Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Monday, March 14, 2005

English Cut and What Having the Best Is All About

Often I find myself, like as not, en pointe on a razor's edge between indulging my earning potential in spite of the certain reduction in my quality of life, or rather the quantity of quality time I can afford myself and the people I care about, and continuing to serve the public interest in one capacity or another so that I might enjoy the forty-hour work week and the sense of moral rectitude that are so elusive in my profession.

Framed that way, I suppose, my choice seems obvious -- why I would torture myself along the razor's edge a bit obscure. But of course there's considerably more to it; there always is.

I grew up in a relatively working class household. My parents enjoy substantial success now, but even so they do so more or less on their terms, running a family business their way out of their home. During my childhood my father was a carpenter, a cabdriver and student; my mother a nursing student, a nurse, an office manager. My family's was a hard-scrabble ascent during my first fifteen years from New Jersey quasi-urban ghetto to bottom rung apartment dwelling in an affluent suburb to home-owning in said affluent suburb. They always provided for me, were often if anything too generous -- I would be clear about this.

Still, my childhood, my environment and influences, a family with fairly ordinary tastes and interests, was not one you might imagine would nurture in me such sensualism, an aesthetic inclination. Yet here I am.

The other day, I stumbled across this post, in which Thomas Mahon, "bespoke savile row tailor," explains the unique worth and satisfaction of an English cut suit. I was astonished at how much I responded to the description of Savile Row tailoring, by the strength of my desire for such a suit, along with handmade shoes, exquisite sushi, expensive bedsheets, and the like.

I am, I suppose, a sensualist, a voluptuary -- perhaps a sybarite. But I would distinguish this from snobbery. You're far more likely to find me at Red White and Blue (for those not in the know, RWB is a second-hand warehouse with a spectacular selection of random clothing artifacts, and for years has been the single greatest source of my casual wardrobe) than you are at Brooks Brothers or Emporio Armani. Furthermore, if I had the resources to shop at the finer boutiques, I wouldn't do so as a matter of course, any more than I would eat the best sushi every night even could I afford to do so. The value, the pleasure, of many of these things in part derives from their rarity and the anticipation and longing that creates.

The question thus becomes whether it is the things in themselves that I find so inviting or is it rather the pleasure of indulgence. I can't honestly say, and looking to my upbringing provides no clear answer. It's possible that all of this is some sort of compensatory gesture for something I feel I missed as a child -- the institution of psychotherapy would probably have it no other way. But be that as it may, it doesn't really answer the question; if there is some cause X derived from my childhood for all of this, it still may be that the things themselves are inviting (because of X) or that the indulgence in the abstract is what turns me on (because of X).

The crucial distinction is that it wouldn't be sensualism properly understood if I indulged these tastes simply to impress others with my taste, sophistication, confident profligacy or decadence. To the extent I insist that mine is a sensualist's framework, I assume that whatever it is, it's affirmatively about me, about who I am, and not about anyone else qua person or qua beholder of me (in my fine English suit).

The true point being, something about the English Cut post appealed to me very strongly. I tried to imagine being the sort of client that haberdasher would fly round the world to meet with in person. And I can't do it. But among my many decadent desires, there are few I can honestly say I think will never be worth doing, even if my means never really reach an appropriate level. And for this reason it strikes me as eminently possible that I'll always live at the very edge of my means, notwithstanding my determination not to.

We are the sum of our spiritual, intellectual, and sensual lives. I would neglect none of these. And although I haven't attained Savile Row status, I own a good suit or two, and the difference between them and my older, cheaper suits is striking. I can only imagine the pleasure of a suit perfectly measured to my frame and made with loving care of the best materials.

And so the hippies' son waxes poetic about the pleasures of wearing a fine suit. And the desire to spend thousands of dollars on even finer suits. Top o' the world Ma!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well put.

2:54 PM  

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