10 Minutes With: Glenn O'Brien

Style Legend

Style expert Glenn O’Brien gives valuable insight to being a modern gentleman.
Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin

A sartorial tutorial with Glenn O’Brien.

Meet Glenn O’Brien. Hailed the “Socrates of popular culture” by Calvin Klein. Dubbed a “mass-cultural anthropologist” by Jim Jarmusch. Former pal (and editor) to Andy Warhol and punk-rock persona. O’Brien, currently GQ’s Style Guy columnist and author of How To Be A Man: A Guide to Style and Behavior for the Modern Gentleman is renowned for his on-the-mark bon mots on the mores for the modern gentleman.

Listen up when O’ Brien talks about suits (“Wear it. Don’t let it wear you”), ties (“The fashion factor in ties has mainly to do with width”), men’s timepieces (“The watch is jewelry with an excuse”) and even the wiles of hosting a killer dinner party (“Do not seat couples together. In fact, separate them as far as possible. If a nervy wife tries to corral her husband, seat him next to the cutest girl. Never let a guest subvert your plan”). We recently spoke with O’Brien to give it to us straight:

Do men really need a style guide anymore?
A lot of men have gaps in their knowledge on how to behave on particular occasions. More than they might have a few generations ago. Things have become so casual that people may think that they’ll get all they need to know from the TV. But that’s not possible. So men can get insecure on what to wear and how to behave.

Being a gentleman sounds like a lot of work.
Style really comes down to common sense.

Let’s talk weddings. How do you feel about requesting formal attire at a wedding?
I can understand why brides and grooms want to do it up right. Formality can really add a lot.

In your book, you are very clear about your feelings about tuxes: “Tuxedos aren’t out of style, they are style.” You even make the assertion: “Every man should have a tuxedo. It is the sartorial expression of elegance, even hope.” It sounds like you approve of formal wedding attire…
A wedding is a time to show respect and defer your individuality. You are to go along. I always say that when it comes to tuxes, when you have a whole room of men in the same dress, the effect is that your differences stand out even more person-to-person. You can focus more on their faces or their posture. It is participating in social solidarity. My friend Fred Hughes, who was a very fashionable guy, said he loved tuxes because they showed off the girls’ dresses.

What about skipping the bow tie? How do you feel about the long black ties you see actors at award shows wearing of late?
I can understand the desire to be fashionable and to go the next step but that’s not what formality is. It is about observing a traditional form.

Does this mean men have to go all out and splurge on those special slippers reserved just for tuxes?
A lot of men tend to skimp on shoes especially if they have to rent. But as long as you’re discreet, you can wear just plain, polished black oxfords.

Your insights are invaluable to guys. Any tips for the ladies on wedding attire?
Women shouldn’t try to upstage the bride. They should be more modest and take a back seat stylistically.

Onto parties. Once a couple is married, they have all these great new gifts to show off. Do you have any tips on how to host a great dinner party as newlyweds?
No one really cares about the china. It’s about showing people a good time and putting together a fun group. I don’t like the idea of rules but I do like the idea of cultural formality and expectations. So if we’re having a dinner party, consider a theme like a 19th century Venice Ball. Making things a bit more complicated for your guests is always good.

Thank you Glenn.

--Erinn Bucklan

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