Living in Style: Brian Bent

Brian Bent is not pretending or acting. He is what, and whom, he presents himself to be. And he is great.

What he presents, is a hot-rodding rockabilly surfer circa 1968, or maybe 1953, I can’t pin down exactly when. You can find images of him all over the internet riding a checkered surfboard while wearing a striped shirt and captain’s cap, ya know, like the one Thurston Howell III wore on Gilligan’s Island.

The pics look great. But what is even better, is that on any given day you can easily run into Brian out in the lineup at Doheny or San Onofre, and he will look exactly like he does in those photos, and he will ride that log for all its worth. He can surf.

When he is done he will haul that log into the parking lot, load it onto a homemade hot rod, and head home to paint.

His paintings are what first caught my attention.

People have been paying attention to his art for decades. He is not new. His work is a loose mix of what appears to be fashion illustration, shapes, and storytelling. He renders spindly stylized characters like you might imagine would exist if Jack Skellington targeted the world of Gidget. He made a splash back in the 80’s when he was designing the interiors of the Becker surf shops and his work was eventually picked up by galleries. He has been and still is, producing.

Producing as in continually creating. Making. All sorts of stuff.

I met Brian as he and his wife were headed from the beach back to their car. I was (still am) just some soggy kook in a wetsuit hollering “Hey Brian” and they stopped and graciously listened as I told Brian I loved his art. He was gracious. They were nice.

Then last weekend he opened up his home for a “garage sale” and Mrs. Hammas and I went to check it out. The Bents were exactly as they appeared at the beach, super gracious, and their home is the best representation of a stylized life I have ever seen. They execute a designed life to perfection.

In front of their modest sized house is a teal, tailfinned car with anchors painted on the cab, then three steel home-made hot rods, and of course all the vehicles are outfitted to carry a surf board. In the garage are tools upon tools and a quiver of hand painted longboards next to a pile of banged up single tailed skateboards.

The house is a collection of mid-mod vignettes made up of furniture, instruments, and art. Skatalites played on a record player, easy going people not wearing shoes milled about the kitchen, and the Bents appeared sincerely happy we were there. They showed us around, shared a bit about their life, and went out of their way to make us feel comfortable.

And I was. Thanks to them.

This comfort came largely from the Bent’s authenticity. The 60’s, or 40’s for that matter, are long gone and most of us do not dress or design a life like the Bent’s so it might be natural to assume they might be a little… weird. Or act eccentric. But they don’t. They are, again, normal. In the best possible way. In the way that makes a person a real person rather than a performance. In a way that makes Brian a master of style rather than a relic.

Brian is not living in the past, he is living in style.

And I didn’t even get to his music.

The New York Fashion Geek

Reg will say that knowing what looks good and what is cool has simply been part of his life since birth. He means it. I think he’s right.

Who he is, where he was, and when, built a foundation of classic rules with an authentic streak of Hip-Hop freshness. That is where he started. Now he’s in Brooklyn (New Yorker for life) and the 80’s are over (for now), so why should I, or you, care?

Because he does.

Because he still looks at everything, pays attention, and talks to everyone. He casually dropped the name of GQ’s current editor and referenced an article in Rake so I am inclined to believe him when he claims he keeps the entire magazine business afloat. I found him through his podcast. Or rather, his podcast found me when he interviewed Marcel from X of Pentacles. Chris Cox tipped me on to Marcel’s work some time ago and I started following him. The interwebs suggested I go listen to a podcast with Marcel as a guest and I fell face-first down the podcast rabbit hole wherein I started following Reg. Reg talks to everyone.

He even spoke to me.

Knowing what looks good is a matter of opinion. Knowing how to create, or style oneself, into a particular look is a matter of training.

This is to say we all have our opinions, and who am I, or you, to say whose is wrong or right, but, and this can be a big butt (wink), there are some things that can be learned or taught to help a person achieve particular looks. If that is what one wants.

You can hire Reginald Ferguson to go through your closet for some help figuring out what looks good, or he can take you to a tailor, but what you get would be more than just his opinion. He will give instructions, principles, generational wisdom, and also some opinion. All of which has value. He is in the business of passing down what was given to him, combined with what he has learned along the way.

I’ll start with what he was given.

He is a Black New Yorker. This is important.

Why is it important?

First it is important because he claims New York. Claims it hard. Some people were born and raised in a place, and he was indeed born and raised in New York, but it is another thing to stay. And to claim it. And to rep it. Reg is a New Yorker. You don’t have to ask, he will tell you, It’s in the name. We could possibly argue about the relevance of race, I’m comfortable with that discussion, but social constructs aside, being Black in America teaches a person some things, including what it is like to bear extra scrutiny or judgement on one’s appearance. This is a simple experiential fact and what Reginald will tell you is, that he had some very good teachers in how to navigate this world. He was brought up by Black professionals who knew the importance of presenting one’s self with an awareness of how others will see you. His grandmother was a seamstress. She worked around bankers and lawyers, that kind of New York and it was in large part up to her to make them look good. She passed along what she learned to Reg. Grandpa was a church man who did the same. These are the people who taught him to shop, about fit, coordination, about fashion. And he learned.

Reg had sage teachers at home, that is important, but he also came of age as part of Hip-Hop’s first generation, in the birthplace of fly- the Bronx.

The Bronx! This is the place that gave the world Slick Rick, Kool Herc, and Melle Mel. Those people gave us Fat Joe and Swizz Beats… and Reg.

So what we have here, is a kid who was taught the basic rules of classic menswear since birth coming of age in the hey-day and heartland of hip-hop. He is the balanced hybrid of… no I’ll stop myself right there. He is only balanced because he is a touch extreme in two directions. He is a staunch advocate of his two week rotation of suits, because good quality clothes last longer with a little resting time between wearings, but 14 suits is a few more than a modest arsenal. Then he also has an Imelda Marcos sized appreciation for sneakers. Being a sneakerhead isn’t all that unique these days, but maybe it is a bit much for someone who calms to be suited and booted at least 5 days a week and he does not forward the Jimmy Fallonesque ‘suits with tennis shoes’ look. He is no philistine. In the end Reg is balanced in the same way a 49-51  split senate is bipartisan, but unlike the partisans he somehow sits at both poles. So no matter where you sit on the spectrum, he’s more out there than you, or less out there, in both directions. More street. More boardroom. He is more of all those things and he works hard with those who don’t know, to know more, and do better.

Al’s Attire, I should have known and so should you.

This guy makes basketball shoes. As in he takes basketballs, cuts them up, and makes them into shoes. These aint Nike they are Spalding couture. He does the same thing with baseball mitts- turns them into purses. He is designer, tailor, and a brand all of his own making.

I didn’t know about AL before I wandered into his shop. I was just window shopping, sort of strolling along San Francisco’s North Shore neighborhood and it was just the next door in a row of others, I had just gone ga ga over cheese in a spot across the street, so I was already in a good mood. I stepped inside and was struck by what I found.

Let me state clearly that my not knowing about Al’s before I got there was a personal deficiency. I have since learned that not only is he not new, but he has been a front running outfitter for the cool kids since I was a child. When I struck up a conversation with him I recognized the sort of approachability and openness that I have found in so many other true leaders in their field. The ones who no longer need to prove themselves to anyone. The ones who have shown their worth to all who matter long ago and are still doing what they do, but out of love for their craft- not chasing status. Those people are always happy to talk with anyone, even those like me who have absolutely nothing to offer, if you are talking about the work.

Al’s stuff felt new. Not new like fast fashion plastic and tin foil from Forever 21, but new like ideas. New, like a digitized camouflage suit jacket , which would never be my thing, but kept me transfixed when I saw it on his hanger. I will not venture to say that he is the first one to make a camo jacket, but he did it in a way that felt right, not like a gimmick.

That is his magic. He does new odd ball stuff sans gimmick. Sans social media marketing department. Sans pretention.

But with a double dose of creativity and cool.

The Reckless Eyeball

This is Matt Ingram.

In 1951 Matt Ingram drove his old car to a neighbor’s house to see about borrowing a trailer. The neighbor didn’t answer the door, so Ingram went and looked out in the field to see if the neighbor was there, but all he saw were some kids. So, he left and borrowed a trailer from someone else.

Matt spent 2 years in jail for looking at those kids.

Well, really for looking at one kid. Willa Jean Boswell, a 17 year old girl saw Ingram driving on the road and was frightened when he looked at her. She ran to the field, told her brothers, who told their dad, who told the police, and they arrested Ingram for assault with intent to rape.

That’s it. No other relevant details. No one contested or offered that there was more to the story. The entire court accepted that Matt, who had not been in, or caused, any trouble previously, never got closer to Willa Mae than 75 feet. He never spoke a word to her, never even made any sudden or aggressive movements, just a look, and the jury convicted him. He was sentenced to 2 years on the chain gang.

A series of appeals and a whole lotta pressure from… the Soviet Union, eventually brought his case to the North Carolina Supreme Court where his conviction was overturned.

That process took around two years… which Matt spent in jail.

For a look.

Or maybe rather, because he had a look.

Mr. Ingram wasn’t trying to have a look, he was just doing his thing. He was working and being himself- which is in some way the root of what makes that look “a look”. There is some form of innate coolness. Not posing. Not trying. Just being. All business.

Thing is, Ingram’s look wasn’t all that unique. He was by all accounts- normal.

For a Black man.

At that time all sorts of other folks, who were in fact trying, worked this look. In fact, that look was being imitated and replicated all over movie screens and billboards because there was, and still is, something in there, that is undeniably cool.

But cool is only safe for some.

And if that cool is innate, the sort that just is, then what do you do if you are Black? In order to be safe should someone not be themself? Tone it down? Tuck it in? Reel it back? Take what others imitate and monetize and push it down to make white people feel safe? To a lot of people, those who just wanted to get on with life, the answer was “yes”.

It was the sort of thing that when white folks do it, they are popular and get to be in movies but when Black people do it…

It was just after Ingram’s case was won, and received worldwide media attention, that a group of White men decided not to take their case to court when a Black kid named Emmet Till was accused of having that same look.

We have, in so many ways, come a long way. That was 70 years ago. So many people have marched, and worked, and changed since then.

But then I think about backwards hats and hoodies and I have to wonder.

And man, when I look at old pictures of Matt Ingram,

I can still see that cool. Plain as day.

Intent vs. Impact

When a system, or representatives of a system, attempt to explain away the racial component of the killing of Asian people because of the ‘words’ of a white killer, despite the evidence and consequences of the the killer’s actions, we are witnessing the systematic shift from white privilege up to white supremacy.

If a person enters a place primarily inhabited by Asians, and then kills several people there, the impact of the death and destruction is born primarily by that Asian community. The stated intentions of the perpetrator do not change who bears that impact.

The More Perfect Man: a big guy’s guide to shirts.

Tis the season when celebration without moderation is turned into a newfound dedication to reformation. Thanksgiving feasts lead to Christmas candies all enjoyed while lounging in front of the fireplace because it’s too cold to go outside, and for many of us, this season of sharing love, tends to leave us ourselves, more loveable.

Emphasis on the more.

Then comes New Year’s where we go through the ritual of repentance, or resolutions, that send us back to the gym or on to a diet, in the hopes that we may appear more worthy of love. How love or worthiness might be measured is debatable, and I am not one to say what others should measure, but as for me, I have discovered, or learned, the value of smoke and mirrors. I would need less smoke and mirrors had I never discovered smoked meats and cheese, but I did.

So let me pass on one little tip, only because it took me while to learn, and perhaps it wouldn’t have taken so long had someone told me sooner.

If you have more middle than you would like to show, the best way to cover it is with clothes that fit- not by wearing clothes with extra fit.

The secret is sadly not so much in how good fitting clothes might make you look (and they might) but rather in realizing how much worse you look in baggy ones. Think of it this way, if you wish you were less, the answer isn’t in adding more. More clothes, more room in the waist, more pizza, more-more-more, will always just be more.

Wear shirts that end at your waist, or tuck them in. This one takes guts in that you may feel it reveals yours, but just know that a long shirt just allows more cloth to sag below your belly which draws even more attention to its existence, and also shortens the look of your legs, making you look more round than long.

V neck t shirts or the v of an open collar, hint at a v shape person, where boat necks roundness echo other things that might be round as well, and it is amazing how influential perceptions and hints can be.

Also, choose dark colors. They hide contours and shapes you don’t want seen.

If you wear a tie, the tip should just touch you belt buckle. Any longer and all attention will be drawn to however much material is hanging out in space like a rock climber who fell of the cliff and is now left dangling by a rope. Tie it shorter and you have an actual arrow pointing right at your midsection. That belt buckle is your best bet. Even if that buckle is, uh-hum, buried. Tip of the tie goes right on that precipice.

There you go, my holiday gift to whomever.

I hope it helps, and I know, I know- who Am I to give any advice. You may have seen me sitting at my desk, or more likely on my sofa, or in COVID times only seen me on Instagram, and you think to yourself, “but he still looks overweight”, and you are right.

But trust me…

I am much fatter than I look.

Like- a lot.

(If you are serious about clothes that fit, might I suggest a professional like Commonwealth Proper. They will treat you right)

Holiday Purchasing Guide for 2020

This worldwide pandemic has meant some unforeseen adjustments in my life. One such has been a dramatic increase in online purchases. Some of these have been socially responsible efforts, such as the can of green spray paint I ordered rather than picking up in person, because who knows who is infected with what at Home Depot. Other orders might have been a bit more frivolous, such as the rejected raw cut baseball bat I bought, which then required green spray paint for decoration.

I needed this decorated bat to hang on my wall so that my wife could answer the question, “Why is there a bat on the wall behind you?” while she is on important Zoom calls.

Because I am a team player.

Another example of me contributing to the better life of others is this list of things I have found while slumming through the consumer side streets of the internet. I am doing so now, giving you just enough time to order the same things immediately, and have them arrive just AFTER Christmas.

Modest Vintage Player boxing gloves. These are the most beautiful and classy tools with which to do something potentially ugly and base- punch stuff. I only got the gloves but really want the matching heavy bag and mitts.

A while back I included a steel banded watch on my most wanted list. Now that I mostly sit indoors looking at a screen that always has the time of day up there in the corner, I bought a watch. It was way less than $100, the brand name will impress no one, and I am so, so, satisfied with it. It is exactly what I wanted and that is rarely what I get.

Lest I think myself modest, I balanced out my humble watch by buying two hyper pretentious Penn patches. I am toying with the idea of adding one to the pocket of a blue blazer but know full well such would make me too self-conscious to ever wear it. But I will want to.

Early on in the pandemic I came across an online ad, on Instagram, from a company with a name I had never heard before, in China. I will admit I had my doubts but what I saw was an accordion folding lattice covered in fake leaves that would perfectly screen the peeling paint on my back fence from view. The price was impossible to pass up, so I gave it a shot. After four months of waiting what I finally got was an 8”x11” frame that when expanded covered approximately one of my legs. I was a bit upset by the false advertising, but I did have to admit the price I paid was appropriate for the product.

After 5 years (more likely 15) of looking them up, but never buying anything, I ordered a tomahawk. I recently got a notice that my selected item is on back order and I would be updated when its status changes.

I wallowed a bit in a pool of guilt thinking I should have forgone such indulgences in favor of saving my pennies for more worthy things like sending my kids to college or maybe even a one day affording a mortgage. I felt enough of this guilt that I steeled my will, did the math, and discovered that with the amount I was spending all I would need to do is redirect these funds to high return stocks and in a mere 15 years, with discipline and austerity, I would finally have enough for a down payment on a used 1998 hatch back. Which of course dropped me into a deep disgust for our world but I felt much better about myself.

When Editing a Closet Feels Like Failure

My hoarding clothing stems from two things:

One, the understanding that dressing appropriately is all about context. Where will you be and what will you be doing? This should determine the item, the color, the cut, the fabric, etc.

And two, the fantasy that my life is somehow much more interesting than it really is, or at least the fantasy, that it will be so at some point in the future. I need to be prepared right?

I still own a pair of rugby cleats though it has been ten years since I last played.

I own two pairs of snow pants though it has been 15 years since I last went snowboarding.

In fairness to the ten suits or odd jackets I own, such was daily wear for me pre-pandemic, though I must admit it has been multiple years since I half of them fit comfortably. I am convinced they will al fit again.

I realized the other day that while I have shoes in which to jog, I do not have the right shoes to play basketball. This is appropriate since I haven’t even touched a basketball in maybe five, wait, seven, years, but now that I see the clothing gap I am convinced the shoes are why I’m not playing 3-on-3 right this instant.

I saw an image yesterday of a small stadium where cars race around in a tight circle with a track banked at almost 90 degrees. It was wild. Spectators watch from seats right along the top of the track so they can look down and see cars zip by sticking to the wall as if with a high octane Spiderman superpower. While looking at this awesomeness what stuck out to me most was that one car had an obviously insane man sitting mostly outside the window of this moving car, and I cringed. Not because of the danger but because he was wearing this ill-fitting, multi-color striped, long sleeve golf shirt. It looked like a secondhand cast-off from Old Navy; like the wearer just grabbed something out of a pile with no thought as to size or taste. It robbed a little bit from the spectacle. Evel Knievel understood this. While I may not share his same taste for star spangled Elvis jumpsuits, Mr. Knievel understood how to dress in context. As to the driver in this motodrome, I am convinced that a leather motor cycle jacket, or a shirt in colors that matched the car, or maybe even no shirt at all would have made this whole scene so much more spectacular but instead of thinking this guy was just as cool as his stunt, I was pondering if perhaps this guy was only driving on a wall because he had no other options- because I had to assume he had no other shirts.

I love the idea of owning a tuxedo. I get that wearing a tux tailored to fit, will make me look and feel better, and in any setting where a tux is called for, one would of course want to look and feel their best. I have read and learned enough to know the little details that matter, texture, tailoring, lapel style and jacket length. I need to do more testing to really decide the size of bowtie that works best with my face, but I do know how to tie one, and know that I should.

But then also, I have already lived most of my life, and in all this time have only experienced four occasions where my wearing a tuxedo was appropriate.

So. Should I do a better job honestly curating my closet, or do I find some way to get a yacht to go with my boat shoes?

I Drew Pictures of Clothes, and Now They are in a Book

Chris Cox, the man behind Easyandelegantlife.com, has been a friend of mine for some time now.

He has been an expert in his field for even longer.

I am happy to have been able to contribute a bit to the good work he does. His book is out now- go buy it.

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I drew the pictures.

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