Gentleman Scholar

Blood Before Bud?

Must a gentleman’s brother always be the best man at his wedding?

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I am in the market for some ties to wear to work. My father, recently retired, has offered me some of his. These ties are very nice, but happen to be 4 inches wide. Is this too wide? I have been told that the proper width of a tie relates to the gentleman’s size. How exactly does this work?

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

Thank you for your question.

Unless the build of your body is thick and the lapels of your jackets broad, a 4-inch tie is probably too wide. You should think about tailoring the ties yourself, and then you should come to your senses and have a professional do the slenderizing for you. But how slim will you go?

A tie 3.5 inches wide will work well with a conservatively cut suit. That width can be slightly dowdy, sometimes, but dowdy might be what you’re going for, in certain workplaces. I’m going to guess that a vast majority of the men in the Senate and the House wear ties 3.5 inches wide. It helps them look less disrespectable.

A tie 3 inches wide is stylishly trim and thoroughly professional. A tie 2.75 inches wide is fashionably lean. A tie 2.5 inches wide is assertively hip. A tie 2.25 inches wide is a little precious, don’t you think? A tie 2 inches wide is mostly just a lariat for roping fashion victims.

My brother is an offensive jerk with little to no concern for how to treat others, especially family members; however, he has recently been making an effort to be better. My best friend is one of the most important people in my world. We speak twice a day and know almost all the details of each other’s lives. Which one should I ask to be the best man at my wedding?

Thank you for your question, which begs to be condensed as, “Should the better man be the best?”

The first consideration regards the odds of your brother behaving distastefully while discharging his duties. Is there an outside chance he’ll slight the bride or slug the officiant? Might his bachelor-party planning be so degenerate as to involve too many drugs or too little beer? Would he ever in a million years pawn the rings to pay his bookie? If so, he’s disqualified himself and instead deserves a less momentous wedding-day role, such as mangling his reading of a Pablo Neruda poem.

If his moral condition is not so debased as that, then have a conversation asking him to do you this honor, I want to advise you, imagining the topic of his personal growth emerging as a theme of that very conversation. The symbolism is substantive: Though your friend’s love is the spring water sustaining you on a daily basis, blood is thicker than water and on your wedding day transports oxygen to the whole family structure. To put it another way: Let’s say that you and your divine bride raise two sons who grow into a circumstance comparable to yours. Wouldn’t you want Gallant to have Goofus beside him at the altar, despite it all?

P.S. I am drafting this week’s column while out and about with my pen and notebook. The young lady at my right just asked what I was writing, and I explained the gig. (“You’re like Carrie!” “Yes, exactly.”) She and her friend were up to date on the marriage-rite scene, I was sure, having ear-hustled their chit-chat for an hour. (“Everyone in the wedding party has fake boobs. Except that one girl.”) I started to paraphrase your question for them, and their assured reply arrived before I’d finished: “The best friend.” “The best friend: He knows you.” The notions I express above are apparently banal: “It’s a cliché.” “It’s a cliché. It’s 2014. Who cares?”

Is there any hope for a man who suggests that the Negroni you just made for him would be improved by a splash of Sprite?

Thank you for the question.

The problem here is a failure of what we have to call taste. The problem with talking about taste, as Kant and everyone will tell you, is its subjectivity. A Negroni would not be improved by a splash of Sprite, and Guernica would not be improved by a splash of color, and no one can prove that these statements are true—but all thoughtful adults will agree that they are. These statements are correct on a supra-logical level where beauty trumps truth. Fran Lebowitz has sharply made a point about this kind of lens:

In my mind there are real books and not-real books. Real books are books that I like and not-real books are junk that other people recommend to me. I don’t believe it’s taste, I believe they’re wrong. People tell me they’re good and they’re not.

Tasteful people should pretend to be cheerful when hearing out the misguided pronouncements of people whose aesthetic sense is slightly blinkered or somewhat immature or sadly stunted or grandly vulgar or totally AWOL.

But about the thing with feathers that perches in the soul: Is there hope for your would-be friend? Maybe! In the long run, there’s the run itself; anyone with the time to think can develop taste and correct and refine and expand it. In the moment, if the ingredients are at hand, you might begin to steer him in the proper direction by fixing up an Aperol Spritz, which is lighter and softer and more approachable than the bittersweet classic cocktail he proposes to desecrate.