The most expensive object in my house, by a wide margin, hangs in my closet.
It’s a made-to-measure, midnight blue, worsted cashmere Cesare Attolini tuxedo. It was so expensive that I don’t really know how much it cost. The guy who fitted me for the suit, a cheerful, immaculately dressed Pakistani with a British accent named Adnan “Ed” Shaikh, won’t tell me what it cost. With his wife, Gable, he runs a place—pardon me, an atelier—in Highland Park Village called Hadleigh’s. Ed thinks the gaudy price tag of my Attolini might scare away prospective customers. The guy who paid for the thing, a gentleman of means who must remain anonymous, can’t tell me what it cost. Simply doesn’t know. He told me this fact embarrasses him, that his clothing expenses have gotten to the point that such a charge could be absorbed without his noticing the line item. He’s a great guy, and I’m not just saying that because he bought me the finest, most expensive suit I will ever own.
The number lies somewhere north of $10,000. In some ways, it’s better not to know the precise figure. For me, the suit becomes literally priceless. Though, trust me, I did pay for it—dearly. Let me explain.
I work with this fellow named Zac Crain. Twisted individual. When his mind wanders, instead of thinking about that wondrous 3-wood he smoothed onto the green from 230 the previous weekend or that insane emergency room bill generated by his daughter who ate a cookie with pecans in it even though she knows damn well she’s allergic to nuts (which is to say, the stuff I think about), Zac conjures up hypothetical questions.
“What’s the biggest animal you could kill with your bare hands?” he once asked out of nowhere, ensnaring three co-workers in an hour-long debate.
So it was that one day early last summer, Zac asked what it would take for me to wear a tuxedo every day, all day for the month of July. I gave the question about five seconds’ thought (avoid trap!), before answering, “At the end of the month, I’d want my own tuxedo. Not a rental, obviously. A really nice one. Shoes, shirt, tie, and cuff links included.”
There followed a negotiation of tux-wearing parameters. It was agreed that the tux would be donned upon waking or after showering, whichever happened later but no later than 10 am on weekends. For one hour every day, I would be permitted to shed the tux in pursuit of physical fitness. The jacket and only the jacket could be removed if I were a) cooking or b) swinging a golf club (but not while riding in the cart from shot to shot). The tux would otherwise remain on—with either a cummerbund and bow tie or vest and long tie—until 8:45 in the evening. Oh, and I could wear sneakers, on account of the plantar fibromatosis in my right foot, which is exacerbated by a moderate case of tarsal tunnel syndrome (can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying my mid-40s). But I entered this negotiation with Zac only because I figured it would humor him. Because, come on. What were the chances?
Yeah, well. After an early effort to string the deal together had stalled, Zac outlined the proposition on D Magazine’s blog. In short order, Al’s Formal Wear offered a free rental for a month, Patrón XO Cafe signed on as a liquor sponsor, and the gentleman of means said he’d buy the prize tux (without discussion of price point).
And here I should pause to tell you that Al’s Formal Wear has 93 locations spread across six states, each one run by courteous, knowledgeable people eager to serve your every formalwear need. Patrón XO Cafe is excellent for sipping, as a premium cocktail ingredient, or as a unique and delicious dessert topping. As for the gentleman of means, he’s a delicious dessert with or without a topping.
The Great Tuxedo Challenge was set for August. The first day of the month in Dallas would hit 107 degrees.
As luck would have it, on the first day of the challenge, I had to attend a funeral. Some friends suggested that wearing a tux to a funeral was not a good idea—not because the outfit itself would be inappropriate, but because I’d be wearing it in a less-than-solemn manner. I agreed that engaging in high jinks at a funeral would be poor form but countered that it would be possible for me to “wear the tux seriously.” To show my respect to the dearly departed and her family, I didn’t wear the sneakers. Full-on faux patent leather rental shoes. Socks even.
Nonetheless, when the daughter of the deceased took the lectern at Restland’s Wildwood Chapel to deliver her brave and funny and moving eulogy, she looked out over those assembled in the pews, saw me in my fine tux and purple vest from Al’s Formal Wear, and said, “Oh, Timmy.”
The remainder of the work day didn’t bring much discomfort, truth told. Like most office buildings in North Texas, ours is kept pretty cool (to the point that ladies often wear sweaters, even in August). My house is a different matter. Its midcentury-modern, low-pitched roof doesn’t accommodate an attic. No attic means a thin heat barrier. Upshot: even with 6 tons of AC blowing full tilt, my house can manage a temperature of only about 25 degrees below ambient. When I got home, my pad was hovering at 82 degrees.
“It’s not exactly cool in here,” my wife said as I came through the back door.
To you, that might sound like an innocent remark made in an effort to commiserate. But, having reached a Zen-like state of irritability that can only be achieved by sweating through a tuxedo while fighting traffic, I recognized her comment for what it really was: a bitchy complaint about my failings as a husband and provider. I parried her attack with a lengthy, patronizing lecture on thermodynamics. Then we fought about an explanation-of-benefits statement that she’d received from Blue Cross Blue Shield. Very productive.
I discovered a new phenomenon. or at least I named it.
For roughly 12 hours straight, I’d been suited up in my black Joseph Abboud tuxedo, feeling like I was running a low-grade fever. So by the time I’d arrived home from work and helped prepare dinner and shuttled the sprinklers around the backyard in an effort to keep everything from turning brown, I was good and ready to shed the formalwear by 8:45. Also, I was sweating. Not a dripping sweat. Just the kind of persistent perspiration that creates a moist sheen under one’s Hanes.
I was in the bedroom, disrobing, when my son called from the living room, “Dad! You gotta come watch this!” Nellie Cruz had just hit a solo home run in the fourth inning to tie a game against the Angels. I was unbuttoning my dress shirt as I entered the room to watch the replay. I stepped into a stream of cold air pouring out of an AC vent mounted high on a wall. The zephyr hit my damp undershirt just as Cruz cranked his long ball over the wall. And at that point—right then—my flesh tingled and a shudder of sweet release shot through my body.
That, friends, is something I call a tuxedogasm.
What do you do on a lazy Saturday? Me, I spent some quality time at my home away from home, Al’s Formal Wear. At Boulevardier the night before, I’d spilled some bone marrow on my vest. Al’s provided two complete tux setups, so I transitioned to the cummerbund and bow tie while they dealt with the marrow stain. The two shirts I had dry-cleaned at my own expense (less frequently than was probably called for).
You know what’s not really a big deal? Going to a dinner party dressed in a tux. You know what really blows? Waking up Sunday morning and putting that same tux back on. And then going grocery shopping.
I came to realize that I felt perpetually in need of a nap. When you’re cold, your body shivers as a way to generate heat. That process is taxing and will leave you feeling exhausted in short order. Can a tux do the same thing to you? I put the question to Professor George Havenith, professor of environmental physiology and ergonomics at Loughborough University, in Leicestershire, whom I’d heard interviewed on NPR.
Here is what he told me via email: “The first response of your body at mild heat exposure (you in the office, wearing a thick tux) is to increase the blood flow to the skin. This warms the skin and will help to lose more heat. For this you will see an increase in heart rate that will lead to an increased energy use. If in your office, that is not too much, but each time you go out (and probably for a while after coming back in) you will show a much stronger response, including sweating. This all contributes to your energy use and thus will cause some fatigue, too.
“Then there is the general effect of discomfort on our body and psychology. Feeling uncomfortable (warm) does affect people’s productivity, and even only moderate shifts in thermal comfort have been shown to affect productivity.”
I fell asleep before I could finish reading his email.
Approximately once every two years, the stars align and something magical happens. My wife and children go out of town and leave me to my own devices. This means one thing: unmitigated, unlimited carousing. I put out the call to my peeps and my homeys and my bros, and we work our elbows till the taps spit air. (Truthfully, I’m only good for a night or two. Then I run out of steam and begin to miss my wife and children.)
The Great Tuxedo Challenge changed all that.
I dropped off my family at the airport in the morning. At 8:45 that night, sitting at my house, I had a decision to make. I could go out, or I could stay home and take off the tux. Those were the rules. If I was out, the tux was on. If I was in, the thing could come off at a quarter till 9. Carousal or cool comfort?
I wound up sitting on my couch in my underwear.
The fine folks from Al’s Formal Wear gave me a “stunt tuxedo” for recreational use, a suit that we agreed might not be returned in tip-top condition (or even returned at all). It was brown, pin-striped, and surprisingly heavy when it got wet.
A friend owns a house on Cypress Springs. A few of us fellas went out to help him make some repairs to his boat dock. Then we went waterskiing.
Naturally, I went with the cummerbund and bow tie. State law required that I wear a life vest beneath the tux jacket, which made the ensemble a bit less dashing, but safety first and all. It took me three tries to get up—partly because I’m a weak skier, partly because the waterlogged suit created so much drag—so I only had enough in my tank to totally shred some waves for a few minutes, but we passed one boat close enough that I could see the befuddled expressions on the faces of those onboard as I waved to them.
Thankfully, the stunt tux survived the outing, because I’d need it again soon enough.
A torture i was not bright enough to anticipate: repeatedly having to explain—or, as I came to prefer, trying not to explain—why I was wearing a tuxedo. For example, getting my kids registered for school entailed a lot of interaction with other parents and school officials. There was a room, and in that room there were many tables. At each table, there were electives to be chosen, volunteer opportunities to sign up for, green pencil bags to acquire, etc., and so on. And at each table there was seated a person who wanted to know why I was wearing a tuxedo.
Curious human at Table 1: “Well, I guess I didn’t get the memo!”
Me: “Yessir! You must have missed that memo! Gotta keep your eyes open for those memos!”
Curious human at Table 1: “Seriously. Why’re you wearing a tux?”
Me: [lengthy, exhausting explanation involving the time-wasting predilections of Zac and the genesis of the bet and the payoff thereto]
Curious human at Table 2: “Look at you! Where’s the bride?”
Me: “This isn’t Utah! I can’t take more than one wife!”
Curious human at Table 2: “Seriously. Why’re you wearing a tux?”
Me: [lengthy, exhausting explanation involving the time-wasting predilections of Zac and the genesis of the bet and the payoff thereto]
You know the scene in Groundhog Day where Bill Murray’s character finally punches Ned Ryerson in the face? I fantasized.
In the morning, Zac and I participated in something called the Clay Shoot, out at Elm Fork Shooting Sports, a charity event benefiting Big Brothers Big Sisters. Some 250 people showed up to blast clay pigeons with shotguns, and a good time was had by all, including yours truly, even though I twice came close to passing out. As I guzzled water pretty much nonstop, I sweated clean through my undershirt, dress shirt, and jacket.
I lost count of the number of times someone in camo asked why I was wearing a tux. Each time, I contemplated the double-barrel Ithaca 20 gauge in my hands before mustering a polite reply. Did I pour myself a Patrón XO Cafe on the rocks to calm my nerves? No, I did not. Alcoholic beverages—even those that are excellent for sipping, as a premium cocktail ingredient, or as a unique and delicious dessert topping—are not allowed at Elm Fork Shooting Sports for reasons that should be obvious. Did I look smashing, even though I felt near death? Yes, I did, thanks to the courteous, knowledgeable staff at Al’s Formal Wear. When I returned to the office, a co-worker said, “Ew, you don’t look well.” No, I did not look well. But I did look good.
You will be curious to learn how Zac and I performed. I will tell you. A full round of sporting clays entails 100 targets. Zac hit five, putting him dead last among shooters who hit at least one clay. There were several who fired up goose eggs, which is hard for me to imagine. The winning score was a 94. And your well-dressed buddy Tim? I hit 42. All things considered—the gallons of sweat pouring off my person and creating puddles in my sneakers, the irregularity with which I use a shotgun—a perfectly acceptable outcome.
Today was a momentous day. The number of days remaining in the Great Tuxedo Challenge is now a single digit. The beginning of a conversation I have at least once a day:
Person: “You lose a bet?”
Me: “No. I’m winning a bet.”
There are few places i hate more than the crawl space under my house. It is dark and musty. It is like Satan’s colon. Aging duct work crisscrosses the cramped space. Desiccated rat droppings lie everywhere. Cobwebs hang from the joists, under which I am forced to belly-crawl in spots, using my elbows to inch along, lest I bump my head. Except I always do bump my head. Imagine my disgust, then, on Sunday afternoon as I came to the conclusion that under the house was where I was headed.
About a week ago, we noticed that the laundry room was generating a humid, gale-force wind whenever we ran the dryer. Turned out the vent hose had disintegrated. I duct taped the thing pretty good, but on Sunday I figured I’d work out a more permanent fix, which was a mistake. I should have left well enough alone. While removing the old vent hose from the back of the dryer, I accidentally disconnected it from the duct that runs under the house, which then dropped out of reach. I stood and stared at the hole in the laundry room floor for probably a good 15 minutes. Then I crawled under the house while wearing a damn tuxedo (the brown number from the Cypress Springs sojourn).
Actually, I had to crawl under the house three times. On the first trip, I realized that the dryer vent duct under the house wasn’t actually connected to the hole that leads outside, meaning we’d been venting our humid dryer air under the house for who knows how long. In the winter, this must have given great comfort to the rats. On the second trip, I connected a new duct to the new vent hose, which I’d fed through the hole in the floor. On the third trip, I connected the new duct to the hole that leads outside (in which I also installed a new flapper thingy, a task that necessitated several trips under the front porch, which, in terms of spiderwebs, totally dominates the crawl space under the house).
The whole dryer vent project took about four and a half hours. I’m happy to report that the system is functioning perfectly now. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I broke a cuff link.
A tormentor/friend paid me $100 to mow his yard in the tux. When I shut off the machine, he proceeded to bitch about the quality of my work. It was to be expected. Some clients aren’t happy unless they get to bitch. It had been a while since I’d mowed a yard for money, but some lessons are never forgotten.
I know a guy who is afraid of garbage disposals. Well, not afraid exactly. But he’s a got a thing where, when one is running, he can’t help but think about sticking his hand into it. He doesn’t want to grind his hand to a pulp, but the thing is right there, grinding away. It would be so easy while scraping a few asparagus butts across the bottom of the stainless steel sink to …
Toward the end, that’s the way I felt about the tuxedo. I woke up one morning and began to get dressed. I saw a pair of jeans hanging in my closet and had a twinge of panic. It would be so easy to button up those comfy blues, throw on a loose-fitting t-shirt, and stroll in to work feeling free. Just undo it all.
Then, like a surgeon prepping for a quadruple bypass, I laid out my cummerbund and studs.
When it became clear that I was man enough to survive the Great Tuxedo Challenge, I broached the subject of the prize tux and its cost with the gentleman of means. Me, I figured a swim through Stanley Korshak and $3,000 or so would get the job done.
“No, no,” he said. “Go see my man Ed at Hadleigh’s. Tell him you want the Attolini. You’ve earned this.” Like I said, he’s a peach cobbler.
Having made an appointment, I strolled in to Ed’s upstairs atelier wearing loose-fitting selvage jeans from The Gap, an untucked Billy Reid dress shirt, and Keen sneakers with orange laces. Ed was kind enough not to laugh. He even offered me a drink.
“Thank you,” I said. “A beer would be great.”
As I sipped a Peroni, Ed told me he was blown away that the gentleman of means was springing for Attolini. “I mean, this suit, Tim, every seam is hand stitched. No machines. Forty hours of work. This is the Bugati of suits. You climb into it and just say, ‘Yes, I want to go fast.’ ”
“Ed,” I said, “I drive a Prius. Let’s do this.”
He got me another Peroni and then brought me a series of pants and coats to try on, looking for a baseline from which to begin. He could tell, just from looking at me, that I am right handed. All my adult life, I’ve thought I’m a 42 regular. Ed thought different. Turns out I’m a 41. There was lots of talk about what I called a tighter fit but what Ed called the “right fit.”
He measured about 40 different aspects of my corpus, including a part that is called, in the tailoring business, “the saddle.” Ed and I became very close.
As he was writing down a number, in centimeters, that described my bottom, Ed said, “My tailor in Italy is going to see this and say, ‘No, no.’ I will tell him, ‘Americano.’ ”
“They are smaller and wear suits tighter?” I asked.
“They wear them sexier.”
A few months later, the suit arrived from Italy, and I went in for a fitting. The adjustments were made by J’s Tailor, on Sherry Lane, where Ed sends all such work. And then it was all mine.
Thus far, I have worn it three times: to our company Christmas party, to a New Year’s house party, and to a daddy-daughter dance with my 7-year-old. The comments it has drawn generally fall into three categories of question.
Category 1 questions concern construction. E.g.: “Why did it cost $10,000?” I explain that the suit’s lineage reaches back to the 1930s, when Cesare Attolini’s visionary father, Vincenzo, upended the traditional, stiffer, stodgier Savile Row model with his softer shoulders and tapered waists. I mention the hand stitching and the 40 hours it takes to do marvelous things like make the traditional curved breast pocket. It’s called a barchetta, which means “boat” in Italian. (I’ve read that the Attolini tailors say the conventional straight chest welt looks like a Band-Aid.) A good jacket is made of three parts: outer fabric, inner canvas that prevents the wool from stretching out of shape, and liner. Attolini tailors use a floating canvas made of linen, which is lighter but more difficult to work with than cotton. Then notice the back of the jacket. It doesn’t just hang from the shoulder blades; it curves in, hugging the spine, to the small of the back, creating a more supple shape. It is at this point that my interlocutor wishes he’d never asked.
Category 2 questions delve into reasonableness. As in: “Why didn’t you get five great $2,000 suits instead of one insane tuxedo, which you’ll only wear maybe twice a year?” Because this was never about being practical. Hell, if you subscribe to that sort of thinking, then I should have gotten 250 pairs of Dockers Comfort Khakis.
Another Category 2 question: “Do you feel guilty at all? You could have asked the gentleman of means to donate $5,000 to charity and still gotten a really nice $5,000 tuxedo.” The first time I heard this question, I laughed so hard that I pulled a hamstring.
But my favorite question falls into Category 3. “Was that month of hell worth it? I mean, it’s just a suit.” I like that question because I get to answer it with the following story.
On New Year’s Eve, as I said, I wore the Attolini to a house party. At around 10 o’clock, when the place was pretty crowded, a late-arriving couple made their entrance. I would later learn that he was a chef from Italy. She was striking, statuesque. The happy state of my marriage and my desire to keep it that way prevent a more detailed description of the woman. You’ll understand. In any case, I noticed her (in the way that I noticed everyone at the party, with the keen eye of a professional writer who looks at people with a coldly detached, unemotional interest).
An hour or so later, I wound up in the kitchen with the woman (not alone; many others were present). She approached me.
“Excuse me,” she said, “do you mind if I ask you about your suit?”
“Of course not,” I answered, straightening up.
“When we walked through the front door, I immediately noticed you in that suit.”
My tummy filled with butterflies—not because I was attracted to the woman in the slightest, mind you, but because I knew right then and there, standing in the kitchen, that I had an ending to this story.
Yeah. It was worth it.