Men and Manners

by Eric Twardzik

The idea of writing—not to mention reading—a printed book of manners feels almost self-consciously anachronistic in this day and age, like an Oberlin freshman devising an independent field of study around blacksmithing. Leave it to David Coggins, the author of Men and Style, to produce a slim volume of “essays, advice and considerations” that not only feels of the moment but beyond it. If we’re all following his wisdom on smartphones and social media in five years, modern society would be a much more pleasant place.

From a design standpoint, the book itself is a pleasant experience. The tone is set by the minimalistic illustration of Coggins on its cover, sporting his trademark beard and hat. The author appears throughout the book in a series of humorous and sometimes surreal scenarios, like a cartoon Virgil guiding our journey through modern etiquette. While Coggins does most of the talking, guest opinions from the likes of Todd Snyder and our friend Pastor Curt Benham are sprinkled amid the pages, most enjoyably in the series of black-background pages titled “Grievances."

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A good deal of the book is focused on the still fuzzy topic of digital etiquette. Rather than acting as a scold, Coggins appeals to our better nature. In a subchapter titled “Distraction in Focus,” he asks us to consider whether our constant device-checking means we aren’t fully present in the company of friends. He warns against the contagious effects of one smartphone emerging at the table—soon everyone else is checking Instagram too—and delivers his counter: “I’ve adopted a policy that if a friend takes out their phone I just wait in silence until they’re finished. This usually communicates that they are interrupting the flow of what we had been sharing.”

Yet it’s not all smartphones and social media. Other chapters address timeless concerns of personal style. In the subchapter “At Home: Domestic Gods,” Coggins makes the case for the personalized domicile, again asking readers to aspire to something greater: “You are an individual, a thinker, and have even watched a Truffaut film on TCM. Your home should reflect that. You don’t have to live in a mood board for an interior design magazine, but when people visit your apartment they will definitely take your measure by it.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Men and Style author has dedicated a chapter to style, and it’s filled with gems worth sticking on the refrigerator door. We heartily concur with “There are many ways to make an entrance at a good restaurant, the opera or a smart party, and being underdressed is one of the least desirable,” as well as his adage that “If you want one thing in your closet to wear to make a good impression then get a blue, unstructured sportcoat.”

While it appears in the same chapter on style mid-way through the book, the claim by Coggins that “…when your life, livelihood and sense of style align, it’s a powerful place to be” just as easily could have been the book’s coda. There’s no doubt in our minds that Coggins inhabits such a sphere, and we hope that the advice in this volume will help more men get there.