’t. I was envious because they looked handsome, as much as I hated to admit it. I wanted to be like them. At times when I was inappropriately underdressed, like in a sweater and jeans at the theater, I felt like a schmuck (and I should have). It reminds me of school when we would tear down the smart kid who aced the tests. He ruined the bell curve and made the rest of us feel less smart. We, therefore, had to demonize him like we did with anyone who made us feel less than what we wish we were.
Ultimately, though, what other people think of me is not my problem.
E: What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
G: Hot water with lemon, coffee and NPR. Then I take the dog out.
E: If you were to take a room full of the average 15 year old male in modern America, and you had 30 minutes to say whatever you wanted, what would you tell them?
G: You will have successes and you will have failures. You will make mistakes and you will learn from them and do better. You will be intoxicated by great love and crushed by crippling heartbreak. You will feel like you’re on top of the world one day and feel like the world’s biggest loser the next. You will feel destitute one morning and wonder what the hell you were so worried about after lunch. You will be tempted to play down your assets and talents for the sake of other people’s comfort. Don’t. You will be charmed and you will be disappointed. You will be delighted and you will be offended. You will drink and do drugs, but do not ever, ever, ever drive when you do. Ever. You will hopefully realize that feelings are not facts, and that everything is temporary.
This is the human experience. Live it to the fullest. And do it with grace, class, respect, gratitude and humility.
And finally… get in the habit of eating right, exercising and taking care of yourself now so you don’t end up one of those doughy characters later in life who has to pay for sex.
E: What if you had 30 minutes to talk to your 15 year old self?
G: Same as above, punctuated by a swift, stinging, open-handed slap to the face.
E: What are your favorite bands or music genres?
G: Oh, god… where to begin…? Led Zeppelin, LCD Soundsystem, Adele, David Byrne, Prince (70s & 80s), Trent Reznor/NIN, Radiohead, Tom Waits, The Clash, The Pretenders, Pink Floyd, Deee-Lite, Public Enemy, Jill Scott, Amy Winehouse, Van Halen (David Lee Roth ONLY), Barry White, Roxy Music, Dusty Springfield, Danger Mouse, Morrissey, AC/DC, The Pet Shop Boys, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis, Burt Bacharach, Stan Getz, Dave Brubeck, Leonard Bernstein, Mahler, Vivaldi, film scores by Elmer Bernstein, Ennio Morricone, John Barry and Jerry Goldsmith.
E: You can only bring three books to a deserted island. What are your choices?
G: How To Be A Man by Glenn O’Brien, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and, of course, Moby Dick by Herman Melville
E: Anything else you want to add?
G: Just a huge thank you for asking me to do this.
And thank you George. If you want to learn more about George, head over to his website and check out all the interesting things he’s involved in.
Have any questions or comments for George? Let him know in the comments below.