April 2011

Image: THE XY FACTOR Best Man

Glenn O’Brien’s new how-to shows guys the beauty in mastering the finer points of life
by Adam Tschorn

CHAD PITMAN

Even though men, as a rule, are loath to seek out advice (the same chromosomal glitch that prevents them from asking for directions), book publishers continue to put out a never-ending parade of man manuals, husband handbooks and guy guides destined to be given as gifts or dropped as heavy hints.

Glenn O’Brien’s How to Be a Man: A Guide to Style and Behavior for the Modern Gentleman (Rizzoli), with illustrations by Jean-Philippe Delhomme, might be one of the few in the canon that a guy would actually enjoy...if he can get past the title’s insinuated insult.

O’Brien certainly has the bona fides. For more than 10 years, he has penned GQ’s “Style Guy” advice column, and he’s been creative director of advertising for Barneys New York, editor of Interview magazine and involved in ad campaigns for the likes of Calvin Klein, Dior and Dolce & Gabbana.

Rather than a list of do’s and don’ts, How to Be a Man is part philosophy treatise, part sartorial self-help manual and part call to arms for the Renaissance man. It’s a clever collection of essays on topics ranging from grooming (“Man Is a Fur-Bearing Mammal”) and accessorizing (“Jewels and the Man”) to behavior (“How to Fight Like a Man”) and death (“How to Exit”), all in prose that’s entertaining and fun to parse. (To wit: “We must fill the sandbags of elegance against the rising tide of vulgarity.”) So when, during a recent Fashion Week foray to New York City, I found myself facing off with the author across plates of pasta at Il Buco, I had some questions...

Okay, there’s no delicate way to ask this: Where do you get off writing a book called How to Be a Man?
The title’s a little tongue in cheek, though some people were offended. Rules like these are a kind of common sense that gets passed along.

In some of your “Style Guy” columns, you’ve had to turn to an etiquette book—is that right?
Yes. I actually collect etiquette books. I find them charming—they tell more about history than a history book.

To whom do you turn on matters of style if you’re ever utterly stumped?
Alan Flusser [author and designer]—he has a real wealth of knowledge on menswear. And being a tailor, he knows a lot of things I could never hope to know.

Have you ever had to recant advice?
I’ve changed my mind about a few things—like white shoes. I’ve extended [the appropriate time to wear] white shoes through the entire length of baseball season. It used to be Memorial Day through Labor Day. I think it’s my recognition of climate change.

Style-wise, do you have a pet peeve?
I hate when people wear flip-flops as real shoes—more with men than women. I also don’t like fanny packs, I don’t like backpacks—especially on the subway—and I don’t like baseball caps.

Last question: The bio in your press materials describes you as a bon vivant. Now that you’ve told me how to be a better man, can you tell me how to be a better bon vivant?
Maybe it has to do with drinking a lot—I don’t really know.