A Stiff Drink and a Close Shave: The Lost Arts of Manliness
by Bob Sloan and Steven Guarnacda, Chronicle Books, 96 pages .
Here is a portable (7¼ by 7¼ inches) scrupulous celebration of the durable objects American men took for granted from the thirties to the fifties, everything the authors envied on their fathers’ dressers or in their medicine cabinets, tool kits, or out in the yard, the best of the heap of weighty little stuff that, by the time the writers grew up, had lost its importance, been replaced with sorry plastic versions, or simply been left behind. The book, which at first looks like another ironical ransacking of old advertisements, is really a work of affection and reverent taste, its text in near perfect tune with the hearty spirit of the age. It opens with a guide to the golden era of shaving, which meant grooming with a badger brush, a mug, and “the old double-edged razors with the thick, stainless steel handle, heavy as the fender on a ’56 Caddie,” then a bright assortment of obsolete blade brands (Lucky Stroke, Gotham), old aftershaves, and hair oils (“Will her caress test tell tales about your hair?”). Next the authors appreciate hats, lamenting the vanished rushhour “sea swell of bowlers, fedoras, porkpies, and tweed caps emerging from the subway.”
The chapter on men’s mass culture digs up such postwar guides to leisure as Pleasure magazine, Flair , and Gent: An Approach to Relaxation . And another section gives a lexicon of the essentials a man might have carried around in those roomy trouser pockets: hip flask, rabbit’s foot, key case, pocketknife, and trademark lighter. Smoking, the hardestdying and most seductive of the fallen arts praised here, ends this colorful little book. “Keep your arm loose and don’t crowd her. Ignite the lighter away from her face, and let her hand guide it in. If she’s swayed, her eyes will linger on yours. If not, just close the lid, tip your hat, and move on.”