Bob Schwartz

Category: Style

The History of My Sweater Vests


A number of years ago, I wore buttoned sweater vests for a while. They were kind of colorful and designed, and I thought pretty cool. Not everybody liked them, not everybody who mattered liked them, but I did.

Then buttoned sweater vests disappeared. In their place were the equally traditional pullover sweater vests. So I swung that way, mostly solids in the core colors (grey, brown, blue), but a few with designs. It went like that for years, though I never gave up looking—mostly unsuccessfully—for the next generation of buttoned ones.

The low point was probably Rick Santorum attempting to “rock” his pullover sweater vests during his 2012 campaign for President. Every time I went out wearing mine, I was moderately embarrassed, as people affirmatively mentioned Santorum when they saw me. He and I share nothing, then or now, except our belief in sweater vests. This didn’t stop me from wearing them.

Buttoned sweater vests arrived again this past year. Actually, all kinds of vests arrived on the racks, along with three-piece suits. I was able for the first time in a while to have some new and attractive buttoned sweater vests to wear casually, or under a sport coat, or whatever. Awesome and attractive, to me at least. Others, as mentioned above, are not so sure. Or are vocal dissidents. Oh well.

The photo above shows an example of one of my new sweater vests. That is not me, just some model for Macy’s, but you get the idea. Honestly, I think I carry it off just as well. My watch isn’t that big or clunky, but I can cock my left eyebrow just as insouciantly. Of course, he got paid for wearing his, while I had to pay for mine. Totally worth it.

Random Beads

Random Beads - Bob Schwartz

Every picture supposedly tells a story. Actually, every picture is a story.

Beading is a glorious craft. In the hands of a talented artist, the results can be beautiful and enlightening.

But like all art, it can be a messy business. In the case of beads, this can mean tiny items underfoot, and with bits of wire, pretty painful ones. Particularly where barefoot is the custom.

A quick post-beading cleanup led to quite a collection of such detritus, like shells on a beach. Tossed in a white bowl, they looked like something. And so the photo above.

If you are a fan of randomness—and we should all be—you will see in this totally spontaneous display any number of things. Gregory Bateson said, “I am going to build a church someday. It will have a holy of holies and a holy of holy of holies, and in that ultimate box will be a random number table.” Exactly.

Here is a beader in her natural habitat, the largest bead store in New York. It is filled with beads mostly from China which, as in most things, is able to provide whatever we want or need in seemingly infinite supply. So it is all together: geopolitics, economics, ancient tradition, minerals, pottery, glass, color, art, craft, and, of course, beauty. Note, however, that in this emporium, the beauty of the beader outshines all of the beads.

Bead Store

Bowie and Gaga: The Shoulders of Giants

Bowie Gaga
If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Isaac Newton

Scroll below today’s news about Egypt or the NSA or dozens of other significant stories and you will come to the contest between the new singles from Katy Perry (Roar) and Lady Gaga (Applause). Which is Number 1? Which is better? Listen if you want, or don’t. Life goes on either way. But music and excellence matter, so a related note.

Depending on whether you want to go back centuries or decades, we are now in the nth generation of popular music. Individual songs or entire genres, music and the styles that go with it are invented, perfected, synthesized, inspired by, borrowed; there is some balance between the entirely new and the entirely old.

The question is whether a listener can take a current artist at face value, without reference to what came before, without knowing (in Newtonian terms) what giant shoulders are stood on, or whether a listener should be aware of the influences, precursors, originators. This becomes particularly important when the earlier or original version was, once it is experienced by comparison, simply better art.

David Bowie’s extraordinary artistry can be summed up in two points.

He has six albums among the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. And each of these is created in a different style than the others.

Which brings us to the second point. Aside from creating superb music, Bowie devised the process of total artistic reinvention in pop—not only in musical style, but in performing personality. Up to that time, the assumption was that fans wanted a degree of continuity in their stars. The Beatles had broken through this assumption with a few changes during their short career, but Bowie smashed artistic continuity entirely: Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, etc. A review of his album covers is a roster of these personas.

Above is an image of Bowie as Ziggy Stardust. Next to it is an image of Lady Gaga from her current ARTPOP album period (all caps from her; it’s that important).

All artistically painted faces are not related, of course. But Gaga acknowledges David Bowie as an artistic influence. This presumably explains the various Gagas during her brief career: the artist dressed in meat, the artist emerging from a plastic womb, etc. Change all the clothes and makeup you want, and say all the right things that make you seem like an artist (Bowie, by the way, let his style do his talking), and it still comes down to music.

So, Gaga fans, if you are reading this, listen up, literally. While she may be copying only his approach to style and not his music, nothing she has done measures up artistically to Bowie. This isn’t a song-by-song, style-by-style comparison. It is a reminder, not just about Gaga but about music new and old, that tastes vary, but excellence doesn’t. With the release of the rest of ARTPOP, maybe there will be some artistic gems. Gaga is actually a talented singer and performer, so it is possible.

But for the moment, and pending further developments: Gaga, we’ve seen David Bowie, we’ve heard David Bowie, and you are no David Bowie. Or Isaac Newton.

(For fans of Isaac Newton, who may be wondering why his picture isn’t included, below is something from his CALCULUS period.)


The Goldilocks Test for Phone Size

First things first: You iPhone folks can leave. You have no choice on the size of your smartphone, because Apple has made that choice for you. The iPhone 5 is no wider, but one-half inch longer, than the previous version. Take it or leave it, and millions are taking it.

Android is a whole different world or, as we’ve learned to say, ecosystem. Screens are getting bigger, for optics and utility, and so have the phones. Samsung pushed the limits by creating the Note, half-phone/half-tablet (a “phablet”) with a screen more than five inches in size. Even the same phone may have slightly different dimensions for each carrier. Someone has no doubt charted the dozens of sizes available; it is enough to say that there is probably an optimal size for just about everyone.

But what is optimal? That very practical question arose in the course of handling and comparing two of the most popular and capable Android phones of the past couple of years, the Samsung Galaxy S2 and S3. The S2 is superb, but in almost all respects the S3 is better. The S3 does have a bigger screen, and so is ever so slightly bigger to hold.

Ultimately, the question is not whether size matters; the question is whether it matters to you.

That’s what the Goldilocks test is about. There are three parts, one about style, two about functionality.

The style part requires a mirror. If you are someone who uses a smartphone for voice calls (though fewer now do), hold up the phone to the side of your head. Do you feel that you look cool or silly? Do you feel like a modern version of the 1970s hotshot with a monstrous Motorola Brick pressed to his ear? (see above)

The second part is portability. Without getting stereotypical, this is a divide between women and men. Many women carry their phone in a bag, where up to a point, size doesn’t matter. Men usually carry theirs in a pocket, and depending on which pocket and which clothes, this can be an issue. Jeans and tight pants can be a problem (it is taking unreasonable will power not to paraphrase Mae West: “Is that a phone in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”)

The final part is the most important: How much does size affect usability? This is where differences in hand size come into play. You want to be able to use a phone with one hand, and that’s going to depend on the hand that’s using it. This is also where the most objective part of the Goldilocks test was formulated.

Put the phone in the palm of your hand. Reach around the middle with your thumb and middle finger. If your fingers touch, you will mostly be comfortable using the phone with one hand. If not, you are on occasion going to find yourself doing some juggling or bringing in the other hand. It’s that simple.

Take the test. You want to be able to say about your phone, as Goldilocks said about beds, as others have said about the height of trees: This one is just right.