I own one suit. It’s cheap and it’s been with me for years. I don’t wear it—it wears me. Not every day—but for events. Depending on the wedding or funeral, I may change the tie. But it’s the same suit. It’s too thin for cold weather, too dark for warm. The pants need to be hemmed. The jacket pockets are still stitched shut. And to go with the pathetic three-piece, I have these “dress shoes” that are just laughable.
When my brother Matthew got married, I didn’t have to worry about wearing my weak threads and roach-stompers. I was one of his groomsman, and groomsmen wear tuxedos. I don’t own a tux—come on, I barely own a suit—so I rented. We all rented—from the same shop in Mineola.
Over the years—two proms (a junior and a senior) and countless weddings (and still counting)—I’ve come to recognize the fallacy of tuxedo-rental shops. It goes like this: the men who own and/or work at tuxedo-rental shops think they’re classy…because they own and/or work at tuxedo-rental shops.
These Tuxedo Men wear suits (not tuxedos) to work every day—and although you never see them wearing their sports jackets, you know they (the jackets) are hanging somewhere in the shop: perhaps in a back room or maybe even hidden on a rack.
These Tuxedo Men, who wear suits and rent “Fine Men’s Formal Wear and Furnishings,” look down on you, especially if you’re a younger man. (Tuxedo Men are not allowed to be younger than 49 years older. You cannot be a young Tuxedo Man.) And if you’re wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops? Well, you’re about as far from a tuxedo as you can get—and these Tuxedo Men will remind you of that. Not in direct words, but in tones. Like the way these Tuxedo Men say, “Now you look like a movie star,” that makes you feel violated.
It might just be my experience renting tuxes in working-class areas of Queens and Long Island—i.e. about as far from a tuxedo state of mind as you can get—but the phenomenon, although maybe esoteric, is definitely real. Just walk into any shop on the Island and witness these Tuxedo Men actually believing their own getup.
Because I understand we’re playing make-believe here. I’m not dapper. I’m not sophisticated. I’m not a good dresser. (You should see the fucking suit I own!) I’m only getting dressed up for my brother’s wedding.
Dapper, sophisticated, well-dressed gentlemen don’t rent their tuxedos from fourth-generation Long Island guineas, who, while banking on this year’s prom season, are praying that the slacks they rent out hold up against all the Jäger farts to come.
But the Tuxedo Men are “dressing me”—and I guess that’s something to look down on me for.
At the fitting, two days before the wedding, around the time I had on my tuxedo pants, vest, and shoes, the Tuxedo Man who was working on me, said, unprovoked, that he used to fly Boris Yeltsin around. He’s a pilot, but he helps his brother out at the store from time to time.
“How’d you get into that?” I said, meaning shuttling around Yeltsin.
He lit up. “Air Force. When I got back from dropping bombs on Vietnam.”
He went over to the rack to pull my jacket.
“Was it Vietnam or Cambodia?” I said.
“Oh, I can’t tell you that,“ he said. “Wherever the bad guys were.”
“Hey, if that makes you sleep better at night,” I wanted to say.
He was helping me on with my jacket, and I imagined some “bad guy” mama sanburning alive, pieces of her gook body missing—in her womb, a baby boiling in its amniotic sac—and it’s G.I. father soaring high above, through the clouds, dressed in a tuxedo.
And even though there’s a good possibility this Tuxedo Man incinerated women and children on his bombing raids, I didn’t say anything to him. I wasn’t brave enough. And, you know, I didn’t want to be an asshole.
“Now you look like a movie star.”
I didn’t want to be a Tuxedo Man.