Lan Jue’s sudden appearance in front of Tang Mi took her off guard. She unconsciously lifted her hand to ward him off, but her professor deftly sidestepped and pushed her hand away until she was warding nothing but air.
“Don’t misunderstand Miss Mi,” he said. “I’d simply like you to examine my collar. Tell me if you notice anything.”
Tang Mi was still off-balance, but eventually recovered. Her pretty face adopted a red tint, and her heart sped up.
What man would dare approach her like this! Even Tang Xiao kept his distance. Where he a student, he’d find her foot firmly planted between his legs in the blink of an eye. Of course there was nothing she could do here; he was no student, the Director watched from behind him, and he wasn’t breaking any rules.
As they stood toe-to-toe, Lan Jue half a head taller than she, Tang Mi could smell the Professor’s debonair cologne. With his suit, vest, kerchief and tie this only perfected his refined mystique.
“It looks fine… though the tie is a little crooked.” She took only a cursory glance at his collar before speaking.
“Take a more careful look. See if you can’t spot it.”
Tang Mi muttered a dark curse at herself and, suppressing her displeasure, looked again. This time she saw it.
“Hm, the collar’s ends are at an outward angle, just enough to accommodate the thickness of the tie knot. On either side the collar naturally droops down, giving it symmetry.”
Lan Jue retreated a few steps, clapping his hands. “Very good, a fine observation. So why, then, is my collar like this?”
“Custom made,” a young man in the class offered.
Lan Jue shook his head. “There are different methods of tying a tie. Each one results in different width and thickness for the tie knot. Likewise each one requires a different collar. So does this mean I have custom shirts for every sort of knot I wish to tie? Far too wasteful. In fact my necktie this afternoon is not crooked – it’s the color of the shirt. It isn’t completely fitting with a very formal tie. As a result I tied this Simple Knot. It looks more… vibrant. And as for the secrets of the collar, I’ll enlighten you…”
As he spoke he fiddled with one side of his collar, extricating something.
“I’m fairly certain everyone here’s worn a shirt. But I’m absolutely sure you’ve never turned over the collar. Take a look.” He opened his fist to reveal a one centimeter wide, five centimeter long strip of metal, rounded on one end and sharp on the other.
“This is called a collar stay. As the name implies, it helps the collar stay in the shape intended. Generally speaking even higher class name brands employ plastic collar stays. The problem with those is that they only keep the collar straight and smooth – they don’t allow for adjustment of the angle. The ones I have here are pure silver 1. I can make adjustments according to my needs, for whatever necktie I choose. This is how the collar works – not tailored.”
The students looked on in rapt attention. Evidently none had heard this secret before. Director Wu fiddled with his collar, partially hidden in the back row.
Lan Jue replaced the collar stay. “If you don’t tell anyone, no one will know your collar stay is composed of a precious metal. No one, except for those with good taste. They’ll take one look at your collar and know precisely how it is you’ve managed that angle. I once knew a local official who used twenty-two karat gold stays, not for anyone else’s satisfaction but his own. He knew they were twenty-two karat gold. Pure gold, obviously, would have been too soft for a stay. Unsuitable unless you add another metal. These weren’t for status, for how could they be if no one saw them? This was his ‘surprise package,’ his hidden coquettishness. Think about it – what if one day your girlfriend has your shirt… for some reason… and discovers a golden collar stay? She’d look at you differently, wouldn’t she? I dare say she’d be more smitten.”
More laughter, this time less forced. Be it male or female student each looked upon him with bright eyes and bright expression.
“Most people think ornamentation and accessories are a woman’s fancy. What use have men for accessories? Isn’t that ‘girly’? Well I’m here to tell you that this sort of thinking is entirely wrong. In truth a man’s necessary accessories aren’t much fewer than a woman’s.. only, they are less visually available. Collar stays, cufflinks, wrist watches, breastpins, even a delicate bracelet… things easily missed, but when briefly revealed increase your charm and charisma tenfold.”
He paused here and took his jacket back from Tang Mi. He gave her a brief smile, and motioned for her to return to her seat. She looked back at him for a moment before making for the back row.
He slipped his jacket back on. “Now I know what you’re thinking. ‘Professor Lan,’ you wish to say, ‘Unless you’re very familiar with a woman, your girlfriend for example, wont your secret remain hidden?’ In fact, that’s not the case. Take a look.” He turned then and showed his back to the gathered youngsters.
“This particular coat is a double vent. So, say I’m walking down the street and a breeze catches my clothes. The back flaps ever so slightly, and there the lining is revealed. Oops! My secret is known.”
Another ripple of laughter. Jin Yan and Wu Junyi also couldn’t help but lend their voice to the mirthful chorus. Every eye watched Lan Jue, waiting for his next move.
Hua Li sat in a distant corner, watching the lecture from a distance. At some point the mask he’d used to hide his face had been removed, and as he watched his high-spirited friend a knowing smile spread across his pretty features.
Never had Lan Jue expected one day he’d be a teacher, much less Hua Li. But here he stood, standing before a classroom of rapt pupils.
“Now, folding pocket kerchiefs and wearing ties. There are quite a few ways to tie a tie. We have the common, popular knots like the four-in-hand, Windsor…”
He demonstrated each knot as he said them, pulling strips of cloth from behind the podium and passing them around the room. Director Wu took the lull in the lecture as a chance to speak to Jin Yan, beside him.
“Professor Jin, what do you think of this young man’s class?”
“It’s only the second time I’ve attended,” she began without hesitation, “but I can’t not acknowledge my interest. I hadn’t expected one would have to pay such particular attention to a suit. It’s also the first time I’ve heard of collar stays. I feel like this knowledge, for etiquette and common sense, is of great benefits to the students. What do you think, Director?”
He only gave a small, secretive smile. “At the very least, it’s not a disadvantage.”
Jin Yan continued. “I might as well be one of his students. I’m already looking forward to what he’ll tech next.”
“It’s not just you. Even at my age I’m learning a great deal from his lectures. I’ll probably have to go home and adjust my own suits after this. Show them off to the old lady.”
Time flies when you’re having fun, so the saying goes, and for the students of Professor Lan’s class the saying held true. In what felt like no time at all, the class was coming to an end.
As the bell rang, none of the students were in a rush to leave. After all the Professor still had one style of tie he’d yet to show off. Time didn’t seem a factor, and even Director Wu didn’t remind Lan Jue that he was delaying the students from their other classes. Ten minutes later, all was said and done.
“I really do apologies. First for my classes and then for my time management. Thursday afternoon we have our next class. Frankly speaking today’s class was mostly for the benefit of our male students, but the next one will be aimed at our young ladies. In the interest of advanced notice we’ll be discussing jewelry. There are a wide array of jewelry accessories and one class wont be able to cover them all, but I’ll bring a few pieces to show off. And that’s where we’ll end today. Class dismissed, thank you.”
Lan Jue finished with another formal bow.
“Professor Lan, can you tell me if I did this right?” One of his students rushed at the podium to get his attention. Others followed until it was as though Lan Jue was penned in by a swarm.
Hua Li slipped his mask back on his face, but not before muttering jealously under his breath. “I should be the one getting the star treatment. This guy…”
It took a good ten minutes for Lan Jue to extricate himself from the horde. His suit had been horribly wrinkled in the process, and someone’s dirty fingers had stained the sleeves. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He’d have to send it to the dry-cleaners when he returned.
“Professor… professor, over here!” Lan Jue spied Tang Xiao’s puffy head peaking from around the corner of the hallway. He waved his master over.
Lan Jue nodded and made his way over.
Jin Tao and Tang Xiao were both waiting out of sight of the others. As Lan Jue came up, Jin Tao couldn’t help but immediately start blabbering. “Professor, what suit do you think would make me look most handsome?”
Lan Jue gently shoved the punk’s head. “Handsome means an absence of grotesque shape. First you have to shave that hideous thing on your head.”
“Got it!” He turned then to the chortling Tang Xiao, repeatedly slapping the kid’s belly. “And what are you laughing about tubby? If we’re talking about grotesque you got some adjustments to make yourself! Five minutes at a hairdressing and I’m golden, but this thing you’re smuggling here? Hah!”
“Not in the face! Are you looking for another beating?!”
“I advise you both to save your strength,” Lan Jue interjected ominously. Suddenly there was another at Lan Jue’s side.
Jin Tao looked at the newly arrived Hua Li. “Oh hi. Are you also one of the Professor’s pupils?”
Hua Li chuckled. “No, I’m… a friend.”
Because that’s not wasteful at all. ↩