Glenn O’Brien, in his first suit on his wedding day in June 1999.
(“The suit still fits, still looks good and has a bit of patina,” he says.)
Photograph by Hooman Majd.
I love suits. In my family, the men wore suits to work and often off duty too. Getting your first suit was sort of a casual nondenominational bar mitzvah. You were a man. But unlike the rest of my family, I have never had a job where I had to wear a suit. I’ve always worn them because I like the way they look and they’re practical.
Which is why, perhaps, I never understood the casual movement. Well, I did understand. People don’t want to do what they have to do. But I never saw the casual workplace as a liberation. I thought it was a way for the rich to hide. A guy in jeans and a turtleneck doesn’t look like a billionaire.
In creative offices, suits often mean “the suits.” The account guys. I used to get this when I’d freelance as a creative director in big ad agencies. The writers and art directors usually wore rock-and-roll T-shirts, jeans, camouflage, sneakers, hoodies, flip-flops, stuff like that. “You’re a writer? Why the suit?” I never actually said, “So I don’t look like a slob.” But the custom suit did make me feel like the rebels these creatives were desperate to be, and I had twice as many pockets. Nobody ever mistook me for a messenger.
In 1994, I got my first bespoke suit on Savile Row in London. I know because my name and the delivery date are inside the jacket pocket. These suits were luxuries and they were expensive, but not much more than a designer suit. The latter category of off-the-rack suits was something new, and the price included a substantial ad budget, unlike my English suits from firms that whispered their names. My bespoke suits fit perfectly. And it turned out they weren’t all that expensive because of amortization. They still look good more than 15 years later. And the English cut is philosophical—close to the body for warmth and dash. It’s not obsolete.
But suit styles do change. In the ’80s and into the ’90s, you couldn’t find a three-piece suit, and double-breasted was for old men. And then a few years back, just when the suit was at a low ebb, a sea change came over menswear when a bold young tailor decided that jackets and trousers were too long, pleats were unnecessary and suits should show off the body, not conceal it. The trade laughed. People in the street stared. But it was all over in a few seasons. The paradigm had shifted. Virtually every “garmento” sneaked back to the drawing board. Suddenly, fashion went Mad Men, with slim silhouettes, modest lapels and slim ties.
The last time I ordered a suit from my London guys, I told them to cut it shorter and they didn’t even wince. And then last fall, somebody suggested I try the Ludlow suits from J.Crew. They looked good, very British in cut, and I knew that the brand uses some of the best fabrics in the world. I thought that they looked perfect on my younger homies but might not fit me. Yet having nothing to lose and a suit to gain, I went to the Ludlow Shop and tried one on. I currently have about 30 suits in my closet, so I went with something different—an exquisitely soft grey nailhead from Vitale Barberis Canonico, a mill in the countryside northeast of Milan that’s been making great woolens since 1663. As I was trying on the pants in the dressing room, I noticed a Louise Nevelson print hanging on the wall. I suddenly felt I was in the right place.
I emerged a revelation. I could be the fit model for 42 regular. They had to do almost nothing to make the suit look bespoke. In fact, when I wore it to DC for a book party, several reporters mentioned in print how beautiful my Savile Row suit was. Surprise, guys! It’s off the peg. The right peg.
Meanwhile, my friend Eric Goode is not a suit but thought he should wear one when he went on Charlie Rose to talk about his unusual hobby of saving endangered turtles around the world. So I took him down to the Ludlow Shop, where he tried one on and liked it so much he bought two. After that, I told my friend Hooman Majd, a fellow author and bespoke addict who wears suits the way they should be worn, that I had found a way to ease the financial burden of looking like a billion dollars. The rest, as they
say, is history.
To explore our Ludlow Shop, click here