July 22, 2006

The Chronicles of Urania: The Look, The Quest, The Conundrum


What a fun time Urania, the Muse of Astrology has been having with me lately. I don’t normally subscribe to the heavens’ effect on humanity but when Mercury is in retrograde I take note.

As a rule, retrograde planets presage a period of seemingly inevitable or fated events, which relate to their sphere of influence. They present us with a series of events over which we seem to have little or no control…

This is a long tale. Sit down, relax, and be prepared to acknowledge the power of the stars.

The Look

Alan Cumming wears my look

I discovered Alan Cumming (right) was wearing “my look.”

I’m a casual kind of guy. Polo shirts hanging out, a pair a jeans, and my sandals are my usual togs du jour. But lately for business reasons I’ve been toning up my dress: a pair of nice Italian slacks here, a bouclé sportscoat there. When I need to I want to dress for success. But my everyday clothes have remained the same casual style.

I’ve been pretty oblivious to nice casual. I have many pairs of jeans but only one pair of khakis. I tend towards the iconoclastic in most of my life but when it comes to clothes (particularly pants) I have been uninspired, that is until I saw The Look.

A couple of weeks ago I opened the style section of the Washington Post to an article on menswear designers. Appearing in the print edition (but not online) was a photograph of actor Alan Cumming wearing a pair of Converse All-Stars with a pair of light pants. That, I decided, was my look. Armed with my photo I went about the task of reinventing myself (let it be known, periods of retrograde are times to redo things: reread good books, revise articles you are writing, and, of course reinvent).

The Quest

The shoes were easy. All-Stars can be gotten anywhere (but I chose a discount shoe store). Iconoclastic fashion is fine but I don’t want to pay dearly for it.

Next, I set my sights on a pair of pants. After my intense experience buying business attire (ok, it’s excruciating) I realized sometimes paying for quality is essential. And, to be honest, I wasn’t really looking when I found what I was looking for. I had just been to the bank and wanted to waste a little time to round out my lunch hour. I took a quick look around the Men’s department at Macy’s when I spied a big sign: 40% off. Macy’s was selling beautiful-to-the-touch off-white silk slacks. So soft. Urania was reeling me in. I tried a pair on.

All they needed was a little shortening. The rest of the fit was a perfect match. What luck. Harvey told me they’d be ready by Friday. That was easy. Just the way I like it.

So, yesterday, once again on my lunch hour, I went to pick up my new acquisition.

The Conundrum

Harvey was waiting for me. But when he came out of the stockroom empty handed I started to get nervous. With Merc in retrograde anything could happen. He finally found them upstairs at the tailors and I tried them on. I had worn my All-Stars in preparation for the first glance at My Look. And it was a perfect fit.

But when I took them off I noticed small red smears on the waistband and belt loops. I took them out to Harvey who said he’d take them to the tailor to be cleaned. Could I wait? “Sure,” I said. “No problem.” While I waited I walked around and found a really nice shirt. “That would go well with my new pants,” I thought. I was on a roll and with purchase in hand I returned to Harvey.

The pants lay over the counter. It took only a millisecond to see the small red blotches had become BIG RED BLOTCHES. Both Harvey and I were dismayed. What had that tailor done? “What happened?” I asked. “I think the marks came from the clothes press. The tailor had assured me he had fixed it before pressing your pants. I don’t know what he used to clean them.”

When you buy tailored clothes you put your good looks and sophisticated reputation in the hands of others. Good tailoring is an art. With my body it is a national treasure. I relied on experts to fit me well and take good care of my clothes-to-be.

What was the tailor thinking when he handed the “cleaned” pants back to Harvey? I certainly wasn’t going to take these things home. After my luck at finding them with little stress, I was sorely disappointed. “Do you have another pair in my size?” I asked. Yes, they did! Harvey called the tailor down to take a quick measurement and alteration. It was then that I met Milton, the tailor in question.

Milton was about 85, no at least 87. Hunched over and slight of frame, he asked me to stand on the alteration pedestal so he could measure. He told me to take off my sneakers and put on a pair of dress shoes they loan out for measuring the proper pant length. When I said I wanted to keep my shoes on he said “What?” I repeated my desire. “WHAT?” he repeated. He wasn’t surprised by my choice he just couldn’t hear. He was 87 and hard of hearing.

I called Harvey over to watch over him. I whispered “please take care of me. Make sure Milton gets it right.” I had lost all confidence in this process. With the measurement complete Milton took the pants upstairs. I said to Harvey, “Tell him to put a piece of cloth over the pants when he presses them.” Even I knew that from the little ironing I’d done in my life. I waited.

What was supposed to take 15 minutes had morphed into my entire lunch hour and I needed to get back to work. I asked Harvey to call me when the trousers were in his possession and he promised me he would.

When it got close to the end of the day I hadn’t heard from Harvey so I gave him a call. The silence at the other end of the line portended disaster. More silence and then: “The same thing happened Mr. Gates.” It was the only time throughout this entire process I lost my cool. “I thought I had asked you to stay close to this, Harvey.” I was utterly shocked, but certainly not surprised. I had dealt with the Miltons of this world before. And I had tried to avoid the exact place we all stood. “I’m not Harvey,” came the meek voice at the other end of the phone. “I’m Henry, Harvey’s associate. He will be right here.”

There were no words of comfort to be had. I felt bad for me, I felt bad for Harvey and I definitely felt bad for Milton. After my birthday last week I put another notch on the road to geezerhood. And I knew that a few years hence I might find myself in the same place. But, then again, wasn’t this a perfect argument for a mandatory retirement age? Milton had wrecked two pairs of pants and my confidence in Macy’s Men’s Suits. Harvey could only say “We’ve tried, Mr. Gates. We’ve tried.”

The Conclusion

I asked to speak to a supervisor. Enter John. It was clear from the start that John knew of Milton’s sordid past. I didn’t want to get the guy fired. I felt bad. I had to temper my anger with my sense of humanity. I did my best by focusing on what great customer service they were now going to give me. A lesser man would have thrown up his arms in disgust and forever make his wife do his clothes shopping. Not me. I wanted satisfaction (and I knew my wife would have nothing to do with me if I pleaded with her). After all, things can go wrong (you’ve got to admit this was stretching it a bit far). It’s what a business does when things do go wrong that tell me how good the company is.

John told me that he’d call the Macy’s near my home to see if they had my size (yes!). He’d make sure I wasn’t charged for alterations (a $12 value —yes!) and, after speaking with his supervisor they’d make it up to me (after all, I had spent an hour at the store and an hour on the phone).

“Just what does ‘making it up to me’ mean?” I asked. “I will be speaking with my supervisor tomorrow. I would say a gift card is in order.” I decided to take the initiative. “Well, John, I just spent $50 on a nice shirt to go with my new pants. How about you give that to me for my troubles.” “Done.”

“The people at the other store are waiting for you, Mr. Gates. They assure me your alterations can be done while you wait.” I called my wife from the subway and asked her if she could pick me up. We were going on a little shopping excursion. Yes, that’s how I’d spin it. And, to make it worthwhile, afterwards, with new pants in hand, I’d take the whole family out for dinner. I couldn’t wait to tell my wife the whole story but if I called her while on the Metro I would be creating my own “Theatre of the Barely Socially Acceptable.” This would make great dinner conversation. Wine included.

When we got to our suburban store, Mary was waiting for me. She knew the whole story and had the pants ready. “Shouldn’t I try them on before altering?” I asked. “Why, they told me to alter them right away. A 30 inch inseam.” Yikes, in their quest to give me good customer service they seemed to have jumped a few steps. Every pant is different. That was taking a chance when there were no more chances. I took the pants to the dressing room to try them on. My wife told me Mary made the sign of the cross in prayer as I closed the door.

Amazingly they were a perfect fit. Mary thanked God. And all was now right with the world.

Mercury starts going out of retrograde July 29 but isn’t fully out until August 12. You can be assured I will not be buying any more clothes until then. The rest of my look will have to wait. Urania, I will not let you toy with me any more.

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So I learned about Urania, got some fashion tips for my husband (I love that look but doubt I can get him to wear it), all in one post. Are you going to wear it with a tie, just wondering? It can work both ways.

Posted by: Donna on July 22, 2006 1:53 PM

Wow! Silk slacks — hope they’re worth the time and tsuris:-) BTW, they’ll have to be dry-cleaned; no washing machine. Check out thesartorialist.blogspot.com.

Posted by: Nina on July 22, 2006 2:19 PM

Donna, I don’t know if I will wear a tie with these clothes or not. I haven’t gotten that far. And to be honest with you I am admiring my new ensemble from the protected environment of my closet. It’s the safest place to be right now.

Posted by: Jeff on July 23, 2006 7:59 AM

Comments are now closed for this post. But there are a few other entries which might provoke an opinion or two.

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