Greetings Dear Ones!
Father’s day is right around the bend. One can tell by the escalating numbers of T-shirts reading “Best Farter Ever” for sale. So it seems appropriate to write this week about Male Fashion. Marketwatch anticipates that Americans will spend 1.8 Billion dollars this year on bad ties and golf shirts in an attempt to spruce up Dad’s wardrobe. And Heaven knows, they need it! You should see the stuff they are sneaking into the shop saying, “Can you fix this, please? It’s my favorite. Can you believe I caught my wife trying to throw this away?”
I love tailoring men’s clothes. They are very different from women’s in that they are designed to be altered. It is assumed that male waistlines are going to expand and contract over the course of the lifetime of a pair of pants—consequently, they are very easy to take in and let out. Male sport coats and blazers have a secret entrance built right into the sleeves so that you can get into the body of the jacket and make room for a Thanksgiving turkey or take out the four inches they lost after ten days on the Ideal Protein diet. By contrast, Women’s clothing is a nightmare to take apart and fix. The industry seems to assume that women’s fashions are going to change faster than their bodies so their clothing might as well be disposable but men are in their garments for the long haul so everything needs to be adjustable. In many cases, this is true. Regardless of trends, some men get off the fashion train at a stop somewhere in their mid-thirties and there they remain for the rest of their lives, completely unaware that wide ties and white shoes are passé and that all the things they once wore in the hopes of seducing women are now having the exact opposite effect. Just consider for a moment how fun it is going to be twenty years from now to see fifty-year-old men in skinny jeans… or worse yet, those baggy ass things they wear belted BELOW their underwear. Mercifully, the current crop of fifty-somethings is still in cuffs and pleated pants, in the hopes that they will soon be back in style.
I must admit that before becoming a seamstress, I never paid much attention to male fashion. My sisters and I grew up sharing twenty-three Barbie dolls bequeathed to us by a former neighbor who had outgrown them. Of the twenty three, only two were male. One was an original Ken doll, the very first ever made. His hair was painted on his hard-boiled head and his kindly face wore a look of mild, perpetual surprise. He couldn’t bend his legs at all. He sat in chairs with this ankles jutting out from his body at a 45 degree angle, looking both alert and confused. The other guy was a newer Ken, a younger model with more rubbery hair, molded in waves. He was a little more rubbery in general and could somewhat bend his knees if you cracked them like big knuckles, and balanced him carefully against the leg of the table at which he was sitting. His face wore a kind of smug, “dumb jock” leer. They had one suit each, and one pair of swimming trunks between them. They had no other clothes and we never bothered to make them any. Male clothing was boring. Even when we were allowed to look at the clothes for sale in stores, there were thousands of dresses for Barbie, all with coordinating shoes the size of thumb tacks to stick on her absurdly tiny feet, but almost nothing for Ken. The male Barbies didn’t figure much in our plots anyway. We made them a “car” out of a shoe box and they pretty much just drove around under the bed until it was time to get Married. Then, the older Ken would wear priestly vestments made of Kleenex over his suit and officiate over the younger Ken’s vows to one of the Malibu horde. The rest of the attendees were either nuns or baronesses.
My father was not much help. His answer to every fashion demand was a navy blue blazer. Whether he was going to church or changing the oil on the tractor, he had one uniform. I have since learned that men can be extremely imaginative, creative, or downright fussy about their clothes. Some are fussy about color—they have a palette of four shades (two of which are black and grey), all solid, all muted, no logos of any kind. Some are fussy about fit—they need their shirts tapered within an inch of their lives, and jeans that look like they came from a can. This has nothing to do with age, either. We have an octogenarian who visits us on a weekly basis, complaining that his jeans aren’t fitting his bum “like a girl.”
I am not attempting to judge ANYONE (ever…)(I cannot stress this enough) but it is fun to report the facts as I see them, from my little corner of Thimbledom. Men and women ARE different, Very different, in a tailoring shop.
For one thing, we never have women come into the shop holding a bunch of rags saying “can you fix these? I dug these out of the trash. My husband cleaned out our closet and tried to throw them away. Look at the wear still in them! He’s nuts!” Women are every bit as dirty as men but when we ask them if we can launder their clothing before we work on it, they say “sure,” not “naw…I’m just going to get it dirty again! What’s the point?”
Some women will spend months agonizing over what to wear to an upcoming wedding, no matter how irrelevant or precarious their link to the actual wedding couple may be, while the actual groom himself might give us only a few days’ notice to alter his suit, which he has only just purchased.
I never see men going to the dressing room in groups, or even with one male buddy, to try on a bunch of clothes and have them take pictures of him. I never see a guy ask another guy to help him get dressed, decide the hemline of his trousers, or comment on whether or not a certain color “does anything for him.” A man travels solo, unless he is under the management of an exasperated wife who is insisting that we should not listen to him—“he does not know what he is talking about!”
Some women take the management of their men way too far—like the time we get a phone message from a woman whose nasal voice explains with exaggerated patience that her husband will be stopping by with a pair of pants she wants hemmed. She has pinned them where the final length needs to be. He does not need to try them on. She has pinned them. Call her if we have any questions. Beep. Fine. We think no more about this and move on.
Within minutes, a man with a pleasant face is standing there holding a pair of pants on a hanger. He is wearing a business suit and tie and looks very professional. “I believe my wife may have called about these pants?” His voice is cheerful and confident. His gaze is direct and inquisitive.
“Oh! Yes, she did. There was a message on the machine,” we say.
“Very good. Well, here they are,” says the man.
“Just let me grab your name and phone number,” I say.
“It’s all here,” he says, indicating a long note pinned to the pants.
“Ok,” I say, taking them from him. “Any rush? When do you need them?”
“It’s on the note,” he says, making a quick turn on his heels and dashing out to his car.
I look at the note. It is a neatly scripted paragraph, written long hand, in the kind of penmanship had only by people shamed by nuns from a certain era. It reads: “Hello. My husband needs these pants hemmed. He is bringing them in to you this morning. He does not need to try these on, as I have measured him and put a pin where I think they should go. We do not need these in a terrible rush but sometime soon would be good. Thank you so much. Signed, (name) with a phone number.” I should have looked at him more closely to see if his name and lunch money were pinned to his shirt.
Just then, the phone rings. It’s her. “Did he bring the pants? Did you get my note?” She wants to know. “Are there any questions?” Well, yes indeed, I think privately. I have quite a few questions, as a matter of fact. How is it that a man in the prime of his life, clearly a successful business man, with license to operate a motor vehicle, is deemed incapable of being in charge of his own pants? Does the term “co-dependent enmeshment” mean anything to you? Do you realize the way you are micro-managing this grown man’s life gives him all the dignity of a kindergartener who has not yet memorized his street address? Not to mention, you look positively daft doing this. You are making us judge you!
Young men are stepping up their game and wearing more suits these days. A customer in his mid-twenties needs a suit altered. Again. “What?!!!” says his mother, who is also a customer, when she hears about it. “Again? You’ve done four suits for him in six months! What the hell? How many suits does one man dandy need? Has he ever considered wearing one twice? Most men only have one and they never think about it until they drag it out of the closet for a wedding or a funeral and then they discover they are suddenly too big. That is the only time men buy suits!” She rolls her eyes and snorts.
The truth is that men care a lot about how they look, even though that’s sometimes hard to perceive from a distance. They suffer the same excruciating body shame that women do but with the added bonuses of more baldness, snoring, and halitosis to contend with. Alone with a seamstress in a fitting room, they are incredibly vulnerable about showing their anguish over how things should fit, whether or not they look decent, and how much ankle is really supposed to show. I can’t help having a great deal of compassion for these “tough guys” who can’t tell pink from brown. The saddest ones are the guys whose wives have died and left them rudderless in the tide of mystifying trends. They need that incoming Father’s Day wardrobe infusion—they need the choices that the people who love them best make on their behalf—to make them feel like they look ok, or in the case of those ghastly “Best Farter Ever” T-shirts, at least loved for what they are.
Wishing a blessed and Happy Father’s Day to anyone who protects, provides for, coaches, or inspires! We are all so grateful!
Be well, dear friends, be kind, and do Good Work!