A Measure Of A Man Lapsed - Part IIMonday, June 18, 2012
A Measure of a Man Lapsed. At the time I could not reveal that I was a judge for a local BC Literary Prize that included the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize), even though J.J. Lee's book, The Measure of a Man - The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit was one of the events. The Measure of a Man was one of the books (66 in all!) under the consideration of the three (I was one of them) judges. The book was first on my list but alas while it was shortlisted (five books) it did not get the first prize. The other event was a dressing down by artist Neil Wedman.
But I can reveal now how important Lee’s book has been to suddenly make me feel like a new man! It all began with artist Neil Wedman laughing at my clothes which were mostly Value Village fare via my eldest daughter who lives in Lillooet.
Since I became a living and walking spark plug gap adjusting tool (the editorial photographer version of an obsolete tool) I have not regularly shaved every day. In fact in a most slobbish manner I have worn a shirt two days in a row (ditto for my Mark’s Work Warehouse socks). The folks at Mark’s sell these “copper” coated socks that are vaunted for sanitary freshness.
It may have been some twenty years ago when I had long hair and I was working in our garden’s back lane (also a garden full of old roses). I had perhaps not shaved and I was very dirty. A beautiful silvery haired neighbour in a convertible VW Rabbit stopped her car and said. “This is a beautiful garden. You are the gardener, aren’t you?” It slowly dawned on me that the woman thought I was hired man!
My friend Ian Bateson is in England dealing with the arrangements, after his father’s recent death. We Skype. He has mentioned a few times that I am wearing the previous day’s night shirt and that I am unshaven. And when we do talk it is about 11 in the morning for me.
This situation is slowly changing and I force myself to shave. While I do have my garden jeans (torn at the knees) I am now changing to better ones when I leave the house to go, perhaps, to the super market.
In the weeks before Father’s Day, I finally decided that I would buy new clothes. One important decision was the one to buy good dress shirts with the option of wearing them as everyday sport shirts. In fact I gardened just a few days ago with such a shirt, one with French cuffs and I put on my mother’s beautiful gift, a pair of Mexican Aztec calendar 18 Karat cuff links. I felt wonderful.
The shirts came from the Hudson’s Bay Company. They have frequent sales on shirts and sometimes they coincide with Senior Tuesdays. I received double discounts.
One of the unforeseen pleasures of wearing dress shirts with a tie (an in particular if they are of the button down variety) is that my arthritis makes it difficult to turn the collar down after tying the knot. I find it hard to button-up the collar. For this I ask for Rosemary’s help. This intimacy is a new-found delight! Take that J.J. Lee. There is certainly life for the well dressed old man!
The two final best moments of this recent new clothing splurge are a pair of black brogues that will replace the ones that I have been wearing until now which I purchased in Sears Roebuck Mexico S.A. around 1972. One is a black pair and the other a brown made of Corfam. While they still fit and look pretty good they are uncomfortable. Gravity and age has modified my poor man’s foot size (I have worn the same size since I was 20). The other best moment is a light gray, silk/wool blend sport jacket that would make Mr. Lee salivate. It fits me beautifully as I also have a poor man’s body for suits, shirts and jackets!
|My mother, and I wearing a brand new Argentine bespoke gray flannel suit|
Mexico City 1966
I remember days before Christmas Eve 1987. I was at the Bacchus Lounge of the Wedgewood Hotel. I was there having drinks with Malcolm Parry and his wife Nancy. They were in town. Mac, as we all knew him, had pretty well revolutionized and then invigorated the magazine industry in Vancouver with his Vancouver Magazine and many others that at one time or another he was editor, not only in BC but in Alberta. I remember that he made fun of Western Living Magazine, on the bottom floor of a building that it shared with Vancouver Magazine. It was on the corner of Davie and Richards. Mac said that the magazine below was all about empty bathrooms. He soon became its editor and brought in essays and poems by Peter Trower into the bathroom mix.
Mac had left the local magazine scene, hired to improve a startup magazine with lots of ambition (it was financed by Frank Stronach) called Vista.
Mac was a man that I then admired and admire to this day. While there are no obvious mutual overtures, there are signs and feelings of affection between us.
|Malcolm (Mac) Parry and the Bentley|
That evening at the Bacchus Mac told me he had bought suits that day at Holt Renfrew.
In the latter part of 1988 Mac offered our mutual writer friend Mark Budgen and me to travel to Buenos Aires and Uruguay to write and photograph two business stories. Sometime in late November or the beginning of December Mac was fired. We still had our assignment so Budgen and I flew to Toronto and we had a day before making connections via Aerolíneas Argentinas to Buenos Aires. We visited the Vista office and Mac’s name was nomen non grata. We were given Mac’s now empty apartment for the night before our next day’s flight.
|My father George|
Budgen and I found ourselves in the apartment and I made it my goal to find some remnant of Mac’s presence. In the kitchen we looked everywhere, looking for a bottle of Scotch. All we found was a half empty box of sugar coated breakfast cereal. There was nothing. Then I went to the bedroom and opened the closet. It was there that I found three Holt Renfrew wooden hangars and I remembered. I was left with a strong feeling of melancholy. Budgen and I successfully went to Argentina and Uruguay but only managed to do a piece on Montevideo.
Today I was reading J.J. Lee’s The Measure of a Man –The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit. In it I read this:
There is a suit in the back of my closet. Over the years dust has gathered on its shoulder. I own other better suits but I hold on to this one because, for me at least, it is special…
What do I want from my father’s suit?...
Standing between the hamper and the foot of the bed with his jacket in my hands, I sink my face into the wool and breathe I his scent for the first time in years.
I feel jealous as Mr. Lee has far more objects owned by his dead father. I have a few photographs and his King James Bible. There is no scent of him except the one in my memory of his Player’s Navy Cut Cigarettes, Old Smuggler Scotch, and his tweed jackets. There was something else, perhaps and after shave but I never asked him what kind it was.
|Bill and Jack Wong, Modernize Tailors|
My father while not exactly British, since he had been born in Buenos Aires would have never worn his shoes without socks which seems to have been all the rage with young men (and men who think they are young) in Buenos Aires. The unsocked look goes with a deep blue shirt, the blue blazer, the gray flannel slacks and, very important penny loafers (brown if you please) without them (the pennies).
My first fashion statement began when I was around 8 and I made my First Communion. I had inherited my first cousin’s (Robin Tow) black suit. I refused to wear long pants so I forced my mother to have them converted.
My fashion sense did not improve nor was it ever important in my life until I went to St. Edward's, a Catholic boarding school in Austin, Texas.
We did not wear jeans as we were not allowed. We wore khaki pants and they came back from the laundry with extreme starch and razor creases. While I did sport a minor duck cut I decided that I needed long and black pointy shoes if I was going to look at all like a Pachuco.
|Ivette, my Puerto de Liverpool pinstripe|
& my Fraser Institute tie
Burdick and I weren’t the only ones who dressed well. There were three classmates of ours who made it a hobby to walk out of Reynolds Penland wearing more clothes than when they had gone in. They also had that habit of hailing a cab and taking it almost to our school. Two would get out and disappear while the third made like he was going to pay the driver and he would then bolt.
In Buenos Aires in the mid 60s I decided I would have my first (and it was my last) bespoke tailored suit. I went to an Austrian tailor and chose a thick Argentine gray flannel. It was to be a three-piece suit. At the time I was smoking a pipe and I used (I was not quite a purist yet) a Zippo lighter instead of wodden matches. My tailor measured it as he made a special pocket in the vest for it. He was scandalized when I insisted that my pants have no pleats and no cuffs but he put his foot down when I demanded a zippered fly. "If you want that I will not make your suit." I relented. I was very proud of this suit and wore it often until my body changed and the suit disappeared from sight and from my memory.
I have managed to dress well for most of my life as I have a poor man’s body. By this I mean that I can wear a suit off the rack that will fit me well. I have poor man’s feet and it is easy for me to find shoes that are comfortable. While I am 69 I can proudly show you my feet that look like that of a younger man’s. They are smooth and free of all calluses. They are narrow and quite beautiful as I inherited my feet and shapely legs from my mother.
|Claudia in my Puerto de Liverpool pinstripe & my |
Sears Roebuck black brogues
My dressing habits have deteriorated as I have grown older and go to fewer formal events. Mr. Lee would be shocked to know that I have a handsome Oscar de la Renta black blazer that is made, nonetheless, in Romania. He would not be impressed.
The low point of my dress up career happened a couple of months ago. I went to the screening of a Marv Newland short film at the Pacific Cinematheque. I spotted artist/painter Neil Wedman and illustrator/designer Deryk Carter. Both were splendidly dressed. Wedman was wearing a beautiful suit a vested sweater. After the viewing they and Newland (who was wearing what looked like a very expensive and dark three-piece suit) that we go over to the nearby Bodega for tapas. This we did. I sat facing the two suits (Carter was handsomely dressed but was casual). Wedman observed me and said, “Where did you get that (pause) sweater?” I told him it had been given to me by my older daughter who had bought it at a Lillooet thrift store. “It shows,” Wedman said. Then he added with an extremely loud guffaw, “At least you are wearing a shirt with a collar!” and began to laugh. I felt embarrassed and decided that that both Wedman and Newland were right and that I would inject better dressing habits in the future.
|Leslie smoking an H-Upmann cigar, wearing my |
Puerto de Liverpool pinstripe
I began by telling my eldest daughter Ale that for Christmas she was to buy me nothing and in particular no clothing. I have been discarding my torn jeans with holes in the right knee (a photographer’s malady) and before concerts and the theatre you might have spotted me using spray starch on my shirts and carefully removing cat hair with a sticky roller from my black jackets and my Hudson’s Bay Company, off-the-rack Bill Blass pinstripe suit. I now even carefully polish my beautiful black leather brogues which I bought at Sears Roebuck Mexico back in 1972. They are still good.
Of late I have been going more often to select a tie from my considerable tie collection. It has been fun. I tip my hat to Mr. Wedman and Marv Newland. And yes, Mr. Lee, dressing well might indeed be the measure of a man.
Postscript: Last night I went into my oldest daughter’s former closet and took out my mother’s Pieles Weinburger seal fur coat. I put my nose to it and I could smell (or was it my imagination?) hints of Chanel No. 5 and Jean Patou’s Joy. But I will not be wearing the coat any time soon. Perhaps Rebecca or Lauren some day.