A New Suit
I just bought a new suit. A lawyer with a new suit – insert joke here. But no, really. You know, jacket, pants . . . a suit. I will admit that it is sort of an ordinary purchase these days. In my line of work I have to wear one occasionally, even in this era of casual office attire. Judges demand and older clients expect any attorney worthy of the title to be properly dressed. And proper attire simply requires a decent suit.
The process was so simple, and it started with Mrs. JPC announcing to me that one of the department stores was running a sale. While there are some who might demand a better product than the department stores might sell, I am not one of those people. All I require is that a suit look presentable and fit me decently. As for that second requirement, I am one of the fortunate ones.
We all know that everyone is built a little differently. Take your pick: tall, short, big shoulders, small hips, short arms or long legs – there are many things that can make clothing purchases difficult for a guy. I, however, am That Guy. You know, the one whose twin served as the model for every given mens’ suit size. Whatever my weight has been over the years, my frame is a perfect fit for the nearest size of suit. My law school roommate used to hate looking at suits with me. There would be two dozen 38 Regulars lined up in all colors and fabrics for me to peruse. If he was lucky, he would find a single 37 Short. And for the record, it has been a long, long time since I have fit into a 38 Regular.
But back to the department store. I ended up choosing a nice conservative gray wool serge suit from a name-brand manufacturer and got it for a reasonable price, so OK – moderately satisfying, but far from something to write a blog about. It was not until I wore it for the first time and looked down at the lapels and sleeves that a flood of memories came rushing back of my favorite suit of all time.
My sister had announced that she would be getting married in the spring of my first year of law school. It was going to be a simple affair, and I was told that all I needed was a suit. This should not have been a problem, as I had several in my closet at home. I had a job through high school that required me to wear suits. But having bought them in the late 1970s, the fabrics were often polyester and they came from places like Sears. They were not horrible suits, but nobody would mistake them for fine garments. Which turned out to be a good thing when I went to try them on.
The problem, you see, was that I had lost fifty pounds during my first semester at law school. Which was not really a bad thing, as I had gotten so much enjoyment out of putting on the “freshman fifteen” some four years earlier that I went back for another couple of tours over the next three years. This is not something that hits a guy all at once, and really becomes noticeable when he tries on his size 42 Regular suit and finds that it hangs like it had been supplied by the tent and awning company.
In addition to being thin, I was also broke, so a new suit was out of the question. Surely, I thought, I can get one of mine taken in. I grabbed one or two of the better ones from my closet at home, and then saw another that caught my attention. It had not been my suit at all, but was a hand me down from a cousin’s late grandfather that found its way into my closet after my aunt gave them to my mother, saying “maybe Jim can wear these.” I kind of liked it. It was a nice gray wool serge straight out of the Mad Men era, except that it was more “Old Mad Men” once I noticed how high the waist of the pants rode on my stomach. But it was 1983 and narrow ties and lapels were coming back, so maybe it was something to consider.
With three suits in tow, I started looking for someone to alter one of them. My sister would have been my normal go-to, but she was getting married and had enough on her plate. I was directed to a well-known downtown tailoring company and explained my need to make one of these too-big suits fit me. It should have been easy – just cut some fabric out and sew it back together, right? The gentleman there looked at me in a way to suggest that I was wasting his time. “I can’t do anything with these. But if you want me to make you a nice suit that fits, I can do that.” The problem was that he was not going to do it for under $50, so I needed to find a plan B.
Plan B came in the name of an older African American tailor who ran a little shop near 38th Street and Lafayette Road in Indianapolis. I have forgotten his name, but I will never forget him. He looked my suits over and decided that the old gray one was the best one for what he would need to do. “That’s a nice suit” he said matter of factly. “It probably goes back to, maybe, 1961? But with some work I can make it look quite modern.”
And so he did. When I picked it up, the pants had a normal cut with some sharply creased cuffs at the bottom. The narrow lapels looked just right and everything fit perfectly. And all for about $50. For awhile, it was my only suit. But that didn’t matter, because I loved it. It had a classic but slightly edgy vibe that went so well on a young man in 1983. Sort of Sam Cooke meets Elvis Costello, it was. Every time I looked down at that gray wool serge fabric, I felt like an adult. An adult who was ready to order a martini. And I liked that feeling.
I eventually saved up some money and bought a new suit, this time in navy blue. By the time I graduated and got a job in 1985, that slightly edgy fusion between 1961 and 1983 had moved from a little out front to a little behind. It eventually went back into the closet for a few years until one of those periodic cleanings that we all need to do, when I donated it to a charity’s thrift shop. I was sad doing it, but hoped that it would look as good on someone else who needed it as I thought it had looked on me. It was the only suit I regret giving away.
Anyhow, the gray wool serge that I looked down on last week was the spitting image of that old suit I wore 30 years ago that saw me through that transition from college kid to real adult. And for just a moment, I was a twenty four year old guy in a 38 Regular. Which was fun for the moment that the feeling lasted. I am, of course, neither of those things any more, and I am fine with that. My life is much more settled than it was in those days, in so many ways. But nothing says I can’t enjoy a little nostalgia in a gray serge suit. Or a martini to go along with it.
I think there was once a time when you couldn’t get a martini unless you were wearing a suit. Now, they’ll serve one to any old schlub!
My suits normally had stripes on the left sleeve and by the time I retired from the Navy I pretty much refused to wear one. I once read a book by someone named Malloy I think. Probably out of print but maybe on Amazon. It was named “dress for success” and the dude went into the reasons why some things work and some things don’t. Still, my suits today are bib overalls.
I would expect nothing less than bib overalls from such an accomplished builder of medieval weaponry. I am sitting here today in corduroys and a flannel shirt, so it is either Casual Friday or No Client Friday here at my place.
Sam Cooke meets Elvis Costello. That sums up the style of the early 1980s men’s fashion perfectly. I still have to wear a suit when the Senate is in session. There are times when wearing a suit does make you feel special. Even if I have spent a small fortune on dry cleaning over the years, particularly with my ties!
I had a period of time where it would be much easier to get me into a straitjacket than a suit. Like you, I had a favorite suit from my younger years, but I’ve not sought to reproduce it. Upon graduating high school, my mother bought me a nice three piece gray pinstripe suit (This is 1980, so they still were presentable), which I wore to every event that demanded a suit. We got it at a local clothier which has since long ceased to exist, but it was my introduction to the world of tailored clothing. I have lot of good memories of that suit, mostly because of that time of our lives, with the many engagements, weddings and other festive occasions.
Now I mostly wear suits to church, a few occasions (like company Christmas parties) and funerals. But I now, I look forward to events that require a suit, with the exceptions of the funerals…
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I insisted that my husband give away old clothes, boxed by size, thinking that he’d never go back to a 32″ waist. Wrong! He’s lost 50 lbs without trying due to illness and we scramble everytime an occsion requires nicer clothes. In my defense, most of those clothes were really worn. Now we’re tying to find a tailor to cut down a suit that’s too big. In our disposable world, no one does that anymore.
I am sorry to learn of your husband’s illness. There are many reasons to celebrate weight loss, but this is not one of them.
When our children were in the school uniform phase of life, my wife found a Vietnamese gentleman who ran an alterations shop. He has been one of those little blessings in life that we don’t appreciate as much as we should.
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