My old black blazer fit fine. I figured, at first glance, it would be appropriate for the event. The three front buttons were cut too low to be stylish, but this custom-made blazer had a timeless appeal. Good men’s clothing doesn’t go out of fashion.
That was the selling point pushed by Peter Navin, owner of Navin’s Custom Clothiers, when I ventured into his shop in Sacramento’s Downtown Plaza 30 years ago. Yes, “ventured” – as in daring to do something risky or audacious. Who was I to be going to a bespoke tailor? Wasn’t that kind of pretentious and shallow? “Don’t be putting on the dog,” they had said in my Irish Catholic neighborhood in New York. God forbid! Indulging a liking for good clothes could be a mortal sin.
Battling negative voices was the development theme of my mid-30s. I wasn’t a 1960s radical taking on the Establishment anymore. I was an up-and-coming journalist and a single guy intent on my social life. I wanted to dress the part. But that took an effort of will. At upscale men’s stores like Irwin’s and Bonney & Gordon, you didn’t just walk in, grab size 38-32 slacks off the rack and pay the clerk.
No, you had to try on each garment and discuss the material and fit with unctuous salesmen intent on making you look your best. I learned the basics of color coordination, tie knotting and how much shirt cuff to show with a sport jacket. In the process, I learned that my body had imperfections, like arms of slightly different lengths. Coordinating the fit of shirts and jackets got tricky.
Perhaps custom-made clothing would be the solution, I thought. I gathered up my nerve and headed for Navin’s Custom Clothiers, which stood alone at the west end of the mall and conveyed at aura of exclusivity. I felt vague anxiety about being an impostor, a mere wage earner who really belonged at Macy’s, and what price I might pay for my pretentiousness.
Mr. Navin exuded the graciousness of a host welcoming a client of discerning taste. He brought out rolls of wool, silk and linen cloth. I would choose the material, color and precise pattern for my blazer. There would be not one fitting, but several, over the course of weeks. The jacket would flow over my shoulders and chest, and the sleeves would be adjusted for the half-inch difference in the length of my arms. A fit to perfection.
And the price? Mr. Navin shrugged at though this were a matter of no consequence. I was clearly a man who appreciated quality and could afford the best. He politely whispered an amount. I nodded my head.
The black blazer bolstered my self-confidence through many social outings. It was classy and understated and rolled through the years with dignity. In the past decade, I brought it out for special occasions. When I took it out of the dark recesses of the attic closet this week and tried it on, I liked the look.
But on closer inspection, I discovered that it had fallen on hard times. Moths had nibbled a few small holes in the wool. Repairs seemed liked an affront to this fine jacket. It would have to go gentle into that good night.
I guess I’ll get a new black blazer, but it won’t be same – not the jacket and not the man.