A Decent Suit

He was home for a week, tops, before he had to get back to Cambridge for work.  That was all I had, and it wasn’t nearly as much as I wanted, so I had to work fast. I steeled myself for the likely rebuff coming, and forged ahead.

It’s time we got you a decent suit.

I know.

“I know”? Didn’t see that coming. I fully expected to be told I was crazy, supported by arguments along the lines of “nobody wears suits anymore,” or “I’m not wearing one of those, I’ll look like you.” But instead, total agreement.  I was stunned into silence for a moment. This hadn’t happened in years.

I realize it’s terribly elitist, but what I really wanted to do was get him a bespoke suit.  Nothing fits like custom made, and there is nothing better than working cuff buttons and your name embroidered where someone else’s label would otherwise be.  I could picture him standing there, being measured from every angle, told not to move, as I made rude comments about his anatomy.

But bespoke takes time, going back over and over for measurements, fittings, and more measurements, more fittings.  Time was something I didn’t have.

How does Brooks Brothers sound?


It was like living in a dream, so off we went.  I asked him questions so he would give some thought in advance to what he wanted.  Skinny or normal? Color, solid, pinstripe, cuffs, pleats?  Two buttons or three, center or side vents? No matter what I threw at him, he answered me promptly and with confidence.

He wanted a suit like the ones I wore. He wanted a grown-up suit.  I swear I didn’t push him one way or the other. I was as neutral as could be, desperately trying not to influence his choices.

Yet, my eyes teared up as he picked out the suit from the rack.  It was perfect.


As the tailor measured, the salesman made small talk which clarified why he no longer worked on Wall Street, as he claimed.  My son stood there, still and erect.  The tailor balked a bit because his shoulders were broad but his waist was thin, which is when the salesman started making excuses about how hard it would be to tailor the suit to fit him properly.

If you can’t make it fit properly, then we’ll just go to J. Press.

He stopped talking. Smart move. The tailor said it was no problem, and he would make sure it was properly fitted.

We picked up the accoutrements of a gentleman’s wardrobe, white shirt, regimental striped tie, belt, socks and shoes. The closest he came to owning shoes up to now were Topsiders.  He chose oxfords, not brogues. He already had a few wristwatches.

I picked up the suit, but he’s already back in Cambridge, so he can’t try it on to make sure the tailoring is up to snuff. When I see him in a couple weeks, I’ll make him try it on and, if there’s any problem, march him down to Brooks Brothers in Boston for correction.  It’s the only benefit of a fine old shop going chain, as they’re everywhere now. The trade-off of convenience for the old Brooks Brothers’ quality.

When I walked into the house with the suit and a huge smile, my wife snarkily said, “so, did you get the monkey off your back?” What was she talking about?  Oh, damn. She was right.

The summer before my third year of law school, I realized that my suit, a solid blue of the finest doubleknit polyester, was not likely to be well received on interviews with white shoe law firms. Nor was my last name, but there was nothing I could do about that.  The suit was shabby and reflected the fact that I was not like them. If I wore a suit like that, chances were I wouldn’t have a clue what fork to use at supper. I would never fit in. It would be obvious.

I was living hand to mouth on a good day back then. I took second and third jobs that I won’t even mention today, only because they paid cash at the end of the shift. That meant I could eat again the next day. I like eating. There was no money for a suit.

So I called my mother and told her I needed a decent suit.  She chuckled, then told me to let them know they should hire me first, pay me a lot of money, and then I could buy any suit I wanted.  But for now, blue polyester was going to have to suffice. I realized she would have loved to get me a suit, but they just couldn’t afford it. That was our reality.

As a college student, I didn’t know from such things as suits. It wasn’t my world. But by the summer before my third year of law school, I was educated. It was clear what the suit said, and it did not speak well of me.  No one ever mentioned it when I interviewed, but then, it’s not the sort of thing a gentleman lawyer would say.

I will never know if that blue polyester suit had an effect on my life. Maybe it did, and maybe it had no effect at all.  But that I wasn’t able to get an interview suit, one decent suit, so that I didn’t stand out like the poor and tasteless relations in the waiting room, was a memory that never quite left me.

I bought my son his first decent suit. I could not be prouder of him. And yeah, the monkey is off my back.  I was able to do for my boy what my parents were unable to do for me.


29 thoughts on “A Decent Suit

  1. Catherine Mulcahey

    This brought back memories of something similar and the expression on my father’s face. There were some things an immigrant construction worker could not do for his children. For a moment I was misty-eyed, not for you, but for your mother.
    The memory has never left me either, but today I am quite content to be where I am. I’m also glad that you turned out the way you did.

  2. Hal

    “Cambridge”? Is that a bit of a “humble brag”, Counselor?

    Nice story. A rite of passage that brings back memories.

  3. Murray Newman

    I always thoroughly enjoy when you write the stories that are personal to you. Especially the ones about father/son moments. That last paragraph got me a little misty, too!

  4. David M.

    One of the things I treasure most in life is my one-size-fits-all excuse for Not Going Out With My Parents: “I haven’t got any formalwear.” I pray to God that my father never corners me like you cornered your son.

    1. SHG Post author

      I forced my son into the Topsiders because I refused to take him to Taillevent in sneakers. He does so love French food.

  5. junior

    Oxfords not brogues? Broguing is simply the detail applied, typically around the toecap, to a variety of shoe types including Oxfords, Derbys and so on. So were they Oxfords or Derbys or something else?

    1. David M.

      He means that his son prefers the Queen’s English to a lilting Irish accent. I get where he’s coming from.

  6. Marc R

    If your father bought you a similar suit you’d have changed your moniker to “s.h. greenstreet” and worked at DPW after your white collar DOJ stint from the 2d Cir.

    Nice job with the shopping. I hope I can do that with my kid some day. My story was more similar to yours than your son’s. But each generation learns from before or something. I guess Father’s Day for you isn’t once a year only.

  7. Dan Hull

    Good choice. Leather braces, spats, red-lined cape and dog-head cane from a shop in Mayfair I have in mind would make him stand out even from other MiT people. Also, after his first job is in the bag, I suggest he invest in a white shark skin suit in case he’s invited to races down in the islands.

    1. SHG Post author

      Next time, we’re off to London for some decent clothing and shoes. I’ll find out from Eddie Hayes where Tom Wolfe gets his suits made. I believe his shirt are from Pink.

  8. Cristian

    I’ll probably never afford a bespoke suit, but I do look forward to splurging on one for a son one day—pretty sure I’ll give him no say in the matter.

  9. Richard G. Kopf


    What a lovely story. It is one that many of us can relate to. The only thing you got wrong, was Dr. SJ’s comment. It was not snarky, it was insightful. That’s what spouses are for.

    All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      It was insightful, but if I say that, I’ll never hear the end of how “insightful” she is.

    1. SHG Post author

      Thanks, Betsy. And thanks again for your kindness in bringing Jack barbecue during first year exams. You’re the best.

  10. delurking

    “Nor was my last name, but there was nothing I could do about that.”
    What do you mean? Changing that is much cheaper than a decent suit.

    “I was able to do for my boy what my parents were unable to do for me.”
    Sincerely, this brings a tear to my eye. In this country, it can be done in one generation.

    1. SHG Post author

      This is a land of opportunity. And to all those who think that’s a micro-aggression, fuck you.

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