Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Paging Dr. Fashion

As a brief history of my sense of style and shopping habits, let me describe some aspects of my acquisition of clothes. First, I feel that, at 60 percent off retail, clothes start to become appropriately priced. In addition, I am also drawn to the rack of misfit clothes, left to fade into obscurity by their peculiar pattern and color combinations.

Christa and I started dating about four years after I graduated from college. Most of the misfit clothes that I had acquired during the previous decade were still in my possession. I don’t believe that she took me on as a project, per se, but I do know she has worked on me to not make an ass of myself, at least while in her presence. For some reason, any poor behavior and, more importantly, poor fashion reflects chiefly on women. As the primary subscribers to fashion magazines and as the presumedly more-refined sex, they bear sole societal responsibility for what gets let out of the house, fashionwise.

Her fashion critiques came in the following forms:

“Honey, you really shouldn’t.”

“It’s on sale for a reason.”

“I’m afraid you’ll be arrested for impersonating a drug trafficker.”

Over time, we worked out the basic arrangements of clothing acquisition for me. I can continue to apply my 60-percent rule, but she has been granted semi-universal veto power. She won a bigger victory in reducing my donations timeline from infinite to a couple of years. Needless to say, there will be some snazzy gentlemen hitting the soup kitchen this year.

For the wedding, I was allowed to find my own tux, albeit with a veto option and innumerable helpful hints. My search began. The first store stocked their own tuxes. This allowed them to offer rentals at a reduced rate, compared to shops ordering from what is, apparently, a tuxedo super warehouse located somewhere in this great land. I walked in, and it didn’t smell quite right. It seemed like a perfect environment for an illegal bingo parlor: something old, something smoky, and something a bit metallic. I pulled the first jacket off the mannequin and tried it on for style. It felt like it was moving. When the older woman behind the counter asked whether I needed help, her voice was a little worn, perhaps from a late night of bingo calling. I asked to try on a jacket in something closer to my size. She returned with one from the back room. This one smelled smoky, and I think I detected a hint of roasted meat. Apparently, the storeroom backed up to a bar, allowing the stench of its patrons and their indulgences to continually make its way through the walls and vents and into the tuxes. I think she saw me retching slightly and said that this one had just been returned, but everything got laundered before it was officially issued again. I felt I was wearing a tux that had been worn for a viewing—by the motionless, horizontal attendee no less—and it may or may not have been laundered yet. I began weeping and ran from the store.

My second shop was a step up, considering it had no unusual smells upon entering. It had a more standard setup. Mannequins displayed the various styles, and it offered a jacket in the appropriate size to try on. Then there was the book, Jim’s Formalwear. At some point in the past, Jim apparently acquired every rentable tuxedo in America and brought them all to some place I’ll call Tuxedoville. He then published a book showing all the styles and accompanying ties, shirts, shoes, etc. He sent this book to every place of business interested in renting tuxes and a seeming monopoly was created. Tuxedos in a couple of weeks, that’s Jim’s promise.

Our assistant in this store was slightly competent, but far from helpful. As I was trying to figure out what vest style I liked best, a woman in purple scrubs with a stethoscope around her neck came in and asked if she could help me.

“With what exactly…doctor?” I said, with an uncertain grimace on my face.

“Becky said you had some questions.”

Something about this didn’t compute. I was standing in a tux-rental room weighing my vest options, and someone in scrubs with medical examination equipment was asking me if she could help. Was she at lunch? I didn’t specifically say what my questions were, but I felt the situation implied they weren’t of a medicinal nature.

“It has been a while since my last physical, and I want to make sure everything is still working as intended,” I answered, trying to establish what her profession was.

Apparently part of the bridal shop team, she was pushy and overbearing—and seemed to want an order placed before she went back on duty. I may have been mistaken to assume that she was off duty or did anything at all regarding patient care. Maybe she was a doctor of fashion, or maybe she shopped like me, but at the uniform store sale rack. I didn’t last long with her. I thanked her for her help and said I was going to mull it over a bit. I asked Christa what she thought about the vest options.

She said, “I don’t care. Get what you like.”

This was the most jarring sentence I had ever heard. After all the work on refining my wardrobe, all the effort to make the wedding day as special and perfect as she had dreamed, she had given me full authority for the decision on vest style—the same vest, albeit under a jacket most of the time, that would be photographed and recorded as a part of our eternal wedding memories, until the end of history, as what I wore on our wedding day. I wasn’t ready for this responsibility, even less for being given this responsibility voluntarily. What part of my checkered fashion past gives you the confidence to so casually bestow upon me this momentous decision? This was a pressure cooker. All the mannequins headlessly stared at me, waiting for me to act. I used the only safe retreat I had.

“Let’s think it over at lunch, shall we?”

At lunch, we solidified our agreement that we didn’t like Dr. Fashion or her establishment. It was an improvement over the first shop, but we still didn’t have confidence in them. We did not lack confidence in their ability to correctly place an order, but in their ability to care or to provide service after the sale.

Next we went to a Gentlemen’s Clothiers, which, by title alone, conveyed the “We are not satisfied unless you are satisfied message we were looking for. In addition, they were actually friendly and had a seamstress on staff, in case last minute alterations were needed. They explained upfront that everyone gets tuxes from the Tux Tyrant, Jim, through his full-page color catalog. The prices were comparable, and the calming assurance of their conduct sold us. I also detected no smoked meat, parlor games, or surgical instruments in their establishment.

The last tuxedo-finding information I will pass along comes from one of my groomsmen, who I will briefly channel to relay the story in the first person.

(Start channel)

I went into the store to get my measurements and made brief introductions. The gentleman said this should be painless and drew his measuring tape, like a menacing sword of truth. A polite female employee grabbed the clipboard, and judgment time was upon me.

He asked, “What waist-size pants do you usually wear?”

“Thirty-six or thirty-eight,” I replied.

He let out a disbelieving, or perhaps disapproving, groan as he wrapped the measuring tape around my naval. “Let’s put down forty-two.”

This was a blow. I tried to smirk it off, but the ruler didn’t lie. But I did wear thirty-six or thirty-eight; check the label. I guess there could be a little bit of love that hangs out over the jeans, but I still control it. I’m too young to pull my pants over my naval.

In the meantime, he had measured my shoulders and announced, “Athletic build.”

“Yes. Did you hear that? An athletically built forty-two, baby. I’m calling the wife to tell her a real man is coming home.”

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