Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hemingway's Boat Belt?

Last weekend I began reading Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost by writer Paul Hendrickson. The book focuses on the years 1934 to 1961—from Hemingway’s pinnacle as the reigning monarch of American letters until his suicide around through the lens of the one constant in Hemingway's life during this time: his beloved boat, Pilar. Having never read a Hemingway biography, one piece of info that has been on my mind has to do not with his boat, but with how Hemingway wore his belt. Yes, "his belt" as in the article of clothing worn around the waist to support trousers.

No loops for Papa.
Referenced a number of times (though at 531 pages, I couldn't find the initial appearance easily), Hemingway's manner of wearing his belt is eluded to in the chapter entitled "Shadow Story": "He [Arnold Samuelson] wore his belt over top of the loops--he'd learned to do that on Pilar." (page 159) It can be inferred here that Samuelson, as a member of Pilar's crew and a Hemingway idolater, would choose to wear his own belt in a fashion similar to the captain. (The quote as it appears in Hendrickson's book is also recalled in a more recent Bismark Tribune article about the author's relationship with Samuelson, though this belt wearing is included to make him seem odd, and the fashion statement is not attributed to any influence by Hemingway.)

What would posses Ernest Hemingway to wear his felt in such a way?

One reason why belts were originally worn at all, and on the outside of clothing, was not to hold up pants, but for purely aesthetic reasons. These tightly cinched accessories served to draw in the waist and give the wearer a trim physique, emphasizing wide shoulders and a pouting chest. Perhaps like the corseted soldiers of yore, Hemingway did this to appear more physically imposing or masculine?

This wearing of the belt outside the loops flies in the face of modern fashion, and ironically runs contrary to the advice given in's "The Rules of Belts". One rule suggests that "A belt must be big enough to fill the loops of your pants but not overfill them." Hemingway, wore his belt outside the loops. This talk of belts, fashion Esquire and Hemingway, brings us back around to his boat.  The author was indebted to the original Esquire publication for the money fronted him for a series of articles to generate the funds to buy Pilar.

In the end, it may have been simple sizing issues that resulted in Hemingway's over-the-loops fashion statement. Hemingway famously acquired a German soldier's belt and buckle with the Deutsche words 'Gott Mit Uns' (God Is With Us) inscribed on a crest that included the German eagle and Nazi swastika. A.E. Hotchner, in a 1949 article entitled "Papa Hemingway" notes that "it [the belt] was too wide for the loops of any of his pants, but he wore it anyway outside the loops."

Though only half way through Hemingway's Boat, I am finding the book incredibly accessible and interesting... and who know what other fashion tips I may come across in the remaining 200+ pages?

The Strange but True Story of Ernest Hemingway's Nazi belt Buckle by Tom Sanders
Belt (Clothing) Wikipedia entry
Washington Times Review from December 29, 2011.

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