Do fathers still take their sons to Brooks Brothers upon college graduation? Yes, some still do. Andrew Eastman recounts his own father-son outing under the Golden Fleece.
It was my father who decided it was time for my first serious suit. I was 23 and had just graduated from Dartmouth. At some point before I’d picked up a suit from a collegiate outfitter in New Hampshire: a charcoal gray number, pants pleated and cuffed, jacket center-vented and undarted. The most conservative estimates put the jacket at three sizes too big, and the pants two inches too short. It fit like a parachute.
I wore it with black monk-strap shoes — which I still own — that I’d found in the basement of a fraternity house, and dark skiing socks. As often as not, my belt had a rodeo buckle on it, though you wouldn’t know it behind the jacket, which hung to my knees.
This was de rigueur in Hanover, where we wore duck boots with shorts in the winter and thought there was nothing more droll than a dog in a necktie (every fraternity there had dogs, and every dog a tie). The employers, banks and consultancies mainly, which interviewed in town had seen it all before and forgave us our trespasses against decorum.
Not so in the real world, my father explained. So shortly after graduating, he bundled me into the car and took me to Brooks Brothers in my home town of Saint Louis, where I met Scott, the store manager, dapper in cufflinks and leather braces. He had silver hair and wire glasses, and kept a stub of pencil tucked behind his ear. He had known my father for years, if not decades. In the days between that and this, I’ve never found Scott without a yellow tailor’s tape around his neck.
Those two men, with as little input from me as could be managed, settled on yet another charcoal rig: pleated and cuffed pants again, and a jacket with a two-button stance, center vent, natural shoulders and soft construction — very staid. It was from the Brooksease line, which is to say it was both the cheapest suit they had and also the most expensive bit of clothing I’d ever bought. I’d never seen a triple-digit price tag in such close proximity to my own wallet.
Scott expertly poked and fussed and got me into the suit and then called an old Italian gentleman out of the alterations room, who poked and fussed some more and covered the whole thing in pins and chalk marks. When my suit had been stuck and marked from every direction I went into a dressing room to take it off, careful not to disrupt any of the mysterious alchemy that had been performed on it. The tailor took it and vanished back into his workshop.
I walked a gauntlet of handshakes and back-slaps to the cash register, where I handed over a card for swiping like an anesthetized patient submitting to amputation. And amputated I was, from the majority of my checking account, before I regained any feeling. The suit was ready shortly thereafter and it fit me perfectly.
There was a time when an introduction to suits and tailors was one of the things fathers passed to sons, and often in a Brooks fitting room. It meant a start to self-sufficiency, one of the necessities and pleasures of professional life. Fathers taught their sons about baseball, steaks and suits — three golden markers on the path from boyhood to the world of men. Such markers have unfortunately been mostly torn down: Not only aren’t suits much of a professional necessity anymore, but such traditions of men are now often thought stodgy anachronism.
It’s been several years since I bought that suit, and it’s still every inch of three things: a sharp suit, a worthwhile investment, and a very good memory. That last one is the most important. I know enough about fitting and fussing now to buy a suit on my own; I don’t need any help. And per investments, I have little disposable wealth so the concept is largely moot.
But what memories! I’m as glad to have the memory of buying that suit as I am to have the thing itself. The tradition of fathers and sons affirms that, though times change, certain values do not. Self-sufficiency will always be a necessity, and the importance of propriety is never out of style. Men ought to teach their sons how to comport themselves in the world. It is essential that values like these, precisely because of their erosion, are closely guarded.
And of those traditions that fathers pass to sons, an introduction to decorum by way of tailors and fitting rooms is one of the most pleasurable. I plan to have that suit for many years to come, and the memory of its purchase will always be as much a pleasure as wearing it. — ANDREW EASTMAN