Gentleman Scholar

Tucked or Untucked?

Also, kids or no kids?

Please send your questions for publication to (Questions may be edited, or not.)

Dear Gentleman Scholar,

Troy Patterson
Troy Patterson

Photo by Christina Paige

I felt inspired to write in after reading your recent thoughts about bow ties.

I do not want to wear any tie, ever. I hate the way I look when wearing one. I resent the time it takes to tie one. I hate the sensation around my neck. I don’t feel like myself when wearing a tie. It’s not that I don’t like fine clothes or looking nice; I am happy in a nice suit, nice shoes, with a nice shirt open at the neck. I am also happy that I happen to be in a job (college professor) that generally does not expect me to wear a tie.

My question is, under what circumstances, if any, do you consider it absolutely necessary to don a tie? Wedding? Funeral? Formal dinner at the best restaurant in town? I have no particular desire to appear a slob or a rebel, and I certainly don’t want to indicate any lack of respect, for anyone or any occasion, by my tielessness. I just can’t stand those damn things.

Thank you for your question.

Given your strenuous objections and general couth, I endorse your tieless lifestyle, stipulating, of course, that you are good to your word about not indicating “any lack of respect.” Weddings? Job interviews? If there is a chance that you offend a blushing bride or a potential boss by forgoing a tie, do not forgo a tie. Funerals? It’s fairly difficult to offend a corpse; nonetheless, you should be wary of rubbing widows and pallbearers the wrong way by going all BHL with your neckline. A sober pocket square or simple lapel pin would be wise choices for adding dash.

If you look good and seem confident, you can get away with anything, except perhaps a class A felony, which is why I am tempted to say that a defendant in a criminal case must wear a necktie. Cravat caveat: A defendant should discuss proper courtroom attire with his legal team, which might decide that the tieless look will give him an is-he-or-isn’t-he-on-suicide-watch? mystique that may appeal to the jury’s sympathies.

* * *

My girlfriend and I have been together for a little more than two years, and I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. I would have proposed to her by now, but she wants a child, and I’ve never once felt the desire to be a father, nor imagined a life with a kid.

(Here are the main points of a long paragraph that would get edited anyway: I have no aversion to others’ kids; both of us will be 30 within the year; this is the question of our relationship; we really love each other; I would never leave if she were to become pregnant; but when it comes down to it, I don’t think I want a kid.)

Have I answered my own question? Must I find someone else?

Thank you for your question.

If there were more passion to your rejection of childrearing—if, for instance, you described anxieties about subjecting this hypothetical child to an upbringing yet more horrid than the one your abusive parents visited upon you—then I would advise you to break up. However, you seem merely to be describing a hunch—one that is perfectly natural for a 29-year-old to have.

You think you don’t want kids. Guess what? The world is teeming with good parents who, perhaps as much as 49 percent of the time, don’t want kids either. That kids are a pain in the ass is among the truths of parenting that parents, fearing it would be a confession of weakness or monstrosity to speak, don’t speak. And this silence compounds their lonely misery as they lower themselves on creaky knees to address the Crayola marks (or Sharpie scrawls) (or poo smears) with which their pain-in-the-ass kids have defiled the wainscoting. On the other hand, children renew one’s sense of purpose and contribute untellable bliss to one’s life, and you’ve got to put a picture of something on your custom-made Christmas cards, so why not?

Marry the woman. Sire a rug rat. Try WD-40 on the crayon marks.

Gentleman Scholar,

I generally wear button-up shirts with dress pants (flat front, slim), dress shoes, and a belt. Sometimes I will wear a sport coat. Even when not wearing a sport coat, I still tuck in the tails of my button-down (unless the shirt is cut square). But a quick survey of the lounge indicated to me that the majority position for most men (under 50) is untucked. Can you provide guidelines for this issue?

Thank you for your question, which I endeavor to answer with reference to a moment from my wasted youth.

Picture a sidewalk scene in mid-’90s Manhattan. A small pack of college boys has joined the swell of lively yuppies, yawping New Jerseyites, and animal-tranquilized club kids seeking admittance to the Limelight, a nightclub, which, judging by the fact that we underdressed and unconnected college boys made it inside, has passed out of its exclusivist heyday. Still, it has standards, and the imposing drag queen of a doorman declares them in a phrase that I never shall forget. Before unclasping the velvet rope from its bollard and suffering to admit us, she issues a command with clipped command and a regal undersigh of exasperation: “Tuck your shirts in, boys.”

Once upon a time, to see a shirttail flapping about town in the evening hours was to spot a banner proclaiming the carefree qualities of its preppy owner. The sloppiness seemed sporty. Then we all got older, and some of us grew up. Those liberated shirttails started to semaphore all too blatantly that the wearer was cuttin’ loose and totally not uncool and soon became an optional element of the douchebag’s standard nightlife uniform.

If, upon entering a bar so preening as to call itself a lounge, you observe a multitude of slicksters wearing untucked button-up shirts, you should regard the shirttails not as an invitation to untuck but as warning flags to change course. Head either to a genuinely casual joint where dudes are letting it all hang out because it’s just a bar, or to an establishment that cultivates the patronage of persons as crisply put together as yourself.

* * *

When one has an obvious physical condition, such as Parkinson’s or MS, that causes one to move in strange ways, does a gentlemen tell others about it upon meeting them? Should he wait until they ask? Should he just leave them wondering? And when one is given odd looks while using a public urinal because one’s shaking hand makes it appear as if one might be engaged in an inappropriate activity, does one make a comment or just stand facing the wall and let others think what they may?

Thank you for your question, which I will cozy up to with an anecdote of my young adulthood.

Picture Manhattan in festering August, one of those summer days where a blast of bus exhaust to the face comes as something of a relief, because at least its heat is dry and its grit counters the atmosphere’s general slime. Beneath the baking streets, on a broiling subway platform, the Gentleman Scholar and his date run into a colleague and her heavyset husband, whose pores leak great gross torrents of sweat. Huge and hugely charming, the fellow says, with a rapid rhythmic lightness, “It’s tough to be a fat man in the summertime,” thus acknowledging the diaphoretic elephant in the room and setting a comfortable stage for small talk by setting all at ease.

It can clear the air to acknowledge a potentially awkward aspect of one’s physical being with an easygoing one-liner. Of course, he is under no obligation to do any such thing: People ought to know to mind their own business, and a well-placed friendly remark such as this one serves as a friendly gentle reminder that they do so. Moreover, good manners are about adding some clarity and ease to this miserable world, and in the instance you describe, it would seem to increase your own comfort to acknowledge and defuse the discomfort of others. In a casual setting, the gentleman who notices that his PD tremor has been noticed might say something like, “Parkinson’s is no picnic, but on the bright side, I’m a lot of fun at the craps table.”