For 40 years, George Frazier was to Boston what Jimmy Breslin was to New York, what Mike Royko was to Chicago and Herb Caen to San Francisco.
Handsome and elegant, he wrote columns about jazz, sports, politics and style for publications in the United States and Europe: the Boston Herald, The Boston Globe, Down Beat and Life.
His most important – and popular – subject was duende, an Andalusian-Spanish word that he said meant ‘class.’
“So difficult to define, “ he wrote, “but when it is there it is unmistakable, inspiring our awe, quickening our memory. To observe someone who has it is to feel icy fingers running up and down our spine.’’ He made his commitment to duende evident in his fastidious dress, often sporting a white carnation in his buttonhole.
His Esquire essay on men’s style required years of research. In his final analysis, New England’s finest men’s clothiers ranked with the best in London, Paris and New York. Many catered to the region’s storied institutions of higher learning, such as J. Press at Yale, Andover Shop at Phillips Academy and Chipp at Harvard.
George Frazier had a steeper learning curve about men’s fashions than did the wealthy socialites he wrote about. He was born in South Boston on June 10, 1911, the son of a firefighter. He graduated from Boston Latin School and then Harvard College in 1932. Soon after graduation he began writing about jazz – in both French and English.
He analyzed what was best about popular culture and elevated it to a higher plane. George Frazier described how the music of Count Basie wafted over the Public Garden from the Roof at the Ritz. He made readers wish they’d seen Hobey Baker play hockey at Princeton.
In his essays on duende, Frazier tried to separate what was genuinely excellent from what was dross. Frank Sinatra had duende, he wrote; Dick Haymes did not. Nantucket had it, Martha’s Vineyard didn’t. Ted Williams had it when striking out; Stan Musial didn’t even when hitting a home run.
For Esquire, Frazier deconstructed the clothing preferences and habits of the best-dressed men he knew — men with duende:
The best-dressed American men — at least for the most part — not only cherish venerable clothes, but cherish venerable milieux as well. Like their apparel, they, too, are full of tradition, being, rather more often than not, products of such sanctified New England private schools as St. Mark’s, Groton, and St. Paul’s, and of ivied universities like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton; living, not in such youthful and characterless cities as Los Angeles, but in either what Roger Angell has termed “The Effete East” — which is to say the hallowed ground of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and the posher precincts of Long Island.
The best-dressed American men also respected and liked the men who sell them clothes, wrote George Frazier. They began buying clothes at Brooks Brothers on Christmas vacation. When they got married, he wrote, ‘it would have been absolutely unthinkable not to have had a Brooks Brothers representative on hand to tie their and their ushers’ ascots.’
J. P. Morgan, wrote Frazier, greeted a Brooks Brothers’ employee with ‘Good morning, Mr. Webb.’ Webb replied, ‘Good morning, Jack.’
Credit to BroBro
George Frazier gave credit to Brooks Brothers for creating the foundational garment of the well-dressed New Englander: the No. 1-sack suit. Not-yet-President John F. Kennedy wore it, though Frazier didn’t include him on his list of best-dressed men. He did include Kennedy’s future chief of protocol, Angier Biddle Duke. Duke was the nephew of A.J. Drexel Biddle – about whom ‘it would be something of a task to find a male more elegant than he,’ wrote Frazier.
George Frazier traced the spread of the sack suit style among Yale undergraduates by the venerable J. Press, which had catered to Yalies since 1902. In the 1940s, two tailors left J. Press and opened a shop in Harvard Square called Chipp, which later opened a shop in New York. Chipp closed its Cambridge store by 1960, but still had its New York branch.
Frazier called Zareh of Boston and Brookline, Mass., ‘one of the few authentically tasteful men’s shops in the United States.’ He praised Marty Sullivan’s in New Bedford. The shopowner was so attuned to men’s fashion he sent his buyers and designers to hang out in P.J. Clarke’s in Manhattan so they could watch ‘the creatively dressed Ivy Leaguers’ who frequented the bar.
George Frazier also approved of the Boston Bootmakers of Boston and Andover Shops in Cambridge and Andover, Mass., which to this day caters to Phillips Academy students.
Best Dressed List By George Frazier
George Frazier’s ended his 10,000 word essay with his picks for the best-dressed men he knew. They included:
ALEXANDER COCHRANE FORBES — At fifty, Forbes, who is extremely handsome, looks little older than he did as a Harvard undergraduate (1928-1932). A graduate of Groton, he was a member of the Porcellian Club, probably the choosiest men’s club in the United States. A resident of Needham, Massachusetts, and a member of the Country Club, Forbes is a trustee for various interests. His tailors: Brooks Brothers and others.
ROY HAYNES — The thiry-five-year-old jazz percussionist belongs on any best-dressed list if only because of his taste in selecting clothes that flatter his short stature (five feet, three and a half inches). His suits are custom made (around $125 each) by the Andover Shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
ALFRED HERRMANN — This thirty-nine-year-old artist, who does the drawings for, among other things, Tripler’s men’s fashion ads, is an outstanding authority on male apparel. His tailor: Chipp (around $205 a suit).
CHESTER J. LaROCHE — A graduate of Exeter and Yale, where he was prominent in football, this sixty-eight-year-old head of a thriving advertising agency in New York belongs to the Racquet & Tennis Club and presides over the Football Hall of Fame. LaRoche, who turns up at Yale football games in a venerable polo coat and Tyrolean hat, has his suits made by Arthur Rosenberg ($195-210 for a two-piece and $220-235 for a three-piece suit) and Wetzel in New York and Kilgour, French & Stanbury in London.
George Frazier died on June 13, 1974.
With thanks to Another Man’s Poison: The Life and Writings of Columnist George Frazier by Charles Fountain. Images: Roy Haynes by By Brianmcmillen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77365373. This story was updated in 2021.