Gentleman Scholar

How Should a Fat Man Wear His Trousers?

At the waist? Below the waist? With suspenders?

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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?

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

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.

But, Bill, while you’re entitled to be untitled and free to address the matter, or not, according to context, subtext, and whim, it might cause the least consternation to the fewest fussbudgets if you nip these problems in their respective buds. Try something like, “Actually, it’s Dr. Jones. No relation to the eminent archaeologist.” Or, “My title is doctor, but my friends call me Bill, so call me Bill.” Or, “I’m Dr. Jones, technically, but who gives a rat’s ass?”

And now, Your Excellencies and Eminences, a brief refresher course in forms of address:

  • In a formal or academic setting, a Ph.D.’s insistence on being addressed as “doctor” should always be met with compliance.
  • Outside of a formal or academic setting, a Ph.D.’s insistence on being addressed as “doctor” should always be played along with.
  • A person with an honorary doctorate who insists on being addressed as “doctor” should be met with a fake-clueless, earnest-seeming, uncomfortably insistent inquiry into his credentials. Embarrass him by pretending that you’re really doggedly fascinated to hear about all the nuances of his dissertation defense.
  • If the daughter of a viscount marries a rank equal or above her own, she takes the rank of her husband and receives party invitations addressed to “Lady Smith,” or what have you.
  • If the daughter of a viscount marries a commoner, she keeps her rank and receives party invitations addresses to “Mrs. Smith.” The quantity and quality of the invitations she receives depends on Mr. Smith’s income.
  • In a professional context, addressing any woman above the age of, say, 12 as “Miss Smith” or whatever is just asking for trouble. But also I don’t see how you could resist if her last name were Bennet or Woodhouse or something.
  • While it is most correct to address a Chicago alderman as “the Honorable Mr. Jones” in a formal setting, local tradition demands calling him “fuckface” in conversation.
  • All kings go by “Your Majesty,” with the lone exception of Saudi Arabia’s. Pro tip: The “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” is not a janitorial position.

I am going on a second date with a woman whom I’m absolutely crazy about. It would be impossible for her not to suspect this, as I have been acting like a huge doofus around her for some weeks. Is it correct this early to point out my ardor in a charming way?

By “charming,” I don’t mean spoiling-it-all-by-saying-something-stupid-like-“I love you” sort of thing. Nor the “come with me to the Casbah” approach. Maybe more like, “I’m crazy about you. I do hope that I’m complicating your life a little.” Which, now that I see it written down, seems weak. And anyway, even if I practiced, it would probably come out cryptic and overly strange.

I’m not a pup, by any means, and also I am very amused by myself in this state: It isn’t as if I will jump in the canal should I blow this. But should a gentleman exercise superhuman patience before getting all slobbery?

Though I thank you for your question, I slightly resent that it acted like a quarter plinked in the coin slot of my mental jukebox: a stack of wax shifted; a platter dropped and spun to receive a needle; and the chorus of Billy Joel’s “Tell Her About It” wriggled into my head, displacing the bass line of “Hands Off the Bayou” from my earwormhole as surely as it knocked “Maniac” from the top of the Billboard Hot 100 on Sept. 24, 1983. Joel’s brassy Motown tribute is both highly annoying and very catchy, kind of like Michael Irvin.

The advice the song gives—to reject reticence, to risk candor—is generally correct. You should make it clear that you enjoy the lady’s company. The best way to do this is to keep asking her out. But you don’t want to seem too eager, no. Ladies tend not to appreciate slobber, except in certain lubricative circumstances, and y’all don’t seem to have reached that stage of your relationship yet. And though the line you here rehearse is cute, a producer giving notes on that script must wonder: too cute?? And you’re only on the second date? No, no, don’t tell her about it. Show, don’t tell. I have in mind all the stupid old stuff: letters and sodas and flowers and mix tapes and eye contact caressing her essence.

But look, man, you know all this, as do most neurotypical Americans who have advanced past the 10th grade. I need to guess that you drafted the above letter much in the spirit of writing her name over and over, surrounded by hearts, inside a Trapper Keeper. I want to suppose that you are breathlessly craving the knowledge that the feeling is mutual—which is, I think, one of the things Jacques Lacan was saying with, “Man’s desire is the desire of the Other.” Further, it seems possible you’ve got it so bad that you need to know her feelings even if they aren’t reciprocal, just because the feelings are hers. Are you experiencing an ecstatic agonized exhilaration? Whoomp! There it is: The human condition. Have fun!