Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Outsides: Bespoke (Glamour was earlier)

AsI said last time, I’ve been away for a short vacation. On the way home, two issues of Glamour magazine kept me company. Long story short: I used to subscribe but stopped, and I didn’t realize how much I had missed it until that day of travel.

Then when I got home, I dove back into reading books, and had a similar experience—I got to learn about something I wouldn’t have predicted I’d be interested in. The book in question: The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, A Son, and a Suit, by JJ Lee.

(Aside: as I’ve mentioned, I am doing this project in which I’m reading all the books we have before buying more. Book club books, and books I am reading for a specific project, are exempt. Which is how I justified reading this one. JJ Lee judged a contest I helped administer, and I had seen an excerpt of his book in a magazine but hadn’t read it. So I finally did.)

Which brings us to the concept of “bespoke”: Someone measures you and creates a suit pattern (and later a suit from that pattern, from cloth that is YOURS) for YOUR body, with all its unique qualities. The pattern isn’t altered from existing forms. Roughly, the bespoke suit is the male equivalent of haute couture in female fashion. Waaay out of my experience, in other words.

In his book, Lee weaves together several threads (haha, sorry):

* A memoir of his youth and adolescence in a turbulent household with an alcoholic father, which encompasses some of the ambivalence the children of immigrants feel toward their parents
* The story of one of his father’s suits, which he wants to alter in some way to make it his own
* A fair amount of the history of men’s fashion (fascinating)
* The story of his own apprenticeship to tailors to help him learn what he needs to know (skills and emotionally) to alter the suit

It’s masterfully done, and Lee’s voice and self-deprecating honesty make him a cheerful companion.

Here’s my favourite quote:
I still believe fashion matters. It matters to people not because they care about what someone in Paris or New York has to say about what they should wear next season, nor because they think what models and Hollywood starlets wear is vital to their happiness. Fashion matters because every day people get up in the morning and, with the palette of clothes they find in their closets and dressers, they attempt to create a visual poem about a part of themselves they wish to share with the world.


I love the idea of a “visual poem” and also the idea of choosing to share part of one’s self.

We all present faces to the world. Some of us have bigger closets and dressers than others. We use different rules of thumb to guide our decisions—comfort (texture, temperature, fit), obedience, decorum, proximity, cleanliness, colour, shock value, uniformity, plain old availability—sometimes choosing different effects on different days. What we present can be close to who we are (or who we think we are), or it can be completely at odds with the person we consider to be who we really are.

I tend to forget about physical appearance. I work and write from home, and our house is in the country. In winter months, I can go several days—sometimes a week or more—without seeing a single human being I’m not married to.

But it’s (finally) spring. I’ll be out among people more often. I’ll be visible; I’ll be interacting more often. It’s good to be reminded of the physical and symbolic purposes of clothing. And a bonus that it was such a pleasant experience.

Well done, JJ Lee. Thank you for sharing your story.