Recently, Emily, then his bride-to-be, had stunned everyone by encouraging Daniel to grow out his closely cropped hair...
Recently, Emily, then his bride-to-be, had stunned everyone by encouraging Daniel to grow out his closely cropped hair, unleashing a thick salt-and-pepper mop worthy of a Kennedy, and my status as his style go-to, developed over almost 20 years of knowing each other, had taken a hit. “Talk about asleep on the job!” he’d said, joke-accusingly.
Here was a chance to contribute to the art direction of their nuptials.
But en route to the midtown showroom of Alton Lane, I realized I was even less qualified than I’d thought. I didn’t have a single opinion about suits. I scanned the subway for research. Not a suit in sight. Suits must take Uber.
Panic set in. When was the last time I’d seen Daniel in a suit? Was he a double-breasted guy or, God forbid, into vests? (Apparently I did have one opinion.)
Recently my 6-year-old niece hopped into the shower with me after our dip in the kiddie pool and began to talk about our bodies — how mine differs from her mother’s, from her own. Until that moment I hadn’t truly appreciated the centrality of physicality to female relationships.
I know the dress, bra and shoe size of my closest female friends, as well as the features they like to show off and those they try to conceal.
If we can’t decide what to wear to an important event, we start a text consultation via iPhone photos. We lend one another our bathing suits, jean jackets, belts. (And we begin to conscript the next generation; my 11-year-old goddaughter wears my old bluejeans and sneakers.) Attending to one another’s physical selves is the background music of our day-to-day.
But despite one ill-fated roll in the hay, when we were both between romantic partners and had too much wine, I knew so little about Daniel’s physical self that it might as well have not existed.
I thought back to the suits of my past. Growing up, I’d felt a frisson of pride when my lawyer father set off in his sober black or beige suit for a rare morning in court, or appeared at my track meet in his workaday blazer and tie, leagues more dapper than all the other dads. Sometimes he even let me choose his tie.
A decade ago, I’d helped another man choose a suit for his wedding, a significant ex-boyfriend, who had traveled from Boston for a day visiting the spots I’d chosen — Barneys, Bloomingdale’s, John Varvatos — though really the help went both ways; being included in his milestone made me feel less like I was losing him forever.
More recently, I’d brought my current boyfriend to a J. Crew outlet and cobbled together a discount suit. When he stepped out of the fitting room, broad shoulders accentuated, long legs even longer, it was as if his innate confidence I find so attractive had achieved its proper form.
At any rate, he’s not remotely interested in what I consider an enviable amalgamation of uniform and costume.
A suit frees one from the tyranny of clothing decisions, confers authority, is appropriate basically anywhere a bathrobe isn’t and — unlike its corporate sister, the pencil skirt — easily accommodates those few extra pounds gained over the holidays.
It’s no coincidence that in “Twin Peaks: The Return,” viewers can keep track of the real Dale Cooper based on the perfect fit of his suit.
Nonetheless, choosing one for a wedding — his second — understandably made Daniel nervous. He was 15 minutes late to our private appointment with Ricky Briggs, the manager of the Alton Lane showroom.
Briggs set out two cut-glass tumblers and opened a bottle of bourbon, one of several ways the company lures customers to a physical store rather than staring slack-jawed at a screen.
Those rare times I go shopping in person with a female friend, so much is revealed. Do we move silently, doing our own thing, or do we yank garments from the rack and yell, “This one is so you!”
If we do, are we right or are we wrong? Have we grasped the essential nature of our shopping companion or misunderstood her entirely?
That day, I learned a lot about my old friend. According to him, he has “chicken legs.” He already owned one charcoal suit and wanted navy this time.
He’s an easy upsell (he’d come for the $595 option and left with the $895, though there was a 15 percent welcome discount).
Most surprising, he had a vision: himself wearing a vest. I bit my tongue. Who was I to stand in the way of one man’s dream? And yet would Emily forgive me?
Daniel tried on a sample suit, and Briggs measured him the old-fashioned way, with lots of yellow pins. We drank two glasses of bourbon apiece and made ribald jokes. “Shopping is just us hanging out,” Daniel said, “but in a store.”
Five weeks later his suit was finished, and we returned for his first and final fitting. The pants were tapered and hemmed to skim the tops of his shoes (“The New York market nearly always wants a tapered leg,” Briggs had told us). Somewhere along the way we’d vetoed the vest and OK’ed belt loops.
Just like that, my old friend in his White Stripes T-shirt and slouchy jeans had metamorphosed into a Justin Trudeau look-alike. As we frequently assure one another, we are both devastatingly attractive , but now I really meant it. “Wait,” I said. “When did you get so good-looking?”
The wedding was in June, at the home of Emily’s parents. There was a murmur of voices, and I turned to see Daniel set down the grassy aisle with his mother, beaming his toothy smile, simultaneously happier than I’d ever seen him and yet nearly unrecognizable, with his fabulous new hair and fashionable trim navy suit, and I was proud that I had played a small part in helping him move from one chapter to the next, and hopeful about all the chapters to come.