Friday, March 26, 2010

Tailor Made

I've always wanted to learn how to be a tailor. Not a seamstress or a dressmaker, although I'd dearly love to have those abilities, too. But tailoring a man's suit or coat is one of the biggest sewing challenges there is, requiring a completely different skill set than dressmaking. Women's clothing, even the kind with boned bodices and other rigging, isn't as structured as a man's suit. Pick up a man's suit jacket and it will hold its shape. A dress is a filmy puddle when nobody is wearing it, but a man's suit-- that's an exoskeleton. It disguises a man's shape more subtly but just as profoundly as a padded bra, corset, or a crinoline distorts a woman's figure.

This effect is achieved with stiff interlinings and paddings, with steam and careful pressing that distorts the original lay of the fabric and shapes it into something else. A man in a suit, or so I've heard, feels as though he's wearing a suit of armor. A suit is a symbol of a certain type of masculinity and status.

I really want to learn tailoring not just because it's in my blood (my great grandfather was a tailor; I inherited his tools) and not just because I'd like to learn to make my own tailored jackets and coats. I think that part of the motivation must be akin to men who become celebrated hairdressers or couturiers. They're powerful because they're privy to the artifice, the material construction of a particular type of feminine icon. A tailor physically constructs the instrumental symbol of sophisticated, civilized, powerful masculinity out of wool and thread, horsehair and steam. And just as there's intimacy between a woman and her hairdresser, so is there intimacy between a man and his tailor. A tailor knows his or her client's body as well as a wife, knows all the measurements, discreetly asks if he "dresses to the right or the left," in order to add that extra sliver of room for his testicles to lie on either side of the seam. A tailor gets to create the symbol. To shape one from scratch, mold it to someone's body, is shaping masculinity voodoo-style. Clothes make the man, I make the clothes. Pay no attention to the woman behind the stitching.

I was recently lying in a man's bed, watching him put on his suit jacket and tie his tie, button the cuffs of his sea-island cotton shirt and dab cologne on his neck. I was naked, of course, and admiring him as he admired himself in his mirror. I like watching men get dressed, and have a particular weakness for the intensely masculine gesture of fastening or unfastening his cuffs.

"You know, "I said. "If I gave a man a pair of cufflinks, it'd be the equivalent of if he gave me the trashiest piece of lingerie imaginable."

"Really?" he said, not believing me.

"It's true. You ever see those cufflinks made out of old Israeli pay phone tokens? They're silver plated. If I ever really love a man, I mean deeply love him, that's what I'll give him. I've promised myself I'd wait until I found that to give them to someone."

There are probably other things I shouldn't have given without loving a man that much, but I like the idea of the cufflinks, and made the promise to myself. The man without the cufflinks smiled at me.

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