Friday, January 20, 2006

We're in the news!

eTuxedo was mentioned recently in a style article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Here's what they had to say:

March of this penguin calls for a $99 tuxedo
Posted on Thursday, January 19, 2006

The invitation said black tie preferred.

The name of the event — the Black and White Ball — said “duh.”

An online formalwear retailer, eTuxedo, said, “Charity dinners require a tuxedo — but which one ? We suggest one made from finer cloth than a rental, so it’s clear you are wearing a nicer tuxedo than the guy making small talk with your date.”

The Wall Street Journal said J. C. Penney was selling a tux for $ 99.

My sensibilities said, “J. C. Penney ?” (They can be so snotty. But then so can the Wall Street Journal. The headline said “The Disposable Tux.” )

The label said, “100 % worsted wool ; superior tailoring.”

My sensibilities cleared their throat and tried again : “J. C. Penney ?!”

My checking account said, “Yeah, but $ 99 !”

In the end, my fashion sense was the most persuasive.

It said clothes may make the man, but accessories make the clothes.

So I bought it.

On Saturday night, the Arkansas Young Professionals Network hosted its annual Black and White Ball. I figured this was the perfect opportunity for a testdrive of the $ 99 tux. If you found me in a corner of the Woman’s City Club, I might have pretended I was the subject of one of those fashion features you see in magazines, where someone with stunning personal style gives a recitation of who and what they’re wearing. Here is what I would have said :

“The tuxedo is Stafford, from J. C. Penney. The shirt came from Target. The necktie is from Karl Lagerfeld’s collection for H&M. The shoes were $ 8 at a thrift store.” I would hope people would fixate on the “Karl Lagerfeld” part, as opposed to the “J. C. Penney” part, and I would have pointed out that I had purposefully left the French cuffs of my shirt open and dangling, sans cuff links. I thought it made me look rakish.

Only nobody asked, which is not to say that nobody said anything. A friend of mine arrived in a tuxedo he had tailor-made in New York several years earlier. The suit was so pedigreed it even had a season. (It was a “winter” tux, he explained. ) Fanning his coat like a man selling fake Rolexes strung from the lining, he gave me a peek at the labels sewn behind his breast pockets. One read “Adolfo,” the designer ; the other, “Bloomingdale’s Men’s Shop.” The pants were flatfront, years before their time. (Mine were pleated, and the fabric had pulled a little around the hem. )

I paid him a compliment. He reciprocated with an... observation.

“Oh,” he said. “I see you went with Hollywood black tie.” He was referring to my long, skinny necktie, a sartorial preference over the bow tie. (Penney’s also sells a wing-collar shirt, pre-tied bow tie and cummerbund in a boxed set for $ 29. 99. ) He didn’t sniff as he said it, but its spirit was neutral, at best.

But I was already feeling somewhat inadequate.

The suit had seemed to fit well while I was in the dressing room at McCain Mall. The jacket and pants are sold as separates — $ 69. 99 for the coat, $ 29. 99 for the pants — in the traditional off-the-rack sizes. (Waist sizes in a tuxedo run about 2 inches roomier, so don’t immediately panic if you don’t find the size you wear in a pair of jeans. )

And I appreciated the package’s simplicity, in price point and in design. I’d rented tuxedoes for considerably less than $ 99 and others for considerably more. For the last wedding I was in, the groom selected a coat that resembled a cross between a Nehru jacket and the androgynous black leather duster Keanu Reeves wore in The Matrix. This was worn over a vest that, had it buttoned any closer to my throat, would have been a turtleneck. When I arrived at Men’s Wearhouse for my fitting, I commented to the salesman that I’d never seen a jacket quite like this one. He told me the only person he’d ever seen wearing one was Deion Sanders.

By contrast, the J. C. Penney tuxedo features a classic singlebutton closure and a notch lapel. The cut adheres to traditional suit-sizing, complete with the lack of nuance that suggests. The sleeves of the jacket were exactly the right length, but at the top I felt decidedly, disproportionately overpadded. Mostly I chalked this up to operator error, meaning I had erred by never developing broader shoulders.

It has been suggested that women who obsess over their outfits are dressing not to impress men, but other women. There is no mystery whatsoever about who men dress to impress. But self-esteem cannot develop, let alone overdevelop, in a vacuum ; the sense of competition merely becomes one of territorymarking. The question “do you rent or own ?” took on a whole new meaning. Most of the men I talked to at the Black and White Ball owned their suits. One of the sharpest-looking men I encountered was a young lawyer. His tuxedo featured a handsome vest with a scoop design and a nice fat bow tie he’d spent all afternoon scouring the Internet to teach himself to knot.

He had rescued the whole ensemble from life as a rental in the annual sale held by Paul Morrell Formalwear (one location each in Little Rock and North Little Rock ). The price was $ 40 — less than half mine. More than anything, the Black and White Ball proved that formality isn’t dead, but it is on deep discount.

I thought perhaps the guest of honor could settle things once and for all. The ball doubled as a fundraiser for a new penguin habitat planned for the Little Rock Zoo. At precisely 9 p. m., Jackie, a penguin visiting from the zoo in Fort Worth, waddled into the ballroom for a pep rally / photo op. The breed bound for Little Rock are African penguins. In place of the curvy, formalized boundaries between the black and white of their coats that distinguish some breeds — earning the tuxedo its “penguin-suit” status — Jackie and her ilk have a more mottled chest, capped by a blurry neckband resembling a Rorschach test. You know, Hollywood black tie.

I thought Jackie could be the ultimate arbiter of my tuxedo’s worthiness measured against everybody else’s. Jackie’s handler had scooped her up and extended her for inspection the way you might display a baby you’d like a politician to kiss. I moved in to get a closer look at Jackie, and for her to get a closer look at me.

But suddenly, Jackie was gone. I heard later that she had gotten anxious and was spirited away to a back room, where she threw up the fish she’d eaten for dinner. Her handler blamed it on too much excitement. Personally, I think it was the indignity of being confronted with so many people dressed pretty much like you, only better. I knew how she felt.

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