SigEp schooled in fine culture

Marcus Hooks ’09 brought two vanilla lattes to an interview with the News last Sunday — one for himself and another for the reporter. The vice president of macro development for the Yale chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity knows how to behave like a gentleman.

SigEp, known on campus as “The Gentleman’s Frat,” launched an initiative this year that brings local merchants into chapter meetings to make presentations on topics ranging from cooking lessons to wardrobe tips. While some Yalies not involved with the fraternity said they are amused at the idea of “gentleman lessons,” Hooks said the presentations are intended to teach the men of SigEp to achieve a “sound mind, sound body,” in keeping with the fraternity’s philosophy of balance in members’ personal lives.

“Are they being serious? What a funny idea,” Marla Menninger ’10 said.

The workshops have helped increase attendance at chapter meetings and increase brothers’ interaction with New Haven businesses, SigEp members said, and the fraternity hopes to one day use the sessions to strengthen ties with its alumni. But members of other fraternities at Yale said it is unlikely they will institute similar meetings.

SigEp Brothers have so far received tutorials from a jeweler, who taught them how to pick princess-cut diamonds and distinguish between platinum and white gold, and a clothing saleswoman, who instructed them on how to tie a Windsor knot.

Hooks said most SigEp chapters around the country have at least one “sound mind guy” — a member who coordinates the fraternity’s academic efforts, such as occasional study groups for the brothers. There is also a “sound body guy,” who helps create a gym routine or organize fraternity group runs, he said.

“[The program is] an extension of that,” Hooks said. “My mom always said a balanced man will know how to cook and dress.”

The presentations are intended in part to help the men in SigEp become more sensitive to female tastes, fraternity officers said.

At the jewelry presentation, Hooks said, members asked about gifts for girlfriends, as well as whether a girl would prefer earrings to a necklace. He said Gene Dostie, who works at Derek Simpson Goldsmith, told brothers the choice depends on the girlfriend’s individual taste. She recommended paying close attention to the signs girls leave, Hooks said.

But the chapter meetings focus on more than courtship. Hooks said the speakers help save the SigEp brothers from social blunders by teaching them proper etiquette.

“Guys want to know how to pull off jewelry without looking like a rapper,” Hooks said.

Gabe Friedman ’10, a SigEp member, said he picked up tips on appropriate attire for professional interviews and formal occasions from Lucy Quagliato, a saleswoman at Raggs, a local men’s clothing store. Quagliato’s presentation dealt with popping collars — whether they are a trendy statement or a fashion faux pas.

Although no one takes notes during the presentations — and it is still too early to tell whether brothers will trade in their non-pleated pants for what Quagliato called the more “in” pleats — Hooks said fraternity members have generally been enthusiastic about the workshops.

Hooks said the presentations were originally intended to provide an incentive for members to participate actively in chapter meetings. SigEp member Jonathan Wu ’09 said the occasional presentations — which he called an extra “perk” of showing up — help mitigate the monotony of weekly meetings.

Friedman said he has noticed more SigEp members showing up for meetings since the fraternity began inviting the guest speakers. The presentations help the brothers pick up skills they could not pick up elsewhere without “a subscription to Esquire or GQ,” he said.

While Greta Fails ’08 said she thinks it may come off as “toolish” for the SigEp men to take lessons in impressing girls, the concept of preparatory classes for life is valuable, she said. Since busy Yalies do not have another way of learning life skills — everything from etiquette to practical concerns like learning how to balance a checkbook — Fails said other groups should expand upon the lessons and offer them to more Yale students.

But several members of other fraternities said they doubt their respective fraternities will adopt similar programs any time soon.

Marty Erzinger ’10, a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, said his organization does not need outside expertise to teach social graces. While the SigEp initiative is a “cool deal,” Erzinger said, he said he finds answers to questions about social etiquette from individual brothers.

“If I want to dress sharp, I’ll call up Ryan Ashayeri and ask what I’m going to wear,” he said, referring to one of his brothers.

Many members of SAE consider fellow brother Ashayeri ’10 a good resource for fashion tips, Erzinger said.

So far, SigEp has only brought in guest speakers from around the New Haven area, Hooks said. Although the fraternity has a corporate partnership with Brooks Brothers and Abercrombie & Fitch, he said the group wants to support local businesses.

Interaction with the community helps SigEp foster a strong relationship with the greater New Haven area, he said.

In the future, SigEp hopes to expand the initiative by bringing in alumni to give presentations to current brothers, Hooks said. Next semester, he plans to bring in a SigEp alumnus who is a film expert in order to provide fraternity members with suggestions about good date movies. He said he also wants to invite a brother from SigEp’s national office to teach members fight songs for tailgates and sweetheart songs for formals.

Wu said the addition to the chapter meetings of gentleman workshops are more valuable because of the shared experience they offer members than for knowledge brothers take away.

Hooks said he is looking forward to a retreat to the Owl Shop, a tobacco shop and cigar lounge bar on College Street. He said the brothers are interested in finding out about cigars that college students can afford from merchants who “know everything about cigars.”

“It’s cliche and tacky,” he said, “but fun for us to do.”

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