On Perfection

As is sometimes the case, my attempt to formulate a response to a post in a forum leads me to expand my thoughts. Since I hate reading multi-paragraph forum posts I figure it’s only polite to pen such essays elsewhere and point to them.

So the topic is perfection as it relates to the wardrobe. Spend enough time on forums for men’s dress and you’ll ultimately run up against questions of perfection as you seek to take on new clothes or dispose of old ones. The parameters developed in pursuit of the perfect fit seem to tighten like a noose as options disappear and entire brands, shops, and styles are culled from the running.

Back on the mothership someone’s wondering at the modes of shoulder construction and a few of us have offered our interpretation of our own perfect shoulders. The forum being genre specific the advice will likely trend in the same direction. A soft natural shoulder that’s defined American tailoring for decades. But even within that definition is enough debate to keep these discussions at a low boil year after year.

But rather than retry the J.Press case I thought I’d say a few words on what I’ve found in the clearing where the path ends.

Clothing is one of the few pursuits I consciously began. Unlike music, industrial design, architecture and other interests that were sort of always there, I decided that my clothes were awful and didn’t fit and most importantly didn’t project who I wanted to be. As a child of the baby boomers that brought about casual fridays I had no real role model in dressing and over 12 years of private school engenders more of a hatred of formal clothing than appreciation. So I was mostly t-shirt and jeans and bad ones at that.

What I assumed was that I would zero in on a style and develop a singular strategy around it. This started out as crisp black & grey suits with bright shirts and fat ties. That seemed to project a creative type of power that someone in design should have. And while the clothes fit alright and garnered some compliments, I was struck early on by a client who whose clothing was unremarkable in a way that blared like neon. It was my first real notice of the TNSIL style that I’d end up pursuing. The clothing looked comfortable and expensive. Every time I saw the client he was wearing something different, but always looked the same. His personality was one that was so modest that it almost contrasted with the facts as I knew them: he was moderately powerful and influential, fairly wealthy, and extremely intelligent. The clothing expressed perfectly the identity of someone engaged in real power rather than consumed by the appearance of perceived power.

I’m not using power in a Wall Street Movie or Cobra Commander sense. Maybe there’s a better word. But you know what I’m talking about.

There’s a John Mulaney joke that Donald Trump is what a Hobo thinks a rich guy should be. That’s how I see a lot of men’s formal dress. The TNSIL style never telegraphs that to me. It says “your tie can be as pink as you want, your knot can be a triple windsor, your shoes can shine like chrome and point like knives, but I run things sonny.”

So that’s where it started. But it would be years until things finally came together. It’s easy to pick a destination, but mapping out the path can be frustrating. There are very few professional salespeople left who have any idea what they’re doing so if you don’t have a personal role model you can forget flesh and blood humans as guides. You’re basically left with looking at other people and trying to figure out what they’re doing that you’re not. I have no idea what people did before the internet. Maybe they just sat in parks and gawked. Maybe the internet destroyed the livelihood of the professional salesperson.

The real battle lines are those of fit and construction. Since the great singularity of commoditization is nearly at hand I can only imagine that many of us have tread the same path. Mall stores are the first and often most familiar for suburban middle class guys. Brands are initially more important than fit because you can learn them in a few page flips in a magazine. So we work the malls. We find an Off 5th or Last Call and snatch up all of the designer goods that come close to fitting. There are a lot of french cuffs and strange belts. We look absurd.

Then we realize that brands are for douche bags and start to key it down a little. We find things online and maybe drive into the city. We find Barney’s CoOp. We find Thomas Pink. We feel slightly more elegant. Still nothing fits. Still we look absurd.

We’re probably already lurking on a fashion forum. Never posting pictures. Our questions, when we pluck up the courage to ask them, are as stupid as we look. We’re fierce and proud for no good reason.

But as we advance we start to acquire a little wisdom and humor. We can chuckle at the sordid enterprise. We can crack a wry smile as we explain to our spouse that “yes, I’m photographing myself for men on the internet.”

Around this time we’re confronted with fit and construction. They never mattered before. They couldn’t. It’s advanced theology. It’s the debate on transubstantiation to the WWJD bracelet. But we’re here. At the wall. Solemnly.

And so we have to define for ourselves what perfection is. Little Merkins all, we have to draw a line – to the quarter-inch – of where we stand on fit. Of what we will and won’t accept in the construction and origin of our clothes.

What I’ve found is that probabilities collapse as perfection approaches. I’m left with access to only a few styles by a few brands. I don’t know the measurements of these garments and unless a company goes bust or I have too many second helpings I’ll never have to again. I can just keep going to what are now suppliers and adding more into the mix. That’s not to say that there aren’t more options out there, but the hunt is over for this time and physique.

What I’m saying is that perfection is both highly personal and absolutely final. It’s why I’ve never been able to occupy the same headspace as thrifters. Though I appreciate the exercise and the frugality, you have to open up your tolerance to an unbearable degree. To have jackets in your closet whose sleeve length can vary by an inch? Some collars that gape and some that bubble? I don’t understand it.



2 thoughts on “On Perfection

  1. Trip: The text above is one of the best essays on the quest for one’s individual definition of sartorial perfection that it’s been my pleasure to read. Excellent work, offering the reader much grist on which to focus future thought and contemplation!

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