August second is the eighty-eighth anniversary of the death of Enrico Caruso. Some music experts claim that Caruso is one of the three greatest tenors ever to sing an aria. I have a Caruso story to tell you, but first I have to say something about fashion.
You’ve heard it said that clothes make the man. Thank goodness that isn’t true. See, I was born without the gene for good taste. Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell me until I had been practicing law for several years. I didn’t know until a kindly soul took pity on me and told me people were shaking their heads in sad wonder at my wool ties and curious color choices.
It wasn’t a moral shortcoming or anything. It’s just that I was pitifully easy to seduce by cheap flashy fabrics and easy prices. I can see that now.
My fashion fumbles can be explained, in part, by the sparse advice I had on the subject as I grew up. After all, my dear old grandmother assured me I could hold my head high in any company so long as my nails were clean and my boots polished. She was very firm in her insistence that hats were never worn at the table. It was a sign of poor upbringing if a fella had to be reminded to remove his headgear before the blessing. Granny just didn’t realize there was so much more to the rules of proper manly attire.
When I finally became aware of the problem, I didn’t just sit around feeling sorry for myself. I said, “Okay Hink, so you were born without the gene for taste. Are you going to mope around in your polyester suits for the rest of your life? Or are you going to hitch up your faux leather belt and do something about it?”
So I hired a tailor. To her credit, she surveyed my flea market wardrobe and never cracked a smile--not to my face anyway. She just put a tape measure around her neck, got a pad and pencil and got to work. She measured me top to bottom and round and round. She didn’t embarrass me by asking my preferences on styles, collar spreads, patterns and fabrics. She just fitted me for two suits, two sports coats, six ties, six shirts, four pairs of dress pants and an overcoat.
I didn’t let her push me around, though. I drew the line at my footwear. No matter how she begged to put me in a pair of oxfords, I stuck to my guns. To this day, no matter what the occasion, if I’m wearing suits, I’m wearing boots.
My tailor’s name was June Fine. She died some years ago. I think of her every time I put a knot in a good tie. When she called to say my new duds were in, I high-tailed it to her shop so I could see what ole Hink would look like in his high dollar threads.
If you’ve worn nice clothes all your life, you can’t imagine what it’s like the first time you put on a crisp custom made shirt crafted from high quality cotton, a tailor made wool suit fitted exactly to your body measurements and a hand made Italian silk tie. June left no detail unaddressed. Now here’s where Caruso comes in. As I stood there looking at that well dressed fella looking back at me from the mirror, June had Caruso on the stereo. He was singing an aria from Rigoletto recorded, I think, in 1912. The moment was pure magic. I may have been born without the gene for taste, but I know a classy moment when I’m in the middle of one.
To this day, every time I hear a Caruso aria, I can recall what it feels like to be really well dressed for the first time in your life. Clothes may not make the man, but they can sure make the man feel swell. That may not be the manliest feeling, but I have to say, I sure hope it isn’t unmanly.
Oh, by the way, August second is also the 150th anniversary of the death of Horace Mann, the great educator. He left an interesting want ad behind: “Lost yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered as they are gone forever.”
Each time you step into some nice clean duds, or here Caruso sing, I hope you enjoy the moment.
I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
Download this column
Thu, July 30, 2009
by Michael Hinkle