Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dedicated Follower of Fashion

One finds he is getting old in many ways, the latest being that other than some expensive English-made shoes and a $10,000 IWC watch, I saw nothing interesting in the latest New York Times men’s fashion supplement. Despite rarely wearing one these days, I still look most closely at men’s suits. Even with several pages devoted to top designers, not one suit piqued my interest, other than to wonder who would buy most of them.

Even during the 1970s, the publishing industry – in which I toiled for the first 10 years of my professional career – didn’t require a suit and tie. I had a basic blue suit for weddings (my own included), funerals and a few special occasions. At one time I owned a blue-striped Haspel seersucker suit that was machine-washable. Fashion usually dictated when to buy a new suit, since they never wore out.

In contemplating a career change, I knew my new profession would demand a suit, so I began purchasing them at end-of-season sales. Other than finding something I liked for a decent price, two challenges loomed. The first was the drop – the difference in the coat size and the waist measurement for the pants, usually 6 inches – was always too small in my slimmer days, requiring massive alterations in the slacks. The second was my broad shoulders caused a bump running horizontally a few inches below the collar, which often necessitated two or three fittings to get it right. Luckily, I found a brand – Calvin Klein – and retailer – Baskins – that made a good fit. The tailor at Baskins who did his magic must have departed a few years later, so I switched to Bigsby & Kruthers, then the foremost suit retailer in Chicago. Buying on sale at the end of a season resulted in a wardrobe by several suit makers in some differing styles.

The perfect solution to my workplace haberdashery came shortly after starting at The Financial Relations Board. Samir Shasha, a nattily dressed native of Iran, suggested his custom tailor, P. Charlie, who visited Chicago several times a year. Charlie (not his real name), a native of India who lived in Hong Kong, took a suite in the Ritz-Carlton to meet with clients. His prices were reasonable, especially with the custom measurements eliminating hacked-up trousers and ill-fitting shoulders and permitting several choices in color and detailing. I eventually settled on one style (after ordering a few double-breasted models when they were in vogue twenty years ago): two-button ventless jacket, Armani-type lapels, flapless side jacket pockets, four functioning sleeve buttons (leaving the bottom one unbuttoned is a pretense I avoid), pleated trousers and 1 ¼-inch cuffs. My motto was, “I may not be the smartest guy in the office but I dress well.” Until Casual Friday hit, I had a regular rotation of five winter and five summer suits.

Between the casual revolution and being self-employed for 11 years, some of my remaining suits are more than ten years old. Each was made by R.M. Rock, who took over Mr. Charlie’s client list after he retired. Rock’s Custom Tailor is known for his Business School Tradition campaign, in which he markets to the top graduate schools of business across the country. The very few I’ve purchased lately now are slightly different; the top button is higher on the jacket, which now has flaps on the side pockets, and the trouser pleats are gone.

Today’s suits hold no interest for me. The current trend is jackets with side vents, which is fine if you have a small butt. Another is peaked lapels on single breasted jackets, especially on the skinny-cut models. Cuffs are gone, which make trousers look even worse if they are hemmed too short. The three-button jacket trends appears to be over.

I may someday be ready for an additional summer suit, but so far one new one and two older ones will do. Hope that new one isn’t my last one, if you know what I mean.

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