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Alfred Gingold

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My Birthday Suit II: The Windmills of Your Wardrobe

Posted: 06/30/07 08:02 PM ET

The morning after my birthday, I was effervescing over breakfast about the glories of the previous day, chiefly my impending ensemble, when my wife asked if I'd noticed how much clothing had been on my mind lately. Apparently, my cutting observations of our network anchor's wardrobe had become more frequent in recent weeks. I'd been pointing out more than my usual number of style crimes in the pages of the newspaper, especially in the Paul Stuart ads, and mentioning more items I wouldn't mind having, she said.

Abruptly, I became deeply aware of my deep lack of self-awareness. She was right, of course, clothes had been on my mind. And with good reason. Only two weeks before, I'd accompanied our son to a bricks-and-mortar haberdashery to buy his first suit, the first time I'd been to such a place since I bought my own last serious suit, which I'm pretty was when Jimmy Smits was still on NYPD Blue.

The proximate rationale for my son's suit was a Bar Mitzvah gala for twin boys he used to babysit, but he planned to wear it to his impending high school graduation, also the prom, pre-prom, after-prom and post-after-prom as well. I assume he'll take it to college for the many quasi-formal occasions that are so much a part of today's undergraduate lifestyle. If it holds up, maybe he'll do his first job interviews in this suit. It's going to be his go-to outfit for any and all dressy occasions for the foreseeable future.

The suit was his idea, not mine. I think that's a good thing. It implies an awareness on his part (self-awareness, you might say, so unlike his dad) that he is beginning a stage of life in which baggy jeans and Air Jordans may not always be appropriate attire - although, by the time he joins the work force full-time, who knows? In any event, I admired his decision to shop for these clothes in real time in a real store. That was what I advised, and I did not sugarcoat the pill.

Shopping is presumed to be fun for one and all, but step into a well-stocked men's department and the mood is anything but jaunty. It's the suits, row upon row of seemingly identical, but actually minutely varied, gray and blue suits (with a few renegade browns and greens scattered among them, whose prices will be reduced well in advance of the spring clearance event) that just exude adulthood, responsibility and mortality, as if the suits were about to get up off their hangers and stand there ominously, like the graveyard inhabitants in a Robert Wilson production of Our Town. In short, they're depressing places.

Perhaps that's why when I told a friend about my bespoke present, he told me he'd recently decided to buy himself a "death suit," dark and suitable for formal and/or solemn occasions, including his own last rites.

Perhaps that's why I buy almost all my clothing online and will do almost anything to avoid shopping in person.

But you have to be in person to by a suit. You have to see how it fits and feel how it feels. With luck, you get some old-school salesman who actually knows the merch and can explain the difference between, say, a sharkskin and a nailhead. He'll smooth the coat over your shoulders and straighten the lapels so you know how the thing is supposed to look. And he'll ask the tailor to do the alterations with extra care and speed because you are his special customer and the Bar Mitzvah is in three days.

The salesman who fitted my son knew what he was doing. He demonstrated as much when, in a quiet aside, he passed me some discount coupons to present back to him at the cash register and told me to discuss nothing of the sort with anyone else in the store. Later I wondered if he somehow realized I carry the Loehmann's gene, or if all the sales people in the store tell their customers the same thing.

To his credit, the fellow was appropriately impressed when my son decided in short order upon the very first suit he tried on of the three zillion in his size. It's navy with a hairline stripe and very nice, but more importantly, the ability to stay resolute in the presence of so many other similar-but-not-quite-identical garments, a situation which has been known to reduce me to a blob of indecision, does him credit and bodes well for the future.

I should only do so well with my bespoke guy, whoever he is.