What I Learned from Wearing a Suit
Photo by Noemi Gonzalez
I love suits. They're supple, fashionable and downright sexy if well-tailored. Whether made of worsted wool or fine-spun Egyptian cotton, a suit is a wonderful thing that both men and their dates can admire. A suit is an armor that says "f-ck you" to all bubbling remnants of insecurity a man may carry in his belly. In donning one, a man reaps the benefits of confidence and swagger enough for ten.
A fitted wool jacket is a call to adventure. As soon as I don one, I’m living fast. Very little can go wrong when a man walks through the night embraced by a sumptuous cotton shirt. Even when things take a turn for the worst, even if I make a complete ass out of myself (it's easy to do when billowing with confidence borrowed from garments), I find myself proud of the fact that I feel good doing it.
Photo by Noemi Gonzalez
I have enjoyed many triumphs in suits. I've been comped at many a fine restaurant and mistaken for a man of importance. The air of authority that accompanies a fine linen jacket has afforded me many an underage drink. Early in my sophomore year of high school in San Francisco, I discovered that suits somehow made me look older. They made me feel and carry myself in a way that belied my age. Costumed as a man, I would frequent hotel bars with high school dates, ordering drinks and testing the murky waters of attraction.
The silhouette cast by the shape of a suit emphasizes the ideal masculine body type: broad shoulders, a sweeping chest, a V-shaped torso. Even shapeless, ill-postured men stand handsome in well-fitted blazers.
To consider the price of another man's suit is impolite, but keen eyes and sensitive hands respect fine garments. So will police, bouncers, bartenders, women and babies. I have calmed newborns by placing delicate silk ties in tiny fingers.
Wearing a jacket taught me to walk with my back straight and my head forward. Walking with my chin up helps me avoid obstacles like garbage cans or playing children, ensuring I do not trip, fall or injure others.
I learned to say, “yes” to new opportunities in a suit. When suit-clad, an ordinary night tends to erupt in adventure. For years in high school, I cooked at a high-end restaurant in the city. In December, a lucky cadre of cooks are selected to create and present a dish for a charity banquet frequented by the San Francisco elite — men and women who could afford to pay thousands of dollars for a meal benefiting San Francisco's homeless. In addition to my knives and cook’s whites, I brought my suit, folded neatly in a messenger bag.
After our course had been served, I changed and stayed behind. I found a pair of moneyed-looking women in their early forties with whom to spend my evening. I had a number of designer cocktails with the ladies, who dripped with diamonds and laughed, carefree and dizzy with drink. As the party at the gala’s waterfront venue winded down, they spoke of an after party on the other side of the city. Would I like to accompany them?
Several hours past curfew, I accepted the invitation and slid, Hemingway drunk, into a cab to an uncertain destination. The rest of the evening was a blur of wild activity. We left the after party at a bar in San Francisco’s North Beach before visiting a few more and drunkenly ordering Bacalao and a bottle of Spanish wine from the only restaurant in San Francisco open at 3 a.m.
I left the company of my cougar companions an hour later. The buses had stopped running hours ago, and I had no money for a cab. Drunk, exhausted, and lost in a new part of San Francisco, I slowly trudged five miles home and arrived as the sun rose.
Photo by Noemi Gonzalez
My parents heard me stumble down the stairs and vomit in the toilet. My father, eyes wide with adrenaline, came downstairs to make sure I was okay. He thought that someone had broken into the house.
“Did you just get home?” he asked.
I smiled and answered truthfully before he grounded me forever.
Wearing a suit taught me to accept failure. On campus, during a photo-shoot for this article, I submitted to all varieties of spontaneous activities, none of which resulted in victory.
I got in a sword fight. Armed with a bamboo stick, I stood, well-dressed, to defend my honor. The whole endeavor felt heroic, but the photo chosen for the article is one of two in which I am not getting my ass kicked. I felt ridiculous being beaten with a stick. Every time I was hit on the arm, I remembered that, if this were real, it would have been wriggling on the floor. It grew stiflingly hot beneath my jacket and I was decapitated eight times.
A suit adds wonder and flair to almost any occasion, but sword fighting in 80-degree weather is not one of them. Sweating, panting and badly losing, I took comfort in the novelty of my situation — I was sword fighting in a suit.
I learned to pay attention to detail from pesky buttons and re-tying the same full Windsor over and over again. I have never been called neat, but I clean up as well and often as I can.
Whether in the dizzy haze of an adventurous evening or sore and sweaty after being beaten with a stick in the early afternoon, I return home to remove my tailored jacket. My stylish armor cast aside, the guise unravels. I see myself in my bathroom mirror removing my suit, all the while reminded that I was the same man without it.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @scotchandfoie