The History of Socks–(and Everything Else a Gentleman Should Know About Them)

 

History of Socks

Prehistoric man, in an attempt to keep his feet warm, would tie animal skins around his ankles. And the ancient Greeks and Romans would use matted animal hair or wrap woven fabric around their feet to protect them and keep them warm. These early leg treatments are the forerunners of the modern “sock,” a word which derives from the Latin “soccus,” meaning ”light shoe.”  There is even ancient precedent for the much-maligned Scandinavian and hip-hop penchant for wearing socks with sandals:  The earliest surviving pair of socks, excavated in Egypt and dating from around the 5th century C.E., features a split-toe design, presumably crafted to be worn with thong-style sandals.  By 1000 C.E., socks had become a symbol of the privileged classes, worn primarily by the nobility, members of wealthy merchant families, and the clergy. The earliest surviving sock in the style of present-day socks was also uncovered in Egypt and dates from the 12th century C.E.

One of the greatest advancements for sock-production occurred in 1589 when Englishman William Lee invented the knitting machine. The machine could produce socks six times as fast as hand-knitting. For hundreds of years, socks were made from the four great natural fibers:  cotton, wool, linen, and silk. Then in 1938, in an attempt to achieve a man-made silk, DuPont invented nylon, which quickly became a primary material in sock-production. Today, many socks are made of combinations of the natural fibers along with man-made fibers such as nylon, acrylic, polyester, and spandex. It is not uncommon for a pair of “cotton” socks today to be comprised of 80% cotton, 10% nylon, 5% spandex, 3% polyester, and 2% rubber, for example. The general rule is:  The higher the percentage of natural fiber vis a vis synthetic fiber, the higher the quality of the sock.

The Primary Purposes of Socks

Socks were created primarily to protect the feet from the elements; to protect the delicate skin of the foot from the inside of the shoe; to protect the inside of the shoe from the perspiration of the foot; to ensure masculine modesty by providing coverage of the foot and lower leg (when wearing shorts or when a portion of the leg is exposed when sitting in full-length trousers, for example); and for making a fashion statement—whether emphatically or understatedly.

 Matching Socks with Trousers and Shoes

Men’s socks come primarily in three lengths:  knee-high, for formal and professional wear or (in black or navy-blue) with traditional Bermuda shorts; mid-calf, for leisure and casual wear; and “bare socks” (also called “loafer socks” or “no-shows”), which cover only the foot and are fully concealed even when wearing low-cut shoes, thereby providing the illusion of the wearer going “nonchalantly and fashionably sockless.”

Traditionally—at least since the 19th century—the visual transition from shoes to socks to pants should be a seamless one.  A lawyer or a banker, for example, would want his socks to be as understated as possible. For conservative-types, ties, more so than socks, are the fashion item most often used for individual expression. Gentlemen in artistic professions, however—men such as fashion designers, painters, writers, and actors—have long been known to use socks to shock. It is not uncommon in a city such as New York to see a gentleman in a sleek, black suit, with black-framed glasses, carrying a black leather portfolio, dashing off to work on Madison Avenue, wearing a pair of neon-yellow socks.

But the general rule is that a gentleman’s socks should match his shoes and/or his trousers. And matching socks to shoes is generally the more practical of the two options since most men have shoes in two basic colors:  black and brown.  Matching socks to trousers, on the other hand, would typically necessitate investing in many pairs of socks of different colors:  olive drab socks for olive drab trousers; gray socks for gray flannel slacks; and khaki-colored socks for khaki pants, for example. And since the new outlook on men’s fashion is a decidedly conservative one, encouraging the modern man to own as few items of clothing as possible, wearing each item as often as possible, matching socks to shoes as opposed to trousers is the more efficient approach.  But the nature of fashion is that it cannot always be practical; it must also appeal to the aesthetic, and it must also allow for personal style. A fashionable gentleman wearing a pair of slim-fitting, pegged, above-the-ankle-length trousers would wear socks of a contrasting color so as to underscore the styling of the trousers.

Wear-and-Care

Socks should be treated as underwear and should only be worn once before being placed into the laundry. A gentleman’s feet, even in the cool months, perspire. And socks absorb that perspiration. Consequently, fresh socks should be worn each day.

Maintaining a pair of socks is like maintaining two lovers:  If a man is not mindful, at least one will take leave of him.  A gentleman who uses public laundry facilities should be especially mindful to account for his socks at each phase of the laundering process. Socks tend to adhere to the inside bins of washing machines and automatic dryers, so special attention should be taken to assure that pairs are all accounted for prior to leaving the laundry facility.

And finally, a modern gentleman should not embrace the age-old practice of maintaining a special drawer just for single socks (apparently with the hope that the rogue socks will miraculously reappear). Once a pair of socks has been separated, it is best to discard the remaining sock or use it for some pedestrian—but important—task such as polishing shoes or brass.

 

Garam Masala–One of the Culinary Luxuries of the World

Garam Masala

In Hindi, “garam” means “hot,” and “masala” means “spice” or a “blend of spices.” Used primarily in the cuisines of Northern India and Southern Asia, garam masala serves as the seasoning base for many of the regions’ dishes. It is also used as a quick-fix “flavor adjuster” for a dish that has not achieved the desired overall flavor, and is a “catch-all” seasoning used to imbue dishes with the characteristic flavor of the regions. Garam masalas are also used as a dry-rub to prepare meats for grilling or barbecuing.

There is no one blend of spices for garam masala:  Ingredients and proportions differ from region to region, family to family, cook to cook, and dish to dish. But a typical Indian garam masala is comprised of black peppercorns, cardamom, cloves, caraway, bay leaf, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mace.  The spices are toasted in a hot skillet to release their essential oils, then they are ground in a mortar with a pestle.  Some garam masala recipes are moistened with vinegar, water, or even coconut milk, thereby achieving a paste-like consistency, while other recipes are moistened when fresh herbs or ingredients such as mashed garlic and onion are included. But whatever the blend or however it is used, garam masala is a tantalizing, time-honored mélange of world-flavors, and to taste it is to immediately recognize it as one of the culinary luxuries of the world.

West Indian Whelks–The World’s Most Delicious Aphrodisiac!

West Indies Whelks, Cittarium pica of the family Tegulidae (also known as “magpie shell” or “West Indian top shell”)

 Spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) is today considered a delicacy; but a century ago, in the Caribbean, it was so commonplace that it was used for bait. And queen conch (Eustrombos gigas) has been regarded as a seafood staple for centuries. Not so, however, with whelks: From time immemorial, this sea snail has been regarded as a delicacy on account of its compelling flavor, so much so that prior to preservation laws, it was harvested from coastline rocks to the point of extinction in several island-habitats.

 The West Indian (Caribbean) whelk is a marine gastropod mollusk with a characteristic black-and-white shell. Pronounced “wilks” in the English-speaking Caribbean, it is known by different names in the rest of the region: “cigua” in Cuba; “quigua” in Venezuela; “bulgao” or simply “caracoles” (“snails” in Spanish) in the other Spanish-speaking islands. The species is not closely related to that known as “whelk” in Europe and the United States.

 Believed to have a lifespan of close to thirty years, West Indian whelks reproduce each year, between the months of June and November, via external fertilization: Males release their sperm into the water, and females simultaneously release their eggs. The species is believed to be a herbivore, feeding primarily at night by actively scraping algal growth off coastline rocks. And it is in the dark of night, when the whelks attach themselves to the rocks at water’s edge in order to feed, that men harvest them (in a process called “picking whelks”), sometimes being washed away by the waves to their deaths in the process. In the case of Bermuda, where whelks were harvested to extinction, they have been reintroduced.

 Fabled to be an aphrodisiac, whelks are boiled in their shell, then removed from the shell, cleaned, and prepared in various ways, the most popular being in a traditional butter-sauce consisting of butter, onions, lime juice, some of the stock produced during the boiling of the whelks, and salt to taste. The traditional complement is white rice. Whelks are also combined with shrimp, lobster, squid, cockle, octopus, onion, bell peppers, olives and/or capers, lime juice, and olive oil to make a classic, chilled seafood salad, typically served with avocado and/or sweet potato.

 

Japanese Wagyu: The World’s Most Luxurious, Delicious, and Expensive Beef!

Wagyu Beef of Japan

Cattle are not native to the islands of Japan. But their presence in Japan’s archaeological record reaches back as far as the 5th or 6th century C.E. Herds, such as that on the island of Mishima, have been isolated from subsequently imported breeds and suggest that the original Japanese cattle were relatively small. Because Buddhism, which came to Japan in the 6th century, proscribed the eating of four-legged animals, cattle were historically used primarily as beasts of burden, not as a source of meat. But in 1873 when the proscription was lifted as a result of Westernization, Japanese people began eating beef. Larger breeds were imported and bred with domestic varieties in order to increase yield. And it is these hybrids that form the breeds that produce the prized wagyu beef. In 1991, when Japan relaxed its rules pertaining to imported beef, less expensive imported beef threatened local production. But shrewd Japanese farmers responded by promoting the unique, flavorful qualities of domestic beef in order to secure market share: To the Japanese palate, taste trumps size and price.

When it comes to meat, it is said that the flavor is in the fat. And high-quality wagyu beef is copiously marbled with unsaturated fat, rich in oleic acid. It is therefore small wonder that Japanese wagyu beef is one of world’s gastronomical luxuries.

The word “wagyu” literally means “Japanese cow/cattle,” “wa” meaning “Japanese,” and “gyu” meaning “cow/cattle.” There are four distinct wagyu breeds that have been specifically bred by the Japanese because of the breeds’ genetic predisposition to producing marbled flesh: Japanese Black; Japanese Brown (also known as “Japanese Red”); Japanese Polled; and Japanese Shorthorn. The four breeds are also occasionally crossbred with each other. Japanese Black accounts for approximately 90 percent all wagyu cattle. But genetics alone does not produce the beef that the Japanese—and now the world—regard as the finest beef on Earth. Husbandry also plays a significant role.

At the age of about eight to ten months, wagyu calves are put on special diets of grain, grass, hay, apples, and, to stimulate appetite, beer. And since the cattle are kept in stalls rather than allowed to roam freely over pastureland (so as to prohibit muscle-growth, keep the flesh soft, and encourage body fat), they are regularly brushed and massaged to promote healthy bodies and are cleaned with saki wine to keep ticks and fleas at bay. After two years, the flesh of the fattened cattle is laced with striations of primarily unsaturated fat which imparts flavor and makes the meat exceedingly soft. The meat is officially graded based on marbling, color, firmness, and fat color and quality, with a total of 15 grades possible. And through a detailed 10-digit numbering system, a particular cut of wagyu beef can be tracked to as far back as the maternal grandsire of the slaughtered animal. Telephone Apps and scanning devices allow customers to verify wagyu authenticity. A recognizable wagyu certification mark verifies wagyu pedigree, production standards, safety, and taste.

High-quality wagyu beef is so tender that it seems to literally melt in the mouth; and its flavor is so compelling that it is regarded as the world’s most delicious beef. In Japan, wagyu beef is cooked and served as thin slices (about the size of a slice of roast beef from a deli). When eaten with chopsticks, the slice is picked up, the desired portion is bitten off, and the remaining portion is placed back onto/into the dish, the process being repeated until the slice is entirely consumed.

The Menorcan Avarca–One of the Simple, Inexpensive Luxuries of the World

Leather Menorcan Avarcas (also Abarcas, Avarques)

Most things must stand the test of time before they can achieve the elevated status of “classic.” But on rare occasions, perhaps once in a generation, or even once in a lifetime, something takes form, and from the moment of its manifestation, it tacitly declares itself as timeless. Such is the case of leather Menorcan avarcas. To see them, and then to wear them, is to know immediately that it would be a grave mistake to alter them in any significant way. The sandals are nonapologetically simple: a wide, leather strap covering—except for the tips of the first toes—the broad of the foot; a tapered sling-back strap at the heel; and a flat sole of recycled tire-rubber, inner-lined with leather. What more could a red-blooded island boy need? And when worn with a favorite pair of jeans or relaxed linen trousers, a good belt, a shirt of white linen, and a Panama hat, avarcas can stand toe-to-toe with footwear from anywhere. Simply put, the sandals exude a nonchalant chic. And the avarca is known to be a favorite sandal of various members of the Spanish royal family.

Since the dawn of Menorcan civilization, the islanders have donned sandals. The historical record confirms that the Carthaginians, early colonizers of the Balearic islands, were wearing sandals of leather in 200 B.C.E. In the last quarter of the 1800s, Archduke Luis Salvador de Habsburgo-Lorena writes that sandals is the typical footwear of the country people. In those days, the entire sandal was made of leather. People would purchase hand-cut-to-measure soles and then hand-sew the uppers to the soles at home. The sandals were hand-sewn using a bodkin and heavy, waxed thread. Eventually, with the proliferation of the sewing machine in the late 1800s, production of the sandals became less arduous. By the 1920s, used automobile tires were being recycled to provide a flexible, moisture-resistant sole for the sandals. And it was around the the 1920s that the avarca evolved into the design that endures to this day. Farmers would make themselves a new pair at the beginning of planting season. From the farmers emerged craftsmen specializing in the production of the sandals, marketing them island-wide. By the 1950s, craftsmen began producing variations upon the avarca theme, using, for example, leftover canvas from sails to construct the uppers of the sandals. By the 1960s, the sandal, traditionally worn by men, women, and children, had become the “official” summer shoe of Menorca, devotees customarily and, arguably, ritualistically, acquiring a new pair at the beginning of the season. By the 1970s, Menorca had become a thriving tourist destination, and it had also become almost obligatory for each visitor to the island to acquire a pair of the sandals—as both wearable souvenir and physical evidence of time spent upon the enchanted isle. And as tourists returned to their homelands across the globe, word of and desire for the simple, elegant avarca spread. By the 1980s, industrial production of the sandal had commenced, the sandals being exported throughout the Mediterranean region and beyond. And today, it is customary for avarca-wearers, when they recognize each other anywhere in the world, to orally or tacitly acknowledge each other—as if members of some international fraternal order.

In 2010, the Island Council of Menorca, in collaboration with the Footwear Manufacturers of Menorca, established the “Seal of Guarantee and Distinction” for the avarca. To obtain the Guarantee’s stamp of approval, the footwear must, among other things, be made entirely on Menorca, whether by hand or mechanized production, and the manufacturing process must meet certain minimum standards that ensure that the final product is of exceptional quality. Shoes produced by registered manufacturers that meet the specified standards are sold with a certificate of guarantee. Calzados RIA, S.L.U., which trades as “Ria Menorca,” was the first company to receive the Seal of Guarantee and Distinction for its avarcas brand.

Ria Menorca is one of the oldest and foremost commercial producers of the Menorcan avarca. Founded in 1947 by Bartolomé Truyal, the company, located in the small town of Ferreries, is today run by his son Carlos Truyal Serra. Each year the collection features about 300 handmade styles. The company sells its products throughout Spain, Italy, France, and Great Britain. And internet sales (www.ria.es) have made the company’s avarcas and complementary product-line available to the world.

Elevator Etiquette

Elevators

Women should precede men when entering and exiting elevators. And there are no exceptions to this rule. Not even the pope of the Holy Roman Catholic Church or the president of the world’s most powerful country—whether or not on official duty—should enter an elevator ahead of a lady in his company or one in his immediate vicinity.

When entering and exiting an elevator in which there are other riders—even in public buildings—it is a much-appreciated courtesy to extend a general greeting appropriate for the time of day, whether “Good morning” or “Good evening,” for example, to the other riders. Some people will respond in-kind, others will not. Most, however, will appreciate the gentle courtesy, for such manners soften the harshness of the world.

Very few elevators today—whether in public or residential buildings—are staffed with operators whose job it is to obtain floor requests as well as to open and close the elevator door at the designated floors. But on the rare occasions when elevators are staffed, special greetings should be extended to the operators; and in the case of public elevators, it is considered a polite gesture to give a small, symbolic tip, similar to what would be awarded to a bathroom attendant at a men’s club or a doorman of a hotel. Elevator operators, despite their oftentimes stoical demeanor, must contend with the ups and downs of life like the rest of humanity, and it is especially kind of a gentleman to direct a little of his generosity to such persons, many of whom are honest, hard-working immigrants with immediate and extended families to support.

A much-studied social phenomenon, people, even close friends and family members, tend to position themselves on opposite sides of an elevator whenever space permits. And in crowded elevators, many people tend to feel threatened by the encroachment upon their otherwise-personal space. A gentleman, therefore, must be hyper-conscious of committing further invasions of space. For example, rather than reaching across or between people in order to depress the button of his desired floor, he should politely ask the person situated nearest the floor-selection panel to register his request: “Floor 14, please. Thank you.” (The person situated nearest the floor-selection panel should also be mindful to locate the “door-open/door-close” buttons so as to utilize them when necessary).

When exiting an elevator, a gentleman, to the extent reasonable, should (provided that he does not significantly impede the flow of others exiting on the same floor) yield to ladies and the elderly. And just prior to stepping off the elevator, he should extend departure courtesies consistent with the time of day to those remaining on the elevator: A simple “Have a good day,” or “Enjoy the rest of your evening” should be extended—with no expectation of a response.

The History of the Shirt–from First Dynasty Egypt to Today

The Shirt

Shirts have existed for thousands of years. One of the world’s oldest preserved garments is a shirt found in a First Dynasty Egyptian tomb at Tarkan, dating from five thousand years ago. And judging from the garment’s degree of sophistication, with its elaborately pleated shoulders to allow for movement, and its form-fitting silhouette, it is clear that the ancient shirt was the result of centuries of design evolution, not the first shirt ever made—after all, it is highly unlikely that man went from animal skins to intricately pleated, fitted shirts of fine linen in one fell swoop.

For much of the history of the shirt, it was used as an undergarment to protect regular garments, such as jackets, from perspiration and body soilure. Shirts were also used as sleepwear. They were collarless and cuffless and, for the most part, pulled on over the head since they did not feature buttoned fronts. They were either white or made of undyed fabric, usually linen, cotton, or silk. In those days, glimpsing a man’s shirt was the equivalent of seeing his briefs today.

By the 12th century, the shirt had emerged from underneath other garments to become a full-fledged item of apparel in its own right. Collars and cuffs—sometimes detachable—of different prominence and proportions were added as fashions changed through the decades and centuries. Traditionally a simple garment, in the middle of the 19th century, the shirt became more tailored to complement the shape of the male torso. The first buttoned-up-the-front shirt was registered by Brown, Davies & Co., as early as 1871, but it was only after World War I that the shirt as it is known today became widely popular. In the 1930s, the shirt with a fixed collar became standard, remaining so to this day.

To a large degree, the “casualization” of the shirt was inspired by the short-sleeved, colorful Aloha shirts created by Waikiki-based Chinese merchant Ellery Chun during the 1930s. By the 1950s, short-sleeve shirts—once inconceivable on grounds of immodesty—had become popular, as well as shirts in colors other than stark white, the Garibaldi “Redshirts” of 1843 in Uruguay and 1860 in Italy notwithstanding. It was also in the 1950s that manufacturers started producing shirts in synthetic fabrics such as nylon.

Chest pockets on shirts is a recent invention: As suit vests (also called “waistcoats”) became less popular with the rise of temperature-controlled professional offices, shirts in the 1960s started featuring chest pockets, typically on the left side.

Long gone is the day when no decent man would be seen in public with his torso covered with only a shirt. Today, a shirt is accepted as an outermost garment everywhere except in venues where jackets are required. And in many countries, a shirt with a tie (without a jacket) is considered business attire.