30 March 2012


Lower Manhattan has changed considerably in the years since I had an office there. From my window you could see the World Trade Center, and its destruction is at the root of the transformation. For one thing the area is swarming with tourists, where in the past there was never that many downtown. Whenever I used to get frustrated I'd take a walk down to Wall St to see George- that is George Washington's statue in front of Federal Hall, where there were few visitors. Now poor George is surrounded by tourists taking pictures of each other next to or in front of him. But at the same time security has been greatly heightened. You can't drive there any more; the streets are full of barriers, and it's a nuisance trying to wade through the crowds if you have business in the area. Back up by City Hall there is now so much iron surrounding it citizens no longer have the easy access they once had, where you used to be able to drive and park in front on business. Police headquarters is even worse. There are so many barriers and iron gates it is like a fortress, and the nearby underground municipal parking garage is gone for security reasons. I don't understand this siege mentality at all; it is not like the police are a vulnerable target. Whatever the case,  it makes walking around a nuisance as well as an unpleasant experience.

Both buildings I used to have offices in are now residential, as are many others in the area as businesses vacate either for midtown or out-of-town, due to the onerous tax burden in NY City. The result is there isn't much of what people think of when they say "Wall Street" left on the actual Wall St.  The area where the Trade Center was has gone through many transformations. Once Cortlandt Street was known for electronics stores, and I remember shopping there for tape recorders at a very young age. Not far away on Washington Street there was a produce market from  where wholesalers would supply restaurants and other customers. I used to send orders there when I was in the shipping business when the offices of shipowners were located way downtown.  Then there was St. Nicholas church, where I was married, which was turned to rubble when the Trade Center was destroyed. There were years before that event when I had a parking space right next to the WTC due, I'm ashamed to say now, to a government connection.

Just across from what is now known as Ground Zero is Century 21 department store, which got its start in the Brooklyn neighborhood I grew up in, Bay Ridge, or Fort Hamilton as part of the area is also known. The downtown store is now always crowded with foreign,  mostly European tourists, who oddly enough are there to buy European designer clothes, if you can figure that one out. There are long lines at the checkouts everywhere, and their arms are full of apparel to take back home with them.  That brings me to the subject of


 I prefer a classic look in clothing, which has a timeless sophistication about it, as opposed to the ephemeral trendiness of fashions that, especially when executed in the extreme, quickly go out of style. I used to buy some of the Italian designer stuff I like at Century, but not any more. I  was quite taken aback to find virtually all of the men's suit and jacket section  full of garments with very narrow lapels. It's as though they've flipped out over the Mad Men tv show. But given the cost of many of these clothes, notwithstanding their lack of particularly fine fabrics, you have to be crazy to spend good money on them. It won't be long before these look as silly as the extremely wide lapels of the 1970s. To make matters worse, many of these jackets are cut so short that it leaves the distinct impression of a poor fit rather than anything attractive. Couple this with ties that are proportionately much wider and you look ridiculous, yet this is the look you are now seeing in many garment ads, at least for much younger people, but then the young always look ridiculous. Put that jacket over baggy pants perched on the behind and it is a very clear statement of very poor taste. It takes years to get passed the youthful impulse towards trendy conformity, but the sooner that happens the better off we always are.  At the same time I must note that the traditional men's clothing stores nearby were pretty empty by comparison. But that's where people who work buy their clothes and they aren't likely to be out shopping in the middle of the day.

I'm no expert on women's clothes, but one day I glanced through a style magazine my wife had that was full of various celebrity actresses in outfits that failed to impress. Then I came across an advertisement that had a full page picture of Audrey Hepburn in an elegant outfit, and that image just put all the contemporary women featured to shame. There was such a timeless beauty about it that the only way I can describe it is "classic." Again, you can't beat a well proportioned classic look.

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