The Yearbook Office
Writings on staying alive
 

I’m thinking about suits right now, but not like in a deck of cards. Clothes. Menswear. The dreaded hashtag of self-absorbed and fatuous people globally.

It makes me feel a little weird. Dial back a few lifetimes to college, to high school, and ask me if I’d consider ever wearing a suit on a regular basis outside of mandatory, shitty rental class tuxedos for show choir. I probably would have snorted, made a few faces, and told you to get bent.

(That’s a lie. I would have mumbled something noncommittal and avoided eye contact, because I learned early on the best thing to do when your assailants are bipolar and have short-term memory issues is just let it fall off the radar organically.)

But right now there are entirely too many articles of clothing in my closet that are really, really similar to each other. Suits are basically the same weird things, all virtually identical, with tiny little nuances of difference hidden away in every cranny. That’s probably what led me to this. Too much time staring at visual puzzles, too much time paying attention to the nuances of inflection, eye movement, any clue to mood swings or possible outbursts. Watching the details for early warning signs, looking for some kind of order or logic. Solace in a pattern, just some way to know when to hide, when it’s safe, when to quietly lock the door and stay out of sight.

I’m still thinking about suits. Right now I’m desperately looking for a way to talk myself out of buying another one to go in a closet that doesn’t need more clothing. Yes, it’s flannel. Yes, it’s brown and orange. It’s not that weird; flannel shirts are common enough, right? And they’re great. Look, it’s something made for a runway or trunk show. It’s unique, it’s made from something that isn’t just black, gray, or navy. It won’t ever exist in exactly this same way ever again.

I don’t need it, but I want to see it. I want to feel the fabric, see how this particular cut from this designer and this factory (sometimes those things are the same, sometimes those things are very, very different) fits or fails to fit. I want to find the pieces to the puzzle that make this suit into an outfit. I want to impose some kind of pattern and order.

A suit is a template. It’s your tabula rasa in menswear. You start with this basic idea - jacket and pants, same fabric. Everything else is in play; this narrow restriction opens up infinite creativity and expression. Sometimes you wear a suit that has a very complex or colorful pattern, and that leads you to pick subdued shirts and ties to go with it. Sometimes you end up with a basic color in a suit (always a good idea for the first you own), and that allows a wide range of shirts and ties. Sometimes you opt for a smaller pattern that resolves into a solid color from a distance, and then play with optical illusions across your entire outfit.

It’s a weird thing for me to fall in love with. Every day I looked to hide, to be left alone, to just have a small, precious, quiet moment to explore on my own without being yelled at or ridiculed or told I was stupid or lazy. I didn’t want to strike back, I just wanted to be left alone and remain unnoticed. If I wasn’t seen, I couldn’t be singled out or abused. I could just let it pass by, getting on in my small corner with an old computer. The idea of wearing something loud or attention grabbing was utterly unappealing. That is with the exception of wearing a clown tie, because when you can get away with that, you fucking do it whatever the cost.

I’m probably going to buy this suit. (Did I mention it’s not just flannel, but it’s also made from super 150s wool, which is 15.5 microns thick? A lightweight flannel suit, how cool is that?) Maybe even by the time you read this. It’ll ship from some strange warehouse of forlorn clothes, where it waits alongside others cast aside in the mad dash for the latest fashions. That’s probably why I can’t tear myself away from thinking about it. Here it sits, a misfit, a small oddball that is unique and strange yet utterly discarded alongside all these other unique and slightly different misfits. Lost in a sea of clothes, beautiful, strange, made with care but left to obscurity.

The strange thing, though? I didn’t really stay hidden in a corner. Eventually, I was in plain sight: on stage, in front of strangers, crying and shouting and dying. That’s the special thing about theater - you can bring out all these things, play across the entire spectrum of your soul, but it isn’t you to the audience. It’s just a mask. Except those masks are the real faces, and the face I hid behind in daily life was the one that never changed. Because that one was the safe bet, the even keel in troubled water. Quiet, calm, reserved, an attentive listener to strangers, never giving up my own opinion while allowing someone else to espouse theirs endlessly.

A suit, worn properly, understood, is a second skin. It exists to reveal, when it’s crafted to conceal. Wear it to blend into a sea of like-dressed people, all at desks or phones. Wear it to show you love someone. Wear it to show respect. Wear it to be ridiculous. Wear it to celebrate. Wear it to lull someone into letting their guard down, or to cause them to be uneasy. Wear it to mirror the change of the seasons, or the change of your mood. Wear it to be yourself.

That is probably the big thing, right there. I don’t like shouting, I don’t enjoy heated arguments, I don’t like confrontation or belligerence. But I still yearn to find a way to say my piece, speak my mind, express myself without tamping down everyone else around me. And that’s why I’ve found myself more and more infatuated with clothing, shoes, small details, everything that can composite your personal taste and costume. Speak softly, wear a loud suit.

Oh, shit. The pants have pleats in them. That’s not something I’d look for in a suit; you could consider it a kind of character flaw. Not to say pleats have no place, because they are useful. A pleat exists to grant grace and comfort through a generous addition of fabric. A pleat exists to allow that added fabric to lay flat against the body when at rest. The reason I wouldn’t seek them out is fairly simple - modern trousers often are cut to sit closer to hips than the waist, and pleats in trousers are meant to gather up the wider cut near the hips and tidy it up at the narrower natural waist.

Sometimes you can alter a flaw. Sometimes it’s a thing you just learn to live with, like these pleats. I’m sure I could ask a tailor to chop them up and remove the pleats. I’m not sure I want to do that, though. By the time you cut up a suit to alter more than how it fits you, you’re just asking someone else to make you a different garment altogether. But really, I can handle single pleats. It’s just another part of the charm to this suit - something else not quite common or in fashion today.

Maybe if you went back a few lifetimes, I wouldn’t find it so weird that I have so many suits. I’m not on stage today, and I’ve been away long enough it might not ever be a thing I do again. But all these suits? They might be the masks that let you in, quietly, on what I’m thinking or how I’m feeling today, even when my expression doesn’t.