Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts – How to Seem Sophisticated in 1949

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I like to think of shopping on Amazon.com as the retail equivalent of an embarrassment of riches with more options and products than any sane person can ever sift through.  And so this past month after receiving a gift card to the site, I found myself faced with such a limitless amount of choices that I was momentarily stricken with shopper’s paralysis.  The only way out of this was to fall back on my old e-commerce standby: books I would never buy otherwise because they’re too big to carry home from the store.

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When all was said and done I had hastily scooped up Hollywood and the Ivy Look (which I highly recommend as a reference not only for menswear but for Movies and TV as well), Icons of Men’s Style (I’d pass on this, pretty much everything Josh Sims writes about can be found online, and it still pales in comparison to Flusser’s Dressing the Man), and Glenn O’Brien’s How to be a Man (which I haven’t started yet, because I’m still not sure I want to get caught on the subway reading a book with a title like that.)  The books themselves were all worth not spending my money on, but the best thing I received from that Amazon order was a reinvigorated interest in menswear related publications of the hardcover variety rather than the .jpg variety.  The only issue is that most books published on menswear these days leave me with the burning question of “what makes this any different than a blog in hardcover.”

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To solve my problem I turned to an even more nonsensical retail site, and began haphazardly scouring through the vintage book listings on eBay.  I soon stumbled upon a copy of “Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts,” a book that I had first read about on A Continuous Lean many years back, but had long since forgotten about.  Clocking in at just around ten bucks I couldn’t pass the book up, and a few days later the literary time capsule was in my hands.

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Published in 1949 by “The editors of Esquire Magazine,” the book is a full-fledged hardbound Delorean of a time machine that takes you back to the days of cocktail parties, two-martini lunches, and when the closest thing to a cell phone was a little black book of numbers.  The book, which is probably as dense as an entire years worth of publications by today’s standards, is a bachelor’s guide on how to rise to the top of their respective social circle.  There’s over three hundred “male-slanted” recipes, instructions on how to make pretty much every single conceivable cocktail, a breakdown of ways to keep your guests entertained, and even cheeky bits of advice on things such as how to host without getting too drunk, how to tell if you’re attractive, and drinks to cure a hangover.  It’s a throwback to the days of Esky, when appearing sophisticated was far more important than actually being so.

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Written just under two decades after Esquire’s debut, during the heart of their early success, the book is expectedly thorough and impeccably written.  The forties were a time when a single issue of Esquire could boast a handful of the greatest written in American literature, not just at the time, but ever, and the book carries that spirit throughout.  It captures that elusive “informative yet interesting yet also entertaining” voice that each and every menswear writer still searches for today, present company certainly included.  What I love most about the Handbook for Hosts though, is that it actually respects it’s readers, coming off just like a friend just trying to help you set up for a party.  And so I leave you this week with some shots from the book, and hopefully a good enough excuse to throw a get together this weekend.

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