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There's no delicate way to put it: I am a fat man. I know that pants are designed to be worn around my navel, but this is the thickest part of my body. Even with a belt, my pants fall down. Wearing my pants just below my belly keeps them in place, but is less than flattering and results in a lot of torn crotches. Other than losing the belly—which is a yearslong struggle—what can I do? Suspenders even with casual wear? How should fat guys wear their pants?
Thank you for your letter.
Flopping a Falstaffian gut across his belt line, the fuller fellow fools no one but himself. OK, so you get to feel slimmer when selecting a pair of trousers with a 36-inch waist instead of a 52-, say, but you are unnecessarily condemning yourself to schlubbiness when you hit the streets. I encourage you to strive for magnificence and to stand as proud as the O’s in the Hollywood sign. What would Sydney Greenstreet do with his pants? Burl Ives’ Big Daddy? The falsely maligned Roscoe Arbuckle? They all would hang ’em high.
Yes, I recommend suspenders (also known as braces), the most distinguished purveyor of which is London’s Albert Thurston, founded in 1820. But I am boycotting Thurston until it removes from its website a cartoon falsely maligning Oscar Wilde by attaching his name to a braces-related nonwitticism. (Update, Sept. 4, 2014: The Gentleman Scholar notes with small pleasure that Thurston has since replaced its totally bogus Wilde quote with a passably close rendering of a probably authentic quip: "I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.") And I do suggest wearing suspenders (also known as galluses) even with casual wear.
No less important, I suggest less casual wear: By tending toward dressiness, with tidy jackets and tailored trousers and even quiet vests, the generously padded gentleman will achieve a presence that is shipshape rather than bargelike. But flashy checks and plaids will not exactly treat you nicely nicely. Instead, choose solids and sober patterns to make your best impression. You might even emulate André Leon Talley, late of Vogue, who has been opulent in capes, as solemn as a chieftain in a chalk-striped caftan, and kind of OK in what I presume to be an homage to the courtroom attire of William Howard Taft. Even if you lack the steez to achieve Talley’s grandeur, you can still be large and in charge by boldly accessorizing with a strong beard, a bright boutonnière, or an upright piano.
I greatly enjoy your column and will regard you as the final word on the issue I am writing about.
I am a surgeon, so at work I am comfortable being called “Dr. Jones.” It is largely only the patients, the medical students, and the residents who call me by the honorific, and I am perfectly happy with anybody calling me by my first name if it so suits him or her.
The issue arises in certain social settings. Again, I routinely go by my first name, but there are a few settings where formality of name and honorific seem to reign. I find myself occasionally confronted by well-meaning people (for example my child’s teachers) who introduce themselves as “Mr. Smith” or “Ms. Smith.” I frequently reply with a firm handshake and “Bill Jones.” The issue is that these polite folks, knowing my last name and being formal, then refer to me as “Mr. Jones.” I have never thought to correct them, but it has occurred to me that people I see on more than one occasion may eventually learn that I am a doctor, and if they don’t want to call me “Bill,” it leaves them with the question of how to address me.
Correcting them seems a bit pompous, but not correcting them also seems rude, as they go to the trouble to be formal and proper.
What am I to do?
Thank you for your letter and for your confidence in my authority, but the last word on this sort of thing is Robert Hickey, author of Honor & Respect: The Official Guide to Names, Titles, & Forms of Address, and he says that the last word on the issue is yours.
Last night I stayed up until 5 clicking through Mr. Hickey's website, with its guidelines for addressing everyone from an abbess to a yacht club officer, and the experience refreshed my belief that, in social life, one must call people as they wish. For instance, if I request that you address me as “Your Grace,” then you should do exactly that until the moment that you turn away to tell all your friends what a nutcase I am.