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Look Back in Anguish

January 27, 2002|ADAM TSCHORN | Adam Tschorn is a freelance humor writer

I have a recurring dream. In it, I've been awarded one of those big prizes--a Pulitzer or an Emmy. I take to the stage to make my acceptance speech, open my mouth and start to speak. My first words are: "I'd like to thank my father-in-law, without whom I'd be standing here naked."

I first met Richard Moore more than a dozen years ago, across the counter at my parents' Wayside Country Store in rural Vermont. He was faxing his daughter's college applications on the only machine around for miles, and I was working the register. It never dawned on me that I was talking to my future father-in-law. Or that this man, with the help of a Hong Kong tailor, would one day be my fashion mentor.

About a decade later, Richard and I unexpectedly found ourselves in New York City on the same weekend. We had yet to eyeball each other since I'd popped the question to his daughter six months earlier, and when he told me to be at suite 237 at the Plaza Hotel at 3 p.m., visions of the shower-and-chain saw scene from "Scarface" raced through my mind. But no revenge murder was planned. Richard had decided that if I was going to marry his daughter, I needed to know who wore the pants in the family--and who made those pants. I was about to get fitted for some hand-sewn dress clothes from his tailor, whom he had found through a newspaper ad several years before.

My first fashion role model was, as it is for many men, my own father. His sense of style came from the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of thought. Throughout my childhood, he had hanging in his closet (in case of a formal emergency, such as a lottery win or shotgun wedding) exactly one brown tweed jacket, one beige striped dress shirt, one pair of brown dress pants and one already-knotted necktie--all purchased at the local Mammoth Mart.

Day to day he wore regular rotations of off-brand jeans and plaid flannel shirts, except during Vermont's few days of warm weather. Then he would break out an accumulated stash of freebie T-shirts that advertised everything from motor oil to cigarettes. By the time August rolled around, my dad had me sporting more logos than a NASCAR driver. As an adult I struggled to adapt this log cabin look to my position as a newspaper editor. But somehow it never quite fit. My endless permutations of Gap khakis, B.D. Baggies button-down shirts and black Reeboks with--my fiancee never lets me forget--white tube socks left me feeling neither mature nor professional.

The name Richard Moore probably won't ever be whispered in the same breath as Gary Cooper's or Cary Grant's, but the guy does have a certain look. He gives the impression of perpetually teetering on the edge of formality. Even on the weekends, when he sports jeans instead of dress pants, he still wears a dress shirt and jacket to dinner--even if it's at McDonald's. No one in the family can ever recall seeing his knees (though the range of motion in his legs indicate they do, indeed, exist). He does enjoy a jaunty accessory or two--a pair of argyle socks or something from his extensive collection of cufflinks. And above all, his standards are exacting.

Making my way across 59th Street to the Plaza on that blustery day in May, I caught my reflection in a store window. It suddenly hit me: At 35 I was still dressing the way I had at 20. I had been in a decade-and-a-half-long fashion stagnation. But that was about to change.

When the heavy wooden door of the suite opened, a tall, slender man with slicked-back black hair greeted me. He was, even by my untrained eye, impeccably dressed. His gray pinstriped vest hugged his frame perfectly, and his shirt of robin's egg blue had cuffs so crisp they seemed to stand at attention on his wrists.

"Welcome," said William Sani, chairman and owner of Hong Kong Grand Custom Clothes in Kowloon. He cupped my hand in his, ushering me into a cacophony of fabrics and colors. Suit coats, pants, shirts and vests hung from every doorknob, drawer pull and windowsill, dressing the suite in wide stripes of gray, blue, tan and black. In one corner, a Hindu shrine and a candle shared desk space with a large ledger and a family photograph. In another, my fiancee and her dad were poring over fabric swatch books.

To craft my suit, Mr. Sani took 35 measurements and several Polaroid photos. My slacks were to be made from a blend of English and Italian wools. And, while his custom shirts are available in a polycotton blend, I quickly learned that nothing but the 200-thread-count Sea Island Pima cotton would do. And at $450 for six shirts (included in the overall two-jacket and two-slacks package of about $1,500), it seems like a bargain.

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