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Suits

August 7, 2014 | by

Was_soll_ich_werden_45

From What Should I Be? (Was soll ich werden?) (1888), a picture book by Lothar Meggendorfer.

Yesterday I went suit shopping with my brother. The suit was to be a birthday gift from my parents; I’d been entrusted with the task of supervising the purchase. We started out in a well-known British chain. “He’s looking for a suit,” I announced.

“Are you two getting married?” asked the salesman.

“We’re siblings,” we said at the same time.

“That would be weird, then,” he said.

After this, I was paranoid. “Our parents are giving him a suit for his birthday,” I would announce loudly. Or, apropos of nothing, “I’m his sister.”

When, finally, we went to a tailor, I decided to further clarify the situation by being abusive while my brother was measured.

“We couldn’t find a suit off the rack,” I informed the tailor, “because he has the build of an undernourished Victorian chimney sweep.”

“You’re a perfectly normal size,” said the tailor.

“Maybe if you’re used to suiting children and midgets!” I scoffed. No one said anything, so then I excused myself.

I’m not particularly proud of this display, but I think a little discomfort in these situations is natural. Indeed, it can take even stranger forms. One friend said he particularly dislikes people assuming he’s on dates with his sister not merely because it’s creepy, but because he hates their thinking he has so little chemistry with his girlfriend.

I had always figured those families who all look uncannily alike had it easier in these situations. But I had reckoned without human weirdness. “It must be great that you’ve never once had to worry about someone thinking you and your sister were a couple,” I said to a friend with a nearly identical younger sibling. “Are you kidding?” he said. “I worry that people think I’m such a pathological narcissist that I have to date someone who looks exactly like me!”

So, there’s that.

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Tailor-Made

June 9, 2011 | by

Richard Anderson.

“Wanted,” the advertisement read, “sixteen- or seventeen-year-old apprentice cutter for Savile Row firm. Energetic … Intelligent … Smart appearance …” I was skeptical (what the hell was a cutter?) but Dad made the call and we were granted an appointment at ten the following Tuesday. I had never heard of Huntsman before. For that matter, I am not sure that I had ever heard of Savile Row.”

So began, somewhat ignominiously, Richard Anderson’s career as a bespoke tailor. Today, Anderson is “The King of Savile Row,” as The Independent called him—but in 1982 he was a teenager with failing grades who showed up for an interview in white socks, a short-sleeved shirt, and a school blazer.

Anderson’s memoir, Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed, has been called the Kitchen Confidential of the tailoring world, an insider’s look at the industry and one that exposes a certain amount of its foibles and eccentricity. But what’s even more of a revelation than the ins and outs of cutting and fitting is the sheer thoroughness of the traditional apprenticeship, which Anderson served. Even thirty years ago when Anderson got his start, the kind of ground-up dues paying he describes was on the wane; in an era of overnight success, it’s almost unimaginable.

It’s no shock that, since everything’s ripe for the TV picking, even Savile Row got its own BBC special—a reality program that made it look, says Anderson, “quite glamorous.” And as a result, he now gets some ten or fifteen letters a weeks from prospective employees. However, their notion of apprenticeship doesn’t involve sweeping or cutting, let alone the kind of respect for institutional authority that was the backbone of Anderson’s training. “They tend to think they’d quite enjoy designing,” Anderson explains dryly, adding that they also tend to be older and “there’s a big difference between a seventeen-year-old kid just out of school and a twenty-something who’s seen a bit of the world.” Especially one in today’s England, he need not add.

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