Gentleman Scholar

In Which Pocket Does a Gentleman Keep His Cellphone?

Plus: Advice about nipple rings and “the casual forearm roll.”

Troy Patterson.

Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

Please send your questions for publication to (Letters may be edited.)

As we move into the post-metrosexual era, I find myself wondering about the place of jewelry such as earrings, nose rings, and other piercings.

What are some standards? No gemstones during the day? What to do with nipple piercings at the formal rowing tournament when one is likely to get one’s shirt soaked to the point of transparency?

I was brought up to observe a strict code regarding accessories. A few of the rules I was taught remain useful in modern life (e.g., a man should NEVER wear white patent leather), but I remain a bit lost on this subject.

Thank you for your questions.

Do you work in the arts? As a DJ, perhaps? A death-metal guitarist? Do you provide commentary or analysis during broadcasts that may not be retransmitted without the express prior written consent of the National Football League? Are you a sleazy old record producer? If so, you may correctly wear an earring.

Did you lead the NBA in rebounds in seven consecutive seasons? If so, you may correctly wear two nose rings and a lip ring.

Are you trying to give your mother a coronary? Fine, go ahead, pierce your eyebrow.

As an old fogey, the Gentleman Scholar only strictly approves of the most cautious male jewelry—sedate tie bars and plain bracelets, assertive simple pins and unaggressive cufflinks. Me, I’m sitting here wearing a wedding band and a Timex Easy Reader with its face rotated to the inside of my wrist. (The status-symbolism of the American male wristwatch is intricate terrain. After a moment’s self-analysis, I would say that I’ve costumed my wrist to suggest studied casualness, the conspicuous display of thrift, and the affectation of a kind of anti-snob old-fogey minimalism. Also, when the face is turned toward you it’s easier to discreetly check the time when someone to whom you are talking is boring you to death.)

Rowing, eh? If worried about giving offense by flourishing pierced nipples during a wet T-shirt moment at Henley, then simply remove the jewelry before leaving the boathouse. But when it comes to collegiate crew, nipple-piercing is pretty much a nonissue. Either the coach is going to verbally harass anyone with pierced nipples off of the team with a fusillade of homophobic rhetoric or the teammates will accidentally rip them out during a friendly bit of beer-fueled homoerotic horseplay. 

For the record, the blue sapphire is the most masculine gemstone, historically. Very few contemporary men can successfully wear one on a ring, and those are the guys you should talk to if you’re looking for any kind of action involving broads or ponies.

A man may wear white patent leather if seated behind a white grand piano.

When is it acceptable for a gentleman to roll up his shirt-sleeves? And what is the proper way to do it?

Thanks for being in touch.

A man rolls up his sleeves when he’s got a job to do, dirty work or any other kind, and therefore should make a close study of workplace culture before daring to bare any length of forearm. For instance, if his job involves fighting our country’s battles near the shores of Tripoli, he wants to take note of last month’s reversal to a revision of the Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform Policy: Marines may once again roll up their sleeves while wearing desert camouflage utilities in noncombat environments, and the old rule of rolling applies: “sleeves will be rolled with the inside out, forming a roll about three inches wide, and terminating at a point about two inches above the elbow.”

In civilian life, however, the rules are hardly so clear, the rolls rarely so crisp. Let’s review.

1) There’s the “casual forearm roll” in which a flipped cuff is tucked behind a band of inner sleeve. This is appropriate for both lecturers at chalkboards and team leaders numbly gliding dry-erase markers across whiteboards during tedious meetings.

2) You might try rolling the cuff around one more time if you’re an architect tinkering with a model between a morning meeting and a client lunch. Just beware of bunching.

3) Folding once more, you’re likely rounding the elbow. Try this look if you’re doing heavier manual labor. It can flatter honest tradesmen working in boiler rooms and also shady stockbrokers working in boiler rooms.

4) Okay, one more roll of the cuff: This is for off-duty obstetricians unexpectedly delivering babies on subway trains.

5) One more roll after that? This is for street hustlers flaunting their biceps.

Now, if your shirt has a French cuff—or the cocktail cuff sanctioned by the MI6 Uniform Policy—you can begin the fold at the end of the sleeve placket and wrap things up therefrom, exposing the far hem of the cuff to flaunt that you got one a them shirts with the fancy whatchamacallit.

I quite enjoy wearing jackets of all types; however, the reason for this is not that I love jackets, it is that I have no idea where to carry my smartphone.

With my normal “business casual” dress of khakis and a dress shirt, I have essentially two usable pockets—the back right, reserved for my wallet, and the front right, reserved for my car keys. Where oh where does the phone go? It will not fit in the pocket with the wallet and putting it in the pocket with the keys leads to problems including a scratched phone, bruised thighs and random dialing.

And the other pockets? The front left makes for extremely awkward removal, and though the back left is less awkward, I use it seldom because I have a tendency to sit down upon that cheek and removing my cell phone from my pocket to put it on the table produces a Wild West gunslinger motion which I do not desire, since I try to be a jolly good fellow and do not want to start a which-phone-is-better conversation, or a competition to see who can be distracted more.

So the logical remaining locations for the smartphone would be 1) the shirt pocket, which I have been informed distracts from everything fashionable that I try to maintain, 2) a belt holster, which just seems too Star Trek-tricorder wannabe, or 3) a separate bag, briefcase or (gasp!) fanny pack. I will not even bring up the topic of cargo pants, though I will admit to wearing them when I am hiking for longer than 1.2 miles and am in the wilderness.

Thank you for your thorough articulation of a question to which there is no satisfactory answer.

Yes, a smartphone is best carried in a jacket pocket. Many sensible men feel that the breast pocket is the best pocket: The location encourages a dignified motion of retrieval and allows a person checking incoming communiqués to play his cards close to the vest.

The jacketless gent has a problem, however—one that a lady doesn’t have to address. She can just put her phone in her purse, of course—and when she stows it in a rear pocket, the gluteal juxtaposition of the rectilinear technology with the cardioid curve of nature looks not too shabby, generally. I wonder if guys who regularly check out other guys’ asses will agree with this proposition: A man who has a telephonic prosthesis asymmetrically contorting his keister tends not to look that hot.

There’s something to be said for carrying a jacket even if it’s 90 degrees out, just for the sake of having a place to put your phone. To reject that idea is to resign yourself to shoving your personal communication device in your least inconvenient pants pockets and moving on with life.

The eminently practical belt holster is fundamentally unacceptable in stylish society. I won’t even joke about how dorky it is because I know that many of you read my column at work, and I don’t want the IT guys to take offense and block this website.